Showing posts with label blue mountain brewery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blue mountain brewery. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2019

Picking up my dog from the in-laws in South Carolina after a trip to Scotland always feels like the beginning of the end of summer, something I am always grateful for. I am not much of a fan of summer, preferring the cool delights of spring and autumn, or in a particularly happy year, the cold and snow of winter - Narnia under Queen Jadis sounds fantastic to me. Another sign of the impending end of summer is mulling over the beers I have had in the last 12 months from Virginian breweries and coming up with my top ten...
  1. Port City Brewing - Downright Pilsner (4.8%). Normal service has been restored for my regular readers who may have been concerned that the last couple of years of this has seen the top spot taken by an imperial stout and a porter. Earlier this year my family and I has a weekend trip to Alexandria in Northern Virginia to visit my wife's cousin and her family, while in town we took the opportunity to visit Port City in the flesh for the first time. Thus it was that I had Downright Pilsner as fresh as fresh could be, and it was simply divine, singing with the lemon, hay, and oh so subtle spice of Czech Saaz hops. This beer is so painfully simple in terms of its ingredients, Pilsner malt, Saaz hops, water, yeast, but in doing things properly, including 6 weeks lagering and natural carbonation, it is process and attention to quality that make this beer stand out as the drinking highlight of the last 12 months in my world.
  2. Three Notch'd Brewing - No Veto Brown Ale (5.0%) . Last autumn I went on something of a bender. Not the traditional, all in one extended sitting, bender that is, perhaps going on a kick is a better description. I had a craving for a brown ale one rainy weekend, and thus started about 5 weeks of pretty much only drinking that style, and in the process revisting several beers that had been missing from life for a while. No Veto made a welcome return to the taps at the Three Notch'd brewpub right in the middle of that kick, and dominated it from there on in. Beautifully layered flavours of crusty bread, unsweetened cocoa, hazelnuts, and a light chocolate dance with richly earthy hops, with just a twang of a tobacco note in the mix as well. Given a quick stir to knock out the excessive carbonation so beloved of American drinkers, and some time to get it to cellar temperature and you have a simply wonderful wet afternoon tipple.
  3. South Street Brewing - Shake Your Teal Feather Pilsner (4.3%). I sometimes think I am a sucker for punishment. I see the words "pils", "pilsner", or even on occasion "pilsener" on a beer list and I know I need to try said beer. More often than not said urge leads to mild disappointment as the vast majority of craft brewed pilsners are meh at best. Thank god then for Mitch at South Street who knows his way round brewing an excellent lager. I ordered SYTF over my regular South Street tipple, took an obligatory large mouthful, none of your sipping fannying about in Fuggled world, and boom in an instant I was back in the Czech Republic. Two more mouthfuls, with a taste for Mrs V, confirmed that here was an absolutel belter of a Bohemian style pale lager. Singing with hops, the malt backing group added the necessary harmonies, and a finish that just screamed out for another mouthful. Yeah, it was that good, and all I drank for a while.
  4. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). As I said, Mitch knows how to brew a damned fine pale lager, and My Personal Helles is still probably the beer I drink the most of, I cannot say this enough, I freaking love this beer. It has got ot the point that often the folks at South Street are confused if I don't order it, and depending who is behind the bar on a given day, they don't even have to ask what I want.
  5. Alewerks Brewing - Tavern Brown Ale (5.7%). The other highlight of my autumn on the brown ale, and one that will be a feature of this autumn in all likelihood. When served at the perfect cellar temperature of 54°F, having been stored in our wine cooler at that temperature for a week or so, the complexities of the malt jump to the fore, a beautifully blended melange of sourdough bread, roasted hazelnuts, and cocoa, with caramelised oranges in the background. You often hear beer referred to as liquid bread, this was liquid bread with Nutella, lovely.
  6. Basic City Beer Co. - Our Daily Pils (4.7%). It was a Friday afternoon, I was at Beer Run in town using better wifi than I currently have at home, and this was the only beer on tap that wasn't some weird concoction, or Natty Boh, or Allagash White, which I wasn't in the mood for. Being unflitered there is a slight haze that reminds me more of a kellerbier, but the flavours were all on point and a second pint soon followed. Now if I see it on tap when I am out and about, I am a happy camper.
  7. Three Notch'd Brewing - 40 Mile IPA (6%). I know you are shocked that an American style IPA would make it onto the Fuggled list of the top 10 Virginian beers I have drunk in the last 12 months, but 40 Mile does something that so many IPAs simply do not do anymore, it gets the bitterness right. IPA is meant to be a bitter beer, not some juiced up wankfest for people who seem to not actually like the taste of beer, and yes there is a basic beer flavour. This was the first beer of 2019 for me, and also the first beer I wrote about for Flagship February. Coming back to this beer after several years of preferring other Three Notch'd beers was like seeing an old friend again. 40 Mile is everything a proper US IPA should be, a bit on the strong side, clean bitterness, firm malty backbone, and reeking with hop aroma and flavour. A classic.
  8. Stable Craft Brewing - Britchin Brown (5.5%). Yeah, brown ales need a moment in the limelight of their own, minus daft additions naturally. Stable Craft are a relatively new brewery, and Britchin Brown was on tap at a pub I frequent from time to time while I was in the middle of my brown ale kick. Once I had allowed it to warm up to a more reasonable temperature (seriously folks what's with the penguin feet obsession?), here was an excellently constructed version of the American brown ale style. Yes you get all the usual malt flavours associated with brown ale, nutty, chocolatey, and a trace of roastiness, but with Britchin Brown there is a clean refreshingness to it that makes it almost too easy to drink.
  9. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - VIPA (5.2%). VIPA is described by Hardywood as a Virginia India Pale Ale, or even a "Virgindia Pale Ale". It is brewed with locally grown Virginian hops, Cascade I believe, and is an interesting study in the impact of terroir on hop flavour, yes you get the grapefruit and pine that is the calling card of Cascade, but there is also a subtle coconut flavour and aroma that is apparently unique to Virginian Cascade. The coconut characteristic just about makes it through into the drinking with this beer, and at only 5.2% it is a very drinkable, if not entirely sessionable, beer.
  10. Blue Mountain Brewery Full Nelson Virginia Pale Ale (5.9%). Another local brewery's flagship beer that I revisted during Flagship February and wondered to myself why I had ignored it for so long? Seriously hoppy at 60IBU, a good dose of which is a pithy bitterness that just seems to be missing from so many pale ales these days. While I would argue that at 5.9% this is not a sessionable beer, it is more certainly pintable, and goes especially well with the spicy chicken and waffles at one of my favourite brunch places in Charlottesville. Again, I find that this beer really benefits from being allowed to warm up to cellar temperature, and I don't recall it ever being available cask conditioned, but it would absolutely sing in that format.
I point this out every year, but this is an entirely subjective list based purely on my drinking in the last 12 months. If you have any recommendations of good Virginia beers I should hunt out and try, I am more than open to suggestion.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

#FlagshipFebruary - Blue Mountain Brewery Full Nelson

It's fair to say that I like Blue Mountain Brewery, and have pretty much from the moment we first walked through the, original, door back in 2009. We have watched them grow, both as a venue with the original brewpub at least doubling in size, and as a company, adding the Blue Mountain Barrel House and South Street Brewery to their fold. I have named a beer for them, Isabel, and we did a historic brewing project together, introducing central Virginia to the delights of 1920s Old Burton Ale. It is also fair to say that I simply do not get down there often enough, thankfully there are plenty of places in town to find their beers on tap.

Weighing in at 5.9% abv and with 60 IBUs, Full Nelson is Blue Mountain's flagship, a beer that when I found my notes from our first visit in 2009 I described as being "a delight". That was also my opinion when I most recently had a couple of pints, again sharing a pitcher with my mate Dave.


As you can tell from the picture, Full Nelson is squarely in the old school American Pale Ale category, old school of course not being any denigration of a lovely beer. Despite the 60 IBUs, there is enough malt to balance that out and make for one very drinkable beer, perhaps not a session beer, but certainly something worthy of a few pints in a single sitting.

Being an old school American Pale Ale, you get a good wallop of bitterness as well as the classic pine and citrus flavours that the style is known for. That bitterness though is softened by the almost Plzeňesque water source, which gives the beer a roundness that pale ales made from a harder water source lack, and in my world that makes it a more pleasureable drinking experience. In many ways Full Nelson is a throwback to simpler times in the craft beer world, before the IPAification of everything, before beer as murky as sheep phlegm, before endless new releases. In other words, a flagship, pure, simple, and endlessly enjoyable.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A Virginian Oktoberfest

This weekend sees the culmination of the ur-beerfest in many people's minds, Oktoberfest. While I have never been to the only Oktoberfest worthy of the name, nor actually do I have any ambition to go - beer festivals being generally not my thing - I do enjoy the Oktoberfest style lagers that are practically de rigueur at this time of the year.

Last year I bought myself a load of examples of the style to do a comparative tasting, only one of which though was from Virginia. Seeing as though our local Wegman's has a reasonable selection of beer, and customers can build their own 6 pack, I did just that, but with only Virginia brewed Oktoberfest lagers this time. The chosen six being:
In the fine tradition of Teutonic efficiency, I will dispense with the waffle and dive on in to my modified Cyclops tasting notes...


Devils Backbone O'Fest
  • Sight - amber, burnt orange, full inch of ivory foam that lingers
  • Smell - bready malts, a touch of hay, spicy hops, traces of cinnamon
  • Taste - bready again, think the crust of a Stollen, muted hop bitterness that fades, clean finish
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Not a bad start to the tasting for sure, and I have to admit to bashing a fair few pints of this on Wednesday night in DC whilst at the conference. The body is medium to full, with a slightly slick finish that the hop bite just manages to overcome and make this a really easy lager to drink. As ever, Devils Backbone know how to make a good lager.


Blue Mountain 13.Five Oktoberfest
  • Sight - light amber, half inch off white foam, little visible carbonation
  • Smell - subtle breadiness, some floral hops, traces of graininess
  • Taste - sweet malts, not caramelly just sweet, like brown sugar, floral hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Fuller bodied than the Devils Backbone, almost voluptuous. The sweetness flirts with the idea of being cloying but the hops bring it back into focus. As it warms though is starts to get a bit flabby around the edges, but still a fine beer.


Legend Oktoberfest
  • Sight - deep amber, light red highlights, thin off white head
  • Smell - cocoa, milk chocolate, toasty notes
  • Taste - toasty, cocoa, nutty, like nutella.
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
Not a particularly interesting beer to be honest. The cocoa/chocolate thing was really distracting, and the body was lacking, even veering toward an unpleasant thinness. Lurking in the background was an ickiness that I found really difficult to ignore. Blah.


Brothers Fest Bier
  • Sight - dark golden, light orange, inch of off white head
  • Smell - grassy hop aroma, suggesting Saaz or Tettnang, some light toast
  • Taste - juicy malt sweetness, brown sugar, herbal hop bite
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Again a medium bodied beer, though with a slick mouthfeel that the clean finish just about managed to scrape away. Not one that I would hunt out but decent enough in a pinch.


Smartmouth The Princess
  • Sight - light amber, thin white head
  • Smell - sweet Munichy malts, floral hops, touch of lemongrass, slight hint of corn
  • Taste - well done toast, dulce de leche, floral hop bite
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Medium bodied with a noticeably slick finish, really lacking a good hefty hop bite and clean lager finish to improve the drinkability, an odd vegetal note became more prominent as it warmed. Nope, not doing that again.


Port City Oktoberfest
  • Sight - amber, light orange, half inch off white head that dissipates quickly
  • Smell - light toast, floral hops, brown sugar
  • Taste - biscuity, touch of crackers, subtle honey
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
And a good beer to round out the selection. Rich rather than sweet and thankfully with a nice clean lagery finish that refreshes the palette. In the background were some nice subtle orange flavours going on that added to the complexity of a very nice beer. Yay for Port City!


The aim of this tasting was not to rank the beers, but I have to admit that I would only actively chose 3 of the 6 to drink again, the Devils Backbone, Blue Mountain, and Port City ones. So as Oktoberfest proper winds down this weekend, grab a six pack of one of them, a packet of proper German bratwurst, a tub of Dusseldorf mustard and go to town...prost!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2018

It's that time of year again. On Sunday I drove Mrs V, the Malé Ali?ky, and Honza the Cairn Terrier home from South Carolina, having been south for a couple of weeks. Coming home from our fairly annual week in Florida is one of the signs of the tail end of summer, another is my annual list of the top ten Virginian beers that I have drunk in the last 12 months.

So without further ado....let's dive on in.
  1. Blue Mountain Brewing - Dark Hollow (10.0%). No that is not a typo, a barrel aged imperial stout really was the highlight of my drinking last year. It is fairly common to read blog posts and tweets about how all beers have their time and place, usually in the context of a paid up member of the craft beer drinking guild having a cold, often adjunct laden, pale lager whilst on holiday. The time and place in question here was at the first evening session at the fiddle camp my wife and I have attended each of the last 3 years. Up in the mountains of Highland County in western Virginia, a bottle of Dark Hollow was the only beer available at the hotel bar that actually appealed to me. It fitted the context, mood, and atmosphere perfectly.
  2. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - Virgindia Pale Ale (5.2%). Probably another surprise for regular readers of Fuggled, a hoppy pale ale makes the list! VIPA is made using Virginia grown barley and hops, making it asas much a local beer as is really possible, oh did I mention it's delicious? Hardywood opened a satellite brewery in Charlottesville a couple of years ago and being the abysmal beer tourist I am, it took me until this spring to actually bother to make it round. When finally I did, I had a great Sunday afternoon drinking with Mrs V and our friends while watching the collective brood of children. VIPA was a lovely beer, positively dripping with American hop character, that late spring afternoon, and has since been a fairly regular tipple as summer has worn on.
  3. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). Still my go to beer when I darken the door of South Street, which is nowhere near as often as I would like now that I no longer work in the centre of Charlottesville. The subtle interplay of malt and noble hops make this a beer that simply goes down far too well. I think a few pints are in order this weekend with brunch....
  4. Alewerks Brewing Company - Weekend Lager (4.8%). I love this beer, simply love it. Of the recent spate of Helles lagers that have done the rounds in the craft brewing scene, this is one of the best, and whenever I see it on tap at a restaurant I know what I'll be drinking, especially with a Sunday brunch, when a litre of this little beauty pairs dangerously well with a plate of bacon, eggs, hash browns, and sausage, Just saying, like.
  5. South Street Brewery - Munich Dunkel (5.6%). My Virginia Dark Beer of 2017 and a cracking interpretation of a classic lager style. You may have noticed a common theme with the kind of beers that make this list, balance and drinkability are important to me, and Munich Dunkel has it in spades, and thankfully doesn't use caramel malts to achieve the subtle sweetness that lingers in the background of the beer, mmmmmmMunich malt!
  6. Devils Backbone Brewing - Alt Bier (5.8%). If there is one thing in life you can rely on it is Jason Oliver's ability to brew a solid, nailed on German beer. To mark Mrs V's first Mother's Day we took a little family trip to Nelson County to visit one of our favourite wineries, and while out that way decided to pop into Devils Backbone. One thing I love about DB is that for all their growth, and the new distillery is an impressive addition, they really haven't changed in the slightest. Still churning out world class beers in an environment which is welcoming, friendly, and somewhere I would go far more often if it wasn't an hour's drive. The Alt Bier reminded me of Schumacher Alt, and there is no higher praise than that really.
  7. Champion Brewing - Dorty South (5.4%). You don't see that many Dortmunder Lagers around, so when I popped into Champion Brewing on my way home from my previous job, having slunk out early because it was simply too depressing to sit in cubicled corporate hell much longer, to find they had a Dortmunder on tap I knew what I was going to drink. Dorty South is a lovely, toasty, clean, lager that has a delightful balance of malt heft with hop bite, I may have had several pints....
  8. Three Notch'd Brewing - Mild Marker 20 (3.6%). One of only a couple of redeeming features of an afternoon spent in the new Three Notch'd brewpub watching the Champions League final, the other being hanging out with a group of friends for the first time since the twins were born. Brewed to a recipe that won a homebrew competition down in Lynchburg, this was a nice solid English style dark mild, suitably balanced and quaffable, with neither hops nor malt dominating. There was only one thing missing, the beer being pulled from a beer engine with a sparkler and at the correct temperature, but I am ok to wait a few minutes for things to warm up.
  9. Port City Brewing - Porter (7.2%). My porter kick continues, both my own homebrewed ones, projects with Three Notch'd, and drinking an absolutely glorious beer from Alexandria, VA. I read recently that Port City is starting to distribute to the UK and I would encourage all of my British friends to stock up on Port City Porter when it hits Blight's shores. Rich, filling, and practically lascivious, this is my beer of choice on many a winter's night.
  10. Devils Backbone Brewing - Vienna Lager (5.2%).Earlier this year I started a series on Fuggled called "Old Friends", where I went back to beers I had once loved but for various reasons not drunk for a while. Coming back to DB's iconic Vienna Lager was like that moment in Ratatouille where Anton Ego is transported back in time at the taste of the ratatouille prepared for him. Obviously I wasn't transported back to childhood, but back to my early days living in Central Virginia, 9 years now, when Vienna Lager was a very common site in my fridge, and a trip to the brewpub was a regular occurrence. Toasty, floral, clean, and most importantly of all just plain good drinking. It also served as a reminder that being a part of Anhesuer-Busch hasn't ruined the beer, nor the company for that matter.
I say this every year, but this is a strictly subjective list based on my drinking in the last 12 months. I am not interested in trying to define who or what is or isn't craft, I just want to drink beer I enjoy. If you have any suggestions of beers that you think I would like then feel free to make add it to the comments.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Session 127: A Feast of Oktober


This month's Session is hosted by, well, me. My theme for this month is Oktoberfest lager, and I have had a few well meaning people ask me why I chose the theme of Oktoberferst for the September Session. It's quite simple really, Oktoberfest begins in the middle of September, that and the fact that given the weirdness that is American brewing's obsession with having season beers in the shops well before a season actually starts, the shelves of supermarkets and bottle shops are already groaning with Oktoberfest style lagers, so why not drink a load of them?

In my original announcement of the theme I said:

"Feel free to dress up for your tasting, dirndls, lederhosen, that Australian backpacker outfit you keep in the back of your wardrobe for special occasions. Hire yourself an oompah band, play the birdy song, and generally get into the spirit of celebrating for the 117th time the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. Whip out the grill and buy all the bratwurst you can find, proper bratwurst that is, from Germany. Shout "O'zapft is!" at the top of your lungs...you get the idea."
Well, sadly I don't have any lederhosen, or an Australian backpacker outfit, nor to I have a thing for the birdy song. I do however love German sausages and mustard, so I gleefully paired my tasting of Oktoberfest lagers with a plate of bockwurst, fried potatoes, and Dusseldorf mustard...


This though is a beer blog, so on to the beers themselves, of which there were 5, said 5 being:
  • Leinenkugel's Oktoberfest
  • Blue Mountain 13.5 Oktoberfest
  • Great lakes Oktoberfest
  • Otter Creek/Brauerei CAmba Oktoberfest
  • Sierra Nevada/Brauerei Miltenburger Oktoberfest
How were they? Let's find out shall we?


Leinenkugel's Oktoberfest
  • Sight - copper, small white head that vanishes quickly
  • Smell - some bready malt, lightly spicy in the background
  • Taste - very lightly toasted bread, slightly grassy, crisp finish
  • Sweet - 1.5/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
So yes, Leinenkugel's is a MillerCoors owned brewery, but I really couldn't give a rat's arse about that, this is a beer blog not a corporate structure blog. The beer is pretty light bodied, but not thin, it just lacks the heft I have come to expect from American Oktoberfests. It's a pretty inoffensive, perfectly well made beer, something that would be fine to drink on a night out, though the lingering sweetness in the finish would get tired after a while, I like my beer bitter and my lagers clean.


Blue Mountain 13.5 Oktoberfest
  • Sight - deep burnished copper, half inch of linger white foam
  • Smell - noticeable noble hop character, floral, citrus, some toffee
  • Taste - lightly toasted bread, a very subtle smokiness, bit of a metallic tang
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
The local beer in my selection, Blue Mountain being about 20 miles from my house here in Central Virginia. 13.5, the number of degrees Plato that is the starting gravity for this beer, is very much the archetypal American made Oktoberfest lager. It has a nice smooth finish that isn't so sweet as to be cloying, but I find it has a slightly odd bite right at the end and lacks the clean snap I would expect from a Central European lager. Still, a decent beer for an afternoon in their brewpub, preferably in the rain, but I am weird that way.


Great Lakes Oktoberfest
  • Sight - dark honey (thanks Mrs V for that description!), voluminous slightly off white head that lingers for the duration
  • Smell - fresh scones and a floral meadow in the height of summer
  • Taste - caramel and toffee up front, bready backbone, malts definitely the star of the show
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
I quite like Great Lakes beers, in particular their porter, but this beer just didn't do it for me. It has a distinct lack of bitterness to balance out the sweetness of the malt, and the finish was oily sweet, not the clean snappy bite I expect from a lager beer. Not so much bad as misguided.


Otter Creek/Brauerei Camba Oktoberfest
  • Sight - rich golden, white head that disappears pretty quickly
  • Smell - saltine crackers, floral hops, lemongrass
  • Taste - fresh bread, some yeastinessm abd a good hop bite in the finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
I don't recall having an Otter Creek beer before, but this collaboration was one I really enjoyed. It has the expected lager snap that I love, and it very nicely balanced so that drinking it is an absolute pleasure. I may have mentioned this before, but I find myself liking the more modern paler interpretations of Oktoberfest lager than the darker sweeter efforts that seem to be the norm over here. More breweries should work with German/Central European breweries for their collaborations.


Sierra Nevada/Brauerei Miltenburger Oktoberfest
  • Sight - golden honey, firm white head
  • Smell - black tea, bread, and hay
  • Taste - sweet doughy malt, floral hops, quite grassy, juicy (not in a ridiculous NE "IPA" way though)
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
I really am biased toward this beer, I am sorry, but these annual collaborations are becoming the highlight of my drinking year. This year has a fantastic firm bitterness that scrapes the palette and makes you want another mouthful. The beer is hefty enough to be interesting without being overwhelming, and it has that perfect clean finish that I want, it is delish. End of story. Keep on doing this Sierra Nevada!

So there we go, five Oktoberfest lagers, all of which worked fine with my bockwurst, kartoffeln, und senf...and I am pretty sure it won't be the last time this autumn that I pull a package of German sausages from the freezer, fill up my 1 litre glass with lager, let's be honest it'll be Sierra Nevada's until the shops run out, and pay homage to my Germany ancestors and my own Germanophilia. Prost!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Feast of Oktober

It seems at the moment that every brewer and his uncle is having an Oktoberfest celebration, whether or not said brewer regularly makes bottom fermented beers in the German style (and they say craft beer isn't marketing driven!).

Being a fan of the lager arts, and not wanting to limit my Oktoberfest drinking to Sierra Nevada, I gathered together 7 bottles of American made versions of the 'style' to try in a blind tasting. As ever I was ably assisted by the lovely Mrs V, and her willingness to traipse up the stairs when I had finished each glass of beer is much appreciated.

The beers for this little taste off were:
Such a delightful little lineup...


Using, as ever, a slightly modified version the Cyclops beer evaluation method, here's my findings.


Beer A
  • Sight: rich copper, ivory head, dissipates quickly
  • Smell: general sweetness, touch corny, wood and spice
  • Taste: bready, touch of burnt toast, clean finish
  • Bitter: 2.5/5
  • Sweet: 2/5
Overall well balanced though on the thin side, nothing to really hunt out.


Beer B
  • Sight: orange, large off-white head, slight haze
  • Smell: some toffee, baking bread, floral
  • Taste: sweet juicy malt, herbal hob bite
  • Bitter: 2/5
  • Sweet: 3/5
Ever so slightly boozy/hot, mouthfeel was nice and full, and slightly creamy, a bit on the too sweet side.


Beer C
  • Sight: rich golden, white head
  • Smell: bready, biscuits, trace of spice
  • Taste: sweet toffee, pretzels, earthy hops
  • Bitter: 3/5
  • Sweet: 3/5
Nicely balanced, good clean dry finish, clearly well made and nicely integrated.


Beer D
  • Sight: gold, voluminous white head that lingers
  • Smell: grainy, light lemon and herbal hops, almost like autumn leaves
  • Taste: bready malt, sweet but not in a caramel way, firm bitterness
  • Bitter: 3/5
  • Sweet: 2.5/5
Slightly creamy mouthfeel, but firm bitterness cleans that right up, very nice beer.


Beer E
  • Sight: light red, smallish off white head
  • Smell: syrupy caramel
  • Taste: heavy caramel, dark toast
  • Bitter: 2/5
  • Sweet: 3/5
Full bodied and a touch cloying, really needs a hop bite, finish not as clean as expected.


Beer F
  • Sight: deep orange, off white lingering head
  • Smell: raw wort, weetabix topped with caramel sauce
  • Taste: Very sweet, sickly caramel/syrup dominates
  • Bitter: 1/5
  • Sweet: 3/5
Tasted undercooked, like the raw dough in the middle of an underdone loaf, barely any noticeable hops.


Beer G
  • Sight: rich copper, small, stable, white head
  • Smell: lots of toffee and bread, spicy hop notes
  • Taste: cereal, caramel, like dulce de leche on toast
  • Bitter: 1.5/5
  • Sweet: 2.5/5
Sweet, warming, and overall nicely balanced, bit too sweet though for my tastes.

Having drunk all seven beers, I ended up with the following rankings:
  1. Beer D
  2. Beer C
  3. Beer B, G
  4. Beer A, E
  5. Beer F
My favourite beer, and here I wasn't actually surprised, was Sierra Nevada's Oktoberfest, with the Ninkasi right on it's coat tails, a sign perhaps that I prefer the more modern pale Oktoberfest style to the older, darker, sweeter variant.

The other beers were:
  • Beer A - Brooklyn
  • Beer B - Port City
  • Beer E - Sam Adams
  • Beer F - Shiner
  • Beer G - Blue Mountain
So there we have it, 7 beers, all bar one that I would drink a pint of, 1 that I would happily drink plenty of, and one that I have been drinking ma?e of.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2016

It's that time of year again, the first round judging for the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup is this Saturday. Once again I'll be driving up to Northern Virginia to take part, and as with last year missing out of the festival itself as I will again be accompanying Mrs V to fiddle camp in West Virginia.

Given the impending judging session then, I present to you my annual top ten Virginian beers that I have drunk since the last time I did this list, so without further ado.....
  1. Devils Backbone Brewing - Meadow Bier (5.0%). I know for some, a rather obnoxious and overly vocal some at that, Devils Backbone are off limits since they are now part owned by a much larger brewery rather than those upright honorable folks at investment banks or private equity firms, but that's their problem not mine. After a day of hiking the AT we swung by Devils Backbone and I saw those magical words 'German-style Pilsner' and immediately ordered a pint. Clean, crisp, absurdly refreshing, and delightfully moreish, so I had 5 more and asked Mrs V to drive us home (she really is a wonderful woman). While Meadow Bier is not the most regular beer I drink, Devils Backbone being something of a trek for a pint, it is the best example of the style I have had in ages and one that I will be making a bee line for this weekend if I drag the wife down that way.
  2. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). This actually is the beer I drink most of at the moment. An unfiltered Munich helles which is beautifully balanced, firmly bitter, with a pillowy soft mouthfeel, and ideal whatever time of day. It has got to the point now that the folks behind the bar at South Street know what I want the minute I put my backside on the chair, it can only be a matter of time before they see me walking in and have a pint waiting for me as a get to the bar.
  3. Three Notch'd Brewing - Ghost of the 43rd (5.1%). Last year's number 1 beer, and always a welcome sight on the taps of the pubs and restaurants of Virginia. Still one of the most eminently drinkable beers available in the Virginia market, and now that it is canned, a fairly regular visitor to my fridge. While this pale ale has a massive hop presence, there is enough malt to stand up to it and actually make it interesting to drink rather than being a one-dimensional hop bomb.
  4. Champion Brewing - Shower Beer (4.5%). Get the feeling that I am very much a lager boy yet? Though this time the pilsner is in the Czech rather than German mould. A veritable medley of Saaz hops and pilsner malt. Simple but with the complexity needed to keep it interesting and expertly crafted, so much so that were I served this in the pubs of Prague I would be more than happy.
  5. Lickinghole Creek Brewing - 'Til Sunset (4.7%). Another returnee from last year's list, though up a place, 'Til Sunset is perhaps the best Session IPA I have had in the US (I'll ignore the 0.2% overage on the session status). As I said last year, the interplay of toffee malts and graprefruity hops just works perfectly on a late summers day sat on the deck wondering how many more days you can avoid mowing the lawn.
  6. Mad Fox Brewing - Altbier (5.5%). When my parents came to visit last November Mrs V and I drove up to Northern Virginia to meet them, so naturally a trip to Mad Fox was on the cards, my parents love the place almost as much as I do. Normally I go for one of their cask ales, either the mild or the bitter, but this time I saw the word 'altbier' and went German. Altbier is one of my favourite beer styles, and one that many American breweries do wrong by getting the sweetness from caramel malts rather than Munich malt. mad Fox got it emphatically right, add to the mix the woodiness of Spalt hops and you may as well be drinking in Düsseldorf.
  7. Three Notch'd Brewing - Oats McGoats (5.5%). Oats McGoats is pretty much the Ronseal of stouts, it does exactly what it says on the tin, it's a straight up oatmeal stout with all the silky mouthfeel that comes with it. Layer that with chocolate and roasty notes and a firm hop bite that cleans the palette but doesn't intrude on the classic stout flavours and you have the quintessential beer for the cooler days and nights, and a cracking pint to sit next to the fire with.
  8. Hardywood Park Craft Brewing - Pils (5.2%). Yes, yes, yes, another pilsner. First time I had this one it reminded me distinctly of Budvar 12°, a resemblance that continues to this day. A solid malt backbone with a clean, firm hop bite, and a touch of sweetness in the finish. I would love to try it unfiltered and krausened, but as is it is one of those beers that you simply can't go wrong with.
  9. Alewerks Brewing - Tavern Ale (5.5%). It had been a while since I had indulged in this wonderful brown ale from Williamsburg, and I was kicking myself for not bothering with it for so long. Rich and dark, sweet without being cloying, lots of complex malt fun going on. Superbly balanced and great to drink or use as an ingredient in cooking - especially for soaking dried fruit to go in a cake.
  10. Blue Mountain Brewing - Lights Out (7.0%). This Old Ale has become something of a winter tradition. Once it is released I get myself a case and leave it in a nice cool spot in my house rather than the fridge as the excessive chill ruins the beer. The wonderful blend of EKG and Fuggles hops makes this beer deeply earthy, backed up with a rich malt body, it is the ideal winter night cap, and is also well suited to a day's drinking when you have nothing to do but enjoy the coziness of home. Delish.
As ever this is purely subjective, based on what I have enjoyed drinking in the past 12 months, but each and every beer on this list I would recommend you try it if you see it.

Happy drinking!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Darkness Rising?

I have mentioned many times before that living in Virginia means that the lagerboy within me has plenty of good locally brewed options for satisfying the urge for clean, crisp beers. Whether it's Three Notch'd Of.By.For Pilsner (a beer that challenges all of my prejudices about what a pilsner is and I love all the same), South Street My Personal Helles, or Port City's simply divine Downright Pilsner, I never have to look too hard for a great pale lager.


Over the last year or so there seems to be a general popping up of dark lagers in the area, and I am wondering if this is part of a broader trend or whether it is serving a very localised taste. For as long as I have lived in Virginia, Devils Backbone have produced a schwarzbier, called Schwartzbier, which has found a regular place in my fridge. They also brewed Morana, a Czech style tmavé based on the magisterial Kout na ?umavě 14° tmavé, as well as Barclay's London dark Lager from a historic recipe for an English dark lager. From what Jason would tell me, dark lagers would also sell very well.


Recently I have noticed more dark lagers cropping up in the repertoires of local breweries. Last year South Street brought out Back to Bavaria, a Munich Dunkel that I drank almost exclusively for a couple of months and mentioned honorably in my review of 2015 - if Mitch at South Street is reading this, please bring it back, I loved it.

Speaking of Dunkels, just last weekend Mrs V and I met up with some friends for dinner at Blue Mountain and behold they too had one on tap, Blauerburg Dunkel, and I enjoyed several pints of it whilst half wishing it had been available at Edelweiss for Valentines Day. I am sure there is some level of crossover between the Back to Bavaria and Blauerburg given that the owners of Blue Mountain also own South Street, either way both were lovely beers.

This got me to thinking, is central Virginia something of an oasis for the dark lager arts, as it is in many ways for me with regards to pale lagers? Is it possible that after years of IPA domination, people are re-discovering the delights of lagers like dunkel, schwarzbier, and tmavé?

I for one certainly hope so.

UPDATE

I just got a message from Jason at Devils Backbone, and Morana is being brewed again this Friday. Keep your eyes peeled for a notice for when it will be released.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Of Renovation and Restoration

When Mrs V and I first landed in Charlottesville back in 2009 there was a single, solitary, brewery in the city itself. Back before there was Three Notch'd Brewing, before there was Champion Brewing, there was South Street. A place I so desperately wanted to love, but which so painfully let me down time after time. Every time I went, whether with the wife or with friends, I left wondering why I had bothered to put cash in their coffers for beer that to my mind was all too often either bland, unbalanced, or in the case of Liberation Lager, simply undrinkable. I much preferred to drive for an hour or so to do to Blue Mountain or Devils Backbone.

Then the guys behind Blue Mountain bought South Street and started a renovation process that closed the brewpub for a few months. In the weeks leading up to the official re-opening I had a new lager from South Street, firstly at the local Whole Foods and then at a countryside cafe just up the road from where I live. Virginia Lager was the first inkling that things might be better at the new South Street, clean, crisp, and nicely balanced, here was a South Street beer that I liked drinking.

For reasons that escape me right now, Mrs V and I didn't make it to South Street itself until a couple of weeks ago, on a Sunday where the temperature reached a positively balmy 21°C/70°F, and in short sleeves we went into town for brunch.


One thing I always loved about South Street was the architecture, bricks and brass being order of the day, and the renovations have lightened that up a bit,but not so much that it feels like a characterless dorm room. The old copper bar is no longer there, which is kind of a shame, but the new wooden bar is beautiful in its own right, and there are bits of the old bar hanging from the walls as mementos.

Presented with the menu, we decided to do the full flight of 12 beers, which you can see below.


I didn't take notes, but each of them was perfectly drinkable, well made, and nothing to turn one's nose up at. Virginia Lager was the highlight for me, though the shandy was also excellent, as was the Anastasia's Chocolate Fantasy, a nod to one of the more notorious of Cville's former residents, Franziska Schanzkowska, better known as Anna Anderson.


The sun was shining brightly, the sky that wonderful shade of blue that winter seems to specialise in, the windows were open, and the beer was good. So we ate our brunches, can't remember what Mrs V had, but I had biscuits and gravy, which were very nice (biscuits and gravy is becoming something of an obsession), and ordered pints....to drink without regret.

The new South Street is pretty much everything you could wish for from a town centre brewpub, great location, good food, good beer, and at long last reasonable opening hours, being open from 11am now rather than the old 4pm. I get the feeling that I might be popping over more often, safe in the knowledge that disappointment is a thing of the past.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

'Merican Mild Month?

Each May in the UK, CAMRA encourages drinkers to indulge in Mild, a style of beer that is perfectly suited for drinking several of during a session.

CAMRA's definition of mild is as follows:
Milds are black to dark brown to pale amber in colour and come in a variety of styles from warming roasty ales to light refreshing lunchtime thirst quenchers. Malty and possibly sweet tones dominate the flavour profile but there may be a light hop flavour or aroma. Slight diacetyl (toffee/butterscotch) flavours are not inappropriate. Alcohol levels are typically low.

Pale milds tend to have a lighter, more fruity aroma with gentle hoppiness.

Dark milds may have a light roast malt or caramel character in aroma and taste.

Scottish cask beers may have mild characteristics with a dominance of sweetness, smooth body and light bitterness.

Original gravity: less than 1043
Typical alcohol by volume: less than 4.3%
Final gravity 1004 - 1010
Bitterness 14 - 28 EBU
I think I can count on the fingers of a single hand the number of milds I have drunk since moving to the US in 2009, two in particular stand out, Olivers Dark Horse and a pale mild brewed at Blue Mountain Brewery last year.


When I talk to my beer drinking mates, not all of them beer bloggers, craft aficionados, or IPA addicts by any stretch of the imagination, a common theme comes up again and again, they wish there was more session beer available, and what could be better than encouraging breweries to make milds, whether dark or pale, hopped with British hops or not, there is so much scope for brewers to play around with in this particular style?

In my homebrew messing about I have brewed several iterations of American hopped dark milds and have found that hops like Citra and Cluster lend themselves very well to complement the light roasty notes of a good dark mild. If you were to brew a pale mild, I imagine New Zealand hops such as Motueka and Pacifica Jade would work well.

Come on brewers, show us the mild mannered Clark Kent beers for a change instead of Superman!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Return of the Mole

March seems so long ago, it's been that kind of year, busy, busy, busy.

It was back in March that I spent a day with the folks at Blue Mountain Brewery bringing a recipe for Burton Ale from 1923 back to life. A few weeks later Sensible Mole saw the light of day. I really enjoyed the beer, rippingly bitter but with enough residual sugar so as not to feel like your tongue was being savaged by coarse grain sand paper.

Given the historical aspect of the project, we were drinking Burton Ale mild, that is, young. However, a goodly proportion of the brew was stashed away in the most neutral bourbon barrels that Taylor and company had at the Blue Mountain Barrel House. There is has sat for the best part of 9 months and aged.


Where Sensible Mole was mild, the barrel aged version is old, Old Burton Extra could could call it, and if you were a Londoner drinking it in the 1920s, that's likely exactly what you would call it.

I am not entirely sure what to expect with this version of the beer. I imagine it will pick up some faint whiskey notes and a trace of vanillin from being in the barrels. The intense hoppiness must surely have lessened in the interim, though the bitter bite will, I think, still be there. Will the beer have picked up any light oxidation from the aging process? I would like to think so, especially if it lends the beer some sherry like notes. In short though, I have no idea what to expect.

Sensible Mole OBE makes its debut this Friday at the Blue Mountain brewpub in Afton, and yes I'll be making my way out there to try it and maybe get a sense of the kind of beer my great-grandfather might have drunk in the 1920s whilst telling war stories with his friends.*

* My great-grandfather was an Old Contemptible who went to France in 1914 as part of the Rifle Brigade, saw action at places including Mons and Ypres, eventually he came home in 1916 when he was wounded in action.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Top Ten Virginian Beers 2014

This Saturday is the first round of judging for the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup, the finals for which will be decided a week later at the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest, down at Devils Backbone. The first round judging takes place at Mad Fox up in Falls Church, so nice and early on Saturday morning I'll be jumping in my car for the drive north. This time last year I presented the Fuggled Top Ten Virginian beers for 2013, so I present this year's list....
  1. Three Notch'd Brewing - Oats McGoats (5.5%). Oats is the base beer for Three Notch'd's espresso stout. Take out the coffee and you have a wonderfully silky, moreish stout that just screams to drunk whilst sat in a comfy chair, in front of the fire, with the dog stretched out at your feet. Idyllic.
  2. Blue Mountain Brewing - English Pale Mild (4.6%). On the day I went to brew a Burton Ale with the guys at Blue Mountain, they were pouring an English pale mild, a brew so rare these days that people likely saw the words 'pale mild' and thought it was some modern twist on mild. With a generous smattering of English hops, it was a great beer to have a few pints of, or as we call it in the UK, lunch.
  3. Port City Brewing - Downright Pilsner (4.8%). The perfect Czech style pilsner, a love song to Saaz. Magnificent.
  4. Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery - Enlightened Despot (11.3%). A Russian Imperial Stout, aged in Pappy van Winkle barrels, balanced, seductive, and superb with a well matured cheddar cheese make this beer something of a rarity in Fuggled-world, a big barrel aged beer that was actually worth drinking. I bought the last bottle from batch 1 when I went to the brewery, and it sits in my cellar awaiting a suitable occasion.
  5. Three Notch'd Brewing - 40 Mile IPA (6.1%). Don't look now but there is an American style IPA on this list. Absolutely redolent with the tropical fruit flavours of El Dorado hops, this has become my go-to IPA, there simply is no better IPA being made in Virginia right now in my opinion. If you see it in the massed ranks of IPA in a bar, forget the rest.
  6. Starr Hill Brewing - Dark Starr Stout (4.6%). There have been some tweaks to this beer recently, specifically a change in the chocolate malt being used in the brew, and it has elevated an already magnificent dry Irish stout to higher standards. I honestly can't think of a dry stout I would rather drink.
  7. Devils Backbone Brewing - Vienna Lager (4.9%). A well established go-to lager which never disappoints. It is great to see that as Devils Backbone continues to grow Vienna Lager doesn't seem to suffer, testament to the superb work that Jason, Aaron, and the DB brewing crew are doing.
  8. Three Notch'd Brewing - Of, By, For Pilsner (5.6%). Yes, yes, yes, I know, another Three Notch'd beer, but seriously, these guys are consistently making the best beer in central Virginia at the moment, and across a range of styles. Of, By, For is a solid Bohemian style pilsner, though at an estimated 14° Plato it is more in the speciání range than a le?ák. Showcasing the Saaz-derived Sterling hop, it is dangerously moreish, and returns to the tasting room this week!!
  9. Ardent Craft Ales - American Mild (5.5%). More a brown ale that a mild, as understood these days, but a lovely combination of nutty malts, spicy hops and a rich mouthfeel. Probably the highlight of my Saturday drinking in Richmond recently.
  10. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - Bohemian Pils (5%). What is happening to Virginia brewing? Czech style lagers seem to be popping up all over the place, and this one reminded me very much of beers I drank in the Czech Republic, mainly Budvar. Well worth seeking out.

So there we have it, my favourite Virginian beers since last year's list. Naturally the list is purely subjective, but that part of the joy of beer.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Rolling Back the Years

A few weeks ago, as you may recall, I spent a very pleasant Friday at the Blue Mountain Brewery brewing an iteration of a beer style that is all but dead. Once upon a time, Burton Ale was popular enough to be lauded as one of the four types of beer being brewed by British breweries. Today you may as well go looking for the faerie folk as try to get a Burton Ale in your watering hole of choice. Unless of course, your watering of choice is Blue Mountain Brewery this Friday.


Friday sees the release of Sensible Mole, our recreation of Courage Brewery's KKK from 1923, and named for a scene in The Wind in the Willows. While it is one thing to take a historical recipe and re-brew it, the question remains, is this how it would have tasted? Unless you happen to have someone for whom Burton Ale was a regular part of their drinking life around, it's difficult to answer with much real confidence. However, looking at the numbers involved in the brewing, and a knowledge of how the beer was made, can give us some pointers. Let's start with some numbers:
  • Original Gravity: 18° Plato
  • Terminal Gravity: 6° Plato
  • Alcohol by Volume: 6.5%
6° Plato is a very high finishing gravity for an 18° beer. Usually beers of that strength attenuate out in the range of 8-8.5%, so we have a lot more residual sugar to give the beer sweetness and body. Expect then a beer than has a thick, full mouthfeel, and plenty of lovely malt sweetness, which is just as well, considering the following number:
  • IBUs: 102
102 IBUs, or about 3lbs of hops to the barrel, is seriously, seriously bitter. If you remember from the post I wrote about the brewday itself, most of the hops went into the boil right at the beginning. The dominant hop in the beer is one of my favourites, Goldings, so don't go expecting the grapefruit and pine resin thing of 'hoppy' beers in the American context to be the dominant feature, think Seville oranges and great hefty dollops of spice. We also used Goldings for the dry hopping, so again expect a thoroughly British aroma to the beer, more spiced marmelade is the order of the day. The original recipe called for Cluster for the 30 minute addition, but we had to substitute that out for Nugget, so expect some floral characteristics from that, and maybe a trace of grapefruit. The combination of Goldings and Nugget has me thinking of taking wildflower honey and mixing it with your favourite thick cut Seville orange marmelade....yum. But don't forget the bitterness, it'll be there in abundance.


To quote Kristen England on his version of this recipe:
Big, dark, and hoppy as hell. Herbal hops, spicy endive, cedar, hints of grapefruit and sweet lady fingers flow into a rippingly tannic, crisp finish. A nourishing British, hop-centric, cracking pint for all you 'op 'eads from days gone by.'

Sensible Mole promises to be a beer unlike anything I have ever tried over here, and I for one am very much looking forward to a glass or two come Friday.

Friday, April 4, 2014

My Name is Rat, and I Approve This Ale

1923.

5 years since the Armistice brought the Great War to an effective end, the man that would become George VI married the woman I only ever knew as the Queen Mother, and the Irish Free State joined the League of Nations.

At the Anchor Brewhouse in Horsleydown, the Courage Brewery was making a beer which in the pubs of London was known as Old Burton, though in the brewery itself it was called KKK. Burton Ale has become something of an obsession of mine, rich as it is in history and brewing possibilities. Like all beers, Burton Ale has evolved, changed, and been understood in different ways throughout its history, and today it is all but ignored.

When I wrote a post called 'Time For Burton' at the end of last year, I suggested that Burton Ale was just the kind of beer that the 'craft' beer world should revive, much as is happening with Grodziskie. A comment on that post inspired me to comment on Facebook that it really was suprising that Burton Ale, big, boozy, and bitter, wasn't being made by 'craft' breweries, and would any of my pro-brewer friends be willing to pick up the baton?


Enter Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton. It's fair to say that I have a very big soft spot for Blue Mountain, they make one of my favourite pale lagers in the US, Blue Mountain Lager. They make one of my favourite winter beers, Lights Out. They make probably the only strong pale lager in the US that doesn't make me want to lament a total absence of balance, über Pils. Yes, it is very fair to say that Taylor and co know what they are doing. About half an hour after my post, Taylor had responded and initiated the traditional back and forth via email that eventually lead to last Friday's brewday, when we recreated .

We were forced into a slight change for our version of the beer. For some reason brewing supply companies on this side of the Atlantic don't seem to stock invert #3, the dark version of invert sugar syrup which gave the original much of its colour. Unfortunately British brewing supply companies that carry invert sugars don't have distribution or their products in the US, can't imagine why. What to do, what to do? Baker's invert sugar syrup was the answer, fully inverted, but also clear, so we upped the black malt a tad to adjust the colour.


By the time I turned up at 8am, the mash was already done and sparging was underway. Patrick, the brewer, had got in at 5am to get started, and with a 3 hour boil ahead of us, it's just as well he did. The colour of the wort was startling, deep, deep brown, but it lightened up with the sparging, and adding 10 gallons of clear invert syrup lightened it further so that it ended up a rich red/brown shade.


Another shock was the amount of hops we chucked in for the bittering addition. 22lbs of East Kent Goldings, for 15 barrels of beer! With the other additions of Nugget, and the Goldings used to dry hop the beer, we used something like 3lbs of hops per barrel, or a calculated 102 IBUs - take that, random IPA!


There are few things I enjoy more than a day in a brewery, the ceremonial dumping of the the hops, the chat about beer and brewing, discovering that one of the reasons the brewery wanted to do this project was precisely because it took them our of their comfort zone, and of course digging out the mash tun. Call me crazy, but that really is something I look forward to getting stuck in to.


Anyway, we ended up with about 15 barrels of dark, bitter, so very bitter, wort, which is being fermented by the McEwan's yeast and when it hits the taps at the brewpub will be about 6.5% abv, rippingly bitter, with plenty of residual sugar to take the edge off the hops. Simply put, it will be like nothing out there at the moment. Taylor is also planning to put some in some of his barrels to age for a year or so...

The name for this most auspicious brew....Sensible Mole, obviously.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

#IHP2014 - Write Up Reminder

Seems an age since I brewed my version of a porter originally brewed in 1834...


Well, this weekend I will get to drink the stuff, and then on Monday write about it on here.

Also on the historical brewing front, on Friday I will be at Blue Mountain brewing helping to brew a Burton Ale from 1923, originally brewed by the Courage Brewery in England.

Should be a good weekend all round.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Beers of the Year

In years past I have written multiple 'Review of the Year' posts, across various beer styles, and then colours. This year, I am feeling somewhat lazy and am writing just the one long post highlighting what I think have been the best pale, amber, and dark beers from Central Virginia, the rest of Virginia, the rest of the US, and the rest of the world. So without further ado....
Pale Beer of the Year:
  • Central VA - Blue Mountain Classic Lager
  • Rest VA - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest US - Samuel Adams Alpine Spring
  • Rest World - Oakham Citra
Overall Pale Beer of the Year: Oakham Citra, which I wrote about here.


Amber Beer of the Year:
  • Central VA - Devils Backbone Vienna Lager
  • Rest VA - Port City Oktoberfest
  • Rest US - Highland Gaelic Ale
  • Rest World - Timothy Taylor Landlord (bottled)
Overall Amber Beer of the Year: Timothy Taylor Landlord, one of the best beers in the world. End of.


Dark Beer of the Year:
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd No Veto Brown Ale
  • Rest VA - Mad Fox Mason's Mild
  • Rest US - Green Flash Double Stout
  • Rest World - Fullers London Porter
Overall Dark Beer of the Year: Three Notch'd No Veto, probably the beer I drink most of, when not bashing Session 42.


From those three Beers of the Year, this year's Fuggled Champion Beer of the Year is...

Timothy Taylor Landlord. 

I have come to the conclusion that there are insufficient superlatives to describe the bottled version of Landlord. Simply one of the best beers on the planet in my opinion and one which is so insanely difficult to get hold of on this side of the Pond that it astounds me that it never makes the 'Best Beers in the World' lists (oh wait, it's not a boozy hop bomb and/or Belgian). I never tire of drinking it, and in many ways, Session 42 is something of an homage to it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Brewer of the Week

It has been slightly more than 4 years since Mrs V and I pitched our tent in central Virginia. In that time we have seen the beer industry in this area grow and grow. When we moved here there were 4 breweries within easy reach of us, today there are 8 in the immediate area and another couple just beyond that. Within weeks of moving here our good friend Jay came to visit, and we stopped into Blue Mountain Brewing, and I found a pale lager that I could enjoy on a regular basis, and to this day I do so. The gang at Blue Mountain also make plenty of other beers that I enjoy. Today's brewer of the week is Blue Mountain's founder and head brewer, Taylor Smack, a man that does something that worries me, makes a great pale lager without decoction...


Name: Taylor Smack
Brewery: Blue Mountain Brewery and Blue Mountain Barrel House

How did you get into brewing as a career?

Just as almost every single brewer in my generation, I too was a homebrewer first. I homebrewed after college in the mid-late 90s. But the detailed story is so much better; grab a beer while I spin my yarn:

After college and travelling about in Australia and New Zealand, I landed a job at an up and coming internet company in Charlottesville, where I chose to live, putting my English degree to use as a copy editor and then ad writer. The company, Value America, ended up employing 600+ people, going public with their IPO shooting from $18 to $76 on opening day (I was rich!), and then going to $0.10 and then off the Nasdaq within 6 months (I was poor again!). They laid off over half the company two days after Christmas and most of my friends got sweet severance packages. Sadly, I was left on. I begged for release and the severance but didn’t get it. So, essentially, I went all “Office Space” and started playing golf every day, blowing off work, etc. One of the things I did was begin skipping work to go work for free at South Street Brewery under Jacque Landry, the guy who became my mentor and to whom I owe all the good fortunes of my brewing career.
 
Eventually, I tired of coming in even occasionally to the ad-writing job, enrolled in Seibel Institute (brewing school) and headed off to Chicago. After Seibel, I landed an interview at Goose Island, thanks to my friend Matt Robbins (who became the first brewer for Southern tier and also owns part of Revolution Brewing in Chicago). Matt also set me up on a blind date with this stunning blonde with a ridiculously sweet Midwestern accent with whom he had gone to Marquette University. After this girl drank me under the table (don’t mess with Wisconsin girls) and we had chatted about opening a brewery together, I knew Mandi was the one for me. Meanwhile, I somehow talked my way into the Head Brewing position for both Goose Island brewpubs. I had just turned 25 and my beer was available inside Wrigley Field and I made beer for the Chicago Blackhawks. I was pretty high on life. But eventually the -36 degree winters and the call of the South were too strong, so Mandi and I moved to North Carolina, and eventually back to Virginia, where I brewed at South Street for almost 6 years before opening Blue Mountain Brewery.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

Physically, the ability to problem solve. Mentally, the artistic spirit tempered with science, and humility in the face of all the brewers for thousands of years before you who have mastered this trade and left their knowledge for all of us to build on.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

Yes, and none!

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Well, my home is practically joined to the brewery, so yes? But no, not really.

What is your favourite beer to brew?

Stouts and Porters for the smell, Lagers and Kolschbiers for the care you have to take.


If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

All my beers are like my children, but being the first brewer to brew Matilda at Goose Island was very special. Even when you consider I was left behind to mind the shops as the “new guy” when all the other GI brewers took the trip to Belgium that inspired the beer. Greg Hall (former Brewmaster for GI) was like, “Taylor, we had the most amazing time in Belgium, especially at Orval! I want you to brew this idea I have for an Orval clone!” And I was like, “Yeah. Thanks, Greg. Awesome consolation prize. How about next time I go to Belgium and YOU brew the cool clone!” In reality it really was a great consolation prize. And also, I never would have said that to Greg or he may have smacked me upside the head.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

It changes with the seasons. My favorite today will change tomorrow. It’s my curse that I find something great to appreciate in every beer style under the sun.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

Well, there’s a time for it, and there’s a time to break tradition. Depends what you’re going for, I guess. Translating your vision to the drinker is what’s key.


If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

We’ve become friends with Jamie and T.L. at Foothills and have a collaboration slated for sometime in 2014. I’m psyched about that. Those guys are really fantastic, as is their beer. Also, we got a kind pre cease and desist email from Sam at Dogfish (it really was kind…no lawyers) about changing our Local Species trout artwork as he’d heard some confusion with the DFH shark logo. I pushed him to do a collab with us, but he didn’t bite. Then I told him we were going to throw a Groucho Marx-style disguise on the trout, a la 75 Minute IPA’s “Johnny Cask”, but his lawyers didn’t think that was too funny. So DFH is on my list to harass until they collaborate with us!

Also on the slate, a ubiquitous feature of Charlottesville Beer, Brian Martin, convinced Jason Oliver and me to do a collab Belgian Quad, so we’ve got that slated to brew late October/early November. Looking forward to that one.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

Hmmm…I love the Duvel story, with mutated McEwan’s yeast. Also wouldn’t have minded being the brewer to have come up with Bohemian Pilsner!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Top Ten Virginian Beers 2013

Taking my lead from the wonderfully urbane company which is Boak and Bailey, and with half an eye on the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest this weekend, here is the Fuggled Top Ten Virginian beers...
  1. AleWerks Brewing - Caledonia (4.5%). A delightfully fragrant, hoppy, British style IPA. The combination of Fuggles, Willamette, and Styrian Goldings is a vibrant, Seville orange laced delight.
  2. Port City Brewing - Downright Pilsner (4.8%). A Czech style pale lager that wouldn't be out of place if served in the beer halls of Prague, positively pulsating with Saaz goodness, more is rarely enough.
  3. Mad Fox Brewing - Mason's Dark Mild (3.3%). Think warm toast spread with Nutella and you are not far from reality, and best of all it is served on a sparkled beer engine.
  4. Devils Backbone Brewing - Schwartz Bier (4.9%). Last year's Virginia Beer Cup winner, and now available in bottles, this is a roasty, clean, crisp black lager that never gets tired.
  5. Starr Hill Brewing - Dark Starr Stout (4.2%). The most award winning Dry Irish Stout in the USA, coffee, chocolate, and a smooth luxuriant body makes this Starr Hill's best beer by a country mile.
  6. St George Brewing - English IPA (5.5%). A showcase for the delights of Fuggles hops, a good dollop of malt sweetness, balanced with the herby, almost tobacco like Fuggles makes it a great British IPA.
  7. Blue Mountain Brewing - überPils (7.6%). 40 IBU of noble hops and a solid malt backbone make this big pale lager surprisingly easy to drink.
  8. Devils Backbone Brewing - Vienna Lager (4.9%). Always good, and thankfully fairly widely available. One of the best ambers lagers anywhere in the US.
  9. Port City Brewing - Porter (7.2%). Some beers have no business being so drinkable with so a potent ABV, silky, chocolatey, and to be honest crying out to be available on cask somewhere, preferably near me.
  10. AleWerks Brewing - Café Royale (8%). Take a coffee infused stout, chuck it in bourbon barrels, and then save for a special occasion.
There we have it, and I am sure Saturday's Virginia Craft Brewers Fest will bring more great Virginian beer to my attention.

Monday, March 4, 2013

In Praise of Core Beers

One of the things I like about going to places like Devils Backbone and Blue Mountain is being able to walk through the doors in full assurance that I will be able to drink a beer that I will enjoy. It's not just a question of knowing that the brewers are very good at their jobs, which most certainly they are, but also because the breweries have a very strong core line up of beers.

Imagine then a scene, if you will. You walk through the doors of Blue Mountain Brewery, take a moment to take in the view, it really is stunning, and you park yourself at the bar. As you read the beer list you realise that you don't fancy any of the special or seasonal beers that are on tap, but you are comforted because you know that the Blue Mountain Classic Lager will be available and will be excellent. I realise that in this little tale I am assuming the drinker likes lager as much as I do, though the pale ale drinker could equally be happy with Full Nelson. I also realise that the visitor in this scenario is likely to be a repeat customer, a first timer would be recommended to get a sample flight. The same scene could easily be played out at Devils Backbone, where a pint of Vienna Lager never goes amiss. Actually, I am sure that in many brewpubs and brewery tasting rooms you could see this situation occur time and time again, and to my mind it is a sign of a good brewing business.

The thing that such breweries share is a core range of beers which are always available and and always good. It is a fact of life that beer is often a comfort, and comfort is often found in the familiar, the tried and tested. More often than not I find myself in a situation where all I want is a beer to unwind with, I don't want to think about it, I don't want to ruminate on the hop aroma, the strange and exotic ingredients that get chucked in, I just want a pint that I know will satisfy. This is where the core range comes in. Sure, the seasonals and specials might garner higher ratings on those websites that advocate such behaviour, but it is the core range that are the bedrock of a brewery and without a strong core, the brewery is on sinking sand.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Raiding Blue Mountain

I generally don't drink during the week. It's a habit I picked up years ago when I moved to Prague and taught English to business people. The first lesson of the day often began at 7.30 in the morning and meant travelling across the city to get to their offices, which in turn meant getting up at 6am most days. When you have students to teach that early in the morning, and they are usually C level executives (Chief Something Officer), turning up bleary eyed and incoherent was not recommended.

The exceptions to that rule these days are the monthly meeting of the homebrew club, and other special occasions as warrant it - and no, Wednesday is not generally a special occasion. Tomorrow though is. All this week the good people at Blue Mountain Brewery have been holding an Oktoberfest out at the brewpub in Afton, and tomorrow is their Steal the Glass night. That's exactly what I intend to do, pop along, have a couple of pints of their Oktoberfest lager and steal the glass it comes in, which looks kind of like this:


According to the blurb for their Oktoberfest lager, named Humpbock for a local landmark, the beer:
"uses the eponymous Munich malt in combination with Pils and Vienna malts and is hopped exclusively with the noble Hallertau variety hop. Deep malty flavors dominate this quaffable beer. 26 IBUs."
I don't know about you, but that sounds worth drinking to me, and I have found myself wanting more beer glasses of late, so why not kill two birds one stone?

Picture credit: I didn't take this pic, it was posted on Blue Mountain's Facebook page.

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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