Friday, December 29, 2023

Fuggled Boozer of the Year

Originally I considered doing a "brewery of the year" but as I don't want to drag this year end review into 2024, or try you good folks' patience with endless posts about 2023, I ditched it and decided to just have boozer of the year as my final fling, especially as this year I have travelled outside the US a couple of times, so a rest of the world category is actually a possibility.

My definition of "boozer" here is pretty all encompassing, places where I can get a full serving of beer, whether that be a pint, half litre, or 12oz bottle, so brewery tap room counts as well as a cafe with decent beer selection. A Prague park bench at 2 in the morning with bottles of Bernard from the potraviny though doesn't count, mainly because it was bloody cold. Onward then to the places...

Virginia
  • Caboose Tavern - Vienna
  • Devils Backbone Basecamp - Roseland
  • Patch Brewing - Gordonsville
Honorable mentions: Kardinal Hall - Charlottesville; Beer Run - Charlottesville

There are some places that are just special to me, and every single one of the boozer in this list are places I go to regularly and that I love drinking in. In several of them, I know the staff well enough that it is almost a stupid question as to what beer, or at least beer style, I want to drink. One place though stands out simply because I am convinced my drinking life over the last 14 years would be all the poorer if it didn't exist. I am talking, of course about the original Devils Backbone brewpub down in Nelson County. While the campus, for want of a better word, is far more extensive than it was in 2009, it has maintained the vibe of an Alpine lodge, especially when the weather is dreich outside and the fires are going. On our last few visits I have become somewhat misty eyed looking around at the now worn in and comfortable building and how much I love going there. It helps that Jason makes some of the best beer in Virginia, and founder Steve's vision is very much being honored to this day.

Rest of the US
  • Live Oak Brewing - Austin, TX
  • Olde Mecklenburg Brewing - Charlotte, NC
  • Savage Craft - West Columbia, SC
Honorable mentions: Hofbräuhaus - Pittsburgh, OH; Hunter-Gatherer Hangar - Columbia, SC; Scholz Garten - Austin, TX

I love beer gardens, especially beer gardens that have air conditioned tap rooms as well, which is basically every beer garden in the South. Life in this part of the world would be awful without air conditioning. I have a particular fondness for the kind of beer garden that has large mature trees that dapple the sunlight, water stations dotted around, a kids play area, and some of my favourite beer to boot. Every time Mrs V and I head to South Carolina for some family function, we drive within a mile of Olde Mecklenburg Brewing and their 8 acre beer garden in the heart of Charlotte. Now, every time we are driving to or from SC, we stop and stretch legs, have a beer, and let the kids run around for a while in the play area. We are so enamored with Olde Meck, that even though it is 4.5 hours into our 6.5 hour drive rather than the midway point, we always stop there, and look forward to it muchly.

Rest of the World
  • Hostomická nelevarna - Prague, CZ
  • U Slovanské lipy - Prague, CZ
  • Fjöruhúsið Hellnum - Hellnar, IS
Honorable mentions: Dobra Trafika - Prague,CZ; Únětický Pivovar - Únětice, CZ; Café Captein & Co - Amsterdam, NL.

No surprise here that the list is dominated by pubs in Prague, Czech beer culture speaks to my soul, and I always feel deeply at home in a traditional Czech pivnice, hospoda, hostinec, pick your Czech word. It is also not a surprise that the best boozer in the rest of the world is the place where I had my favourite session this year with my favourite people. Obviously then I am speaking about Hostomická nelevarna (sorry Evan), where my friends an I revelled in world class beer, great snacks, and the kind of time that only a great pub can produce.


That is also the reason that the Fuggled Boozer of the Year is also Hostomická nelevarna, a pub so small that I could in theory recreate it in one half of my garage if I had the skills. It is everything a proper old school boozer should be, unfussy, unpretentious, maybe a little rough around the edges, but with world class beer and the classic Czech vibe of being a place dedicated to the drinking beer with friends. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Fuggled Beer of the Year

Having whittled down my long lists to short lists, we come to the final beer list of my annual review, the winners of the three categories. To recap then, the winning beers were:
  • Pale - Fabián 10° - Pivovar Hostomice, CZ
  • Between Orange and Brown - Tabolcloth - Selvedge Brewing/Tabol Brewing, Virginia
  • Dark - Sláinte - Three Notch'd Brewing, Virginia

I knew when I was planning my trip to Prague that I would find the necessary time to get round to Pivovarská Nelevarna, the city tap for Pivovar Hostomice. I knew that I wanted to introduce my friends to what I think of as one of my favourite pubs on the planet, as well as, in my unhumble opinion, the best lagers in the Czech Republic. That Fabián 10° took the plaudits as the Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year was pretty much a shoe-in. My friends and I went to Pivovarská Nelevarna the night before we all had to head back to our parts of the world, met up with Evan as well, and drank exceedingly liberal amounts of desítka. Moreish, redolent with Czech Saaz hops, a nice bready malt body, and a finish that is both crisp and soft at the same time - don't ask me, it's just how it feels. It is drinking sessions like this that make it difficult to bother with desítky when I get back to Virginia because it just highlights to me again that you simply cannot make an authentic Czech style pale lager without the traditional process as much as ingredients. You know what I mean, and nothing will change my mind.


I mentioned in the post for beers between orange and brown, that I had made a mad dash across Charlottesville to try Tabolcloth from the 10 litre stichfaß, managing to snag the very last half litre as it kicked in under an hour. A week later and I was back at Selvedge Brewing to try the regular draft version of this delightful 5% vollbier inspired by Josh's love of Franconia - and not the one in Northern Virginia. Although this was a collaboration between Selvedge and Richmond's Tabol Brewing, there was a difference between the version available in Charlottesville and the one in Richmond. Selvedge had fermented theirs with TUM-35, a recently rediscovered Franconian yeast strain that I find leaves a slightly fuller body and a gently rustic character. I would often imagine drinking Tabolcloth sat in a village beer garden somewhere in the hinterlands of Franconia as I sat with yet another half litre. Tabolcloth was basically my beer of the summer this year, so often did I swing by Selvedge, either on draft or in crowlers for home drinking.


There is something about a regular strength, Irish style stout that I find deeply appealing, and in many ways I am sure this could apply to many of my favourite types of beer. It is deeply unfussy, unpretentious, and yet flavourful and invigorating. There is also something fun about having to order your second pint when you have had a mere mouthful or two of your first, simply so it can get up to the proper temperature. Three Notch'd Sláinte, once suitably warmed, had all the classic roasty flavours you expect from a stout, coffee, dark chocolate, slightly singed toast, and all so beautifully blended together that you could easily forget that it was only 4.2% abv, the medium full body belying it's relative lightness. It is the kind of beer that I wish was more readily available in my local brewery taprooms.

Choosing a single winner from these three beers is, as it seems to be every year, difficult, as were any one of them a permanent feature of drinking central VA, I would likely drink it an awful lot. However, only one of them could actually claim to have been drunk fairly regularly this year, and so the Fuggled Beer of the Year is...Tabolcloth Vollbier from both Selvedge Brewing and Tabol Brewing. It was simply wonderful, and I hope it makes a comeback when Selvedge open up in their new venue in the new year.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Fuggled Beers of the Year: Dark

Having meandered through the shades of ochre that makes up the spectrum from orange to brown, we move into the properly dark beer category. Let us then descend into the darkness...

Virginia

  • Sláinte - Three Notch'd Brewing, Charlottesville
  • Spire City - Wheatland Spring Brewing, Waterford
  • London Porter - Superfly Brewing, Charlottesville
Honorable mentions: Break Out Your Wellies - Selvedge Brewing Company; Schwartz Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing, Roseland; Porter - Port City Brewing, Alexandria.

If you lingered around Fuggled for any reasonable length of time, you will no doubt have seen me comment about how Guinness was my first legal beer, on my 1th birthday at the Dark Island Hotel back home on Benbecula. Irish style dry stouts have long been one of my favourite styles, especially when watching the rugby - which this year included the World Cup, in which Scotland got the group from hell (seriously, Ireland AND South Africa in our group). Anyway, Derek, one of the owners of Three Notch'd is from Ireland, and a fellow rugby fan, all round good bloke, and randomly meeting him in a pub back in 2012 still counts as one of my favourite things since living in Charlottesville. So when we met at Three Notch'd to watch Scotland lose heroically to an excellent Ireland side in a magnificent game of running rugby, I was thrilled to see a 4.2% dry stout on tap, and once I had let it warm up to the proper temperature it was magnificent, I might even dare to say on a par with O'Hara's...

Rest of the US
  • Schwarz - Von Trapp Brewing, Stowe, VT
  • Karlův 13° - Schilling Beer Co., Littleton, NH
  • Dunkel - Von Trapp Brewing, Stowe, VT
An example of each of the major dark lager styles makes up the final three from the US in the dark beer category, dunkel, tmavé, schwarzbier. But the winner is, in my mind at least, clear. Von Trapp are one of my go-to breweries in general, and when they brought out a schwarzbier as a special release way back in February I was a happy camper. I have long been a fan of the style in general, I prefer the roastiness and dry finish of a schwarzbier to the sweeter finish of a dunkel or the more classic iterations of tmavé. Von Trapp's Schwarz is a little stronger than the Köstritzer, the extra body being very welcome. I hope they release it again soon.

Rest of the World
  • 14° Tmavý - Pivovar Hostomice, Hostomice, CZ
  • Antidepressant Autumn Dark Lager - Klášterní Pivovar Strahov, Prague, CZ
  • Svijanská Kněžna - Pivovar Svijany, Svijany, CZ
A clean sweep for Czech breweries and each of these beers was had with my best friends whilst wandering around Prague in November on an extended birthday shindig. The winner though is the one that I was most excited to see on tap, even though it wasn't listed on the menu when we arrived, is Strahov's lovely Autumn Dark Lager, one of the inspirations for the tmavě I designed for Devils Backbone back in 2010, called Morana. Lots of toasty bread, a subtle bitter cocoa note, and a nice sharp hoppy bite to snap everything back to attention makes this a far too easy to drink beer, and had we not had plans to meet up with friends later that day, I would happily have sat in the brewpub at Strahov and drunk it all afternoon and evening.


Friends and dark beers seems to have been a theme this year, indeed just yesterday I met up with a couple of friends here in Central Virginia, went to watch the Liverpool vs Arsenal match, and had the London Porter from Superfly Brewing mentioned above. The winner also ties in with a sporting event, in this case watching Ireland beat Scotland in the rugby world cup back in the autumn, Three Notch'd Brewing's Sláinte Irish style stout. A fantastic version of one of my go-to styles, and one that I wish were a regular part of the Three Notch'd lineup, especially if there is rugby to watch at the same time.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Fuggled Beers of the Year: Between Orange and Brown

BOAB is such a catchy little moniker isn't it? I almost changed it for ORB - orange, red, and brown - but having laid down a marker with BOAB, thus is shall remain. Let's look at the beers for this category though shall we?

Virginia

  • Tabolcloth Vollbier - Selvedge Brewing, Charlottesville & Tabol Brewing, Richmond
  • Franconian Kellerbier - Port City Brewing, Alexandria
  • Alt Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing, Nellysford
Honorable mentions: O'Fest - Devils Backbone Brewing, Nellysford; 80/- - Decipher Brewing, Charlottesville; CU Later - Patch Brewing, Gordonsville; Dunkel - Caboose Brewing, Vienna.

Back in the dog days of summer and early days of autumn, I raced across Charlottesville to drop the twins off with Mrs V at her school so I could make to a taproom for a stichfaß of a new lager from a brewery I have come to love. The lager in question was inspired by the brewer's love of all things Franconian, and was a collaboration beer to boot. Obviously I am talking about Selvedge and Tabol's magnificent Tabolcloth vollbier, a 5% amber lager that simply reeked of Franconian rusticity, and I drank literally litres of it, both at Selvedge and at Tabol's taproom in Richmond. Beautiful to look at and a delight to drink.

Rest of the US
  • Copper - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, Charlotte, NC
  • Oktoberfest - Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA
  • Augustin - Schilling Beer Co., Littleton, NH
Having one of your favourite beers validated as an outstanding example of a style by someone you respect deeply is incredibly satisfying. So when Evan Rail posted to his Instagram account that he thought Olde Mecklenburg Copper was better than many altbiers from Düsseldorf I may have smiled broadly. The fact that it is a core part of the Olde Meck lineup means that I am able to stock up every time I pass through Charlotte to or from South Carolina. One of the things I appreciate most about Copper is that unlike many other US brewed altbiers, it doesn't use crystal malt, and thus isn't a brown syrupy mess of a beer. Proper ingredients and methods are so important.

Rest of the World
  • Polotmavé - Klášterní Pivovar Strahov, Prague, CZ
  • Arctic Pale Ale - Einstök Ölgerđ, Akureyri, IS
  • Oktober Fest-Märzen - Privatbrauerei Ayinger, Aying, DE
This one might come as a shock to some, but in a surprising turn of events, a top fermented beer beats out a pair of bottom fermented. Mrs V and I took the boys to Iceland this summer for 10 days and passing through the airport we took the advice to buy beer there on the way out rather than paying full price in a regular store. I picked up a 12 pack of Arctic Pale Ale mainly because I already knew it is good and a beer I will always happily drink. When we got to our accommodation and I broke out the cans to put into the fridge, I noticed the packaged on date was the week before we arrived in Iceland - seriously fresh beer. Wow, the hops in fresh Arctic Pale Ale absolutely pop and it took all my will power not to cane the 12 pack in a couple of sessions.


Three stellar beers from four breweries that never cease to impress me, each of them has earnt that special place in my world where I will try their more outlandish beers simply because I know they do the classics so damned well. As it is, I can only choose one beer to be the Fuggled BOAB of 2023, and that title goes to the Tabolcloth Vollbier collaboration brew from Selvedge Brewing and Tabol Brewing. Good beer in my world is the kind of brew that a single pint or half litre is simply not enough, and Tabolcloth was moreish beyond words. I hope that it becomes a regular feature at both breweries as it is a simply wonderful beer.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Fuggled Beers of the Year: Pale

Ah...the first day of two weeks of Yuletide holiday. Time to make mince pies, plan menus for the various festive days, and to wonder if I even bother buying beer given the amount of cider in the alcohol fridges. It is also time for the annual review of the year, which thanks to having managed to get out of the country a couple of times will include both a drinking den and a brewery of the year. As ever though, we start with pale beers, those that are yellow or golden, without veering too much into orange.

Each year I pick the top 3, plus any honorable mentions, in each category, from Virginia, the rest of the United States, and the rest of the world, culminating in an overall beer of the year for a given category. That said, let's crack on:

Virginia

  • Kelheim Märzen - Tabol Brewing, Richmond
  • Yourn Czech Lager - Devils Backbone Brewing, Nellysford
  • Batiste - Selvedge Brewing, Charlottesville
Honorable mentions: Found Artifacts - Wheatland Spring Brewing, Waterford; Pylon Pilsner - Patch Brewing, Gordonsville; How Bout It - Black Narrows Brewing, Chincoteague.; Downright Pilsner - Port City Brewing, Alexandria.

This is always the hardest category to choose from as Virginia brewed pale beers, ok let's be honest, pale lagers, are my go to and so I drink far more of them than anything else. The winner though, and to be frank, choosing from among those three beers is a real challenge as I would happily only drink those beers all year if need be, is the beer that I having driven about 40 miles more than once for. Maybe it is his CEE heritage, maybe it is the well water that is basically an analogue for Plzeň, maybe it is decoction mashing, open fermentation, and extended horizontal lagering. Whatever it is, Jason Oliver at Devils Backbone simply knows how to knock it out of the park when making Czech style pale lagers, and Yourn, a 10° lager, was glorious. Simple as.

Rest of the USA
  • Keller Pils - TRVE Brewing, Denver, CO
  • Gold - Live Oak Brewing, Austin, TX
  • Captain Jack Pilsner - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, Charlotte, NC
Honorable mentions: Überholt - Jack's Abby Craft Lagers, Framingham, MA; Purge Under Pilsner - Savage Craft Brewing, West Columbia, SC; Helles - Von Trapp Brewing, Stowe, VT; Jakobus - Schilling Brewing, Littleton, NH.

I was sat in the winning brewery's tap room, escaping from the heat - being a child of the north Atlantic, I don't do great with hot weather, especially when there is the option of an air-conditioned tap room. I ordered the winning beer, sat at a long trestle style table, and watched as a single tremulous bubble wandered its merry way up the side of the Willibecher glass. I tweeted at the time something along the lines of "proper lager isn't fizzy", and this was a proper, proper lager. I fully expected to crush on Live Oak Pilz when I visited their beer garden and taproom out near Austin airport, but their German style pilsner, Gold, stole my heart, it was everything you could want from a Bavaria style pilsner, and a banger in every sense of the word.

Rest of the World
  • Nr. 1 Bríó - Borg Brugghús, Reykjavik, IS
  • Fabián 10° - Pivovar Hostomice, Hostomice, CZ
  • Únětické Pivo 10° - Únětický Pivovar, Únětice, CZ
Honorable mentions: Tannenzäpfle - Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus, Grafenhausen-Rothaus, DE; Icelandic White Ale - Einstök Ölgerđ, Akureyri, IS.

Damn this is hard. While I was in Prague in November, Evan told me that for the first time in well over a century, 12° has overtaken 10° as the most regularly drunk strength of pale lager. My best friend Chris, who I met in Prague many, many years ago, and I though are devotees of the desítka and thus I guess old school. And it is old school that is the only way I can think to separate the pair of desítky, and even then it is decision between an old school village beer hall and an old school urban pivnice. It all comes down to intangibles I guess, and in my mind Hostomice's 10° has a certain rusticity that really appeals to me - I wish there was a better way to explain that, but I can't think of one off the top of my head.


Three absolutely world beating beers make the final three for the Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year, and I guess it will come as a surprise to precisely nobody as to which beer walks away with the plaudits and absence of monetary prize. Pivovar Hostomice make, in my as ever unhumble opinion, the best beers that I have ever had in Czechia. If I ever decided to upsticks again and move my family back to Czechia, having a local boozer that sold their beer would be a major plus in deciding where to live. Unfussy, uncomplicated (please don't confuse complicated with complex), and so moreish that day drinking could happily lead into all night drinking, Fabián 10° is beer at its best, not just Czech pale lager at its best.

Friday, December 1, 2023

The Simple Life of the Emperor

The year is 1879.

The famous Blackpool Illuminations are turned on for the first time.

John Henry Newman is raised to the position of cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, having converted from Anglicanism in 1845.

Fulham F.C. is founded.

In Vienna, Emperor Franz Joseph has been on the imperial throne for 31 years, having acceded in 1848, just 18 years old after the abdication of his uncle Ferdinand, and his father Franz Karl's renunciation of the throne.

I don't usually write about the lives of European royalty, but as I was researching something utterly unrelated on the French national newspaper archives website, RetroNews, I bumped into this little snippet.


La Patrie, the newspaper from which the above snippet it taken, was a conservative Bonapartist newspaper that was in print from 1841 to 1937, and on April 28th 1879 they published this brief guide to a day in the life of the Austrian Emperor.

Rising at 5 in the morning every day, starting the day with a cup of coffee and a cigar made with Virginian tobacco, La Patrie describes him as being "the greatest worker in the entire monarchy". Other than his morning coffee and cigar, the only thing we know, from this snippet, about his dining habits is that lunch was "very simple: black bread and Pilsner beer are on the table every day".

In 1870 Pilsner Urquell had become an official supplier to the Viennese Imperial Court, by which time the daily trainload of Pilsner Urquell to Vienna was well established. In 1885 the Emperor himself made the opposite journey to visit the brewery that was shaking up brewing across Europe. He is quoted as having said:
"it is rather odd that no brewery has been able to duplicate the singular and delicious taste of Pilsner beer".
While it has long been known that Pilsner Urquell was a popular brew in Vienna, one thing that caught my eye in the snippet was the idea that the ruler of largest empire in mainland Europe had his lunch table set every day with "black bread" as well as his Pilsner beer. It would be easy to assume that this bread, on which Franz Joseph chewed every day, would be some kind of pumpernickel, and so here I ended up going down the rabbit hole of what "black bread" would mean in an Austrian context.

Translating the French "pain noir" into the German "schwarzbrot" pointed me in the right direction as it would appear "schwarzbrot" is a traditional Austrian bread made primarily from wholegrain rye flour, and with a rye based sourdough starter. Hmmmm...this is starting to sound familiar you know. As I dug further, I came across a type of schwarzbrot called "hausbrot", which according to this post from The Bread She Bakes, is a classic Austrian bread made with mostly rye flour, some wheat or spelt flour, a sourdough starter, yeast, and "Austrian bread spices", a mixture of caraway, fennel, coriander, and anise. Hmmmm...this really is starting to sound very familiar.


One of the things I love about central Europe is the continuity of foods as you go from the Baltic to the Balkans, whether it's the staples of pork, cabbage, and dumplings or a seeded rye bread. There are regional variations of course, and it always makes me chuckle at everybody in the region claiming that their variation is the original.

I really can't think of anything more emblematic of central Europe than the image of the Emperor sitting down each lunchtime to the kind of bread and beer enjoyed by all classes within his empire. According to the piece in La Patrie, this simple life:
"without the slightest ostentation, entirely devoted to the happiness of his people, naturally explains the trust, respect and loyalty which are everywhere and so rightly shown to him."
Whether or not that is true I don't have any clue, but at least he had good taste in beer and bread.

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, ...