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? 

Get Your Coat Love

I have said it plenty of times on here as well as my various socials, I am an abysmal beer tourist. You see, I have this tendency to find a ...