Friday, December 28, 2018

Beer and Breweries of 2018

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me.....time to get my review of 2018 done and dusted while she continues with tiling the kitchen backsplash. Of course, you dear reader as someone who doesn't work in a seemingly growing number of brewery marketing departments know that the 12 Days of Christmas run from December 25th to January 5th inclusive. As has become a tradition in these here parts at Fuggled, I'll be highlighting the best pale, amber, and dark beers from Virginia, the rest of the United States, and also the rest of the world. From said august list I'll pick the Fuggled Champion Beer of the Year, which comes with a quite immeasureable financial prize, as well as my Champion Brewery of the Year, with a prize equal to that of the champion beer. So onward to the runners and riders, so to say...

Pale
  • Virginia - South Street Brewery Shake Your Teal Feather Pilsner
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Southern Gothic
  • Rest of World - Pivovar Kout na Šumavě Koutská 10°
  • Honorable Mentions - Rothaus Tannenzäpfle, Gordon Biersch Czech Pilsner, Sierra Nevada BFD, Schlenkerla Helles, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted
I think this category will always be dominated by pilsner style lagers, while it is true that stouts were my first beery love, pilsners are the highest form of the brewing craft that I can conceive of. With nowhere to hide, getting a pilsner right is the make of a truly great beer craftsman. I have to admit though that the champion pale beer would have been much harder to choose had my employer not decided to send me to a conference in New Orleans. It was during that trip that I reacquainted myself with Koutská 10°, a beer that I have missed more than any other single beer from the Czech Republic in the nine and a half years since Mrs V and I swapped Europe for Virginia. It is simply perfection.


Amber
  • Virginia - Three Notch'd No Veto Brown Ale
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Tumbler
  • Rest of World - Fullers ESB
  • Honorable Mentions - Alewerks Tavern Brown Ale, Sierra Nevada Winter Warmer Lager, St. GeorgenBrau Kellerbier, Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, Sam Smith's Nut Brown Ale, Stable Craft Brewing Britchin Brown
This autumn was all about brown ales, so stretching the definition of "amber" a wee bit to the darker side admittedly. The kick started with Sam Smith's Nut Brown Ale, and then just kept on going. If only American taprooms, brewpubs, and other beer outlets didn't serve the stuff at the temperature of penguin feet. The highlight of my brown ale kick was getting word from the guys at Three Notch'd that No Veto was back on tap after something of a hiatus, and then confirming that it tasted better than ever, once you leave it to sit for a bit and lose its chill. A worthy winner then.


Dark
  • Virginia - Three Notch'd Mild Marker 20
  • Rest of US - Anchor Brewing Porter
  • Rest of World - Guinness 200th Anniversary Export Stout
  • Honorable Mentions - Guinness Original, Murphy's, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, JosephBrau Winter Brew, Sierra Nevada Stout

Having mentioned beery loves earlier on, the dark beer of the year is very much a harkening back to my early days of beer drinking, indeed Guinness was my first legal beer, and I pretty regularly pick up 12 packs of the CO2 carbed versions of the black stuff. The highlight of several such cases this year was the 200th Anniversary Export Stout, apparently brewed with black patent malt rather than roasted barley. I am not sure what difference that makes, but the beer itself is a luxurious mix of coffee and chocolate, with a silken body, and roasted bite in the finish that is the very epitome of a great Guinness, let alone a great stout.


Fuggled Champion Beer of 2018

There really was no doubt what would be the Fuggled Champion Beer of 2018 was there? Rolling back the years to my old life in Prague, Pivovar Kout na Šumavě Koutská 10° was a veritable revelry of nostalgia, great beer, and a longing to return to the Czech Republic and drink it in its native land once more. In an era of craft beer where novelty ingredients (aka "silly shit"), murk, and one offs seem to be the order of the day, it is good to know that out there are breweries making a handful of beers, and making them seriously, seriously well. I would argue that any drinker incapable of appreciating the simple perfection of Koutská 10° should just give up on beer right now and go find some other fetish for their affectations.

Fuggled Champion Brewery of 2018
  • Virginia - South Street Brewery
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Brewing
  • Rest of World - Schlenkerla
Their name has popped up in every single category, whether as a regional winner or an honorable mention, they are in my opinion the most dependable craft brewery in the United States, and as such I am willing to go outside of my comfort zone and try beer styles I usually avoid with other breweries - yup looking at you double IPAs and co. Following on from 2017, Sierra Nevada Brewing have indeed kept up the good work and are very worthy winners of the Fuggled Champion Brewery for 2018.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Unadventful Calendar

I really should learn my lesson about how aft the best laid schemes of mice and men gang agley.

Before I went to New Orleans and revelled in the delights of Koutská Desítka, I had this grand plan to do a blog post Advent calendar of locally available, though not necessarily locally brewed, Christmas beers. I admit I pre-gamed the few days when I was in Louisiana, but when I got back I had a craving for Josephbrau Winter Brew from Trader Joe's, and that kick has lingered for the last couple of weeks.

Of the beers on my Advent Calendar list that I did try, there were two distinct highlights, and one absolute drain pour - something I haven't done in quite some time. Let's get the drain pour out of the way first...


I have to say it looked the part when I poured it out, dark copper with some orange edges, a long lasting, rocky, ivory head, it really is a pretty beer. And then it all went down hill. Barely any aroma other than a very generic maltiness, and while the aroma was generic, the flavour was unpleasant. Burnt toast and a metallic tang was basically all that was there, perhaps a trace of grassy hops, but really nothing much. Yep, it was a drain pour, and so that's where it went. It was the first time I have tried this beer so maybe I got a bum bottle, but having been unimpressed by Breckenridge before, I am in no rush to find out.

Onward and upward...


Deschutes, nominally a "local" brewery as they have some kind of operations just down the road in Roanoke, are becoming a trusted brewery in the Velkyal cosmos, especially their simply magisterial Black Butte Porter. In common with the Breckenridge Christmas Ale, this was my first ever Jubelale. Again it is a very pretty beer, a deeply festive red, topped with an inch of beige, so appealing. Yay, an aroma, well several. Candy sugar, toffee, spices, nutmeg in particular, and a hint of caramel, think caramelised nuts and you're close. Wow, what a big bready malt character Judelale has going, then take that bread and smother it with Biscoff spread, yum, yum yum, oh and don't forget the gorgeous spicy notes, assuming from the hops. What a great beer, beautifully integrated, delicate yet strong, seriously a wonderful beer, whatever the time of year.


Sierra Nevada simply do not get enough credit for their aptitude with lager beer, and Winter Warmer Lager join the increasing ranks of SN lagers that I will be keeping an eye open for. This one pours a deep, burnished garnet, topped off with a light tan head that quickly becomes a schmeer of foam. There is lots of fruit on the nose, mainly plums. Also in there is grassy hops, a trace of spice, like cinnamon, and a bit of toffee sweetness. I am assuming that the beer used a fair proportion of Munich malt as that classic sweetness that you get with Munich is there in spades, it's not caramelly, but it's sweet. There was also a bit of burnt sugar, cookies, and no much in the way of hop flavour at all. This is definitely a beer for sitting by the fire and enjoying with some winter pudding. Seriously lovely lager.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The Session 142: Last Orders


This month's Session, the last of its ilk, is being hosted by the venerable Stan Hireonymous of Appellation Beer, and plenty of excellent books. Stan's theme for this month is formally titled "Funeral Beers", though he did also suggest that "one more for the road" would be a suitable theme, either way, the session is over, last orders has been called, and there will be no after hours lock in. Stan asked us all to:
Pick a beer for the end of a life, an end of a meal, an end of a day, an end of a relationship. So happy or sad, or something between. Write about the beer. Write about the aroma, the flavor, and write about what you feel when it is gone.
When I lived in Prague, there was a pub that was a very regular haunt, the magnificent proper boozer that was U Slovanské lípy. I spent many a merry time there, draining half litre after half litre of the Koutská Desítka that I wrote about yesterday, but I always ended the session with the same beer, a half pint of Koutský tmavý speciál, an 18° beer that was the perfect nightcap, or as Evan would describe it "simply miraculous".


Pouring an inky deep black, topped off with that firm ivory head, you know just from looking at it that this is a serious beer. No silly fripperies, no flashy gimmicks, just a Baltic Porter as Baltic Porter should be.

As I close my eyes and try to remember the beer's aroma, it has been almost a decade since I had it, the overwhelming recollection is that of a rich bitter chocolate, backed with the punch of an Italian espresso.

As you almost come to expect from a Baltic Porter the flavours are the usual suspects, again the chocolate is there, the coffee, perhaps a merest hint of soy sauce, for a salted caramel umami thing. The hops are in there mainly for bittering, but you know they are there, as a light spice comes through in the finish, but this is very much a glorious rich dark chocolate cake with espresso ganache filling. It's just as well the hops are there though as without them the beer would be an unctuous overly sweet goo, with the beer adding layer upon layer in your mouth as you drink.

This is a beer to linger over. Sure it is only a malé serving of 300ml, or about half a pint, but chugging is most assuredly not the order of the day, it is 8.5% abv after all. Even though the session is ending, there is no need to rush over the last beer, and there is always the knowledge that there will be another session, maybe by another name, in the not too distant future. Not sure where, not sure when, not even sure who will be there, but in the words of the old Scots song:
So fill us a tankard o nappy broon ale
It'll comfort our herts and enliven the tale
For we'll aye be the merrier the langer that we sit
For we drank thegither mony's the time, and sae will we yet
To bring The Session to its end, the song from which the verse above is taken.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Get Your Kout

I spent the early part of this week in New Orleans at a conference. Given the early start on Monday, and the late finish on Tuesday, I ended up being there from Sunday afternoon to yesterday morning. With plenty of downtime in airports, I decided it would be a good idea to get a sense of beer options for a few post flying bevvies. I own the fact that I am not overly fond of flying, so something to relax over is always welcome.

It was on the advice of one of my Twitter friends, the ever lovely Amie, that I decided to look up a place called The Avenue Pub. A quick scan of the website had me thinking it would be my kind of place, then I checked the beer list....

Oh goodness me, right there, magic words....Koutská Dvanáctka.

A beer I love was going to be on tap about a mile from my hotel, it was a no brainer, I knew I would be there as soon as possible on Sunday evening. Having checked into my hotel, chatted with Mrs V and the boys, and showered the grime of flight away (why does sitting around in planes and airports make you feel grubby?), I decided to walk to the pub.

Thankfully the place wasn't overly busy, so I grabbed a stool at the bar (bar stools!!!!), and asked the suitably hirsute barman if they still had the Dvanáctka? My heart sank for a moment when he said 'no', but the 'no' was merely the preface to 'it's the ten that we have'.

Oh goodness me.....even greater magic....Koutská Desítka.

For those in need of a refresher, a desítka is a beer with a starting gravity of 10° Plato, usually about 4% abv (take the ABV and times it by 2.5 is a pretty good way to work out the Plato starting gravity of a beer), and in the case of Koutská Desítka a beer I drank a lot of, and I mean a lot of, when I lived in Prague. When I would go to U Slovanské lípy the desítka was my beer of choice, I spend many afternoons and evenings there with an assorted cast of folks, including Evan Rail and Max of Pivní Filosof, drinking pint after pint of what I regarded as the finest pale Czech lager in the world.


For a moment I feared that it wouldn't be the Proustian Madeleine I imagined, but that first mouthful was nostalgia in a glass. Soft malt backbone, the gentle lemongrass bitterness of Saaz, the snap of a quality lager....for moments in time I was transported, reminded again of the great beers that drew me away from the mass market brands of Gambrinus and Staropramen. Back then there were no pastry stouts, fruit infected infused goses, or barrel aged imperial IPAs, but there was Koutská Desítka, such a simple, beguiling, and bewitching brew, intoxicating in so many ways.

I left the pub having reveled in memory, knowing that my future would include another trip, this time on Tuesday night having wandered briefly the gaudiness of Bourbon Street. Earlier that day I got talking to another attendee about beer, and had mentioned both beer and place to him, sure enough he turned up with his wife - the first person I have ever actually seen using Untappd in public. As we talked beer she confided that she used to love IPA, especially the hazy New England slop that is the rage these days, then her epiphany came, she just wanted a Pilsner Urquell and all the hop bite and delight that comes with it. Koutská Desítka found a new fan that night, I rekindled the flame of a long lost Czech love, and I saw that there are plenty of folks out there eschewing the new for a taste of classic, traditional, well crafted beer.


I headed to bed cheered, but still had to fly in the morning.

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