Monday, December 26, 2022

Fuggled Beer of the Year

So....a quick recap of the three finalists for the Fuggled Beer of the Year, a prize that comes with little to no monetary value, and probably not much more in the way of reputational enhancement. However, as the kids these days say....whatevs.

  • Pale - Malý 8°, Schilling Beer Co, Littleton, NH
  • Between Orange and Brown - Copper Altbier, Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, Charlotte, NC
  • Dark - Dark Starr Stout, Starr Hill Brewing, Crozet, VA

Schilling's pale lagers are something of a staple in my drinking life, as much as their distributor in central Virginia actually getting them to the Charlottesville area allows that is. It would have been no surprise had Alexandr or Palmovka taken the plaudits as the Fuggled Pale Beer of 2022, but for the trip that I referenced in the pale beer review. While many use Spring Break as an opportunity to flee for warmer climes, Mrs V and I went up to Rhode Island to see friends. As we were in the general area, we looked at the weather forecast and decided to take a day trip on the one day it was going to piss down in Rhode Island but be beautifully sunny in Littleton, New Hampshire, a four hour drive away. Obviously the main purpose of the trip was to go to the Schilling brewpub and tap room, but to our delight Littleton is a  charming little town, nestled in the White Mountains, and we were both instantly entranced. Had we not gone to the tap room in the afternoon, having had lunch in the brewpub earlier in the day, I don't thing I would have had the Malý, an 8° Czech style pale lager that took my breath away it was so perfect. Osmička, as an 8° beer is known colloquially in Czech, is a rare beast even in Czechia. This 3.1 abv beer really highlighted for me why decoction mashing is something to be treasured, as a single infusion equivalent would have lacked the Maillard reactions of decoction to give it a subtle butterscotch character as well as a fuller body. I don't recall how many half litres were poured from the Lukr tap, but each one was savoured, and a case came back to Virginia with us. Both Mrs V and I enjoyed cans most weekends thereafter until it was all gone, and then we were sad...

Another tale of driving. Whenever Mrs V and I head down to South Carolina to visit in-laws we make a point of breaking the journey at the Olde Mecklenburg Brewing biergarten, just off I-77 in Charlotte. It has become an oasis as we stop for an hour or so to have a jar, usually of Captain Jack Pilsner admittedly, a feed, and the boys can stretch their limbs in the climbing area. While Captain Jack is the beer I drink when we are there, it is Olde Meck's altbier, Copper, that is my favourite from Charlotte's finest brewery. Unlike many an altbier made in the US, Olde Mecklenburg use the correct ingredients, especially when it comes to malts. An altbier made with US or UK style crystal malts just tastes plain wrong. Copper reminds me so much Schumacher Alt from Düsseldorf that when I do eventually get over to Germany again, I want to take a few cans of it with me to compare with the originals. Of the many things I love about Olde Meck is their German style growler program, whereby you buy a initial litre bottle of beer and then swap the empty for a full one, I have 5 such growlers. Whether we are driving to or from Columbia, I try to get at least 3 of the 5 with Copper in them - a couple of half litres is the perfect end to the drive.

This year I became an American citizen, and there is a pleasing circularity in the fact that the brewery which was my first ever job in the US brought back a beer that for the duration of my employment at Starr Hill was by far and away my favourite. If you've followed Fuggled for a while, you've likely read how my first legal beer was a pint of Guinness at the Dark Island Hotel back home in the Outer Hebrides. Dark Starr Stout is, however, probably the best dry style stout I have ever had, and I was heartbroken when it was originally discontinued. You can imagine then my glee at it making a return earlier this year, and once I had let it get up to a reasonable temperature, drinking it was like having an Anton Ego moment. When I worked at the original Starr Hill tasting room in Crozet, when it just a bar next to the canning line, we did a set 6 sample flight, and I always left the Dark Starr to last,, pouring it out at the same time as the 4th sample so it could warm up a bit. It became a very common occurrence for people who started out saying they didn't like stout once they tried Dark Starr at the proper temperature to discover its delights.

So there we have it, three fantastic beers from styles that are always likely to feature in my drinking life, and when I eventually decide to take the plunge with decoction mashing, in my homebrewing as well. I have a very distinct preferential option for classic styles, usually session beers, that have been well made. I am not a big fan of the weird and wonderful world of breakfast cereal and pickle juice in beer. 

Trying to separate these beers and choose a single winner is insanely difficult, they are all excellent examples of underappreciated styles, they all have happy memories and good stories attached to them, and they are all something I am always happy to drink. However, pick one I must, and for pure sentimentality the Fuggled Beer of 2022 is Starr Hill Dark Starr Stout, a beer that I would love to see restored to the brewery's permanent lineup, especially if it became more widely available on tap than it was even before they discontinued it, cans are great and all, but a pint of stout at the bar is still one of my favourite ways to drink.

Friday, December 23, 2022

Fuggled Beers of the Year: Dark have to love a clear cut category. We move on beyond the vague orange/red/brownish world in to proper brown and black beers, the kind of brew you take a single look at and know you are drinking a dark beer. Dunkel, tmavé, schwarzbier, porter, mild, stout, those kind of things. Onward, into darkness we go...

  • Dark Starr Stout - Starr Hill Brewing, Crozet
  • Inexorable Stout - Reason Brewing, Charlottesville
  • Porter - Port City Brewing, Alexandria
Honorable mentions: Schwartz Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing; Tweed Dunkel - Selvedge Brewing, Charlottesville.

There is a large dose of romantic sentimentality here. Many years ago I worked in the Starr Hill Brewing tasting room in Crozet, and each flight ended with Dark Starr Stout, still, even after several years of not being part of the core range, the most award winning dry Irish stout in America. When it was originally discontinued, I have to admit I had a chat with the brewers at Starr Hill and heavily based my homebrew stout on Dark Starr. Earlier this year they did a special run of Dark Starr, for reasons which escape me right now, but I knew I needed to get some. With it on tap in the new tap room in the centre of Charlottesville, I spent a very happy afternoon ordering a beer, letting it get to the right temperature and have near religious moments with what is, in my world, basically the perfect stout.

Rest of the USA
  • Dunkel - Von Trapp Brewing, Stowe, VT
  • Karlův 13° Černė - Schilling Beer Co, Littleton, NH
  • Dunkel - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, Charlotte, NC
Honorable mentions: Rennsteig - Schilling Beer Co, Littleton, NH.

Another beer that made the trip from New England to Virginia in the spring, and if you know me at all it should come as no surprise that it was Schilling's superlative 13° tmavé, Karlův. Some may wish to quibble about me calling a beer a tmavé which the brewery labels a černé, but in reality there is no difference in Czechia other than the capricious whimsy of the marketing department. Karlův hits every high note of a Czech dark lager perfectly, marrying the rich maltiness with a clean finish that sits somewhere between a Munich Dunkel and Thuringian Schwarzbier. Eminently drinkable, and a beer that would more than hold its own in Czechia, it is another example of Schilling just getting things absolutely right.

Rest of the World
  • Hirter Morchl - Privatbrauerei Hirt, AT
  • O'Hara's Irish Stout - Carlow Brewing, IE
  • London Porter - Fullers, UK
It was on the strength of their lovely, lovely, pilsner, that the next time I saw beers from Privatbrauerei Hirt in my local bottle shop, I picked up a four pack of Morchl, an Austrian iteration on the Munich Dunkel style. While there wasn't the noticeable difference between the Austrian and the German that I saw with the pilsner, Morchl was a superb example of the dunkel style of lager. Hefty malt character that makes me think the grist is redolent with Munich and Vienna malts, married with a a clean noble hop bitterness and what you have here is the kind of beer that cries out for a biergarten in autumn, as golden leaves start to fall and you want something a touch richer to drink. As with the Hirter Privat Pils, this is a social beer than demands to be drunk in beautiful surroundings with great company.

There is something deeply alluring about dark beers, whether they be top or bottom fermented. Perhaps though it is the fact that my first legal beer was a famous Irish stout that colours my choice of Fuggled Dark Beer of 2022. However, the fact remains that Starr Hill Dark Starr Stout is a beer that I have loved for many years, and it's return this year was so incredibly welcome. That it was still the beer I raved on about to so many patrons at the Starr Hill tasting room in Crozet made me so happy, and I know that whenever it is on tap I will be making my way over to get myself a pint or three of the best session stout I have ever had.

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Fuggled Beers of the Year: Between Orange and Brown

The range of styles that sit between pale and dark is insanely broad, to the point that I could probably write a post for orange, red, and brown beers. I don't, however, want to try your patience too much dear reader, so into a single blob they get lumped. On then with the BOAB selection...

  • 80/- - Decipher Brewing, Charlottesville
  • Alt Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing, Roseland
  • Franconian Kellerbier - Port City Brewing
Honorable mentions: 1872 Steinlifter - Devils Backbone Brewing, Roseland.

Goodness me, a selection of beers that are not all bottom fermented! How on earth did that happen? Quite simply I wandered into the Decipher Brewing taproom with some time to kill before meeting up with the crew from Murphy & Rude Malting to drink the version of my best bitter recipe I brewed with them, using just their malt. If I remember rightly, the 80/- was the only beer on tap that day which was session strength, and it was lovely, and unlike so many American beers monikered "Scottish" actually reminded me of something I would drink when I am back home in the Highlands. I have become something of a semi-regular at Decipher and 80/- has become one of my favourites of their range. Hopefully they take me up on my suggestion of using their Lukr tap as a facsimile of the traditional Scottish beer engine, the Aitken Font...It would be a fun way to serve the 2022 Fuggled BOAB Beer of Virginia.

Rest of the USA
  • Vienna Lager - Von Trapp Brewing, Stowe, VT
  • Copper - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, Charlotte, NC
  • Pint ESB - Columbia Craft Brewing, Columbia, SC
Honorable mentions: Oktoberfest - Bierstadt Brewing, Denver, CO; Oktoberfest - Von Trapp Brewing, Stowe, VT.

Whenever Mrs V and I traipse back and forth from Virginia to her parents' place in South Carolina we make sure to stop at Olde Mecklenburg Brewing in Charlotte. Sure, it is not the mid way point of the drive, but the beer is superb, the food is grand, and they have an 8 acre biergarten in which to chill out and let the kids run about a bit having been cooped up in the car. Every time we are there I make sure to stock up on a range of their available beers, always making sure that I bring to whichever destination we are going at least half a case of Copper altbier, and several one litre growlers too. When I recently had to fly to a conference in Charleston, I deliberately suffered the ignominy of requesting a seatbelt extension on American Airlines purely because Olde Meck have a bar in Charleston airport and I could get my fix of Copper. Hence, the Fuggled Rest of USA BOAB Beer of 2022 is Olde Mecklenburg Copper, an altbier that is right up there with the best of Dusseldorf.

Rest of the World
  • Oktober Fest-Märzen - Privatbrauerei Ayinger, DE
  • Schlenkerla Helles Märzen - Heller Bräu Trum, DE
  • Nut Brown Ale - Samuel Smiths Brewery, UK
From what I understand, Schlenkerla Helles Märzen is not something you will actually find in Bamberg, being a blend of their standard Märzen and delightful Helles which was done as a special project for B.United, their importer to the US. I have waxed lyrical in various other places about B.United's program for bringing superb European beers to the US in refrigerated tanks to be packaged in Connecticut before being shipped out across the US. The blend of Märzen and Helles was stunning, with the massive dollops of smoke you would expect, but the Helles adding a fantastic drinkability that saw me polish off 4 cans in a single sitting. Such a great beer to have as the Rest of the World BOAB beer of the year.

An old favourite, something new, and something unexpected, all cracking beers that make it pretty tough to choose a single winner. That winner though is one of the few beers I go out of my way to get my hands on, that I always make sure there is space in the car when driving home to Virginia to tide me over a few weeks. Olde Mecklenburg Brewing Copper then is the overall Fuggled BOAB Beer of 2022...which reminds me, my in-laws are heading up tomorrow for Christmas, need to get them to swing by and get me some more!

Monday, December 19, 2022

Fuggled Beers of the Year: Pale

As a fortnight of time off from the day jobs hoves into view, replete with weekday, and day time, drinking, it is time to look back at the best of the beers I have drunk in 2022. As in years past I plan to write a post each based on the capricious whimsy of colour, and then a final "best of' post to declare the Fuggled Beer of 2022.

My capricious whimsy of colour breaks down as follows:
  • Pale - basically anything yellow or gold
  • Darker than Pale, Lighter than Dark Brown - orange, red, brown, but able to be seen through
  • Dark - very dark brown, or black
As usual I will offer up the highlights from Virginia, the rest of the USA, and the rest of the World, 3 finalists each, and honorable mentions where called for, culminating in a category winner, to go forward for the beer of the year post.

Let's get started with the pales then.

  • Krypto Pilsner - Decipher Brewing, Charlottesville
  • Found Artifacts Pilsner - Wheatland Spring Brewing, Waterford
  • Grill Method Grodziskie - Decipher Brewing, Charlottesville
Honorable mentions: Pylon Pilsner - Patch Brewing Company, Gordonsville; Downright Pilsner - Port City Brewing, Alexandria; Weekland Lager - Alewerks Brewing, Williamsburg.

Despite the fact that I am a terrible beer tourist, as I have openly admitted elsewhere, this year has actually been one with lots of new to me breweries, in most cases as a result of trading beers with fellow local beer fans. It was such a trade that brought Wheatland Spring into my beery orbit, a trade which included Found Artifacts, an unfiltered pilsner that rocked my socks off and I wished there had been more than a single can of in the trade, Even though that one can is the sum total of my Found Artifacts drinking in 2022, it was enough to be seared into my memory as the Virginian Pale Beer of the Year.

Rest of the USA
  • Malý 8° - Schilling Brewing, Littleton, NH
  • Herald 12° - Cohesion Brewing, Denver, CO
  • Kellerpils - TRVE Brewing, Denver, CO
Honorable mentions: Helles - Bierstadt Brewing, Denver, CO; Alexandr - Schilling Brewing, Littleton, NH; Paulus - Schilling Brewing, Littleton, NH; Bavarian Pilsner - Von Trapp Brewing, Stowe, VT; Helles - Von Trapp Brewing, Stowe VT; Pilz - Live Oak Brewing, Austin, TX; Pull - Columbia Craft Brewing, Columbia, SC; Captain Jack Pilsner - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, Charlotte, NC.

2022 picked up and ran with where 2021 left off in terms of being a stellar year for pale lagers from the rest of the US. The list of honorable mentions alone has several of my favourite beers missing, as well as several beers from breweries that make up a regularish part of my drinking. Imagine then just how difficult it is to separate the three finalists. Each of the beers in the top three I enjoyed on tap in their respective tap rooms, and even on that front it would be near impossible to choose a taproom I for singular praise, they were all wonderful places. Choose though I must, and so the Fuggled USA Pale Beer of 2022 is Schilling's magnificent Malý 8°, an 8° Plato pale lager with more flavour, complexity, nuance, and sheer delight in drinking than the vast majority of stronger beers on the market today, There is a reason I traipsed 2 cases worth home to Virginia.

Rest of the World
  • Tannenzäpfle - Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus, DE
  • Zwickel Pilsner - Radeberger Exportbierbrauerei, DE
  • Hirter Privat Pils - Brauerei Hirt, AT
Honorable mentions: Organic Lager - Samuel Smiths Brewery, UK; Icelandic White Ale - Einstök Ölgerđ, IS

With such a wealth of US made pale lagers on the shop shelves these days, it is almost a wonder that international beers even get a look in. Having said that, we get Rothaus Tannenzäpfle on tap fairly often, and the Radeberger Zwickel Pilsner I picked up recently was unexpectedly lovely. However, Austria's Brauerei Hirt showed up at Beer Run not too long ago. Intrigued, I picked up a 4 pack as it seems that Austrian made pilsners hit my sweet spot, combining the bitterness of a southern German pilsner with the fuller malt body of a Bohemian. Hirter Privat Pils is thus a worth winner of the International Pale Beer of 2022.

Three simply magnificent beers, each of which would grace the tap list of the greatest beer bars of the world, but in the words of the Highlander, there can be only one. That winner then, whilst not being the reason I persuaded Mrs V and my best mate that a 4 hour drive to another state for a day trip to the town the brewery is in, it was definitely the highlight of the day. Huzzah then for Schilling Beer Co. and their majestic Malý, the Fuggled Pale Beer of 2022.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Style? What Style?

I had a pang of nostalgia the other day. 

Said pang was, bizarrely, for the days when brewers were endlessly trying to out hop each other. Desperately trying to cram as much hop bitterness and IBUs in their beers, usually an IPA of some double or tripleness. It was a veritable humulus lupulus arms race back in the Noughties and early Twenty teens. I am sure this sounds odd to you if you've been following Fuggled for a while as I am something of a non-IPA drinker. It's not that I have anything against IPA per se, it's just that modern iterations of the brand style leave me disappointed, assuming of course IPA is actually still a style and not mere shorthand for "American Craft Beer".

As "IPA" became more nebulous, hazy, and fruity, so it correspondingly became less and less bitter, to the point where such beers may as well be Keystone Light with a shit load of modern hops and some flour chucked in for turbidity. I have considered doing such a project for my homebrew just to see what it would score at a competition...

Sadly, and this is purely anecdotal, I feel as though this flight from hop bitterness has started to affect other beer types. Recently I had a beer on tap, branded as a "German Pilsner" that had a mere 14 IBUs, 14?? Even though I take beer style guidelines with something of a pinch of salt, 12 IBUs in a German Pilsner is so far below the definition that it makes a mockery of it. According to the BJCP, a "German Pils", category 5D, has an IBU range of 22 to 40. Admittedly I like my pilsners on the more bitter side, north of 30 IBUs is my sweet spot, yay for my local brewery, Patch Brewing, and their 34 IBU Pylon Pilsner.

I remember a beer I used to very much enjoy, again a locally made lager, that got the reformulation treatment to become "smoother", which is basically short hand for "cutting back on the bittering hops". Sure it is still in the accepted parameters for the style, but to my mind has become a shadow of itself and lost some of its mojo.

If we are going to have style guidelines for various competitions and as a guide to consumers as to what they should expect from a beer, surely it would be helpful if breweries actually made their beers within those parameters? 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Märzen/Festbier Review

So far this year I have drunk at least 53 examples of lager made wiith Oktoberfest in mind. I say "at least" because there are a couple that I didn't subject to my rigorous scoring system, rather just got merrily blattered with friends and I didn't want to be rude.

I still have 13 examples of märzen and festbier in my various beer fridges, including a slew of Texans sent up by Ruvani, aka Amethyst Heels, so I hope to get round to drinking those and probably posting about them at some point later this month.

Rather than present a massive list of breweries, beers, and scores, I figured I'd use the general format of my annual "review" posts, where I highlight the top three beers in the following categories:

  • Virginia
  • Rest of USA
  • Rest of the World (let's be honest it's just Germany in this case)
Out of those beers I will then select a winner in each category and eventually an overall "Fuggled Oktoberfest of the Year" award that has no monetary value, and probably a miniscule amount of shock value.

Let's get started here in Virginia then:
  • Devils Backbone Brewing - 1872 Steinlifter
  • Ballad Brewing - Oktoberfest
  • Port City - Oktoberfest
It's probably not wildly surprising that Devils Backbone and Port City make it into this three given that I think they are two of the best lager brewers in Virginia, Ballad though was something of a surprise. I have enjoyed a few of Ballad's beers in recent year, most notably their Fast Mail mild ale - one of the few milds in Virginia that is a core beer, but I couldn't recall having a lager from them, it was a very pleasant surprise. Although I wasn't shocked by Devils Backbone making the finalists, the fact that it was their 1872 Steinlifter rather than O'Fest was interesting. Steinlifter is an old school 19th century style märzen where O'Fest is a modern, paler, festbier, and you won't find Steinlifter in any stores as it was a brewpub only beer. Port City's Oktoberfest is, in common with most of their beers, an excellent example of style and technique. It is not as heavily malty as some märzens that get made over here, but it is delightfully complex and moreish at the same time. However, the beer going forward to represent Virginia in the final three is Devils Backbone 1872 Steinlifter.

On then to the rest of the US, here we have:
  • Von Trapp Brewing (VT) - Oktoberfest
  • Bierstadt (CO) - Oktoberfest
  • Jack's Abby (MA) - Copper Legend
The most  telling thing with these three is actually the names of some of the breweries that missed the cut, the likes of Olde Mecklenburg, Harpoon, Bell's, and TRVE Brewing were all up there in the running. Both Von Trapp and Jack's Abby are readily available in this part of Virginia, and when it comes to Vermont's finest I am always happy when I see the flash of blue that denotes their märzen. In the absence of Sierra Nevada's Oktoberfest Amber Märzen, Von Trapp picked up the slack and became my go to beer for the season. I had the Bierstadt Oktoberfest when I was over in Denver last month, and in common with the other lagers I tried from them, whilst geeking out on the glorious brewing system, it was excellent, and thankfully not overwhelmingly malty. Jack's Abby have only recent bee available in Virginia, and so I am slowly making my way through their range, and again it was an excellent example of the older märzezn style, and eminently drinkable. However, Von Trapp takes the plaudits as the Best of the USA. mving on to the final three.

  • Rothaus - Eiszäpfle
  • Ayinger - Oktober Fest Märzen
  • Weihenstephaner Festbier
Yeah, yeah, I know, there is not a single official Oktoberfest beer in my list, but there is a reason for that, they are all too syrupy for my taste. Even though Eiszäpfle is a year round beer in Germany, it only makes its way to the US in the autumn, which you could argue is just plain cynical marketing, but when a beer is this tasty, who really cares? Ayinger, which is the current Fuggled Oktoberfest champion, is the single most hunted out beer at this time of year for me. Last year I managed to only get a single 4 pack, so I took no chances this year, buying and stashing a couple of 4 packs a week while it lasted. Decidedly old school in its thick, chewy maltiness, it is wonder beer regardless of which autumnal or winter month it is. Weihenstephaner Festbier is unrepentantly modern, pale, noticeably hoppy - got to love those noble hop grassy, lemony, and subtle spice notes - and it looks grand in a maß. For fear of being labelled boring, the Ayinger takes the plaudits here, and was actually the highest scoring beer of the 53 examples I had.

The three finalists all scored over 34 out of 40 in my ranking system, with Ayinger scoring 35, Devils Backbone 34, and Von Trapp also 34. Rather than just declare Ayinger the winner though, I wanted to think a little about the drinking experience a bit more. In terms of volume drunk, Von Trapp has been the most regular visitor to my fridge, followed by Ayinger, and then Devils Backbone - don't forget though that Steinlifter was a brewpub special, and thus I had that on draft there and a couple of crowlers that I brought home. Ultimately I think is comes down to which beer did I enjoy the most, and the winner therefore is Devils Backbone 1872 Steinlifter. It has all the malt complexity of the Ayinger, but was more drinkable, perhaps by virtue of being fresh from the serving tanks at the brewpub, but either way it was an absolute delight.

Friday, October 21, 2022

TRVE and Golden

I've been home from Colorado for almost a week now. The twins have turned five, developed attitudes, ahem I mean "personalities", and I haven't found the requisite few minutes to mention the other breweries I visited while at the foot of the Rockies. If you are here looking for my thoughts on Bierstadt, with a side note about Reverence, and Cohesion, you have come to the wrong post.

The day after our colleague gathering at Cohesion, it was planned that the team I am part of would have our quarterly planning meeting at TRVE Brewing (pronounced "true" I am informed) before heading out to Golden for the company retreat that formed the second half of my week. On looking up the brewery on Google Maps, the entry claimed that they opened at 3pm, which was problematic as our meeting was scheduled to start at midday. My original plan had been to Uber over there with a colleague, but things transpired that I just fancied walking the mile and a half, with my backpack slung over my shoulders as I had to also check out of my hotel. By the time I made it there, and discovered to my delight that Google was wrong and the brewery's website was right that they open at 11am on Wednesdays, I needed a beer...

Now, I am sure there are some who must wonder why I am constantly drinking pale lagers of some provenance, rather than the latest, hypest, hazy IPA that looks like sheep phlegm topped with shaving foam. They are just my sweet spot, and they tell you how good a brewer actually is as you can't hide flaws, so if a brewery has some form of pilsner, helles, Dortmunder, or just plain old pale lager on tap, that will invariably be choice one. In the case of TRVE, it was an excellent indicator, clean, crisp, beautifully bitter, "Cold" is their kellerpils and it was simply lovely. Also delicious was Xtra Good, a collaboration with Austin's fantastic Live Oak Brewing. Xtra Good is a light lager made with corn grits, and really highlighted that light lager need not be flaccid and boring, it was superb. The highlight though was "Bloodaxe" a "Nordic Farmhouse Ale" made with orange peel and grains of paradise, dropping a fairly hefty 7% abv into your bloodstream. Not something I would usually go for, but so good were the kellerpils and light lager, I figured I'd give it a bash and it was well worth it.

Unrelated to the beer, TRVE tout themselves as a "metal" brewery meaning the soundtrack to our team meeting was a eclectic mix of speed and death metal - I loved it. With the meeting wrapped up, it was time to head out to Golden for the first in-person company retreat since pre-March 2019.

We were staying at a place called The Eddy Taproom and Hotel, which had a few own label beers available in their bar, the pale ale being a respectable American pale ale which hit all the right C-hop notes. In terms of breweries though we only went to one while we where there, on our way to dinner on the Thursday night...Golden City Brewing.

Golden City Brewing is located in a mostly residential part of Golden - imagine trying to do that in NIMBY-centric Virginia! - and it being a Thursday night was very quiet. With just an hour to go before they shut for the night we ordered, at Jerry's instigation, a round of The Geologist, a 9% abv doppelbock that frankly has no right to be such easy drinking, and very appropriate given we work in geoscience publishing. I was being sensible though, and pacing myself in line with the rest of the group rather than pouring it down my neck and getting another.

I loved that in the middle of a residential area was a brewery with a fairly expansive beer garden to complement its bar area. It actually reminded me in terms of the vibe of Bar Chýše in the Čimice district of Prague. So taken was I with Golden City that I returned the following night, with just a single colleague as most of the company had flown home. This time I had their imperial milk stout, Eyes Wide Shut, and nursed that for the half hour or so we were there.

The contrast to the Thursday was stark. The place was heaving, as in genuinely busy and buzzing. The food truck on the road seemed to be doing a roaring trade, and something that was evident from the wide age range present was that this is clearly a community hangout spot. Kids, parents, single adults, grandparents all happily mingling and having a good time in their local, it was heartwarming to know such places can exist in the heart of an American residential area. Feeling drained from the constant go of conferencing and company retreat, I finished my beer and retired to my room at The Eddy, a cracking little hotel by the way, ready to fly home to Virginia and my wee family.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Cohesion Brewing...dokonalost

I first heard about Cohesion Brewing through an Instagram post, which showed an attempted pronunciation guide for several Czech beer words which I described at the time as "iffy". One of the founders of the brewery, Eric Larkin, reached out to me to see if I could give some pointers, which I was more than happy to do. My conversation with Eric so impressed me that I knew if I ever got to Denver then Cohesion would be an absolute must visit brewery. I absolutely visited last night, though unfortunately Eric was unable to be there, hopefully next time.

As I mentioned yesterday, I am over in Denver for work and yesterday several of my colleagues, including Jerry Fagerberg, arrived in town for our company retreat in the next few days. We bundled into an Uber and made our way to the brewery, which is in an industrial area, past many over workshops and businesses, that actually reminded of getting to Caboose Brewing in Vienna on a previous company night out.

Walking through the door my heart leapt for joy at the site of horizontal lagering tanks, and a chalkboard list of beers where everything included the °P, mostly 10 and 12, as well the Czech style designation, including diacritics! We weren't expecting to see the name of one of Jerry's local breweries from Minnesota though, Utepils have done a collaboration 10° pale lager with Cohesion, of which more later.

I actually wish I had taken a picture of the bar itself, as it was a delightful setup, with a pale green tile bar back, a pair of beer towers which housed the 6 Lukr taps, gleaming brass, an unexpected British beer engine, and all manner of Czech paraphernalia - nice to see you again Private Švejk. We started with the Cohesion 10° pale lager.

Look at that lovely cap of frothy wet foam...and what a gorgeous beer this is, as good a desítka as I have had in many a moon. Had I been served this in a pub in Prague, I would be a very happy camper. Much in the same spirit as Bierstadt, tradition is an honored thing at Cohesion, they decoction mash for example, which is always a good sign to me with lager breweries - yes, you can make good lagers with infusion mashing, but decoction just adds things to the beer that no amount of carapils can. Four mouthfuls and I was ready for a second I popped things up a degree or 2 and went for the Ovce 12°.

Again a wonderful beer, I was back to not bothering with notes, I was just enjoying really good examples of some of my favourite types of beer. Absolutely dripping with Saaz, this is a beer that would delight any fan of noble hops, I was delighted. Eventually we moved on to the Utepils collaboration, again a 10° beer, a bit paler than Cohesion's own desítka, and noticeably bitter, with a long lingering dry finish, another absolute banger of a beer.

By this point I had noticed a corner of the taproom that was set up in such a way that it reminded me of many a Czech boozer I have frequented, places like u Slovanské lipy or Hostomická nelévárna...maybe it was the wooden paneled wainscoting, sure still a bit clean in its newness, but I insisted our group abandon our table so I could create some hospoda nostalgia for myself.

By this point I had settled on another collaboration beer as my go to, Herald 12° brewed in conjunction with Brewery Novalis in New York and using Saaz hops grown in New York state as well as Premiant hops. Another delightful brew that would more than pass muster in Czechia. With closing time approaching and swag having been bought, new brewery hats for the twins, the barman brought us over taster glasses poured in the mlíko manner, and it was actually the first time I had ever tried beer in this way - yeah I know, boring me for sticking to a regular pour. I don't recall which beer he brought over, but that foam was sweet and malty, and delicious. I am not sure I will ever become a devotee of mlíko but it was fun to try it.

I am sure plenty of others have waxed lyrical about Cohesion, and so I can only add to that chorus, what a fantastic brewery and taproom it is. Every beer we had was on point, the venue itself was a delight, and that little hospoda corner just capped the night to perfection. I also loved the fact that not a single beer was over 4.8%, and in the case of the 10° lagers, Cohesion's own was 3.9% and the Utepils collab 4.1%.

When it comes to Czech beer, it is easy to get snared into 14° and high dark lagers, but the 10° has been the go to beer for generations, it is the beer you drink in the hospoda with your mates, you maybe have 5 or 6 in a night and get up for work the next day none the worse for it, Czech beer culture is ultimately a drinking culture, and Cohesion seem to get that.

What a fantastic place and if you are ever in Denver and only want to visit one brewery, make sure it is Cohesion.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Of the Cupolas of Bierstadt

I am currently in Denver for work, having arrived on Sunday evening and staying here for a week before heading home to Virginia in time for the twins 5th birthday.

Even though I admitted recently to being an abysmal beer tourist, in the sense that I very rarely plan travel around breweries to visit, when I travel for work I do my research and pick out some places that I want to try. Given that Colorado is known for its lager brewing, I had plenty of options, but I knew straight off the bat that Sunday night would be Bierstadt.

In the week before I flew out social media was full of pictures of Bierstadt's legendary Slow Pour Pils beer as it seemed that everyone and his mate that attended the Great American Beer Festival had made a beeline there.

I was pretty wiped out by the time I got to Bierstadt on Sunday, and my palate may not have been in the best of shape, having had a couple of airport porters, a brown ale, and when I got to Denver a couple of excellent Mexican lagers from Reverence Brewing. If you are ever in Denver you should go there, it's a fantastic place that feels like a community bar that happens to have damned good beer.

Having grabbed a seat at the upstairs bar, I ordered the obligatory Slow Pour Pils, and a Helles to drink while I was waiting...

The thing that hit me most about both beers was just how insanely clear they are, almost in a fuck you juxtaposition to the hazy IPA world. I wasn't taking notes, preferring to just mess around with my camera in the very cool art deco/industrial fusion surroundings. Knowing that I had some spare time on the Monday, I decided that I would head back once work was done for the day, and also so I could think a bit more about the Slow Pour Pils, as Evan Rail had asked for my thoughts on Instagram.

With work commitments out of the way, at least until a late dinner, I headed back over to do some more considered evaluations, and also make sure I had a palate more up to the task at hand - as in I remembered to drink plenty of water. Again I went to the upstairs bar, and ordered myself a pils, pulled out my phone and shock, horror, I took notes about a beer I was drinking in a bar! So here we go...

  • Sight - pale gold, huge rocky white head (duh), crystal clear
  • Smell - crackers, crushed water biscuits, very subtle floral hop aroma
  • Taste - classic pilsner malt graininess, almost flinty mineral note, grassy hops with a hint of wildflower
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Advertised as a Northern German pilsner, I was expecting more bitterness upfront, maybe the slow pour kicks some of it out of the beer? The mouthfeel was softer than I expected, which makes the beer feel sweeter. I realise the slow pour part of things is the star here, but I was left wondering how it would taste hladinka style in a mug, especially unfiltered - can't remember where I read it is filtered, but I am sure I did. It is though a thoroughly delicious beer, if I didn't have plans for another couple of breweries...I'd likely be back.

I didn't take notes about the helles, I just sat and enjoyed a lovely iteration of one of my favourite styles, I did though make sure to try the first märzen of the trip, and it was likewise excellent, though poured from a can as they were done with draft, and it scored a very respectable 32/40 in my points system, which places it currently joint third, along with the likes of Port City and Olde Mecklenberg.

The thing I had hoped to do while I was at Bierstadt was to get a peek at their brewhouse...and I wasn't really paying attention as I walked to the bar when I noticed a copper dome. The brewhouse is right there for all the see, and what a thing of beauty it is.

From what I understand the brewhouse was originally housed in the local brewery in Ammerndorf, a small village just outside Nürnberg, and was built in 1932. Bierstadt shipped it to Colorado and essentially rebuilt it exactly as it had been in Bavaria. To my mind, this kind of thing is what makes a "craft" brewing business truly artisanal. I may have geeked out looking at those glorious copper domes.

I am not sure when I will ever make it back to Denver, but whenever I am here I know I will go to Bierstadt, not just to enjoy the triple decocted beers, though the Pils is double decocted, but to look at that rescued brewhouse and be glad it is still churning out great lagers.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Dreich Delights

Dreich is perhaps my favourite Scots word, I can think of few words that more perfectly fit what it describes. Dreich means "bleak" or "dreary", and is most commonly used to refer to the weather, those grey days, awash with a dispiriting drizzle, where the clock seems to slow to a crawl, as the tick and the tock ring louder in your head. A dreich day is one where the clouds are a uniform mirk, without even the occasional white patch to give you a merest glimmer of hope that the rain will end. Although I grew up primarily in the Western Isles on Scotland's west coast, my folk are actually from the other coast, from the Fraserburgh area. When I think of dreich, I am reminded of a miserable stroll in Aberdeen as a teenager, the rain settling on my jacket and staying put, the clouds so heavy with moisture that even the city's famous granite took on an enhanced, lustreless, grey.

Saturday in central Virginia was dreich, gey dreich, as the remnants of Hurricane Ian drifted up the Shenandoah Valley. It was a day for comfort clothes, pots of tea, and whatever mindless shite the kids wanted to watch on the idiot box - I am starting to worry about their love of screens, but that's not the point of my post. I pondered lighting the first fire of the season, but the wind was whipping along at 20mph and I have an in built fear of a chimney fire. Into this revelry of gloom came a text message from Jason at Devils Backbone...

Alt Bier was on tap and wouldn't last the weekend, also on tap was Ein Kölsch, O'Fest, and a bevvy of other Germanic delights that Jason knows I am fan of. I hadn't known that the Alt Bier was on because the Devils Backbone website didn't have it on the beer list, I had seen nothing from them on Instagram or Twitter, and I don't do Untappd. Barely 15 minutes later Mrs V and I had bundled the twins into the car and were headed off on the near 50 mile drive to the original Devils Backbone brewpub, Basecamp, in Nelson County. The rain was incessant, the clouds pressing down, but the thought of an afternoon at Basecamp was lifting our spirits, well mine at least, Mrs V lost her voice last week so god knows what she actually thought. The kids also love a trip to Devils Backbone, when we told them we needed to get ready to go, the oldest one, Fin, ran to fridge, grabbed a bottle of O'Fest and proclaimed "we can drink this at Devils Backbone"...well, daddy can, soon enough Fin, soon enough.

Thankfully my theory about dreich weather and it's impact on the touring classes of American life held up and Basecamp wasn't wildly busy...sat in a booth, there could be only one beer to begin with.

Altbier is something of a rarity in the US, at least in this part of Virginia, an altbier that is made without the "benefit" of crystal malt even rarer - I have said this many times in various contexts, but crystal malt sweetness in Germanic style beer just tastes wrong. Assuming that Jason brewed this batch in the same way as the most recent handful, there are even fewer US altbiers being brewed with open fermentation and extended lagering in horizontal tanks. It is a beer that I love and would usually have stuck to for the duration of our stay, but it is the time of year for all things German, or at least Germanish, and I wanted to have O'Fest on tap - very, very nice it was too.

The Germanic theme was carried over on to the menu, wurst and schnitzel galore, including a dish called "Elk Jägerschnitzel" that sounded marvellous, so I ordered it, eschewing a potato based side and sticking with the cucumber salad as accompaniment. The schnitzel was topped with roasted mushrooms in a brown gravy like sauce, and if you have never eaten elk then hunt it out. It was as the schnitzel was being devoured that I looked around the brewpub that Mrs V and I have been frequenting since 2009 and it dawned on me just how much I love the place. It is irrelevant to me that the business is owned by Anheuser-Busch, Basecamp is pretty much as it has been all along, nothing much has changed. Sure it is bigger, and has more facilities, but sat in the booth it was evident that the heart and soul of Devils Backbone still beats there.

Feeling vaguely nostalgic, as much as one can do for a place that still exists and has barely changed, I had a half litre of an Oktoberfest themed beer that you won't see in the shops, 1872 Steinlifter. 1872 is touted as an old school märzen as opposed to the modern pale festbier that you would be served in Munich. O'Fest on the other hand is a modern Festbier, and in my opinion a damned excellent one. As we were leaving, I picked up a crowler of both the O'Fest and 1872 to do a side by side tasting, with a slightly heretical notion pottering around my head as I drove home listening to the gemütlichkeit that is Versengold's "Funkenflug" album...


Yes, that is a hurdy-gurdy. The world needs more hurdy-gurdy.

Come Sunday afternoon I had abandoned plans to taste the modern and ancient Oktoberfest lagers side by side, the dreich of Ian's remnants lingering on. I wanted to test my heretical theory that had been on my mind. 1872 reminded me distinctly of my favourite beer at this time of the year...Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen, and with a fair old stash in the fridge what better opportunity to compare them.

Having poured half a crowler's worth into my Chodovar mug, it was clear to me that the colour of 1872 was very much in the same ball park as Ayinger. The malt complexity likewise reminded me of Ayinger, with lots of crusty bread, crackers, and honey all layered on top of each other, finishing with a slightly spicy hop finish, think nutmeg and cinnamon. Where the two beers really parted way though was that Ayinger is heavier in the finish, with a wallopingly dense mouthfeel that 1872 doesn't have to such a degree. Here is my heresy then, 1872 is more drinkable, more maß-able you might say.

1872 is only available, to the best of my knowledge, at the Basecamp brewpub, so if you are in the area make a beeline for it, though keep in mind there is a music festival down there this weekend, so you'll need to get there before Friday or after Monday. If you are going to Hoopla and you see it on tap, have at it, there are few darker style märzens available in the US right now that are this good.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Places Me

I am sure I have mentioned this several times, but I am an abysmal beer tourist. I do have a rule that I like to give a new brewery at least 6 months before visiting so they can get the hang of their equipment and start churning out the best beers they are able to. If brewing systems were just plug and play, we wouldn't need brewers now would we? The problem with my 6 month rule is that I am not strict about getting to places once that 6 months is up, and so there are a handful of breweries in central Virginia that I haven't visited because, well, like I said, I am an abysmal beer tourist.

Recently though, I have resolved to try and be better at getting to some of the newer breweries within easy reach of my house, as a result of which I have found a few places that have become, or are very likely to become, fairly regular hangouts.

Patch Brewing is just on the outskirts of Gordonsville, basically a large village that for some reason gets to call itself a town. It is not the first brewery in Gordonsville, that honour goes to Champion Icehouse, but it is the one that I go to with way more regularity. Housed in a former Veterans of Foreign Wars building, they have, I think, 14 acres of land, and plans to basically become a beer hall, beer garden, pick your own berry farm, and several other things all rolled into one. The brewer, Erik, spent several years working under the tutelage of Jason Oliver at Devils Backbone Basecamp, and so you know he knows what he is doing.

Despite being open since October 2021, they have only recently got their own brewing equipment installed (yay COVID!), and so have been brewing at Devils Backbone. Erik has clearly brought some of the Devils Backbone influence to his equipment with him, with horizontal lagering tanks being part of the setup - maybe I am crazy but horizontal tanks are just nicer to look at that endless rows of CCVs. My first trip to Patch was actually last November, when they had only been open for about 6 weeks, as my best mate was in town and we'd been hiking in the Shenandoah National Park, along with my neighbour, stop 1 was so horrific that I will never grace the place with my presence again. It was our second stop of the day before heading home for continued boozing around the fire pit. Being something like a 7 minute drive from my house to the brewery, it is supremely convenient, and I have several friends who work there, so it is always good to get along for a pint, or three.

On the beer front, their Pylon Pilsner is a good, solid German style pilsner, replete with the requisite, at least in my world, noble hop bitterness that so many other pilsners seem to shy away from. I also have a soft spot for their brown ale, A Stone in the Woods. Hopefully this weekend I will find some time to venture out into the remnants of Hurricane Ian as it impacts central Virginia and try their new märzen, Germanna, and a dunkelweizen (a rarity in the US) called 1714 for the year the first German colonists came to Orange County.

Heading into Charlottesville, one new name on the Fuggled Top Ten Virginian Beers this year was Decipher Brewing, and I can tell you now that they will be featuring quite a bit for the annual Fuggled Review of the Year in December. But first a story. As you may recall, I made a batch of my homebrew best bitter with Murphy & Rude Malting Company back in the late spring, using just their malts - which have now become the standard for that recipe as they improved it so much. On the day that I was due to go and try the beer with Jeff and co at the malthouse, Mrs V and I arrived early, so wandered up to Decipher Brewing for a quick pint whilst waiting for Jeff. There were still 10 minutes to opening time, but the bar staff that day welcomed us in and soon enough a pint of their 80/- Scottish ale was sitting in front of me, and I loved it. When I saw that they had a Czech style pale lager coming soon, I naturally inquired as to dates, and resolved that the following Friday I would get along to give it a bash, and I loved it.

Saaz, lots of Saaz, that's how I would describe Krypto, in the case of the picture above poured from a Lukr tap. This is a very, very respectable Czech style pale lager, if I were to quibble (what? Beer bloggers quibbling? Never!) then I would say that it would be even better with a decoction, or two, chucked into the mash schedule for some Maillard reactions to fill out the malt profile a little. Sitting in their little garden area with a pint after work on a Friday afternoon has become something of a thing for me in recent months. The beer is very good, as evidenced by their taking the Virginia Craft Brewers' crown this year, the ambience is chilled out, laid back, and decidedly unsceney (Mrs V and I have a shared aversion to places that become scenes). Oh, and they did a grodziskie, and I loved it.

Oh, and they did a smoked bock, and I loved it.

Decipher are one of only 4 Virginia breweries that are pouring at the Great American Beer Festival next week, so if you are there, check them out - I believe they will be pouring Krypto and the smoked bock.

Last week I got a message on Instagram from the brewer at Selvedge Brewing, also in Charlottlesville, just round the corner from Decipher actually. The message, accompanied by a picture of a fine looking glass of beer, was to tell me that they were releasing a German style festbier and that he knows I do a big Oktoberfest (märzen and festbiers) tasting around this time year, come on down and try the wares...

A couple of days later I tested positive for COVID, so that had to go on hold until the 10 days of quarantine were over. With that suitably out of the way, I finally made it to Selvedge, which is located in a renovated wool mill, in the Woolen Mills area of the city. Think repurposed 19th century brick and glass built factory and you'll get a sense of how it looks, as a fan of industrial architecture, I loved the high ceilings and light streaming in through the windows. There was an outdoor event going on when I was there, thankfully the inside bar was empty, so I pulled up a seat and ordered a pint of Tracht...

What a lovely beer it is. The crackeriness of pilsner malt, the sweet bready malt of Munich, and hops, a good amount of hops for a clean bitterness, if I remember rightly from Perle, and dollops of Hallertau Mittelfrüh for a slightly spicy finish. While I was sat at the bar, Josh, the brewer, came and sat for a chat and we discussed his plans for the brewery, having only taken the reins in the summer. From what I understand there will be a new larger location in the near future, and he plans to make authentic lagers a central theme of the brewery - any guesses how excited I am at that?

Naturally I tried a couple of the other beers on tap. Poplin is an Italian Pilsner - admittedly a style that seems a little contrived to me, if dry hopping a German pilsner a la Tipopils makes it Italian, does that mean Port City's dry hopping of their Czech style pale lager, Downright Pilsner, makes it a Virginia Pilsner? Either way, Poplin is a veritable carousel of noble hop flavour and aroma that I rather enjoyed, though I have to admit to following it up with another Tracht. 

One of the beer styles that I often find annoying in the US is Kölsch, I just find that they don't live up to the bright, sparkling, refreshing beer that the breweries of Cologne churn out, Selvedge's Linen bucks that trend, and is glorious into the bargain. Mrs V is a fan of the Kölsch style, so I look forward to getting a baby sitter to deal with the twins, so we can have a date afternoon/evening. As we sat discussing the merits of decoction mashing, open fermentation, and the like, Josh mentioned that it took being in Cologne for 16 hours to really get a sense of what Kölsch should be, and how important authentic yeast is to the style, pointing out that many a US brewery just uses good old neutral Chico...and thus it made sense why I found it disappointing over here. For fear of being type cast, I followed it up with another Tracht, did I mention yet that it is a lovely festbier, and hopefully there will be some still knocking around this weekend.

Each of the three breweries here have been open since at least last November, and in Decipher's case for a few years now, but as I said, I am an abysmal beer tourist, even on my own front door. I am glad though that we have them, and when I talk to folks working in them about their plans, I feel like times are going to be good ahead for this unbashed lager boy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Of Style and Substance

I can almost hear a collective groan as I type the following style.

Beer styles are simply part of life, it's how a brewer indicates to a drinker what to expect from the liquid they are about to consume. Styles are essentially shorthand, if I tell you I am drinking a Czech Pale Lager, it puts an image in your mind, likewise porter, amber ale, and so on and so forth. 

Styles also have their place in the beer judging world for competition, I know of at least one instance for example where an excellent "Scotch ale" was entered by a local brewery here in Virginia as a "Scottish ale", and got roundly panned for being too strong, too sweet, altogether "not to style". Well, of course it wasn't "to style" because it had accidently been entered into the wrong style.

Sometimes though, the "style" just isn't apparent from the label on the can. Take this for example:

I wasn't entirely sure what "style" of beer I was buying here. The name didn't really help much either, was it a helles or was it a festbier? Of course, festbier is basically a strong helles, so again we are perhaps going round in unnecessary circles. I wanted to know though as it is the time of year when I gather up as many märzens and festbiers that I can lay my hands on for my annual Okotberfest Maß Tasting. Anyway, a quick text to the brewer and it is being marketed as a helles, a 5.5% abv helles, hopped with 30 IBUs of Hallertau.

According to the GABF style guidelines, the booze is spot on, but the hopping is too much for the Munich Helles style. The BJCP guidelines on the other hand have it both to strong and having too many IBUs. As a "Festbier", which GABF calls "German Style Oktoberfest/Wiesn", it is just a touch too strong, and again has too many IBUs, but BJCP has it being too weak and with too many IBUs for its Festbier definition.

A random thought popped into my head, maybe it's a Dortmunder....? Nope, GABF says it has too many IBUs for Dortmunder, but acceptable abv. In BJCP world, where Dortmunder is called "German Helles Exportbier", both ABV and IBU are within the expected bounds. Do we have a winner here then, it would appear to be a German Helles Exportbier?

But wait, what about the guidelines for the European Beer Star categories? Basically it could be either a Festbier, or an "Export"

There are times when I have flashbacks to my days studying theology and everybody having their version of beer styles, while the lay community are not interested in how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Anyway...Dave at Three Notch'd told me that is is a helles, and it really is a rather bloody nice beer whatever you want to brand it. The balance of malt and hop is just right, the cracker character of pilsner malt is evident, and the hops add a lovely counterpoint to that. There are some floral aromas floating around as well as the classic hint of spice that Hallertau brings to the table. All round yummy good stuff in the glass, regardless of how it is styled. 

I am looking forward to polishing off the other three cans that are currently in the fridge, and then restocking. I can see this becoming my go-to palate cleanser after several syrupy sweet märzen malt messes.

These kind of pale lagers are very much the happy place of this Mitteleuropaphile.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Without Farms There is No Booze

First there came the beer, the colours, the aromas, the flavours, the multitude of things you can do with just four inputs, malt, hops, yeast, and water. Think of beers as diametrically opposite as a Czech 10° pale lager and jet black imperial stout, and everything in between, and you have wildly different interpretations and expressions of the same four basic inputs. 

I am deliberately avoiding adjuncts here because the word "adjunct" just means something is non-essential, and rice, corn, marshmallows, breakfast cereal, invert sugar, etc are not really all that essential to make beer, they have their place, but they are not essential to beer per se.

Beer is a product of the genius of humanity, of our innate desire to experiment, our love of getting a buzz on - you folks going on about unsafe water supply, explain why most human settlements are beside rivers or have wells, we know how to find good water sources. Humans like to get tipsy, some humans enjoy getting drunk, they may even be the occasional weirdo who loves a good hangover, and as age creeps up on me, I am not assuredly not one of those.

None of this would be possible without the agricultural revolution that kicked off in the Neolithic period, when human beings started domesticating their meat supply, and their grain supply, by forming communities of farmers. Beer does not exist without agriculture. This simple fact is something I have back to time and again this year in my reading. Whether it is crop reports for barley and hops in various newspapers in the Austrian National Archive, or learning far more about malt than I could squeeze into a single Pellicle article, none of this is possible without farmers.

Of course, it is not just beer that is reliant on agriculture, cider, perry, wine, and basically every spirit known to man would not exist without farmers growing the raw ingredients. It fascinates me that basically every ancient culture created some form of fermented drink to use in rites of passage, celebrations, memorials, or their religious practices. If memory serves, it is in the Epic of Gilgamesh that the definition of being civilised is to eat bread and drink beer.

As I referred to at the top, first came my interest in the beer itself, then came my interest in the ingredients that brewers use to make the stuff, and so I started brewing my own. As a result of my interest in malt in particular, an appreciation of the grains and their producers is becoming an endless source of fascination. The fact, for example, that not all barley strains are created equal, you can't just turn any old barley into malt, and even malting barley needs an expert hand as it grows.

This may be one of the reasons I love the concept of the farm brewery, a distinct form of brewery license here in Virginia. They are perhaps the purest form of "craft" brewing, especially when using malt made from the grain they themselves grew, as is the case with Wheatland Spring, maker of many magnificent lagers, including the pilsner I crowned as number 1 in my recent Top 10 Virginian beer post.

Farmers are very much the unsung heroes of the booze industry, without them, there are no raw ingredients, and without raw ingredients to couple with the genius of humanity for creating buzz inducing products, there would be no booze.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Czeching out Cola Town

Since the demise of the Flying Saucer I have been somewhat bereft of places to drink when I am in Columbia, SC visiting Mrs V's family. Having recently discovered the delights of the Cock n Bull, and with Bierkeller Columbia opening up their beer garden this autumn, things are decidedly looking up. One thing though that I have neglected when we go south is discovering the local breweries, beyond buying the occasional six pack at the shop. With summer holiday time winding down this past weekend, I resolved to put that right.

First stop on my planned itinerary was Columbia Craft Brewing, which from Google Maps would seem to be at the heart of an area with plenty of breweries to visit, including the package brewery for Columbia's oldest brewery, and a personal favourite of mine, Hunter Gatherer. I walked through the door, surveilled the situation, it was actually pretty packed outside, but relatively quiet inside, so I grabbed a seat and did something I very rarely do, ordered a flight.

Flights are not something I often do mainly because I am not convinced that you can really judge a beer's merits based on a few ounces of liquid. With my plan to visit a couple of other breweries though, I figured that a flight and a pint would be the way to go. My 4 choices then at Columbia Craft were:
  • Columbia Craft Lager - a 4.8% Munich style helles
  • Carolinian - a 4.7% American blonde ale
  • Pull - a 4.5% Czech style pale lager
  • Pint - a 5.6% English style "pub ale" - basically an ESB
I made the mistake of starting from the lowest abv beer...the 4.5% Czech style pale lager, which makes me assume it had a starting gravity of 10° Plato, a desítka. It was a mistake, because one mouthful in, I knew my plans to hit another couple of breweries that afternoon were in danger of being curtailed to perhaps one other brewery.

The other beers in the flight were all very good, but the pull of the Czech pale lager was too great, so I had a half litre, poured from a Lukr tap, and served in a Tübinger glass...

The first thing that hit me was unlikely many a US brewed pilsner poured on a Lukr tap, Pull didn't have a craggy head that towered over the rim of the glass. The head was nicely wet foam that sat on top of the liquid for the duration of the drinking, which to be honest wasn't particularly long, maybe 5 mouthfuls at best.

The star of the show though for me was the masses of delightfully spicy Saaz character bursting through the foam, both as aroma and flavour. With just a single decoction as part of the brewing, there were enough Maillard characteristics to fill out the body, making this anything but watery. This is a seriously, seriously nice beer.

Needless to say I didn't make it to any other brewery on Saturday afternoon and got myself a couple of crowlers of Pull to nurse through the evening. The next time I make it to Columbia, I expect that Bierkeller's beer garden will be open, this delight on tap, and with the Cock n Bull in which to watch footie, I will have plenty of options for places, and beers, to enjoy.

Best Beer Ever!

Shock, horror, a new post at Fuggled! Yes, it has been a while, but mitigating circumstances, I have been heads down writing my first book, ...