Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2018

It's that time of year again. On Sunday I drove Mrs V, the Malé Aličky, and Honza the Cairn Terrier home from South Carolina, having been south for a couple of weeks. Coming home from our fairly annual week in Florida is one of the signs of the tail end of summer, another is my annual list of the top ten Virginian beers that I have drunk in the last 12 months.

So without further ado....let's dive on in.
  1. Blue Mountain Brewing - Dark Hollow (10.0%). No that is not a typo, a barrel aged imperial stout really was the highlight of my drinking last year. It is fairly common to read blog posts and tweets about how all beers have their time and place, usually in the context of a paid up member of the craft beer drinking guild having a cold, often adjunct laden, pale lager whilst on holiday. The time and place in question here was at the first evening session at the fiddle camp my wife and I have attended each of the last 3 years. Up in the mountains of Highland County in western Virginia, a bottle of Dark Hollow was the only beer available at the hotel bar that actually appealed to me. It fitted the context, mood, and atmosphere perfectly.
  2. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - Virgindia Pale Ale (5.2%). Probably another surprise for regular readers of Fuggled, a hoppy pale ale makes the list! VIPA is made using Virginia grown barley and hops, making it asas much a local beer as is really possible, oh did I mention it's delicious? Hardywood opened a satellite brewery in Charlottesville a couple of years ago and being the abysmal beer tourist I am, it took me until this spring to actually bother to make it round. When finally I did, I had a great Sunday afternoon drinking with Mrs V and our friends while watching the collective brood of children. VIPA was a lovely beer, positively dripping with American hop character, that late spring afternoon, and has since been a fairly regular tipple as summer has worn on.
  3. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). Still my go to beer when I darken the door of South Street, which is nowhere near as often as I would like now that I no longer work in the centre of Charlottesville. The subtle interplay of malt and noble hops make this a beer that simply goes down far too well. I think a few pints are in order this weekend with brunch....
  4. Alewerks Brewing Company - Weekend Lager (4.8%). I love this beer, simply love it. Of the recent spate of Helles lagers that have done the rounds in the craft brewing scene, this is one of the best, and whenever I see it on tap at a restaurant I know what I'll be drinking, especially with a Sunday brunch, when a litre of this little beauty pairs dangerously well with a plate of bacon, eggs, hash browns, and sausage, Just saying, like.
  5. South Street Brewery - Munich Dunkel (5.6%). My Virginia Dark Beer of 2017 and a cracking interpretation of a classic lager style. You may have noticed a common theme with the kind of beers that make this list, balance and drinkability are important to me, and Munich Dunkel has it in spades, and thankfully doesn't use caramel malts to achieve the subtle sweetness that lingers in the background of the beer, mmmmmmMunich malt!
  6. Devils Backbone Brewing - Alt Bier (5.8%). If there is one thing in life you can rely on it is Jason Oliver's ability to brew a solid, nailed on German beer. To mark Mrs V's first Mother's Day we took a little family trip to Nelson County to visit one of our favourite wineries, and while out that way decided to pop into Devils Backbone. One thing I love about DB is that for all their growth, and the new distillery is an impressive addition, they really haven't changed in the slightest. Still churning out world class beers in an environment which is welcoming, friendly, and somewhere I would go far more often if it wasn't an hour's drive. The Alt Bier reminded me of Schumacher Alt, and there is no higher praise than that really.
  7. Champion Brewing - Dorty South (5.4%). You don't see that many Dortmunder Lagers around, so when I popped into Champion Brewing on my way home from my previous job, having slunk out early because it was simply too depressing to sit in cubicled corporate hell much longer, to find they had a Dortmunder on tap I knew what I was going to drink. Dorty South is a lovely, toasty, clean, lager that has a delightful balance of malt heft with hop bite, I may have had several pints....
  8. Three Notch'd Brewing - Mild Marker 20 (3.6%). One of only a couple of redeeming features of an afternoon spent in the new Three Notch'd brewpub watching the Champions League final, the other being hanging out with a group of friends for the first time since the twins were born. Brewed to a recipe that won a homebrew competition down in Lynchburg, this was a nice solid English style dark mild, suitably balanced and quaffable, with neither hops nor malt dominating. There was only one thing missing, the beer being pulled from a beer engine with a sparkler and at the correct temperature, but I am ok to wait a few minutes for things to warm up.
  9. Port City Brewing - Porter (7.2%). My porter kick continues, both my own homebrewed ones, projects with Three Notch'd, and drinking an absolutely glorious beer from Alexandria, VA. I read recently that Port City is starting to distribute to the UK and I would encourage all of my British friends to stock up on Port City Porter when it hits Blight's shores. Rich, filling, and practically lascivious, this is my beer of choice on many a winter's night.
  10. Devils Backbone Brewing - Vienna Lager (5.2%).Earlier this year I started a series on Fuggled called "Old Friends", where I went back to beers I had once loved but for various reasons not drunk for a while. Coming back to DB's iconic Vienna Lager was like that moment in Ratatouille where Anton Ego is transported back in time at the taste of the ratatouille prepared for him. Obviously I wasn't transported back to childhood, but back to my early days living in Central Virginia, 9 years now, when Vienna Lager was a very common site in my fridge, and a trip to the brewpub was a regular occurrence. Toasty, floral, clean, and most importantly of all just plain good drinking. It also served as a reminder that being a part of Anhesuer-Busch hasn't ruined the beer, nor the company for that matter.
I say this every year, but this is a strictly subjective list based on my drinking in the last 12 months. I am not interested in trying to define who or what is or isn't craft, I just want to drink beer I enjoy. If you have any suggestions of beers that you think I would like then feel free to make add it to the comments.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Unknown Sierra Nevada

I am on record across various forms of social media as being an unrepentant fan of Sierra Nevada Brewing. I have absolutely no qualms about saying they are probably my most trusted and favourite craft brewery in the United States today. Whenever Mrs V and I are in South Carolina you can guarantee that I will be stocking up on various SN products that are rarer than hen's teeth in Virginia, and also significantly cheaper in SC. For some reason the beer distribution and retail folks that service central Virginia believe that the following SN products are not worth carrying:
  • Porter
  • Stout
  • Kellerweis
  • Nooner Pilsner
Well, to that list you can now add Southern Gothic and BFD.

I came across these new-to-me SN beers the other day as I was wandering around Bottles here in Columbia, SC, and wondering how I was going to unwind after the 7 hour drive. Nooner was a given as it is one of my favourite German style pilsners made in the US, but it was the first time I had seen Southern Gothic, bearing those magic words on the can, "unfiltered pils". Yeah I was sold pretty much immediately, so into the cart a six pack went. The only problem was that there were no six packs in the fridges, dear god people is it too much to ask that lager always be stored in the fridge? Anyway, staring into the fridge for something to drink while waiting for Southern Gothic to chill, my eyes landed on imperial sized cans of a beer called BFD, and at just a couple of dollars for a pint of a Sierra Nevada beer I bought two.


Admittedly I had to check out Sierra Nevada's website for a description of the beer as there was nothing on the can to give much away, other than an ABV of 4.8%, very much in my happy zone for drinking. According to the beer's page, it would be "unfussy, uncomplicated, hoppy blonde ale". They forgot to say just what level of perfection is was too. I didn't take notes, but an imperial pint travelled from can to belly in about 5 mouthfuls over 3 minutes, hitting every single spot necessary along the way. Seriously, this is approaching the perfect summer beer. No silly fruit flavours, no bullshit gimmicks, just a damned good blonde ale that works as both a lawnmower beer to crush quickly and a complex beer that warrants a good few minutes to take all in.


A pair of BFD cans suitably polished off, the Southern Gothic was starting to approach drinking temperature, so it was time to carry on with the afternoons imbibing. Billed as an unfiltered pilsner, I was expected a bit more cloudiness to this one, a sign perhaps that beer being unfiltered has become shorthand for mirk, and as all good beer l overs know unfiltered = mirky beer is a false equivalence. How delicious was this beer? Damned delicious that's how. The interplay of hops, malt, and yeast is superb, leaving the drinker refreshed but not satisfied, longing for more. For comparison sake I had a can of Nooner in the mix too, and Southern Gothic has a more rounded, almost softer, character doing on. That's not to say that Nooner is brash but rather that Southern Gothic isn't as dry and crisp in the finish as Nooner, and while it has a classic lager snap to it, Nooner's clean snap is more prominent and pronounced.

Neither of these beers have, as a far as I m aware, graced the shelved of central Virigninia, so I guess I'll be stocking up...

Friday, July 6, 2018

#TheSession 137: Mitteleuropäisches Bilé Pivo


This month's Session is being hosted by Roger at "Roger's Beers...and Other Drinks", and the theme as stated is:
German Wheat Beers. I would like to clarify for myself the similarities and dissimilarities of weissbeers, kristall weizen, weizen, hefeweizen, etc. I’d love to read about the distinctions all you brewers and beer researchers know about regarding the various “styles” of weissbeer, experiences in brewing and drinking the beer, it’s history. Yeah, whatever you’d like to say about German wheat beers will be great.

I wish I could remember what my first weissbier actually was, though I well remember the occasion. I was at college in Birmingham, West Midlands not Alabama, and it was the British equivalent of spring break. There was a small coterie of folks at the college I went to who didn't go home for the week of spring break due to distance. The Outer Hebrides being a 24 journey home meant I stayed in Brum, my best mate Cristi is from Timisoara in Romania, so he didn't go home either. Being at theological college and training for ministry, we were officially discouraged from partaking in the devil's brew, but most of us would have the occasional pint at weekends, oh and I could tell you about a reasonably well known evangelist who was on the idiot box post college absolutely pissed as a fart one afternoon. Anyway Cristi and I had decided we would go to a concert during the break. The Mutton Birds were playing at the Flapper and Firkin and before the gig we wandered into a different pub on the canal, got a couple of pints and sat at a table outside, next to said canal. As I said, I had a pint of weissbier, it being 1998 it was probably Schöfferhofer or something, all I really remember was thinking it was rank to my untrained mind. I had half a mind to pour it into the canal, but it looked polluted enough as it was. I wouldn't touch wheat again until I was living in Prague.


Fast forward about 8 years to 2006, a group of my mates and I were in Pivovarský klub before heading to our regular haunt to watch the footie and one of them is raving about this German wheat beer that they had available, lo and behold the very same Schöfferhofer comes to the table. On a spur of the moment I decided to get one as well, just to see if my tastes had changed, fully expecting to hate it. My tastes had indeed changed in the intervening 8 years and so I had a couple more. The next time Mrs V and I went to Pivovarský klub I tried the Primátor Weizen and I liked it a lot, maybe more than the Schöfferhofer, I was getting a taste for wheat beers. On a trip up to Berlin in 2008 I had a pint or two of Memminger for breakfast, weizen was now a confirmed part of my drinking life.


Something that I was not aware of though as weizens took an increasing share of my drinking habits was the existence in the Czech Republic of "bilé pivo", which translates into English, in common with "weissbier" and "witbier", as "white beer". Apparently "bilé pivo" in Bohemia predates weizen in Bavaria and most historians of beer believe that "bilé pivo" migrated from the former to the latter before falling out of favour in its homeland, so much so that great Czech brewer František Ondřej Poupě is famously quoted as saying "wheat is for cakes, oats for horses, and barley for beer". Today weizen is making a comeback in the Czech lands, both under the modern Germanic name and the older Czech term.


All this thinking about Central European Wheat Beers got me thinking about my need to get back on the homebrew trail, twins inevitably take up the majority of free time that used to be used for brewing, and as soon as time allows I think I will brew another batch of my own "bilé pivo", which I call Böhmerwald, the German name for Šumava on the Czech/German border, which in a nod to the Bohemian origins of the weissbier style is hopped 100% with Saaz and is a lovely later summer thirst quencher.