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.

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