Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Head Turning Folks

I created a variant on a popular meme this week, you may have seen it on my Instagram and Twitter accounts if you follow me there, and if you don't the feel free to do so. The meme was this:

It has been a mere 28 days since I wrote a post about a couple of porters that were supposed to be harbingers of a mass porter tasting that I have plans to do. In that post I claimed to be "tasting my way through a rag bag collection of this style over the next few weeks". Needless to say, given the meme and the absolute absence of shock it garnered, that tasting is yet to happen.

Blame Central Europeans, or at least blame lagers brewed in the US that are inspired by the traditional Central European styles that I am an unashamed fan of. Lager boy? Me? Yes, absolutely. Hmmm, do I pick out the Anchor Porter from the fridge or...oh what's that...Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner? You know who's going to win that little battle don't you? That's right, the pilsner, or the dunkel, or the helles, ah heck, good lager is just always going to win for me.

This last weekend I resolved to at least have a couple of porters to get the tasting back on track...oh what's that at Beer Run...?

Folksbier Brauerei from, erm, Brooklyn, were a new brewery to me a few weeks back when I spent some time imbibing their pilsner at Kardinal Hall, and boy did I like it. On a recent trip in to Beer Run they had it in cans, as well as the one above, "Old Bavarian Lager", a helles. As a style, helles is becoming an ever increasingly common sight in the fridge, so I was keen to given OBL a bash..

Definitely looks the part, pouring a nice light golden yellow with a voluminous white head that you could also call rocky. Fighting their way through that resolute cap of foam were aromas of a classic pilsner malt graininess, bordering on a light breadiness, also flitting about were hints of lemon and, perhaps I was imagining it, very subtle melon notes. Tastewise, the bread character came through, offset by a solid though unobtrusive pithy bitterness and that floral character that goes hand in hand with noble hops. Take all that and make sure your carbonation isn't prickly, the body is medium, and the mouthfeel is smooth without feeling cloying, and you have a damned fine helles lager. 

Hmmm...I think when Olde Meck and Port City bring out their summer helles specials, I'll have to get some more of this, and the Von Trapp Helles, for a mass tasting that might actually happen.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Take Comfort

I love comments on blog posts, reminds you that people actually still read this stuff! Admittedly I don't get many comments anymore, but we'll blame that on kids these days having the attention span of a gnat shall we?

On my recent post about mild, a regular commenter on my witterings here, kaiserhog, described a mild ale available in Arkansas as:

"accommodating and relaxing. This may sound silly but it is comfortable. I order at every chance I see it on tap."
I just love the idea of describing beer as "comfortable", in fact it might just be my favourite descriptor of many of my favourite brews.

Think for a moment about comfortable things, like your favourite armchair, slippers, or even cardigan if that is your thing. I guarantee that whatever you thought of is well worn, perhaps a bit battered, but use has seen to it that it conforms to you in such a way as to elicit a deep sigh of knowing.

Comfortable beers are those that you know so well, that have probably been around for a long time, whether in general or just since you started drinking. You know you don't have to think too hard about it, because the beer suits you just right. They are the beers that you likely keep a stash of in the fridge, and maybe you overlook them for weeks on end, but when you come back to them they don't make a fuss, like seeing a true friend for the first time in years.

When you come back to that comfortable beer, it hits you just right, eliciting a deep sign of knowing.

I am sure we all have a couple of beers we would immediately regard as "comfortable", which trigger a deep seated sense of well being, and all being right with the world.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Mad for Mild

American Mild Month may just be one of my more daft ideas.

I am quite happy to own the fact that advocating for a deeply, deeply uncool beer style in the land of hazies, imperials, and pastry stouts probably puts me on the same level of madness as the man who claims to be a boiled egg. Even so, I love mild.

Perhaps it is cruel to refer to mild as uncool in the US, the reality is more likely that it is simply a largely unknown quantity. I have sat at several a brewery tap room bar (remember doing that?) and the barstaff have no idea of what the style even is.

We are perhaps a little lucky here in Virginia that I can think of at least 3 breweries off the top of my head who brew mild, at least 2 of them on a regular basis. Of the 3, I have only tried one, Fast Mail from Ballad Brewing, which made it on to my top 10 Virginian beers last year and is a delightful beer. The others are from the Virginia Beer Company in Williamsburg, and I am yet to try them, though now they are distributing to this part of the Commonwealth I hope to get them soon. The third was an instant drain pour, though I am reticent to blame the brewery given it was on tap at a bar, and folks seem somewhat adverse to ordering mild if they aren't British, or fans of British beer styles. so I don't know how long it had bee sat around.

Speaking of Virginia Beer Company, they are one of American Mild Month's most loyal and vocal supporters and have been almost from the beginning.

What though makes mild such a wonderful style in my opinion? In many ways it epitomises the best of traditional British beer. Most milds, whether dark or pale, have about the same alcohol content of an ordinary bitter, somewhere in the 3%-3.8% range, though there are exceptions. Sessionability is a key factor, this is beer that sure you can have a couple of over lunch, (remember going to the pub for lunch?), but even better to pull an all nighter with in your local.

In order to pull an all nighter though, you need something that will keep you coming back for more, and that's where a well made dark mild comes into its own. Malt complexity is the hallmark of the style, crystal malts, roasted malts, amber malts, brown, chocolate, black, rauch you name it, they all find a place in a mild. My most regularly brewed homebrew mild includes pale chocolate, pale crystal, dark crystal, and a smoked malt on top of the Golden Promise base. Just within dark milds you can run from ruby beers that are sweet, with toffee and caramel notes, all the way to pitch black and lots of coffee and chocolate. There is so much scope for differentiation. My aforementioned mild is very dark, like a fire ruby when held up to the light, whereas the mild I brewed for a friends album release party was much more red, and dripped with honey malt sweetness.

Low alcohol is not an indicator of an absence of flavour, indeed, great milds are incredibly complex and tasty. Perhaps part of the problem is that mild, modern mild at least, is not generally known for being hoppy, and we all know how folks wank obsess over their hops in the craft beer world. This may be an unpopular opinion then, but if a beer drinker only imbibes IPAs of various types then they likely have a pretty one dimensional palate. Given the current rage for hazy, fruity, juicy IPAs, that one dimension is clearly a popular, rainbow inspired candy, how innovative to make it an IPA.

We come then to perhaps the biggest difference between traditional British brewers and the modern craft world. Yeast. The vast majority of US brewers seem to use either a very clean top fermenting yeasts with roots in California, or the very clean fermenting yeast that originated, apparently, in Scotland. Without a distinctive yeast doing the actually turning of wort into ale, you basically have a combination of sweet, bitter, and booze. A characterful yeast adds esters to the mix, and thus you end up with things like the famous Fuller's character that is derived from the yeast, and noticeable to varying degrees in all their beers.

Mild is one of the great misunderstood, misrepresented, and underrated beer styles of the world, and the whole point of American Mild Month is to make May a month of brewers and drinkers giving mild some love, try it, I think you'll love it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

A Thoroughly Good Egg(enberg)

When you say the word "Eggenberg" to me, two breweries cross my mind. Firstly, and probably obviously, is the Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg in Austria, but also Pivovar Eggenberg in Český Krumlov, where I remember having a decent feed and a reasonable dark lager many moons ago, and where took a picture of a Budweiser Urquell sign.

For today's post though I am not heading back to Czechia, but rather about 70 miles south to Vorchdorf and the Austrian, dare I say more internationally renowned, Eggenberg. If you have any interest in strong lagers then chances are that you have tried the magisterial Samichlaus or the beguiling Urbock 23°. Today though we are going to the other end of the spectrum.

Hopfenkönig is Schloss Eggenberg's pilsner style lager, and as you can see from the picture it is very pale, and comes in a half litre can!! Side note, half litres need to be the norm for any lager under about 5.5%, and the more European lager makers send over beer in cans, or participate in B United's cold shipping program, the better.

As is now traditional in my pub drinking I took no notes. On this particular day there was a chill bite to the breeze so my mate Dave and I ventured to a table inside Kardinal Hall...the first time I had drunk inside a pub in almost 10 months. The potted highlights though of the beer were dry and crackery like a German pilsner but with more of a hop presence, approaching maybe even Czech hop levels. I am not sure if "Austrian Pilsner" is a definable, or accepted, variant on the pale lager branch of the beer world, but I would drink a lot of that style if it were.

This got me thinking about Austrian beer in general. From memory, I think I have had a grand total of 4 Austrian beers, this, Samichlaus, Urbock 23°, and Edelweiss, a very refreshing wheat beer that I wrote about back in the Prague days. Austria has a population just shy of 9 million, and those fine people are only just behind the Czechs to the north when it comes to per capita beer consumption. Austrian brewing holds a very important place in the history of lager development with Anton Dreher's creation of Vienna lager in 1841 being the palest lager on earth prior to Josef Groll coming up with the eponymous pale lager of Plzeň. The village of Horn in norther Austria was famed for its "horner bier" a white ale made with malted oats, and likely akin to Berliner Weisse, that was a favourite tipple of Mozart. Yet with all this brewing history, Austrian beer just doesn't seem to make it across the ocean, or even up the road to Bohemia if memory serves.

For all that, I am glad that Hopfenkönig is available at Kardinal Hall, and likely at Beer Run if I fancy doing a more in depth analysis of this delicious beer, it is a serious contender for the Fuggled pale beer of 2021 already. Taking a broader view, if you know of any other Austrian beers available in central VA that are worth a try, let me know, especially if you have a source for Trumer Pils!

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Brown, Robust, English, American?

Once upon a time, according to the BJCP at least, there were 3 types of porter, brown, robust, and Baltic. Baltic porter is, putting on my product manager hat for a moment, out of scope for this particular conversation/project, so really I am thinking about brown and robust.

When you look at the 2008 BJCP guidelines for Porter, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the difference between brown and robust was largely based on the side of the Pond your drink came from. Listed as commercial examples of brown were:

"Fuller's London Porter, Samuel Smith Taddy Porter, Burton Bridge Burton Porter, RCH Old Slug Porter, Nethergate Old Growler Porter, Hambleton Nightmare Porter, Harvey’s Tom Paine Original Old Porter, Salopian Entire Butt English Porter, St. Peters Old-Style Porter, Shepherd Neame Original Porter, Flag Porter, Wasatch Polygamy Porter"

A predominantly English list. Over in the robust corner though was a generally American list:

"Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, Meantime London Porter, Anchor Porter, Smuttynose Robust Porter, Sierra Nevada Porter, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Boulevard Bully! Porter, Rogue Mocha Porter, Avery New World Porter, Bell’s Porter, Great Divide Saint Bridget’s Porter"

The current guidelines basically codified the lists as being English Porter and American Porter respectively and the commercial example lists are in essence the same as in 2008.

As I mentioned in last week's post about Fuller's London Porter, I am tasting my way through a rag bag collection of this style over the next few weeks. What started out as not much more than a reason to indulge in a style I have overlooked lately has started to morph into a look at the history of beers called "porter" on this side of the Pond, though more of that when I have something of long read length to inflict on the world.

In the meantime, I am drinking that lays claim to the style's English heritage and one clearly in the American camp, both brewed in Virginia.

Elementary, yeah the name stretches along the top of the label and is thus too long for a simple picture, is a 5.8% English Porter from Harrisonburg's Brothers Craft Brewing, over the mountains in the Shenandoah Valley. Interestingly, their website describes the beer as both an English and robust, what's in a name? In my glass though it looks rather more like a glass of cola, topped with a reasonable half inch of off-white foam. Held up to the light it has very distinct chestnut brown highlights, English, brown, and with monikers. From the glass came a light coffee aroma, think your bog standard Starbucks drip coffee, hints of milk chocolate, toasted brioche, and subtle earthy hops. Upfront in the taste department are the kind of classic roasty notes you come to expect from porters, with that cola thing drifting in and out, mostly though it reminded me of a pale roast coffee with some herbacious hop notes chucked in. I will own that I was disappointed, and perhaps with the Fuller's still fresh in my memory I had expected something approaching the archetype of English porters. I found the finish to be a bit watery and on the light side of medium, it was just kind of dull.

Heading east to Williamsburg, and one of my most trusted, if not most regularly drunk, Virginian breweries. Alewerks Protocol Porter is a tad lower in alcohol than Elementary, 5.6%, and described as being both American and robust on the Alewerks website...more fun with monikers. Oh boy this is a dark, dark, dark beer, swallowing all the available light into a black hole. The ivory head is likewise subject to the gravity of the beer as it dissipates fairly quickly, leaving a mere signatory trace on the glass to remind you it was once there. It's a porter, so the roasty aroma is expected, and it is there in spades, specifically roasted coffee, more in the dark roast realm than a medium. Flitting about in the background, in turns hiding and revealing themselves, were floral and subtle citrus hop notes. Drinking this was like a French roast coffee that you could stand your spoon up in, rich and almost gloopy, but not in a stodgy, syrupy sense, think a rich dark chocolate cake with layers of espresso ganache, and you're there. This is an elegant, smooth, beer that basically demands to be drunk leisurely in an art gallery.

It is clear which of these beers I preferred, but given the remaining clutch of examples in the cellar to be enjoyed, it is too soon to say whether I have a definite preference for a certain sub-style of porter, though my internal league table is currently:

  1. Fuller's London Porter
  2. Alewerks Protocol Porter
  3. Brothers Craft Elementary
How will that change in the coming weeks? We'll see...

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 ...