Monday, April 29, 2019

For The Love of Lager

I am a Lagerboy, plain, simple, and proud of the fact.

Sure there are top fermented beer styles that I love as well, but nothing is as satisfying as a pint of well made pale lager. The crackery, bready, malt, the snap and floral bouquet of noble hops, the lingering finish, clean, crisp, and almost daring you to try and stop drinking. Perhaps a dark lager could compete however, adding some toasty, smoothly roasty notes into the mix, hopefully with some of that Munich sweetness that is beyond even the finest crystal malts in the deftest of hands.


I have written before about how in this part of Virginia we are somewhat spoilt for choice when it comes to locally brewed lagers. South Street in the heart of Charlottesville have probably the single most regular beer I drink, My Personal Helles, which in my mind is pretty much the archetype for a good helles in my world. Devils Backbone's Schwartzbier is a staple during the colder months, and if I am honest I doubt there is a better example of the schwarzbier on the planet - a bold claim I know.


However, I have a gripe, for some reason the beer distributors in this part of Virginia have decreed that craft lager from breweries such as Port City and Troegs will not be available on the shelves. When Mrs V and I go to do our weekly shop at the local Wegmans it appears that the entire Port City lineup is there. If you fancy their magnificent Porter, you will be happy. If their delightful witbier is your thing, not a problem. Want one of their IPAs, bob's your uncle. Hankering for the deliriously wonderful Downright Pilsner.....yeah, fuck you, not a chance.


I can tell the same story about Troegs. Fans of hoppy beers of varying degrees of India-ness are more than catered for, people that know Sunshine Pils is one of the best pale lagers being made anywhere on planet earth, let alone the east coast of the USA, can once again fuck off in the minds of the beer distributors and retailers of central Virginia.

I have asked time after time at store after store in the area for them to stock both of these delights, but their absence continues to stand out like a sore thumb, more galling for the fact that just a couple of hours drive away in Warrenton, gateway to the gridlock that is Northern Virginia, the Wegmans stocks both Downright and Sunshine. So what gives?

I assume the same distributor handles Port City Optimal Wit as Port City Porter (though with the fucked up nature of distribution rights and the asinine politics of beer distribution who knows if that is actually true), so why have they taken the unilateral decision to deny the drinkers of central Virginia a world class Czech style pale lager? I likewise assume the guys filling the Charlottesville Wegmans shelves with Troegs' IPA have the ability to add a little Sunshine to our lives, but choose not to.

Can anyone explain?

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Old Friends: Samuel Smiths Oatmeal Stout

We are on the cusp of a proper change in season here in central Virginia.

The threat of frost has receded, and most mornings when I walk Honza, our Cairn Terrier, it is a rather pleasant 55° Fahrenheit, that's about 13° Celsius for those of you that live in the 21st Century. With the warming days and shortening nights I tend to find that I am drawn to paler beers as my beloved porters, stouts, and dark lagers are banished for these painful weeks until the Summer Solstice has passed and I feel alive again - I am a winter soul through and through.

To wave farewell for a few months, I decided to do an Old Friends post on one of my absolute favourite beers, Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout.


Samuel Smiths' beers are probably the easiest British beers to get on this side of the Pond, and our local Wegmans carries most of their range, including the Organic Lager which may feature more regularly in the coming months' drinking.

Is there an Oatmeal Stout out there that is more closely associated with the style than Sam Smith's? I honestly can't think of one, it is as synonymous for me as Guinness is with Irish Stout, Sierra Nevada with Pale Ale, and Żywiec with Baltic Porter. So how was this most famous, and august, brew?


As you would imagine it poured as black as India ink, and interestingly, just as lustrous. Having mastered the art of pouring into a nonic glass, there was a mere half inch cap of foam that lingered for the duration of the drinking, protecting the precious liquid below. I have given up drinking Sam Smiths beers from my Sam Smiths glasses due to the etching on the bottom of the glass that creates a massive head. The aromas were exactly what you expect from a stout, coffee, chocolate, you know the deal, though I always find with this one that a trace of pipe tobacco forces it's way through the head to make you think of Gandalf the Grey enjoying the finest pipeweed in all of The Shire.

The aromatic themes, as is so often the case with stouts, carry on into the flavour department, think a slice of grannies bestest chocolate cake, served with a fine Italian espresso, then add in the silken mouthfeel of the oats and you have a luscious pint of dessert. Having, as is my wont, let the beer come up to cellar temperature, the carbonation was unobtrusive, just enough to clean the palette and leave you wanting more.

What a simply glorious way to bid farewell to the colder days of winter and early spring, though admitted I am already looking ahead to autumn's return.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Cleveland in dem Haus

Last week I was in Cleveland, Ohio, for a conference. Having admitted in several posts that I am a terrible beer tourist, I have determined that whenever I am away on a business trip I am going to try and change that narrative. Naturally I had done some research on Cleveland and had a list of breweries whose wares I at least wanted to try, time can often be at a premium on these conference trips and so I usually find a well regarded pub with a decent local selection so I can at least try a few new things.

Then I saw the magic words "Hofbräuhaus Cleveland" and knew without a shadow of any doubt that if time allowed then I would be going. Inspired by the thought of Bavarian style booze and food, I checked Google Maps and discovered it was 0.4 miles from my hotel...yeah, you know I was going there. Thus it was having landed in a much colder than Virginia Cleveland, and spent the afternoon getting set up for the conference exhibition, I took a stroll and allowed my mind to wander back to central Europe...


It being a Wednesday night, the Hofbräuhaus was not exactly busy and so I strode past the classic bench tables of a bierhalle, headed straight for my favourite place to drink, the bar itself.


Behind the bar stands the heartbeat of any brewpub, the coppers, and in this case actually copper, or at least copper clad, shining brightly. I was actually thrilled when I saw them, I knew their beers would be brewed in the US rather than shipped from Germany, but for some reason I hadn't expected them to be brewed in house. The thought of fresh, brewed in situ, Hofbräuhaus lagers filled my heart with joy. Yeah, I am a sucker for pretty much all beer and food related Teutonic things, I would say "German" but let's not leave out the Austrians shall we?


When in Rome and all that jazz, I started out with a half litre (yes!!) of the Hofbräuhaus Original...


Original is a Helles that is clean, crisp, with a nice noble hop bite and enough malt body to make it wonderfully easy drinking without dissipating into wateriness. It was a lovely beer with which to stare in bafflement at the food menu - how exactly does an avowed teutonophile decide between schnitzel and wurst? With a half litre of dunkel perhaps?


As I said it was cold in Cleveland, about 30°F when I arrived and there it had stayed in anticipation of warmer times, and so the dunkel just seemed more like cold weather drinking. This was lovely, rich, spicy, gently warming, touches of cocoa, tobacco, and that light cinnamon thing that you get with German hops. With a decision made on the food front, jägerschnitzel, another half litre was duly ordered as I had found my beery muse for the night.

I am fairly sure that Hofbräuhaus Cleveland will not win many friends among the punks and illuminati of the craft beer world, but for those of us who love a well made, classic, German style lager, it is a great place and one that if ever life takes me to Cleveland again will be due another visit.

Thinking about it in light of the news that Stone had sold their Berlin brewery to BrewDog, maybe the problem was craft beer's attitude to Germany rather than Germany's attitude to craft beer, after all Bavaria basically invented "traditional ingredients". Perhaps in the beer drinking heartlands of the world, there is less demand for beers "with a twist", and perhaps craft beer largely fails to understand that for the normal German drinker something like a helles, pilsner, or dunkel is as good as they want it to get?

And who is to say they are wrong? Not this guy, that's for sure.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Done Right, Damn Right, Downright.

I have mentioned many times that I am an abysmal beer tourist. Here in the Charlottesville area there are plenty of breweries I just haven't bothered to go visit, a fact perhaps influenced by many a local brewery's lack of lager in their lineup - it's a post for another day but recently I have been feeling as though I have come full circle in wanting mainly to drink properly made lagers to almost the exclusion of all else.

At the tail end of last year, Mrs V's cousin took up a job that had her and her husband transplant from Greensboro, North Carolina, to the interminable gridlock that is Northern Virginia, Alexandria to be precise. This weekend just gone, Mrs V and I went up, with the Malé Aličky to tow naturally, to visit, and I saw an opportunity to rectify my errant ways. Alexandria is home to one of my favourite breweries, Port City, and it really was high time for me to darken the door of their tasting room/bar.

Given the high regard in which I hold Port City, it is perhaps odd that I don't post about them more often, though there is a major mitigating circumstance. For some reason, best known only to the distributors and retailers in this part of the world, their Downright Pilsner is rarer than hens' teeth. Their majesterial Porter is something I save for the darker nights of autumn and winter, once I get my fill of the annual Oktoberfest, which is always a fine brew. Usually I have to limit my Downright consumption to the occasions when I see it on tap.

Well, on Sunday it was on tap just a few yards from where it had been brewed as I dragged the family along to get my fill of fresh Downright before Mrs V drove us back to central Virginia.

I am sure I have said this many times before, but there is simply no other Virginia brewed pilsner, whether Bohemian, German, or American in style, that is anywhere near as good as Downright Pilsner. There are a couple that come close, looking at you Devils Backbone Meadow Bier and South Street Shake Your Teal Feather, but Downright has so far held off all comers looking to take that particular crown.


Perhaps it's the simplicity of the recipe, just Pilsner malt and Saaz hops? Perhaps it is the 6 weeks of lagering, or maybe the mildly untraditional dry hopping with Saaz? Perhaps it's the 43 IBUs that all that Saaz brings to the table (yes you read that right, an American made Czech style pilsner that hops it with the best of Czech made Czech lagers). Perhaps it's the fact that Downright is a dvanáctka, that's a 12° Plato beer for the non-Czech speakers of the world?

Actually, it is all of the above. Downright is done right, and when you do things properly you get good results. Could Downright stand up if served on the taps of august Prague establishments like Pivovarský klub? Damn right it would. In fact, I am convinced it would quickly become a favourite among the cognoscenti of the Czech beer world.

Now then, when can I get back to Alexandria, given that my crowlers are finished and already I am hankering for more...?

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