Showing posts with label brewpubs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label brewpubs. Show all posts

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Go Mad My Son

Yesterday, Mrs V, myself, and my parents went up to DC for a day trip. It's only a couple of hours by car from our house to the parts of Northern Virginia that have a connection to the city itself through the wonders of the metro, and so we parked up and rode into the District of Columbia.

Having bimbled by Capitol Hill, strolled along the National Mall, sauntered around the National Air and Space Museum, we were all well and truly foot weary. Earlier in the day my mother had mentioned that my parents would like to treat us to a good meal. Not being all that knowledgeable about the DC area, and the fact that our car was out near Falls Church, I suggested trying out Mad Fox Brewing.

I have only ever heard good things about Mad Fox, so it was with some excitement, and not a little trepidation, that we took our seats. I say trepidation because so often when a place is praised to the heavens it fails to live up to my expectations.

Mad Fox would be different. From the moment I looked at the beer menu I knew what I wanted to drink. Mason's Dark Mild, a 3.3% English style mild, served on cask, that could not have been any more spot on had it tried, and yes, it was served as cask ale should be, sparkled. I tried a few samples of other beers, a k?lsch, both filtered and keller style, again excellent, an English Summer Ale, superb, and a porter which was entirely magnificent.

The beer was just one part of the deal, as there is traditionally food involved in dinner, and the food was as good as the beer. Whether is was my burger with caramelised onion jam, or my mother's fig and balsamic pizza, there was a general consensus that the food was delightful. Oh, and did I mention yet that the service was absolutely wonderful?

It's fair to say I have become a fan.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Parisian Blonde

Tucked away on the Rue des Cannettes in Paris is a brewpub that goes by the name . It is a place that I have been aware of pretty much ever since my parents moved to the Limousin area of France and going to visit entailed a couple of hours in Paris waiting for a train. The main reason Mrs V and I had never visited was because we were either waiting for said train early in the morning, or we only had a very short amount of time and needed to eat and drink somewhere close to Gare d'Austerlitz.


As I mentioned last week though, just before Hogmanay we spent a couple of days in the city, with The Tale of the Ale author Reuben and his wife. Finally we had time, and it is never a bad thing to have exemplary company to go to a pub with.

From the outside it kind of looks like many an ethnopub in the great cities of the world, dark wood, lights that are perhaps a tad garish, you know the kind of places, often they go by the name "The Dubliner", "The Rose and Crown" and so on.

The first thing I noticed as we were being led to our table (never sure how I feel about that in a pub, but that's a different story) was the taps*. No fancy set ups, no labels telling drinkers what was coming out of each one, brass, chrome and wood, industrial, suggesting a confidence in their product. This was clearly a beer place, and beer places are my kind of places - I am starting to believe that the pub is a transnational institution.

They had four beers available the night we visited, a Blanche, Blonde, Ambrée and Brune. Did I mention yet that the place was packed? Absolutely to the rafters packed and so in fear that there may be too long of a downtime between pints, Reuben and I ordered two pints each while the ladies had a bottle of wine. A quick side note, did you know that Virginia law stipulates that a person can only have 1 alcoholic beverage at a time? It was nice not having to think about such stupidity.

I ordered the Blonde, described as a "Lager Ale", and the Brune, described as a "Stout". I was fairly sure that the Blonde would be something along the lines of a K?lsch and I wasn't disappointed. Clean, crisp and with a fruitiness that balanced the hop bite very nicely, it was just what the doctor ordered after strolling the streets of Paris in the rain. The Brune was nice too, not really a Stout as we would understand them, but then the style is less important than how good it tastes, and taste good it did. Admittedly I stuck with the Blonde from there on out, served as they were in hefty mugs that made a satisfying clunk as Reuben and I cheersed each fresh pint.

Good company, good beer and a pub with a good atmosphere, what more could anyone want from a night out drinking?

* For some pictures of the night and the taps, see .

Monday, February 14, 2011

In Praise of Brewpubs

We are inordinately fortunate in this part of the world, as I have mentioned before, to have a wealth of brewing companies within an hours drive. Whether we are talking about the likes of Starr Hill, whose beers are available throughout the south east of the US, with the exception of Georgia, or one of the local brewpubs, we have loads of beer options here. It is great being able to go into our nearby shops and pick up six packs of locally made beer. Having said that, I have to admit that I prefer to combine my two favourite things, pubs and beer, by going to one of the brewpubs.


If you follow Fuggled with even the vaguest sense of regularity you will know that my favourite brewpub in the Charlottesville area is Devils Backbone, out in Roseland. I love the beer, the food, the atmosphere, the drive back in the depths of night can be a bit hairy at times though. Mrs Velkyal and I also enjoy popping over to Blue Mountain from time to time, again for good beer and a nice relaxing vibe. Whenever we venture away from home, we look instinctively for brewpubs to drop in to, and so we have enjoyed Blue Ridge Brewing in Greenville, Hunter Gatherer in Columbia, Southend Brewery in Charleston (yes we go to South Carolina a lot). All this got me thinking about reasons for preferring a brewpub to pretty much any other drinking experience, and I came up with a couple of reasons.


Firstly, most brewpubs are good pubs in general. If you go to South Street Brewery in the centre of Charlottesville, the building itself is beautiful, and it feels very much like a proper pub. Dark, almost brooding, plenty of bare brick and dark wood, it is very much my kind of ambience. Devils Backbone by contrast is mainly stone, wood and corrugated iron (it might be tin, so don't quote me), the high ceilings add a sense of space and light which doesn't translate to bright and gaudy. Blue Mountain kind of feels like my living room, with a very nice patio outside. Different places with different atmospheres but all identifiably pubs. They are places for enjoying beer, first and foremost.


Now this might be slightly controversial, or entirely obvious, but brewpubs succeed or fail on the basis of their beer, and that means they need to be on top of their game constantly. By this I mean that they have no place to hide when it comes to criticism. They brew their own beer, condition their own beer, serve their own beer. If there is a problem with a beer then they can't blame the distributor for not looking after it properly, or the pub for not serving it properly, the buck stops with them. Why then is this a reason for me to prefer the brewpub experience? Simply because if I am enjoying a pint of excellent beer, then I am confident that if I switch drinks, they will likewise well made and cared for, at the same time if the pint is not up to scratch and then neither is another, then it suggests a systemic problem with the brewing setup. As such, it allows me to make an informed decision as to whether or not I want to continue pouring money into their cash register.


A major benefit of the brewpub though is having had a flight of samples, you can then order a pint of the one you liked best and get tucking in to a good session - which is, after all the prime purpose of beer, if beer needs to have a purpose.

The best brewpubs combine the best of the beer world, good beer in a convivial environment.

Now, just in case you are thoroughly confused with me writing a positive post rather than ranting, here's something to restore your sense of normality. Yesterday I was in Barnes and Noble when I picked up the book The Beer Trials, turning to the page about Pilsner Urquell, I was dumbstruck by the ignorance and all round bullshit of the description of the beer. For starters "Pilsner Urquell" is GERMAN for Pilsner from the Original Source, not Czech. Yes they really said that. Twice. Ignorant tits. Secondly opening a bottle of pasteurised Pilsner Urquell thousands of miles from the Czech Republic is hardly the best way to enjoy a famously delicate beer, especially when the glass is green, and so the "traditional lightstruck/noble hop" aroma is not normal. Try drinking Pilsner Urquell from a tankove system, in the Czech Republic before waffling bollocks. Here endeth the lesson.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I Gather You Hunt, Sir?

In the past, whenever Mrs Velkyal and I headed down to South Carolina I had but one thing on my zythophilic mind, a trip to the Flying Saucer. While we were in Columbia over the Christmas period (am I allowed to say Christmas? Isn't it "the holidays"?) I decided that I really needed to finally get my arse round to Hunter Gatherer, Columbia's only brewpub. I wish I knew why we had never visited, it may have had something to do with Flying Saucer's high flying mini-skirted waitresses, but I digress.

I was getting snippy last Monday, I don't know Columbia well enough yet to feel confident driving without the good lady wife, or her father, but I needed to get out of the house and have some me time (in Myers-Briggs speak, I am an INTJ and need me time to re-charge batteries). A quick look on Mapquest showed me that from the in-laws' place to Hunter Gatherer was about 7 miles. So, I announced to the gathered family members that the next day I would walk into town for a beer or two, Mrs V having promised to help paint her grandmother's kitchen.

So yes, I walked 7 miles to go to the pub. I had my Walkman on (it is a Sony Walkman MP3!), listening to Wolfstone, and set off, notebook, camera and tastebuds in tow. The walk took me about an hour and 45 minutes, so I must assume that your average Mapquest user is in fact a three toed sloth. I arrived just after opening time, and just in time for lunch, and having read they do 4oz pours for $1 ready for the flight that followed.


First up was their American Wheat Ale, a style which so far has left me cold, and not particularly refreshed. Anyway, this Wheat Ale poured a slightly hazy golden, topped with just a wee bit of white head - I had seen the head straight from the tap and it looked decent, but seemingly American drinkers like their beer head to look like scum on top of a London cup of tea. Back to the beer though, the nose was distinctly malty, bready and biscuity. There was however an aroma I couldn't quite place, until as I inhaled deeply with my eyes closed I realised it was wet cat. Finally I understood why American hops were considered "catty" way back when. As the beer warmed, the expected grapefruit citrusy thing came through more. Tastewise, this was rather like a nice lemon meringue pie, with a digestive biscuit base. Overall, a decent refreshing beer, though I fear American Wheat Ales won't be jumping to the top of my must have beer list any time soon.


Next up was their Pale Ale, which is a deep orange amber colour with a touch of white foam. Being a classic American Pale Ale, can you guess what the nose was? Yes, citrusy, grapefruity hoppiness - which is exactly what I want and expect from an American Pale. Drinking the beer was an exercise of sweet caramel malts providing a nice counterbalance to the zingy, orangey bite of the hops. Clean and very easy to drink. When I took Mrs Velkyal to the pub the next day, she had this and remarked that it would rival her beloved Primator English Pale Ale for preferred beer - high praise indeed!


Third in the line-up was the ESB, which as you can see from the picture pours a deep copper, again with a white head. The nose was sweet candy and spiciness, which put me in mind of Goldings hops - I did ask but the brewer wasn't around and the barman didn't want to say for sure. Tastewise, this was quite tangy in an almost sourdough bread way, the spicy hop bite playing nicely with the maltiness of the beer. Overall, I thought this to be a good solid bitter, crisp with a long dry finish.


Their special on the days I visited was a winter warmer called Ye Olde Bastarde, a deep russet beer topped with a dark ivory head. The nose was full of cocoa and sweet grass. The sweetness of caramel malts was very much to the fore in the flavour department, with cocoa and toffee dominant, but the hops play through with a mild spicy bite that stops the sweetness from being overpowering. Very smooth drinking, and drink plenty more of it I did, but had there been a live fire in the pub I would have abandoned my station at the bar, and any plans on being coherent when I returned to the in-laws'.


Being lunchtime, I decided to have a stab at the food. When I lived in the Czech Republic, I had a routine, when I went some place new, I always tried their fried cheese and chips - I am convinced that quality fried cheese is always a good sign in a kitchen, either that or I just like peasant food. Anyway, my equivalent here in the States is to try the burger and chips, which, in this case, came topped with horseradish cheddar, and hash browns rather than chips. A good solid burger at a decent price, no complaints at all. The following day when we returned, I had their special of beer braised chicken thighs, served with grits and a mushroom onion gravy, and it was excellent.


Having had a couple more pints of Ye Olde Bastarde, and spent my entire time there looking wistfully at the bottle of Talisker right in my line of sight, I sent Mrs V a text message simply saying "Flying Saucer has serious competition". Good beer, a nice neighbourhood pub atmosphere, good food and reasonable prices, only $3.75 a pint for the standard range of Wheat, Pale Ale and ESB, makes Hunter Gatherer a must visit place whenever we are in South Carolina.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Ron Would Love It!

Sometimes I feel inordinately lucky to live in a part of Virginia which has at least 4 craft breweries within about 30 miles, I say "at least" because the 4 I am talking about are all west of Charlottesville and there may me more to the north, south and east.

Having spent the weekend working the tasting room in the Starr Hill Brewing Company and having a great, if exhausting time, last night Mrs Velkyal and I took my good lady wife's parents to another of the local brewers, . I remarked to Mrs V on the way home that of all the brewpubs in the area, Devil's Backbone is the only one we have taken all of our visitors to, but I digress.

I needed a pint, hefting kegs and cases of beer is heavy work, pouring samples and chatting with customers means being on your feet for the whole shift and constantly on the move, it is tiring but I love it - I have to admit though I am not sure entirely what I love more, talking about the beer or making sure that it is in the best possible condition within the realm of my influence, essentially making sure the lines are clean, but again I digress.

Devil's Backbone currently have a stout, nothing remarkable about that you might think, but this one is not an Irish Stout, it is a recreation of a 1904 London stout from Whitbread, including, according to the brewer's blog, the requisite specialty grains and fermented with the Whitbread yeast. What a simply lovely beer it was! A touch sweeter than you would expect from an Irish stout, but with big cocoa aromas and a smooth texture reminiscent of pouring warmed dark chocolate straight down your gullet. I wish I'd had my camera, speaking of which - I imagine this on cask would be magnificent!

According to
, coming soon will be an attempt to recreate Pilsner Urquell, from the original recipe using the traditional methods - triple decoction, enough Saaz hops for 40IBUs and bohemian malts are I assume already ordered, quite though how they will get the water to the required softness I have no idea. But this I am looking forward to. Will my search finally be over? Will this little corner of American finally have a pilsner worthy of the name? Will I be agitating for it to be a regular beer if it is good?

There is only one downside to Devil's Backbone. It is not in Charlottesville itself and thus I can't walk home merrily pickled. Every trip then is one to savour.

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

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