Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Munich - Flying Visit

When I flew to central Europe back in October, I landed firstly in Frankfurt before heading on to Prague. For my flight back I had a choice, either fly from Hannover back to Frankfurt or to Munich and then on to Washington DC. The difference in price was negligible and the flight from Munich would actually get me back to Mrs V and my boys earlier than the Frankfurt flight....oh and Munich has its own brewpub, Airbräu, it seemed like a sign.

The day of my flights though Munich was fog bound and everything was delayed, so I got to spend an extra 45 minutes in Hannover airport. Because the boards at Munich said the flight to DC was on time I headed straight to the gate, through document check, into a barren wasteland where the "limited shopping and restaurant options" amounted to 3 vending machines with soda and snack foods. Bugger.

Eventually though came an announcement that there would be an announcement about how long the flight would be delayed and if people wanted to leave the secure area they could do so, on the understanding that returning would mean going through document check again. Very few people moved, but if Airbräu was close by then you bet your life I was going somewhere more comfortable and with something better than fizzy water to drink. Oh joy of joys, the restaurant was just a five minute walk and so I left the secure area with a decided spring in my step.


Other than a couple of ladies sitting at a table, the place was empty, perfect. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a Fliegerquell helles, again relying on my dodgy German, which a few days of bumbling over like the perennial reserved Brit was actually improving again. The barman asked if I wanted a "kleines", "großes", or a "maß", yeah you know what I ordered...


Just what the doctor ordered, and as good a helles as I can remember having. Fresh, unfiltered, unpasteurised, groaning with bready malt flavour and a lemony tinge in the hops that made me think of Tettnang. I was a happy chap again, so the litre disappeared in about 6 mouthfuls, and the barman was shocked when he returned to find I had polished off the maß so quickly. Same again? I genuinely pondered it, but settled for a half litre of their 1918 märzen.


Again a perfectly good beer, but not up there in the same league as the helles, by this point the barman and I were talking about brewing and all that good stuff, and the prospect of a 9 hour flight didn't seem so terrible, I am not a fan of flying really. The märzen had more of a crusty bread thing going on that the helles did, a subtle honeyed sweetness that balanced nicely with the hops, it was just a bit flabby round the edges to warrant a second, so I did something I rarely do.


I ordered Kumulus, their hefeweizen, and it was as lovely an expression of hefeweizen as I have had in many a year, all those clove and banana aromas you expect from the style, but completely missing the bubble gum character that screams out bad fermentation control. As I say I rarely get a hefeweizen these days, admittedly it is not one of my favourite styles but done well, and presented properly as it was here, it can be a refreshing change of pace. There was just one more beer available that needed to be tried, the Jetstream Pilsner.


Sure the glass says Fliegerquell, but the liquid was the Jetstream, and again it was a solid, thoroughly to style, and thoroughly satisfying German pilsner, with all the wonderful hop bitterness and clean crackery lager bite that involves. German beer and me just seem to get along like a house on fire, and once again I thought to myself that it really is no surprise that the likes of Stone can't make a go of US style craft beer in Germany. When the native beers are so well made, so tasty, and are such perfect companions to the communion of the stammtisch why bother with the wacky stuff?

Having spent an hour sitting at the bar it was time to wander back to the secure area, where it had been announced that boarding was about to begin. And soon I was on a Lufthansa plane, speeding its way back across the Atlantic Ocean to Virginia, and I promised myself it will not be 11 years before I go to Germany again. Next time I hope I will have the family with me as places I love are just so much better with the people I love.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Hannover - Brauhaus Ernst August

I have probably mentioned this several times but I am a total Germanophile, much of which stems from having lived in ye Olde West Germany back before the Wall came down. My father was in the British Army and we were posted to the town of Celle a couple of times before my 10th birthday. I don't remember much of the first posting, I wasn't even a year old when we moved there, but the second time I was about 8 years old and so I have some recollections.

Another reason for my Germanophilia is that my great-great-great grandfather was German. Much beyond that fact we aren't 100% sure of, though there is a group of descendants from this guy who have claimed he was from Minden. My own great-uncle in his research had him coming from Hannover in Niedersachsen, just a few miles from Celle, and the birthplace of my little brother.

When I was in New Orleans for a conference last year it was mentioned that the next instance of the conference was to be in Hannover, and so I knew if possible I wanted to get there, and get there I did. As usual I did a bit of research into the breweries in the area, and discovered that Brauhaus Ernst August was just around the corner from my hotel, and so I knew where I would be going on the one night where I didn't have dinner plans with other attendees of the conference.


I actually went to "the Brauhaus", as the German conference hosts referred to it, a couple of times. The first time was after a dinner that included the most immense currywurst I have ever had, and then on the night before I was due to fly back to the US.

On both occasions they only had 2 beers on tap, Pilsener and Bernstein, a märzen. I have to admit that I was not particularly taken by the Bernstein, not that it was bad, it just didn't grab my attention, I found it just underwhelming, perhaps being a 12.5° beer with an ABV of 5.2% makes it too dry and lacking in body for my tastes. Using the old ABV times 2.5 to approximate the starting gravity, maybe the extra 0.5° to make it 13° would have made all the difference, especially as most märzens I have had have a fuller body.


Anyway, on my second trip I stuck to the Pilsener (their spelling), a 4.8%, 11.5°, pale lager hopped with Hallertauer Tradition and Smaragd. As I recall, again I wasn't taking notes, this was a solid, tasty German style pilsner, yes drier than you would get in the Czech Republic, but pretty close to something like Rothaus Pils or König Pils. With Tradition and Smaragd in the mix there was a lovely grassy and spicy hop character to the beer that offset the crackery malt nicely, making it a dangerously easy beer to just knock back several of, so I did.


Having polished off my currywurst dinner, I think I ate currywurst about 4 times in a week while I was in Germany, I decided to treat myself to a digestif and ordered a shot of Johann's Wilde Kräuter, which is made with 45 wild herbs and accompanied another glass of the Pilsener just about perfectly.

It might seem that a bar with just a couple of beers would be disappointing, but I actually loved my time at Brauhaus Ernst August for that very reason, when the beer is good, fresh, and clearly well made then I am happy to just sit, enjoy the beer and the atmosphere.


Talking about the atmosphere, for a Wednesday night the place was pretty busy, not entirely full but with enough people to generate a buzz of people out enjoying company with good beer, and really want else do you want from a brewpub. When I next get back to Hannover, hopefully not in 35 years, I look forward to going to Brauhaus Ernst August again.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Bamberg - Spezial, Swaying, and Stumbling

When I learnt that I was going to central Europe for a couple of conferences with a weekend between them, I knew I wanted to take the opportunity to visit somewhere new.

One of my great regrets from my decade in Prague was that I had never taken advantage of its proximity to Germany to take weekends drinking legendary beer. When there is so much great beer at home why bother?

My options were legion. I could go to Zoigl country, Munich, Regensburg, or Berlin and get my fill of great beer. Then there was Bamberg...

I well remember my first ever beer from Bamberg, and by extension my first ever rauchbier. It was the märzen from Schlenkerla. On one of my many forays into Pivovarský klub, then barman Ambroz told me that they had purloined 50 bottles of smoke beer from Germany, suitably intrigued I had one, and then another, and another. Of the 50 bottles it is entirely possible that my friends and I demolished about 40 of them, it became something of a go to beer for the few weeks it was available. Thus my love affair with rauchbier was born. And so with 24 hours to spare between leaving Prague and needing to be in Hannover, I went to Bamberg.

I say I had 24 hours to spare, in reality after travelling to Bamberg via Nuremburg I actually had only about 18, and given my train to Hannover was leaving at 11am the next morning, I really only had 6 or so for drinking. 6 hours in a city with probably more renowned breweries than any other in Germany? This time the decision was go broad and shallow or go narrow and deep? I went for the latter option and picked the two breweries I wanted to visit more than any of the others, Schlenkerla, naturally, and Brauerei Spezial, mainly at the recommendation of Evan.

First though I took a wander around the centre of the city, discovered that Hegel had lived for a year in Bamberg, and it was on these wanders that I noticed brass plaques embedded in the pavements. Finding Schlenkerla was pretty easy, yay Google Maps, and there were crowds of folks outside downing their beers. Now, this may come as something of a surprise, but I am a raging introvert, and painfully shy, particularly when it comes to going into pubs, cafes, and restaurants that I have never been into before and I am by myself. I walked past the front door two or three times before actually entering the building. Thankfully there was an empty table in the Dominikerklause and so I parked my self conscious arse down and revelled in the vaulted ceiling of this most beautiful of rooms dedicated to beer drinking.

A menu came and I soon realised that while my reading comprehension of German is still pretty good, my listening and speaking skills have gone somewhat awry, but stammer on I did - pet hate is people that assume everyone speaks English and doesn't at least even try the basics of "ein märzen bitte", at this point I was actively worrying about what I would have for dinner. Anyway, the märzen.


Now, I drink this beer in bottles regularly, as in at least a couple of litres a month regularly, but on tap at the brewery it shattered my every preconception of rauchbier. The only way I can think to describe it is fuller, deeper, rounder, perhaps there is less carbonation, less prickliness to highlight the smoke? Whatever was going on, that first half litre of Schlenkerla märzen in the brewery itself was almost a religious experience, communion with a beech smoked, dark, divine, and it wasn't cold, being just slightly cooler than a well kept real ale in the UK. It was over far too quickly, thankfully being in the brewery itself, I had another, though I drank the second somewhat more circumspectly, savouring the nuances and interplay of the malt and hops, yes there were actually hop things happening that were noticeable, but guess what, no notes.


Also on tap that day was the Ur-bock, only available on draft in autumn, and absolutely necessary drinking. Everything I just said about the märzen applies here as well. I drink Ur-bock pretty often, though not as often as the märzen, but on tap it was a much fuller experience. At only €3.50ish a half litre I could have happily sat here all afternoon and evening getting merrily preserved by the smoke to then crawl back to my hotel, but Evan's praise of Spezial Brauerei had been effusive, so I took myself off for another decent length, head clearing, walk.

As I walked I came back to the main street leading to and from the railway station. This time there were riot police walking down the street, and again I spied the brass plaques, but it was the police that had my attention. A protest was in full swing, the local Kurdish community was out in force protesting the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. I stood and watched the procession wend its way to the river and looked down at my feet, I was almost right on top of a clutch of brass plaques, so I took a moment to read, and then photographed them.


They were Stolpersteine, "stumbling blocks", memorials to victims of the Holocaust, placed, as I would later learn, at the last known willing address of the people they memorialise. In this case the memorial was to the Walter family, who were deported the nearly 1600 miles to Riga in Latvia, to be murdered for the crime of not being Aryan. Having never heard of the Stolpersteine project before, I was taken aback by the stark, even callous, beauty of these memorials. If I'd have had a stone handy I would have laid it on the Stolpersteine as my own personal mitzvah to victims of fascism. Never again, for in forgetting we deny.

Sobered, emotionally if not necessarily physically, I wandered with my thoughts to the Brauerei Spezial, again taking a few reccies of the space before walking in, found myself a seat at an empty table, in the corner of a side room, and made myself comfortable. On my stroll I had identified the place I would be going to have my dinner, but there was beer to drink first, and first up was their ungespundetes lager as recommended by Evan. Ungespundetes is basically an unfiltered beer that is served from a wooden barrel by gravity, sound a lot like some kinds of real ale really.


One thing that I had definitely not been expecting in Bamberg was for Schlenkerla to be usurped as my preferred Bamberg brewery, but here I was revelling in the ungespendetes lager and feeling distinctly conflicted about my loyalties. So I ordered the regular lagerbier.


Yeah done deal, I was very much in the Spezial camp my the end of my first half litre of this sublime beer, and still not taking notes, but every mouthful was relished, especially as the clean lager bite that I love so much was in full attendance. At this point I was wondering if I could persuade Mrs V that we needed to move to Germany and make Spezial our new local. Following the lagerbier with their märzen I thought I was about to break into song at the glories of the beer I was drinking, thank goodness for my innate British reserve that had me merely smiling broadly in my corner, as I engaged in a little people watching to pass the time.


The couple in that picture below sat for about an hour, hardly speaking yet perfectly content in each other's company, a state where noise would ruin the perfection. I hope one day to sit like this with Mrs V in whenever our local pub at the time is, happy in the security of being with my best friend, confidant, and completer of my world.


I had another morning train, and so again I didn't want to get myself blootered on superb beer. I paid my bill, and allowed my legs to carry me to a snackbar where the promise of a doppel currywurst awaited, just what the doctor ordered.


I loved my time in Bamberg and hope one day to go back with Mrs V and the boys to enjoy more of the many delights the city has to offer.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Prague - The New

There are few people in the world I enjoy a pint or two with than Evan Rail.

When he came into Pivovarský klub on my first day back in Prague it was such an unexpected pleasure that it literally made my day, even though it was a fleeting moment that didn't involve us having a beer together, but we agreed to meet later in the week.

In those brief moments Evan mentioned his local pub had some of the best beer in the Czech Republic and we agreed that we would meet there. "There" was a place called Hostomická nalévárna, a hole in the wall taphouse with beer from Pivovar Hostomice, one of the many breweries to have sprung up in the decade since Mrs V and I left the Czech Republic.

Having spent the morning wandering around the Old Town, taking photos, and buying Krtek souvenirs for the twins (they love Krtek so much it does my heart good), I arrived at the pub about 10 minutes early, so naturally got a half litre of Fabián 10°.


Oh my goodness, what nectar is this? Prior to polishing off my first half litre in literally four mouthfuls I would have sworn that Albrecht 10° was my favourite Czech pale lager but this blew it out of the water. The interplay of malt and hop was delightful, neither truly dominating but both clearly evident and expressing themselves fully. Ok, so where I had thought to have a half litre while waiting for Evan, I may have had a couple, I was enthralled, it was like that first taste of Kout na Šumavě 10° way back when.

The pub itself was a throwback as well, it is a proper urban Czech boozer. I could probably, if I were vaguely handy at these sorts of things, recreate it in one half of my garage. The bar is right next to the door, the space around the bar clearly set up for standing around drinking beer. There is a space further back which has four tables, all of which had reservation notices on them, letting us know that we could sit there until 7pm, well past our window of time to hang out, drink, and discuss the state of craft beer.


With a few desítky polished off, I decided to try the 14° tmavé and it was just as lovely. Being thoroughly biased it reminded me a lot of the Morana that I designed and brew occasionally with Devils Backbone. Again notes were not being taken, come on people, who takes beer notes when you are shooting the shit with a friend you haven't seen in years? Then I did something technically illegal under Czech beer law...I asked for a řezané pivo, or black and tan.


According to Czech law, at least if I understand it correctly and I am sure folks will correct me if I am wrong, a řezané must be poured with beers of the same gravity, and there was no 14° pale lager with which to mix with the dark, so we used the 12°. It was delish. Yeah I was getting merry, and that was before the 15° březnový, that's märzen to you, turned up, another magnificent brew. I am not going to go into the details of Evan and I's conversation, which wandered down many a beery lane with a common theme about how US craft breweries simply get "Bohemian pilsner" wrong, and after a few days having my palate reset by the real thing I still haven't had a Czech style lager since I got back, I am afraid of the disappointment.

Eventually Evan needed to head home, and so I picked his brain about where to find beer by the one Czech brewery I had probably heard more about than any other...Únětický pivovar.


Cafe Frida was just round the corner from my hotel. I eschewed the tram for a head clearing half hour walk to discover the place was practically empty, so I took a seat at the bar and ordered a desítka, yep another lovely beer. Perhaps my tastebuds were just plain busted at this point, but while it was clearly a lovely beer, and one I would happily drink all day long, it didn't match up to the Hostomická desítka, though it was more my thing than Albrecht 10°. The 12° was likewise excellent, a superb demonstration of why I think Czechs make the best lagers on the planet bar none, sorry you innovative craft folks, you don't compare to the level of craftmanship on show in the Czech Republic lager world.

Gently pickled and with a bus to Germany to catch in the morning I headed back to Florenc and my shoebox sized hotel room...

Monday, November 4, 2019

Prague - The Old

So much seems to have happened in Prague's brewing scene in the ten years since I left that I had a dilemma given my limited time in the city recently, whether to visit my old haunts or try some of the new places I had heard so much about?

Some decisions, like going to Pivovarský klub, were so ridiculously simple as to be barely worth thinking about. Almost as easy a decision was revisiting U Slovanské lipy, at one time my second choice to PK as my favourite place in the city to drink, back when they were basically the only place in Prague that sold Kout na Šumavě's range of magnificent lagers.

U Slovanské lipy is no longer the dingy boozer it once was, though it does maintain the feel of a proper Czech pub rather than some craft beer emporium. It has a rotating selection of beers, has been renovated in a more Art Deco style, and is now part of a group of businesses including Černokostelecký pivovár.

In an effort to see as many folks as possible while I was in the city, I arranged a get together at U Slovanské lipy, and naturally got there a little early to check things out for myself, and perhaps revel in a little nostalgia...


In many ways despite the renovation and changes, it was still the U Slovanské lipy I had loved in the noughties, no airs and graces, no pointless fripperies, and the majority of patrons were locals rather than tourists, perfect. The big thing that had changed though was the prices. Where I had been used to paying only 20kč for a half litre of Kout's magisterial 10° pale lager, the nearest equivalent available, Albrecht 10° from Zámecký pivovar Frýdlant, was about double that. Yeah, it was odd having sticker shock in a Czech pub, but a quick conversion in my brain telling me the beer was $2 a pop for superb lager soon put that into context.


Albrecht 10° has an ABV of 4% and is simply a dream of a beer. I didn't take any notes as that really wasn't the point of the evening, but I think I drank at least 8 or 9 half litres of the stuff, it was lovely, in many ways the perfect session beer. Admittedly I initially chose the beer not for it's sessionability but for the name, Albrecht being one of the many nicknames I give my younger son, Albert.

As I sat waiting for my friends, I delighted in some people watching and was reminded of one of the things I love about beer culture in Central Europe, it's inclusiveness. Beer, and going to the pub, is simply intrinsic to life, and so there was a group of women at one table, all drinking Albrecht, and having a grand old time, because that is what Czechs do, drink beer.

We had a great night, and after U Slovanské lipy my friend, and amazing barmaid, Klara took me to another couple of places on the other side of the tunnel, in Karlín, and we finished up drinking some kind almond spirit thing. Contented I wandered back to my hotel, glad for not having to bother with a car and the attendant considerations that brings, and looking forward to some new things in that most wonderful city.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Oktoberfest Crown Challengers - Saranac and Victory

Back before I went to Central Europe for ten days I was wrapping up my Oktoberfest lager challenge. As things stood, the reigning champion was Jospehsbrau Oktoberfest from Trader Joe's, contract brewed by Gordon Biersch. I had two remaining beers in the fridge to pit against our champion, and so the other night having put the twins to bed, I cracked them open, with a bottle of Josephsbrau to compare alongside.


I started off with Saranac's 1888 Oktoberfest, a brewery that for some reason very rarely seems to make it into my fridge. Anyway, on to the Cyclops notes...
  • Sight - crystal clear copper, thin loose head, off white, dissipates very quickly
  • Smell - crackers, very light toffee, very little of anything really
  • Taste - lightly toasty, some grassy hops, some toffee sweetness
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Other than looking the part, this beer was a distinct let down. Everything seemed so restrained as to be almost bland and barely worth the effort of finishing the 12oz bottle. It wasn't that it was a technically bad beer, there was little to pick at from a quality control standpoint, it was just plain boring.

Josephsbrau retains its crown...

On then to Victory Brewing and their Festbier.

  • Sight - dark copper, beautifully clear, very little head initially but swirling the glass revives it
  • Smell - sweet toasted grains, caramel, bready, syrup, light lemon note
  • Taste - quite syrupy, sweetness dominates to the exclusion of all else
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Far too sweet for my tastes, really seems to lack the clean crisp bite of a well lagered beer. I had high hopes for this given Victory's lovely Prima Pils, but those hopes were dashed by the overwhelming sweetness of the beer.

Again Josephsbrau sees off the contender, mainly due to its superior balance and drinkability.


Given that Oktoberfest lagers have basically disappeared from the shops, the 2019 Fuggled Oktoberfest of the Year is Josephsbrau Oktoberfest, a victory for contract brewing and traditional German brewing practices!!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Prague - Back to the Beginning

Some dates are seared into memory. For me one such date is October 14th 2005.

It was a Friday and I was meeting up with some friends to go drinking, as one did of a Friday evening as a late 20 something single bloke living in Prague. The pub we were going to was Pivovarský klub, which had only just opened in the district of Karlín. Back then Karlín was one of the less salubrious neighbourhoods in the city and was still recovering from the the 2002 flood that decimated the area. Not only would this night be the night I found my local for the next four years of my life in the city, it was the night I met Mrs V, and we've been together every since.

Another date seared into memory is October 16th 2017, the day Mrs V and I welcomed our twin sons into the world, and now on their second birthday I was landing in Prague on my way to speak at a conference. With their birthday being on a week day this year, we had already had their party, but still I felt bad about not being at home on the day itself.

Having discovered that my Czech was not as atrocious as I had worried, successfully purchasing a short term pass for the city's magnificent public transport system, and carrying on a decent length conversation with the hotel receptionist, I needed a beer. My hotel was just two doors down from my old local, some might say I planned it that way, some might known me well, and so with a flutter of excitement I wandered a few hundred feet and back more than 10 years...

Walking through the door it felt as though literally nothing had changed. The signs on the walls were the same, the tables and chairs exactly where we left then in the Noughties, had I not known that Klara now works for a another pub, I would have not been surprised to see her behind the bar. So I took my seat.


My seat. On the left hand corner of the bar, first chair on the side. This seat allows you to watch the bar and the wider room at the same time, it is a seat for people watching, it is the seat that I always chose if it was available, and as I was often in before the crowds it usually was. I also had a regular seat in the basement bar, but it was sunny out so I wanted to sit in the light of the upstairs bar.

One thing that had changed was the absence of Štěpán, Pivovarský klub's světlý ležák that was a reliable go to beer for many nights out when I didn't fancy anything new or different. In it's place was Břevnovský Benedict, a 12.5° pale lager from Břevnovský Klášterní Pivovar, and from what I understand basically the only near permanent tap at PK. It just seemed right that my first beer back in Prague was a pale lager in Pivovarský klub.


What a delightful beer, brimming with everything you expect from a Czech lager, a lovely subtle sweet graininess, a firm bitterness that while evident isn't harsh, light lime citrus notes from the hops, along with just a trace of white pepper, and that hay and floral aroma that always makes me think of freshly mown meadows in the mountains. Served at the right temperature, around 8°C/46°F, it was conditioned without being fizzy, the fuller body so classic of lower attenuated Czech lagers smoothing out the drinking...god this was good.

I had made a conscious decision that I would stick to local beer styles while in Prague rather than chasing after IPA, whether hazy or otherwise, when in Rome and all that jazz - plus I love Czech lager styles and they are so painfully rare here in Virginia. With that in mind, next up was the 14° Tmavý speciál from Pivovar Falkenštejn.


Tmavé is one of those beer styles that almost defy definition as even in the Czech Republic vastly different beers bear the moniker "tmavé" and couldn't be more different. As you can see from the picture, this one was very much on the inky blackness end of the colour spectrum. In terms of drinking, it was deliciously complex, layers of caramel, chocolate, and espresso swirling around in the glass, both as flavours and aromas. When I was about half way through the glass, the door opened and in walked Evan Rail.

Evan and I enjoyed many a session when Prague was definitively home for Mrs V and I, he was not expecting to see me, and I was thrilled to see him, even if only for a few moments as he was guiding a photographer around for a story on Karlín. We made arrangements to meet later in the week to catch up properly.

Sat at my usual corner of the bar, and Evan's too as it turned out, everything felt instinctively as it should do. I was in the city I will always regard as home, in the pub which for years was basically my living room, drinking beer styles I never tire of. All that was missing was Mrs V and the boys, but one day we'll all go to Prague as a family.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Oktoberfest Crown Challengers - Josephsbrau

Having seen off the challenge of Spaten, Josephsbrau Oktoberfest from Trader Joe's hoved into view.

I am happy to admit to having a soft spot for the Trader Joe's range of contract brewed beer, where else can you get thoroughly reliable, solid central European lagers for under $6.50 a six pack? Of course, the lagers are brewed by Gordon Biersch, and while they may lack the sex appeal of trendy breweries, I have never once had a bad beer from them, they just do them right, and do them well.

But how would it stand up to the beer that is the only annual release I keep an active eye out for?


Once again with the Cyclops:
  • Sight - pale copper, nice white head that lingers and leaves a lovely bit of lace
  • Smell - tangerine citrus hops, toasted teacake, some herbal notes
  • Taste - juicy sweet malt character, fresh scones, firm citric bitterness
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
What a cracking beer this is.

Let me tell you a story, last weekend Mrs V and I took the boys to the Kiptopeke State Park on Virginia's Eastern Shore for their first camping trip. Along for the trip was my good friend Dave, his wife, and their son who is only a couple of months older than our pair. Dave and I drink a lot of beer together, and we have been caning 12 packs of Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest like nobody's business this year. Indeed, we polished off another one on Friday night, having got the tents sorted and the children to sleep. On the Saturday, we started on the Trader's beer, though admittedly I waited until the sun was down to start drinking, and the consensus then was that Trader's is a more drinkable beer.

It is, then, on that basis that Sierra Nevada has been knocked off its perch in the Fuggled Oktoberfest Taste Off. Josephsbrau Oktoberfest is simply delightful and unlike other seasonal beers that folks describe as "drinkable" it doesn't fall into the bland trap.

The king is dead!


Long live the king!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Oktoberfest Crown Challengers - Spaten

So....where did we leave it? Oh that's right, from my perspective the winner of the Fuggled Oktoberfest Taste Off was Sierra Nevada's collaboration with Bitburger. As is the way of things though, the shops suddenly had more beers bearing the Oktoberfest label and so I knew I had to find a way of incorporating those into things.

The plan then is simple, a series of head to head tastings and whoever is left standing at the end will be declared the Fuggled Oktoberfest of the Year, a prize so unmatched in prestige that it is quite literally priceless, oh ok then it has no monetary value.

The first contender was Spaten's Oktoberfest, marketed as the "Ur-Märzen", the original Märzen, it seemed only natural to start things off with this.


Using the Cyclops beer evaluation tool, here's my thoughts on Sierra Nevada
  • Sight - copper, medium white head, nice lacing
  • Smell - toasty malt, light brown sugar, floral hops
  • Taste - slight peppery hop note, toasted teacake, nicely clean bitter bite
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
There is a reason I have drunk a lot of this since it came out in August, it is damned delicious. What then about the challenger?

  • Sight - rich orange with red highlights, firm white head, good lacing
  • Smell - sweet grainy malt, subtle honey, citrus and spicy hops
  • Taste - soft toffee, caramelised grains, a bit indistinct
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Ok, so it is a nice beer, good balance leaning more toward the malt, and with a nice clean finish. The problem with it though is that it is just rather forgettable.


Sierra Nevada then holds onto their crown...but other challengers are lining up.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Oktoberfest Taste Off - The Final

The final four.

Originally my intention had been to have a pair of semi finals followed by a final and third place play off, kind of like the World Cup, but I changed my mind.

On Sunday morning, Mrs V and I, with the twins in tow decided to go to the Somerset Pasture Party being held just up the road from us. Basically the "party" is an exhibition of vintage steam and gas powered contraptions, and with sons that get all excited at trains we figured they'd enjoy it too. We had also arranged to meet up with my good friend Dave and his wife Ali, along with their son, who is slightly older than our boys.


Once done with choking on wood and coal smoke, thank god for what remains of the EPA and the Clean Air Act frankly speaking, we all decamped to our place for lunch and drinkies. With the ladies in the kitchen preparing lunch, the kids watching cartoons and/or playing with toys, I decided to split the bottles I had for the four remaining beers with Dave and choose a final ranking for them. The final four, as a reminder, were:
We decided to rank them purely on the basis of personal preference rather than comparing to any particular style definition, especially as from the picture you can see that they cover a range of colours and interpretations of "Oktoberfest" lager.


Our initial rankings were:

Dave
  1. Goose Island
  2. Ayinger
  3. Sierra Nevada
  4. Samuel Adams
Al
  1. Sierra Nevada
  2. Ayinger
  3. Samuel Adams
  4. Goose Island
Other than both having Ayinger as our second favourite, everything else was up in the air. Dave had Goose Island ahead on the basis that it was not as interesting a beer as Ayinger and Sierra Nevada and therefore something he was likely to down plenty of in a sitting, I had it last because I thought it was not as interesting as the others and I would get bored after a couple, same justification, different outcomes.

We both agreed that Ayinger was a really complex, interesting beer, very different from the American beers, but excellent drinking. The question was whether we would want to drink it by the litre? Both of us said that a couple of pints would be fine, but eventually we would end up with palette fatigue.

Between us I think we have probably drunk well in excess of 120 bottles of this year's Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, and we both love it. I put it first because it would be something I could drink plenty of, and have done so far this year, without getting bored. Dave put it just behind Ayinger because Ayinger was more interesting and if he was just having a couple then he would go for the Ayinger.

It sounds terrible to say, but both of us thought Samuel Adams was just "meh". It's ok, not terrible interesting, not terrible, but also not something either of us would happily down a 12 pack of together on the deck, the sweetness we agreed was one dimensional.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, we asked our respective wives to try our first choices and let us know their thoughts, but Ali preferred the Goose Island, and Mrs V the Sierra Nevada. Birds of a feather and all that jazz.

So we decided to have a policy of horses for courses. If you are having a session and don't want to think too much about the beer you are drinking, go for the Goose Island. If you are having a session and want a beer that doesn't just fade into the background, go for the Sierra Nevada.

While Sam Adams will not likely make another appearance in my fridge this year, the Ayinger most certainly will as I found that I really enjoyed it, even though it was much more "old school" märzen than the moodern, paler, Oktoberfest lager styles. I can imagine using it in many late autumn and winter recipes, especially for soaking fruit for a cake, or in my roasted garlic and onion jam recipe that I plan to make again soon.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Oktoberfest Taste Off - To The Final Four

And so the 16 became 8...

Time for the quarter finals of the Fuggled Oktoberfest taste off. Once again I did this blind, with Mrs V choosing at random numbers for the draw and them bringing me the quarter finals in whatever order suited her whimsy. The quarter finals were:
  • Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier vs Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen
  • Port City Oktoberfest vs Goose Island Oktoberfest
  • Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest vs Devils Backbone O'Fest
  • Samuel Adams Octoberfest vs Paulaner Märzen
Unlike the first round, which if you are interested you can read about here, I am going to include my tasting notes for the quarter finals, as ever using the Cyclops beer tasting template designed by a friend of mine, and these are in the order Mrs V gave them to me, winners in italics.

Samuel Adams Octoberfest vs Paulaner Märzen


Samuel Adams Octoberfest
  • Sight - light red, large ivory head, good clarity and head retention
  • Smell - unsweetened cocoa, toffee, light lemony hops, bread crusts
  • Taste - bready malt, light toffee, subtle spicy hops, just a touch thing
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Paulaner Märzen
  • Sight - copper, small white head, decent retention, very clear
  • Smell - grainy malt, cotton candy, herbal hops
  • Taste - Smooth, doughy bread, grassy hops, balanced but lacking bite, touch lemony
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Although the Sam Adams was a bit thinner than the Paulaner, the lack of a clean snappy bite really counted against the German beer.

Port City Oktoberfest vs Goose Island Oktoberfest


Port City Oktoberfest
  • Sight - rich golden, thin white head, lingered
  • Smell - light citrus, cereal, slightly toasty
  • Taste - toasted crusty bread, some grassy hops, subtle citrus, slightly dull finish
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Goose Island Oktoberfest
  • Sight - rich golden, thin white head
  • Smell - orange citrus, bready, toffee, floral hops
  • Taste - toasted muffin, flower meadow hops, some subtle spice, very nicely balanced
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
A surprise here in Goose Island winning over Port City, but it had more going on, especially in the aroma department, and the balance in the finish was very good.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest vs Devils Backbone O'Fest


Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • Sight - deep orange, tight ivory head, excellent retention
  • Smell - toasted cereal, light cinnamon, bready malt
  • Taste - brown sugar, juicy sweet malt, citrus hops, subtle lemon and lime, clean finish
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Devils Backbone O'Fest
  • Sight - amber, large fluffy head, excellent retention
  • Smell - English toffee, toasted biscuits, light lemon
  • Taste - rich toast, honey, bit thin in the finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Sierra Nevada takes the tie here as a far more complex and flavourful beer, O'Fest is good, but not up to Sierra Nevada.

Hofbrau Oktoberfestbier vs Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen


Hofbräu
  • Sight - deep gold, solid white head, good retention
  • Smell - weetabix, light citrus
  • Taste - boiled grain, metallic hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Ayinger Oktoberfest-Märzen
  • Sight - rich amber, firm white head, superb retention
  • Smell - crusty bread, toast, subtle spice
  • Taste - honeyed malt, sweet bread, toffee, lovely clean finish
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Ayinger was in a league of its own here, like a proper homemade fruitcake compared to the sweet confection that masquerades as fruit cake come Christmas time.

And so we have our final four, and I have to admit a couple of surprises here, I really didn't think Goose Island and Samuel Adams would make it this far. How did they fair? Come back Friday...

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Oktoberfest Taste Off - Round 1

I am not entirely sure I thought this one through.

Sitting watching the idiot box with a glass of Von Trapp Oktoberfest in my hand, I decided it would be a fun idea to get my grubby mitts on every Oktoberfest I could in the Charlottesville area and try to decide which was the best one.

I ended up with 18 beers, it would have been 19 but Beer Run have been out of Von Trapp Oktoberfest ever since the notion popped into my head. The 18 were:
  • Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • Port City Oktoberfest
  • Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen
  • Great Lakes Oktoberfest
  • Devils Backbone O'Fest
  • Blue Mountain 13.Five Oktoberfest
  • Goose Island Oktoberfest
  • Schlafly Oktoberfest
  • Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen
  • Paulander Oktoberfest Wiesn
  • Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier
  • Hacker-Pschorr Original Oktoberfest
  • Weihenstephaner Festbier
  • Benediktiner Festbier
  • Brothers Craft Festbier
  • Samuel Adams Octoberfest
  • Brooklyn Oktoberfest
  • Legend Oktoberfest
To whittle this down to 16 beers for a knock out style first round, I gave the beers each a number and had Mrs V give me 4 numbers at random for a pair of qualifying ties, which ended up being:
  • Great Lakes Oktoberfest vs Schlafly Oktoberfest
  • Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest vs Brothers Craft Festbier
Rather than taking notes for the qualifying round, I drank each beer blind and made my decision as a pure beauty contest, figuring that I would pay more attention to the beers themselves in the competition proper. Thus Sierra Nevada and Schlafly made it through. Despite Great Lakes and Brothers Craft being sent home early, both were perfectly decent beers, though Great Lakes was sweetener than I like for a lager beer. With capricious whimsy completing the first round, we made the draw:
  • Ayinger vs Blue Mountain Brewery
  • Benediktiner vs Port City Brewing
  • Hacker-Pschorr vs Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Hofbräu vs Brooklyn Brewery
  • Paulaner Märzen vs Legend Brewing
  • Paulaner Wiesn vs Goose Island
  • Weihenstephan vs Samuel Adams
  • Sierra Nevada vs Schlafly
To keep this as blind as possible, the inestimable Mrs V randomly picked the ties to pour and didn't tell me which beer was which for each pair. I did take some notes for round 1 but outcomes were heavily influenced by which beer I preferred, so rather than bore you to death with my tasting notes (and honestly how many times do you want to read "malty"?), here are the pictures, with the victorious beer in bold.

Hofbräu vs Brooklyn Brewery


Weihenstephaner vs Samuel Adams


Paulaner Wiesn vs Goose Island


Paulaner Märzen vs Legend


Benediktiner vs Port City


Hacker-Pschorr vs Devils Backbone


Ayinger vs Blue Mountain


Schlafly vs Sierra Nevada


A couple of takeaways from these results. I was really surprised that Samuel Adams made it past the first round as normally I find it way too sweet for my tastes. There were some seriously difficult decisions here, had I been doing this with friends fisticuffs may have ensued, it was that close, in particular the Ayinger vs Blue Mountain and Schlafly vs Sierra Nevada ties.

This weekend I will do the quarter and semi finals, having bought extra bottles of any of the beers that I need. Tempted to run a poll on what people think will win...

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

To a T

I spent my formative teenage years living in the Outer Hebrides, in particular for the geographically challenged the bit in the red box in the picture:


The blue bit to the west of the islands is, obviously, the Atlantic Ocean. That blue bit stretches all the way to Canada with nothing between. It is not for nothing that the islands are often referred to as being on the edge of the world. I loved living there, and there are still times when I have moments where I think it would be good to go home and raise my boys the relative peace and safety.

Like most teenage kids growing up in isolated communities drinking started at a relatively early age, I think I was 14 when I had my first sneaky can of beer, nicked from a fridge at someone's house during a party at which parents were free to bring their kids along. I am not counting here the cider my parents would give us as younger kids, or my dad's homebrew that we would drink from time to time. There is something about that first illicit beer, as I say taken from the fridge when the adults weren't looking, that means more than all your parents' enlightened attitudes toward booze.

Most definitely among those first ill-gotten cans of nectar was Tennent's Lager, at a time when the cans still featured the Tennent's Lager Lovelies, scantily glad models that were probably many a teenage beer filcher's first crush. With said cans safely hidden in coat pockets we would head out to the garden and sit behind a dry stone wall, in the lee of the wind, and pretend like we knew anything about beer.

Such memories came flooding back when Boak and Bailey posted a story about them drinking Tennents when in Scotland recently, and so I resolved that on my trip home in July to do likewise. Thus it was that on the first Friday night in the Highlands, Mrs V and I left the bairns with their grandparents and wandered up to one of my favourite institutions, the public bar of a Highland hotel, the Station Hotel in Alness.

Entering through the hefty, weather beaten, teal blue doors you land practically on the bar. In keeping with public bar tradition there is no carpet, old school wooden floorboards are the order of the day. There is no fancy furniture, a few barstools, well used wooden tables around the periphery of the room, and equally well used wooden chairs. My kind of bar.

Dotted around the bar are groups of working men, ignoring the barstools entirely, standing just shy of an arm's length from their pints. At a table in the corner, a mixed group of Polish seasonal workers, in many a Highland public bar when there are ladies present in your group, you sit at a table rather than stand at the bar. Mrs V and I took up station at the short end of the bar itself, I like to be at a bar when I am drinking, next to the gaming machine, flashing with promises of paying your drinks bill for the night if you are lucky enough.

The Station doesn't do craft beer, doesn't really do local beer either if I remember rightly. I am not sure it would matter anyway, basically everyone was drinking Tennent's, which apparently accounts for 50% of all lager drunk in Scotland. I didn't bother with pictures of my pints, perhaps for fear of being called out as the metropolitan middle class softie I have become, or because it was irrelevant to being out with my wife on a rare trip sans enfants.

The first thing that strikes me is just how fizzy the pint is, though given the laser etched nucleation points on the base of the branded glassware, is it always that carbonated? Given the never ending stream of bubbles, the head pretty much stayed put, it was actually a rather alluring sight, and possibly the first time I had drunk Tennents and been able to see it.

Taking a first mouthful, my initial reaction was that if I was served this at an American craft brewery, either as a pilsner or helles, I would be pretty happy. Sure it is no Port City Downright Pilsner, but it is not a bad pale lager by any stretch of the imagination. The flavour is mostly a grainy crackeriness, somewhat similar to a Jacob's Cream Cracker, with a similar subtle sweetness as well. Am I allowed to say that it actually tasted of barley? That's a thing right? Hops are not a major component of the brew seemingly, but what was there gave enough of a clean bitterness to snap the malt to attention, as well as wisps of floral lemoniness that reeks of classic noble hops, you know, the ones from Central Europe.

Four mouthfuls in and the pint was gone, a fresh one on its way, then another, and another as we settled into the buzz and banter of the bar. At some point a pair of young girls came in, one with ID and one without, dolled up for a night on the town and pre-gaming before heading into Inverness. The gathered older folks, which Mrs V and I have accepted we are now part of, shared looks of recognition of days gone by, while the barman gave the IDless girl short shrift, and soon they were gone, while hands reached out for pints and the drinking continued.

I don't recall how many pints I had, maybe 8, but I did wonder, perhaps out loud and a tad overly loud as Mrs V and I walked back to my parents' place whether an avowedly craft bar is capable of such an atmosphere? Merrily buzzed and with no regret whatsoever for drinking Tennent's all night, I fell into a happy slumber that thankfully the twins didn't disturb until about seven thirty the next morning. I would drink Tennents again several times on the trip, each time knowing that I would miss it when I got back to Virginia.

Maybe it is the Tennents I miss, maybe it's public bars in Highland Hotels. Either way, that session will live on in the memory, despite no pictures.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Lager Doesn't Need You

Oh FFS, it's 2019, why does craft beer still feel the need to come out with this level of shite...?



So Stone Brewing, fresh from failing to revolutionise the German brewing scene with their, now sold on to Brewdog, Berlin operation, have decided that lagers "deserve flavor too"? How fucking gracious of them.

I wonder at times if there is a mine that delivers endless piles of marketing bullshit to breweries to simply reinforce the fallacy that seems common among certain sectors of the beer world that somehow lager is flavourless fizzy water (which is kind of ironic considering the nascent popularity of the "hard seltzer").

That lager is still used as shorthand for bland beer is sadly typical for for too many in the craft beer world, especially among the types that think everything needs a boatload of New World hops, or have the world "India" somewhere in its moniker.

I enjoyed a glorious lager last night, 8.3% abv, wonderfully dark, and brewed with only malt, hops, yeast, water, and nothing else. It was Olde Mecklenburg's Fat Boy Baltic Porter and it went with my wife's homemade apple pie an absolute treat. Most of my drinking since I got back from Scotland has been Sierra Nevada's Oktoberfest collaboration with Bitburger, again a wonderful example of the lager arts.

Anyway, back to the original tweet from Stone, and to riff on their style of marketing, lager doesn't you to add flavour, perhaps you need to learn to appreciate the flavours and aromas of classic central European lagers. So give it a rest with the lager bashing, both obvious and insidious, and own the fact that the bottom fermented family of beer is as interesting and varied as its top fermented cousin.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2019

Picking up my dog from the in-laws in South Carolina after a trip to Scotland always feels like the beginning of the end of summer, something I am always grateful for. I am not much of a fan of summer, preferring the cool delights of spring and autumn, or in a particularly happy year, the cold and snow of winter - Narnia under Queen Jadis sounds fantastic to me. Another sign of the impending end of summer is mulling over the beers I have had in the last 12 months from Virginian breweries and coming up with my top ten...
  1. Port City Brewing - Downright Pilsner (4.8%). Normal service has been restored for my regular readers who may have been concerned that the last couple of years of this has seen the top spot taken by an imperial stout and a porter. Earlier this year my family and I has a weekend trip to Alexandria in Northern Virginia to visit my wife's cousin and her family, while in town we took the opportunity to visit Port City in the flesh for the first time. Thus it was that I had Downright Pilsner as fresh as fresh could be, and it was simply divine, singing with the lemon, hay, and oh so subtle spice of Czech Saaz hops. This beer is so painfully simple in terms of its ingredients, Pilsner malt, Saaz hops, water, yeast, but in doing things properly, including 6 weeks lagering and natural carbonation, it is process and attention to quality that make this beer stand out as the drinking highlight of the last 12 months in my world.
  2. Three Notch'd Brewing - No Veto Brown Ale (5.0%) . Last autumn I went on something of a bender. Not the traditional, all in one extended sitting, bender that is, perhaps going on a kick is a better description. I had a craving for a brown ale one rainy weekend, and thus started about 5 weeks of pretty much only drinking that style, and in the process revisting several beers that had been missing from life for a while. No Veto made a welcome return to the taps at the Three Notch'd brewpub right in the middle of that kick, and dominated it from there on in. Beautifully layered flavours of crusty bread, unsweetened cocoa, hazelnuts, and a light chocolate dance with richly earthy hops, with just a twang of a tobacco note in the mix as well. Given a quick stir to knock out the excessive carbonation so beloved of American drinkers, and some time to get it to cellar temperature and you have a simply wonderful wet afternoon tipple.
  3. South Street Brewing - Shake Your Teal Feather Pilsner (4.3%). I sometimes think I am a sucker for punishment. I see the words "pils", "pilsner", or even on occasion "pilsener" on a beer list and I know I need to try said beer. More often than not said urge leads to mild disappointment as the vast majority of craft brewed pilsners are meh at best. Thank god then for Mitch at South Street who knows his way round brewing an excellent lager. I ordered SYTF over my regular South Street tipple, took an obligatory large mouthful, none of your sipping fannying about in Fuggled world, and boom in an instant I was back in the Czech Republic. Two more mouthfuls, with a taste for Mrs V, confirmed that here was an absolutel belter of a Bohemian style pale lager. Singing with hops, the malt backing group added the necessary harmonies, and a finish that just screamed out for another mouthful. Yeah, it was that good, and all I drank for a while.
  4. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). As I said, Mitch knows how to brew a damned fine pale lager, and My Personal Helles is still probably the beer I drink the most of, I cannot say this enough, I freaking love this beer. It has got ot the point that often the folks at South Street are confused if I don't order it, and depending who is behind the bar on a given day, they don't even have to ask what I want.
  5. Alewerks Brewing - Tavern Brown Ale (5.7%). The other highlight of my autumn on the brown ale, and one that will be a feature of this autumn in all likelihood. When served at the perfect cellar temperature of 54°F, having been stored in our wine cooler at that temperature for a week or so, the complexities of the malt jump to the fore, a beautifully blended melange of sourdough bread, roasted hazelnuts, and cocoa, with caramelised oranges in the background. You often hear beer referred to as liquid bread, this was liquid bread with Nutella, lovely.
  6. Basic City Beer Co. - Our Daily Pils (4.7%). It was a Friday afternoon, I was at Beer Run in town using better wifi than I currently have at home, and this was the only beer on tap that wasn't some weird concoction, or Natty Boh, or Allagash White, which I wasn't in the mood for. Being unflitered there is a slight haze that reminds me more of a kellerbier, but the flavours were all on point and a second pint soon followed. Now if I see it on tap when I am out and about, I am a happy camper.
  7. Three Notch'd Brewing - 40 Mile IPA (6%). I know you are shocked that an American style IPA would make it onto the Fuggled list of the top 10 Virginian beers I have drunk in the last 12 months, but 40 Mile does something that so many IPAs simply do not do anymore, it gets the bitterness right. IPA is meant to be a bitter beer, not some juiced up wankfest for people who seem to not actually like the taste of beer, and yes there is a basic beer flavour. This was the first beer of 2019 for me, and also the first beer I wrote about for Flagship February. Coming back to this beer after several years of preferring other Three Notch'd beers was like seeing an old friend again. 40 Mile is everything a proper US IPA should be, a bit on the strong side, clean bitterness, firm malty backbone, and reeking with hop aroma and flavour. A classic.
  8. Stable Craft Brewing - Britchin Brown (5.5%). Yeah, brown ales need a moment in the limelight of their own, minus daft additions naturally. Stable Craft are a relatively new brewery, and Britchin Brown was on tap at a pub I frequent from time to time while I was in the middle of my brown ale kick. Once I had allowed it to warm up to a more reasonable temperature (seriously folks what's with the penguin feet obsession?), here was an excellently constructed version of the American brown ale style. Yes you get all the usual malt flavours associated with brown ale, nutty, chocolatey, and a trace of roastiness, but with Britchin Brown there is a clean refreshingness to it that makes it almost too easy to drink.
  9. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - VIPA (5.2%). VIPA is described by Hardywood as a Virginia India Pale Ale, or even a "Virgindia Pale Ale". It is brewed with locally grown Virginian hops, Cascade I believe, and is an interesting study in the impact of terroir on hop flavour, yes you get the grapefruit and pine that is the calling card of Cascade, but there is also a subtle coconut flavour and aroma that is apparently unique to Virginian Cascade. The coconut characteristic just about makes it through into the drinking with this beer, and at only 5.2% it is a very drinkable, if not entirely sessionable, beer.
  10. Blue Mountain Brewery Full Nelson Virginia Pale Ale (5.9%). Another local brewery's flagship beer that I revisted during Flagship February and wondered to myself why I had ignored it for so long? Seriously hoppy at 60IBU, a good dose of which is a pithy bitterness that just seems to be missing from so many pale ales these days. While I would argue that at 5.9% this is not a sessionable beer, it is more certainly pintable, and goes especially well with the spicy chicken and waffles at one of my favourite brunch places in Charlottesville. Again, I find that this beer really benefits from being allowed to warm up to cellar temperature, and I don't recall it ever being available cask conditioned, but it would absolutely sing in that format.
I point this out every year, but this is an entirely subjective list based purely on my drinking in the last 12 months. If you have any recommendations of good Virginia beers I should hunt out and try, I am more than open to suggestion.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Hitting the Sweet Spot

Well, so much for micro blogging July eh? Turns out the Blogger mobile app is a pile of dogshit and every post I attempted got hung up in the publishing process. Anyway, Mrs V, myself, and the twins are back from our month long sojourn to Scotland, so I have access to regular Blogger again - 2 step authentication is great, if your mobile phone actually gets text messages abroad.

One of aims while home in the Highlands was to stick as much as possible to local beer, and if that failed then to at least drink Scottish brews. The very, very, very minor midge in that ointment, was that my thinking ahead parents got me in some Timothy Taylor Landlord a couple of days before we arrived. One of my rules in life is to never say no to Landlord, and after 20ish hours of travelling, they went down superbly well.

Don't worry, I am not going to give you a blow by blow list of tasting notes of the various beers I enjoyed, and didn't, in my month back. One thing though that I did notice, and this may say more about me than it does Scottish brewing, but there seemed to be a sweet spot in terms of ABV and insanely wonderful drinking, somewhere in the range of 3.5-3.8% to be honest.

That range of alcohol seems tiddly when compared to the average craft beer being made in many a brewery in Virginia, 6.5% is pretty much the norm. Thankfully though I tend not to think of strength as a flavour or pre-cursor to my enjoyment, many of the worst beers I have ever drunk have been in that average craft beer range. Perhaps then it is a case that British brewers are just phenomenal at producing flavourful beer without boatloads of malt and the requisite hopping to avoid drinking syrup.

The highlights of drinking in this sweet spot were:

The beers listed are sold as an Edinburgh pale ale, session IPA, session blonde, and session pale ale respectively, so sessionability is a key part of the appeal, and there is not one of them I wouldn't happily spend the night on the sesh devoted to. Of the 4 only Inveralmond's frankly divine EPA doesn't focus on New World hops, if anyone ever slags off Goldings or Styrian Goldings then force this down their neck and watch them come to the light of truth.


When I finally get back round to having a pint now that the travelling is all but done, I am actually mildly concerned that nothing at the various brewpubs and bars I frequent will have the same appeal. I know that I will spend some time brewing variations on this theme, so I am not utterly bereft, but the absence of proper session beer in the US craft scene genuinely saddens me.


When I think of Lew Bryson's definition of a session beer topping out at 4.5% and that so many brewers sell "session" beers that go well north of that, I am forced to come to the conclusion that despite various well known outliers, session beer is unlikely to be a regular part of the craft beer scene. Whether that is a result of brewers being unwilling to make beers that are genuinely session strength or that a very vocal minority of drinkers advocate for the big, or unusual, stuff to the detriment of all else, I am not sure.


Thank goodness then for the homebrew store...

Munich - Flying Visit

When I flew to central Europe back in October, I landed firstly in Frankfurt before heading on to Prague. For my flight back I had a choice,...