Showing posts with label bohemian pilsner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bohemian pilsner. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

I have to admit that there really are not that many things that I miss as a result of this pandemic. I am sure that comes as something of a surprise for people who know how much I love going to the pub, but I am lucky that in my part of Virginia most pubs are open with restricted seating and so I can get my fix at least weekly. As a result of the changes brought about by the pandemic, I have limited my choice of boozers in Charlottesville to basically just Kardinal Hall and Beer Run, mainly because I can rely on them to have a good selection of lagers worth drinking.

Perhaps the main thing I miss is the fact that I haven't been on a business trip since last March, when I went, with much trepidation, to Austin for a conference. Usually when I travel for work, I try to fly through Atlanta, simply because I really enjoy sitting at the bar of the Gordon Biersch restaurant on concourse A. It will come as no surprise that my beer of choice when I am there is their Czech style pale lager, served in a half litre glass no less, though often served well over the half litre line, not that I am complaining...

All that is a long winded backdrop to saying, having not been through Atlanta airport for the longest time since I started my current job, I woke up one day in December with a hankering for a pint of Gordon Biersch Czech Pilsner. Said craving may have been stoked as a result of the news that they were closing down their Virginia Beach location, to which I had never made it. All was not lost though as due to the wonders of contract brewing, of which I am a fan, my craving would go satisfied by virtue of Trader Joe's. As you are likely aware, Gordon Biersch are the contract brewer behind Trader Joe's "Josephsbrau" range of central European lagers, and as I understand it, Josephsbrau PLZNR and Gordon Biersch Czech Pilsner are one and the same beer.


As is appropriate I poured a bottle and a half into my half litre Chodovar glass that I purloined from a pool hall in Prague, side note, I hate 12oz bottles for beers like this, is it really so hard to package them in the half litre that such beers warrant?


Ah the classic rich golden colour of a well made Czech style pale lager, it really is a thing most beautiful, especially when the beer is crystal clear and topped with a decent half inch of white foam. The head didn't linger as some Czech beers I have had, dissipating to a patch quilt network of bubbles that clung tenaciously to the side of the glass. The aroma was mostly grainy cereal with subtle hints of honey and fresh bread that made me wonder if there was just a touch of something like CaraBohemian in the grist somewhere. The hops also made an appearance with the spicy, hay, lemongrass notes that I have come to associate with the noblest of noble hops, Saaz. Tastewise, you should know the form by now if you have had a Czech style pale lager ever in your life, a gentle toasty character, with spicy hop flavours as a counterpoint to the malt. Very simple, very classic, very much what I expect, and enjoy.


Whether it is being sold as a Gordon Biersch or Josephsbrau beer, this is a lager that I am always happy to see in the fridge or on tap. While not rippingly bitter, it has a good firm bite to it that cleanses the palate leaving you ready for more. The bitterness is helped along by an excellent clean fermentation that gives the various elements of the beer voice. The finish is dry and with a delicate balance that reaches a high note before collapsing to that moment when another mouthful is required.

I will admit that I have a slight preference for the draught version that I enjoy when I am in Atlanta airport, for all the usual obvious reasons. Bluntly put, draught beer is better beer. Until the conference world restarts, and I am in no rush to get back to "normal" (if "normal" is really something worth getting back to), I will be more than happy to get more PLZNR from our local Trader Joe's, and at $7 a six pack, you really can't complain, unless you are the pretentious wanker type that wants a pilsner for $90 a six pack.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Happy to Schill

September 4th. The first time in the course of the whole pandemic thing that I went to the pub without a reservation, and to meet someone for a drink that I do not live with.

At that point, Virginia had been in phase 3 or something like that for a while, and my good friend Dave and his family had been sheltering in much the same way as Mrs V and our little family. It had been a damned long time since we had gone for a bevvy. We decided that it would be safe for Dave and I to meet for a beer, as long as the venue was somewhere we could sit outside and have a little physical distance, a beer garden perhaps. On a side note, both Dave and I hate the phrase "social distancing", preferring "physical distance", human beings are social animals and we can be socially close without being physically close. 

Anyway, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon as I sat on the benches of Kardinal Hall's beer garden waiting to finally see my friend for the first time in what seemed like forever. By "see my friend" I mean sit, drink, and talk shit without anyone else around. Sorry wives and kids, love you loads but sometimes I just need to have some bloke time. I had arrived a little early and already had my first litre sitting in front of me...

Said beer was from a then new-to-me brewery in New Hampshire, Schilling Brewing Company, the beer in question was Alexandr, a rarity in these parts, an actual desítka!! Technically speaking a desítka is just a beer that has a starting gravity of 10° Plato, usually though they are also pale, though more often than not they don't pack the same 5% abv punch as Alexandr. Even so, I wasn't quibbling, I was too busy reveling. Alexandr is quite simply a wonderful pale lager, clean, flavourful, moreish, is it any wonder that I declared it the Fuggled Pale Beer of 2020? Nope, it isn't.

Other than their very nice Oktoberfest lager, Konstantin, again at Kardinal Hall, I had kind of given up on getting to drink much more of Schilling's range as their beers appeared to be rarer than hens' teeth in this part of Virginia. There was a fair amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth at this situation because I kept seeing folks I follow on Twitter and Instagram posting about another Czech style pale lager in their lineup called "Palmovka".

Other than the obvious reason for wanting to try it, Czech style pale lagers are just my thing and I am willing to try any beer that claims to be one, sadly much to my own disappointment. The second reason though was that for a year or so of my decade in Czechia I lived in said part of Prague. Palmovka is one of Prague's main transport connection hubs, with a metro station, bus station, and tram stops all clustered round a crossroads. I was living just a couple of tram stops up the hill from Palmovka during the flood of 2002 when the metro station, and a fair old chunk of the surrounding area, was completely inundated by the water. I also thought the can label was just wonderful, showing the three metro lines that criss cross the city. 

Random fact, when I first moved to Prague I lived in an area called ?erny Most, right at one end of the yellow line (that's line B if we're be officious) and a couple of stations were still under construction, Hloubětín and Kolbenova. The maps back in 1999, however, showed the future Kolbenova as being named ?KD, after a large Czech engineering firm that had a factory nearby once upon a time.

To cut a long story short, I was in Beer Run picking up some other stuff, checking on my order of a case of únětické pivo when they mentioned that they had some Schilling stuff, namely Alexandr and Palmovka. If you were in the queue that day when I dashed off to grab a couple of 4 packs of Palmovka and kept you waiting, I can but apologise again, and thank you for being so gracious. How I waited the couple of hours needed to get the beer down to a decent temperature is baffling to me now...

Oh. My. Good. God. What is this nectar? A perfect example of a dvanáctka, starting gravity of 12° Plato, but you knew that, that's what. Again there is the slight cognitive dissonance of a dvanáctka being 5.5% (would be closer to a 14° beer based on multiplying the abv by 2.5), but in terms of Maillard reaction breadiness dancing on your tongue, gorgeous Saaz hoppiness - grass, lemon blossom, and a light spiciness - all singing together into a glorious whole, this is as good a Czech style beer I have ever had in the US. I am not sure I could have chosen between this and Alexandr had I tried Palmovka before writing my Pale beer of the year review.

Now I want to buy everything I can in their range that makes it to central Virginia, and drink gallons of Alexandr whenever it is on tap at Kardinall Hall. Beer Run currently has Alexandr, Palmovka, and a 13° Polotmavy called Augustin that looks like a fantastic beer from the reviews I have seen. I fear a sly trip to the bottle shop is in order to add supplies to the already groaning beer fridges is in order, even if I will be waiting until February to actually tuck in.

Based on these two beers, and also their Oktoberfest lager Konstantin that I had one afternoon, I can safely say that another New England brewery has been added to my list of favourite lager brewers in the US. Properly made lagers seem, finally, to be a more prominent part of the craft brewing scene on this side of the Pond. When you have the likes of Schilling, Olde Mecklenburg, and Von Trapp churning out consistently great beer it is becoming easier to ignore the IPAs, fucked up goses, and daft pastry stouts that take up too many taps, and revel in my own personal Ostalgie.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Carolina Pilsner

A couple of weeks ago, Mrs V and I took ourselves off to her parents' place in South Carolina for a week of quarantined change of scenery. 

Unusually for one of our trips South we didn't stop at Olde Mecklenburg on the way down for a feed and to let the ever growing twins run around for a bit, though we did stop in on the way to buy a stash of beer to bring back to Virginia.

The day before we headed back north, I popped into a local bottle shop, suitably masked of course, and as I was wondering around I thought it would be fun to try a taste off of pilsners from South and North Carolina. I ended up with the six beers below.


The beers were:
  • Birdsong Rewind Lager (NC)
  • Edmund's Oast Pils (SC)
  • Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack (NC)
  • Revelry Glorious Bastard (SC)
  • Coast Brewing Pilsner (SC)
  • Indigo Reef Pilsner (SC)
Let's just dive on in shall we...


Birdsong Rewind Lager - 4%, Czech style, canned April 10, 2020
  • Sight - golden with slight haze, health half inch of white head, good retention
  • Smell - faint grass, Southern biscuits, some herbal notes, very lightly fruity
  • Taste - bready malt, slightly crusty, clean hop bitterness, herbal
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Really refreshing and session worthy beer. Body in light-medium, maybe a little on the watery side int he finish, but nothing I haven't experienced with Czech made desítky. I really like the can design too, made me think of Anthony Bourdain describing Kout na ?umavě as "nostalgic" when he visited the brewery with Evan Rail. Will definitely pick more of this up next time I see it.


Edmund's Oast Pils - 4.5%, German style, canned July 6, 2020
  • Sight - golden with a thin white head that dissipates to a lingering schmeer of foam, excellent clarity.
  • Smell - floral hops, fresh scones, slightly spicy
  • Taste - juicy sweet malt, firm pithy bitter hop bite, slightly lemony
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
An absolute stunner of a beer, but it reminded me more of Czech pilsners that German, in particular Hostomicky Fabián 10. Medium bodied with a soft maltiness in the finish rather than the crackery dryness you often get with German pilsners. An early contender for the Fuggled beer of the year.


Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner - 4.8%, German style, canned June 22, 2020
  • Sight - straw yellow, thin white head, brilliant clarity
  • Smell - fresh bread, lemons, limes, some spice
  • Taste - cereal grain, citric hops, grassy, floral spiciness like nasturtium flowers
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
Classic German style pilsner. Clean, dry finish with great snap that you get from proper lagering. Medium bodied and insanely moreish. There is a reason this is a beer I drink a lot of, it is simply a stunning brew, I love it.


Revelry Glorious Bastard - 5.25%, Czech style
  • Sight - golden with thin white head, good clarity
  • Smell - floral hops, some hay, kind of a musty cheese thing going on (aged hops?), fruity
  • Taste - crusty cread, saccharin sweetness in background, rough bitterness
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
When I asked Mrs V to give this a try her instant response was "is this an IPA?", says it all really. Such a disappointment as the aroma is generally spot on, but the balance is missing in the drinking.


Coast Brewing Pilsner - 4.8%, German style
  • Sight - slightly hazy gold, quarter inch of white foam, decent retention
  • Smell - almost non-existent, slightest trace of flowers and grain, maybe
  • Taste - dominated by bready sweetness, extracty
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
This one was a major disappointment, and most of it went down the drain. It was a syrupy mess, lacking any of the snap that well made lagers have, it was kind of flaccid and lacking any hop character. Will try again though at some point in case I got a duff can.


Indigo Reef Surface Interval - 6%, Czech style, canned on April 29, 2020
  • Sight - straw yellow, kind of cloudy, think white head
  • Smell - floral hops, light citrus character, Southern biscuits
  • Taste - sweet malt, very sweet actually, some spicy hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Given ABV, I am assuming this is about 15 degrees Plato, which would be darker in Czechia as this was surprisingly pale. Medium-full body made it quite syrupy though there was a lingering spicy finish.

As I posted the other day on Instagram, 2 stunners, 1 drain pour and 3 decent beers, though I kind of question the brewers' experience of actual Czech beer. The 2 stunners were head and shoulders above the others, and the Edmund's Oast was particularly enjoyable. 

One thing has been on my mind in particular. I am starting to think that the term "pilsner" is insufficient for describing Czech style pale lagers brewed by American craft breweries. If you take the extremes of the ABV for the 4 beers I have, you have 4.5%, 4.8%, 5.25%, and 6%. Multiplying the ABV by 2.5 gives you the ball park starting gravity in degrees Plato, and we have (rounding to the nearest whole number) 11°, 12°, 13°, and 15°. 

Under Czech beer law these four beers straddle 2 different categories, le?ák, aka "lager", and speciální pivo, aka "special beer". Even within the speciální pivo category, Czech would expect different things from a 13° and a 15° beer, think the difference between a strong helles and a bock respectively. Yet they all bear the moniker "pilsner", mainly because they use Saaz hops, or some higher alpha acid derivative, looking at you Sterling.

While I am happy that Czech style lager seems to be increasingly popular with both brewers and drinkers in the US, I think lumping everything pale under the banner of "pilsner" actually does a disservice to one of the great brewing cultures of the world, and I would argue that we reserve the world "pilsner" for those beers that are in the same sitz im leben as the original, Pilsner Urquell - 12°, 4.5-5% abv, 30-40 IBUs of Czech hops. Anything below that could be a "Session Czech Lager", anything above that a "Strong Czech Lager", but pilsner sets expectations in knowledgeable drinkers' minds, so stick to it.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

VPL - Virginian Pale Lagers

It took eight weeks, but by last Saturday I was actually getting a little bit of cabin fever, so I asked Mrs V if it would be ok if I went out to do the weekly shop. Generally Mrs V is our designated person for doing the shopping during these weird times as both myself and one of my boys are asthmatic, and so we want to minimise the possibility of either of us getting sick.

There were ulterior motives for wanting to get out of the house for a few hours, namely it was Mother's Day and I needed to get Mrs V a card, some fancy booze, and ingredients for dinner. I also wanted to pick up some different beer from Wegmans as they still do BYO six packs, and so ended up with a selection of 2 Czech style Pilsners, 2 German style Pilsners, and a pair of Munich Helles.

I started with the two Czech style beers, both of which I have drunk plenty of over the years but not really sat down and analysed them.

Champion Brewing Shower Beer

  • Sight - pale golden, healthy quarter inch of foam with good retention, superb clarity
  • Smell - Cereal grain, hay, touch of lemon, some floral hops
  • Taste - Bready malt base, spicy hops, nice citrusy, clean, bitterness
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3
In so many ways this is a wonderful Czech style pale lager. Only 4.5% abv, 100% Saaz hops, a really nice firm bitterness and a lingering clean finish pointing to good clean fermentation. If I were comparing to some of the pale lagers back in Czechia, I would put this in the same league as Herold, a good solid brewery with a devoted following.

Port City Brewing Downright Pilsner

  • Sight - Slightly hazy pale gold, good firm white head, nice retention
  • Smell - Lemony and lime citrus character, some breadiness, alpine meadow floral notes
  • Taste - Bready malt character, some spice, bit lemony edging to pithy, clean fermentation
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
Medium bodied, with high carbonation, almost too bitter in some respects, citrus character borders of pithiness.

As I said, I have drunk plenty of both these beers of the years, and am of the opinion that they are dead certs for being in the top five pale lagers in Virginia. I am pretty sure that both would go down pretty well back in Czechia too, but they just don't reach the heights of something like Pivovar Hostomice's majestic Fabián 10°, úněticky's 12°, or the much missed Kout na ?umavě 10°. Making a not entirely unreasonable assumption that the ingredients are broadly similar, I do tend to think that the difference is in process, in particular the fact that Czech breweries still do decoction mashing, and that the Maillard reactions that causes brings something indefinable to the glass that focusing on ABV, IBUs, and other brewing by numbers stats simply cannot bring to the beer? I say it fairly often, but decoction really does matter if you want to make an authentic Czech style lager, regardless of colour or strength.

Moving from Czech style pale lagers over the border, so to say, to German style...

Basic City Our Daily Pils (unfiltered)

  • Sight - Pale gold, slight haze from being unfiltered, thin white head, distinctly not fizzy
  • Smell - Subtle malt sweetness, fresh bread crust, floral hops, some citrus like mandarin
  • Taste - Bready malt with a touch of biscuity sweetness, slightly earthy, spicy hops and a trace of citrus
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
This has actually become something a regular tipple for me. Back in open pub days, ah the memories, I enjoyed many pints of it at Beer Run, often sat at the bar of a Friday afternoon with work done and the boys yet to be picked up from school. At 4.8% it sits squarely in the ball park for a German pils and has all the refreshing drinkability you would expect from Germany's finest. Definitely a welcome addition to Virgini'a lager scene.

Lost Rhino Brewing Rhino Chaser

  • Sight - Gold, thin white head, dissipates quickly, good clarity
  • Smell - Mostly cereal and bread upfront, almost worty, with some subtle spice
  • Taste - Sweet, sugary caramel notes, a little hop flavour with a spicy cinnamon finish
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
This actually reminded me more of the modern Festbier than a pilsner. At 5.6% it is simply too strong to be authentic, but then the can does tout that the brewery has ""Americanized" the classic European Pilsner", a turn of phrase that strikes fear into my heart as it invariably leads to a disappointing drinking experience. If you want to make a pilsner, make a fucking pilsner. If you want to make a strong pale lager then make a strong pale lager. Just as decoction matters, so do styles when it comes to setting the drinker's expectations.

Ok let's leave the pilsners behind and venture into Helles.

Bingo Lager

  • Sight - Yellow, excellent clarity, fizzy, lots of bubbles, no head at all (WTF?)
  • Smell - Light floral hops, slightly grainy, generally indistinct
  • Taste - Bready malt, clean citrus bitterness, touch of corn in the finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
I want to give the brewery the benefit of the doubt here as there seemed to be a dink in the seam of the can lid, which may help explain the absolute absence of head. When I swirled the glass half way through drinking I did come some white foam but it disappeared quickly. The beer itself is well balanced and decent enough, I guess I will have to buy another one just to see if the can lid theory works out.

Stable Craft Helles

  • Sight - Pale golden, think white head, fizzy, good clarity
  • Smell - Crusty bread, spicy hops, earthy, some rather odd onion/garlic notes in the background
  • Taste - Non-descript, some malt, some hops, prickly carbonation, lacking clean lager character
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
This one was a major let down. I was willing to give Stable Craft a try because I have enjoyed their brown ale from time to time, but this was dull and muddled rather than bright and zingy as I would expect from a Munich Helles.

We are lucky in some ways in Virginia that we have some decent pale lagers being brewed, but we also have some that are simply sub-par, and in this tasting we ran the gamut of what is out there in that regard. On the helles front it is safe to say that once South Street have some of their My Personal Helles back in stok I will be slaking my thirst with it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Live Oak Pilz

So far this year I have been to Texas twice, first to Austin and most recently to San Antonio. Both trips were for conferences related to work stuff, and in both cases I found myself drinking plenty of pilsner style lager.

I have been on a major pale lager kick of late, literally to the detriment of almost every other beer style. The highlight of said kick though was a beer brewed in Austin but which I drank in San Antonio, as I hadn't seen it available in any of the watering holes of its home city when I was there.


Live Oak Brewing are based out near Austin's international airport, hence I didn't get to them during my visit to the city back in March. Sat in a pub in San Antonio, I spied the magic word "

Looking up the beer on the old interwebs due to a lack of information in the pub beer list I learnt that this particular blonde delight has a 12° Plato starting gravity, which ferments out to give it a very respectable 4.7% ABV, all playing nicely with the 36 IBU of pure Saaz. Apparently the brewery uses a decoction mash on the Moravian malt, making this one of the most authentic iterations of the style I have had in the ten years since I left Prague for the New World. I wish it was available in Virginia as it would be a regular in the fridge.

As I said, I knew at first mouthful what my evening's drinking would be, and when I left there was but a single can remaining in the fridge, there had been 12 when I started. Yes it was that good, and every mouthful was savoured. What we have here is an early front runner for at least the best US pale beer of 2019.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Pilsner...Nailed

Pilsner.

It is near impossible to think of a more polarising word, or beer style, in the beer world. For some the very idea of a pilsner is an adjunct laden pale lager made by one of the big breweries, after all, Miller Lite claims to be 'a fine pilsner beer' on the can. Others though, and here I count myself, can think of no higher expression of the brewer's craft that a well made pilsner that sticks pretty much to Reinheitsgebot, whether Bohemian or German in style.

It is also a word that actually fills me with excitement and dread when I see it on a taplist in a brewpub, tap room, or pub. At once I am both eager to try it and yet worried that it will turn out to be gack. Side note, you can always tell a shitty craft pilsner being made in the US because daft phrases like 'it has just the right amount of skunk to be authentic' - said 'right amount' is zero so please stop fucking around.

I spent most of last week in Charleston, South Carolina at a library conference. It was the longest time I have spent away from my little family since the twins were born just over a year ago, so I was happy to get home and do all those domestic bliss kind of things, the weekly shop being one of them. With the shopping out of the way we decided to grab some lunch at South Street Brewery, one of my favourite places to go for a drink in central Virginia. The beer is generally very good, Mitch knows what he is doing, especially with lagers (his helles is a very regular beer in my world), said beer is very reasonably priced, usually around $4.50 for a 16oz pint, compared to $6 for a similarly sized pint not that far away, oh and they have a glorious fireplace that now that the cooler months are upon us will be lit daily.

There, in the middle of the beer list was the word. Pilsner, a collaboration with a local real estate company, German malt, Czech hops, 4.3%, 28 IBU...like a cosmic alignment, dare I try. I trust Mitch, so I dared...


In the famous words of the motto of the SAS, he who dares wins, this was nailed on, Czech style pilsner in all it's drinkable, noble hoppy glory. So good was it that it stopped conversation mid flow, Anton Ego style, glass handed straight to Mrs V for her verdict....it passed muster, leading to the abandonment of her wine for a pint of nostalgia for the Czech Republic.

So if you are in the Charlottesville area get along to South Street and revel in the delights of a pilsner the equal of anything from Central Europe, yes including you Rothaus.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Session 114 - Urquell and Not


This month's Session is around the theme of 'Pilsners', I asked bloggers to find examples of the various subsets of the pilsner style and do a  little tasting and comparing, but first I have a confession to make.

Believe it or not, I have not always been a devoted drinker of Plzeňsky Prazdroj, the original, eponymous, lager from Plzeň. That's not to say that I haven't always been a fan of Czech pale lagers, but in my first few years living in the Czech Republic I preferred Budvar, Velkopopovicky Kozel, or Gambrinus. Then as I started breaking out and drinking lagers from small breweries I discovered wonders such as Zlata Labut Světlé Kvasnicové Pivo 11°, Koutsky 10° Kvasnicové Světlé Vy?epní, or Chodovar Kvasnicovy Skalní Le?ák.


Plzeňsky Prazdroj was something I drank on the occasions when I went to places like U Pinkas?, Bredovsky Dv?r, or Bruska. Sure I liked it enough but it was really only when Pivovarsky Klub had a keg of the unfiltered, kvasnicové Prazdroj, that was normally only available in a couple of bars in Plzeň, that I realised what a magnificent beer it truly is. Now that it is available in the US, cold shipped in brown bottles, it is a fairly regular, though fleeting, visitor to my fridge.


It seemed only logical for this iteration of The Session then that I get myself some of the original pilsner and subject it to my slightly modified version of the Cyclops beer tasting method, but then I decided it would better to actually write about the beer than have a set of bullet points. Thus I poured a bottle into my hand blown glass from Williamsburg, and as I expected it was a rich golden colour, not yellow, deeply golden. The head that formed was a cap of tight white bubbles that just lingered. I took time to actually smell the beer, something that I find gets overlooked with beers you know well, and there was everything I love about Saaz, the closest description I can come to it like mown grass in a lemon grove, with just a trace of honeyed digestive biscuits in the background. That theme of sweet cereal and bracing hop bitterness continues into the drinking, and while I wouldn't say that I can tell if a beer has been decocted, there is something ethereal about the sweetness, it's almost dainty, lacking the clunkiness of caramel malts. Beautifully balanced, crisply bitter, clean, and thirst quenching, Prazdroj is a classic, simple as.


When trying to decide where in the pilsner universe to go next, Germany was the obvious destination, but which of the many, many, excellent examples of the style would I pour into my goblet? Really there was always a leading contender, a beer that I simply adore, Rothaus Pils. When Kardinal Hall opened up here in Charlottesville and I was able to drop $11 on a litre of Rothaus Pils, I was almost giddy with excitement. I was a little worried that bottled Rothaus wouldn't stand up to draught, what a silly boy I am sometimes. Where Prazdroj is golden, Rothaus is very definitely yellow, again topped with a firm white head that clings to the side of the glass. I don't know, nor particularly care, what hops are used in the beer, but they reminded me of summer meadows in the mountains of central Europe laced with lemongrass. The dominant flavour was that of wildflower honey schmeered onto a lightly toasted slice of homemade bread, with a bitterness that lingers in the background and build with every mouthful. The complexity of this simple beer is astounding and it is one that I never tire of drinking.



Having had the original, and then probably my favourite, where to go next? How about right up to date in the USA? I know there are people for whom Goose Island is off limits, for the same daft reasons as those railing against Devils Backbone, but when they released Four Star Pils a few months back I was eager to give it a whirl. This one pours a similar rich golden as Prazdroj, though the head here is slightly off white, as expected it sits around for the duration. The hops here are a mix of German and American, and it tells in the nose, a gentle blend of the German floral thing and a distinctly American citrus note, all dancing over a base of graham cracker malt. Drinking is a cascade of toffee infused graham crackers topped with bitter orange peel. Sneaking in the background is a light grassiness that sets off the sweetness of the malt nicely. Again a very nicely balanced beer, the bitterness of the hops drying out the finish to make it delightfully refreshing.


So what can be drawn from this little comparative tasting? There is scope under the pilsner umbrella for a raft of flavours and that hop bitterness is a key facet of the drinking experience. True pilsners are not bland in the slightest, and are very much a drinkers' beer. They are not built for sampling a few ounces of in a tasting room and cyberticking it on Untappd, but for engaging in real sociability with real people. So I encourage everyone this weekend to go beyond the IPAs, Belgians, and Imperials of this world, and have a few pints or litres of a pilsner.

Na zdraví! Prost! Slainte!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Time To Take Your Pils

Something I had been planning to do for a while was collect a batch of 'Bohemian' Pilsners from various breweries and do a blind tasting. Last night, with not much else to do, I imposed on Mrs V's sweet-hearted nature and sent her up and down the stairs several times to bring me glasses of beer, without telling me which was which. The aim of the tasting was twofold, firstly to decide a ranking for each of the beers in question, and secondly to see if I could correctly identify each one. The five beers in the tasting were:
I took notes using my slightly simplified version of Cyclops, and here are the findings...

Pilsner 1


  • Sight - golden, slightly hazy, thick rocky white head
  • Smell - fresh bread, grass, light lemony citrus
  • Taste - juicy bready malts, sharp citric tang
  • Bitter - 4/5
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Notes - lovely balance between the malt and the hops, medium bodied, long lingering soft bitter finish.

Pilsner 2


  • Sight - light amber to orange, loose rocky white head
  • Smell - heavily grassy, musty, doughy, slight honey note
  • Taste - a little sweetness and a touch of lemon
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Notes - really kind of bland, light-medium bodied and with a watery finish

Pilsner 3


  • Sight - rich golden, inch of rocky white head with loose bubbles
  • Smell - fruity, a touch of bread, something corn like in the background
  • Taste - rather fruity, sweet with cocoa notes and a bit of nuttiness
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Notes - more of a pale ale than a pilsner, slick buttery finish and medium bodied.

Pilsner 4


  • Sight - rich gold to light amber, thin white head
  • Smell - grassy, herbal notes, backed with some bread and a little orange aroma.
  • Taste - rich toasty malts, sweet honeyed edge, firm hop bite
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Notes - nicely balanced between the hops and the malt, mouthfeel was crisp and clean with a long lingering bitter finish

Pilsner 5


  • Sight - light amber, half and inch of white head
  • Smell - citrus, lemon/orange, some grass and floral notes, touch of bread, bit of weed
  • Taste - toasted bread, some grass
  • Bitter - 4/5
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Notes - Crisp with a hop bite that smooths out to a slightly sweet finish, medium bodied.

Having got through the 5 beers, though admittedly numbers 2 and 3 didn't get finished, I ranked the beers in order of preference as follows:
  • 1st - Pilsner 1
  • 2nd - Pilsner 4
  • 3rd - Pilsner 5
  • 4th - Pilsner 2
  • 5th - Pilsner 3
When it came to identifying them I went with:
  • Pilsner 1 - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Pilsner 2 - Staropramen
  • Pilsner 3 - Lagunitas Pils
  • Pilsner 4 - Pilsner Urquell
  • Pilsner 5 - JosephsBrau PLZNR
Happily I was correct in each instance, though Mrs V managed to nip any smug moment in the bud by commenting that 'it's no bloody wonder, you know more about pilsners than most people'.


One thing though that surprised me was how much I liked the Josephsbrau PLZNR, which is Trader Joe's own brand beer, brewed by Gordon Biersch, and costs an insanely cheap $5.99 for a six pack. I really thought it was a pretty decent beer, a tad strong at 5.4%abv, but with 32 IBUs not shying away from the proper hopping level for Czech style pale lagers (one thing guaranteed to piss me off is 'Bohemian lager' with about 20 IBUs). However I need to take issue with the label, which reads:
JosephsBrau PLZNR (Pilsner) is a celebration of noble hops from Central Europe. This style of beer was developed by German brewmaster Josef Groll in 1840 in the town of Plzn (Pilsen), Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) and was the first beer to be brewed golden and clear. This beer's pin-point fine bitterness is perfectly accentuated by its crisp body.
Firstly, if you are going to spell the name of a town in the language of the country the town is it, please do it properly, it is 'Plzeň' in Czech, not 'Plzn', if your printer can't handle the há?ek over the 'n', use the German name instead rather than mangling something together that, to be frank, makes your marketing people look like rank amateurs.

Secondly, Josef Groll developed the beer that became known to the world as Pilsner Urquell in 1842, not 1840. He brewed the first batch of the beer on October 5th of that year and the first tapping was on November 11th.

Thirdly, the beer brewed by Groll was not the 'first beer to be brewed golden and clear', pale ales had existed in England long before the Bürgerliches Brauhaus decided to use English malting methods to produce pale malt. Sure it might have been the first lager to be 'brewed golden and clear' but not the first beer.

Here endeth the lesson....thanks be to Groll.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Downright Demanding

Over the last couple of weekends, Mrs Velkyal and I have hosted a couple of parties at our house. The first, on the 27th October, was to mark Czechoslovak Independence Day, which is on the 28th but we felt a Saturday night would be better, and the second was our house warming.

In the last year or so we have found a group of Czechs and Slovaks living here in the Charlottesville area, as well as people descended from those most august nations, and we will meet up once in a while. Although Mrs V and I are neither Czech nor Slovak, neither do either of us have the required ancestry, we have become kind of adopted Czechs by virtue of our years living in the country, and we love the opportunity to break out our rusty language skills.

My best friend, whose wife is Slovak, came down from DC for the weekend, bringing with him all the essentials to cook gulá? - basically a cast iron pot, tripod to go over the cobbled together fire pit, copious amounts of pork and beef and a few hours to stand around, beer in hand watching my favourite central European food being made.


Obviously no Czechoslovak party would be complete without beer, and there was plenty. Just the day before I was laid off, I put in an order with Market St Wine in Charlottesville to get a couple of the remaining 80 cases of Port City's Downright Pilsner especially for this party. People also brought Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Lagunitas Pils, and my best friend brought a bottle of 5 year old Kosher Slivovice - that's damned fine plum brandy!

The Downright Pilsner went down an absolute treat with the assorted Czechs, Slovaks and fellow travellers, as it should do given that it is pretty much spot on for a Czech style pale lager, 4.8%, 43 IBUs of Saaz, unfiltered and just downright good. It is very much a contender for the Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year - an award unencumbered with value, monetary or otherwise - and as such I really hope, nay I plead, that Port City don't let this just be a one off, but brew it again. In fact, I would go as far as to say it is the best of the Port City beers I have had, just edging ahead of their amazing Porter, and I would love to see it as part of their core range of beers.

Yes, it is that good.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Getting It Right

I have written before about the fact that this part of Virginia is well stocked with breweries rather adept in the lager making arts, especially the guys at Devils Backbone and Blue Mountain, whose Vienna Lager and Classic Lager, respectively, are two of my go to tipples. I have also written many times about my ongoing attempts to find a Bohemian style Pilsner to satisfy my longings for something akin to the many golden drops I drank when I lived in the Czech Republic. This weekend I added another Virginia brewery to my list of go-to lagers.

Based up in Alexandria, I have been aware of Port City Brewing for a while now, mainly because their porter is quite simply sublime. The porter was the first of their beers I ever tried, when I was up in Alexandria to have my biometrics taken as part of the process of getting my unconditional green card sorted. It is an insanely easy beer to drink, which if it didn't pack a 7.5% punch I would happily drink all night, though if I am doing the drinking at home I might actually do so. Anyway, last week during one of my lunchtime wanders I popped into Market Street Wine to see if they had anything interesting on which to spend my tip money from a previous shift at Starr Hill, and so I picked up a single of Port City's Downright Pilsner. Just a side note, having the option of buying singles is great, too often have I bought 6 packs only to not really enjoy the beer and have 5 more to dispose of.


Come Friday night I got home and made a beeline to the fridge. Sadly I didn't take any pictures of the beer itself, I was too busy enjoying it. According to a tweet from Port City, the beer is simplicity in itself - 100% pilsner malt, 100% Saaz hops for 43 IBU, unfiltered, naturally carbonated. Sure enough the beer poured a touch hazy, reminding my of the kvasni?áks I loved drinking in Prague, topped off with a firm white head, I was excited to say the least. Aromas of bread, a touch of grainy cereal and the lovely hay and lemongrass of Saaz. Tastewise it is on the nail, a bit of biscuit and bread balanced with the bite of a well hopped beer, I loved it. The only thing missing was being in a beer hall like the sadly gone Radegast and being able to order a tuplak, a one litre glass. I think I'll be buying a case of this in the coming week, and foisting it on my Czech and Slovak friends when they come round to celebrate the establishment of Czechoslovakia, later in the month.


Having been suitably wowed by such finesse in bottom fermenting, I grabbed myself a six pack of Port City's Oktoberfest while I was at Whole Foods yesterday, to compare with Paulaner's Oktoberfest Wiesn - I treated myself to a 1 litre glass with a can of the Paulaner from World Market. One of my criticisms of a lot of Oktoberfest style lagers made over here is that they tend to be a bit too sweet, overloaded with caramel malts which makes them heavy to drink. Port City succeeded in not falling into that trap, making a nice clean, crisp beer with a nice juicy sweetness rather than the cloying caramel thing that some brewers go for. I can see the rest of the six pack being gleefully poured into the tuplak (sorry, just can't call it a ma?) and polished off with abandon, I wonder if I can persuade Mrs V to don a dirndl...


So there we have it, another brewery in Virginia making good lagers. Happy days all round.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Perfecting Homebrew

There are very few beers that I brew which I go on to brew twice or more, LimeLight is an obvious exception, as is my strong Thanksgiving ale Samoset, though the recipe changes most years. I have been thinking though of late that one of the things I would like to do when Mrs V and I move into our new house is to get a kegerator and develop a range of "house" ales, a couple of which would always be on tap.

In thinking about the types of beer to focus on, I gave myself some fairly simple criteria:
  • at least 2 session beers
  • at least 1 style which is difficult to get in Virginia
  • one lager
  • to cross the spectrum of colours
Having pondered, I decided on the following:
  • 3.5% - 3.7% Ordinary Bitter
  • 3.9% - 4.1% Blonde Ale
  • 5% - 6% Porter
  • 4.2% - 4.8% Pilsner
I wanted to have 5 beers in total though, and it wasn't until I had the magnificence of Oliver Ale's "Ape Must Never Kill Ape" last week that I knew what I wanted to do, a "Belgian Mild" which would have an abv of less than 3.5%.

Yes, they are all styles that I have brewed before, and in the case of my Ordinary Bitter won a gold medal for, but they are the styles that I enjoy drinking the most and at the end of the day homebrewing is all about having beer that I want to drink.

Naturally I will still make bits and pieces that either take my fancy or are brewed for special occasions, such as my Samoset Thanksgiving ale, whatever the International Homebrew Project throws up and our internal Iron Brewer project with the homebrew club, the next round of which requires honey malt, Hersbrucker hops and ginger.

If you also homebrew, what beers would you want to perfect to have on tap regularly?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Utter Bollocks

I read an article this morning about why the writer has never drunk Budweiser. As I skimmed through, admittedly at the point of giving up with the rest of the article as it bashed all things Anheuser-Busch, it offered a description of the origins of Bud. Apparently Bud was created to satisfy the desire for the new pale lager style that was sweeping the world, the style in question was

"watery Pilsner, a style that originated in Czechoslovakia as a ladies’ beer; a wimpy alternative for the delicate palates of proper Czech ladies who couldn’t stand the big German Alts and Lagers or the muscular Belgian ales."


Now, I have read over the years an awful lot of shit about Pilsner, but this one takes the su?enka (that's Czech for biscuit by the way). Where to start? At the beginning is always good. In the late 1830s, fed up with the inconsistent quality of their warm fermented brews, the good people of Pilsen, to use the city's name at the time, smashed open barrels of beer in protest. The Burgers of the city, with an eye for opportunity, started the Bürgerbrauerei, and hired a Bavarian lager brewer by the name of Josef Groll to come and make a new Pilsner Bier. Are you with me so far?

With the brewery built and ready to start production in 1842, Josef Groll set to work with the local ingredients, pale Moravian malt, hops from the nearby Saaz region, Pilsen's incredibly soft water and a Bavarian yeast - either brought by a dodgy monk a la mythology, or more likely brought from his dad's brewery in Vilshofen. All this took place in a country that no longer exists, Austria, or at least the Austrian Empire (which only became the Austro-Hungarian Empire some 20 years later). The Czechoslovakia in which Pilsen would become Plzeň would not exist for another 77 years, and it would gone in fewer years than that to become the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

169 years ago this Friday, Josef Groll's beer was first tapped in Pilsen, and it caused a sensation because the colour was much paler than any lager the Austrian Empire had seen up to that point, the previous palest lager was Anton Dreher's Vienna lager, which was a touch darker. Thus Pilsner Urquell was born, not as a ladies beer, but as the new beer for a city entering the industrial revolution, a drink for the workers.

But what about the altbiers, the German lagers and Belgian ales that were available for them to drink in their beer geek cafes on the back streets of Pilsen? Why didn't they just drink those instead? Well, you are a smart, intelligent person, so you know I am taking the piss a bit there. The term "altbier" has a very young provenance, around the same time as Pilsner in fact - and only came about as a result of the new craze for pale lager sweeping the German speaking world. But altbier is manly and tough don't you know? Well, kind of I guess, if you like beers that are 4.6% abv, about 40 IBUs of noble hops and lagered for a couple of months, because everyone knows that the extra 0.2% abv between Pilsner Uruqell and Schumacher Alt makes all the difference in gender specificity for beer. Perhaps manliness is defined by the colour of the beer you drink, good to be a stout drinker I guess!

Anyway, you get the point. If you are going to make ridiculous claims about beer styles from far away lands about which you know nothing, at least do a modicum of research in advance rather than repeating your nonsensical, unlearned drivel. Unless of course you are planning to work on the second edition of the Oxford Companion to Beer.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Of Pilsners

Mrs Velkyal and I went to a wedding at the weekend.

The bride is a colleague of Mrs V, and when they started working together we discovered that her then boyfriend, now husband, had lived for a time in Prague, a time which overlapped with my ten years in that most beautiful of cities. When chatting at a party, comparing notes really, you could say, we learnt that from about 1999 to 2001 we went to the same pubs and clubs, knew a few of the same people and had quite probably shared a beer or two. Through the groom, Mrs V and I have been introduced to a few other people with a Prague connection, and again one of them is someone that went to the same clubs and pubs, and in this case definitely someone I shared a beer or two with. I am getting convinced that the City of Charlottesville should enter into a twinning arrangement with a city in Czech Republic, Plzeň for example or ?eské Budějovice, although Jablonec nad Nisou has a similar population, and is an excellent place for a beer.


Anyway, given the Czech connection, there was bottled Pilsner Urquell available at the reception, and it went rather quickly as those of us still being clawed by the Old Mother dived in. Now, I am quite happy to say that Pilsner Urquell is best drunk in Plzeň itself, preferably kvasnicové, failing that then tankové. However, even pasteurised and in a green bottle it is a damned sight better than many a "craft" pilsner that is available unpasteurised in this neck of the woods. As you can imagine, our little Prague coterie indulged in much nostalgia infused revery about the beers of the Czech Republic from the late 90s to the early Noughties. Themes such as how great a beer Velkopopovicky Kozel was back then, how even Braník was a decent brew, especially the tmavé and lamenting the passing of the pubs and clubs we all got hammered in with much abandon, the Marquis de Sade, the Radegast beer hall and the original Iron Door nightclub (there is kind of a successor but it has never been as good as the original).


Once the Pilsner Urquell had been polished off, we moved on to the other pilsner available, North Coast's Scrimshaw Pilsner - just a side note, one of the best things about this reception was the complete and utter absence of beer from one of the big American breweries, the tap selection was from Allagash, North Coast and Bluegrass Brewing Company, and bottles from Legend, Port City and a few others I can't remember. It was interesting to go from Pilsner Urquell to one of the imitation pilsners and compare, and the most immediate thing I noticed is the absence of a firm hop bitterness that I grew to love about proper Czech lagers. There was a touch of butterscotch, but nothing overwhelmingly drastic, and so I drank shed loads of it, especially as it is bang on style with an ABV of 4.4%. So, yes I drank a lot of pilsner on Saturday night, though managed not to fall over, throw up or do anything else to embarrass myself, which is usually the sign of a successful drinking session.

Yesterday though I felt rough, rougher than I have in a long time. Perhaps as I get older it gets more difficult to drink in quantity and rely on that lifestyle drug of choice, paracetamol, to get me through the next day. As I lay on the sofa nursing a hangover, I read bits and pieces from the Oxford History of Britain and Stan Hieronymous' Brew Like A Monk. A phrase that hit me from Stan's book was something along the lines of "you can't make a great beer from numbers" and I wonder if that is one of the reasons so few craft breweries over here fail to make good pilsner - I almost wrote "great pilsner" but even just plain "good" is hard to find at times.

 
A great pilsner is not just about having an OG of 1.048, 40 IBUs and 4.4%ABV, it is about the intangibles of the triple decoction mash, the letting the beer lager until it is ready, the judicious use of Saaz hops whilst telling the accountants to sod off worrying about the cost of using only Saaz. If making a great pilsner, or any beer really, was just a case of following the numbers, I'd have been brewing my own pilsners by now, but it isn't.

Perhaps with lager style beers it isn't enough to be passionate about brewing, a brewer needs to be passionate about lager in particular. To quote the Gospel writer, "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also".

Monday, July 4, 2011

Americans CAN Make Pilsner (can't spell it mind)!

Today is a very special day, it is now 3 years since the then Soon To Be Mrs Velkyal became Mrs Velkyal in a wonderful Czech civil ceremony in the New Town Hall in Prague. Of course "new" in Prague is an entirely relative term as it dates from 1419 and was the site of the first of the three defenestrations for which Prague is famed (minor political aside - the sooner the Czechs defenestrate Vaclav Klaus, the better). Tomorrow is then Mrs V's birthday - no chance of ever forgetting either event really - and so her best friend came up for the weekend from Greenville and being a top human being all round, she agreed to bring me a selection of brews which as far as I know are not available in Virginia, or at least not in Charlottesville.


The eagle eyed among you will see a can in that selection. The can is a Czech Pilsener from the Bohemian Brewery in Utah.


I was very much looking forward to continuing my search for the perfect American made Bohemian style pilsner, especially when I read through the information on their website. The website says that they do a double decoction mash, lager their beers for 5 weeks and don't pasteurise their beers. The details on the Pilsener (sorry, using their nomenclature) were also encouraging, just 4% abv, so I am assuming desítka territory, using only Saaz hops and fermented with the same yeast as the old Braník beers.


So how was it?
  • Sight - golden, topped with the firm white head, looks the part
  • Smell - floral, orange blossom, touch of hay
  • Taste - lightly grainy, biscuity and with a good dose of bitterness, tastes the part
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 4/5
The body was medium, perhaps being ever so slightly thin in the finish, otherwise I really, really enjoyed this. That is pretty much my only issue with the beer, but given my experience of American pilsners, I really want to try this on tap as opposed to in the can.


Unfortunately it isn't available in Virginia yet, so when Mrs V and I head down to South Carolina, I will be buying more to put in the fridge, and when we go to Florida in a couple of weeks, taking plenty of cans for the beach. An excellent beer, and I will now have to try the rest of their range!

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Lingering Lager Longing

I am sure I have mentioned this before, I have been on something of a lager kick of late. I am sure this is, in part, a consequence of my continuing mission to discover well made Pilsners in America, but also partly because I just fancy nice, clean, crisp beer at the moment.

As I have no doubt mentioned, ad nauseum, my favourite beer at the moment is Devils Backbone's beautiful Vienna lager, another growler of which was happily imbibed with abandon on Saturday night. On Saturday afternoon, Mrs V and I met with Eric from Relentless Thirst and his good lady other half, for a few pints and lunch at the Legend Brewing Company in Richmond. We were in Richmond as Mrs V had spent the morning winning a gold medal at a rowing regatta and needed liquid refreshment in the afternoon. Legend have a few lagers in their range, including a decent enough Pilsner, though at 6% abv it is significantly more potent than regular pilsners. On Saturday though, I was sticking to their run of the mill lager, called in a fit of creative mania, Legend Lager, which is clean, tasty and refreshing - just what you need sat on the deck in blazing sun.


I mentioned in passing last week that I had discovered the perfect pub, in Greenville, and part of its appeal was the Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner. I had never bothered with any of their beers before, for no particular reason, but again my lager kick was being demanding. It was only later on, as in a couple of days later on, that I learnt that it is in fact a rye pilsner, and hopped with a raft of American hops that almost make me feel bad about enjoying it so much. Needless to say, I will be buying some bottles from Beer Run at some point so I can do a more thorough analysis (that's my new title for getting shedded in the comfort of my armchair "More Thorough Analysis"). Again, the thing that kept me coming back for another pint was it's crisp easy drinkability.

A somewhat surprising addition to the "lagers I rather like" has been Sam Adams Light, a beer that I thought was pretty crap when I first arrived on these shores, perhaps as a result of being a fan of their Boston Lager and post-Czech life lager expectations. Sam Adams Light is one of the selections in the summer variety pack and being loathe to let beer go to waste, unless absolutely necessary, I popped open both bottles while bottling my Virginian Best Bitter (gravity fell a bit short for an APA, so I invented a new style). Again something easy to knock back that doesn't taste like gnat's piss when it gets slightly above 0 degrees Kelvin - I can see me buying a case of it for beachside drinking when I head to Florida for a week next month.

It is plain to see that I like my lagers, as any beer lover should, long may it linger.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pilsner on the Horizon

I am in the middle of my summer beer fast. Unlike my post Hogmanay month of denial, a.k.a. "January", this one only lasts a couple of weeks - though given that I generally don't drink during the week, it often turns into the best part of three weeks. In order to aid my detox/vain, and vague, stab at healthiness, I decided to start walking to work, a 2.5 mile jaunt which is pretty easy apart from a rather steep 10 minute section right in the middle. Trust me to start walking when a heatwave decides to plop itself over the region - apparently we are expecting a high of 99oF today (which is about 37oC for the metric world).

You can imagine then that the absence of a nice cooling pint or two is driving me somewhat nuts, but being a stubborn git I will see this through. Thankfully though next Tuesday is the monthly meeting of the fine group of chaps and chapettes that is the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale homebrew club, which is held at the Timberwood Grill. I fully expect myself to roll up, well, driven up by the wife as she is on the way to her rowing session, and order a pint of the Oskar Blues Little Yella Pils, assuming it is still on tap and that Timberwood don't have a Devils Backbone lager available instead.

Given that I have been unstinting in my moaning about the standard of pilsners made in the US, especially the ones that get erroneously labeled a "Bohemian Pilsner", you might be somewhat taken aback that I am looking forward to a 25 fluid ounce glass of cold, golden lager. If you have been following Fuggled for any length of time you will know that I will try anything calling itself a pilsner. The reason is quite simple, a good pilsner is, in my unhumble opinion the height of brewing excellence. If I could but find a top quality pilsner constantly available on tap in Charlottesville, that pub would have my almost undivided loyalty and attention. Even in the depths of winter when everyone is drinking stouts, barleywines, old ales and winter warmers, while beers that I enjoy, it is pilsner that I would drink first without hesitation.

I first ordered a pint of Little Yella Pils on draft at Timberwood Grill during one of the homebrew club meetings mainly because everything else on the menu was either extreme, Belgian, Imperial or Samuel Adams Noble Pils, which is downright disgusting. I wasn't expecting much, given my thoughts on the canned version, but I was pleasantly surprised, and very soon the 25 ounces had to be refreshed with a further 25. This got me thinking again that draft beer is somehow better than bottled or canned, a common way of thinking in pubcentric Prague. I wish I could explain why a reasonable beer from a can becomes a delicious delight when on draft but I am really not all that sure, perhaps some of the brewers that read this blog can enlighten me?

Anyway, 6 more days of denial and then a pint shall be mine.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Simple Algebeera

Pilsner ≠ light beer
Pilsner ≠ Bud/Miller/Coors
Pilsner ≠ over hopped Bud
Pilsner ≠ any old pale lager

Pilsner = triple decoction mashing
Pilsner = only Saaz hops
Pilsner = malty backbone with hoppy bite
Pilsner = minimum 30 days lagering

Questions? No? Good.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bohemian Rhapsody

If you are one of the people that regularly reads this blog, you will know that since moving to the US I have been engaged in trying to find an American craft pilsner worthy of the name. Of course, when I say "pilsner" I don't really think of the German version, I have Bohemian pilsners in mind, the kind of beer I drank a lot of in my decade of Czech life.

Some of them have been okay, some of them have been awful, the vast majority of them were meh, one had me in raptures of delight - and no surprise really that it was the only one hopped only with Saaz. Then of course there is the one that I had a hand in brewing, and that particular beer, called Trukker Ur-Pils is now available on tap at Devils Backbone.

A quick review then, the beer was brewed on August 14th, with an original gravity of 12.5o Plato. When the primary fermentation was a single degree away from reaching the target gravity, they closed the airlock - a German process called spunding. By closing the airlock, the CO2 created thereafter goes into solution and carbonates the beer - I am not entirely sure how close this would be to cask conditioning, because there is no extra priming sugar or similar added. The beer then lagered for 30 days. On Monday the beer was officially tapped at the brewpub, any ideas then where Mrs Velkyal and I had dinner on Monday?

In my excitement to get off work and get to Devils Backbone, first seeing to the dog and then driving the 30 miles out there, I forgot to take my camera - but I will be drinking more of the beer this weekend and will take pics then to add to the post. If I were going to the Beer Bloggers Conference in November, I would lead a seminar on how not to blog. Anyway, use you imagination - your imagination will be greatly helped if you have ever had a kvasni?ák (that's unfiltered krausened lager to the non-Czech speakers).

Yes the beer is slightly hazy, seeing as though it is unfiltered and unpasteurised, and came with a good couple of inches of head. A quick side thing here, another of the legion reasons I have for loving Devils Backbone is that every beer they pour comes with a head on it, instead of looking as though inspired by the floating scum that reminds me of cups of tea at my nan's in London. So it looked the part, and by 'eck did it smell the part. With 40IBUs of Saaz goodness, it was lemony, with hints of orange blossom, fresh bread and hay floating about in there for good measure. In chatting with the barman we lamented that so many beer lovers over here seem to think that hoppy equals grapefruit.

Then came the moment of truth. Biscuity, slighty grainy, bready. Oh yes! Is was gorgeous, crisp and long in the finish with no trace of diacetyl whatsoever. Being sat at the bar, with a pint of superb pilsner in the hand, I felt at home, I was transported back to Bohemia. So of course I had another, and another, then some food and maybe another couple of pints. Of late, Mrs Velkyal has been a one pint person when we go out, she had two of this, and loved it.

So yes, Trukker Ur-Pils would stand up to the ultimate test, if I had been served this in Zly ?asy or Pivovarsky klub, I would have had no complaints at all. To my mind it is up there with Kout na ?umavě and Pivovarsky d?m's ?těpan. I can give no higher praise, and exhort anyone living within striking distance of Devils Backbone to get down there while it lasts, and fill your growlers if you have them (I have two in the fridge waiting for the weekend)!

Is it obvious that I am a happy man?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Of Pumpkins and Pilsners

Mrs Velkyal seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone yesterday - thankfully we have Vonage and so pay a set monthly fee and can call locally and nationally, as well as to select foreign countries (including all the places my family live) for no additional charge.

During both calls, firstly to her family in South Carolina and then from her best friend, also in South Carolina, a variation on the "what is Al brewing?" question was asked. With Mrs V's family we were talking about mead, as I intend to make a maple and clover mead, using maple syrup and clover honey. With Mrs V's best friend the question was "is Al brewing a pumpkin ale?". To which the answer is no, and up until that point I didn't have any plans to do so, but I felt it necessary to do some research and headed off to the shops to buy some examples of this most American of beers, and so I swung by Beer Run and sampled the Southern Tier Pumking which they had on tap - hmm, not impressed. Too sweet and sickly for my tastes. Eventually though I headed home with all the pumpkin beers I could find, and so here we go on the Cyclops notes....


  • Sight - amber, 1 inch of white head
  • Smell - spicy, acetone, wet cardboard
  • Taste - watery, some spice, fruity
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
Goodness me this is boring stuff. Bland, undertoned and quite simply insipid. If anyone in the Charlottesville area actually likes this stuff, I have 5 more bottles that I am willing to give away for free. If this is the best large brewery in America, then God help us.

  • Sight - copper, thin white head
  • Smell - slight spice, mostly cloves
  • Taste - sweet, like a creme brulee
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
I have a grudging respect for Michelob. This beer, in common with most of their wares, is nothing special but perfectly drinkable and inoffensive. This reminded me of my spiced winter ale, but a lot weaker and more watery.

  • Sight - light amber, almost no head to speak of
  • Smell - very spicy, lots of cinnamon and a slight cideriness
  • Taste - syrupy, caramel and spices
  • Sweet - 3.5/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
This was again very sweet, but not cloyingly though sufficiently sweet to be sickly if you drank more than a few ounces. Not what I would have expected from Dogfish Head.

The pumpkin ales then that I had yesterday would not inspire me to brew my own, though I wonder if the base beer, which would seem to be a generic amber ale, gets overwhelmed in the process? Would a pumpkin stout work better? Or even a pumpkin Belgian sour red? At the moment then I still have no plans to make a beer with pumpkins, I already have plenty of experiments to do.

On a side note, today sees the release of the Pilsner that I helped brew at Devils Backbone. If you are in the area, get along to the pub tonight and try it. You may well run into me filling every growler I have available!

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