Friday, November 30, 2018

An Adventful December?

One of the highlights of growing up in Germany, the joys of being an Army brat, was getting a fancy German Advent calendar with chocolates rather than just wee pictures - perhaps my memory is faulty but I always remember the British ones being somewhat dull as a kid. Complete side thought, Germans in particular, and more broadly central Europeans, do Christmas the best. Any how, it seems that Craft Beer™ Advent Calendars have been all the rage in recent years and I thought I'd jump on the old bandwagon. Only one minor issue, I have an aversion to having stuff curated for me, I much prefer to survey what's available and make my own decisions, yes I can be something of a contrarian, I know.

The plan as it currently stands is to buy 24 bottles of seasonal beers, drink one each day of Advent, and then write a blog post about it. Pretty simple really, and if you have any recommendations of beers to include, I am all ears - assuming I can find them in the stores of central Virginia.


However, Advent is just the lead up to Christmas, and so naturally that got me thinking about what I am going to have on my table come dinner time on the 25th. I have a decent collection of big boozy beers that would go nicely with dessert - hopefully Mrs V is going to have another stab at making a traditional British Christmas pudding, minus the coins. So I need something from the cellar to go with pud, here's the long list of options:
  • Schlafly Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout - 2013 vintage
  • Olde Hickory Irish Walker Barleywine - 2012 vintage
  • Victory Old Horizontal - 2010 vintage
  • Bell's 25th Anniversary Ale (2010)
  • North Coast Old Stock Ale - 2010, 2012, 2013, 2016 vintages
  • Fuller's Vintage Ale - 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 vintages
  • Starr Hill Bandstand Barleywine - 2013 vintage
  • Lickinghole Creek Enlightened Despot Batch 1 (2014)
  • Alewerks Brewing Grand Illumination - 2009 vintage
  • O'Hara's Barleywine Aged in Irish Whiskey Barrels Edition 3 - 2015 vintage
Naturally with twin 14 month old sons to deal with I won't be just parking on the couch and drinking all of the above, though tempting it may be, so I will have my latest batch of my best bitter homebrew on the kegerator, this time hopped with Australian Galaxy.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Trading Up

Once upon time, back in Mrs Velkyal and I's BC days (before children), we would quite regularly pop into Trader Joe's to pick up some of the more interesting food that they sell. Nowhere else in the area does things like chicken balti pies, proper German bratwurst actually from Germany, or even divine 1lb bars of Belgian milk chocolate. In the chaos that is the first year or so of twin parenthood we stuck exclusively to Wegmans largely for the convenience of being able to go to one place and be done. Recently though we went back to Trader's to stock up on some of the things we had missed, so naturally a wander to the beer aisle was in order, and I was kind of hoping the winter doppelbock would be on the shelves.

Alas and alack there was no doppelbock on this trip, but there were a couple of beers I had not seen before, a Mosaic Pale Ale called Caco-Phony and a Dutch Pilsener called Peter's Brand. The Caco-Phony came as a 6 pack of 12oz cans for $6.49, and the pilsener a six pack half litre cans for $7.99 - bargain central! Let start with the Peter's Brand.


Ok, so the can says this is a 'Dutch Style Pilsener', but it is brewed under license in a German brewery - ahhh European integration and collaboration at its finest. It actually pours a really nice golden colour with a very flimsy white head that vanishes the moment you look askance at it. Aroma is mostly a nice malted graininess with some herbal hoppiness buried in the background, and that is pretty much the tale of the flavour as well. The malt just about dominates, it has a juicy sweetness that I tend to associate with European base malts, maybe a light nutty character, and then some more herbal hops and a little lemongrass chucked in for measure. One thing missing from the beer for my tastes is a good firm hop bitterness, it is just a touch too smooth and mellow, almost like a Dortmunder really. This one is simple, obviously put together well, and a perfectly chuggable beer, I'll be buying it again for sure.


Moving on then to something more with the current craft zeitgeist, Caco-Phony is an American Pale Ale hopped apparently exclusively with Mosaic, one of the darlings of the new hop varieties out there. As you can see form the picture it pours a hazy orange, topped with a slightly off white head that lingers, and lingers, and lingers. Through the head though comes a kaleidoscope of aromas, yes the pine and citrus of American hops is there, but then so was a rich earthiness, some tropical fruit, mangoes in particular, and even a lovely spicy note, mosaic indeed. Tastewise the Mosaic again is front and central, but with a honeyed support cast from the malt giving it way more balance than I expected from the aroma. This really is a nice, nice beer, and at $6.49 for a six pack it'll be int he fridge again pretty soon.

I will be raiding the booze aisles of Trader Joe's again more often I think if I get decent beers at a price that won't send me to the workhouse. Hopefully next time though there will be the doppelbock, I need it to soak the fruit for my Yule cake in...

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Pilsner...Nailed

Pilsner.

It is near impossible to think of a more polarising word, or beer style, in the beer world. For some the very idea of a pilsner is an adjunct laden pale lager made by one of the big breweries, after all, Miller Lite claims to be 'a fine pilsner beer' on the can. Others though, and here I count myself, can think of no higher expression of the brewer's craft that a well made pilsner that sticks pretty much to Reinheitsgebot, whether Bohemian or German in style.

It is also a word that actually fills me with excitement and dread when I see it on a taplist in a brewpub, tap room, or pub. At once I am both eager to try it and yet worried that it will turn out to be gack. Side note, you can always tell a shitty craft pilsner being made in the US because daft phrases like 'it has just the right amount of skunk to be authentic' - said 'right amount' is zero so please stop fucking around.

I spent most of last week in Charleston, South Carolina at a library conference. It was the longest time I have spent away from my little family since the twins were born just over a year ago, so I was happy to get home and do all those domestic bliss kind of things, the weekly shop being one of them. With the shopping out of the way we decided to grab some lunch at South Street Brewery, one of my favourite places to go for a drink in central Virginia. The beer is generally very good, Mitch knows what he is doing, especially with lagers (his helles is a very regular beer in my world), said beer is very reasonably priced, usually around $4.50 for a 16oz pint, compared to $6 for a similarly sized pint not that far away, oh and they have a glorious fireplace that now that the cooler months are upon us will be lit daily.

There, in the middle of the beer list was the word. Pilsner, a collaboration with a local real estate company, German malt, Czech hops, 4.3%, 28 IBU...like a cosmic alignment, dare I try. I trust Mitch, so I dared...


In the famous words of the motto of the SAS, he who dares wins, this was nailed on, Czech style pilsner in all it's drinkable, noble hoppy glory. So good was it that it stopped conversation mid flow, Anton Ego style, glass handed straight to Mrs V for her verdict....it passed muster, leading to the abandonment of her wine for a pint of nostalgia for the Czech Republic.

So if you are in the Charlottesville area get along to South Street and revel in the delights of a pilsner the equal of anything from Central Europe, yes including you Rothaus.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Old Friends: Left Hand Milk Stout

Back in October 2012 I was laid off by the company I worked for at the time. It was 10 o'clock in the morning when I got the news that it was happening, about 30 of us were laid off that day, and so I did what any sensible person does on such an occasion, I went to the pub. OK, maybe that's a British response, but by 11am I was on pint number 3 or 4. Said pints were all Left Hand's majestic Milk Stout, one of the few beers for which I will give up my animus against nitro. In a pleasing piece of circularity, I believe the nitro version is on tap at the same pub at the moment.

Anyway, this is not about the nitro version, this is about the non-nitro version that I picked up in the store last weekend, I guess at some point I should do a side by side comparison as I believe Left Hand also do a bottled version of the nitro. Before launching in to the tasting itself, look at this from the label:


I was thrilled to see a suggested serving temperature on the label, and while I won't be buying a 'stout glass' any time soon, my pint pot being more than adequate, I am glad that Left Hand encourage drinkers to take the temperature of their beer seriously. As I mentioned in a recent post I have taken to keeping my darker ales in the wine cooler, which is set at 54°F (12°C), so this was perfect as it poured....


Beautiful, perhaps I am odd finding beauty in an inky jet black liquid, but I found this absolutely entrancing in the glass. That thinnish half inch of mocha head clunk around doggedly. From that thing of beauty came a gentle roast aroma, a toffeeish thing that reminded me of dulce de leche, or creme caramel, all backed up by a lovely spicy hop note. In terms of flavours, lots of smooth chocolate and coffee (think Gervalia brand) going on, lovely stuff. Add to the mix some toast and biscuits with a really clean hop bitterness and you have a veritable smorgasbord of happiness to deal with.


Beauty is a word that ran through this beer like words trough a stick of rock, beautiful to look at, beautiful aromas, tastes, and so beautifully balanced that even at 6% abv this is a beautiful beer to just drink and drink and drink. Even though I will happily drink the nitro version, this is much more in my wheelhouse, and that wheelhouse may just be seeing more of it this winter.