Showing posts with label brewdog. Show all posts
Showing posts with label brewdog. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

BrewDog - An Attempted Balance

It is with interest that I have read the guest posts over on The Beer Monkey this week about everyone's favourite brewery/PubCo to talk about, BrewDog. One post in the naysayer camp and one an epistle from the St Paul of BrewDog fandom. As a result of reading the comments, I decided that I wanted to attempt to write a balanced post about those love/loatheable brewers from the North East of God's Country.

Way back at the beginning of Fuggled, I wrote a post about the various places I had lived in or had been influenced by and the breweries and beers that come from those diverse parts of the world. My mother comes from Fraserburgh, a fishing town at the very pointy bit of the Grampian region (well ok, Kinnaird Head is a little bit closer to the pointy bit, but since when have beer lovers been utter pedants?). I still have lots of cousins of varying removedness living in the town and surrounding area, most of whom I haven't seen since I was just edging toward my teens. Naturally, when I learnt that the Broch had a craft brewery, I knew that the next time I got back to the UK from Prague, I would be on mission to find some of their beers, after all, they had to be good, they came from the Broch.

Thus it was that while Mrs Velkyal was at an education conference in Oxford, I tagged along for a weekend jolly in one of the finest cities in England (back in the days when I had 25 paid days holiday a year, plus public holidays, and insanely low rent). Walking around, waiting for the pubs to open, I happened upon an Oddbins and popped in to peruse the selection and ask for directions to the Royal Blenheim, a pub I was planning to visit during the weekend. In the fridge were 3 bottles of Punk IPA, which I bought and stashed away in order to give one to Evan Rail and the other to Max from Pivní Filosof. When eventually we got home to Prague, Evan, PF and I did a co-ordinated blog post about the beer. At the time, I wrote the following:

"the beer pours a golden amber with flashes of orange and a thin white head. The nose is very hoppy, as you would expect from an IPA, with distinct floral notes and a very assertive citrus tone. Citrus is also very much to the fore on the taste front as well, like pink grapefruit, tart, yet with sweet undertones which save the bitterness from being too much. The sweetness reminded me of butterscotch or tablet, one of my favourite confections my mother makes. There is a nice full body, which doesn’t cloy, is smooth going down and the zing in the aftertaste makes it a nicely refreshing beer. I only have one gripe, I wanted more than just 330ml – ok it is 6% ABV, but it certainly doesn’t feel or taste like an overly alcoholic beer, so a full pint would have been ideal, as I say though, just the one gripe."

Over the next few months, I would email James, who would send me boxes of beer - including 3 prototypes, which again I shared with Evan and Max. I really enjoyed the beers, although I wasn't a fan of the 77 Lager. Yes I would have considered myself a fan of BrewDog, the beer was generally good, I liked the fact that they were trying different things, and then there was the letter to the Portman Group. You know the letter I am talking about, the one complaining about Tokyo* which turned out to have been written by James in order to create a furore and garner some free publicity.

Unfortunately it wasn't a one off, an aberration or even a misguided attempt at making a point, it seems to have been just the opening salvo in an all out war against anything beery that they happen not to like. Like most wars, they become tiresome and weary after the initial "over by Christmas" excitement has worn off. In the firing line since then been CAMRA, cask ale in general, the "boring" British brewing scene, "staid" pubs, the Germans, the list goes on. It has got to the point where my knee jerk reaction to any piece of BrewDog news is "what have they done this time?".

The important thing though, so the apologists tell us, is to look beyond the shenanigans and realise that BrewDog are making great, revolutionary beer. How I wish that were true. Sure they make decent beer, if you happen to like IPAs, lagers that taste like IPA or amber ales that taste like IPA. Yes, there are the stouts, and I do like Rip Tide, and the occasional something from the Paradox series, and so I am open to the idea that my problem with BrewDog could have something to do with my being more of a stout than IPA drinker. Are the beers though really all that great?

Bloggers quite often talk about context, usually in the sense that an ice cold pint of mega swill can be enjoyed on an exceedingly hot day. But I think context has played a major role in forming my current opinion of BrewDog.

When I think back to my drinking days in Prague, most of them were filled with pale lager, excellent pale lager to be sure, but it is sometimes difficult to get excited about a new brewery opening which will make yet more pale lager. BrewDog then were a welcome change from that, not better, but a nice change in terms of flavour. The likes of Kocour and Primátor were also doing something different, so I enjoyed their beers as well.

Having left that world behind for the US, the context changed and suddenly I am surrounded by craft breweries, there are 5 within 30 miles of my apartment, and no doubt more will pop up in the years to come. One thing that these breweries all share though is having a hoppy pale ale as one of their leading beers, IPA is not revolutionary in this context, it is the driver of many a business. As a brewery executive commented to me recently, "you have to have an IPA or no-one takes you seriously in America" - personally I think that is a sad indictment of the craft drinking public, that for all our hype, we are really deeply conservative about what we drink, whether it is macro lager or craft IPA.

Within the context I find myself, BrewDog is by and large irrelevant, perhaps even derivative - it is difficult at times not to think of them as a British rip off of Stone, much like Wimpy is a British version of McDonalds. When presented with the option of spending $8 or $9 on a bottle of Punk IPA or the same amount on a six pack of Sierra Nevada Torpedo, I will usually go with Sierra Nevada. In my world it is a better beer, and I get more for my money. If you don't have to worry about the amount of money you spend on beer, then I envy you. Here in the trenches though, beer is an expensive passion.

When you do look beyond the hype and nonsense that seem to be part and parcel of the BrewDog circus, what you have is a brewery making some decent enough beers, though nothing earth shattering, but supported by the kind of marketing that will no doubt be talked about in college courses as a way of getting plenty of free publicity. Perhaps they are more of a case of form over function, a perfect representation of all that I find disquieting about the modern world, where the marketing is better than the product.

While it is true that I find a lot of their marketing methods annoying, there is no denying their efficacy, and part of me will always have the opinion that they are doing what they do well and making themselves a tidy living out of it, so fair play to them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CAMRA - doing exactly what they say on their tin

I am not a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, though I was aware of its existence long before I started drinking artisanal beer, whether lager or ale. Indeed, I vaguely recall my initial love affair with Velkopopovicky Kozel having much to do with CAMRA having made positive noises about the beer, how the mighty have fallen.

Inevitably, learning more about traditionally made beer, and being British, albeit a Brit Abroad, CAMRA has become a point of reference. It is through the sterling work of CAMRA that I have learnt much about cask conditioning, stillage and even whether or not to use a sparkler (I am from north of the Watford gap, so they should give you an idea). It is also through learning about natural carbonation methods used in brewing that I discovered that there are still some breweries using the German "spunding" method of carbonation - which in terms of mouth feel and body is far closer to cask conditioning than force carbonation, and something I appreciate very much.

When I am drinking traditional British ales, I like to drink them cask conditioned, I think they taste better than their force carbonated peers. That is of course pure personal preference, it is not something I am adamant or fundamentalist about. Having said that, I generally believe that methods of dispense are secondary to the quality of flavour in the beer itself. I have had plenty of bad cask ale, and plenty of good kegged beer, just as I have had my fill of bad keg and great cask. In my experience, the brewery that does a good job in keg will do a good job in cask, simply because they do a good job all round. Also from experience, breweries that force carbonate the majority of their beer simply have no clue when it comes to cask.

I am fairly sure that I am in the majority in feeling this way about the whole keg vs cask thing, all I want is flavourful beer, regardless of how it is dispensed. However, and I think this is important, CAMRA have every right to say that at their festival they want the beer on show to conform to its opinion on the correct way to pour British ale. In the CAMRA way of thinking, great British beer is served from a cask, and you have to be very mean spirited not to be impressed with the level of attention and care that goes into organising a huge cask ale festival, especially when using kegs would no doubt be quicker, easier, and cheaper. If you believe that something is worth doing right, then the Great British Beer Festival is a prime example of dedication to a belief system.

Some of course claim that CAMRA needs to change with the times and accept kegged craft beer at its events, and while for some that may be a persuasive argument, it doesn't really wash for me. CAMRA has been successful by doing what it says on the tin, campaigning for real ale. The Great British Beer Festival, as a CAMRA event, is thus a reflection of their beliefs as to what constitutes great British beer, and that for CAMRA is cask conditioned ales.

BrewDog's latest CAMRA-baiting antics smacks of kids saying they want to join your game, but only if they can play by their own rules and then getting stroppy because the rules of the game have already been decided. The most ridiculous thing here is that BrewDog already have a range of cask ales, so why deliberately seek confrontation over something like method of dispense? I used to like BrewDog, but now they are as annoying as fundamentalist missionaries insisting that they alone have the gospel truth.

If, as we seem to hear on a fairly regular basis, there are bigger things to worry about than the method of dispense, why then are BrewDog being deliberately confrontational and contrary, if not for the oxygen of publicity? Ultimately the whole cask vs keg thing is a sideshow, what is important is that great beer is being brewed and made available to consumers. Thank goodness then for British brewers like Fullers, Lovibonds, Thornbridge and Meantime, whose beers are consistently good and representative of the best of British brewing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

BrewDog vs The World

I spent Saturday up in Fredericksburg bottling the first Broederschap Brouwerij beer, Dissolution Dubbel, which I will write about later in the week, the beer that is, not the bottling. Just as a recap, the Broederschap Brouwerij  is a collaborative homebrew project between myself, Eric at Relentless Thirst and James from A Homebrew Log.

One the things I have been planning lately is to do a blind tasting on the theme of BrewDog versus the rest of the world. So I took the opportunity to get a collection of American style IPAs from various breweries, in three countries, and sit down with Eric, James and their respective significant others to do the tasting. Mrs Velkyal played the part of barmaid as she is an unrepentant non-fan of IPA.

The five beers sampled were:
We all took tasting notes, and then ranked the beers from 1 (best) to 5 (worst) and awarded points accordingly, 5 points for each 1st place ranking and 1 point for each 5th. With Mrs Velkyal acting the barmaid and bringing us the samples so we didn't know which beer was which, these are my tasting notes, as ever in a form of Cyclops.

Beer A
  • Sight - light amber, firm white head
  • Smell - pine, toffee, light citrus
  • Taste - a soft caramel, citrusy bite
  • Bitter - 3/5
  • Sweet -3/5
I found this beer nicely balanced with a soft mouthfeel. Very much the archetypal American IPA in my opinion.

Beer B
  • Sight - Hazy soft amber, off white head
  • Smell - Tangerines, toast
  • Taste - More tangerines, biscuits and an underlying medicinal note
  • Bitter -2/5
  • Sweet -2.5/5
If I hadn't known that I bought all American style IPAs, I would have thought this was more on the British end of the spectrum. It has a long dry finish which highlights the hops beautifully.

Beer C
  • Sight - Light golden, white head
  • Smell - cheese, sweaty jockstrap, acetone
  • Taste - Sharply citrus, not much else
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
  • Sweet - 2/5
Thin bodied but again with a long long bitter finish. In many ways everything I thing is bad about most American IPAs, all hops and not much else.

Beer D
  • Sight - Light copper, ivory head
  • Smell - floral, slightly herbal and very subtle grapefruit
  • Taste - lightly caramel, like drinking pith, harshly bitter
  • Bitter - 4/5
  • Sweet -2/5
The pithy harshness takes away from the sweetness of the beer, clearly unbalanced.

Beer E
  • Sight - Golden straw, white head
  • Smell - like spicy Seville orange marmelade
  • Taste - touch of sweet malt, hop bitter dominates
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
  • Sweet - 1/5
Far too bitter, astringent and wildly out of whack. The only sample I failed to finish, simply unpalatable.

I ranked the beers as follows:
  • B, A, D, C, E
When we tallied the ranking points for each of the beers, the order was:
  1. D - Flying Dog Snake Dog, with 19 points
  2. A - Sierra Nevada Torpedo, with 17 points
  3. B - Nogne ? India Pale Ale, with 17 points
  4. E - BrewDog Punk IPA, with 13 points
  5. C - Avery IPA, with 9 points
Given that the Sierra Nevada received more top rankings that the Nogne ?, it placed second as opposed to an equal second. The Avery IPA received more 5th rankings than the other beers put together. Both the Avery and BrewDog failed to record a single top ranking, though both did come second once.

Certainly an interesting exercise.

Monday, August 2, 2010

On Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Brewing Some Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Difficult Position

No, this post isn't about the advanced acrobatics required by the Karma Sutra, but rather about the uneasy position I, and most certainly many others, find themselves in. It is only 7 posts ago that I could in all honesty write these words:

"as long as the beer remains good then I am a happy BrewDog fan".

As a result of the latest marketing stunt, which is more clearly laid out by Mark over at Pencil and Spoon, and Pete Brown, I find that statement sorely challenged. As I have commented on Mark's blog, I am shocked by this latest whoring of the BrewDog name to the media circus, which of course we bloggers are part and parcel of, whether we like it or not.

At the end of the day, as I have said before here, the important thing for me is not what is written on the bottle, not the factory that the bottle came from, but what is in the bottle, the beer itself, and this is where I feel BrewDog can very easily redeem themselves, they make truly excellent beer.

Yes, the Portman Group often appear to be misguided zealots, ranting, raving and generally getting the wrong end of the stick entirely, but paying  excessive attention to them does nobody any favours.

I don't care if you call your beer Nanny State, Knackered Old Cripplecock (still the funniest suggested idea for a beer name in history) or Coors Lite, it is the brew itself which will pass or fail the test of excellence, and it is excellence in the beer that the niche market BrewDog is looking to exploit cares about. There is a very fine line between standing for one's beliefs and courting needless controversy, and this stunt is needless. The people that Tokyo* was allegedly aimed at lapped up the beer, loved it, raved about it, gave BrewDog heaps of positive, free, advertising and marketing.

Those very same people are no doubt confused and have taken a step on the path to disenfranchisement from the BrewDog brand.

As lovers of craft beer (I am sick of the phrase "beer geek"), many of us consider ourselves sophisticated, well read, educated and worldly wise, and this is most probably why this stunt has backfired so spectacularly - BrewDog have insulted its core target group, not a very good "lesson in marketing".

As I said, they can easily redeem themselves. Admit they were wrong to pursue this course of action, attempted justifications just makes me think that they should stop digging their hole, and go back to what they do best, making great beer.

After all that is what James, Martin, myself and the rest of the beer blogsphere care about, great beer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Swimming in the Rip Tide?

So BrewDog have decided to sell a 9% stake in the company to, hopefully, 10,000 lovers of the brand - describing it as the "single most exciting, influential and ground-breaking thing to happen in the British brewing industry for decades". I will say quite openly here and now, as I have on several people's blogs - were I still living in the European Union, I would no doubt be one of those 10,000 people. Would I be doing it because I think it would make me rich? Probably not. Would I be doing it because of the 20% lifetime discount on BrewDog beer? Again, probably not. I would be doing it because I genuinely and sincerely want BrewDog to succeed, grow and show that British brewers can be as iconoclastic as their American cousins. Basically anything that means I can walk to a beer store in Charlottesville and pick up bottles of Hardcore IPA, Paradox and Rip Tide is a good thing in my world.

As things stand, BrewDog appear to be in a very fortunate situation at the moment. Their edgy and aggressive marketing is backed up by seriously good beer. They have a groundswell of goodwill from many in the beer blogging world, and I would be surprised if many of the British bloggers I read don't go out and buy a share in the company, most likely for reasons very similar to why I would if I could. However, this rosy situation could so easily turn sour, and that is the tightrope that James, Martin and the BrewDog guys will now find themselves walking along - and to be honest it is one place I wouldn't want to be.

Having read on BrewDog's main site about their plans for the investment, I must admit that a somewhat parochial question went through my mind, why build the new carbon neutral brewery in Aberdeen? I am assuming here of course that the facilities in Fraserburgh will be closed down in the process. Would the jobs created by building and running the new brewery not be welcome in Fraserburgh? I am aware that the Broch's unemployment rate is below average in Scotland, but while having a nice shiny new brewery is a nice thing, why not keep the company's roots in Fraserburgh?

Another part of BrewDog's plan is to create a new range of beers under the brand name "Abstrakt", you can see the promotional picture here. Now, please, pardon my French and perhaps I am wrong but it seems entirely out of keeping with the concept of BrewDog as the brewing world's "punks" and more like yuppies in denial. Seriously, who wrote the bollocks on that picture? "directional boundary pushing beers"? "will release a small amount edition batches per year" - someone perhaps was in the Foundation class doing Standard grade English? As I have said elsewhere, I am not convinced that Abstrakt is really all that ground-breaking - Fuller's annual Vintage series springs immediately to mind.

As I said at the outset of this rambling, I wish BrewDog nothing but success at bringing excellent beer to the drinking public, and if in the process they make themselves wealthy men then well done to them. What they have done with their new plans is take a difficult path, and one where I am sure it won't be long before some people feel disenfranchised from the brand, and begin to label them as sell outs - much as embittered Pearl Jam fans did with Nirvana when they achieved commercial success. For me though, as long as the beer remains good then I am a happy BrewDog fan.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Things I Didn't Expect

I think the technical phrase for the jolly little surprises that come your way in life when you cross the ocean to take up a new life is "culture shock". I have been having it in spades in the last couple of weeks, and in almost every possible situation; pleasant immigration officers at Atlanta airport (those of you who have dealt with the Czech Foreign Police will no doubt know to what I refer); shops with nine million flavours of yogurt, but only one plain white; churches as ubiquitous as pubs in Prague; the feeling of not really being so "velky" after all; the list could go on and on.

A couple of things though stick in my mind, I will deal with the negative first off. Yesterday Mrs V and I went to her aunt's for dinner, as they don't drink we obviously weren't going to buy a bottle of vino as a gift, so in to Walmart we jaunted for a bunch of flowers. Walmart is another culture shock after 10 years of soul destroying Tesco - the variety of almost everything available is mind boggling at times, and the fact that someone packs your shopping bags for you and wishes you a pleasant day, a welcome change from the sour cashier in the Tesco on Narodni asking if you have a note smaller than 200k?, the near equivalent of $10.

The nasty shock though is Walmart's new alcohol sales policy - anyone who looks under the age of 40 must provide ID in order to walk away with their favourite tipple. Thankfully I keep a form of ID on me, but I find it remarkable that for 19 years after coming of age, people will be required to prove they are legally allowed to buy alcohol. No doubt Walmart and many of their ilk will cite insurance policies and the inevitable criminal prosecutions that would follow selling alcohol to minors, but if you are going to have such a ridiculous policy, why make someone who is clearly over 21 produce ID like some wannabe under-age booze baron? What happened to innocent until proven guilty, to trusting people to use their discretion?

The positive shock though was on going to to see what lovely crafty beer goodness they had, and seeing beers from a raft of my favourite British brewers; BrewDog and Wychwood to name but two. But on one aisle I found several Czech lagers that I hadn't expected to see in a million years, including ?atec, B.B. Burgerbrau (from the original brewery in Budweis! hint: it isn't Budvar) and Staropramen. Happily though, Budvar seems to be quite readily available, so when I have the urge to drink a good lager again I know I can get hold of something worthwhile.

Perverse as it may sound, I was actually quite glad to see the presence of Staropramen in the USA as it allows me to do a couple of taste tastings comparing the worst of Czech mainstream lager with the mainstream lagers here, the likes of Budweiser, Miller and Coors - masochistic I am sure, but certainly worth it for interest's and comedy's sake.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Get Into The Spirit

BrewDog are one of my favourite breweries. Not just because they are from the same part of Scotland as my mother and most of my family; not just because they make fabulous beer (of the 4 bottles than came across the Atlantic with me, 3 were Paradox Smokeheads); not just because they actively involve their customers in their decision making processes; because of all the above and more.

Well, James and co are at it again and have created a website dedicated to their excellent Zeitgeist lager, which they are turning over to their customers to take ownership of. The idea behind the website is that the Zeitgeist brand belongs to the customers, as such the content is created by those who buy and drink the beer.

Here's how it works, firstly you need to buy some Zeitgeist through the website - use the purchase code SHEEP in order to get a 70% discount, and you will get a code allowing you to post content on the blog. Considering a 12 pack costs £12, a 70% discount will save you £8.40. Not only do you get to be part of something different and new, you can get some superb beer at an insanely low price, so get in there while the offer stands!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pilsner? Really?

Pilsner is one of the few beer styles to have a clearly defined birthday, the first ever glass of this golden lager was served in Plzeň on November 11th 1842 and soon gave birth to a multitude of imitations around the world. In the Czech lands however, Pilsner style beers eventually came to mean the vast majority of beer from Bohemia and Moravia. Thus any brewer which makes a “pilsner” lager will be judged next to the standards set by Josef Groll and subsequent makers of golden lager in the Czech lands.

When I received a bottle of BrewDog’s 77 Lager along with the production versions of Zeitgeist and Chaos Theory I knew I wanted to compare it to a couple of Czech lagers, in this case Budvar and ?amberecky Kanec. I choose Budvar because of the major Czech lager brewers they still use all malt and whole hops, rather than the somewhat ambiguous ingredient in Pilsner Urquell, “hop products”, Kanec because it is a small artisan brewer, and the BrewDog label calls 77 Lager a “artisan rebel lager”.

In an effort to be as fair minded as possible I decided to do the tasting blind, and so had Mrs Velkyal bring me each glass of beer individually without telling me what was what, here are my thoughts on each beer:

Beer A

  • Sight – pale golden, firm white head
  • Smell – quite malty, touch of smoke, a bit grainy – like Weetabix
  • Taste – nicely balanced, light caramel
  • Sweet – 2/5
  • Bitter – 2/5
I thought this beer was medium bodied, and had slight touches of banana, however it was refreshing.

Beer B

  • Sight – golden with a white head
  • Smell – not much going one, some grass and citrus notes
  • Taste – gentle sweetness up front, but delicately bitter aftertaste
  • Sweet – 2/5
  • Bitter – 1/5
Again a pleasantly refreshing beer.

Beer C

  • Sight – light amber with a smallish head
  • Smell – heavy on the citrus, grapefruit in particular – American C hops?
  • Taste – citrus in your face with malty undertones
  • Sweet - 1.5/5
  • Bitter – 3/5
This was clearly not a pilsner style lager, more like an IPA. As Mrs Velkyal commented on smelling it “no Czech beer smells like that”.

From the tasting I guessed that the beers were as follows:

  • A – Kanec
  • B – Budvar
  • C – BrewDog 99 Lager (not really a guess after smelling it)

I identified all three correctly, and while I enjoyed them all in their own right when it comes to being a Czech style pilsner lager, the BrewDog version was never in the running. It simply isn’t a pilsner beer despite claims to the contrary on the label. Of the other two, I enjoyed them very much, and they are both in the Bohemian tradition, but the one I would choose to drink regularly is the Budvar, which has long been my favourite mass produced Czech lager and thus my first task in Charlottesville is to find a regular supply of Czechvar as our American friends call it.

For a comparison of 77 Lager with German style pilsners, see Adeptus' thoughts over on The Bitten Bullet.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Perfecting Chaos

There are two beer styles, for want of a better term, that spring to mind when someone mentions BrewDog to me - India Pale Ale and Stout. As regular readers will know, stout has long been my favourite type of beer, but IPA is something that I have come to appreciate largely in the last year or so, since I tried Punk IPA back in October.

Like the Zeitgeist from Friday's post, Chaos Theory was one of the prototype beers BrewDog produced in the autumn of last year, and from my posting at the time, it was clearly the one I enjoyed most, noting that the:

first thing that struck me though was that this one was much darker, more of a dark amber bordering on red, although again there was a rather minimal head. As would be expected from an IPA, the nose was full of citrus, in fact it was very pungent, with a mix of Seville orange marmalade and bittersweet pink grapefruit. The contrast between bitter and sweet was to be a constant theme in the beer, the first taste being very bitter, and something of a shock if the truth be told, but subsequently it mellows out to reveal its jellied undertones. As you would expect from this style it is very hoppy and the aftertaste reminded me of drinking an excellent single malt with a nice warming afterglow. The final few mouthfuls were syrupy sweet in a way that reinforced the jelly, an excellent beer overall.

The production version was very similar to the prototype, although I got the feeling that the sweet, almost jelly like, syrupiness had been toned down a little - which made it even more drinkable. The lessening in the sweetness then served to highlight the tangy bitterness, which I really enjoyed as it made for a long finish. Interestingly, the new balance of the beer makes it smoother, and that coupled with the full body just makes this an absolute delight to drink.

Certainly the guys at BrewDog have fine tuned the prototype and created something which is packed with flavour and so drinkable that it is easy to forget the ABV is 7.1%, a really enjoyable beer, if you see it in the shops, stop yourself and buy one.

Also reviewing Chaos Theory today is Adeptus over at The Bitten Bullet, pop on over and enjoy!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Spirit of the Age

A while back I wrote about 3 prototype beers that Scotland's bad (but oh so good) boys of brewing, BrewDog, had produced. Of the three I tried, the prototype Chaos Theory was by far the one I liked the most, but I also thought that the Zeit Geist (the original name) had potential. So when I got a few bottles of the production versions I was well chuffed.

I have to admit that I am yet to try the production Chaos Theory, or the 77 Pilsner that came with the box, but last weekend I popped open the Zeitgeist to see how it compared with the prototype.

In my original comments I noted that it was:

dark ruby with a light espresso coloured head, which in common with the other beers disappeared very quickly. As you would expect from a dark lager the nose was dominated by coffee notes, with subtle hints of burnt toffee and even a delicate floral tone suggesting the use of Saaz hops. The burnt theme came through in the tasting, although this time it was less coffee and more chocolate, I would go so far as to say it was like a singed Hershy bar, sweet yet sour.

The production version is still dark ruby and the fluffy tan head disappears rather quickly. Again the nose was quite floral, but the burnt toffee I smelled last time was a bit toned down this time I thought, almost like tablet rather than toffee (for the non-Scots out there, tablet is the world's greatest confection!). Drinking the beer I felt there was more coffee than chocolate this time, which made the beer quite dry and bitter, which is never a bad thing in my world, although there was an undertone of sweet caramel, and even some smokiness - although apparently there wasn't any smoked malt used.

I think the production version is a step up from the prototype, even though the alcohol content is down by 0.2%. There is a more rounded body making it a more satisfying drink, which is still nicely balanced and easy to imbibe. While I don't think it will be replacing Budvar Dark or the magnificent Kout na ?umavě 14° Dark in my pantheon of dark delights, it would more than hold its own in the company of darks from Bernard and Svijany for example, and is a beer that I would very much like to try on tap, whether that be keg or cask.

Good stuff again from BrewDog, keep it up.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Picture Time

One of the guys I go for a drink with fairly regularly is Rob, a graphic designer and all round good egg. Yesterday while catching up with my emails from having been out of the office for a couple of days, I noticed than Rob had sent me something interesting, a label for LimeLight, which you can see below and I think is fantastic!

Also announced earlier in the week, it is amazing how much stuff you miss when flat on your back, were the winners of BrewDog's photo competition. I submitted a couple of pictures and decided that I would share them with everyone now that the winners have been declared.

Not as good as the winners for sure, but I like them.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Big Dogs Off the Leash

I am, it must be said, a little concerned. Fret not, the yeast hasn't died on me - in fact both fermenters have nice healthy looking krausens on them, and are bubbling away at about 40 little pops a minute. Yes, yes, yes, I know - how sad can a grown man get when he sits and counts how often his homebrew is bubbling, is there a technical term for this? The bubbling I mean, not the counting, I already know the technical term for that.

Wanting to restore some self-respect I decided that the moment had come, the moment I had been putting off and putting off, the time to open a couple of the monster BrewDog bottles that I have picked up lately. Just like Mark over on Pencil and Spoon, I have a habit of looking at bottles, deciding to drink them and then putting them back because I am not sure the occasion is right. Last night I just picked up the bottle and opened it before I could convince myself otherwise - that bottle was Hardcore IPA.

I have written elsewhere about my first run in with IPA from BrewDog, so I knew the vague neighbourhood I would be in with Hardcore, what I didn't know was just how much bigger and more in your face this one was to be. The beer pours a dark amber and the white head didn't last very long, although every time I would swirl the glass there would be a nice fresh head. The nose was sweet citrus all over the place, grapefruit mainly and lots of it, and the first taste was a bitterness explosion but backed up with a smooth, soothing, toffee like sweetness. American style IPAs are something new to me, and the more I try the more I like.

Emboldened by my impulsive opening of one big hitter, I reached in and pulled out a bottle of the 12%ABV Tokyo. I have heard great things about this beer from Evan, so my expectations were high. As a stout should be, this was a black hole - no light getting through at one, and the nose was alcoholic and roasted and peaty and like molasses (Mrs Velkyal stuck her nose in and instantly said "is this a BrewDog?" - brand recognition!), drool, drool. The first thing to strike home when I tasted it was the flavour of oak and vanilla, not surprising as it was aged on French oak chips, that coupled with the warming alcohol put me in mind of Paradox, but without the whisky element. The more I drank the more complex it became, a strong spiciness and yet a freshness in the finish which I am putting down to the cranberries. Definitely a sipping beer, one where you revel in each and every mouthful.

The only thing missing last night was being back in the Highlands, sat in a deep leather armchair while an Atlantic gale lashes the house and the peat fire glows in the hearth and the deerhound sits at my feet.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bohaty nebo blazen?

I went to Zly ?asy yesterday on my way home from work - for some reason, of late every time I head over there to get more bottles, it snows. And boy did it snow yesterday in Prague, we enough to put London out of commission for months - about 4 inches!

I was hoping that they would have beers from the N?rrebro Bryghus in Denmark, and I was not to be disappointed. I got a bottle each of:
  • La Granja Stout
  • Bombay Pale Ale
  • North Bridge Extreme
I also picked up another bottle of BrewDog's Paradox Smokehead to replace one I gave to a friend. A couple of pints were also in order, first up the Harrachov Franti?ek, a banana laden delight, and then the Kácov 12° pale lager, which went down nicely as well. Chatting away to the barman and, I assume, the bar owner I mentioned that I had bought a bottle of La Granja Stout on Saturday whilst at Pivovarsky klub which had set me back 385CZK (that's €13.75/£12/$17), at which they stated that I must be rich (bohaty), to which I replied "rich or mental".

Hence the title.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Stout at Heart

I am a stout man, take that whatever way you will – those of you who have met me will know the truth in those words. But here I am talking about beer styles, and I am a stout man. I have mentioned elsewhere that my first legal beer on Guinness, and I have retained a love of the black stuff since then. This no doubt explains why I was happy to note on Saturday that my local Billa now stocks Primátor Stout and the reason stouts from Hook Norton, Bradfield, BrewDog and O’Hanlon’s formed the backbone of my Christmas beer list.

So far, touch wood, I am yet to have a bum beer from Hook Norton. Their Double Stout was a beer I had looked for in various off-licenses and shops in the Oxford area, all in vain – so naturally it was ordered from BeerRitz. Not a great picture to be sure, but even opening the bottle was to get a burst of roasted coffee aroma, once poured the roasted nature of the nose was dominant, suggesting a full flavour to come. The beer itself was pitch black with a loose off-white head. Coffee was also the major flavour in the beer, although smoothed out by a velvety chocolate. Not overly bitter, full-bodied and beautifully smooth, this was lovely stuff.

The guys up at the Bradfield Brewery have been a Beer Hero of the Week, so when I saw them available on the BeerRitz website I knew I wanted to try their stout. Again the picture is not great – sometimes I get good pics on the mobile, but there we go. The nose was certainly lighter than the Hook Norton, though still abounding in coffee and cocoa – both of which continued on into the taste, although there was a subtle caramel flavour in the background I really liked. This is very much a classic stout, with a silky smooth mouthfeel that makes it a very pleasurable pint.

I have no qualms in admitting that I am a fan of BrewDog, having thoroughly enjoyed their Paradox Smokehead, Punk IPA and Chaos Theory. Rip Tide is their 8%ABV Imperial Stout, which poured as black as a stout should be with a good stout head. This being a stout the nose was coffee and chocolate, this being a BrewDog stout they were there in abundance. As I said when writing about Paradox, this was big and bold, dominated by roasted coffee. Despite being a big hitter on the alcohol front, this was surprisingly easy to drink.

The O’Hanlon’s Port Stout caught my eye because it brings together two of my favourite alcoholic drinks – I love a glass of port and a wedge on Stilton. The Port Stout pours a very very dark red, bordering on black but not quite getting there, the head was frothy and light brown. Where I was expecting coffee and chocolate on the nose, there was wine, although coffee notes did eventually sneak through. The syrupiness of wine was the prime feature of drinking this stout, but I was surprised to find that the sweetness wasn’t cloying at at, in fact it was almost like drinking a Guinness with a dash of port chucked in – the intention I am sure, and certainly a hit in my books – if this is available in the States, I can see a Christmas tradition starting.

Talking of our impending move to the States, from reading Beer, oh Beer, it would certainly seem that the US craft brew scene love their stouts – a land flowing with coffee and chocolate must truly be the promised land of plenty.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Fuggled Review of the Year - Stouts and Porters

Dark beers have played a major role in my drinking this year, in particular stouts and porters, both from the Czech Republic and from further afield, such as the UK, Ireland, Norway and Germany. I have learnt about the differences between a Baltic and a London porter, and about the different styles of stout, whether dry, sweet or imperial.

When I started my, legal, drinking life, stout was very much my ale of choice. I remember ordering my first ever pint in the Dark Island hotel back at home, it was a Guinness - a youthful homage to my eldest brother. When studying in Birmingham I would wander off for pints of Murphy's and Beamish.

When I came back from Oxford a few months ago, many of the beers I brought with me were stouts and porters of various types, and the only beers I managed to bring from Ireland were from the Carlow Brewing Company, makers of O'Hara's stout.

My shortlist of stouts and porters is as follows:

O'Hara's on draught was good, from the bottle it was great - and still I have a bottle in the cellar waiting to be drunk when the right day arrives.

Wrasslers XXXX was, they say, the choice of stout for Irish hero Michael Collins - a man evidently of exceptional taste in beer. Smooth, full bodied and yet easy to drink, if I lived in Ireland it would be my beer of choice.

What can be said about BrewDog's sublime Paradox series of imperial stouts aged in whisky casks, very simply - where can I buy more?

There is a clear winner here, and it is simply because within one drink the makers have managed to combine two of my passions, as such my Stout/Porter of 2008 is:

  1. BrewDog Paradox Smokehead

Whisky and stout in a single glass - sheer Genius.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oh bum!

By some stroke of infinite genius, I fly to France on the day that the Christmas Beer Market starts here in Prague - that's next Saturday.

There is more information over on , for those that can't read Czech.

For those that can here is an
article with some of the foreign brewers taking part:

So if you are in Prague, get along to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and try some wonderful beers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Peat Smoke Heaven

This is part 1 of a two part tasting, part two will take place sometime in September 2010, as that is the best before date on my bottles of BrewDog Paradox Smokehead, and I want to see what difference a couple of years, and being transported to the US will have on the beer.

When Mrs Velkyal and I move to the US next year, I plan to finally buy a brew kit and start making my own beer. Various recipes have already been designed, my head still spins with ideas. One of the first beers I thought of making was a peat-smoked stout, which I was going to call Machair. In my original plan I wanted to use a portion of distillers malt to give the smokiness of my favourite whiskey – Talisker, although I am also partial to Islay whiskies, in particular Laphroaig.
It was these plans for a peat smoke stout that flooded into my mind as I opened the bottle, and the unmistakable smell of whisky filled my nostrils, even before pouring. Having spent a month drinking dark beers, I fear that I have worn the word “dark” very thin, in which case this beer is absolutely opaque, not a glimmer of light could make it through! As you can see from the picture, there is very little head, all the better for letting the aromas escape and drive you crazy – behind the very evident whisky are traces of coffee and caramel, which in drinking serve to smooth out the beer. At 10%ABV, this is definitely not a beer for the faint minded – the warming glow of the alcohol lingers in the mouth and down the throat from the first sip (and trust me, you don’t want to be chugging this one).
Big, bold and brash, this is very much a grown-up’s beer.

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 ...