Showing posts with label best bitter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label best bitter. Show all posts

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?.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Hail Bitter!

This Thursday sees one of my favourite events of my beer drinking year, the release of the best bitter I designed for Three Notch'd Brewing. This tapping is a little different than usual because the beer has a new name. No longer will the name Session 42 grace the tap lists of Virginian bars and restaurants as it is being replaced by the name 'Bitter 42'.

The name change is being forced on the brewery partly by the famed litigious nature of the craft brewing scene, and I now have another brewery whose beer I will never drink as a result. However, Three Notch'd decided to take the opportunity presented by the new name for a little bit of beer education for the masses.


It is perhaps a sign of very effective advertising that the very word 'bitter' seems to cause consternation among marketing folks, raising the spectre of Keystone Light, the mass produced, low grade swill whose slogan on the 1990s was 'Never Bitter Beer'. Running alongside the slogan were pictures of old men gurning because their beer was bitter.

Well, and forgive my French here, fuck that.

Bitterness is an essential part of beer, balancing out the sweetness of the malt. The family of beers called 'bitter', whether ordinary, best, or extra special, are the backbone of an entire nation's drinking culture. That's what the new name for Session 42 is about, reclaiming the idea that bitterness is a good thing in beer, and paying homage to the family of beers that are the inspiration for the beer itself.


Bitter 42 is proudly a best bitter, one that would stand up favourably to the finest bitters in England. I am very much looking forward to that first pint on Thursday at the Three Notch'd tasting room and being able to utter the words of benediction....'pinta bitter please'.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Coming Full Circle?

As I took my dog for a walk this morning I was thinking about beer. Not about the beer I drank yesterday to mark my 40th birthday, the highlight being a couple of litres of Rothaus Pils at Kardinal Hall in Charlottesville, but rather how my tastes in beer seem to be ever increasingly skewed toward classic styles well made.


As I said, the highlight of my drinking yesterday was as simple a German style pilsner as is humanly possible. Other recent highlights have been a Helles lager from South Street, positively gallons of Sierra Nevada's collaborative Oktoberfest, and in the summer plenty of Three Notch'd Session 42 best bitter.


The thing that ties all these beers together is simplicity. There are no extraneous ingredients, no aging in barrels that once upon a time held a spirit of one kind or another, nothing experimental at all. I would say that my drinking life has never been richer.

Sure, it helps that each of the beers is very well made, but simple beers made poorly are often the worst beers a brewery puts out because the brewer can't hide behind the innovative band-aids that disguise their shortfall in brewing technique. I have said it many times, but show me a brewer that can put out a consistently high quality, and flavourful, classic beer style, such as pilsner, and you are showing me one worth his or her salt.

Thinking over my 22 years of legal beer drinking, from that first pint of Guinness to last night's Rothaus, put me in mind of Bunyan's pilgrim who sets out on a journey of discovery that takes him through many adventures but eventually comes full circle home. I feel as though I am coming full circle, where all I really want when I am having a beer is something that tastes great, is a well made iteration of a recognisable style, and is an aid to the occasion not the whole point of it.

I almost had a sense this morning that craft beer is starting to grow up and appreciate simplicity in all its glory, though in all likelihood reality is less prosaic and more a case of my having found my sweet spot in beer, and it is really isn't all that far from where I left from when I started this blog.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Let The Session Commence!

A couple of weeks ago I spent a Friday morning at Three Notch'd doing the ceremonial dumping of hops, the slightly more labour intensive digging out of a mash tun, and the ever pleasant ritual of watching the runnings of a beautiful copper wort flowing from the mash tun to the kettle. Or to put it more simply, brewing Session 42.


This Thursday brings the best part of brewing a beer to town, drinking the stuff!


Yep, on Thursday at the Three Notch'd Brewing tasting room, the third iteration of Session 42 Best Bitter will be tapped, from about 5.30pm if memory serves.

I am sure I have said this before, but it's always worth repeating, Session 42 is as close to a British style best bitter as is possible to get over in the States, at least, in the Virginia part of these United States. If you have ever had Timothy Taylor Landlord or Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted then you know what to expect in terms of colour, none of your 'boring brown bitter' here (the less said about people who think bitter is brown and boring the better really). That colour comes from a combination of 2 row pale malt and Victory malt, which lends the beer a distinctively biscuity flavour.

In keeping with the theme of the beer using all US ingredients, the hops are US Goldings, which are very similar to East Kent Goldings, in that they are spicy, orangey, delicious, all 42 IBUs of them. A good whack of bitterness, plenty of flavour and aroma.....mmmm......Goldings.

So guess where I'll be on Thursday after work, and with Friday off to boot, so I can have a fair few pints. Oh, and at some point, not this Thursday I believe, there will be cask Session 42....oh yes, cask best bitter!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Session Season Cometh

It's a four day week for me this week, but I will be working all five days of the week. Although I won't be spending Friday doing my usual business analyst tasks such as requirements gathering, writing user stories, or working with software developers to create something useful for our clients's users, I will be working. Working as in dumping sacks of grain into a mill, digging out the mash tun, and ceremoniously chucking hops into boiling wort, yes I am off to a brewery for a brewday and all the satisfaction that gives me.


The brewery in question is my favourite local brewery Three Notch'd, and the beer is the third rendition of Session 42, the best bitter I designed a couple of years back using Timothy Taylor Landlord as something of a model.

I know that I am utterly biased but Session 42 being available is one of the highlights of my drinking year, not just because it is great to see 'my' beer available in lots of places in the area, but also because best bitter is probably my favourite style of beer to drink. Whether I am sat on the patio just chilling with Mrs V, or with a group of colleagues kicking back after work, or even by myself at the bar of one of my favourite watering holes, I find that best bitters suit my mood more often than not.

For those in Virginia, and hopefully it will again make it down to Richmond,  maybe even up to Northern VA, Session 42 is a burnt orange delight that packs a punch belying its 4.2% abv and is essentially a love song to Goldings hops, with all their spicy, Seville orange goodness. Yes I am biased, but if you see it on tap in a few weeks time, give it try.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Tis The Session

Today is the beginning of 'the Holidays', five and a bit weeks of parties, soirees, over-eating, and, best of all, plenty of free flowing booze.

Seasonal beers, as the nights shorten and the mercury plummets tend toward the boozy. Barleywine, Imperial Stout, and many a Belgian over 8% abv. While they are all wonderful styles to drink ensconced in the warmth and comfort of your home, I sometimes wonder if they are the best thing to drink at the company Chrimble bash, the homebrew club festivities, or just your annual meet up with friends to do a pub crawl (note to self: organise a crawl with Mark).

You likely know that I am a fan, and even perhaps an advocate, for session beers. Those wonderful pints, proper pints naturally, of complex, flavourful brew that weigh in under 4.5% abv (no 6% is not sessionable). Sadly many relegate session beers to the warmer months, disparaging them with terms like 'lawnmower beer', but I am convinced that with so many parties to go to, this is the time of year when session beers should come into their own.

With several hours of socialising to get through, why not a nice dry stout, a best bitter, or even a well made mild (other than the fact that the latter two are rarer than hen's teeth)?


Forgive the shameless plug, but I get the feeling that I will be drinking lots of Session 42 in the coming months. I tried it the other day from the fermenter, where it is conditioning beautifully, and to be honest, and in no way objective, it is lovely. As I said to Dave at Three Notch'd, if I were served that in a pub back home I would not be disappointed. As I sniffed, swished, and sampled, I started to realise that a best bitter is actually a great winter beer.

Think about what a best bitter is. A beer where hops are the very heart of it, though not the grapefruit, pine resin thing of Cascade and it's C-brothers, but the orange and spice of something like Goldings. I don't know about you, but growing up, Advent and Christmas were redolent with the aroma of spice studded oranges. In terms of malts, the highest quality pale malt lays down a base for amber and/or caramel malts to shine through, adding complexity so the hops don't have it all their own way. So take that spicy orange thing from the hops and smear it on top of the warm toast of great amber malt, and at between 4-4.5% abv you have a beer you can drink all night, or even indulge in a quick pint with lunch - and all food tastes better with a beer than an insipid ice tea or post-mix fizzy drink.

Session 42 ticks every box for me when it comes to best bitters. 4%, a beautiful orange colour, 38 IBUs of pure Goldings, and a drinkability that is, quite simply, moreish. As with any British style beer being served in an American pub, give it time to warm up...

For people reading this in the Charlottesville area, Session 42 is being released on December 6th at the Three Notch'd tasting room, with a sneak peek at Brixx when they have a Three Notch's Tap Takeover on the 3rd. If you run a pub in the area, it will be available in distribution from the 9th....just in time for Christmas drinking!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Barrels of Best

Yesterday was my birthday, and I spent the day at Three Notch'd Brewing here in Charlottesville, making the biggest batch of beer I have ever been involved in. I arrived at the brewery at 7am expecting to be brewing 10 barrels of Session 42, an English style pale ale, hopped exclusively with US Goldings, only to be told that we would be brewing 20 barrels instead.


As I mentioned in my last post, Session 42 is a best bitter, but with a slight difference, we used only US ingredients. No Maris Otter, no Kent Goldings, the ingredients were as follows:
  • 89% Rahr 2 Row Malt
  • 11% Briess Victory Malt
  • 38 IBUs of US Goldings
We are using the brewery's standard yeast, the Edinburgh ale strain which is derived from McEwan's back in Scotland.


The grain bill of just 2 Row and Victory malt will give the beer a sweet, bready, almost toasty base. Usually I would add some crystal malt, but I wanted to avoid the caramel sweetness that seems to be a defining element of the English Pale Ale in some people's minds.


If everything goes well the beer will finish at about 4.2% abv, just a touch above the finest best bitter on the planet, Timothy Taylor's wonderful bottled Landlord.


All the hops in the beer are US Goldings, which is basically Kent Goldings without the Kent. Packed with a Seville orange citrus character, as well as the spicy earthiness you expect from this classic hop. With the toastiness of the Victory malt, think marmelade on warm toast and you're pretty much there...


To say I am looking forward to drinking the beer when it comes out in early December would be an understatement...

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.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Moving Up

If everything goes according to plan in the next few weeks, Mrs Velkyal and I will soon be on the move again, though not quite as drastically as upping sticks from Prague to come to Charlottesville. We are in the process of buying our first house, a brand new 3 bedroom place about 15 miles outside town. Quite what we will do with 3 bedrooms and a house that is 3 times bigger than our current flat is beyond me, though I am already scheming as to what to do with the acre and a half of land the house sits on. Look away now if you are delicate of stomach, I won't be growing hops - mainly because Saaz and Fuggles rhizomes are a pain in the arse to get hold of.

One thing that buying a house will most certainly necessitate is some form of house warming party, and naturally I want to have a selection of homebrew available for said august occasion. At the moment my cellar is positively groaning with homebrew, and I have more in the lagering tank to boot. Between now and moving in I am sure I will drink plenty of my beer, so I am planning on brewing a couple more beers with the bash specifically in mind.


As it is that time of year, I will be brewing up my annual spring/summer witbier, LimeLight, in the coming weeks, though for the first time it will be an all grain brew, and with a couple of tweaks. Mainly I plan to chuck in some malted oats into the mix, and perhaps a touch of acidulated malt as well. As is traditional for this beer, it will be single hopped with that most noble of noble hops, Saaz, with lime peel and coriander bunged in the boil as well.


One thing I want to do with the other brew is have a nice session beer available, being fifteen miles from town I don't want people drinking hefty brews and then driving home. At the moment I am torn between a best bitter and a 70/- or 80/- Scottish ale. For some reason I am never happy with my bitters, even the ordinary bitter than swiped gold at the Dominion Cup last year was, in my opinion, not all that great. In contrast the 2 Scottish ales I have brewed have been almost dangerously drinkable, especially the cask version I did way back when. Clearly I am leaning toward the 70/- or 80/- option for fear of inflicting an experiment on friends.

Speaking of experiments, whenever IPA gets discussed in the Starr Hill tasting room I start talking about hot maturation and the process of madeirisation as described in Martyn Cornell's magnificent post on the subject. I would love it if a brewery made an experimental batch of their regular IPA and then hot matured it, though I doubt there is a brewery, "craft" or otherwise, with the balls to actually do so. However, with the way the new house is situated, with lots of south facing walls and fences, I am thinking to brew up a classic English IPA and repeat Martyn's experiment. Heck, I might even try it with an American IPA and see what happens.

Life then is certainly full and busy, and with my new job going well, I like it this way.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Gold and Guinness

I like Bitter. I like Ordinary Bitter, I like Best Bitter, I like Extra Special/Strong Bitter, so of course I wanted to brew my own - ah the joys of being a homebrewer, being able (at least in theory) to make some of the beer styles you love and in essence grew up on. I have said it many times on here before, I was never much of a lager drinker before I went to Prague, for reasons I may have to delve into in order to ascertain whether I was in closet with regards eventually discovering craft beer.

Anyway, to my theme, brewing a best bitter. That was the plan at least, but the OG was slightly low and so it became an ordinary bitter, something low in alcohol and refreshing was the plan. Last weekend Mrs Velkyal and I went to visit her cousin and Sicilian husband in Greensboro, North Carolina, and I took a couple of bottles of my bitter with me for them to try, and they liked them, so I thought I should do a proper analysis of the beer I had called Ring of Gold - fermented with Ringwood Ale Yeast and hopped only with East Kent Goldings.


I am not sure the colour really comes through from that picture, but it was light copper, with almost straw like edges, the picture does though capture the head perfectly, white, thinnish and with plenty of stickability. As I had used EKG for my hopping, the nose was very lightly floral but Mrs Velkyal when asked for her opinion suggested, albeit through a slightly stuffy nose, a light citrusiness. Tastewise, again, being an ordinary bitter, it had touches of toffee and a certain grassiness that I put down to the hops, so not wildly sweet nor a hopbomination. Overall, a perfectly drinkable bitter that wouldn't disappoint if served on a warm summer's day as it was refreshingly clean, though a bit on the thin side.


One beer which did however catch my attention this week was Guinness Extra Stout, a six pack of which I picked up for a 3 way taste test to come soon, but I had a couple of bottles last night anyway. Extra Stout is the one without the nitrogen widget, and what a difference it makes, a light brown head, plenty of roasted goodness on the nose and the taste is just as a stout should be. Thank goodness this still exists, even though brewed in Canada.


This weekend will see lots of bottling and brewing work. Into bottles will go the Samoset Orange Barleywine, to condition for Thanksgiving, and the American Pale Ale which I brewed as part of the International Homebrew Project. Being brewed this weekend is another batch of Gael 80/- and then a dunkelweizen, for which I am yet to settle on a name. So a good weekend is in prospect, and a good weekend I wish you all! 

Slainte!!

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Challenge to Bloggers/Readers

My somewhat over active brain has been at it again, damned thing really should know when to quieten down and just let me get some sleep. Today's post really comes out of a conversation I had with a colleague from the Starr Hill Brewery yesterday in the tasting room. Sundays are usually seriously quiet and so we have more time to talk, one topic that came up was the kind of range of beers a brewery has, in particular the core brands, using Starr Hill as an example, the core range is as follows:
  • Jomo Lager - a Southern German style lager
  • Amber Ale - an Irish Red Ale
  • Pale Ale - erm, guess what, it's an American Pale Ale
  • Northern Lights - an American India Pale
  • The Love - a hefeweizen
  • Dark Starr - a dry Irish stout
Obviously some breweries have far larger ranges, but I think in general Starr Hill covers the bases of what most people drink in the US. Part of the conversation was what range of beers would we have if we had our own brewery? A challenging thought, especially given all the styles of beer that are out there, but it got me thinking, what kind of beers would I make if I owned a brewery or brewpub - which is in some ways like asking which of the beers I already brew at home would I carry over into a business?

The first thing that I would say is that I would want to push cask ale as much as possible. Having tried the same beer on keg and on cask at a brewpub near Washington DC recently, all I can is that Tandleman knows a thing or two because the cask was infinitely superior. Running concurrent to a commitment to cask ale would be insisting on bottle conditioning. I know of only one brewery that bottle conditions over here (admittedly there are huge gaps in my knowledge of the American scene at the moment), but I think it is no coincidence that Bell's Brewery make my favourite beers at the moment.

As for the range of beers, I would have a core consisting of:
  • Experimental Dark Matter - dark mild, very dark, complex and yet perfectly sessionable
  • Blondynka - a proper pilsner, yes, triple decoction, Saaz hops, only Pilsner malt, at least 45 days lagering
  • Copper Head - a best bitter, like many things British, a much maligned style because it isn't done properly
  • Old Baldy - an American IPA, big malty brew with hops galore, none of your thin hopbominations here
  • Skippy Porter - a smoked chocolate porter, hopped only with Fuggles and it tells
  • 94 - a Dortmund Alt, not a common style over here, but one that I love so it would have to be there
My challenge then to my readers and other bloggers is what kind of beers would you make if you ran or owned a brewery/brewpub? I know a few of my readers already do brew on a commercial scale, what do you think of my line-up?

Happy thinking!!

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...

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