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.

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, ...