Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Fuggled Beer of the Year

 So...I know I originally said that I would add a "Beer of the Year" category to my post on Dark Beers of the Year, but that obviously didn't happen. I decided I just wanted to think a little more of the three category winning beers and decide on an overall winner.

As a reminder, the three category winners were:

  • Pale: Session Pils - Notch Brewing, MA
  • Between Orange and Brown: Alt Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing, VA
  • Dark: Loonar Eclipse - Utepils Brewing, MN

If you have been following Fuggled for much more than 17 seconds, you will know that I love Czech lager. Having lived there for the best part of a decade, and drunk copious amounts of pale lager, whether Gambrinus, Budvar, or Kout na Šumavě, it is an itch that I still want to scratch regularly. While there does seem to be an increasing number of Czech style pale lagers being brewed in the US, there are few that reach the heights of the real thing. Notch Session Pils is such a beer, and I love it all the more for the fact that it is a desítka, brewed to 10° Plato. One of my major beefs with many a US brewed Czech style pale lager is that they are usually in the Speciální Ležák category, which means they are brewed to 14° Plato, thus an ABV in the 5.5% range. I mentioned in the Pale post that were Session Pils available in Virginia it would be in my fridge more often than not, as in pretty much every weekend.

Altbier, like so many of the beer styles that I gravitate toward is something of a rarity in the US. Few of the ur-typs from Düsseldorf make it across the pond, and of those that do, Central Virginia doesn't seem to get much beyond the occasional sticke or doppelsticke from Zum Uerige. That fact is why whenever Jason at Devils Backbone makes another batch of Alt Bier you can guarantee that I will be there for pints, and will be bringing several crowlers of it home. I mentioned in the BOAB post that since the Devils Backbone Basecamp got an open fermenter and horizontal lagering tanks to augment the decoction mashing in completing the authenticity circle, Jason's Central European beers have gone up an additional step, and they were already superb. One of the things that I really appreciate about Alt Bier is that it doesn't have the crystal malt sweetness that so many US versions seem to have. Sweetness from German malts is different in my experience from that of UK and US malts, balanced with a nice dryness that avoids a syrupy slickness, and thus enhances drinkability. The only downside to Alt Bier is that it is not part of the core lineup at Devils Backbone.

Ah tmavé, the family of Czech dark lagers. Not really a style, in that under Czech brewing law you can have a výčepní tmavé brewed to 10° Plato just as much as a tmavé speciální at 15° Plato. Even the term "tmavé" can be a little confusing, meaning simply "dark", and dark lagers in Czechia run the gamut from dark red to pitch black. But don't think there is a stylistic difference between černé (black) and tmavé, there isn't, as evidenced by the ruddy brown of the best selling Czech dark lager Velkopopovický Kozel Černý. I used the Utepils Loonar Eclipse as the tmavé in a recent comparative tasting and it was a revelation, reminding me of a couple of well regarded dark lagers from Prague, U Fleků's legendary 13° and the Autumn Dark from Klášterní Pivovar Strahov. If you were to take a Czech Vánočka and slather it liberally with Nutella, you'd be in the right ballpark. Given my experience of Utepils Brewing beers, I hope to try more of them in the coming year, and should travel become an option again next year (le sigh) I hope to find some excuse to head to Minneapolis and try them at source.

Three beers then that sit perfectly within my wheelhouse. Well made Central European styles, without silliness, no hype ingredients, no "our twist/spin" on daftness in the descriptions, just simple styles made properly, and traditions treated with respect. As my colleague Jerry recently said on Twitter, I am an "old school lager fanatic", and I am perfectly ok being just that. Deciding on just one as my overall Fuggled Beer of the Year is obviously very difficult, but needs must.

The winner then is Loonar Eclipse from Utepils Brewing as it is one of the best examples of Czech style lagers I have had in the US. Tmavé is a "style", for want of a better word, that I feel deeply invested in, as daft as that sounds. Whenever I have a new example of the style I recall conversations I had with Jason at Devils Backbone over a decade ago. While brewing a Czech pale lager we talked endlessly about the Bohemian tradition of dark lagers and lamenting that they were practically unknown in the US. From that conversation came months of multi-lingual research, discovery, and investigation that led to the first recipe I ever designed for a brewery, Devils Backbone Morana. Perhaps it is pure ego, but I like to think that the Morana project, a beer that has been brewed 6 times in the intervening decade, had some small part in tmavé becoming better known, and more regularly brewed, in the US.

Anyway, congratulations to all three finalists, but especially to Utepils! Long may their fine lager brewing continue, and may more of it find its way to me in Virginia.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Fuggled Beers of the Year: Dark

Here at the dark end of the spectrum, life can sometimes feel a little more tricky. For all the pale lager I drink, and I do drink a fair old whack of the stuff, it is the darker beers that I spend more time thinking about. There is something comforting about dark beers, especially in the depths of winter, which is also my favourite time of year, I just love dark nights and cold air.


  • Schwartz Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Schwarzbier - Port City Brewing
  • Protocol Porter - Alewerks Brewing
So far this year I have done a couple of tastings of schwarzbiers, a style that I seem to have found more of this year than in the previous 11 in the US. I am hoping this is the beginning of a lasting trend as I am big fan of dark lagers in general. In both of the tastings, Devils Backbone Schwartz Bier was my favourite example of the style. It is a beer that I drink pretty regularly and in my opinion is one of DB's best regularly available brews. As part of their Lager Series, Port City have a regular rotation of lager styles, and for some reason I missed the Schwarzbier last year. This year I made sure to rectify that fact and I was very glad that I did, it is pretty much nailed on. Talking about mass tastings of dark beer, earlier in the year I had planned to do such a tasting with porters available in Virginia. It never materialised, other than one combination of Protocol Porter from Williamsburg's Alewerks, a gloriously luxuriant, rich, sipper that makes for wonderful drinking, especially at cellar temperature. Of the three, Protocol Porter is my Virginia Dark Beer of 2021 - I know you are shocked that a top fermented beer beat out a couple of dark lagers, but heck who am I to be predictable?

Rest of the USA
  • Loonar Eclipse - Utepils Brewing, MN
  • Modernism - Schilling Beer Company, NH
  • Trösten - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
Honorable mentions: Landbier Dunkel - Schilling Beer Company, NH; Dunkel - Von Trapp Brewing, VT; Steinbier - Bierkeller Columbia, SC.

Oooo....shock, horror, bottom fermented beers walk it for the best dark beers in the rest of the USA. It is perhaps truly shocking that two of the three are Czech style dark lagers (sorry I can't do the whole pluraling of tmavé by just adding an "s"), shocking in the sense that finally the American craft beer world is waking up to the reality that tmavé is distinct from dunkel and schwarzbier. Both Loonar Eclipse and Modernism are excellent examples of the category - style is not really an accurate term to describe the tmavé family. If either of those were served in Czechia, they would be very, very well regarded. Trösten is something of a rarity when it comes to rauchbiers in the US, it is actually nicely smoky rather than just having a "hint" of smoke, "hints of smoke" rauchbiers just do nothing for me. On draft, this offering from Von Trapp Brewing in Vermont is a delight, again especially when you let it warm a little to unlock all the complexity of the beer. The winner of the best Dark Beer in the Rest of the USA for 2021 is one of my favourite types of beer, from a brewery that is new to me, and everything I have had from them has been fantastic...Utepils Loonar Eclipse it is!

Rest of the World
  • O'Hara's Irish Stout - Carlow Brewing, IE
  • Foreign Extra Stout - Guinness, IE
  • London Porter - Fullers, UK
Honorable mentions: Köstritzer Schwarzbier - Köstritzer, DE; Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock - Brauerei Heller-Trum, DE.

A final three entirely devoid of lager? Whom am I? What have I done to myself? Fullers London Porter is for many the archetype of what a porter should be, and while I don't really drink it often, it is always a delight. There is something alluring about the classic range of porter flavours, you know all that coffee and chocolate stuff, coupled with the signature Fullers yeast marmelade thing, it just works. Both the O'Hara's and Guinness are tied to one of my favourite drinking sessions of the year. Back in October I went up to Rhode Island for my best mate's birthday weekend. On the Sunday morning we were sat in an Irish pub for brunch, and they had O'Hara's on tap. The pints were going down very well, when I noticed the pub had bottles of FES...such a classic beer that makes me wish that regular Guinness was available without the abomination of nitro. The winner though is the Fullers London Pride, an old friend that never disappoints.

Two porters and a tmavé to choose from for the 2021 Fuggled Dark Beer of the Year, but in the immortal words of Connor McLeod, there can be only one...and that one is from the dark north of Minnesota. I wish Utepils were available in Virginia in general as I would love to try the rest of their selection given how impressed I was with both the Receptional Oktoberfest and Loonar Eclipse. Any beer that reminds me of a beer I loved back in Czechia has to be good, especially when those memories are of the Autumn Dark Special from Klášterní Pivovar Strahov, that should tell you just how good Loonar Eclipse is.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Fuggled Beers of the Year: Between Orange and Brown

Darker than pale, lighter than dark brown is something of a mouthful, hence I renamed this part of the annual review of year simply "between orange and brown". Still suitably vague and subject to my capricious whimsy, but "BOAB" is less of a painful acronym than "DTPLTDB". Onwards then to the runners and riders...


  • Franconian Kellerbier - Port City Brewing
  • Alt Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Fest! - Beltway Brewing Company
Honorable mention: A Stone in the Woods Brown Ale - Patch Brewing Company.

I know dear reader you are shocked that the best three BOAB beers of 2021 are examples of German style beers. While it is true that I didn't drink as much Franconian Kellerbier this year compared to last, it was just as fantastic and went just as well with harvesting chores like shelling peas. For about a month in the late spring and early summer of this year, Devils Backbone had their Alt Bier on tap, and every weekend for about a month Mrs V and I would traipse down, often with friends, and sit in the sunshine with half litres of frankly gorgeous Düsseldorf style beer. Fest! was the winner of the Virginia section of my annual Oktoberfest tasting, and was a rich, nailed on märzen that would have been the overall winner but for a beer we'll mention later. While it is difficult to separate out a winner from these three, and it is the one I am happy to drive 75 minutes to get a few pints of...Devils Backbone Alt Bier.

Rest of the USA
  • Receptional - Utepils Brewing, MN
  • Munzler's Vienna Lager - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Vienna - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
Honorable mentions: Copper - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC; Oktoberfest - Sierra Nevada Brewing, CA/NC; Celebration - Sierra Nevada Brewing, CA/NC.

When my colleague Jerry Fagerberg sent me a selection of Minnesota Oktoberfest lagers the name Utepils rang bells from somewhere, somewhere I still can't place. Receptional came top of my MN Oktoberfest league, and it was a fantastic, fantastic beer, a beer I would happily drink all year round given half the chance. In each of the last handful of years I have wanted to try Olde Meck's spring seasonal Vienna Lager, Munzler's, and finally this year I made it to the brewery in time. I was so glad that I finally got to try another example of an excellent lager from Charlotte's finest. Von Trapp are an old faithful brewery, a regular in the fridge, and as such it is all too easy to take them for granted. As a permanent part of their line up, Von Trapp Vienna is quite possibly to my mind the best regularly brewed Vienna lager in the US, as such it wins the best BOAB beer in the US for 2021.

Rest of the World
  • London Pride - Fullers Brewery, UK
  • Oktober Fest-Märzen - Privatbrauerei Ayinger, DE
  • Eiszäpfle - Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus, DE
Fullers in bottles is a fairly common sight here in Virginia, and Kardinal Hall seems to have it in that format regularly, and I enjoyed several throughout the year. Recently though they had it on draft, not cask sadly but such is life, and so it was a no-brainer to go get some, and it was just perfect, once the chill of an American draft line had worn off. Oktoberfest season is when I get excited for the Fest-Märzen from Ayinger. Sure it's an outlier in terms of German "Oktoberfest" lagers but I love the big malty chewiness. The only downside was finding a mere pair of four packs in the store during the appropriate season, and then only 330ml bottles, where were the half litre bottles this year? I didn't know that Rothaus have a year round märzen, Eiszäpfle. Now I do, and now I want to see it in the store year round and not just in the late summer, early autumn, delicious. Of the three, the plaudits, and title of best BOAB beer in the rest of the world for 2021, return to the UK for a second year running with Fuller's London Pride.

Three absolutely cracking beers, but in this case the local hero wins hands down. Since Devils Backbone got an open fermenter and horizontal lagering tanks to complete the authenticity circle when it comes to their central European style beers, everything has gone up a level, from excellent to just plain perfect. Altbier is one of those styles that I wish we saw more properly made iterations of here in the US, and the fact that one of my locals brews it at least once a year makes this Germanophile a very happy camper indeed. Well done Devils Backbone Alt Bier for being the BOAB beer of 2021!

Monday, December 13, 2021

Fuggled Beers of the Year: Pale

As Yule swiftly makes its approach, the time has come to reflect on the year's drinking and give some shout outs to the beers that I have enjoyed the most in 2021. As in previous years I will have three posts:
  • Pale - basically anything that is yellow or gold
  • Darker that Pale Lighter than Dark Brown - running the gamut of oranges, reds, and browns that you can easily see through
  • Dark - dark brown or black
As ever I will offer up the three best examples from Virginia, the US, and the World, as well as any honorable mentions, and then pick a winner in the category. In the final post, I will add an overall Fuggled Beer of the Year. Let's dive on in with pales then...

  • Optimal Wit - Port City Brewing
  • Our Daily Pils - Basic City Brewing
  • Ein Kölsch - Devils Backbone Brewing
Honorable mentions: Downright Pilsner - Port City Brewing; German Pilsner - Port City Brewing.

Unlike last year, the best Virginian pale beers of 2021 are not all from a single brewery, or even from a single family of beers (Port City pale lagers dominated last year). That's not to say that standards have slipped at Port City, but just that this year I have enjoyed other beer styles, and in the case of Optimal Wit come back to a beer I would have from time to time, to discover that it hit my zeitgeist perfectly for a while. As such, the Fuggled Pale Virginian Beer of 2021 is Port City's award winning Optimal Wit, a more perfect witbier in the US is difficult to imagine, and yes that includes Allagash White.

Rest of the USA
  • 10° Plato Pivo - Elder Pine, MD
  • Session Pils - Notch Brewing, MA
  • Captain Jack Pilsner - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
Honorable mentions: Pilsner - Von Trapp Brewing, VT; Helles - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC; Leichtbier - Bierkeller Columbia, SC; Carolina Keller - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC; Nordertor - Schilling Beer Company, NH; Landbier - Schilling Beer Company, NH; Old Bavarian Lager - Folksbier, NY; Alexandr - Schilling Beer Company, NH.

2021 has been a stellar year for pale beers from the rest of the USA, as evidenced by the number of honorable mentions, any of which could easily have made it into my top three. Of the top three, Captain Jack is the single most common Olde Meck beer I drink, Notch's Session Pils is something I have long wanted to try, and it more than lived up to expectation, and Elder Pine's desítka was a unexpected delight. The winner though of the best pale beer in the rest of the USA is actually pretty simple, Notch's magnificent Session Pils. If they are ever regularly distributed in Virginia, it would become very quickly the staple pale lager in my fridge, it is that good.

Rest of the World
  • Únětické Pivo Nefiltrované 12° - Únětický Pivovar, CZ
  • Hopfenkönig - Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg, AT
  • Icelandic White Ale - Einstök Ölgerđ, IS
Honorable mentions: Radler - Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg AT; Plzeňský Prazdroj - Plzeňský Prazdroj, Plzeň, Czechia; Jahrhundert Bier - Ayinger Privatbrauerei, DE; Arctic Lager - Einstök Ölgerđ, IS.

One of my beer highlights of 2021 was being able to get a case of Únětický Pivovar's lovely 12° Czech pale lager from Beer Run, and then to have a Czech night by pairing it with half a roast duck and cabbage. Sitting at the beach in Florida come summer though, and it was an Icelandic witbier that more that scratched the itch for something pretty light, tasty, and refreshing to cut through the heat. I actually feel as though I should drink Einstök Ölgerđ's beers more in general as they are all excellent in my experience. The winner though of the best pale beer from the rest of the world is the unexpectedly delightful Hopfenkönig from Austria's Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg, probably better known for Samichlaus. If Austrian pilsner is a thing, then it falls somewhere between it's Bohemian and Bavarian cousins, making Hopfenkönig a go-to beer whenever it is on tap at Kardinal Hall.

It is so rare that a beer lives up to the hype that gets generated around it. I remember being a little let down the first time I had Porterhouse's Oyster Stout for example, but the overall pale beer winner more than bucks that trend. The first time I drank Notch Session Pils was in Rhode Island, visiting my best mate who has recently moved up there. We had finally managed to find a 12 pack, but it was a couple of months past it's best before date, yet still it was fantastic. When my mate returned the trip by coming to Virginia for my birthday, he bought with him a fresh 12 pack, and it was a revelation, a truly perfect Czech style pale lager. Kudos then to Notch Brewing up in MA and their magnificent Session Pils for being the Fuggled Pale Beer of 2021.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Come to the Schwarz Side

One of the reasons I had all the necessary dark lagers to do the dunkel-tmavé-schwarzbier triumvirate tasting in a previous post was because I have been stashing schwarzbiers since the end of October to do a distinctly schwarzbier tasting. My planned set of examples was complete when Mrs V and I headed back from South Carolina after Thanksgiving, picking up a couple of six packs of Olde Mecklenburg's Solar Eclipse that her cousin had put aside for me after one of his trips to Charlotte.

My collection of German style black lagers then was:

For those of you playing along at home, you may recall that I did a small schwarzbier tasting with three of these beers back in May, Devils Backbone, Köstritzer, and Schilling, but given examples from another couple of my go-to breweries, a do over seemed appropriate. Let's dive on in...

Köstritzer Schwarzbier
  • Sight - pitch black, dark brown edges, firm ivory foam, nice lacing
  • Smell - roasty, caramelised sugar, dark toast, some spicy hops
  • Taste - cold espresso, light cocoa, clean hop bite
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
There is a reason this is a classic, perhaps even the ur-typ of the style. It is freaking delicious, smooth, balanced, really easy to drink, and just reliable in the way that all the best archetypes are. It is perhaps a tad thin in the finish, but I quibble.

Devils Backbone Schwartz Bier
  • Sight - black, garnet highlights, solid ivory head
  • Smell - rich coffee, toasty, generally roasty
  • Taste - French roast coffee, sachertorte, clean hop bitterness
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
This beer has won multiple awards and for good reason. Sure it is a touch heavier than the Köstritzer, but it is just as smooth and drinkable. I have to admit that I go through times when this is a very regular part of my drinking, it just hits every note on the nail. Fun fact, my notes on this one are very close to when I took notes in May. Also, it makes an excellent řezané with Devils Backbone Gold Leaf.

Schilling Feldberg
  • Sight - black, red highlights, tall ivory foam
  • Smell - molasses, subtle coconut, toasty
  • Taste - medium roast coffee, light molasses, dates
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Another smooth bodied, tasty black lager. Schilling really have become something of a go-to brewery for this lager boy, when their beers actually make it to the central Virginia area. If there was one downer with Feldberg, and this may be a product of age, the finish felt slightly muddled, lacking a crisp snap that I usually associate with lager.

Port City Schwarzbier
  • Sight - inky black, dark brown edges, thinnish off white foam
  • Smell - well toasted bread, not burnt but well toasted, coffee hints, some treacle
  • Taste - espresso, light molasses, spicy hops
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Port City make some of my favourite lagers, and their schwarzbier is definitely a good example of the style, if just a tad bit astringent in the finish. Speaking from pretty recent experience, it does make a fine beer round the firepit of an evening.

Olde Mecklenburg Solar Eclipse
  • Sight - dark brown, garnet at edges, thin off white head
  • Smell - light coffee, dark toast, spicy hops
  • Taste - toasty, think märzen but with extra deep sweetness and toast, lots of Munich malt?
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
I have to be honest, this one confused me from the get go as is poured so much paler than the others, I am not sure I would call it schwarz in any meaningful sense of the word. So confused was I that I checked out the BJCP style guidelines, which read:
Medium to very dark brown in color, often with deep ruby to garnet highlights, yet almost never truly black. Very clear. Large, persistent, tan-colored head.

Seemingly the colour is fine then, though every black lager I have had up until that point had been distinctly schwarz, as the GABF guidelines would expect, "dark brown to black". Even so, another cracking beer from the folks in Charlotte.

There we have it then, 5 excellent examples of one of Germany's most ancient beer styles. While I wasn't intending this tasting to rank the beers, there were two that stood out, Köstritzer and Devils Backbone. The others were all very good beers, but those two just had a little something more that appealed to me, and thankfully both are regularly available in this neck of the woods.

If I see more breweries making this style I will likely repeat this tasting and see if anything can match up to the original and the local hero.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Get Ye To The Keller

As has been traditional since moving to the US in 2009, Mrs V and spent most of Thanksgiving week in her home town of Columbia, South Carolina. For a few years now, I have been aware of the presence of a brewery called Bierkeller Columbia, but for some reason I had never been able to time a trip to Colatown to coincide with acquiring their beer. Prior to the pandemic, at least as far as I am aware, their main business was brewing and doing pop-up beer gardens in Columbia, and as I say, we never seemed to be in town when they were having one of their events. With the pandemic though, they have started to sell their beer in crowlers, available at Swamp Cabbage brewing on a Thursday evening for a couple of hours. Given that we were going to be in town from the Tuesday, and pickup had been moved to Wednesday for obvious reasons, I finally made sure to put in an order...

According to the Bierkeller website, founder Scott Burgess lived in Bamberg for a decade, and seriously what better town in Germany would you want to live in and have world class beers on tap literally everywhere? As their website says, the aim of Bierkeller Columbia is to produce and serve German style beers that emphasise:

"authenticity, freshness, hyper-locality, and consistency".

Bold claims, but claims I have long wanted to test. As such, I availed myself of their ordering system, a very handy Google Docs setup, and got myself three crowlers of kellerbier and one each of braunbier and leichtbier. Had Mrs V and boys not been in the car when I went to collect my order, I fear I would have stood around for hours geeking out about German beer, Bamberg, and, after a generous sample from the lagering tank, all things rauchbier. Scott even more generously chucked in a crowler of their steinbier, more of which later.

Now, I almost kick myself that I didn't take notes, and in the case of the braunbier and leichtbier I didn't take notes because here is some excellent beer. The leichtbier is brewed in the style of a Czech 10° pale lager, and it hits every high note perfectly and if we lived in Columbia, I'd be buying vast amounts of this beer every week. Yes, it is that good. So, great start, nailing a style I love. With a litre of desítka sloshing around, I went next for the braunbier, and to quote the website:

"Braunbier is an auburn-brown lager that has a slightly toasty maltiness, balanced by a sweet breadiness and earthy, floral German noble hops."

Wow, this stuff was likewise gorgeous, and was gone in far too few mouthfuls, it is that moreish. I was enjoying myself, the boys had gone to bed, and whatever was on the tele was eminently worth ignoring. I could happily have sat and drunk all 6 crowlers, but it hit me that I didn't have anything lined up for Turkey Day. Unsure if anywhere would be open to stock up, I put a hiatus on my drinking. Turns out Piggly Wiggly is open on Thanksgiving and had a sale on Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, so it was Black Friday before I came back to the Bierkeller crowlers. With just kellerbier and steinbier left, and a disinclination to take notes, but I did take pictures this time, I started with the kellerbier.

The beer itself is not quite as dark as the picture would suggest, but is cloudy orange, topped with a fluffy white head. When I stuck my nose in the glass the first thing to come to mind was Mahr's Bräu aU, and it reminded me of that most venerable brew in the drinking too. A fantastically delicate balance of malt and clean, slightly spicy hops. I could easily imagine myself sat outside a gästhaus in Franconia, bike propped up against a wall as an endless stream of this beer flowed my way. Naturally I would have to walk the bike home, or come back tomorrow to collect it, or maybe the day after as I repeat the happy scene.

Steinbier is something I had only ever read about. Taking hot rocks and dropping them in wort to boil the liquid seems a rather laborious way of producing beer, but heck if you get something like this from doing so, more steinbier please! Scott and co heat up granite to put into the wort and then add the rocks to the fermenter so the caramelised wort on the rocks dissolves into the beer itself. It is really difficult to describe the flavour that this creates, kind of an umami sweetness, if that makes any sense whatsoever. It's like taking the difference in sweetness between Munich malt and crystal malt and intensifying it 5 fold. A stunning beer.

I mentioned earlier that Scott gave me a very generous sample of the rauchbier they have available from this week. Bear in mind that Scott lived in Bamberg for ten years, so here is someone who gets rauchbier, and it shows. The aroma was solid beech smoke and lots of it, lots of it, maybe not as intense as Schlenkerla, but front and centre. Flavourwise it reminded me more of Spezial's divine Lagerbier. As good a rauchbier as is being made in the US right now. My only concern is how to get myself a stash to Virginia for Christmas - Mrs V's parents may have to be sent to the industrial realms of Columbia to mule some up...

Being hyper local, Bierkeller's brews are only available at one of their pop-up beer gardens on the Riverfront in Columbia, or at their weekly crowler pick ups on Thursday nights at Swamp Cabbage Brewing. Also, did I mention that a crowler is just $5? Yeah, you read that right, $5 for a litre of seriously good beer, it's almost as though someone remembered the price control part of Reinheitsgebot as well as the ingredient bit.

I really hope that future trips to Columbia will involve more Bierkeller lagers, and if you live in the area but have yet to try them, seriously get on it, you will not be disappointed.


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

All Consuming Darkness

Back in 2010 I wrote a post on the old RateBeer forums advocating for Czech tmavé to be recognised as a distinct beer "style" rather than simply lumped together with schwarzbier or dunkel. While I no longer bother with RateBeer or BeerAdvocate, and have never bothered with Untappd, it was interesting this morning to look at those sites and see how tmavé is being categorised in each instance. Ratebeer, seemingly in keeping with the consensus on the thread from 2010, has a broad "Dark lager" category, with dunkle and tmavé bracketed together. Over at BeerAdvocate, most versions of tmavé are seemingly put in one of the "Schwarzbier", "Munich dunkel", or "Lager - European Dark" categories. Untappd would seem to be the most simplistic option, going for just "Lager - Dark".

I don't want to rehash the arguments about whether Czech dark lagers are a unique beast when compared to their German counterparts, though I will continue to maintain that they are. The history of dark beer in Bohemia is fascinating, with it seeming that unlike their Bavarian neighbours, the Bohemians were top fermenting their dark beers until the very cusp of the 20th century. If you have ever had U Fleků's wonderful 13° lager you will know just how similar it is to a modern day stout. In the early years of the First Republic, the oldest brewery in České Budějovice (hint, it isn't Budvar) was advertising a dark beer with the name "Původní Českobudějovický Porter", or "Original Budweiser Porter". If I remember rightly, said beer was brewed to about 13° as well.

Sitting by our new firepit on Sunday afternoon, watching the twins charge around like maniacs, it occurred to me that I had examples of all three dark lager styles in my fridge. Do a tasting I thought, do a tasting I did! My three dark lagers were:

Starting at the beginning, to one of my favourite things...

Ah Von Trapp, goodness me how I love their on point lagers. Dunkel is, as if the name itself is not a hint, dark brown, with glints of garnet when held up to the light. The foam is firm, light tan, and doesn't disappear entirely as you drink. In one of my half litre krugs, it is a mighty damned fine sight. Ok, aroma, crusty toast, not burnt but definitely well toasted, with a light hop spiciness floating around in there too, think a märzen style Oktoberfest lager with more Munich malt oomph and you're not far off. The complexity of the malt really becomes evident when you finally stop looking and sniffing. Rich with toffee, toast, and subtle cocoa hints, there is a nice clean hop bitterness that cuts through it all, leaving the finish dry and moreish. Of the many dunkels I have enjoyed over the years this is one of the best, and one day I will get to Vermont to drink it at the Von Trapp Bierhall.

If Utepils beers were ever distributed to Virginia I would likely be a very happy man. As it is, I am grateful to my colleague Jerry for shipping this nectar to me, which likewise makes me a very happy man. Loonar Eclipse is their Czech style tmavé, which at 5.1% abv is likely to be a 13° Plato beer, and thus right in line with the U Fleků urtyp. It felt appropriate to pour this into my Purkmistr půllitr mug, and pour a very, very dark brown it did. The highlights were deeper than in the dunkel, gleaming like polished mahogany, topped with a healthy inch or so of dark ivory foam. Making their way gamely through the head were aromas of light coffee, a little unsweetened cocoa, and herbal hops, the nose was on the nose. One mouthful and I was transported to days drinking tmavé in Prague, in particular the autumn special from Klášterní Pivovar Strahov. Those coffee and cocoa notes were present in the flavour department too, joined by a bit of cola, and rich crusty, and slightly nutty, bread, almost like mazanec. Just plain lovely is what it is, beautifully rich and smooth, with a clean finish from the hops and fermentation character. My best friend is coming to visit this weekend, so we'll share the remaining pair of cans by the firepit.

Changing up the glassware for the third time, I poured the Port City Schwarzbier into my Chodovar Salzburg High mug, and living up to its name, this was black, black, black, with dark brown edges. The foam was again nice and healthy, but a touch darker than the previous beers, still it clung around for a while. The dominant aroma here was a combination of dark toast and espresso, backed up by a hint of cola. Again, the flavours paired up nicely with the aromas to be deeply rich layers of coffee, dark toast, a general roastiness, and a slightly herbal hop bite to keep everything in balance. Damn if this ain't a fine execution of the style. When I get back from South Carolina for Thanksgiving, I will be doing a comparative tasting of schwarzbiers, and with this teaser I am very much looking forward to it.

So, coming back to the original theme, this little experiment has me satisfied that dunkel, tmavé, and schwarzbier are distinct "styles", for want of a better word. Yes they are clearly similar, but I think that the differences in ingredients as well as flavour and aroma profiles show that the differences are sufficient to celebrate each in their own right. Of course, the challenge here with tmavé is that under Czech brewing law it can be 8° as much as it can 18° - though not above that, then it becomes a "Porter", such are the joys of trying to shoehorn Czech brewing traditions into an Anglo-American taxonomy, which applies just as much to světlé and polotmavé as to tmavé.

To thoroughly bastardise the maxim of Karl Barth..."let pivo be pivo"

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Young and the Old - IPA Edition

12 days earlier than the norm and central Virginia has had its first frost. Samhain has barely come and gone, and already the Yule beers are starting to appear on the shelves. We are at the cusp of that most cultural warfare of times....the Holidays. 

It is around this time that I also perform an annual ritual, that of buying a 6 pack of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale to drink a couple of and blithely forget about until this time next year.

I have a personal heresy when it comes to Celebration Ale, I think it is better with a year in the cellar to allow the fresh/wet/green/choose a descriptor hops to tone down a bit. I realise that kind of defeats the purpose of it being a "fresh hop ale" or in this year's case a "fresh hop IPA". At 6.8% abv, Celebration Ale does actually fit quite nicely within the definition of an Old Ale, even the 65 IBUs aren't wildly out of keeping with the style guidelines as promulgated by the BJCP. Sure a year sitting in a cellar is not long enough to really get some of the old ale characteristics associated with the style, you know all that oxidation, lactic, Brett, kind of stuff, but what about a decade?

As I was pottering around in the cellar the other day, mainly wondering why on earth I have so many growlers, and how to dispose of the vast majority of them, I discovered a bottle of Celebration Ale from 2011. A bottle so old that it's original cellar was the outside storage room of Mrs V and I's first abode in Virginia. A bottle so aged that it is now on its third US president, and was in the cellar before I last went to France to stay with my parents, when they lived there, for Christmas, and when I did a comparative tasting of fresh and aged Orval. I also noticed that I still have bottles from 2019 and 2020 floating about, but there was something more appealing about the direct 10 year comparison than doing fresh, 1 year, 2 year, and then 10 year old versions. I started with the fresh...

The autumnal sunlight streaming through the door to our deck made the copper liquid glow, flashing amber highlights at the edges of the glass, all topped off with a steady, persistent half inch of just off white foam, god it's a lovely looking beer. From experience of preferring it with a little age on it, I didn't bother to top up my pint dimpled mug with another can. Without even having to get the glass close to my nose, the hops are evident, all those classic American "C" hop aromas just bursting all over the place. Masses of grapefruit, pine resin, lots of pine resin, and spicy undertones, quite the heady brew. Ok, let's drink this...bracingly bitter, bracing, like jumping into a cold pool after a banya in the Belarusian countryside. Next time you have a grapefruit, eat the peel and the pith and you'll get what I mean, this is ripping citrus, and somewhere underneath it all is a toffee malt sweetness, not enough to give even the merest semblance of balance, but it's there. This is a brute of a beer, big, bruising, and powerful...I hope being in cans now means it won't stay the same after a year in the cellar.

With such a walloping mass of flavours to process, and the fact dinner needed to be made, twins put to bed, and all that jazz, it was a few hours later, and darker, that I got to the 2011 bottle.

Straight off the bat, the size of the head surprised me a little, I expected it to be more of a schmeer than the half inch it was, well at least there was still life there. Lacking sunlight, the amber highlights were only really noticeable when held up to the kitchen lights, but the deep copper was very similar to the young version. Ten years of sitting around had obviously impacted the massive hop aroma, though pine resin and grapefruit were still heavily involved. In the mix now was a stone fruit character that I really didn't expect, as well as a subtle sherry thing, which I kind of did. The years though have been kind to the malt, a fuller, richer malt flavour is present now, like dulce de leche spread on fresh from the oven scones. There is still a pithy bitterness, but it too has calmed down, though I expected it to have calmed further, even so this is a remarkably hop present beer for its age.

I still have most of the 6 pack of 2021 Celebration Ale in the cellar, will any of it make it to 2031? Who knows? If somehow I manage to ignore a beer for another decade, then at least if this experiment is any indicator, it'll still be a good, bitter, old ale when the time comes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

In Praise of Extract Beer

It is a cliché for sure, but there are times when I look at my kids and wonder to myself "where the hell did the time go?". This weekend was the twins 4th birthday and with time speeding by at a fair old clip, it feels difficult to justify taking 8 hours, give or take, to brew an all grain batch of homebrew. While there is no shortage of decent beer to be had in the central Virginia region, either locally produced or from further afield, there are still times when I just want to drink something I have brewed myself. Enter pre-prepared malt extract.

Now, I know that many homebrewing purists get a bit haughty about using malt extract, but cutting that 8 hours down to about 3 just makes life a whole lot easier. Thankfully if you still want to use specialty grains you can just steep some in your brewing water as it warms up, I find it much easier to add extract to warmer water so that helps as well. When you get your hands on some fresh extract though, there is nothing to stop you from just doing an all extract beer, which I what I did about 2 months ago, to brew this...

The beer in the picture was something of a mashup, a top fermented 10° pale beer vaguely in the style of a Czech desítka. I used 6lbs of Briess Pilsen malt extract in this recipe, which is according to their spec sheet 99% pilsner malt and 1% carapils, and gave me a 5 gallon starting gravity of exactly the 10° Plato I was looking for. Being something of a lazy git at times, it is nice to work with a product that gives you exactly what you expect when you do things right. My complete recipe was as follows:

  • 6lbs Briess Pilsen liquid malt extract
  • 11 IBU of Saaz for 60 minutes
  • 8.5 IBU of Saaz for 30 minutes
  • 5.5 IBU of Saaz for 15 minutes
  • Wyeast 1007 German Ale
A very simple recipe really, and I used a top fermenting yeast as I don't have a temperature controlled fermentation chamber or any of that jazz. I find that 1007, which is Zum Uerige's yeast I believe, ferments really clean at my cellar's fairly constant 65°F and is well suited to the 5 weeks lagering the beer got at about 35°F. With the boys' birthday soirée about to start, I poured myself a half litre...

Sure it was a wee bit hazy, but not too bad for an unfined, unfiltered beer. You could call it a nefiltovaný if you so pleased, but to my mind it was a lovely looking půllitr, simply redolent with that lovely soft spiciness blended with a hay character that makes me think of Saaz. I have no evidence for this, but I do wonder if boiling up an already reduced wort actually mimics some of the maillard reactions you would get from a decoction mash. Easy drinking it was.

Given the ease of using liquid malt extract, I think I will be retiring the mash tun for a while, at least until the boys are able to listen enough to be handy assistant brewers. Next up, an ESB...

Friday, October 8, 2021

After the Fest

In 2018 I had this notion to try all the Virginian Oktoberfest lagers I could lay my hands on at the time, a grand total of 6 beers, 4 of which have featured in every iteration of the project. In 2019 there were 18, 2020 had 24, and this year, I may have mentioned already, a staggering 46 beers.

I have written posts about Minnesotan, Virginian, and German representatives, but to break it down a bit further I had:

  • 13 from Germany
  • 11 from Virginia
  • 7 from Minnesota
  • 3 each from New York and Pennsylvania
  • 2 from North Carolina
  • 1 each from Texas, Vermont, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Massachusetts, and California (or maybe a third from North Carolina depending on how you list Sierra Nevada).

From the beers that I haven't already posted about there were a few standouts, and if you've been following Fuggled for much more than a nanosecond they are names you will recognise.

August 1st is one of the most anticipated dates in my beer calendar, as it is on this most august of days that Sierra Nevada release their annual Oktoberfest. I guess the pandemic has put the annual collaboration on hiatus for the time being as both last year and this have been just SN beers, and both have been absolute delights. This year's version was marketed as an "amber märzen" and it hit all the right notes. It did however break with Fuggled tradition by not being a beer I drank a 12 pack of each weekend, unlike in years passim.

For the first time ever I have managed to get my hands of all of Olde Mecklenburg's seasonal beers, and I was really keen to include Mecktoberfest in the tasting to see how it stacked up. The answer that question really shouldn't be a massive surprise, it stacks up very well. A delicate balance of malt and hop, with the clean, crisp lager fermentation finish you expect from such masters of the bottom fermented arts. I also learnt this week that they also do CO2 capture at the brewery, which just makes me love them even more.

It is an incontrovertible truth that the brewery whose products most regularly show up in my fridge is Vermont's Von Trapp. In common with my favourite breweries they are masters of lager, and their commitment to quality, authenticity, and just making great beer shone through in their Oktoberfest this year. Von Trapp's Oktoberfest has probably been my single most regularly drunk märzen this year, again getting a lovely richness to dance gracefully with slightly spicy hops, and a moreishness that could seriously jeopardise plans to try other beers in a session.

With those special honorable mentions out of the way, here is the final ranking of all 46 Oktoberfest beers I have tried this year. Where beers have the same overall score, I have made no attempt to disambiguate them.

1. Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen - 36/40
2. Beltway Fest - 34/40
3. Port City Oktoberfest - 33/40
3. Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest - 33/40
4. Rothaus Eiszäpfle - 32/40
4. Von Trapp Oktoberfest - 32/40
4. Utepils Receptional Festbier - 32/40
4. Summit Oktoberfest - 32/40
4. Interboro Festbier - 32/40
4. Blue Mountain 13.Five Oktoberfest - 32/40
5. Olde Mecklenburg Mecktoberfest - 31/40
5. Great Lakes Oktoberfest - 31/40
5. Indeed Oktoberfest - 31/40
5. Fair State Coop Festbier - 31/40
5. Erdinger Oktoberfest - 31/40
5. Spaten Ur-Märzen - 31/40
5. Beale's Fest - 31/40
6. Warsteiner Oktoberfest - 30/40
6. Shiner Okotberfest - 30/40
6. Devils Backbone O'Fest - 30/40
6. Starr Hill Festie - 30/40
6. Bell's Oktoberfest - 30/40
6. Schell's Oktoberfest - 30/40
6. Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Märzen - 30/40
7. Tucher Festbier - 29/40
7. Benediktiner Festbier - 29/40
7. Schlafly Oktoberfest - 29/40
7. Reason Märzen - 29/40
8. Bitburger Festbier - 28/40
8. Sam Adams Oktoberfest - 28/40
8. Brooklyn Brewing Oktoberfest - 28/40
8. Beaver Island Oktoberfest - 28/40
8. Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier - 28/40
9. Weihenstephaner Festbier - 27/40
9. Smartmouth The Princess - 27/40
10. Bauhaus Schwandtoberfest - 26/40
10. Barrier Märs Zen - 26/40
10. Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier - 26/40
11. New Realm Bavarian Prince - 24/40
12. Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen - 23/40
12. Yeungling Oktoberfest - 23/40
13. Hi-Wire Zirktoberfest - 22/40
13. Victory Festbier - 22/40
14. Brothers Festbier - 21/40
14. Genesee Oktoberfest - 21/40
15. Solace Gute Nacht - 19/40

Ayinger then take not just the title of best German Festbier/Märzen of 2021 but also the overall title of the Fuggled Oktoberfest Beer of the Year!

So now the time has come to move on to something different...schwarzbier for example

Wednesday, October 6, 2021


Now, if you are an Oktoberfest purist, then I suggest you look away as I write about the 13 German märzens and festbiers that I tried as part of my mass tasting. While 11 of the beers were from Bavaria, only 5 on those were from official Oktoberfest breweries, the remainder were from Rhineland-Pfalz, Nordrhein-Westfalen, and Baden-Württemburg.

In terms of "style", 8 were pale "festbiers", 4 were darker "märzens", and one was a weizen festbier. The spread of scores ranged from 23 to a frankly awesome 36/40, with the average being 29/40. A reminder that the overall average from the 46 beers I tried was 28/40, so generally the German beers were at or above average, with only 3 brews failing to reach the magic 28. As ever, here is a reminder of my scoring criteria:

  • Appearance - 3 points
  • Aroma - 10 points
  • Taste - 15 points
  • Balance of bitter to sweet - 2 points
  • Personal preference - 10 point

Just as with yesterday's list of Virginia Oktoberfest lagers, I am not going to produce a massive great list of tasting notes with key phrases repeated ad nauseum, you know "bready" for the märzens, "grainy pils malt character" for the festbiers, but I will hit some highlights.

Firstly, I didn't even know that Baden-Württemburg's Rothaus made a märzen, though it is pale rather than amber it is called a märzen given its starting gravity, as the law requires in Baden-Württemburg, which makes something of a mockery of the Anglophone world's attempts to define styles. I mentioned earlier that one of the beers I tried was Erdinger Oktoberfest, a weizen festbier that weighing in at 5.7% makes it just a touch stronger than their regular weißbier, and it was a lovely, refreshing change from the other beers in the tasting, if a little difficult to decide how to judge.

Anyway, on to the final rankings for Germany's representatives...

1. Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen - 36/40
2. Rothaus Eiszäpfle - 32/40
3. Spaten Ur-Märzen - 31/40
3. Erdinger Oktoberfest - 31/40
4. Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest Märzen - 30/40
4. Warsteiner Oktoberfest - 30/40
5. Benediktiner Festbier- 29/40
5. Tucher Festbier - 29/40
6. Paulaner Oktoberfest Bier - 28/40
6. Bitburger Festbier - 28/40
7. Weihenstephaner Festbier - 27/40
8. Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier - 26/40
9. Paulaner Oktoberfest Märzen - 23/40

At one point it looked as though it was going to be a fairly close run thing for the Germans in this tasting, but then along came Ayinger like a bull in a china shop to blow everyone else out of the water. Such an immense beast of a complex lager, it is one of the seasonal lagers that I look forward to each autumn, regardless of the whole Oktoberfest thing, it is just the perfect beer for dreich days watching the leaves turn.

Update: thanks to Rob for pointing out that Rothaus Eiszäpfle is in fact a year round beer rather than specially made for this time of the year. The shop I bought my 6 pack in (yes, I trust Rothaus so will splunk way north of $15 for 6 bottles) told me it was shipped to the US specifically for Oktoberfest time, so it is staying in the tasting.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Oktoberfests of Virginia

Okotberfest would have finished on Sunday, so it seemed like an apt cut off point to my own endeavour to try as many festbiers and märzens as I could lay my hands on. The final total was 46 individual beers, and while I won't be taking any more notes and assigned scores, I may have another few if I see any from breweries that I trust to make great lagers, looking mostly at you Schilling.

Of those 46 beers, 11 were from Virginia. I know for a fact there are more than 11 breweries in Virginia making lagers broadly in the realm of Oktoberfest, but I had criteria for picking, the main one being did my local bottles shops sell them as singles? Sorry brewing companies, but I am not going to splunk north of $10 on a 4-pack or 6-pack of beer when I am not confident in the quality of the product. Even those breweries that I know and trust rarely had me buying more than a single as I didn't want my fridge to overflow, at which I failed utterly anyway.

Of those 11 beers, only one was a festbier, Devils Backbone O'Fest, while the spread of scores ranged from 19/40 to 34/40, with an average of 28/40, which is also the overall average score of the 46 beers. Just a reminder that my scoring criteria are as follows:

  • Appearance - 3 points
  • Aroma - 10 points
  • Taste - 15 points
  • Balance of bitter to sweet - 2 points
  • Personal preference - 10 points

I am not going to bore you with endless tasting notes, especially as 10 märzens would mean excessive repetition of "bready", so here are the final rankings and scores for the Virginia Oktoberfests

1. Beltway Fest! - 34/40
2. Port City Oktoberfest - 33/40
3. Blue Mountain 13.Five Oktoberfest - 32/40
4. Beale's Oktoberfest - 31/40
5. Devils Backbone O'Fest - 30/40
5. Starr Hill Festie - 30/40
6. Reason Märzen - 29/40
7. Smartmouth The Princess - 27/40
8. New Realm Bavarian Prince - 24/40
9. Brothers Festbier - 21/40
10. Solace Gute Nacht - 19/40

I have to admit to being slightly surprised by the results here, in particular with the New Realm Bavarian Prince score given that last year it was the overall winner of my tasting with 34/40. I am not sure if I got a bum can, but I felt that it wouldn't be fair to give them a redo on the basis of last year's results. Perhaps more dramatic is the score for Solace's Gute Nacht, which last year scored a paltry 10/40 and was one of only 2 drain pours, but at least this year was much better and I finished the pint.

I have to confess to being slightly torn on the overall winner though. I had Beltway's lovely Fest! at Kardinal Hall last Friday, and it was a really excellent märzen, rich, complex, and yes bready in all the right places, with a lingering dry finish that was crisp, clean, and never left me feeling overwhelmed with sweetness. My very next beer was Port City's Oktoberfest, again a superb example of the märzen style, though lighter than the Beltway being 5.2% to 5.8% and not quite as rich. When I had finished that pint of Port City, I had another, then another. That extra richness being a hallmark of the style is why Beltway wins overall though, especially as both beers scored 8/10 for personal preference.

So congratulations to Beltway Brewing of Sterling for being the Virginia Oktoberfest Lager of 2021! If you are stilling drinking märzens and festbiers and see it available, I highly recommend it, as I do with anything that scored 30/40 and above, especially with Devils Backbone O'Fest if you are more of a modern festbier drinker.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Of Minnesota Oktoberfests

 At the beginning of this month, Minneapolis based writer Jerard Fagerberg started work at the same organisation as myself. The subject of beer pretty quickly came up and lo and behold we have another person on the team that writes about the world's favourite barley based beverage. Having suitably followed each other on Twitter, I got a message from Jerry offering to send some Minnesota festbiers and märzens to add to my ongoing mass Oktoberfest tasting. A few days later and my fridge had 7 beers from the far north chilling down. Come Sunday they were ready to drink...and so I did.

The beers were, as you can see in the picture:

I decided to subject them to the same approach as I have been doing with all the beers in this year's tasting, which is exactly the same as last year:
  • Sight - 3 points
  • Smell - 10 points
  • Taste - 15 points
  • Balance of sweet to bitter - 2 points
  • Personal opinion - 10 points
So without further ado, let's jump into my Cyclopsesque tasting notes, I didn't take pictures for each beer as I was too busy drinking the beer, you understand that right?

Summit Oktoberfest - 6.5%
  • Sight - recently polished copper, inch of ivory head, excellent clarity
  • Smell - fresh crusty bread, rich malt complexity, no hops
  • Taste - beautiful Munich malt sweetness, rich bready notes, herbal hop bite in the finish
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
What a lovely start to the tasting, a beautifully complex lager that has everything you need to make it dangerously drinkable. The hops were evident without intruding, and the clean lager fermentation gave it the right amount of snap to keep me coming back for more. There was also an intriguing slight coconut note in the mix.

Schell's Oktoberfest - 5.8%
  • Sight - orange, almost Irn-Bru orange in the light, persistent off white head, beautiful clarity
  • Smell - toasted crusty bread, a touch of toffee, no hops
  • Taste - toasted bread, and also classic pilsner malt cereal character noticeable, clean herbal hops
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
I have to admit that I was really please to see this one on the box. My last beer from Schell's was a decade ago when they brewed a tmavé that I very much enjoyed, and here was another that, were Schell's available in Virginia, I would be buying regularly. Medium bodied, with a fantastic balance, and eminently drinkable.

Bauhaus Schwandtoberfest - 5.7%
  • Sight - deep amber, quarter inch white foam, good clarity
  • Smell - fresh bread from the oven, little if any hop aroma, clean
  • Taste - bready malts again, toasty with a slight caramel note, clean hop bitterness
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
The head sank into a schmeer of bubbles pretty quickly. This was a decent, malt forward, clean lager, with just enough hop bite to stop that hefty body from being cloying.

Beaver Island Oktoberfest - 6%
  • Sight - deep copper, red highlights, thin white head, excellent clarity
  • Smell - Honey on toast, no hops
  • Taste - slightly doughy, underbaked bread, maybe a touch of burnt sugar
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
In lots of ways this had things right. It was medium bodied, quite complex, and the bitterness from the hops was enough to just stop it being too sickly, but there was something of an odd after taste which was a distraction trying to nail down.

Indeed Oktoberfest - 5.8%
  • Sight - amber, quarter inch of white head, good clarity
  • Smell - pilsner malt cereal, sweetness of Maillard reactions
  • Taste - toasted malt, rich malt sweetness, floral hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Oh I liked this one. Lots of malt complexity, toasted Vienna, toffee like Munich, yum, yum, yum, to top it all there was the crisp (still fuck off with your crispy shite people) lager characteristic that brings everything in to sharp relief for another mouthful.

Fair State Cooperative Festbier - 5.7%
  • Sight - golden, half inch of persistent white foam, good clarity
  • Smell - rich pilsner malt grain character (decoction mash?), nice bready character, subtle herbal hop note
  • Taste - solid cereal grain character, lots of Pilsner malt, traces of honey, spicy hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
This was bloody marvellous, absolutely bloody marvellous. Like a stronger Czech style lager, packing a wallop bit still with a firm bitterness and clean finish. Could happily drink this all day long.

Utepils Receptional Festbier - 5.9%
  • Sight - deep gold, quarter inch white head, superb clarity
  • Smell - dollops of lightly honeyed pilsner malt, light bready note, some subtle lemongrass
  • Taste - more honeyed pilsner malt, floral hops with a slight spicy edge
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Another lovely festbier, perfectly balanced, refreshingly clean in the finish. Reminded me of the Primátor Exklusiv 16° strong pale lager from Czechia which was once declared the world's best lager. Again a beer I could imagine drinking maß after maß of in an autumnal biergarten.

So there we have it, 5 märzens and 2 festbiers that do Minnesota proud. In terms of a mini-league on my point system they ended up as:
  1. Utepils Receptional (32/40, wins on personal preference)
  2. Summit Oktoberfest (32/40)
  3. Fair State Festbier (31/40, third on personal preference)
  4. Indeed Oktoberfest (31/40)
  5. Schell's Oktoberfest (30/40)
  6. Beaver Island Oktoberfest (28/40)
  7. Bauhaus Schwandtoberfest (26/40)
Utepils for the win it is then, and clear evidence based on these numbers that the pale festbier style is still my preferred version of the annual autumnal lagerfest...

Thanks again to Jerry for sending the beers down, and I am in the process of curating a selection of fine Virginia beers to send back north for his drinking pleasure.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Old Friends: Port City Downright Pilsner

You'd think that a brewery that got 4 mentions in my annual top 10 Virginian beers wouldn't really be getting an "Old Friends" post. Even more so when you consider how often I have said brewery's products in my fridge, and the regularity with which I post pictures on Instagram of their beers, especially their lagers. However, it is the case that for all my enthusing about Port City Brewing up in Alexandria, and my extolling of the virtues of their simply wonderful Lager Series program, I have been criminally negligent of the beer that made me fall head over heels with them in the first place...Downright Pilsner.

If I have the story correct, Downright Pilsner was first brewed in 2012, purely as a seasonal. It sold so well, and in the Velkyal household that included at least 4 cases in a couple of months that year, that it became a part of their core lineup. A pair of those cases were bought for a couple of parties we had that autumn, firstly our house warming, having recently taken ownership of the keys to our house, and later for a Czech night to mark Czechoslovak Statehood Day on October 28th. Downright is billed as a Bohemian Pilsner, and was certainly a hit with plenty of the Czechs and Slovaks at our party, especially among those that emigrated in the wake of the 1969 crushing of the Prague Spring.

As I say, Downright is marketed as a Bohemian Pilsner, and in terms of the numbers it is pretty much spot on, brewed to 12°, if memory serves, 4.8% abv, and 37 IBU of Czech hops, though my memory seems to think that it used to be about 44 IBU, but one quibbles. Keeping slightly out of kilter with it's brethren in the homeland, Downright is dry hopped with Saaz. I spent a good year or so badgering my local Wegman's to start stocking it, they have the rest of the Port City range, so I knew they could. Eventually to my delight it showed up, and then the Lager Series started and I got all distracted.

Feeling guilty, I chucked a couple of bottles into my mixed 6 pack at the weekend, determined to stop ignoring my old faithful and to reacquaint myself with its delights. Thus, with the Sunday evening Oktoberfest clutch done with, and just wanting to enjoy a beer for its own sake more than anything, I poured them into my Chodovar mug...

Goodness me but isn't that a thing of beauty, both the glass and the beer to be frank. I got the glass on eBay as piece of nostalgia for the first Chodovar I ever had, in such a glass, at Pivovarský klub. Anyway, the beer, beautiful as I said, a lovely translucent gold, topped with a healthy white head that persists and left some lovely lacing on its way down the sides of the glass. I mentioned that the beer is jam packed full of Saaz hops, and sure enough everything you expect is there, lemongrass, orange blossom, that spicy note that is difficult to pin down sometimes. In amongst it all is a grainy note, lightly honeyed, classic Pilsner malt really.

Even after all these years there is something deeply comforting about Downright, it just tastes as a well made pilsner should do. Hops, and lots of them, a firm clean bitterness to cut through the soft billowing sweetness of the malt, like drinking a summer meadow in the Šumava region of Bohemia. The finish is clean, crisp (not crispy for fuck's sake, get a fucking dictionary), and satisfyingly refreshing, not in a bland watery way, but in the way that makes you want more, a whole lot more.

So yes the beer is still great, and I shall suitably adorn myself in sackcloth and ashes for having neglected it for so long...might also organise another Czechoslovak Statehood Day bash and buy several cases. The new label though is just fantastic, with the a skyline that looks for all the world like Prague, and folks drinking large mugs, it could almost be the beer garden at Letna, overlooking the Vltava toward Our Lady of Týn on Staroměstké náměstí to the left, and the south tower of St Vitus Cathedral in the castle to the right.

As I said in a previous post about this beer, Port City have this Bohemian style pilsner done right, damn right, and I need to drink more of it.

Get Your Coat Love

I have said it plenty of times on here as well as my various socials, I am an abysmal beer tourist. You see, I have this tendency to find a ...