Friday, September 25, 2020

Raising Voices: Amethyst Heels

Today sees the beginning of a new series of guest posts here on Fuggled, which I am calling "Raising Voices". The aim of this series is to amplify, as much as this blog can do, the voices of people in the beer world who come from communities that are under-represented in the mainstream of beer communications, such as people of colour and LGBT.

I very much believe that beer is the people's drink and as such is open to all, regardless of background. Yet, so often the voices we hear talking about beer are very much like me, white, financially middle to upper middle class, straight, and male. Being the people's drink, the beer community should be intrinsically diverse and inclusive, and such diversity reflected in the media we produce.

Today's post is by Ruvani de Silva or the Craft Beer Amethyst site, and perhaps better known by her Twitter handle "Amethyst Heels", so to avoid waffling on, I hand over to her...


When I walked into my very first Great British Beer Festival at London’s Earl’s Court back in August 2005, I (rather obviously) had no idea that fifteen years later I would be a beer writer, beer nerd, beer traveller and beer advocate. If I had known, however, I would not have been at all surprised to hear that I would be one of the only South Asian voices in the industry. 

Back in 2005 I liked beer, but was honestly a bit more of a wine gal. Walking into Earl’s Court that day, something began to change. That huge cavernous space, not a pretty events arena by anybody’s estimation, but so alive and buzzing with the hubbub of beer nerds poised over their programmes, clamouring at each of the endless progression of bars, full of questions, specifications, speaking - or so it felt – their own language. I was fascinated. I wanted to be on the inside, to learn how to navigate this enormous room full of more beer, more types of beer, more breweries than I could ever have imagined could exist in the geographical confines of Great Britain.

Unusually for a South Asian second-generation immigrant of my age, I grew up, while not exactly in the countryside, also not very far from it either. In smallish town that I hail from, cask beer was the norm, much of it brewed locally, and I’ve always enjoyed the taste of Milds and Bitters, those cheeky sips sneaked out of the top of my dad’s pint glass. Lagers were frowned upon as ‘foreign muck’ – a young person’s drink, and as a young person I was more than happy to fall into that particular stereotype, but the nuance, the variety, the excitement of cask ale, drew me back. I began to investigate cask options from pub to pub, note flavours, styles and breweries. I began to have my favourites. GBBF became a fixture in my calendar, and I began attending other CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) festivals and events around London, eventually becoming a paid-up member and volunteer. I loved the element of exploration, getting to know different styles well and becoming discerning, ie a bit of a nerd, the same way I had with wine. And yes, I liked surprising people. Bartenders, friends, colleagues, men in general and sometimes women too. No one expects the brown girl to order a pint of cask, still less do they expect her to be able to talk knowledgeably about it. Being unusual, unpredictable and informed in a world where people are constantly making assumptions about you based on how you look is fun and it’s empowering (to me at least). There’s a satisfaction, a sheer fuck-you-you-don’t-know-me at play. Yes, I do want a pint. Yes, it is for me. No, I don’t need you to steer me towards a beverage you consider more appropriate for me to drink, and please, please don’t try to tell me that I’ll find it much too bitter, or worse, too boozy. This one is a particularly fun kicker with craft beer.

So yes, craft beer. I discovered it in the corner stores of New York, chock-full of Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas and, if I was really lucky, a bit of Rogue, way back in the early 2010s. My job brought me to the US regularly, and soon every trip became a mission to try as many different beers as I could, beers that were rare, nay impossible to find in the UK but cheap as chips in the land of the free. I got into hops, the bigger, bolder, punchier the better. Boozy beer did not faze me. I dreamed of brewery selection boxes, Black IPAs, Rye IPAs, Imperial Stouts and Coffee Porters. I drank my first flights and began to seek out every American bar in London selling the stuff. Of course, as with every successful American export, we soon had our own craft beer scene in London and I jumped in head-first. As with CAMRA, I was lucky. I found a group of beer-friends where I was welcomed and accepted, and we set up beery charity events and walking tours. Yes, a few folks were a bit flummoxed to find their beer-tour guide was in fact a young-ish South Asian lady, but I considered that to be another part of their learning experience, let’s just say. Once again, knowledge can be a powerful thing. It’s much harder to reject someone’s presence when they know what they’re talking about. While I am not in any way a beer snob and I believe that everyone has the right to their own opinion and that everyone’s presence is equally valid, if you want or need to prove your worth and your place somewhere it is, undoubtedly a lot easier if you can talk the talk. I’m still very much on my own beer-education journey, and while I know a lot less than a lot of folks, I know a lot more than plenty of others too. It’s easy to believe that your opinion is worth less when folks with louder voices try to deny you your seat at the table by drowning you out, shutting you down or shaming you into thinking you don’t know enough. You don’t have to learn more, but I have found that knowledge can act like armour, can be a vital tool in pushing back, even in instances of micro-aggression. Growing up in the place and time that I did, I’m used to being the only brown girl in the room, and I’m comfortable speaking up and holding my own with a group of white men. It’s a full-time job being the person who defies social and cultural expectations on three fronts – age, gender and colour – so I’ll take and use any tools available to me.


Fast-forward to the American craft beer world of September 2020 - we’re in the middle of a pandemic but there’s another crisis affecting our industry that we’re all aware of – it’s still riddled with prejudice. Now, as a female South Asian beer writer, the divide across the industry between those pushing for change, demanding a full restructure, a revitalisation of our own, and those desperate to hold onto the keys to the kingdom feels like huge unbridgeable chasm. It’s easy to focus on the good people, the good places, the powerful voices who want to make everyone welcome. I can nestle into a space, both physically and online, where my voice is wanted and heard, where my interest and knowledge aren’t undermined and where I’m valued as a legitimate part of this industry. But the enormity of the industry space where that just isn’t the case is absolutely astonishing – the bigotry, hate, aggression and really the sheer bullshit that continues to appear on online beer forums, brewery statements, pump clips and advertising campaigns is enough to make any non white cis male shy away from the industry as a whole, never mind taking on a public, vocal role. It feels as though the ongoing pitched-battle for the heart and soul of this country taking place across our social and political landscape is being played out in miniature in our own beery backyard. We have to be prepared to argue, to fight back, to get into it even if we’re people who don’t like confrontations, even if it’s draining, depressing, potentially pointless. Because if we don’t, who will? As a British South Asian living and writing in America, I have a luxury I never had at home in that I am so unusual as to be removed from the frontlines of much of the bigoted hate and ire out there – unless, that is, I deliberately insert myself into the conversation. When I write, I try to write in a way that shows my commitment to the rights and voices of all diverse groups and the need for us to stand together with our allies, speak up for and protect one another, and fight for our place at the table. We cannot afford not to.


I love beer – writing about it, reading about it, talking about it, learning about it, sharing it, travelling for it, and most of all drinking it. I feel that, along with my identities as a woman and a South Asian, being a beer-person, a beer nerd, a beer writer is an important part of who I am, and is something worth defending and holding on to. Like most minorities, there are times when I revel in my diversity and times when I hate it. Would it be easier or different in another industry or community? Experience has shown me that that is a definite no. There are very few culturally sanctioned public spaces for women of colour, or any other minorities for that matter, so there’s no point running away looking for somewhere easier to belong. This is an incredibly crucial time for all of us to be heard, in the beer world and the world at large, and although I don’t have a huge platform, I will continue to use my skills and experience to keep pushing for equity, diversity, inclusion and visibility for women, South Asians and all diverse groups.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Oktoberfest Champions League: The Final 6

We needed a tie breaker...

If you recall from the previous post, where I tasted 24 beers marketed for Oktoberfest, Benediktiner Festbier and Left Hand Oktoberfest had tied for top position in their group. In terms of their score, they had exactly the same points in each of the categories, the solution then was to drink them blind again, score them again, and then average their scores to break the tie, hopefully. It turned out the Benediktiner squeaked home by the narrowest of margins, giving me a final 6 of:

  • New Realm Bavarian Prince (märzen)
  • Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen
  • Great Lakes Oktoberfest (märzen)
  • Benediktiner Festbier
  • Sierra Nevada (märzen)
  • Von Trapp Oktoberfest (märzen)
For the final 6 I decided to stick with the blind tasting and my points method of
  • Appearance - 3 points
  • Aroma - 10 points
  • Taste - 15 point
  • Balance of bitterness and sweetness - 2 points
  • Personal opinion - 10 points
With the inestimable Mrs V again decanting the various cans and bottles while I pottered away to make sure I wasn't aware of what I was drinking, the final 6 scored as follows:
  1. Ayinger - 34/40
  2. Great Lakes - 33/40
  3. New Realm - 33/40
  4. Sierra Nevada - 32/40
  5. Von Trapp - 31/40
  6. Benediktiner - 27/40
Having used the average of 2 tastings to split Benediktiner and Left Hand, I had decided that I would use the same method to decide the final rankings of the 2020 Fuggled Oktoberfest Taste Off, giving us...
  1. New Realm Bavarian Prince - 67/80 (33.5)
  2. Great Lakes Oktoberfest - 65/80 (32.5)
  3. Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen - 64/80 (32)
  4. Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest - 63/80 (31.5)
  5. Von Trapp Oktoberfest - 61/40 (30.5)
  6. Benediktiner Festbier - 58/40 (29)
I won't bore you with my full tasting notes for the winner, but on both occasions, about 10 days apart, I noted a superb malt complexity that was mostly the classic toasted bread thing that you get with Munich and Vienna malts, sweet without being sugary or caramelly. In terms of personal opinion, both times I gave it 8/10 and noted that it is the kind of beer I would happily sit and drink several maß of.

As in previous years, I wouldn't be too surprised if I pick up some singles of other Oktoberfest lagers that weren't available when I collected the entrants to see if Bavarian Prince can hold onto its crown, but as things stand, well done New Realm for creating a lovely märzen that will be in my fridge for a while yet this autumn (also, yay autumn is here!).

Friday, September 4, 2020

Oktoberfest Champions League: Group Stage

The plan was simple, find at least 24 beers being marketing as "Oktoberfest" lagers, whether festbier or märzen, and decide which is the best available in central Virginia.

The first year I did this I restricted myself to lagers brewed in Virginia, last year I changed that to include non-Virginian beers that are available in the shops. When I restricted myself to VA beers, I could just do a single sit down flight, whereas last year I did a knock out competition with a final four. I have to admit that I found the knock out approach somewhat onerous, so for this year I decided to have 6 groups of 4 beers, chosen at random, and the winner of each group would go to a final group stage.

The 6 groups lined up as follows:


At first glance, groups 1, 3, and 6 looked to be the most difficult, and so it turned out, with several well regarded Oktoberfest lagers not making through to the final group of 6, which I will write about in a later post, once I have given my tastebuds a day or several off, and a chance to reset by drinking helles and pilsner again.

To choose a winner in each group I decided to combine the Cyclops tasting notes method that I like to use with a quasi-BJCP point approach, which I broke down thusly:
  • Appearance - 3 points
  • Aroma - 10 points
  • Taste - 15 points
  • Balance of bitterness and sweetness - 2 points
  • Personal score - 10 points
Given the festbier and märzen variants when it comes to Oktoberfest lagers, I judged them according to their respective BJCP category descriptions. The definition of festbier specifically calls out "amber hues" as unacceptable in the colour department, any beer that veered into orange was judged as a märzen regardless of marketing.

Here then are the final standings by points.

1. New Realm - Bavarian Prince (34/40)
2. Great Lakes - Oktoberfest (32/40)
2. Sierra Nevada - Oktoberfest (32/40)
3. Left Hand - Oktoberfest (31/40)
3. Von Trapp - Oktoberfest (31/40)
3. Benediktiner - Festbier (31/40)
4. Ayinger - Oktober Fest-Märzen (30/40)
4. Samuel Adams - Octoberfest (30/40)
5. Devils Backbone - O'Fest (29/40)
5. Warsteiner - Oktoberfest (29/40)
5. Edmund's Oast - House Oktoberfest (29/40)
6. Port City - Oktoberfest (28/40)
7. Paulaner - Oktoberfest (27/40)
8. Shiner - Oktoberfest (25/40)
8. Leinenkugels - Oktoberfest (25/40)
9. Blue Mountain - 13.Five Ofest (24/40)
9. Brooklyn - Oktoberfest (24/40)
9. Ballad - Oktoberfest (24/40)
10. Schlafly - Oktoberfest (23/40)
11. Starr Hill - Festie (22/40)
11. Brother's Craft - Festbier (22/40)
12. Bingo Beer - Oktoberfest (21/40)
13. Genessee - Oktoberfest (19/40)
14. Solace - Gute Nacht (10/40)

To ensure that the tasting was completely blind, Mrs V picked beers at random from the fridge while I was out of the room, and other than the one litre can of Paulaner as the final beer, I had no idea about what was what until we sat last night and worked out the rankings.

The final 6 though are not to be the top 6 beers by points, but rather the 6 beers that won their respective groups, although this is pretty much what ended up happening, which gives me a bit of a headache. Left Hand and Benediktiner tied for their group, even to the point of having the exact same points for each category, so this weekend I will try and find some more Left Hand and do a beauty contest tasting to decide the winner. If I can't find the Left Hand, then Benediktiner will go forward.

The rest of the final 6 are:
  • Ayinger
  • Great Lakes
  • Von Trapp
  • New Realm
  • Sierra Nevada
I definitely get the sense that splitting these 6 will be a very difficult task, but we leave that for a few days and another post.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Book Review: Vienna Lager

 A few months ago I bought "Historic German and Austrian Beers for the Home Brewer" by Andreas Krennmair and have thoroughly enjoyed dipping and and out of the book for inspiration and plans for the upcoming winter lager brewing season. It was on the basis of having enjoyed it so much that I ordered his latest book, "Vienna Lager", from Amazon within moments of him announcing it's release on Twitter.

A few days later it dropped through the door (figuratively speaking), and just last night I finished it. Sure it is not a weighty tomb, but I have read it in snatches as life allows, even so, a month is pretty good going by my standards these days.

What we have here is the life and story not just of the Vienna Lager style, but also a deep dive into the life of it's creator, Anton Dreher - he who went wandering around British breweries with Gabriel Sedlmayr, filching samples with Bondesque contraptions as they went. Scion of a family of innkeepers and brewers, Dreher built the largest brewing company on mainland Europe in the 19th century, at its height boasting 4 breweries, one each in Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, and Italy.

Andreas then follows Vienna Lager on its journey from its Austrian homeland to the New World, as it became an established part of the German brewing world in both the US and Mexico, and thence onward to its acceptance within craft beer.

While being focused on Dreher and Vienna Lager in particular, the book gives the reader an insight into the massive changes wrought on the European brewing industry in the second half of the 19th century. Not only are we talking about the introduction of three of the most influential beer styles, but also the introduction of English malting techniques that allowed maltsters to create consistent pale malt, and thus the world was set on the path of pale lager domination.

Andreas' book is full of fascinating technical detail, the kind of thing that very much appeals to the technical writer in me. At the same time he succeeds to keeping the technical details accessible and not overwhelming. An added bonus for homebrewers, and possibly commercial brewers looking to re-create history, is a selection of recipes for Vienna lager through the ages, naturally the early ones of just Vienna malt and Saaz hops appeal to me most of all, and perhaps this winter will finally see me take the plunge into decoction mashing.

What Andreas has done here is write the definitive guide to Dreher and his Vienna Lager, and made a valuable contribution to knowledge of the development of pale lager in general. It is an excellent read, go and buy it, now.

Monday, August 10, 2020

To Helles and Back

If you've been paying attention these last few years, you'll know that pale lager is my thing. Whether we are talking světlý ležák, Pilsner, helles, or even Dortmunder, I probably drink far more pale lager than anything else. In my world, the path to brewery greatness is paved with golden lager and if a brewer can knock out a good one then I am more likely to try their other wares, while coming back to the pale stuff regularly.

Returning from a recent sojourn to South Carolina, as I mentioned a few posts ago, I stocked up on Olde Mecklenburg beers, their altbier, pilsner, and the seasonal helles specifically. I had it in my mind that I wanted to include it in a three way tasting with Von Trapp Helles from Vermont and Virginia's Port City Helles, which is their current seasonal as well.

There was only one problem, the seeming ambivalence of central Virginia's supermarkets when it comes to lager -  seriously, most of them will have the complete range of Port City but not the Downright Pilsner, or they'll stock everything from Tröeg's except Sunshine Pils. Having been back from South Carolina for well over a month now, I only got round to the tasting this weekend due to the hassle of finding the Port City Helles, having scored a case from the ever reliable Beer Run.

With the runners and riders in place, I dived on in...


Port City Helles - 5.2%, bottled June 8, 2020
  • Sight - clear light golden yellow, half inch white foam that leaves nice lacing
  • Smell - floral hops, light bready malt, lemon, hay
  • Taste -  subtle wildflower honey, nice light crustiness, lemongrass
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
A lovely, lovely beer. Supremely balanced with a medium dry finish that just leaves you wanting more, nice and clean. Port City have a wonderful way with lager beers and this year's Helles is up there with the best of their range. Beer this good makes the Virginia summer almost bearable. With the lemon and grass thing going on, I wonder if they use Saaz for the hopping?


Olde Mecklenburg Mecklenburger Helles - 4.9%, canned July 2, 2020
  • Sight - crystal clear yellow, thin white head, visible carbonation
  • Smell - cereal grain, lemongrass, wildflower meadow
  • Taste - water biscuits, citrus (lemon and key lime), subtle spice note
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Another very moreish beer. Finishes really clean though maybe just a touch on the dry side, which brings the hops slightly to the fore. Delightfully well balanced.


Von Trapp Helles - 4.9%, best before September 29, 2020
  • Sight - golden yellow, excellent clarity, half inch of white head that lingers, tracing a fine lacing on the glass
  • Smell - citrus, freshly microplaned lemon zest, all flavour no pith, freshly baked southern biscuits
  • Taste - crackers, lemon, wildflower honey, elegant herbal notes
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
The finish on this one is soft and pillowy, just dry enough to keep it clean, but with a malt presence that is just cut through by a lingering bitterness that doesn't dominate. The balance is absolutely perfect making this an absolutely magnificent beer that would more than hold its own in the biergartens of Mitteleuropa.

Three absolutely storming beers, all wonderful examples of a style that when South Street's My Personal Helles is available is basically my go to. I would love to be able to compare all four at some point, though that may have to wait as South Street haven't had it on in a while. However, as I tweeted last night....


Thinking further of this question today, if I had to choose either the Port City or Von Trapp then after much agonising it would be the Von Trapp, by the shortest of short noses. Both are gorgeous beers that I will happily drink all day and night sat on my deck, but Von Trapp has one significant advantage that pushes it into the winner's circle. It is available year round and not just for a couple of months in the summer.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Book Review: Historical Brewing Techniques

At the beginning of this year I resolved to get back to reading as much as possible.

In the carefree days of not being a dad I would read something like 2 or 3 books every month, but with Fin and Bertie wreaking havoc on all things in chez Reece, that dropped off dramatically. Sorry if it makes me a total failure of an Enlightenment man but there were days when crashing in bed was just about all I could manage.

Anyway, I resolved to read at least 1 book each month, and have so far kept to that plan, with a combination of fiction by new-to-me writers, beer writing by the likes of Pete Brown, and in "Historical Brewing Techniques" by Lars Marius Garshol the latest book by a blogger whose writing I have enjoyed for quite some time.


One of the things that I have enjoyed most about Lars' blog posts from his trips to various parts of the Baltic world to brew with farmhouse brewers has been that they go beyond the formulaic "I went here, we brewed this, it tasted like this". Not only do you get a sense of the beer, its brewing, and its tasting, you get a very real sense of the people making the beer, their culture, their sitz im leben, and you see how intimate the beer is to their existence.

That sense of anthropology, history, linguistics, and even mythology is infused throughout the book making it much more a book about people than a drink. To really understand farmhouse ale from the Baltic world and Russia, you need to understand the people and the world they live in, and that is infinitely more interesting to me than tasting notes.

One thing that really struck home, mainly because lately I have found myself somewhat jaded with the goings on of the craft beer world and its obsession with the emperor's new clothes of "innovation", was Lars' drawing a distinct line between craft beer and farmhouse ales. Just because a brewery uses kveik to ferment their umpteenth IPA doesn't tie them to the farmhouse tradition.

Also as a homebrewer it was great to see the simplicity, even rusticity, of the farmhouse brewers' setups. There are times when I feel a little down on my own setup, usually when listening to a friend describe their latest, greatest piece of homebrewing technology, as if squeezing an extra gravity point from the malt, or hitting a rest temperature to within hundredths of a degree, actually makes all that much difference to the flavour of the beer.

Throughout the book, the reader is reminded of the vitality of brewing in the development of human civilisation, and in the farmhouse tradition described, in the Nordic and Baltic worlds in particular. It is not a stretch of the imagination to realise that the farmers and warriors we call Vikings very likely used the same methods and ingredients over a thousand years ago.

This wonderful book is probably the best "beer" book I have read in many years, I use inverted commas there quite deliberately as it is not a simple "beer" book by any stretch of the imagination. It is a guide to a world that is dying out, almost gone, and one that tells a far longer story of humanity than industrial brewing could ever hope to.

If you haven't already, go and buy this book, it is worth every penny.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Old Friends: Fuller's London Pride

The Old Friends series makes a return today, and in some ways goes right back to the beginning. The first beer of this series was also from Fuller's, their style defining ESB, but when I originally conceived this notion, it was today's beer that so nearly went in the trolley, London Pride.

I may have mentioned this before, so forgive me if you have a better memory than me, but I have a soft spot for Fuller's due largely to their location. The Griffin Brewery is in Chiswick, a parish in the ancient county of Middlesex, near where my dad grew up, and not far from Chiswick County Grammar, where he went to school. At the tender old age of 16, my dad joined the army as an apprentice radar engineer, and so began 30 odd years of being paid to traipse around the UK and Europe, being shot at on occasion for the privilege. Most of my memories of that part of the world are from when we would go and visit my nan in her ground floor council flat near Gunnersbury Park.

I haven't been to London in many years, not since I used to make epic bus trips from Uig on the Isle of Skye to Prague, some 1400 miles away. I have never really been a fan of flying, so taking the bus from Uig to Glasgow, then Glasgow to London, and finally London to Prague, a total of about 48 hours, made sense to me, yeah I'm weird. In fact it has been so long since my last trip to London that it pre-dates my interest in decent beer, and so if I did drink when I was there it was usually something like Guinness in my glass.

One of the reasons that I went with the ESB for the first Old Friends post was that at that point I would pick up a four pack of Pride at least once every couple of months. In the two years since that post that has dropped away dramatically, so why not reacquaint myself? On to the beer then we go...


  • Sight - copper/amber, thin white head that quickly dissipates, reminds me of the scum you get on a London cuppa sometimes, magnificently clear
  • Smell - the "Fuller's aroma", Seville orange marmelade esters, toffee, subtle black tea, and sweet spices, think nutmeg
  • Taste - toffee sauce ,some fruitiness like plums, plain scones fresh from the oven, slight grassiness in the finish
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5

There are times when I drink this that I really understand why American brewers and drinkers have such a hard time grasping the fact bitter should be, well, bitter. It's not that it is terribly sweet, though the mouthfeel feels a little like undissolved jelly cubes, it's that the hops are nudged out by the famous Fuller's yeast character, as well as not being the same kind of citrus as folks are used to here. So many breweries here use very clean top fermenting yeasts that the character of the beer is so different, and I wonder if American breweries under hop the style as a result?

Having said that, it is still a lovely beer and one that is incredibly consistent. I found my tasting notes from a post I wrote about several English ales a few years back, and was pleased to see many of the same descriptors. I am not sure it will return to being a regular in the fridge, my tastes are very much in the lager world again these days and I actually found the switch to top fermented beer kind of jarring.

I suppose when winter comes I should complete the triumvirate of Fullers beers and pick up some London Porter...

Monday, July 27, 2020

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2020

As July draws to its inevitable end, it is that time of the year when I sit down and think about all the Virginian brewed beers I have had this year and select a top ten.
  1. Port City Brewing - Franconian Kellerbier (4.7%). I have drunk an awful lot of this beer in the last couple of months, and the highest praise I can give it is that I am gutted it is not part of the regular lineup, as it would be a permanent fixture. A lovely balance of sweet Munich malt and German hops makes it far too easy to keep pouring down my throat, which is exactly what I have been doing. Sadly I have just one 4 pack left...
  2. Port City Brewing - Downright Pilsner (4.8%). A well deserved one-two for the guys up in Alexandria. Now, sure it is not exactly "traditional" to dry hop a Czech style pilsner, but when it crams so much Saaz goodness into a bottle then I am inclined to turn a blind eye. I bitched and moaned to the beer buyers at our local Wegmans for about 18 months to get this in stock, and my shopping trips have been happier ever since they did, even if I had to wait a month to buy some as it came in just in time for my dry month at the beginning of the year.
  3. Basic City Brewing - Our Daily Pils (4.7%). Our Daily Pils is one of those beers that is a fantastic stand by, whether on tap or as a six pack of cans. Absolutely redolent with the wonderful flavours and aromas of Saaz hops, it is somewhere between a Czech style and German style pale lager, and one that I enjoy muchly, usually with three cans tipped into my litre glass.
  4. Ballad Brewing - Fast Mild (4.2%). This one came right out of left field. Back in December I popped into Beer Run on a Friday afternoon for a feed and a pint before picking up my boys from school. I saw the magic words, "dark mild" and thought, what the heck, let's give it a bash. And bash it I did, 4 mouthfuls. Bash again I did, a slightly more considered pint this time as I let it warm up to something akin to cellar temperature, and what you have here is a gorgeous mild that I would love to have on cask, preferably without the silly shit American breweries are so fond of.
  5. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). You know the story, this is the local beer that I drink far more of than any other. It really is a fabulous helles, perfect soft billowing maltiness, subtle hopping, and that snap to attention that proper lagers have. Sat at the bar one day, the barman said he thought it should be bottled, I disagreed, and still do, a beer like this is best in the pub it is brewed in. With all that has gone on though with lockdown, I haven't had it in months, it is quite possibly the only beer I really miss.
  6. Devils Backbone Brewing - Alt Bier (5.6%). Beers that have undergone extensive lagering are always going to be a major theme in any list I produce. When Jason and I brewed Morana back in February I had a half pint straight from the lagering tank, where it had rested for about 6 weeks already. When I went down to drink Morana, it was on tap, having lagered for another couple of months, I had a few pints, brought home some crowlers, and reveled in every drop. I have never been to Dusseldorf so I can't trot out the old line about it taking me back to the Altstadt, but by Odin it makes want to go one day.
  7. Alewerks Brewing - Tavern Brown Ale (5.7%). The ultimate in old man beer styles, and one that thankfully so far the weird shit ingredient brigade have largely left alone. Once the leaves start to turn, not too long now, I get the urge to drink brown ale, at cellar temperature of course, and just enjoy beer for it's own sake. Of the brown ales that grace the fridge each autumn, this is the one I look forward to more than any other, just a wonderfully complex beer that leaves you more than satiated, it leaves you satisfied.
  8. Alewerks Brewing - Weekend Lager (4.8%). Weekend Lager is to spring and summer what Tavern Brown is to autumn, a wonderful complement to the season, especially on draft with brunch sat on a patio. Another beer that warrants pulling out my litre glass, filling it up, and losing myself in the golden liquid.
  9. Port City Brewing - Helles (5.2%). Three beers in my top ten for Port City, all of them lagers of course, and also the third helles on the list. You might get the idea that I love lager or something like that. Unfortunately this is is just a seasonal for a couple of months in the summer, but it is always worth the wait, and when it is available you'll find me on my deck, under the umbrella (not a big fan of the sun to be honest), taking in the sounds of rural Central Virginia, admittedly while dream of rural Mitteleuropa.
  10. Champion Brewing - Shower Beer (4.5%). Yeah, I know. a seventh lager on the list, the third pilsner. What can I say, lager is what I like to drink and Shower Beer is a damned good lager. Supremely sessionable, dripping with Saaz, and painfully easy to just sit and drink several crowlers of in an evening (I may or may not have done that several times). Consistently good beer, not much more than that you can ask for.
Every year I say this, but this list is the perfection of post-modernist beer thought, entirely subjective, based on the last year of drinking, and sure it says more about me than it does about Virginian beer. I am though happy to hear what people think are great beers being made in the Commonwealth so that I can hunt them out and give them a bash.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Carolina Pilsner

A couple of weeks ago, Mrs V and I took ourselves off to her parents' place in South Carolina for a week of quarantined change of scenery. 

Unusually for one of our trips South we didn't stop at Olde Mecklenburg on the way down for a feed and to let the ever growing twins run around for a bit, though we did stop in on the way to buy a stash of beer to bring back to Virginia.

The day before we headed back north, I popped into a local bottle shop, suitably masked of course, and as I was wondering around I thought it would be fun to try a taste off of pilsners from South and North Carolina. I ended up with the six beers below.


The beers were:
  • Birdsong Rewind Lager (NC)
  • Edmund's Oast Pils (SC)
  • Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack (NC)
  • Revelry Glorious Bastard (SC)
  • Coast Brewing Pilsner (SC)
  • Indigo Reef Pilsner (SC)
Let's just dive on in shall we...


Birdsong Rewind Lager - 4%, Czech style, canned April 10, 2020
  • Sight - golden with slight haze, health half inch of white head, good retention
  • Smell - faint grass, Southern biscuits, some herbal notes, very lightly fruity
  • Taste - bready malt, slightly crusty, clean hop bitterness, herbal
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Really refreshing and session worthy beer. Body in light-medium, maybe a little on the watery side int he finish, but nothing I haven't experienced with Czech made desítky. I really like the can design too, made me think of Anthony Bourdain describing Kout na Šumavě as "nostalgic" when he visited the brewery with Evan Rail. Will definitely pick more of this up next time I see it.


Edmund's Oast Pils - 4.5%, German style, canned July 6, 2020
  • Sight - golden with a thin white head that dissipates to a lingering schmeer of foam, excellent clarity.
  • Smell - floral hops, fresh scones, slightly spicy
  • Taste - juicy sweet malt, firm pithy bitter hop bite, slightly lemony
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
An absolute stunner of a beer, but it reminded me more of Czech pilsners that German, in particular Hostomický Fabián 10. Medium bodied with a soft maltiness in the finish rather than the crackery dryness you often get with German pilsners. An early contender for the Fuggled beer of the year.


Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner - 4.8%, German style, canned June 22, 2020
  • Sight - straw yellow, thin white head, brilliant clarity
  • Smell - fresh bread, lemons, limes, some spice
  • Taste - cereal grain, citric hops, grassy, floral spiciness like nasturtium flowers
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
Classic German style pilsner. Clean, dry finish with great snap that you get from proper lagering. Medium bodied and insanely moreish. There is a reason this is a beer I drink a lot of, it is simply a stunning brew, I love it.


Revelry Glorious Bastard - 5.25%, Czech style
  • Sight - golden with thin white head, good clarity
  • Smell - floral hops, some hay, kind of a musty cheese thing going on (aged hops?), fruity
  • Taste - crusty cread, saccharin sweetness in background, rough bitterness
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
When I asked Mrs V to give this a try her instant response was "is this an IPA?", says it all really. Such a disappointment as the aroma is generally spot on, but the balance is missing in the drinking.


Coast Brewing Pilsner - 4.8%, German style
  • Sight - slightly hazy gold, quarter inch of white foam, decent retention
  • Smell - almost non-existent, slightest trace of flowers and grain, maybe
  • Taste - dominated by bready sweetness, extracty
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
This one was a major disappointment, and most of it went down the drain. It was a syrupy mess, lacking any of the snap that well made lagers have, it was kind of flaccid and lacking any hop character. Will try again though at some point in case I got a duff can.


Indigo Reef Surface Interval - 6%, Czech style, canned on April 29, 2020
  • Sight - straw yellow, kind of cloudy, think white head
  • Smell - floral hops, light citrus character, Southern biscuits
  • Taste - sweet malt, very sweet actually, some spicy hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Given ABV, I am assuming this is about 15 degrees Plato, which would be darker in Czechia as this was surprisingly pale. Medium-full body made it quite syrupy though there was a lingering spicy finish.

As I posted the other day on Instagram, 2 stunners, 1 drain pour and 3 decent beers, though I kind of question the brewers' experience of actual Czech beer. The 2 stunners were head and shoulders above the others, and the Edmund's Oast was particularly enjoyable. 

One thing has been on my mind in particular. I am starting to think that the term "pilsner" is insufficient for describing Czech style pale lagers brewed by American craft breweries. If you take the extremes of the ABV for the 4 beers I have, you have 4.5%, 4.8%, 5.25%, and 6%. Multiplying the ABV by 2.5 gives you the ball park starting gravity in degrees Plato, and we have (rounding to the nearest whole number) 11°, 12°, 13°, and 15°. 

Under Czech beer law these four beers straddle 2 different categories, ležák, aka "lager", and speciální pivo, aka "special beer". Even within the speciální pivo category, Czech would expect different things from a 13° and a 15° beer, think the difference between a strong helles and a bock respectively. Yet they all bear the moniker "pilsner", mainly because they use Saaz hops, or some higher alpha acid derivative, looking at you Sterling.

While I am happy that Czech style lager seems to be increasingly popular with both brewers and drinkers in the US, I think lumping everything pale under the banner of "pilsner" actually does a disservice to one of the great brewing cultures of the world, and I would argue that we reserve the world "pilsner" for those beers that are in the same sitz im leben as the original, Pilsner Urquell - 12°, 4.5-5% abv, 30-40 IBUs of Czech hops. Anything below that could be a "Session Czech Lager", anything above that a "Strong Czech Lager", but pilsner sets expectations in knowledgeable drinkers' minds, so stick to it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

NoVA Franconia

Whether it is a trendy fad or something more lasting and meaningful, I love the fact that well made lager beers are enjoying a moment in the spotlight here in Virginia.

Sure, there have always been reliable go-to breweries and beers when the lager cravings hit, or as I like to call them, "the weekend", such as Devils Backbone or Port City, but it seems as though there are more options in the shop when it comes to Virginia brewed lager.

Right now I am drinking a lot of one particular beer from the ever reliable Port City Brewing of Alexandria up in Northern Virginia. They already make 2 of my favourite beers, the lovely Downright Pilsner, and an Oktoberfest that is a more than welcome sight in autumn, so when I heard they had brought out a beer called "Franconian Kellerbier", well you knew I would hunt it down.

I didn't really have to do much hunting as another of Charlottesville craft beer fixtures, Beer Run, had it available for curbside pickup about a week after I first heard about it. Minor aside, Beer Run have been an absolute lifesaver in the last few months with a steady supply of Von Trapp lagers.

This is not about the glorious wonders of Von Trapp, it is about this beer here...


Doesn't it just look lovely in my Port City half litre bierkrug, even if the can is slightly less than a full half litre. I love that rich, ever so slightly hazy, amber and the big cap of foam so befitting of a German style lager. To look at it kind of reminds me of my usual favourite German lager, the divine aU from Mahr's Brau. 

The aroma is dominated by a wonderful toasted malt character, sitting beneath the rustic earthiness and general spice that you get with Spalt hops. I have to admit that I don't spend an awful lot of time sticking my nose into the beer because it is just so damned tasty.

That toasted bread thing is there, as is the deep sweetness that I always associate with Munich malts (ie, not sugary), and again the earthy hops bring balance and some slightly floral notes to the party. All of this is rounded out with a clean finish, a medium body, and a touch of hop bitterness that makes it magnificently easy to drink, which at 4.7% means no hangover if you bash a few of these of a school night.


I like to think of these kind of beers as "country beers", the kind of thing you would find in a village Gasthaus, possibly the only beer on tap, served just metres from where it was brewed, and very much the local hero of beer. The kind of beer that you could imagine sitting in the sun, under the shade of a old tree, and just letting the world go by, while you engaged in something completely unrelated to beer, like shelling peas that you just picked from the garden.

I have drunk a fair old whack of Franconian Kellerbier, and it is more than fair to say that I am going to miss it when it is gone, being but a seasonal beer, rather than year round. Would I swap it for one of Port City's regular lineup to be a year round brew, you bet I would, the world is quite sufficiently stocked for IPAs these days, so one of those can go as far as I am concerned.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Visiting the Devil to Worship a Goddess

Mrs V and I went to the pub on Saturday.

Those words seem so unremarkable in the normal flow of things, but with life the way it is at the moment, it is quite staggering how poignant they are. I was inordinately excited to do something so banal as going for a feed and a drink with my wife.

Said pub was the Devils Backbone Basecamp brewpub about an hour's drive from where we live, and there was an ulterior motive, Morana was on finally on tap. According to the brewmaster, it was the best batch of the 5 we have done. It was also the first batch that included open fermentation and horizontal lagering as part of the process.

A while back, I wrote about what it would take to get me back to the pub and my thinking then was that would have to be a vaccine or reliable treatment. Thinking a little bit deeper, I had made the assumption that going back to the pub was within the context of business as normal where you pick a venue, rock on up when you feel like it, and deal with whatever is going on at the time. I had failed to consider the possibility of reduced capacity opening.

Here in Virginia we have just entered "phase 2" of the re-opening plan, which for pubs means 50% capacity, no more than 10 people at a table, and tables at least 6 feet apart, and no sitting at the bar itself, as well as various best practices and recommendations. One thing that Devils Backbone are doing which gave me the confidence to arrange a visit is that they are operating on a reservation only basis, and they have posted a full list of their practices on their website, including mandatory masks when not sat at the table.

With our bespoke, Mrs V made, masks on faces, we arrived at Devils Backbone and it was obvious from the get go that here was a process that had been thoroughly thought through and was functioning well. The major benefit of of reservations only is that there are no groups of people loitering while hoping for a table to to open up. Once we were seated we were told that there was a 90 minute limit to our reservation and that menus were available through a QR code on the table (which meant I had to download a reader app as my phone is a bit old).

Both Mrs V and I were seriously impressed with our trip to the Basecamp, and I think the reservations thing is going to be the deciding factor for any future trips to pubs. Pretty much everything was done in such a way as to minimise physical contact between patrons and staff, all food and drink was served in one time use containers, and staff wore masks all the time. If there was one thing that wasn't quite working it was the single occupancy status of the toilets, with nobody overseeing that, groups of people ignored the signs on the doors and went in together.

Anyway, the beer, that is after all why we were there...


Jason was on the money in telling me that it is the best batch yet. Goodness me it is a delicious brew, sure I am biased, but I honestly think Morana would stand up to and tmavé being brewed in Czechia. Reviewing notes on previous batches, this one has a silkier mouthfeel and a slightly fuller body. All the lovely deep malty sweetness of Munich malt is there, and the unsweetened cocoa of the Carafa too, in amongst it all is the spicy character of Saaz, not the star for sure, but not a wallflower either.

Admittedly the beer doesn't look its best in a single use plastic pot, so here it is as Perun intended, in a tuplák glass...


Fantastic beer, superb, safe setup for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, while still being able to enjoy a pint of one of my favourite beers in the world, and all at a place that Mrs V and I have loved ever since we came to this part of Virginia.

I know there are some people out there who still hold a grudge against Devils Backbone for being part of the AB-InBev universe, but at the end of the day that is their problem. I said it when the deal was first announced that as long as the beer remained good, the people running the show still ran the show, and the overall ethos of Devils Backbone didn't change, then I wasn't going to be a dummy spitter. I still haven't spat my dummy, see no reason on the horizon to do so, and with their superb handling of opening up in a safe manner, I can only say I love them more than ever.

So, if you are in the area, get yourself a reservation, another benefit was how easy that process was on their website, and go enjoy some beers in the sun.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Stick Don't Twist

I have developed a business plan.

I believe that if it is successful, then I will become an exceedingly rich man, can buy a small Hebridean island to retire on and raise my children in a place of peace.

The plan is devastatingly simple, whenever a brewery uses one of the following phrases in their beer description, the give me a Dollar, a Pound, or a Euro, depending on the brewery's location:
  • "our interpretation of"
  • "classic <insert style>, with a twist
Not wanting to limit my revenue streams, any phrase that has similar connotations will be included in the collection scheme.


Now, I am not the kind of person who is wildly strict about beer styles, if your porter is just a touch strong, I will not insist you call it a stout. If your best bitter uses Cascade instead of Goldings, I won't declare it a Session IPA. However, beer styles have evolved for a reason, especially when it comes to beers that have a very distinct geographical basis.

Take one of my favourite brewing projects that I have ever been involved with, Devils Backbone Granát, the first polotmavé to be brewed in Virginia. Granát just squeezes out Morana, which incidentally is on tap at the Devils Backbone Brewpub at the moment, because polotmavé as a style is even less well known and understood than tmavé.

Part of the pleasure of doing brewing projects with local brewers is designing the recipe itself, which for me is not just a case of wanging a few ingredients into brewing software to hit the right numbers but about background reading on the style and how it is perceived in its homeland, and the expectations of drinkers. For fear of sounding like an anti-innovation stick in the mud, part of my aim when I design these recipes to to be as faithful to the culture whose beer I am attempting to replicate and introduce to a different audience. In a perfect world, I'd be able to ship some of the Czech over to the likes of Evan and Max to get their take on them, and where they would stand in the pantheon of Czech breweries,

Anyway, back to Granát. As a recipe it built on the Morana research quite a bit, for the non-Czech speakers "polotmavé" literally means "half-dark", so the idea is to use the same malts as in your tmavé but less of the specialty malts to make a lager that sits somewhere between dark copper and deep red. From the research that went into the recipe's creation, the specialty malts used are more often than not:
  • Munich
  • CaraBohemian or CaraMunich
  • Carafa, usually de-bittered
Sticking with the kind of malts used in Czechia is important as far as I am concerned because substituting in different malts, more easily obtainable perhaps, changes the flavour profile. While it is perfectably possible to make a tasty red lager using Caramel 60, chocolate malts, and black malt, it isn't how it is done in Czechia.

This applies, in my mind at least, to most beer styles, though obviously Czech lagers are a world I am very interested in. Of particular concern, and perhaps I am being idealistic here, is that when bringing a little known style into a new market and not being faithful to the ingredients used in the originals breweries do their customers a disservice. When friends of mine who have tried Granát and Morana go to Czechia, I want them to have an accurate frame of reference for the tmavé and polotmavé they will drink there. A case in point would be swapping out CaraMunich for a crystal malt, the sweetness is so different that the same beer brewed with these malts would be noticeably different, and in my mind without CaraMunich, much diminished.

Imagine trying to brew an American Pale Ale with just Saaz, it wouldn't be identifiable as an American Pale Ale. It might be, and I would put money on it being so, a fine tasty beer, but American Pale Ale it is not. I have written before that I think authenticity is important, and even more so with styles that are unusual in a given brewery's sitz im leben.

If we in the beer world want to co-opt concepts such as terroir and the importance of place with regard to how beer styles originate and evolve then I think we also need to pay respect to those concepts when brewing relatively rare styles. One of the things I really love about beer culture is learning new things, trying styles from places I have never even considered, but how can I trust that I am getting as close to the real thing is breweries are constantly twisting, and shouting about it?

Monday, May 18, 2020

A Belgian Pilsner?

Yeah, ok, I know.

The vast majority of beer brewed and consumed in Belgium falls squarely into the "pilsner" category of pale lagers. When one thinks of pale lager from Belgian, Stella Artois inevitably pops up first, but also Jupiler, maybe sometimes people will mention Maes, and I have fond memories of drinking Primus in Ieper many moons ago.

Belgian beer is admittedly not something I drink a lot of. I do enjoy the various Trappist ales, as well as the occasional lambic, gueuze, Flanders red, or oud bruin. Not a fan of saisons to be honest, but a good witbier has it's place. I do though have a general rule when it comes to beer styles that have their origins in Belgium...they need to actually be brewed there. I make an allowance for Allagash White, and Celis White too for that matter, but when your average IPA merchant suddenly starts pumping out sours and funky shit then I will happily avoid.

All of this is a long way round to owning that I don't recall having drunk many beers from Ommegang before, if at all. This is no sleight on Ommegang at all, I have just never quite been able to persuade myself to buy something of theirs. Then they brought out Idyll Days Pilsner.

The first 4 pack of 16oz cans I bought was purely on a whim. Browsing the list of beers available from Beer Run for curbside pickup, I saw the magic word "pilsner" and decided that I should try it out. I guess I liked it as I polished off all 4 cans while video chatting with a mate, so naturally no notes were taken, until yesterday. The boys were in bed for their afternoon nap, it was warm but overcast outside, and having taken obligatory photos, I parked myself on the deck for a mini session...


According to the marketing blurb on the Ommegang's website, this is brewed with Czech floor malted barley, Saaz hops, and is then lagered for 30 days, and gets packaged without being filtered. Hmmm...Czech ingredients, Belgian lager yeast, decent lagering period, all sounds good.

The first thing that struck me as I poured out the can into one of my Czech lager glasses was the colour. I was not expecting a 5% abv beer to be quite this wan shade of pale. After last week's experience of wildly fizzy yet headless pale lager, it was nice to get a proper voluminous dollop of white foam that stayed around on top of the beer for the duration and left a nice bit of lace down the glass.


Making their way up through the head were aromas of crackers, specifically water biscuits, as well as delightfully subtle lemon grass thing, with touches of hay and floral hops as well. The subtlety in the aroma department carries on over in to the realm of taste as well. There is a slight sweetness, not unlike savory scones freshly out of the oven, and the lemongrass character of Saaz is noticeable, though restrained and delicate.

Restraint really is the key word here, everything is in balance, with neither hop, malt, or yeast taking over, as I initially noted down, nothing dominates and nothing is lost. One thing that I did not realise before reading the Ommegang website just now was the use of flaked corn in the grist, I barely even noticed it when I was drinking. The finish has the clean snap I expect of a well made lager, and left me wanting another mouthful, my 4 pack disappeared pretty quickly as a result.

It really is a lovely beer, one that will make many a visit to the fridge, and who knows, maybe I'll try some other Ommegang products too...?

Friday, May 15, 2020

Opening Up?

Today sees the beginning of "phase one" reopening in Virginia.

From a beer perspective that means restaurants, breweries and brewpubs are able to re-open for outdoor seating only, at 50% of their listed capacity, while maintaining appropriate physical distancing, and groups of no more than ten at any given table.

The various social media platforms I use have been almost swamped with posts from businesses announcing their decision to either expand their operations or not. The tone has varied from sombre and serious, mainly among those companies not opening up further, to celebratory from those opening up, and to be blunt some posts have been puerile to the point of crass.

Having seen a great swathe of posts I put the following on Facebook the other day:
"Have seen too many breweries, brewpubs, and restaurants touting offering outdoor seating service as of Friday with the notion of "getting back to normal".

Well forgive me for not sharing the relief while there is still no vaccine, no reliable treatment, and no cure.

Two weeks from Friday we'll be back to square one."
As a result of that post I have had several conversations with folks in the industry that I count as friends, whether brewers, servers, or owners. The majority of owners feel stuck between a rock and a hard place as they need to have some kind of revenue to pay the rent on their buildings, having unscrupulous landlords not willing to work with them to find a solution that doesn't put staff at risk. Most of the brewery staff I know are concerned that re-opening is going to turn into a shit show as people ignore physical distancing requirements, refuse to wear masks, or just behave in anti-social and frankly selfish manners, all in the name of getting their drinkies on.

One of the brewery owners I spoke with asked me the following question "what will it take to get you back to the pub?", I had no real answer on the spot, so I figured I'd take it out to Twitter...



Of the 25 people that responded to the question more than 75% are waiting for a vaccine or reliable treatment before heading back out to the pub, and I tend to agree with them.

I really do miss going to the pub, I am much more of a pub goer than a craft beer geek. I am as  perfectly happy in a great pub with a pint of Guinness as I am drinking craft lager in any of my favourite brewpubs in the Charlottesville area. However, until there is some form of medical protection against both the virus and the selfish stupidity of people banging on about their right to not wear a mask, I'll continue my drinking from home. Speaking of which, it's Friday and will soon be time to pick up a stash of fantastic lagers for the weekend while my Cascade hopped best bitter conditions in the kegerator.

Wherever you are drinking this weekend, drink responsibly, be safe, and wear a damned mask,

Thursday, May 14, 2020

VPL - Virginian Pale Lagers

It took eight weeks, but by last Saturday I was actually getting a little bit of cabin fever, so I asked Mrs V if it would be ok if I went out to do the weekly shop. Generally Mrs V is our designated person for doing the shopping during these weird times as both myself and one of my boys are asthmatic, and so we want to minimise the possibility of either of us getting sick.

There were ulterior motives for wanting to get out of the house for a few hours, namely it was Mother's Day and I needed to get Mrs V a card, some fancy booze, and ingredients for dinner. I also wanted to pick up some different beer from Wegmans as they still do BYO six packs, and so ended up with a selection of 2 Czech style Pilsners, 2 German style Pilsners, and a pair of Munich Helles.

I started with the two Czech style beers, both of which I have drunk plenty of over the years but not really sat down and analysed them.

Champion Brewing Shower Beer

  • Sight - pale golden, healthy quarter inch of foam with good retention, superb clarity
  • Smell - Cereal grain, hay, touch of lemon, some floral hops
  • Taste - Bready malt base, spicy hops, nice citrusy, clean, bitterness
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3
In so many ways this is a wonderful Czech style pale lager. Only 4.5% abv, 100% Saaz hops, a really nice firm bitterness and a lingering clean finish pointing to good clean fermentation. If I were comparing to some of the pale lagers back in Czechia, I would put this in the same league as Herold, a good solid brewery with a devoted following.

Port City Brewing Downright Pilsner

  • Sight - Slightly hazy pale gold, good firm white head, nice retention
  • Smell - Lemony and lime citrus character, some breadiness, alpine meadow floral notes
  • Taste - Bready malt character, some spice, bit lemony edging to pithy, clean fermentation
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
Medium bodied, with high carbonation, almost too bitter in some respects, citrus character borders of pithiness.

As I said, I have drunk plenty of both these beers of the years, and am of the opinion that they are dead certs for being in the top five pale lagers in Virginia. I am pretty sure that both would go down pretty well back in Czechia too, but they just don't reach the heights of something like Pivovar Hostomice's majestic Fabián 10°, Únětický's 12°, or the much missed Kout na Šumavě 10°. Making a not entirely unreasonable assumption that the ingredients are broadly similar, I do tend to think that the difference is in process, in particular the fact that Czech breweries still do decoction mashing, and that the Maillard reactions that causes brings something indefinable to the glass that focusing on ABV, IBUs, and other brewing by numbers stats simply cannot bring to the beer? I say it fairly often, but decoction really does matter if you want to make an authentic Czech style lager, regardless of colour or strength.

Moving from Czech style pale lagers over the border, so to say, to German style...

Basic City Our Daily Pils (unfiltered)

  • Sight - Pale gold, slight haze from being unfiltered, thin white head, distinctly not fizzy
  • Smell - Subtle malt sweetness, fresh bread crust, floral hops, some citrus like mandarin
  • Taste - Bready malt with a touch of biscuity sweetness, slightly earthy, spicy hops and a trace of citrus
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
This has actually become something a regular tipple for me. Back in open pub days, ah the memories, I enjoyed many pints of it at Beer Run, often sat at the bar of a Friday afternoon with work done and the boys yet to be picked up from school. At 4.8% it sits squarely in the ball park for a German pils and has all the refreshing drinkability you would expect from Germany's finest. Definitely a welcome addition to Virgini'a lager scene.

Lost Rhino Brewing Rhino Chaser

  • Sight - Gold, thin white head, dissipates quickly, good clarity
  • Smell - Mostly cereal and bread upfront, almost worty, with some subtle spice
  • Taste - Sweet, sugary caramel notes, a little hop flavour with a spicy cinnamon finish
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
This actually reminded me more of the modern Festbier than a pilsner. At 5.6% it is simply too strong to be authentic, but then the can does tout that the brewery has ""Americanized" the classic European Pilsner", a turn of phrase that strikes fear into my heart as it invariably leads to a disappointing drinking experience. If you want to make a pilsner, make a fucking pilsner. If you want to make a strong pale lager then make a strong pale lager. Just as decoction matters, so do styles when it comes to setting the drinker's expectations.

Ok let's leave the pilsners behind and venture into Helles.

Bingo Lager

  • Sight - Yellow, excellent clarity, fizzy, lots of bubbles, no head at all (WTF?)
  • Smell - Light floral hops, slightly grainy, generally indistinct
  • Taste - Bready malt, clean citrus bitterness, touch of corn in the finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
I want to give the brewery the benefit of the doubt here as there seemed to be a dink in the seam of the can lid, which may help explain the absolute absence of head. When I swirled the glass half way through drinking I did come some white foam but it disappeared quickly. The beer itself is well balanced and decent enough, I guess I will have to buy another one just to see if the can lid theory works out.

Stable Craft Helles

  • Sight - Pale golden, think white head, fizzy, good clarity
  • Smell - Crusty bread, spicy hops, earthy, some rather odd onion/garlic notes in the background
  • Taste - Non-descript, some malt, some hops, prickly carbonation, lacking clean lager character
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
This one was a major let down. I was willing to give Stable Craft a try because I have enjoyed their brown ale from time to time, but this was dull and muddled rather than bright and zingy as I would expect from a Munich Helles.

We are lucky in some ways in Virginia that we have some decent pale lagers being brewed, but we also have some that are simply sub-par, and in this tasting we ran the gamut of what is out there in that regard. On the helles front it is safe to say that once South Street have some of their My Personal Helles back in stok I will be slaking my thirst with it.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Session: Quarantine Edition - The Round Up


As promised, one week after The Session - Quarantine Edition here is the round up.

Straight off the bat, I want to thank everyone that took part and wrote something on the theme of "where are you at?". I was kind of overwhelmed by the response from the beer blogging community and the number of posts created, from what I have seen we had a grand total of 19 contributions to the theme, so let's delve in and see what's what eh?

First up is Jordan, also known as tripleclutcher on Instagram, and it was there that he posted a picture and a lengthy description of his new drinking habits, including "more local beer".

Alan McLeod in Canada taxed my shoddy Latin with a post titled "Mea Taverna Quarantina", or "My Quarantine Tavern", and told us about his home, where he does most of his drinking, that he doesn't "miss the pub. Much".

Over at The Brew Site, Jon tells us about how he had stocked up on homebrewing ingredients before the lock down because his local supplier was shutting down. As well as brewing he is asking the question of breweries and brewpubs, "who...is going to survive?". Sobering thoughts indeed.

I am not quite sure of Mark at Kaedrin's description of the Quarantine Edition of The Session as a "triumphant return" but hey we'll take it. He then goes on to tell us about the things he misses as a result of nearly 7 weeks in lockdown, mostly bottle shares and how he and his friends are getting around that.

DaveS at Brewing in a Bedsitter is having a "very cosy catastrophe".

A new blog for me, which is one of the great things about The Session, and Carey, to quote her tweet managed "to vomit out some words on life", and very fine words they are too, about the new normal in her drinking life.

Sucking Stones is another new blog on my radar, and I am pleased that the theme "stuck a chord". Simon had ambitious plans to homebrew several times a week as a result of lockdown, but then had a realisation.

Coming to a blog that I, and many others know well, The Beer Nut in Dublin brings us tasting notes of a couple of new beers from The Porterhouse, as well as his ecstacy at finding canned Rheinbacher at his local Aldi.

Resident beer satirist Matthew Lawrenson of Seeing the Lizards is in the enviable position of being able to get Oakham's lovely Green Devil, while also being designated a "key worker".

When Lisa Grimm upped sticks and moved to Ireland, her plans included "weekend trips in Ireland and the odd hop over to London for theatre". As a result of the lockdown, she seems to be getting a crash course in Irish craft beer and its attendant community.

In "Pressing Pause on the Cassette Tape of Life", Michael of Bring on the Beer owns to writing his post while being 5 beers to the good, top man! He owns that his drinking "skyrocketed" at first but has settled down in recent weeks.

Skipping over to Germany, Andreas Krennmaier, aka "the daft ejit" had many of us drooling with pictures of Schönramer Pils and Mahr's Brau Helles, while telling us about life as an IT guy working from home. Side note, I just noticed his post about making a Mahr's Brau aU clone, and if Beer Run don't have it back in soon I'll be giving that a bash!

Co-founder of The Session, and craft beer guru in general, Stan Hieronymus tells us about how he likes to go to the pub and observe the goings on, and that he looks forward to the return of a normal that looks rather like the old one.

Ray and Jess at Boak and Bailey are finding that once the fight or flight response passes the brain adjusts to the new normal, and they are "drinking less, but savouring what we drink all the more".

Another new blog for me, Brews and Views makes me deeply jealous by writing about the lagers of Utopian Brewing in the UK and their British Pilsner and Dark Lager, both of which I am very keen to try, so hopefully one day when I get back to the UK...

Fellow Mitteleuropaphile Joe Stange, aka The Thirsty Pilgrim, likewise has me deeply jealous, mainly because of his 4 tap kegerator at home, including a Czech style side tap for the much hyped slow pour, and a very fine dark lager in the pictures.

Skipping over to the West coast, Jeff Alworth of Beervana writes about the delights of drinking alone at home, and how "comfortable" beers take precedence in days like this.

Once again to the new to me blog realm...Steve at "Wait Until Next Year" tells us about one of the best phenomena of this whole situation, beer delivery services.

Lastly, the host, me. I wrote about how I feel very fortunate to be able to be "At Home" through all this, and while it is not ideal for Mrs V and the twins, I am actually enjoying having them around all the time.

Friday, May 1, 2020

The Session: At Home

Once upon a time, The Session was a monthly event where beer bloggers got together and wrote about a common theme. Like all good sessions it lasted quite a while, the best part of 11 years before last orders was called and punters filed out into the dark. The dark though doesn't last forever, not even in the depth of a Hebridean winter, eventually the sun returns and again the possibility of a session presents itself. In the spirit then of the hair of the dog, I present the Quarantine Edition of The Session, with a theme of "where are you at?", looking at how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our drinking lives...


In many ways I am deeply priviledged at this time, and I am very much aware of it. I have worked from home for a couple of years already, so that is nothing new for me. My wife, a Montessori teacher, is working from home too, she has not been furloughed, and we are very grateful that her school continues to pay her, and watching her adapt to teaching online and by distance has been nothing short of remarkable. If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting Mrs V you will know why I am immensely proud of her. Perhaps my 30 month old twins have it hardest at the moment as school has been cancelled until at least the end of May and they haven't seen their friends in 6 weeks. They are just toddlers and so don't understand what is going on, and Zoom sessions with their classmates are studies in how to fail at holding a kid's attention.

The biggest change for us has been at weekends. We had a nice routine going prior to the outbreak. Saturday morning to the store for the weekly shop followed by a trip to one of our favourite beer places for lunch and beer, often Beer Run or South Street Brewery, but with a rag tag collection of other places worth going to. Mrs V and I are not fans of "scenes" so we like to get done and back to our Piedmont fastness before the masses descend. All that is gone now, and I am longing for the day when I have my first pint of South Street's My Personal Helles.

As my good friend Eric once said, I am much more of a pub fan than a craft beer fanatic. I love going to the pub. There are genuinely few things I would rather do with myself than pull up a seat at a bar, get a pint, and just while away some time with a book, or people watching. I am very much an introvert and the pub is a place where I can shut the world out of my head while not becoming a total recluse. All that is gone now as well.

At the beginning of the lockdown, when all this was very new, I was drinking a six pack of something almost every night. Given that most of the beers I enjoy are lagers of varying styles in the 4.5% to 5.5% ABV bracket, a six pack a night didn't feel all that drastic. The lagers of Von Trapp Brewing have been my staple go to beer for the duration of our isolation, mainly because our local breweries that are still operating are not known for the beers I enjoy drinking, and I am not at the point of wanting to load up on local IPA just to get my beery fix.

After a week or so I decided that I should raid my cellar a bit, thinking that the beers I had stashed away "for a special occasion" might never get drunk. It was a nervous time for me as I am asthmatic, as is the eldest of my twins, and it is still fresh in my memory having a child in the intensive care unit. Being locked in when you have 1.75 acres is no doubt much easier than being locked in to some of my friend's flats back in Europe, but still there was the nagging doubts in my mind about the business trip to Texas I had just returned from. So I raided the cellar for the big ones, barleywine, old ale, imperial stout, the kind of stuff you rarely see mentioned on Fuggled.

Now it is almost as though the lockdown is normal life. I still work from home, I just have odd hours, and as things have settled into routine I have found myself going back to my more normal drinking pattern of weekends only. This is really only possible because Beer Run continues to operate on a curbside pick up only basis, and thus every Friday has become "take out" day in the VelkyAl household. It is the day we jump in the car, go and pick up food from a restaurant, and get the beer for the weekend. More than ever right now I am glad they carry Von Trapp's superb lagers. Their Pilsner, Helles, Vienna, and Dunkel are staples, and in their Kölsch they have a beer that Mrs V really loved, hopefully it will be back in stock soon.

There have been a couple of welcome additions to my drinking world that perhaps I would previously have skipped on by, Bitburger's superb collaboration with Sierra Nevada being one of them, as well as Ommegang's new Idyll Days Pilsner, a Belgian style pale lager that is absolutely lovely. It being Friday we have placed our orders and in a few hours will go pick up the goodies for the weekend, including a new Czech style lager lager to try out from a Virginian brewery...

It all sounds so humdrum and banal, quite possibly because it is in so many ways. There are times when I joke with my wife that growing up on a small island in the Outer Hebrides was perfect preparation for this, especially given my loner tendencies. Still, life goes on, and beer is there, and for both of those right now I am grateful.

Raising Voices: Amethyst Heels

Today sees the beginning of a new series of guest posts here on Fuggled, which I am calling "Raising Voices". The aim of this seri...