Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2021

The end is nigh.

The end of July that is, which means several things. Schools will soon be back in session, already there are sightings of pumpkin ales in the aisles of the supermarket, and it is time for the annual list of beers that constitutes my top 10 Virginian beers of the last 12 months.

Not wanted ado further, let's leap into the list.
  1. Devils Backbone - Czech Pale Lager (5.5%). The beer formerly known as Trukker Ur-Pils was relabeled as Czech Pale Lager. This batch also featured a couple of other changes from previous versions as the brewpub now has an open fermentor and horizontal lagering tanks. Jason also swapped out the usual Augustiner yeast for Weihenstephaner, and it made a difference, being softer, less crackery, but just as delightful a beer. Here was a beer that in my world would more than stand up to the very best pale lagers being brewed in Czechia, including Pivovar Hostomice and Únětický Pivovar, yes it really was that good.
  2. Port City - Franconion Kellerbier (5.0%). Last year's top beer has been just as good this year and would have retained top dog status had Devils Backbone not brough out Czech Pale Lager. This year's version is wonderfully balanced, drinkable, and the perfect accompliment to sitting at the kitchen table working through the garden harvest, shelling peas and drinking Kellerbier makes for a very zen hour or so.
  3. Port City - Helles (5.2%). Every summer I look forward to the release of Port City's superb Helles. This year I actually managed to find it on tap before seeing it on bottles in the shop. I sat at Kardinal Hall on a sunny afternoon and every mouthful was sheer bliss. As you would expect from a Port City beer, the Helles is excellently executed, the sweetness of the malt and the bitterness of the hops working in a delicate balance that makes it so damned drinkable. If I were to have a gripe it's that it doesn't comes in half litre cans and thus on a recent tubing trip we took a different brewery's helles...
  4. Devils Backbone - Alt Bier (5.8%). For a few glorious weeks in early spring, this was my go to beer during several trips down to the original Devils Backbone brewpub. Again this is a beer that has gone up a level since the introduction of open fermentation and horizontal lagering at Devils Backbone. There is a deeper richness to the malt, a fuller mouthfeel as a result of less stressed yeast in the open fermentor, and the clean snappy finish just makes it a beer that needs only 4 or 5 mouthfuls before another is in order. I realise my beer tastes are in the minority, but goodness me I wish this were either a regular part of the lineup, or at least a seasonal that could be reliably on every spring.
  5. Port City - German Pilsner (4.6%). Admit it, you're shocked it took this long to get a German style pilsner on the list. This is as close to a classic German style pilsner being brewed in Virginia as you can get, though only in August when it comes out as part of Port City's frankly superb Lager Series program. This particular pilsner is unfiltered and carbonately naturally so is a bit softer than some other versions, which I really enjoy, especially as the heat of Virginia's summer finally starts to break and the back deck becomes vaguely habitable again.
  6. New Realm - Bavarian Prince Oktoberfest (6.3%). A new brewery on the list. New Realm are the brain child of legendary master of all things IPA, Mitch Steele. In Bavarian Prince they also boast the winner of last year's Fuggled Oktoberfest Champions League, which will likely make a return in a few weeks as the shelves fill up with festbier and märzen for the season. Bavarian Prince, while stronger than most beers I drink, is made with all German ingredients (always a good sign as caramel malts in German beer styles just taste wrong) and insanely easy to pour litre after litre down my throat. I am sure it will take quite some beer to knock it off it's perch this year.
  7. Alewerks Brewing Company - Tavern Brown Ale (5.7%). There are a few weeks in this part of Virginia, usually around the September Equinox when it is overcast, the temperatures are dropping to a pleasant autumnal range, and it rains pretty often. Those few weeks, as reliably as Pavlov's dogs on hearing the ringing of a bell, are when I get the urge to drink brown ale, at cellar temperature, in my Sam Smith's pint glasses. When when urge comes, into the shopping trolley goes Alewerk's outstanding brown ale. If there is a break in the rain, I might even don the old tweed cap and sit outside and just watch the back yard get ever greener. Sweet toffee and subtle bitter chocolate notes, married to a distinct nuttiness, just seem to work perfectly on such days, this is brown ale as it should be in my world.
  8. Devils Backbone - Schwartz Bier (5.1%). I love a good schwarzbier, and there are few on the planet, never mind just in Virginia, that can top the glories of Devils Backbone Schwartz Bier. There are very very good reasons this has won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup, it is a spanking combination of fresh toast with nutella and beautifully floral noble hops, finishing clean, clean, clean. It is simply a delight.
  9. New Realm - Euphonia Pilsner (5.0%). Firstly, I have a confession to make. I was surprised to see this win the Virginia Beer Cup in 2019, and I wasn't wildly impressed when I first tried it, but I came back to it, and liked it more. So I came back to it and liked it even more. Now I like it quite a bit to be honest as it showcases the fact that you don't need to use the latest, greatest trendy New World hops to have a beer loaded with wonderful hop flavour and aroma.
  10. Port City - Rauch Märzen (5.5%). Ah rauchbier, a beer style I love, though preferably when we are talking walloping great doses of rauch rather than weedy "hints of bacon". When I first poured Port City's autumnal offering in my glass I was reminded of the gorgeous Märzen at Spezial in Bamberg, and what a lovely drop of beer it is too. The smoke is very much the heart and soul of the beer, but this is no fire pit. Clean, medium bodied, and with a lingering dryness in the finish that makes me want more, I am sure it will take up plenty of fridge space again this year.
For the first time this year I have decided to hand out a few honorable mentions too:
  • Basic City Brewing - Our Daily Pils (4.7%)
  • Alewerks Brewing Company - Protocol Porter (5.6%)
  • Champion Brewing - Gordonsville Lager (3.8%)
I say this every year, and there is no need to change, this is an entirely subjective list based on my own drinking since the beginning of August 2020, which explains why is it so bottom fermented heavy, I am a lager drinker more than anything else. If you have a Virginia brewed beer that you think is so existentially magnificent I should hunt it out, let me know in the comments.

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