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.

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