Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Top Ten Virginia Beers - 2023

It's been quite the jet-set month has July. At the beginning of the month, plus a couple of days at the end of June, my family and I traipsed our way up to and around Iceland for 10 days (quite possibly the best holiday I have ever had) and now we are down in central Florida. While my wife and kids have fun on the beach, I am working so as not to completely use up all my holiday time, still I can't complain as the view from the window is one of a couple of palm trees and the Atlantic ocean.

As usual at this time of year, I like to take a pause and decide on what have been the ten best beers from Virginia that I have drunk in the last 12 months. The list is entirely subjective, and likely doesn't feature hype breweries making hazies, bastardised sours with fake fruit flavor syrups, or pastry stouts simply because I don't enjoy that shit. This is, after all, the Fuggled Top Ten Virginia Beers, purely subjective, entirely my opinion, and I make no apologies for that. 

With that said, let's dive into my Virginian drinking highlights...

  1. Port City Brewing - Franconian Kellerbier (5.0%). - for the fourth year in a row, Franconian Kellerbier is either top of the list or second, though for 2023 it returns to the number 1 slot. Each spring I look forward to its release, and as ever I bought a couple of cases once it was available. The beer itself has a delightful rusticity that I find delightful, especially when I am sat on my deck dealing with the first harvests from my gardens, often shelling peas. If I had a single complaint about Franconian Kellerbier it would be that it isn't part of the permanent lineup, but I guess we all need things to look forward to in life.
  2. Wheatland Spring Brewing - Found Artifacts (4.8%). - the number 1 beer in my 2022 list, I have enjoyed Found Artifacts several times in the last 12 months and it would have taken top spot again this year but for Port City. I love the work that John and the folks at Wheatland Spring are doing up in Northern Virginia, especially as a brewery growing the vast majority of the ingredients they use. Despite being an unfiltered beer, Found Artifacts showcases the very real benefits of extended lagering to produce a pale lager of such poise and balance that I would defy any central European friend of mine not to think it superb.
  3. Devils Backbone Brewing - Yourn 10°. - I have said this many times, but Devils Backbone are still one of the best breweries in Virginia, full stop, end of story, I don't give a shit about your big beer business bogeyman arguments. Jason makes incredible beer, and his recent Czech inspired 10° pale lager was right up there with the very best beers that he has put out in 15 years on the brewing deck behind the bar at Basecamp. Decocted, fermented in an open fermenter, and then given extensive lagering in their horizontal lager tanks, Yourn is brewed with so much fidelity to its Czech inspiration that drinking it is like being transported back to rural Czechia, drinking in the villages, in the heartland of Czech beer culture, and there is not an ounce of hyperbole in that statement.
  4. Port City Brewing - Porter (7.2%). - let me be honest with you, I probably only drink Port City Porter a couple of times a year, usually in the depths of winter, and if the weather is being favourably unfavourable, next to a roaring log fire, yet most years it makes my list of the 10 best Virginia brewed beers. Port City Porter is, in my unhumble opinion, one of the best porters being brewed in the world today, let alonge just Virginia or even the US. A complex beast dripping with unsweetened cocoa, espresso, and even an umaminess that reminds me of traditionally made soy sauce (forget your mass produced sachets from your local Chinese restaurant), all in a beguiling package that makes it too easy to forget that it is pretty hefty at 7.2%, not a session beer, but certainly a delight.
  5. Black Narrows Brewing - How Bout It (4.2%). - A new brewery to the list, and a new kind of beer in some ways. I have never been a big fan of corn in my beer, I find it lends an oily, slick, sweetness that I just find disagreeable, the same could be said about bourbon. But, malt the corn and you get a very different beast, the sweetness dissipates and what is left in it's wake is a very subtle nuttiness, kind of like an almond. Now, put that malted corn in the hands of a true artisanal brewer like Josh Chapman up on Chincoteague Island and what you get is an American Light Lager that is quite frankly, fecking awesome. I love the story behind the beer, so much so I wrote an article about it for Pellicle, and I love the beer too
  6. Decipher Brewing - 80/-. - Unhumble opinion time again. Most American brewed "Scottish" ales are shit, a riotous mess of crystal, chocolate, and black malts that would never see the light of the mash tun actually in Scotland, and we haven't even got around to talking about the use of peat malt (we don't, so feck off with your "traditional peated flavor" bullshit). Decipher though get it right, and get it right with aplomb. The star here is drinkability, a Scottish export is not supposed to be sweet, it is supposed to have balance, be something that lubricates the social setting, that looks glorious in the glass, and the Burtons get it. Now, I have to admit to a touch of bias, because anyone that is willing to do something daft like put an 80/- on a Lukr tap to try and replicate the old Scottish Aitken font because some loony Scotsman in Virginia suggests it must be a top bloke. It helps that they make such cracking beer too.
  7. Reason Beer - Barrel Aged Inexorable Stout. - assuming that you have cleaned up the spillage from you choking on your drink at the presence of barrel aged stout weighing in at 10.5% making it onto this list, let me tell you story. Mrs V plays the fiddle, and once a month or so, her teacher invites her to take part in an Irish music session at a local restaurant/pub. If we can find a babysitter to look after the twins, I will tag along and allow myself a couple of hours of reading with a pint. Usually I drink whatever the best lager they have available is, but on this particular Sunday I fancied the porter on the menu. The barmaid told me that they were out of the porter, but that they had a stout, so in the absence of strength denoting adjectives I agreed. Along came this beast, and I thought to myself, why not, just the one. Just the one is all it took to remind me that done well, barrel aging an imperial stout can lead to a great drinking experience. A definite slow sipper rather than my regular chugging session beers, I sat with my book, a brew that unlocked more dimensions than a dungeon master as it warmed, revealing cocoa, chocolate, coffee, vanilla, and a whole melange of tastes, all to the soundtrack of excellent folk tunes.
  8. Devils Backbone - Alt Bier (5.8%). - I've been a fan of the altbier style of beer since having a half litre of Schumacher Alt at an arts festival in Berlin. Dry, bitter, intensely hoppy, and with all the sweetness you expect of central European malts (i.e. not the fecking syrupy mess of crystal malt), bundled into a very pintable package, it is a woefully undervalued style in the US. Thank goodness then for Jason and his love of central European beers, and his commitment to making them as authentically as possible, with open fermentation and horizontal lagering. Also thank goodness for Jason sending me texts to let me know when Alt Bier is on tap - come on marketing people of breweries everywhere, keep your websites and social media up to date with what is on tap. A couple of time this year we've made the 60 minute drive to Basecamp purely on the basis that Alt Bier was on tap, and both times I have sat there drinking great beer and being immensely happy that Devils Backbone is one of my local breweries.
  9. Selvedge Brewing - Tweed (5.3%). - once upon a time there was a Munich dunkel style lager brewed in Charlottesville that I absolutely adored, then the brewery making it changed brewer, and the dunkel was no more. A good dunkel is a rare beast, a cracking one with a fascinating yeast strain that elevates the malts is worth chasing. Selvedge are a new brewery to this list, and I have really only started going there in the last 12 months, since they hired a former Champion Brewing brewer who started making the kind of beers I love - you know the drill, bottom fermented, extensively lagered, no silly shit. Tweed is very much a classic Munich dunkel, but with the added wrinkle of using the TUM-35 yeast strain, which originated in Franconia and was thought lost until re-discovered in a yeast bank archive. Perhaps it is purely a figment of my imagination but used in a dunkel, TUM-35 adds a character somewhat like rustic country style rye bread that you find in Central Europe, a basket of which accompanies practically every meal, add to that the crusty bread of Munich malts, and the subtle Nutella of something like Carafa, Tweed is a glass full of comfort and cheer, and I am already looking forward to its return.
  10. Patch Brewing - CU Later Copper Ale (4.4%). - every now and again you have to disagree with the brewer of a beer. If you look at Patch's Untappd page for this beer, it is listed as an Extra Special Bitter, though purely on strength I would argue it is closer to a Best Bitter, but that is not my quibble. My quibble, which is purely semantic I am sure, is that CU Later is an excellent example of a mild ale - though of course if there is one beer style likely to cause more confusion among many than the notion of "bitter" being a good thing (bollocks to Keystone Light and their anti-bitterness marketing) is the very existence of Mild. While CU Later does tread a fine line between a mild and the kind of best bitter you find in London and the South East, it is definitely in the excellent, moreish, I need another pint of this camp. During December, I found several excuses to wander by the brewery, it's only 7 miles up the road, and have a few pints with mates, it's what beer is really all about after all.

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, ...