Showing posts with label breweries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label breweries. Show all posts

Saturday, February 14, 2015

'Merican Mild Month?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Across the Mountain

There were just four more drinking days left in the year, and 6 before I had to go back to work, so what else to do on the Saturday between Christmas and New Year? Visit a brewery of course.

Sometimes it seems as though the boom in local brewery openings is concentrated to the west of Charlottesville, where you can find Devils Backbone, Blue Mountain, Wild Wolf, and should you carry on the I-64 to a small town called Staunton, there is Redbeard Brewing. So with no commitments for several days, we met up with my good friend, and occasional collaborator, Mark, and ordered a flight of 6 beers...



The six in my flight were:
  • America's Pale Ale
  • 221 Baker Brown Ale
  • Best Coast IPA
  • AM OG Stout
  • Black Rye IPA
  • Xmas Beer
Each of the beers was perfectly acceptable, and in the 221 Baker Brown and AM OG Stout beers which made for a lovely pints on a Saturday afternoon. I was a little disappointed that their bitter, called Mycoft (are you spotting a theme yet), wasn't on tap, but that's just an incentive to get down there again when it is back.


I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by Redbeard, decent beer, a relaxing pub like atmosphere, and a distinct lack of fripperies, and 'craft beer' nonsense waffly bollocks. Compared to some places that are springing up, it was refreshing in more than just the liquid way.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Law of Unintended Consequences

For those of us who live in Virginia and love beer, July 1st will likely go down as one of the best days of 2012. It was on that date that law SB 604 came into effect, allowing breweries to sell pints of their products in their tasting rooms. If you come to the Starr Hill tasting room this Saturday I will, as a result of this law, be able to sell you a pint and, speaking from the point of view of someone behind the bar, I much prefer pouring pints than samples.


As a result of the law coming into effect there have been a veritable slew of breweries opening up with tasting rooms that are effectively pubs. Unencumbered with the requirement to have 45% of their on-premise business come from food sales, I can see more and more breweries turning their tasting rooms into bars. On a personal level I very much welcome such a move, anything that means there are more pub-esque places in the Commonwealth is a good thing in my book.

However, this does raise a question in my head. Given that the legal requirement for pubs and bars to have food is now effectively redundant, why is it still on the statute book? Wouldn't it make sense for the Governor to take a pro-free market stance and reduce the daft regulation and red tape around starting a pub, thus allowing pubs to focus on what pubs are for? Good beer, maybe some snacks and being a social centre for the community, oh and making a viable living for those who want to run a pub without the hassle of being a restaurant as well?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Encouraging Beginnings

Last Friday saw the soft opening of Charlottesville's latest brewery, Champion Brewing Company.


Champion is the brainchild of Hunter Smith, whose parents own and operate the Afton Mountain Vineyards, one of the few vineyards in that part of the area whose wines I consistently like.

Naturally, wanting to support Hunter, Mrs V and I made our way over there on Friday evening, after I was done with brewing my latest best bitter. When we arrived, we snagged ourselves a couple of seats at the bar and had a look at the beer list.

Champion had four beers on tap:
The moment I saw that Pace Car was a respectable 5%, I knew what I wanted. Pitch black, roasty, nutty and very moreish, it was just the ticket and I polished off a couple pretty quickly. Mrs V tried the Killer Kolsch and was suitably impressed.

Usually I have a rule of thumb that it takes a new brewery a few months to really hit their stride, and so I will go back to places where the beer was merely ok and try again. With Champion, if the beer improves in the next six months as Hunter really gets to grips with his operation then Charlottesville will have an excellent small brewery to enjoy.

As some point I will go over with a camera and notebook to do the geeky stuff, but Friday night definitely showed the immense promise that Champion has.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Reason to Celebrate

July 1st 2012 is a date that may prove to be decisive in the history of brewing in Virginia. That was the date when a law came into effect which allowed breweries to sell pints of their products in their tasting rooms. The main reason it may prove to be decisive is that I am fairly sure we will now see a flourishing in the numbers of small breweries opening up and taking advantage of the law to build a following without having the hassle of distribution to deal with straight off the bat.

One such brewery is opening its doors to the public on Saturday, the first of several that I am aware of in the Charlottesville area. Beer Hound Brewery is the brainchild of one of the members of the homebrew club I go to, and owner of a local homebrew shop - Fermentation Trap. Beer Hound is located in Barboursville, about 15 miles north(ish) of Charlottesville, just off the main highway that runs through the area, Route 29, which runs from Baltimore in Maryland to Pensacola, Florida.


The brewery is based in the same location as the homebrew shop, and they have a nice bar where you can try the 8 beers they will have available, which on Saturday will be:
  • Archie- American Brown Ale
  • Scottie- Scottish 60/-
  • Teufelhunde- Belgian Abbey Blonde
  • Fang- Oatmeal Stout
  • Kujo- Rabid Pale Ale
  • Olde Yella- American Pale Wheat
  • Scrappy Doo- Marzen Oktoberfest
  • Winston- Root Beer
As you can see from the names there is something of a canine going on here, that's because Kenny, the brewer, and his wife love dogs and it is pretty normal to see their dog at the shop. One thing that is interesting to note in that list is a 60/- Scottish ale, a new brewery doing a session beer? I like the sound of that and will hopefully be able to get over there on Saturday to try the beers. Given that Beer Hound is on the opposite side of town from most of the breweries, it is effectively Mrs V and I's local brewery now.

Hopefully in the near future I can impose on Kenny to do the Brewer of the Week interview, in the meantime I am looking forward to trying the beers and welcoming another brewery to the area! You can follow Beer Hound on Twitter at @BeerHoundBrewer or on their Facebook page which I linked to above.

Picture credit: not mine, taken from Beer Hound's Facebook page.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Strong Core

Last week I posted about the importance of getting simpler styles of beer right in order to be regarded as a great as opposed to a good brewer. Of course the phrase "simple styles" specifically referred to the types of beer that have very simple grain bills, perhaps even with just the one malt used, such as a pilsner made exclusively from the Pilsner base malt. As is my wont, I have being mulling over that idea and thinking that while I stand by my original assertion, there is more to being a great brewer than just being able to make a magnificent pale ale, bitter or pilsner.

I got to thinking about the importance of having a strong core range of beer, and how excellence across the core range is also a sign of a great brewer. Having used Sierra Nevada as my example in the previous post, I shall do so again. Their core range consists of the following five beers:

  • Pale Ale
  • Kellerweis
  • Porter
  • Stout
  • Torpedo Extra IPA
Now, I will be perfectly up front and honest and say that I am yet to try the Porter and the Stout, a major oversight on my part to be sure, especially given my love of darker beers, but one which will be rectified at my earliest convenience. If, however, you look at the rankings these beers get on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer, they are consistently at the higher end of their respective scales. Their core range is thus solid and well regarded by the wider beer drinking community. Of course, Sierra Nevada brew their seasonal and one off beers, and they rate very highly in the ranking sites, imperfect as such sites are.

One off specials add a little sparkle to a brewer's offerings, that it is certain, but when there is a massive disparity in the opinions of the beer drinking community between specials and the core range, you have to ask questions as to whether or not a brewery is really all that great. There are always questions of who a brewery's target market is, whether it is the cognoscenti of the beer world, or the average Joe just looking for something cold and wet to drink when out grilling, or having just cut the grass. But this brings me back to my original point in last week's post, is there anything I would rather drink when grilling than a well made pale ale or pilsner anyway? Probably not.

I guess in some ways I just apt to disappointment when I try a brewery's seasonal and one-off beers and they are light years ahead of the core range as it begs the question, if you can do this style very well, why doesn't the core range reach those heights as well?

Monday, May 17, 2010

What is Innovation?

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Who Do We Think We Are?

I made a promise to myself before Mrs Velkyal and I made the move from Prague to the USA that I would not allow myself to become a blinkered drinker; that I would try beers made by the big boys of the brewing world over here, whether that be SABMiller, AB-InBev or Molson-Coors. I don't believe in objectivity when it comes to rating a beer, and I am slowly allowing myself to worry less about adjuncts, some of which are essential to a given beer style.

Admittedly I will rarely blog about beer from the big boys, not because I think they are necessarily awful beers, nor yet because I want to show off my serious beer drinker credentials by mouthing off about them, but because there are plenty of others out there taking that role and I simply can't be arsed to repeat ad nauseum the prejudices of other people, I don't want to fall into group think. I will say this though, having had a few bottles of Budweiser since I have been here and I can think of at least a couple of Czech lagers which given the choice, I would drink Budweiser instead of.

One thing though that I have noticed of late is comments about how the big boys are trying to muscle in on the craft beer scene by producing beer which to the uninitiated seem as though they would be craft beer, think Blue Moon from Coors or the Michelob range from AB-InBev. Perhaps I am being overly generous to the industrial brewers, but is imitation no longer the sincerest form of flattery? They have recognised a market trend and because they are businesses they want a piece of the action, it is a natural part of market economics. Is does however challenge preconceived notions about what is and what is not "craft beer", and if a brew from one of the big boys happens to meet those criteria, is it disingenuous of us in the beer geek world to not call it "craft beer"? It might not be "good" be in our world, but it is "craft" beer, which is another preconceived prejudice that needs a swift kick in the crotch, not all "craft" beer is good, in fact I can think  of plenty with is boring, plain or just down right crap.

Now, speaking as a Brit, I wonder if our devotion to, and championing of, smaller breweries is because we have an in-built cheer for the underdog attitude? A bit like cheering for Fulham in the Europa League final, or supporting Ross County in the Scottish Cup Final (on a side note, having been to Victoria Park many times when I lived in Fortrose, I am supporting County in the final for affectionate reasons rather than plucky underdog cheering). What happens though when the small brewer becomes a medium size brewer? How often have you heard people claim that Deuchers IPA isn't as good as it used to be? Strangely such comments come out when a brewer gets a larger share of the market - a bit like,and I have used this phrase before, bitter Pearl Jam fans claiming Nirvana sold out for commercial success.

Those somewhat random thoughts then lead me to the question in the title of this post, who do we as beer bloggers, geeks and lovers think we are? What is our role in the beer community? What do the brewers actually think of those of us who take time to write about their beers? Answers on a postcard to....well ok, leave a comment.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beer People Stand!



This part of Virginia sometimes seems to be booze central, with 4 breweries, plentiful vineyards, at least one cider maker (that's proper cider people, without alcohol it is called "apple juice"), and a newly operational distillery - all within about 30 miles of Charlottesville. One of the most interesting things about working a brewery tasting room is indulging in a little people watching, whilst talking with people about the beers produced by Starr Hill.

We get quite a few people who are out touring a couple of the vineyards and taking in a couple of breweries, usually it is the ladies who advocate for the vineyards, while their significant male others prefer the breweries - and from talking with such couples, I find it interesting that the beer lover of the pair often has a well developed opinion of the wine, even if he doesn't drink it often, while the wine buff is, to be blunt, either pig ignorant about beer (and unwilling to learn) or passive aggressive toward it, simply refusing to try a few tiny samples. The usual form with such couples is that both will approach the bar, ascertain that tastings are available and when I suggest both starting out with a particular beer, the beer lover will say something like "sounds good", while the wine buff sneers and says "I don't do beer" or some such crap, said buff then wanders off to browse the merchandise, or sit at a table cross legged and armed waiting for the beer lover to be done with.

Now, I am aware that it is sweeping generalisation here, but I am coming to the conclusion that beer lovers are simply more open-minded than our wine loving cousins, and that in many ways wine people simply do not understand beer people. Take for example tasting notes. I believe that many of vineyards in this neck of the wood provide their customers with tasting sheets, and these are greatly appreciated apparently. In the brewery tasting room context, and I speak as a note taker, on the days I remember my note book and/or pen, very few people bother to take notes, even when asked if they would like a tasting sheet - which we do have at Starr Hill, and only once has someone taken said sheet when offered at the bar. I think those of us who do take notes, again sweeping generalisation here, do so in the comfort of our own home when supping on a bottle of something we probably tried in the pub context and want to get a better handle on.

Beer is a deeply unpretentious drink, it is not an aspirational product, or even a lifestyle choice, and from my experience beer people are unpretentious, open and fun loving, so why we would try to ape the wine buff world of spouting drivel about being able to taste curried rubber or some such crap when talking about beer? Yes there are different tastes, flavours, aromas and feelings that beer produces, but let's remember where most of us do our drinking, down the pub with mates, the social aspect is key, and it is something a lot of wine buffs simply do not understand in my experience, sometimes I am sure that "I don't like beer" really means "I don't like life and people".

Again, yes I know there is a lot of generalisations in this piece, and we all know people who defy them - just needed to blow off some steam about waffly wine buffs looking like they are being forced to suck lemons by even being in a brewery. oh and the wine in the picture was lovely (I really do like wine, and get as excited by a good wine as I do a good beer).

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

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