Showing posts with label american beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label american beer. Show all posts

Friday, April 7, 2017

In Praise of Budweiser

It had been a busy morning. Up early to get the big shop done before the hoardes descended upon the local supermarket we had chosen to go to, run all the errands that needed doing so that the rest of the day could be as chilled out as possible. With a thorough disinclination to cook lunch, we popped into one of our favourite bars here in Charlottesville for a bite to eat, hoping there would be space at the bar. Thankfully Beer Run had the requisite space at its bar and we took up residence and perused the beer menu....

I was in a distinctly lagerish mood, and we had considered heading to Beer Run's sister place, Kardinal Hall as they have the magnificent Rothaus Pils always on tap. Yes you read that correctly, the finest pilsner in all of Germany is always on tap in Charlottesville, Virginia. Sadly they would not open for another couple of hours, so that wasn't an option.

I don't know about other folks, but there are times when only a lager will suit my mood, when all I want is the clean snap of a technically proficient bottom fermented beer, something cracker dry that just cuts through the gunk of life and leaves me refreshed. This day at Beer Run, only one beer on the this met these requirements, but I was hesitant as I had never ordered it on draft before, actually thinking about it, I can't think of that many places where I have even seen it on draft. That beer was Budweiser, the American one, not one of the Czech ones, and Beer Run knowing me as they do, brought me a 20oz pint of it.

I am assuming that this particular pint was brewed just down the road at Anheuser-Busch's Williamburg brewery and so there is no irony whatsoever in the 'drink local' beer mat, especially if people are happy to called Stone in Richmond, Green Flash in Virginia Beach, and soon to be Deschutes in Roanoke, 'local'. As I said, this was the first time I can ever remember ordering a full pint of Budweiser in a bar, though I recently reviewed the bottled version here, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Attempting to put to one side all those inherent craft prejudices and focus on the beer itself in the glass, I plunged on in.

It hit the spot. Cold, though not ice cold, clean, crisp, cracker dry, and with a short, sharp finish. It was perfect, absolutely perfect for the mood I was in at the moment. I didn't want to be challenged, I didn't want to prove my craft credentials and feel worthy of drinking a beer, I didn't want to wrap my head round a muddle of flavours and aromas that may or may not have been intentional. I wanted a lager that was expertly brewed, technically solid, and through which quality brewing science shone, and this was that beer in that moment. I can't comment on how the beer changed as it lingered in the glass, because it didn't linger, 4 mouthfuls saw to the pint quite handily. One thing I noticed about the draft version over the canned version was that the draft felt much less fizzy, and the beer was greatly improved by that fact.

So there we go, I doubt I will ever become a regular Bud drinker when I am out in the watering holes of the United States, but neither will I shy away from ordering it on tap if I faced with a bank of IPAs of indeterminate provenance. Funny what happens when we overcome our prejudices and snobbery.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Original Budweiser?

Look at this label.

Clearly the label dates from the period of Budweiser's history when it was brewed by Anheuser-Busch for Carl Conrad's company, C. Conrad & Co. As such it belongs to the period between 1876 and 1882, when Conrad went bankrupt and the brand become the property of Anheuser-Busch in their own right.

I find this label fascinating for one simple reason, the description of the beer, which reads, for those unversed in German:
"Budweiser lager beer, brewed from the finest Saaz hops and Bohemian malt for C.Conrad & Co..."
Why is that interesting? The use of Saaz hops and Bohemian malt for a start, and also the absence of rice, beechwood aging, or anything else that modern Budweiser is well known for.

Was Budweiser originally an all malt lager, made with Czech hops? If that were so, it certainly sounds much closer to the Czech lagers I came to love in my decade in Prague. That in itself raises further questions, when did rice come into the picture, and when did they switch to German hops instead of Saaz?

If anyone has definitive answers I'd love to know.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Hand Me Downs

Since the whole 'craft vs crafty' shenanigans in December I have been mulling over some of the criteria that the Brewer's Association has for a beer factory to earn the title 'craft'. I am still of the opinion that 'craft' is a meaningless term and perhaps one that is even quite insulting to the breweries which, through the capricious whimsy of the BA, are designated non-craft in some specious good vs evil dichotomy. Admittedly cynical me will be very surprised if the BA henceforth refused to take money from non-craft breweries to be at events like the Great American Beer Festival.

I really don't have much of a problem with most of the definition of a 'craft' brewery. Making less than 6 million barrels? Sure. Independent? Whatever, I think corporate structure is irrelevant, you can't taste an LLC, PLC or S-Corp any more than you can 'passion'. The word though that I find most disturbing in the definition is 'traditional', defined as having a flagship beer from which the fermentables are 100% derived from malt, or at least 50% of sales need to come from all-malt beers.

When I was a student, back in the dim and distant dying days of the late 20th Century, I did a couple of terms studying New Testament Greek. One of my favourite Greek words is 'paradosis', which is usually translated into English as 'tradition' but for which a fuller and more meaningful translation would be 'those things which are handed down from generation to generation'. Quite why the Brewer's Association decided, when establishing the definition of 'craft' that there was only one true 'tradition' of beer in the United States is beyond me.

If you look back to the early days of brewing in the New World, the English colonists would use whatever source of fermentables they could lay their hands on in order to make a brew. As early as 1584 the Virginia colonists would supplement their malt with corn due to a shortage. In the 1620s, again in Virginia, the colonists learnt how to make beer from maize, and some preferred it to English ale. When Jefferson was looking to make beer at his plantation, just up the road from where I sit typing this, he used maize and wheat, though there are also records of him buying malt from his neighbour William Merriweather.

Jump further forward in time and, during the industralisation of the US in the middle decades of the 19th century, we find German immigrants coming over and longing for German style lager beer. To meet this demand, German immigrant brewers attempted to make beers similar to those found back home, but the local barley was simply not good enough to make a pale sparkling beer like you would drink in the bars of Munich, Dortmund and Cologne. 6 row barley is higher in protein and so these innovators looked to use an adjunct to make the beer taste more like it did in Europe. As a result corn or rice was used to enhance the flavour of the beer so it would taste as expected rather than being unacceptable to their knowledgeable German consumers. From that innovation was born a new, uniquely American beer style (you could call it the first), the Pale American Lager. The remaining family brewers from that period, the likes of August Schell and Yeungling still use corn in their beers because that is what has been handed down from generation to generation, it is their paradosis, their tradition and to deride it as some kind of phoney bad practice is arrogant in the extreme.

The Pale American Lager is probably more of an American tradition than any of the 'craft' beers being brewed from California to New England, and Oregon to Florida. I guess what we really need is to dispense with the whole 'them vs us' worldview, even though it keeps plenty of people in business I am sure, acknowledge that beer can have many paradoses none better than the others, and that there is room for everyone at the bar.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Changing Tastes

I vaguely recall the first time I drank a Pilsner Urquell. It was 1999 and I had just moved to the Czech Republic for a year, which became 10 but that's a different story. It wasn't my first Czech beer, I had drunk Budvar on the recommendation of my eldest brother and Gambrinus in the All Bar One in Birmingham, but Pilsner Urquell was different, a lot more bite and for a few years I wasn't that big of a fan, preferring Kozel.

Before moving to Central Europe my tipples of choice had been Caffrey's, Guinness or John Smith's Extra Smooth, in that order. A few years later and the only one of the three that I would drink with any regularity was Guinness, then I found a shop in Prague that sold London Pride, Ruddle's County and Old Speckled Hen. While I certainly never abandoned the delights of Czech lager, it was nice to be able to have a taste of home from time to time.

While we were in Florida on holiday a couple of weeks ago we pottered along for dinner at a British ethnopub just down from the resort called The Black Sheep. I wrote about it last year, and the liver and onions is still very nice, but there was something that I didn't expect. I ordered a pint of London Pride and polished it off with a distinct sense of being underwhelmed, so I ordered a pint of Bombardier and thought to myself, what a sweet and vaguely dull disappointment, and so I drank a couple of pints more of Pride, there not really being anything else that grabbed my attention.

That night I lay on the sofa, drinking a bottle of Highland Brewing Company's St Terese's Pale Ale and wondering how my tastes in beer have changed in the last 13 years. St Terese's Pale Ale is certainly no hop bomb, having a "mere" 24 IBU, but those hops are Cascade and Chinook and Highland are one of the few breweries I know that really use America C-hops well in my unhumble opinion. Were St Terese's a more common sight in the beer shops in this area it would likely be a more frequent visitor to the Velkyal beer cellar.

I am not saying here that I now prefer Cascade and Co to the delights of Fuggles and Goldings, and Saaz is still safe on its perch as my favourite hop, but in the hands of Highland, and admittedly Sierra Nevada, I am starting not to think "oh god, not Cascade again".

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What Tosh!

The other day my copy of Zymurgy arrived. Zymurgy is the journal of the American Homebrewers Association and generally speaking a pretty good read, with interesting articles, recipes and other homebrew related odds and ends that ferment ideas in my already fevered mind.

The current issue's headline article is the annual review of the "Best Beers in America", or as the cynic in me refers to it, a list of strong hoppy pale ales, with the occasional Belgian and lager chucked in for some semblance of measure. Naturally such lists are taken with a pinch of salt, or in some cases, the entirety of Chott el Djerid in Tunisia. The issue includes a couple of clone recipes for beers in the list, which is always interesting. So far, so good.

However, there was a comment in the article which really pissed me off, according to a Zymurgy reader:

"One thing is constant: America has the best beer and brewers".

I find that kind of attitude really annoying, as in seriously pissing me off annoying. Sure it is just lame brained bravado, but it is so wide of the mark that it just isn't funny. I guess it is true if you define "best" as being the most heavy handed on the hops, and "beer" as pale warm fermented malt beverage, but if the definition of "beer" were pale, hoppy, cold fermented lager then the US would be a back water when compared to the Czechs.

There is no nation on earth that has the "best beer and brewers", simply because it is such a nebulous concept as to be utterly devoid of meaning. Yes American beer is good, but so is British, Irish, Czech, German, Norwegian and so on and so forth.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Great British Beer Festival - a Reminder

This week is the Great British Beer Festival, held at Earl's Court in London rather than in the Earl's Court of London Below. Anyway, for those of you lucky people able to get along to the festival and enjoy the best of British brewing (and no, "they" are not, never have been and never will be the best of British brewing), do remember to pop round to the Bières Sans Frontières area.

In particular, head for the American Cask Ale Bar, which is designated according to the website as "W2 - Blackwell", and order a lager. Not just any lager mind, order the Devils Backbone Barclays London Dark Lager that I have posted about several times. I would ask that you only have thirds of a pint rather than anything bigger, at least until Ron has been able to get there to try some.

If crafted lagers are not your thing, preferring instead to have your tongue savaged and abused by hops, then while you are trying Virginia beers, you might want to have a bash at the Starr Hill Double Platinum, a double IPA from the brewery where I do occasional stints behind the bar of the tasting room. A third choice if you are on a Virginia themed drinking session, is St George's Nut Brown Ale - I have never had it so can't vouch for it in quality terms, but I quite like their IPA - they have the temerity to use British hops, Fuggles exclusively no less!

If you do get to try the Barclays London Dark Lager and are of the social media type, please could you tweet about it when you try it? Perhaps I could suggest the following hashtag "#BarclaysDarkLager", and please cc Devils Backbone's Twitter accout, @dbbrewingco.

Cheers and have a great time if you are going!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Anything But Brown and Boring

Growing up in the far north west of Scotland, there were two main beer choices when you finally hit your 18th birthday for your first legal beer. The cool kids at school almost uniformly went for mass produced lagers, your Carlings, Fosters and Tennants of this world. Those outside the secondary school jet set drank Guinness, or Murphy's depending on which pub you went to. When you ventured to the mainland, quarterly trips to Inverness being the highlight of life pretty much (even Skye was a thrill!), pubs with bigger selections beckoned, Caffrey's or John Smith's in a pub rather than from a widgeted can was the height of excitement.

Yet, sat on the bar, seemingly forlorn was Newcastle Brown Ale, the old man beer. As far as I knew nobody drank it other than the old men. Brown ale had an image problem, it was boring. Fast forward nearly 20 years and I still hear the same way of thinking, though usually about bitter as well as brown ale, the so-called "boring brown beers" that Britain seems to excel at producing. A minor aside, it really pisses me off when Brits bash their native products, being lured by the glamour of sexy foreign imports with odd names and sufficiently pretentious ingredients to get mentioned in the Guardian.

Last weekend Mrs Velkyal and I went out with some of my Starr Hill tasting room colleagues for some post work drinkies. I say post work, it was for them post work, it was for me post brewing at Devils Backbone. Just round the corner from the Starr Hill brewery is a pub called Fardowners, and it is a good pub, with nice food, a good buzz and a decent selection of beer. On reading the draught beer selection (sorry I rarely drink a bottle when I go to the pub, I just don't see the point of that unless it is something rare), I was almost aghast when the only beer that appealed was a brown ale from Williamsburg Alewerks just a couple of hours up the road. Aghast purely because I had always thought of brown ale as old man beer, and well, who wants to admit they may be getting old?

Three fabulous pints later and I knew I needed to explore more in the world of brown ale, in particular American Brown Ale, I will however admit to Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale being something of a go to beer in the absence of anything else that take's my fancy. After digging around in the cellar, I found a couple of bottled versions of the Williamsburg Tavern Ale that had so delighted my palate, and as luck would have it, our local supermarket just got in Sierra Nevada's autumnal seasonal, Tumbler, a brown ale.

First up was the Williamsburg Tavern Ale, which poured a deep crimson with a thin, ivory head and then out of the bottle came the evidence of bottle conditioning, a happy surprise! Can we have more bottle conditioned beers over here please? The nose was just as I remembered from Fardowners, lots of cocoa off set with the slightest hoppy citrus thing. Drinking it was a wonderful balance of the sweet chocolate maltiness and the bitter bite of the hops, which are Cascade and Amarillo I believe, to round out the beer there is a soft toffee touch that makes it such easy drinking. Really it was wonderfully smooth and tasty, a great beer for sitting on the balcony in the autumn chill and just watching the sun go down over the turning leaves.

What can be said about Sierra Nevada that hasn't already been said? They nail classic styles so perfectly that it would be easy to drink nothing but Sierra Nevada and never get bored. Their Tumbler seasonal special, described as an "Autumn Brown Ale" rather than a "Fall Brown Ale" which I would have expected, pours a very dark copper, with a red tinge and a light tan head. Again the cocoa notes are there, but this time there is a tobacco smell - you know the kind of tobacco smell from people rolling their own, a smell I love by the way, even though I have never smoked in my life. Tastewise, again chocolate, but lighter than the Williamsburg brew, with caramel and biscuitiness thrown in for good measure, with a crisp hoppy bite in the background. Another beautifully balanced beer that you could drink all night.

Brown Ale in the hands of Sierra Nevada and Williamsburg Alewerks is anything but boring, it is well made, tasty and the kind of beer that makes you more than happy to have another, and then another. All round good stuff, if drinking this stuff makes me an old man, then the old men knew a thing or two.

Monday, August 2, 2010

On Reflection

It has been a year and 3 days since Mrs Velkyal and I pitched our tent in Charlottesville, Virginia. Of course regular readers will know that the 10 years before that, 6 in the good lady's case, were spent mostly in Prague. I say "mostly" because I had a three month stint in Minsk, Belarus, and a few months living in a town called Mlada Boleslav about 50km outside Prague, and home to Skoda Auto.

When we moved over to the States, I was very much looking forward to getting to grips with the craft beer scene here, especially the local one. I have mentioned several times that we live in an excellent part of the world for beer, and one that has a fair bit of brewing heritage - we are only about 2 miles from Thomas Jefferson's estate, Monticello, and the good man was known for the quality of his homebrew. Despite wanting to immerse myself in local beer (take that whatever way you will), one of my priorities was to find a source of Budvar so I could still enjoy my favourite large scale production Czech lager. So far, I am yet to find the pot of golden lager at the end of the rainbow, and so when we venture to South Carolina, I pick up a case of the good stuff to grace the shelves of the cellar.

As you most likely know, I work occasional weekends in the Starr Hill Brewing Company tasting room, giving out little samples of beer and trying not to baffle visitors with technicalities - I work on the theory that they are more interested in the beer, and not the process, those interested in the process can take the tour. Reactions are always interesting when taking people through the samples, and it is surprising how often someone will tell me their favourite beer and when asked why they like it, they answer "because it doesn't taste like beer". I also find it interesting the number of ingrained preconceptions which abound and need to be gently corrected, though that really isn't my style. The number of times I have had to explain the difference between cellar temperature and room temperature is as numerous as the grains of sand in the Sahara. Oh, and quite how people can think I am Australian given my pretty standard BBC accent is beyond me, answers on a postcard please.

While we are happily blessed with good breweries in the area, and in the case of Blue Mountain and , excellent brewpubs, finding a pub to call my regular has proven to be somewhat trickier. It is not a case that there are no good pubs, it is a case of not being able to walk to them, or to get the bus (ok, ok, there is a bus system and I am sure I could work it out somehow), so going to the pub means driving, finding a parking space and then one of us having to be exceedingly moderate, and I guess you know who that is most of the time! My favourite haunt  in terms of pub ambience is Court Square Tavern in the centre of the town - a quietish pub with a decent selection of beer and a nice feel to it. If we lived closer I would most likely call it my local. Beer Run also has a good selection of beer and a variety of draught beers, not to mention one of the few handpulls in town, but again I can't just totter home merrily after a night out.

As for the world of tipplers, I have met several fellow bloggers and even a few readers who have come into the tasting room at Starr Hill and it is great to see that beer lovers here are broadly similar to beer lovers I have met in other parts of the world - good humoured, generous and always happy to share knowledge. I think it was the first or second weekend we were here that we went up to Richmond to attend a beer blogger/lover get together hosted by E.S. Delia of Relentless Thirst renown. We had a great time, drank some wonderful beers, my contribution being BrewDog Paradox Smokehouse, but the beer highlight of the event was a homebrewed dark mild, which was delightful.

Memories of the dark mild, partly brewed by this rather talented artist, leads me nicely into one of my few criticisms of the brewing, and drinking, scene in this neck of the woods, the lack of session beer. I am a big fan of the Lew Bryson's Session Beer Project and wish more brewers took up the challenge of making flavourful beer with less than 4.5% abv. One brewer with whom I am acquainted commented that "there is no market" for session beer. I would however suggest that he is wrong, the market is out there, but it is drowned out by the hopheads and extreme beer fanatics who salivate like rabid dogs at the thought of the latest, greatest "innovative" beer. Such fanatics are, thankfully, in my experience a minority here, but they are so vocal, so passionate, so bloody Talibanesque that you would think their view of beer is the only legitimate one, and they are wrong.

To quote
All in all though, I am enjoying experiencing American beer, and, for the most part, meeting American beer lovers. I still have plenty to discover, more beer to drink, more people to hang out with in bars, all the while remaining true to my belief that beer is the everyman drink, not a lifestyle accessory, not a badge of being cool, not a fashion statement, and most certainly not an opportunity for oneupmanship. Beer is about people. The people who make it, the people who care for and serve it and the people who drink it. Beer people are largely good people, beer people are my people.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What is Innovation?

I have blogged before about how important context is to the appreciation of beer, thinking in particular about the context of being in a good pub with well cared for beer. Recently though I have been pondering over the wider context of drinking beers from outside their "sitz im leben" to use a term from hermenutics, basically drinking foreign beer out of the context that created it.

I have written often about the difficulty of finding a pilsner that comes close to those that I drank regularly in the Czech Republic, but also I find that drinking the pasteurised Pilsner Urquell that we get here in the States simply doesn't do the job either, though I find the Budvar holds up fairly well to the rigours of transportation.

This widened scope of thought raised the question in my head the other day of how valuable is it for non-American breweries to export to the US American style beers, and the phrase "carrying coals to Newcastle' immediately to mind. For those unversed in the delights of English phraseology, it basically means that taking coal to Newcastle would be pointless because there is so much of it there already. So it is with beer, especially IPA, in the American context. 

When I go to one of the various booze stores I like here in Charlottesville with a mind to get a nice, big hoppy IPA in the American style then I have a short list of beer that fits the bills, Sierra Nevada Torpedo being number 1 on the list (a seriously magnificent beer). The American IPAs sat on the shelf which were brewed in the UK simply don't get a look in, not because they are bad beer, they aren't, not because I don't like them, they are ok, but somehow it just doesn't feel right, almost like choosing Wimpy instead of Wendy's.

This line of thought then took to wondering about what exactly is "innovative" beer, and again that is contextually conditioned (approved by CAMRA for sure!). So big hop bomb IPAs are not exactly innovative any more in the American context, in fact they are almost the style of beer against which a craft brewery is measured, yet in the UK they are something new and sexy, and thus innovative. Innovative in the American context would be a dark mild, like that made by Blue Mountain Brewery recently, it would be a best bitter, again something that Blue Mountain has in the pipeline from what I understand. The "boring brown beers" of the UK are innovative in the American context, and much welcomed in the Velky Al context.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Unscientific Observations

As I mentioned in Friday's post, I was down in South Carolina at the weekend for the wedding of Mrs Velkyal's best friend - which despite the pouring rain was an excellent day.

One thing that I found particularly interesting, not being the kind of person to get on the dance floor, was to observe what people were drinking. The wedding and reception were both held in the Victoria Valley Vineyards, so obviously the booze list was dominated by grape rather than grain, but there were three bottled beers available:
From my thoroughly unscientific observations, I would say the Thomas Creek beer, a very nice hoppy red ale, was the beer of choice for about two-thirds of the beer drinkers, followed by Bud Light and with very few people at all drinking Corona. There also seemed to be an interesting age demographic going on, drinkers who were 40 or under drank Thomas Creek, those over 40 but under 60 largely drank Bud Light, most of the few over 60 people at the wedding were drinking wine.

So extrapolating from my distinct lack of scientific rigour (well, what do you want me to do at a wedding, produce surveys?), I would say that craft ale's future is bright because it is not seen as the drink of choice for the American equivalent of the old man with a flat cap and whippet.

To entirely rip off Orange's advertising slogan, the future's bright, the future's craft.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bordering on Brewing Bedlam

Being literate and of a curious nature (take that any way you wish) can be a curse at times.

The ability to read books such as Beer in America, which covers the history of our beloved drink in the New World from 1587 to 1840, not only broadens one's knowledge of beer and brewing, but it gives people all manner of strange ideas. Or at least, it gives this person here all manner of strange ideas.

Not content with plans to plant a hop garden and a mini-barley field so as to be better able to attempt as authentic a pilsner style lager as possible (I guess at some point I'll have to plant broad leaved trees to keep the beer cellar under the garden warm), I would love to try and make some ale similar to those brewed with all manner of ingredients during the Colonial Era, ingredients like molasses, Indian corn, spruce tips and wild hops.

One of the things that comes up time and again in the book is how brewers working in such straightened circumstances made beers which were an acceptable substitute for those which came over on the boats from England, and later the UK. I am assuming here that by "acceptable substitute" the colonial brewers weren't simply making something wet and alcoholic yet foul tasting (unlike various large, rich, modern, industrial American brewers, admit it, you were thinking it!). This naturally leads me to wonder what the beer being shipped from the mother country would have been like, and wouldn't it be awfully good fun to brew a small batch of each for comparison sake?

Just a quick aside, is it only Mrs Velkyal whose eyes seem to be on a permanent roll when I am concocting various lunatic plans, or do all the Beer Blogger Widows do the same?

So, the upshot of buying and reading this excellent book, which I will review properly at some point in the future, is that now I need to learn about Elizabethan era brewing in England, find out how Indian corn was used in colonial brewing, and see what I can come up with.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Time to Take Your Pils

A recurring theme somewhat of late has been pilsner style lager, and my ongoing efforts to find an American brewed pilsner which is both worthy of the name "pilsner" and bears more than a passing resemblance to those I drank day in and day out in the Czech Republic. Regular readers will no doubt be aware of my misgivings, but I am always happy to try a new beer, and so when a couple of commentators made some recommendations, off I went to the shop to buy more beer for the cellar.

As I have done before, I decided to do a blind tasting, with my beautiful assistant, Mrs Velkyal, in charge of pouring duties. This time though I was drinking beers new to me, although Victory Prima Pils was a beer I had had a couple of times before, though both times in a buzzed fug, so I wanted to get to grips with it when my head was fairly clear.

Pils A (a la Cyclops)

  • Sight - pale golden with a large frothy white head
  • Smell - grass, flowers, lemons
  • Taste - bready maltiness, slight butteriness, could use more hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Pils A was a nice enough beer, the kind of beer which I wouldn't turn my nose up at, but also not one I would rush across town and country to buy. A barbecue beer if you will.

Pils B

  • Sight - straw coloured, decent head which vanishes relatively quickly
  • Smell - grass and flowers
  • Taste - good hoppy bite up front, backed up by a grainy malt body, crisp
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
Another nice, refreshing lager, the hoppy bite was particularly welcome, definitely something I would drink many times again.

Pils C

  • Sight - darker gold, large, tight, white head
  • Smell - very yeasty, baked bread
  • Taste - very fruity, almost like jam, heavy butter
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5
Pils C reminded me in many ways of the lagers from Chyně, which while being well made and popular with many back in Prague, simply aren't my thing because of the hefty dose of diacetyl.

As I hadn't had a couple of the beers before, there was no way I was going to try and guess which was what, so I simply ranked them as I preferred them, which turned out to be as follows:
  1. Victory Prima Pils - pils B
  2. Oskar Blues Mama's Little Yella Pils - pils A
  3. Lagunitas Pils - pils C
Next up then must be the inevitable taste comparison between the Prima Pils and Little Yella Pils and a few Czech lagers, to be picked up when I am next in South Carolina, next week in fact - in particular Budvar. The journey continues on.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Questions for Historic Research

One of the joys of having my parents visiting at the moment is the extra excuse to get out of town at weekends and see some of Virginia's famed historic sites. The weekend just gone, we did exactly that, driving east to visit Williamsburg and Jamestown.

Jamestown is the site of the first permanent English colony in North America, while Williamsburg was once the capital of Virginia, and is most famous today for the open air museum which revives the colonial era just before the American Revolution. Both are very interesting, in their way, but both left me with a fundamental question - what did these English colonists and their descendants drink?

Imagine if you will, walking from the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, down Duke of Gloucester Street and passing some 6 or 7 taverns as you go and not seeing a single reference to the brewing of beer in the colonies. In fact, if we bring our trip to Monticello into the equation, I have only seen one reference to brewing at any of these sites - a small info board in the beer cellar at Monticello, which has spurred some research on my part because I am not sure that it is entirely correct, but we will return to that at some other point.

But the question remain, what went into colonial era beer? Obviously to answer that question, which I intend to do eventually, our jumping off point has to be brewing in Elizabethan and Stewart England, as the beer brought over with the colonists would have been whatever was available where their ships were fitted out. So now I need to set out and discover what Elizabethan beer was all about, and how the colonists adapted their culture in light of the different ingredients available to them, especially when thinking about grain.

So many questions, I just hope I can find many of the answers, after all, brewing in America goes back beyond Yuengling, even if they are "America's Oldest brewery".

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Brewing Some Thoughts

Having perhaps been a mite critical of All About Beer magazine this week, even though I do generally enjoy reading it, I feel I should balance that out by giving some praise to Brew Your Own magazine, which I also thoroughly enjoy - probably because it gives me loads of ideas about beers to brew and some technical brewing info to boot.

Take for example, this edition's featured beer style, dunkelweizen. I have enjoyed several dunkelweizens, usually at PK in Prague, but I am yet to brew one for myself, so a few recipes and a well written article describing the flavours and how it differs from a regular hefeweizen was well appreciated. Now all I need to do is work out my own recipe, which I have already decided to hop with the extra bag of Saaz I have in the fridge, and find a slot in my brewing schedule.

Also in the current BYO is an interview with James and Martin from BrewDog, which was interesting, but best of all some clone recipes for Punk IPA, Hardcore IPA and Rip Tide! So that's another couple of projects for slipping into the schedule, though I was kind of chuffed that my Machair Mor is somewhat similar already to Rip Tide, I use far more chocolate malt though and has a higher ABV. The recipe for Hardcore IPA looks like something I will try in the spring and leave to age for autumn.

The BrewDog article got me thinking about the difference between the US and UK brewing scenes, and how the experience of Prohibition is such a driving force here. Thankfully we never had Prohibition in the UK, our brewing industry has never been destroyed by fanatical religious folks on a crusade to make society better, though by "better" they usually mean, just like them. Post-Prohibition beer until the Craft Brew Revolution was simply awful from what I have heard from those older than me.

I am sure many of us have mixed feelings about CAMRA, but right now I am glad that they took a stand against the watering down of Britain's brewing traditions and laid the foundations for a growing independent brewing scene in the UK (I admit that is perhaps overstating their role). I wonder how many of the regional and independent brewers like and would have ended up as brands for InBev and the like without CAMRA re-igniting interest in cask ale?

I guess what I am trying to say is that Britain has centuries of brewing history and tradition that needs to be valued by beer lovers and praised by beer bloggers and writers, the likes of Everards and Fullers make beer that people, whether nerds or not, want to drink. It is great that BrewDog are opening people's horizons to American style IPAs, but we should never forget the great British beers that can be found up and down Great Britain, without CAMRA how many of them would still be around?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Revolutionary Ale

I don't do nationalism generally speaking, the idea that a culture is in some way superior to another is ludicrous in the extreme. The only thing I hate more than nationalism is blind, jingoistic nationalism where everything from one particular culture is heralded as being the best, the biggest and the most popular on the planet. It was possibly this jingoistic tone that prevented me from reading all of Maureen Ogle's attempted history of American brewing, which apparently only goes back to the likes of Busch, Pabst and other German immigrants building their massive lager breweries - and look where that got American brewing in the years before the craft brewing revolution.

Of course though, beer has been part and parcel of the American experience since the Mayflower landed desperately short on that most essential of victual. In Pete Brown's latest book there is a comment from a Frenchman about how when the English go off on colonial adventures they look for the best local beef, but bring their beer with them. A fuller history then of American brewing has to go back to colonial times and the taverns that provided a focal point for fledgling communities. Thus, when Jay came to visit, bearing gratefully received gifts of ale, I was intrigued by the three bottles of "Ales of the Revolution" from the Yards Brewing Company in Philadelphia, each linked to one of the leaders of the American Revolution, including one of the three Charlottesville presidents, Thomas Jefferson.

Now, before I go on to tell you what the beers were like, I would like to reiterate my gripe with American brewers. Come on lads, tell us what is in your beer! I really like to see ingredient lists on labels, just so I can assure myself that there is none of the corn syrup/rice/insert abomination nonsense going on. Anyway, the beer.

Thomas Jefferson is someone I am learning more about, especially as his plantation, Monticello, is just outside Charlottesville. I knew before Mrs Velkyal and I moved out here that he as something of a homebrew buff, what I wasn't aware of was just how well regarded his ale was. Simply put, if this 8%ABV golden ale is even close to Jefferson's tipple then dinners up at Monticello must have been fantastic. Richly fruity and with smooth caramel flavours, this is a wonderfully drinkable ale, almost like some of the best bitters I enjoy when I go home to the UK, just with an added alcoholic glow. Why on earth one of the Cville breweries isn't making this, is quite simply beyond me. As ever, this is a beer that I would happily sit by a fire place and enjoy copious amounts of, before being poured into a taxi home.

Benjamin Franklin seems to have been one of those guys that I would love to have enjoying evenings in the tavern with, anyone with that range of talent and experience must have been one hell of a social companion. The beer that bears his name is something of strange beast, being crimson in colour and having a heady mix of pine and caramel on the nose, which carries over to the drinking. With the prevalence of pine fresh toilet cleaner though these days though, it is difficult not to think of industrial cleaner instead of the tasty, delightful beer that this undoubtedly is.

Last up, whilst watching a small segment on TV about how Samuel Adams Boston Lager is made (they do a decoction mash and lager for 5 weeks!), was the Tavern Porter, which is attributed to a recipe developed by George Washington. This porter is pretty much black as the ace of spades, but with dark ruby edges, topped off with a dark ivory head. The nose is heavy with molasses and chocolate, how I love those smells. In the mouth it is like drinking rich dark chocolate melted and lightly hopped. Yes it is that good! Another superbly well made and simple beer.

And to think this country went from drinking ales of this quality, flavour and depth to drinking Budweiser. Can anyone explain how that happened?

Monday, September 21, 2009

60 Minutes to Hop, 10 to Drink

America is full of beers that have acquired cult status, even bordering on legendary. Every time I meet with a fellow beer geek I am being recommended all manner of stuff; seemingly Colorado is home to some excellent breweries; of course California has Sierra Nevada and the Stone Brewing Company; here in Virginia we (can I say we after a couple of months?) have a slew of craft brewers; and then there are the likes of Samuel Adams and Brooklyn (who I hope make beers better than their pilsner). As is my habit before I go somewhere new, I like to do a bit of research about local beers, and I make it my intention to seek them out, one such brewer that I knew of and was keen to try their wares was the near mythical Dogfish Head. My friend Mark gave me a copy of an article about them some time ago in Prague and my interest was piqued, especially by the concept of continual hopping.

Not only had Mark given me an article about them, but another of my friend's, Jay, had mentioned that since his return from Prague, they had become one of his favourite breweries, notably the 60 Minute IPA. Thus when Jay descended from Philadelphia, he came bearing gifts - 11 bottles, and a can, of varied American craft beer, whose names now grace my Little Cellar Holdings list to the left of this site.

Now, I had certain pre-conceived notions as to what this would taste like. You know the score, American made IPA, so it will be heavy of the C-hops, lots of citrus and hoppy bite but not much of a malty sweetness to back it up. Oops, again my expectations proved to be wrong.

The colour was a beautiful clear amber, as you can see from the pictures, and the head was fairly minimal though came back to life when the glass was swished around. The nose took me aback, where was the grapefruit and orange I expected? There were nice lemon notes there, just not in the abundance I expected, the dominant smell was a sweet toffee laced with cocoa, I was intrigued. Tastewise, the hops and malt were nicely balanced, a good caramelly sweet body with the spiciness of the hops playing off it to perfection. God this was good beer, really, really good beer. Where I was expecting to be sucking lemons and making that sour drink face, this was lusciously smooth, even creamy and so dangerously easy to drink.

Quite simply a lovely beer

Friday, July 24, 2009

American Labels

Ok my readers in the States, I need some information. Why oh why are there no ingredients listed on bottles of beer?

Perhaps I am just a sad git who likes to know what hops and malt and other stuff go into my beer, so why aren't the labels telling me?

I have it down to a few possibilities:
  1. brewers don't want to admit the ingredients (highly unlikely I think)
  2. the government forbids it (which makes me ask, if so why?)
  3. lack of interest on the part of the consumer (here assuming not everyone is sad like me)
Any pointers gratefully received.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...