Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sober Reflections - #TheSession

Before launching into my beery navel gazing that is the "theme", for want of a better word, that Alan has set before us for this month, let me say that I am so glad that he decided to pick up the baton and keep running with The Session.


Coming back to Alan's request, he wants us to reflect on the month now drawing to its close:
How was your dry or wet January? Did the campaign actually change your behaviours in any way? Or is it just good to reflect on the idea of alcohol and health and this is a great way to do it?
This is the 12th year that I have taken January off the booze. I am not sure there was even such a thing as "Dry January" back in 2007, back when my standard beers were Gambrinus, Kozel, and Budvar. That first month off the booze came about as a result of a particularly drunken Christmas and Hogmanay season, and just sick of feeling shitty with a hangover.

In common with many smokers' anecdotes, the hardest part was going to the pub, to watch football, and not having a half litre beer glass in my hand. After about 10 days though that wore off and I found that I quite enjoyed waking up with a clear head on a Sunday morning and walking along the Vltava in the crisp winter cold. When February 1st came around though, I was ready for a beer, but my palette had changed, and of the old faithfuls only Budvar satisfied.

My dry month has become as much a feature of my drinking life as my love of Czech lager and best bitter, it's just something I like to do for no other reason than I feel that it is good sometimes to take a step back, even switch off a little bit, and tune out the noise that surrounds much of the craft beer industry.

This year has been the hardest I can remember, and I am glad that I am a stubborn, bloody minded Highlander, as that determination to get to the finish line will get me through. It would be too easy to say that the fact that I have 15 month old twins has made the month harder, I had the same twins, though younger obviously, this time last year. Life with 3 month old twins though is a completely different kettle of fish, and not drinking when you have to deal with 2 or 3 feedings each night was likely beneficial.

In talking about this with Mrs V, as inestimably wonderful as ever, she noted that compared to even 3 or 4 years ago I probably don't drink quite as much, and so for the first Holidays period I can recall, there were no epic, or even semi-epic, sessions on the booze. There was a fairly steady stream of a couple of imperial pints each night, and a few extra at the weekend, but nothing where Mrs V felt as though I had had enough, before my going on to have a few more. Without sludgy hangovers to deal with, the feeling of clean came much quicker than the usual ten days.

This year has also likely been harder because the boys, as is the want of kids that age in winter, have been an endless source of snot, fever, and the attendant discomforted upset that goes along with such things. When bedtime is over and done with so many nights I have looked longingly at the Sierra Nevada mix pack, cans of König Pilsner, and growler of South Street doppelbock in the fridge, only to have that dour Highland determination remind me that a few more days without will make that first February beer all the sweeter.

And then comes through the news about Fullers. As with previous sales of breweries I very much like, I am incapable of the caterwauling and gnashing of teeth that is de rigeur at times like this. However, I think the news is the first time such a thing has happened in the middle of my drink free time, and perhaps I am clearer headed than usual, but this time the lamentations of St Jude's acolytes grated more keenly, like the banshee's wail. As someone pointed out, there is a likely overlap of caterwaulers and folks that derided Fullers as "boring brown beer". Some people will find any reason for a moan.

Anyway, Friday is on its way, and I am looking forward to having a beer or two with lunch to get back in the swing of things.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Try Offering Dry

A friend on Facebook posted this interesting little article in the Morning Advertiser today, which basically states that Dry January will "be the death" of the British pub.

The article goes on to state that 5 million British drinkers have signed up for the "official" Dry January project run by those tireless, puritanical, temperance folks of Alcohol Concern. The number of people completing the challenge in previous years is not mentioned. If my own observations of friends who, like me, attempt to take 31 days off the bevvy can be extrapolated out, I would not be surprised if fewer than 2 million people actually succeed.

I have mentioned in previous posts that I have little truck with either the official Dry January brigade or the plucky rebellious sorts advocating for Tryanuary, which encourages folks to break out from their normal drinking, preferably at some craft beer, leave your wallet with the barman, type place.

Now forgive me I am being cynical but could someone please just decide what exactly it is that is killing the British pub? Is it the smoking ban? Brexit? Climate change? It seems at times that anything that diverges from the image of Blighty as basically The Shire writ large is the greatest harbinger of doom for the pub industry.

Now forgive me if as a mere punter I am missing something, but haven't we just had the Christmas and Hogmanay period, when pubs are slammed to the gunwales pretty much for the entirety of December? Why was no one complaining that all these people out on the piss were putting too much money in the boozers' coffers?

It seems to me that rather than whining to the media about how a dip in custom is affecting their business's profitability, landlords would be better served taking on board the ethos of Tryanuary and give the Dry January folks an actual alternative to booze. I know too many places that only have some crap like lime soda as a non booze option.


How about offering traditionally made soft drinks, ditching the post-mix swill from Pepsi or Coke, like those made by Dalston's or Lovely Soft Drinks? Thankfully here in central Virginia most of my favourite places to drink also make their own ginger beer, and in the case of Three Notch'd it's bloody delicious.

Running a business means adapting to market forces and the capricious whimsy of the consumer, pubs are no different.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Local Flagships

It would appear that I have entered uncharted territory, being described as "all a’giggle" and "excited and on-board", phrases not normally applied to this fine upstanding example of the Highland Scot, a study in taciturn. I refer of course to my enthusiasm, suspicious naturally, for the upcoming Flagship February. One of the reasons I am happy to support Flagship February is that it chimes so nicely with my Old Friends series of posts, several of which has featured brewery flagships that I hadn't drunk in a while.

It does however raise the question, in this era of almost weekly new beer tappings, one off collaborations, and limited availability releases, how do you identify a brewery's flagship? Well, Stephen Beaumont, the driving force behind the project offers this:
the beer that formed the foundation of the brewery… not necessarily its current best-seller
That pretty much seems to be on point for a definition. As an example I asked the brew master at Three Notch'd here in central Virginia what he considered to be their flagship beer, to which he responded 40 Mile IPA, despite the current best seller being their Minute Man NEIPA. I imagine then there will be a fair amount of IPA in the drinking of folks supporting Flagship February, I remember well sitting with the MD of another local brewery just before they started distributing widely in Virginia and being told they only chose an IPA as one of their packaged beers because it was expected by most craft beer drinkers. Thankfully though, in this part of the world at least, not every brewery has an IPA as their flagship.

The guys at Blue Mountain have their Full Nelson, a "Virginia Pale Ale" that is pretty much a classic American style pale ale, with all the citrus and pine hop thing you effect, you could almost call it "old school" but that would be a disservice to what is a fine, fine beer.

Just a wee bit down Route 151 (the Boulevard of Booze), Devils Backbone's flagship is their simply wonderful Vienna Lager, which I wrote about for the Old Friends series.

Coming into town itself and at South Street, one of my favourite haunts when it isn't January (side note, this year's dry month is harder than previous years), their flagship is Satan's Pony, an amber ale that is magnificently crushable and I wish they would have it on their forlorn beer engine, sans silly shit in the cask. It would be a revelation I am sure.

Again popping out of Charlottesville, to Starr Hill in Crozet and here we do have an IPA for a flagship, and again a beer I wrote about for Old Friends, the Northern Lights IPA, at one time the best selling IPA in Virginia. There was a question in my mind about whether Northern Lights would be the Starr Hill flagship, but since they no longer include Jomo Lager, Pale Ale, Dark Starr, or Amber Ale in their core lineup, it's pointless to ask.

As well as being an opportunity to remind myself of some beers I have enjoyed mightily in the past, Flagship February could also be the kick up the zythophilic arse I need to get to some of the newer local breweries and try their flagships

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

My Name is Fuggled, And I Approve #FlagshipFebruary

It started with a post on Vinepair about the struggles of flagship beers in the American marketplace. Step forward Stephen Beaumont with the idea of Flagship February, a month dedicated to celebrating the core brands that are the back bone of many a craft brewery. It was thus that Flagship February was born.

The idea is pretty simple, spend a month drinking and celebrating those flagship beers that are the backbone of many a brewery's offering. This is the kind of thing that I am more than happy to get behind, especially as it chimes nicely with the Old Friends series that I have been doing here on Fuggled.

With that in mind, I plan to make flagship beers a major feature of my drinking, and posting, in February, and not just from the central Virginia region - partly because several of them have Old Friends posts already.

Now, to start encouraging industry folks I know to stock flagships on tap in their bars, or have some kind of special deal in their tasting rooms....