Thursday, December 31, 2020

Fuggled Beers of the Year - Dark, Proper Dark

Off we head then to the end of 2020 with a quick review of the year's dark beers...

Virginia

  • Morana - Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Schwartz Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Porter - Port City Brewing
Honorable mentions: Fast Mild - Ballad Brewing Company

In years past I have refrained from putting Morana on my beers of the year list for the simple reason that I researched and designed the recipe, but as many have said throughout 2020, all bets are off now, so it is on the list. This was the 5th brewing of the beer, and in my unhumble opinion the best so far, thanks largely to open fermentation and horizontal lagering, in addition to the usual double decoction. 

Schwarzbier, the style, is one of those lager styles that just doesn't get enough love in the craft brewing scene, and Devils Backbone's nod to Space Balls is right up there with the finest examples from Germany, and regularly finds a place in the fridge. 

It wouldn't be a 2020 review of the year without Port City now would it. Their Porter is one of those beers that is just wonderful, an archetype of the style if you will, when it is served at a proper temperature, like 55°F, is so much more than the sum of its parts, it sings.

Call it bias, call it nepotism, but only Morana can be the Fuggled 2020 Dark Beer of the Year and with the ever growing list of tmavé lagers hitting the shelves, I really hope to see it packaged one day soon.

Rest of the USA
  • Dunkel - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Irish Walker 2012 - Olde Hickory Brewing, NC
  • Trösten - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
Honorable mentions: Dunkel - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC; Porter - Anchor Brewing, CA.

Of my various crushes on Von Trapp beers, and I think I have a little something for all of them bar the Kölsch, the Dunkel is as solid a US made Dunkel as is possible to find, and it makes a great component of a řezané pivo, especially with Von Trapp's Helles. I have been known to polish off an entire 6 pack of cans in the course of an evening once the boys go to bed, it is that moreish.

I hope you are sitting comfortably, but yes a barleywine makes this list, a very dark barleywine for sure, and one that had been sitting in my cellar since 2013. I described Irish Walker as being a "cacophonous love song to malt" that was "just glorious", a very worthy contender indeed.

Trösten is Von Trapp's smoked lager winter seasonal, though I have to admit that I find the smoke character to be somewhat subdued. Despite that, it is a beer that I love drinking for it's fuller dark body and satin smooth mouthfeel.

A surprise perhaps for regular readers then that the Fuggled Rest of USA 2020 dark beer is....Irish Walker from North Carolina's Olde Hickory Brewing, an utterly lascivious beer, with all the temptations and delights that word implies.

Rest of the World
  • Schlenkerla Urbock - "Heller-Bräu" Trum, Germany
  • Icelandic Toasted Porter - Einstök Ölgerð, Iceland
  • Imperial Stout - Samuel Smith's Brewery, England
Honorable mentions: Schlenkerla Märzen - "Heller Bräu" Trum, Germany.

Some beers are simply worth every penny of buying a case worth to sit in the fridge and pulling out when the mood strikes for a taste of the divine. Schlenkerla Urbock is one such beer, and having said that, I have about a half case in the fridge for such occasions.

I don't generally do coffee infused beers, but the Icelandic Toasted Porter from Einstök is an exception to the rule. Think a fine London porter with a taste of espresso and you are very much in the ballpark of this North Atlantic wonder.

Classic. Is there any other word that best describes this imperial stout from Yorkshire? Honestly there isn't one that pops into my mind. Insanely drinkable, unlike many an imperial stout, Samuel Smiths nail this style to a tee, despite the .5% abv.

Tricky, tricky, tricky...but then push comes to shove, the 2020 Fuggled Rest of the World dark beer is the classic from Bamberg, Schlenkerla Urbock.


Pick one they said, pick one.

Ok then, the Fuggled Dark beer of 2020 is laden with bias, nostalgia, and a longing to be home in the forests of Bohemia.

Morana takes the crown.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Fuggled Beers of the Year - Darker Than Pale Lighter Than Dark Brown

How's that for a description of colours in this category? Suitably vague and broad of scope I would hope you agree.

Onwards then to the runners and riders

Virginia
  • Franconia Kellerbier - Port City Brewing
  • Rauch Märzen - Port City Brewing
  • Alt Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing
Honorable mentions: Doppelbock - Port City Brewing; Bavarian Prince - New Realm Brewing.

As I mentioned in my last post, this year has been stellar from Port City, so it is no surprise to see them dominating the DTPLTDB category. I drank loads of the Franconian Kellerbier earlier this year, often while harvesting fresh green things from my garden, the experience was a series of delightfully rustic moments in the midst of this most odd year. 

When you compare a rauchbier to the glories of Spezial in Bamberg, you know you are drinking something, erm, special, Rauch Märzen is just such a beer. A gorgeous drop of rauchbier that hits my sweet spot with unerring accuracy. 

Technically speaking, Devils Backbone Alt Bier was my first beer of 2020, from the zwickel at the brewpub while brewing Morana back in February. When finally Morana was on tap, and people were allowed to reserve tables in the Devil Backbone meadow, we did so. With double digit numbers of crowlers of Morana acquired, I was drinking the Alt Bier, revelling in the sense of normality with a version of altbier that could actually pass for a German beer. 

This years Virginia DTPLTDB beer of the year is Port City's Franconian Kellerbier, a beer so good it pretty uch made up all of my drinking for a couple of months in the summer.

Rest of the USA
  • Copper - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Oktoberfest - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • 40 - Sierra Nevada Brewing, CA/NC
Honorable mentions: Winter Ride - JosephsBrau, CA; Yule Bock - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC; Vienna - Von Trapp Brewing, VT.

Very much a tale of old favourites here. I wax lyrical about Olde Mecklenburg at length to anyone crazy enough to listen about the glories of decoction mashing, extensive lagering, and a commitment to making beers with malt, hops, yeast, water, and "nothing else". Whenever I have the opportunity it is Copper that takes up a fair amount of space in my fridge. 

For the second year in a row, I did a mass Oktoberfest tasting, and Von Trapp's eponymous beer is probably my favourite version of the style, though it didn't win the blind tasting. However, a maß at Kardinal Hall on an overcast Friday afternoon brought a ray of sunshine to an otherwise grim day. 

I know you are shocked, a top fermented, American hopped, IPA made it on my list of contenders this year, but it is Sierra Nevada and they are simply one of the best breweries on the planet, and in "40" they had the perfect beer to mark such an august anniversary. 

Sierra Nevada then, in their anniversary year take the honours as the best DTPLTDB beer in the rest of the US for 2020.

Rest of the World
  • Vintage Ale 2016 - Fuller's, England
  • Oktober Fest-Märzen - Privatbrauerei Ayinger, Germany
  • Maudite - Unibroue, Canada
Honorable mentions: Orval - Abbaye d'Orval; London Pride - Fuller's.

With the lockdown in its infancy I decided to hit the cellar for some of the old ales, barleywines, and other assorted heavy hitters that had been lingering for a while. From those DTPLTDB beers the 2016 iteration of Fuller's Vintage Ale was the standout beer, and I am eyeing at least one more bottle of it before the year is out. 

Sure, I know Ayinger's autumnal festbier is not strictly speaking an Oktoberfest lager, it is though the one German lager of that season that I look forward to most, chewy, fully bodied, warming, echt lecker.

I renewed acquaintances with Maudite early in the year for an Old Friends post, such a nice beer, one that I have had a couple of times since, when the urge for a well brewed dubbel strikes (admittedly something of a great conjunction in my lager driven world). 

Not only was it the standout cellar beer of 2020, Fuller's Vintage Ale 2016 is the standout DTPLTDB beer of 2020 from the rest of the world. A worthy taker of the accolades.


Decisions, decisions...As ever it is tricky for me to choose one, but in reality given the amount of it I drank earlier in the year, and the fact I drove 60 miles round trip to pick up several unexpected 4 packs, the winner of the Fuggled DTPLTDB Beer of the Year is Port City's glorious Franconian Kellerbier, and I look forward to indulging in more in 2021.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Fuggled Beers of the Year - Pale

January 2020 promised much.

Potential work commitments would mean trips to Texas, New York, South Carolina, Canada, and Rome. With work trips come opportunities to try local beers, either as part of the horror of conference "networking happy hours" or when heading out for dinner in the evening. When I travel by myself I tend to deliberately make my dinner choices based on beer lists.

We all know what happened instead, lots of Zoom meetings.

Despite being largely stuck in central Virginia, this year has been pretty good on the beer front. I have tried beers from new-to-me breweries, made a point of supporting local bottle shops, often to the tune of a case a week at the beginning of lockdown, and where local breweries have had clearly laid out booking systems and strict mask requirements I have been happy to sit in their beer garden with the family and enjoy beer, sunshine, and happy toddler banter (Bertie, the younger of the twins, is a glorious gobshite).

Up until last year my annual review had often been a single post, and I thought this year would be a return to that format, but when I started thinking about all the beers I have had, it was clear that I could break things up a bit. Thus, we begin the review with pale beer and in keeping with last year, my top three each from Virginia, the rest of the US, and the rest of the world.

Virginia

  • German Pilsner - Port City Brewing
  • Helles - Port City Brewing
  • Downright Pilsner - Port City Brewing
Honorable mentions: Our Daily Pils - Basic City Brewing; Euphonia Pilsner - New Realm Brewing.

This year has been stellar on the lager front from Port City up in Alexandria. I have long been a fan of their Downright Pilsner, which is modeled on Bohemian pale lagers. The Helles is their regular summer seasonal, and when the season is right a regular in the fridge. German Pilsner is part of their monthly Lager Series, which has been an absolute boon for this lagerboy in 2020. Choosing just one of the three is seriously difficult, but given that I drove a 60 mile round trip for another beer, and was thrilled to find a stash of German Pilsner in the shop I went to, it is a worthy Virginia Pale Beer of 2020.

Rest of the USA
  • Captain Jack Pilsner - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Helles - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Alexandr - Schilling Brewing, NH
Honorable mentions: Pilz - Live Oak, TX; Helles - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC; Bavarian Pilsner - Von Trapp Brewing, VT; Pilsner - Von Trapp Brewing, VT; Pils - Edmund's Oast Brewing, SC; Rewind Lager - Birdsong Brewing, NC.

You get the feeling I mostly drink lager? I can't imagine what gives you that impression. There are several beers in the honorable mentions that I would happily drink exclusively for the rest of my days if need be, especially the Edmund's Oast Pils. Of the three finalists though, the Helles from Von Trapp is a near fixture of my drinking life, it is simply perfect and always welcome. Olde Mecklenbburg are, as you well know unless you live under a rock, are one of my favourite breweries. Whenever Mrs V and I go through Charlotte, we stop and stock up on beer, and the Captain Jack Pilsner will take up at least half of the purchase. So good is Captain Jack that it is Mrs V's beer of choice if I have any in the fridge and she fancies a beer. Alexandr from Schilling was the icing on the cake. My first trip to a pub to see someone other than my wife was to see my best mate at Kardinal Hall. We sat in the beer garden, suitably socially distant, with litres of beer, and just had a perfect afternoon. This desítka from New Hampshire was a revelation, and I a convert to another brewing from New England. The Rest of the USA Pale Beer of 2030 then is...drumroll gents...Schilling's glorious Alexandr.

Rest of the World
  • Plzeňský Prazdroj - Plzeňský Prazdroj, Plzeň, Czechia
  • aU - Mahr's Bräu, Germany
  • Jahrhundert Bier - Privatbrauerei Ayinger, Germany
Honorable mentions: Icelandic White Ale - Einstök Ölgerð, Iceland; Pils - Mahr's Brau, Germany; Helles - Schlenkerla, Germany; Weihenstephaner Festbier - Weihenstephan, Germany.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I was supposed to have visited Canada and Italy this year for work, and at least for the Italy trip I was hoping to try Tipopils in its native climes to see if it better than the tired, flaccid beer I had in Baltimore in 2012. Even so, there have been plenty of good international beers to enjoy. A couple of weeks ago I popped into Kardinal Hall and had a few litres of Prazdroj in their beer garden, draft Prazdroj is a rarity in these parts, and the keg had just gone on, so it was fresh too, each litre went down with inordinate ease, goodness me I love this beer. Mahr's Bräu's delightful aU turned up in Beer Run in February, so naturally I snaffled the lot and indulged in what has become in many ways the archetype of the perfect lager in my world, and when Andreas Krennmair nails his homebrew clone recipe, I plan to start making it too, I just love the rusticity of it. Last up is Ayinger's Jahrhundert Bier, a full bodied pale lager that makes a wonderful nightcap, the bitterness is just enough to take the edge off the malt sweetness, but I find I can only drink a couple of bottles of an evening, hence the ideal nightcap. I feel almost guilty for not making Prazdroj my internsal pale beer of 2020, but Mahr's Bräu's aU is simply too delicious and warm fuzy feeling inducing to come second in a year so in need of comfort.


For sure I say this every year, but deciding on a single beer to be the Fuggled 2020 Pale Beer of the Year is a difficult task, and this year is no different. For all its machinations and peregrinations I have enjoyed some absolutely outstanding pale beers (yeah, yeah, I know you are saying "pale lager" to yourselves) this year. The stand out though has to be Schilling's divine Alexandr (and not only because it has a magnificent name). I haven't had many Czech style pale lagers that in an instant take me back to life in Czechia, but this one did so. If you have it available somewhere near you, go get it, it is damned good stuff.

Happy to Schill

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