Showing posts with label ESB. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ESB. Show all posts

Monday, February 19, 2018

Old Friends: Fuller's ESB

Wandering around the shop yesterday getting the weekly necessaries, I got thinking about what beer I wanted to buy. I have plenty of beer in the cellar at the moment, but most of it is dark, porters, stouts, that kind of stuff, there was very little pale beer, and no lager (purely because lager gets drunk pretty quickly in my house as I love the stuff). Usually when we go to our preferred supermarket we do our booze shopping last as the wine and beer sections are in the back corner. I have a confession to make, I am really bad about trying new beers and breweries at the moment, mainly because it is difficult to place any faith in the consistency and quality of many of the start up breweries flooding the shelves. Anyway, looking at the shelves of British beer available there were so many familiar names, but beers that I had not tried in goodness knows how long, and thus is the genesis of this new series on Fuggled, "Old Friends".

I almost picked up a four pack of London Pride, a beer I know well and enjoy drinking reasonably often. Between the stash of Pride and London Porter were a pair of ESB four packs, so I checked the best before date (a sad necessity in these parts) and took home the one pack that was still within the freshness range. It had been years since I had last indulged in a pint of Fuller's ESB, and that was on draft one homebrew club night many moons ago. Extra Special Bitter, as a style rather than the Fuller's brand in particular here, is one that gets brewed relatively often by American breweries, and even though it is part of the bitter family, I am much more of a best bitter drinker, and quite often leave the ESBs I see alone. Anyway, on to the ur-ESB...


As I said, it had been a long time since my last pint of Fuller's ESB, so for some reason best known only to the recesses of my memory I was mildly surprised at the beautiful copper colour of the beer as it sat in my freshly cleaned nonic imperial pint glass. I remember having a similar feeling when I had a few pints of cask London Pride in Inverness a couple of years back, why did I think they would be darker than that? I loved the colour, especially in the late winter sunlight streaming through the doors to our deck, with a schmeer of off white foam, every prospect pleased.

There are some breweries whose beer have a distinctive smell and Fullers is one of them. For some folks the familiarity of that aroma and taste has bred contempt, I find it deeply comforting as I know when I smell a Fullers beer it will be a good beer. The aroma is that of marmelade made with Seville oranges, citrusy, lightly floral and with traces of crystalised sugar. Tastewise, again that marmelade character is evident, though it is not overly sweet, being balanced with pithy hop bite that cleans the palate and leaves you ready for more.


Goodness me what a lovely beer I had been neglecting all these years, perhaps in part because of the 5.9% ABV, which while not strong (the average for core range beers in Central VA is about 6.5%), is a good 20% stronger than most beers I drink regularly. I still have a couple of bottles in the fridge, but they'll be gone soon enough, and I imagine ESB will be finding it's way more often in to my drinking life again, though more as an evening indulgence, perhaps while reading or watching something on Netflix once the twins have fallen asleep and Mrs V and I have an hour or so to ourselves of adult time. It'll be a welcome addition to the routine...

Monday, October 17, 2016

Self Bitterment

An acquaintance recently asked me why I seem to be constantly brewing beers that belong in the broad family of bitter. It's true that at least every other brewday is some form of ordinary, best, or extra special, and there is a very good reason for this fact. Bitter, regardless of sub-type, is one of my favourite styles of beer to drink and for all the hoopla around craft beer and its endless IPAing of every form of beer possible, most American breweries simply don't bother with bitter as a style.

What then is a chap supposed to do, especially a chap with little interest in IPA? Sorry hopheads, your addiction is one dimensional most of the time regardless of the latest hop to come out of the Pacific north west. The answer is obvious, a chap must either take the risk of ancient, and and badly oxidised, bottles from Britain, lurking around the local bottle shop that neither knows nor seems to care what they are doing, or a chap can make his own. So unless Three Notch'd Bitter 42 is available, I make my own.

A couple of weekends ago I kegged up my most recent batch of best bitter, and having stolen the requisite amount of beer to do gravity measurements and all that jazz, I gave it a taste and thought to myself, this could be good. After a couple of weeks in the keg, I took some growlers of said brew to a friend's place on Saturday in order to lubricate the grinding and pressing of apples for cider that took up a hefty chunk of the afternoon and evening. Boy had my hunch been right, it is as good a best bitter as I have brewed, and certainly one that I would have no objections to paying proper hard currency for.


As you can see from the picture, the bitters I go in for tend to be on the paler side of the spectrum. I rarely, if ever, use crystal malts, preferring one of either Victory, Biscuit, or amber malt as my single specialty grain, and my base malt is usually Golden Promise. For this particular batch I single hopped with Calypso as I had some floating around in the freezer, and at least half of my calculated IBUs tend to come from the first hop addition. In terms of yeast, I have found that Safale S-04 does everything I need, if I remember rightly S-04 is one of the Whitbread yeast strains. I don't bother with water modifications, working on the theory that my well water tastes good, so it's fine for my beer. I brew to make something to intoxicate myself with from time to time, not to do science experiments - and given my ability to blow shit up at school in chemistry class, that's probably just as well.


While it is true that I sometimes lament the indifference of many an American craft brewery to the bitter family of beer, I love the fact that it has given me an excuse to work on my own brewing skills by repeatedly making my own versions. Sure I rarely make the exact same recipe twice, but there are common themes that run through each iteration, such as sticking to as simple a recipe as possible. Also the key to a solid bitter is in the name of the beer itself, don't be afraid of using hops predominantly for bittering rather than flavour and aroma. Hop bitterness is the very soul of a good bitter recipe, it must be firm, bracing even, but never acerbic. This is a beer designed to be drunk in imperial pints over an extended period of time, so balance is vital, once I am finished with a pint, another one should be welcome. Oh and 'balance' is not synonymous with 'bland'.

Bitter is a misunderstood and underappreciated style of beer in the craft world it would seem, thankfully they are pretty easy to make, and done well endlessly satisfying to drink, and that's the whole damned point surely?.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pale and Bitter Ale

If rarity were truly an indicator of the world's best beers, then in the American context, the top 100 would have a decent smattering of beers from the bitter family. Getting a well made, or even a made most of the time, ordinary, best, or extra special is almost as difficult as convincing some people that there is more to the United Kingdom than just the bit south of the Tweed.

The bitter beer family constitutes some of my favourite beers to drink, and to brew, indeed I think this year I have brewed more bitter than anything else combined. Bitter, if you have been keeping up with your beer history classes from Ron and Martyn, is also known as Pale Ale. The former being the name given to this type of beer by the 19th century consumer, the latter by the brewer.

On Monday I will be brewing even more Pale Ale. It is my birthday on Monday, and one of the benefits of the place I work is that employees can take their birthday off. However, rather being ensconced in my garage, brewing up one of my standard 2 and a half gallon brews, I will be at recently opened Three Notch'd Brewing Company. By the end of the day, or at least around mid afternoon given our starting time of 6am, we will have brewed 10 barrels of an English Pale Ale, more specifically a Best Bitter.


The beer is called Session 42, and will be the first locally brewed best bitter that I know of since moving to the US in 2009. I will share more technical details next week, when I write a bit more about the brewday itself. The beer in the picture above is of the trial batch, which other than a couple of minor fermentation issues turned out pretty close to what I was looking for...

Update: as you can read in the comments, my memory failed me, probably as I don't recall drinking it, but Blue Mountain Brewery made a Best Bitter last summer, called Straight Outta Chiswick.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I Gather You Hunt, Sir?

In the past, whenever Mrs Velkyal and I headed down to South Carolina I had but one thing on my zythophilic mind, a trip to the Flying Saucer. While we were in Columbia over the Christmas period (am I allowed to say Christmas? Isn't it "the holidays"?) I decided that I really needed to finally get my arse round to Hunter Gatherer, Columbia's only brewpub. I wish I knew why we had never visited, it may have had something to do with Flying Saucer's high flying mini-skirted waitresses, but I digress.

I was getting snippy last Monday, I don't know Columbia well enough yet to feel confident driving without the good lady wife, or her father, but I needed to get out of the house and have some me time (in Myers-Briggs speak, I am an INTJ and need me time to re-charge batteries). A quick look on Mapquest showed me that from the in-laws' place to Hunter Gatherer was about 7 miles. So, I announced to the gathered family members that the next day I would walk into town for a beer or two, Mrs V having promised to help paint her grandmother's kitchen.

So yes, I walked 7 miles to go to the pub. I had my Walkman on (it is a Sony Walkman MP3!), listening to Wolfstone, and set off, notebook, camera and tastebuds in tow. The walk took me about an hour and 45 minutes, so I must assume that your average Mapquest user is in fact a three toed sloth. I arrived just after opening time, and just in time for lunch, and having read they do 4oz pours for $1 ready for the flight that followed.


First up was their American Wheat Ale, a style which so far has left me cold, and not particularly refreshed. Anyway, this Wheat Ale poured a slightly hazy golden, topped with just a wee bit of white head - I had seen the head straight from the tap and it looked decent, but seemingly American drinkers like their beer head to look like scum on top of a London cup of tea. Back to the beer though, the nose was distinctly malty, bready and biscuity. There was however an aroma I couldn't quite place, until as I inhaled deeply with my eyes closed I realised it was wet cat. Finally I understood why American hops were considered "catty" way back when. As the beer warmed, the expected grapefruit citrusy thing came through more. Tastewise, this was rather like a nice lemon meringue pie, with a digestive biscuit base. Overall, a decent refreshing beer, though I fear American Wheat Ales won't be jumping to the top of my must have beer list any time soon.


Next up was their Pale Ale, which is a deep orange amber colour with a touch of white foam. Being a classic American Pale Ale, can you guess what the nose was? Yes, citrusy, grapefruity hoppiness - which is exactly what I want and expect from an American Pale. Drinking the beer was an exercise of sweet caramel malts providing a nice counterbalance to the zingy, orangey bite of the hops. Clean and very easy to drink. When I took Mrs Velkyal to the pub the next day, she had this and remarked that it would rival her beloved Primator English Pale Ale for preferred beer - high praise indeed!


Third in the line-up was the ESB, which as you can see from the picture pours a deep copper, again with a white head. The nose was sweet candy and spiciness, which put me in mind of Goldings hops - I did ask but the brewer wasn't around and the barman didn't want to say for sure. Tastewise, this was quite tangy in an almost sourdough bread way, the spicy hop bite playing nicely with the maltiness of the beer. Overall, I thought this to be a good solid bitter, crisp with a long dry finish.


Their special on the days I visited was a winter warmer called Ye Olde Bastarde, a deep russet beer topped with a dark ivory head. The nose was full of cocoa and sweet grass. The sweetness of caramel malts was very much to the fore in the flavour department, with cocoa and toffee dominant, but the hops play through with a mild spicy bite that stops the sweetness from being overpowering. Very smooth drinking, and drink plenty more of it I did, but had there been a live fire in the pub I would have abandoned my station at the bar, and any plans on being coherent when I returned to the in-laws'.


Being lunchtime, I decided to have a stab at the food. When I lived in the Czech Republic, I had a routine, when I went some place new, I always tried their fried cheese and chips - I am convinced that quality fried cheese is always a good sign in a kitchen, either that or I just like peasant food. Anyway, my equivalent here in the States is to try the burger and chips, which, in this case, came topped with horseradish cheddar, and hash browns rather than chips. A good solid burger at a decent price, no complaints at all. The following day when we returned, I had their special of beer braised chicken thighs, served with grits and a mushroom onion gravy, and it was excellent.


Having had a couple more pints of Ye Olde Bastarde, and spent my entire time there looking wistfully at the bottle of Talisker right in my line of sight, I sent Mrs V a text message simply saying "Flying Saucer has serious competition". Good beer, a nice neighbourhood pub atmosphere, good food and reasonable prices, only $3.75 a pint for the standard range of Wheat, Pale Ale and ESB, makes Hunter Gatherer a must visit place whenever we are in South Carolina.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Oh for crying out loud!!

Love 'em or hate 'em, beer styles are part and parcel of life for the beer aficionado. Styles should be a product of a communal consensus as to what makes, for example, a stout a stout rather than a porter, and while I sympathise with those who see limited value in styles, they do give a frame of reference, a sitz im leben if you want to get hermeneutic, for what are the accepted parameters for a beer.

The one thing though that makes me rant and rave about beer styles is when beers are misplaced within the beer category world. Take for example the current edition of All About Beer, which I pick up from time to time at my local Barnes and Noble. This edition has a "Buyer's Guide for Beer Lovers" about the many varied strains of lager out there on the market place, such styles as "pale lager", "pilsner" (I promise not to get into provenance and authenticity here), as well as a few bock variants.

Gripe number 1 is putting Primátor Premium Lager in the pale lager category, while Staropramen Lager apparently belongs in the pilsner category. Now, those of us who know something of the Czech brewing scene, and if I am mistaken I am sure emails will be arriving fairly quickly, will know that when a brewery from outside Plzen labels their beer "premium", then you can be fairly sure that it is their 12o version of the original, especially when said brewery also has a lower gravity lager available.

Gripe 2, when giving a history lesson, please, please, please get your history right. When describing the Baltic Porter category, apparently "traditional lager-making breweries along the export route [from the UK to Russia] developed their own version of the style". Firstly, the style was developed in the UK and was picked up as a top fermented beer in the 18th century by brewers on the route. It wasn't until many breweries switched over to bottom fermenting in the second half of the 19th century that Baltic Porter became a predominantly "lager" style beer, though some places still make it as a top fermented ale, mostly in Sweden.

Gripe 3 - this is a quote from a review for Colorado K?lsch, which describes k?lsch as being a "response to the popular pilsners being produced in the Czech Republic in the 1840s". Historically speaking, bollocks, bollocks and more bollocks. There was only 1 pilsner being brewed in Bohemia in the 1840s, strangely it was a beer called Pilsner, from the town of Pilsen, to use the name of the city at the time. There were no doubt other lagers aplenty, but only one pilsner. Secondly, there was no Czech Republic in the 1840s, there was Bohemia, a multi-ethnic part of the Austrian Empire (the Austro-Hungarian bit turned up in 1867), the Czech Republic however didn't exist until 1993 to be strict about these things.

My last gripe, or rather the last gripe that I will share with you good people, came from the regional winners of the USBTC winner for the "Bitter/ESB" category in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast region. The beer in question is one I have written about before, Starr Hill's Pale Ale. Now, Starr Hill Pale Ale is a perfectly decent pale ale, it has plenty of the citrus hoppiness you would expect from a pale ale made in the US - anybody else seeing my issue here? If I were to put Fuller's style defining ESB next to Pale Ale, they simply would not be considered expressions of the same style. Whoever decided to label this beer a Bitter/ESB (and don't get me started on the differences between Bitter, Best Bitter and ESB), really needs a trip to the UK to discover the glories of Bitter in its natural environment.

Here endeth the lesson. The lesson being "get your bloody facts right!"

Now that I have calmed myself a bit, I am planning which beer to have this evening as the doctor says I can have a beer a couple of times a week - will it be homebrew, Budvar or a nice hoppy American IPA?

The agonies of choice.

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

I have to admit that there really are not that many things that I miss as a result of this pandemic. I am sure that comes as something of a ...

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