Showing posts with label charlottesville. Show all posts
Showing posts with label charlottesville. Show all posts

Friday, October 12, 2018

Favourite Watering Holes

The inestimable pairing that is Boak and Bailey have a list of what look like wonderful pubs over on their blog today, and so in the spirit of shameless plagiarism I figured I would make a similar list. My list, by virtue of bouncing round the world for the last couple of decades needs to have the addition of dates for some places, as they have either closed down, or gone to shit from what friends have told me. In no particular order then, in we dive...

Pivovarsky klub, K?i?íkova 17, Prague

It really is inevitable that Pivovarsky klub is on this list, it was there that 13 years ago on Sunday I met Mrs V after all, and for the next four years before moving to the US it was our local. We lived about a 5 minute walk from the place, got to know the staff really well, had our wedding reception there, and still recommend friends that are visiting Prague to pop in. I remember how revolutionary the idea of 6 taps, 5 of which rotated, and at least 200 bottled beers seemed at the time, opening up a whole new world of Czech beer to me. Most of the time I drank in the cellar bar, sorry my American friends "basement" just doesn't cut it as a description for their subterranean space, sat at the bar, in the corner under the spiral staircase. From my perch I could happily engage in my favourite, well second favourite, pub pastime - people watching. I often tell this story, but one of the things we loved about PK was that we were such regulars that the staff knew exactly what Mrs V wanted to drink without having to ask (Primátor English Pale Ale), and usually had it ready as she sat down. In many ways the feel of the place was Craft™ before it became a thing, you know, stripped brick and shiny metal, with paler wooden furniture than many a traditional boozer.

Zlatá hvězda, Prague, 1999-2009

Comically poor beer, toilets that would disgrace a refugee camp, and an owner that was known to physically throw people out of his pub that were being arseholes shouldn't really make for a place that I loved and frequented regularly, but love Zlatá I did. It was the place that for all 10 years of my stay in Prague I watched football, mostly Liverpool obviously, but not exclusively. With a group of fellow Liverpool fans, as well as a revolving cast of English teachers, teachers at one of Prague's international schools, Finnish chefs on disability who supported Chelsea, this place could generate an atmosphere unlike any other sports bar I have known. Similar to PK, I lived just a 5 minute walk from the place for the last four years of my stay in Prague, and was known to pop in even when there was no football, the cavernous, cool, dark space being perfect for reading the international edition of the Guardian. Shame they never learnt to spell my name for my reservations, but I got used to being "All" instead of "Al".

The Bon Accord, 153 North Street, Glasgow

Only been here a couple of times, but both have been fantastic. A good range of well kept real ales, 25 year old Talisker just one of the superb whiskies available, and an all day breakfast that will keep you going for several days. Both of our visits have ended up with us sitting with owner getting bevvied, and remarkably he remembered us the second time we turned up, some 2 years after the first, so gets additional kudos points for that. During that second trip, on a Friday night, I mentioned to Mrs V that one of the things I miss about British life was Friday nights in the pub, without the need to worry about driving home, sadly in central Virginia regional public transport is non-existant and taxis cost several appendages.

Devils Backbone Basecamp, 200 Mosbys Run, Roseland, Virginia

Some places are worth the hour it takes to drive there, said places are often also a factor in deciding where to go hiking of a weekend, the original Devils Backbone brewpub is one such place. When we landed in Virginia back in 2009, Devils Backbone was just coming up to its first birthday, and our first visit was on a tour of local brewpubs with a friend from the Prague days who was now living in Pittsburgh. That first visit was a bit underwhelming, mainly because the server got our flight all mixed up and let's just say expectations went all awry until we worked out the correct order from the menu notes. In those early years we would pretty often jump in the car to spend Sunday afternoon sat at the bar, surrounded by the taxidermy, reclaimed wood, and superb lagers. It was that commitment to quality lager that pulled me into Devils Backbone's orbit, and I have been a happy lager drinker because of them ever since. Some might baulk at spending money at an AB-InBev owned brewery, but Devils Backbone really looks after their people well, many of the wait staff having been there for almost ten years, and the fact that the beer keep improving as they invest in new shiny toys means I will always be able to get my lager kick satisfied at what I still think of as Virginia's best craft brewery.

Kardinal Hall, 722 Preston Avenue, Charlottesville, Virginia

As close to a German style beer hall as we are likely to get in this part of Virginia, and a pretty damned good stab it is too. Any place where I can get a litre of Rothaus Pils on draft has got to be a good place, add to that the excellent food, and this is somewhere my friends and I pretty often end up after a morning of hiking in the mountains. Admittedly I have to get used to the fact that "bratwurst" in America means something different than in Nuremburg or Thuringia, and so I avoid them so as to not be disappointed, but their Belgian fries are phenomenal. One of the great things about Kardinal is they actually have a decent sized and pleasant outdoor space that when the trees grow to maturity is going to make a really nice beer garden.

The Castle Tavern, 1 View Place, Inverness

The first time Mrs V and I wandered into the Castle Tavern was in 2014 when I took her for her first trip to Scotland, and the first time I had been home in almost a decade. It was Sunday lunchtime and my parents were at church, being good heathen folks my wife and I had wandered along the River Ness and decided it was time for a pint. Said pint was Cromarty Brewing's majestic Atlantic Drift, and in that moment I had found two new loves, a brewery and a real ale pub. Whenever I am home, the Castle Tavern is an essential port of call, anywhere that gets Timothy Taylor Landlord on cask is going to be a place I want to be at. If Mrs V and I move to the Inverness area in the future, it will be a regular haunt.

Photo credits
  • Pivovarsky klub: Mark Stewart

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Proper German Pilsner

There's a new pub in Charlottesville called Kardinal Hall, based on the concept of the great German/central European beer hall and garden. I went for the first time last night, not being much of one for going to places on opening night, as I had a meeting to plan the next few months of events for my homebrew club. This post isn't a review of Kardinal Hall, I like to let places hit their stride before writing them off or praising them to the heavens, this is about the beer I drank....

I didn't even realise that Rothaus Pils Tannenz?pfle was actually available in the US, but the minute I saw it on the menu I knew I wanted it, and I wanted a litre of it - major bonus of Kardinal Hall is the option of 1 litre mugs of proper German beer. There are no tasting notes as I didn't make any, it not being the time or place, and anyway I have basically given up taking notes of the beers I drink unless I am at home. Suffice to say that this was German pilsner perfection, clean, crisp, with a real bite of noble hops in the finish, and drinkability that would make many a weird shit craft beer simply weep.

Coming on the back of my post the other day about how Pilsner should not be equated with adjunct laden pale lagers, it was fantastic to drink a superb iteration of probably my favourite style. It is safe to say that I will be visiting Kardinal Hall a fair bit until it runs out, and hopefully they'll continue with having good central European lagers available in Charlottesville, and if they need a list of worthwhile stuff, they know where I am....

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Rare Treat

'Legend' is a word far too easily bandied around these days, as is the eternal hyperbole of 'awesome', 'mind-blowing', and 'world rocking'. It seems sometimes that there are a vocal minority of beer drinkers out there for whom every beer needs to be awesomely mind blowing whilst rocking their world to even be mentioned.

Then there are true legends, beers that changed the beer world, that became archetypes to be copied endlessly, though rarely, if at all, bettered. One such legend is Pilsner Urquell.

Since moving to the US I have seen the Pilsner Urquell available here improve immeasurably, firstly with the refrigerated shipping, then the switch to brown bottles, on Saturday I enjoyed two pints of draft Pilsner at my local Whole Foods, and took a growler home, and almost it was like drinking back in the Czech Republic.

But for all these improvements it still hasn't  quite scratched my Pilsner itch. I am hoping that Thursday will change all that.

Thursday, at the Charlottesville branch of World of Beer, will be a day I honestly thought I would never see. Pilsner Urquell will be on tap, no great shock there I suppose, but the version they will be putting on tap is unfiltered and unpasteurised. Pilsner Urquell as urquell as you can damn well get, without drinking it out of wooden barrels in the brewery.

To say I am excited at the prospect would be an understatement for sure.

For non-Czech speakers, the phrase at the top of the beer mat there is 'perfection need not be changed'.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Of Renovation and Restoration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Few More Drops

On Saturday afternoon, Mrs V and I went to Three Notch'd Brewing Company. Nothing unusual there in the slightest, though we did have Mrs V's best friend, visiting from South Carolina, in tow and it was her first time to Three Notch'd.

Having ascertained that both ladies wanted pints of Session 42, I wandered to the bar and ordered 3. While I had been standing waiting to order, I got chatting to a bloke from the North West of England who was planning to fill a growler of Session 42, as he had, apparently, every day of each weekend that the beer was available. Not revealing my role in the creation of the beer, I was thrilled to hear people raving about the beer.

I have drunk very little other than Session 42 for a while now, yes I am biased, but it is a magnificent best bitter that would more than grace the bars of Yorkshire. As pint 3 was being poured, the keg kicked, and much to my chagrin that was the last keg in the building. So I had my half pint topped off with Oats McGoats to make a lovely black and tan, and lamented the passing of my favourite beer.

Thankfully though it is available in a few of my preferred bars in Charlottesville, so next stop was the Whiskey Jar so I could get my fill. We returned on Monday at their opening time, a very civilised 11am, and another 4 pints were reveled in before midday. Nothing like marking Labor Day with the working man's drink. Each mouthful was a melancholy delight as I wasn't sure when I would be able to have more, given the fact I rarely drink during the week these days.

This morning though I had a text message waiting for me on my phone, from the brewmaster at Three Notch'd, Dave, telling me that they had brought a few kegs from their satellite brewery in Harrisonburg back to Charlottesville. Suddenly this weekend looks as though it will have more Session 42 in it, which makes it a much brighter prospect.

Note: Mrs V keeps mentioning that I can always brew Session 42 at home, which is true, but I get the sense my favourite pubs would be rather miffed at me for trying to drink a homebrew version in their establishment.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Brewer of the Week

Charlottesville is booming. Breweries are popping up left, right, and centre it would seem. The first of the new breweries in the area to pop up after the introduction of law SB604, which allowed breweries to sell pints in their tasting rooms, was Champion Brewing, close to the centre of town, and winner, after just a few weeks, of the Fuggled Dark Beer of the Year for Virginia. Today, we speak to their brewer and founder, Hunter Smith...

Name: Hunter Smith
Brewery: Champion Brewing Company

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I started as a homebrewer, like many commercial brewers. As my beers improved, my confidence grew, and I took courses from the local community college, taught by local brewers. As my knowledge increased, I felt confident I could handle the curriculum of the Siebel Institute. After a few years on the management side of the wine business, I jumped in here.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

I think the most important characteristic of brewers is the level of expectation for themselves. Not necessarily to be a perfectionist but to be demanding of one’s adherence to sanitation, to quality, and to safety standards. It’s not always rocket science, but having adherence to protocol and a lack of laziness. And without a clear understanding of ingredients, the recipes won’t matter.

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

I did! Our IPA and brown ales aren’t far off of where I got started, particularly our Melee Session IPA. Same with our No Retreat Wheat. Everything’s been a little tweaked in the scale-up.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Truthfully, I don’t, but for a few reasons, primarily that with our 3-bbl system we aren’t married to a ton of inventory and I still have the ability to be constantly creative with recipes the same way I could at home, but with the efficiencies of a pro rig. Also as both owner and brewer, my time at home is scarce and for my kids.

What is your favourite beer to brew?

I think my favorite brewday belongs to our Olde Salt Oyster Stout, not only because it’s such a cool beer and fun process, but I also get to sneak in a few of the best oysters on the East Coast.

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

I haven’t as an employee, but I have enjoyed brewdays at both Devil’s Backbone and Hardywood Park, and we brewed a collaboration Rye IPA at Blue Mountain.

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

I have probably drank the highest number of our Tart Berliner Weisse, via its drinkability and low alcohol, but I most like to slowly drink our ICBM Double IPA; I really love it.

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

In my opinion, entirely. I think it’s important to play true to style, and modify if desired, but always keeping the original in mind. I like to wander outside of boundaries but it’s important to have a style compass. I feel the most strongly about this in regard to ingredients. I hate hearing that ‘new’ beers are other existing beers tweaked with malt coloring and canned puree and the like.

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

We have done collabs with Devil’s Backbone, Blue Mountain, and Breckenridge. I really admire all of their beers and brewers, truly. If I were to cherry pick another to do tomorrow, it would be Three Floyds. I love their beers and share their inspiration of heavy metal and hardcore.

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

Man, that’s a great question. There are so many great beers out there, there are plenty I wish I could take credit for. I’ll admit my most frustration with Jason’s Danzig Coffee Baltic Porter from Devil’s Backbone, because I want to do a coffee Baltic Porter, but it kinda feels like ‘seat’s taken.’ I’ve even got a Misfits tattoo, I feel like I got robbed! But Jason’s old enough to have seen them when they were still together, so he gets dibs, haha.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Brewer of the Week

A couple of weeks ago, Charlottesville newest brewery opened. Last Friday I finally got round to the tasting room to try their first slew of offerings, and very impressed I was as well - to give you an idea of how much I enjoyed the beers, I had 4 pints of their IPA - yes you read that correctly, this distinctly unfussed about IPA beer drinker enjoyed 4 pints of IPA. This Friday, sees a return of the Fuggled Brewer of the Week series, and may I introduce Dave, the man behind the beers I enjoyed so much last week.

Name: Dave Warwick
Brewery: Three Notch’d Brewing Co.

How did you get into brewing as a career?

I’ve always been attracted to beer and the beer industry. It witnesses friendship, community, and many celebrations. During some of the greatest times of our lives, beer was right beside us. Oh yeah, and it tastes GREAT and every style tells a story. After two years of a cut-throat sales rep position with Coors in Western Pennsylvania, I disregarded my degree in marketing and gave up the aggressive, high stress job to be a part-time assistant brewer making $8/hour shoveling grain and shining tanks at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Pittsburgh, PA. I met a lot of nice bill collectors that year, but I loved being a part of something special and I was happy.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

Having an open mind. The craft beer scene is ever changing in the US these days. It’s important to be in touch with the beer drinking community, acknowledge what they want and adjust your recipes accordingly. Brew what the people want, not what you want. I need to keep telling myself this. I am not a fan of Black IPA’s at all, but I can’t deny the current popularity of it. I plan on breaking down and brewing one this winter.

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

Unfortunately, I have never homebrewed. I jumped right into the pro sector. I always wanted to, but after brewing all week and getting the weekend off, I just couldn’t get the motivation to brew more at home. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to homebrew at work, on a large scale, for a living.

What is your favourite beer to brew?

I’d have to say my favorite beer to brew is my pumpkin ale. I love the fall, and over the years, brewing a pumpkin ale has represented the festive beginnings of my favorite season. In years past, I always enjoyed chopping and baking the pumpkins at home the night before the brew with my fiancée, Michelle. There’s extra work to do the next day with the pumpkins in the mash and the puree and spices in the boil so it breaks up the daily routine of the other brews. This year, though, I felt the market’s pressure to brew a pumpkin ale before pumpkins were even harvested. The pumpkin puree/pumpkin pie filling is what you really taste in the final product anyway, it’s just more fun with the fresh pumpkins in the mash.

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

In 2009, I was in an apprenticeship program at Rock Bottom in Westminster, CO under Brewmaster Scott O’Hearn. I was given the opportunity to brew my very first recipe, “Tiny’s” Smoked Porter. (Tiny was my nickname.) THAT was my very favorite brewday. I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep the night before.

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

Such a hard question to answer…My pilsner, my Kolsch? I can’t decide, I’ll come back to it after answering the other questions. Okay, I’m back. Maybe my Kolsch, or no, my Double IPA, English brown, depending on the season and other things. Belgian Tripel? Hmm, still not sure. I’m going to sleep on it. Good night. Good morning, yeah, still have no idea. I like so many of them and they all are special to me.

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

It depends on the style and how open it is to interpretation. For a lot of beers I like to stay within the confines of the style guidelines and keep it simple, pure and delicious. A Kolsch, for example, has no room for authenticity. It has specific flavors and other qualities that must be met out of respect to the history of the style. Then there are beers that lengthen my leash and let me be more creative. I’ve had some fun trying to make our “40 Mile” IPA as authentic as I can. It’s light, crisp and bright with mild bitterness, (a humble 50IBU’s) and highlights a peachy, tropical hop complexity from El Dorados, but finishes with an array of staple West Coast citrus “C’s”.

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

So many great brewers and breweries out there, all that I would love to brew with, especially right here in the Charlottesville area. Champion, Blue Mountain, Devils Backbone, James River all come to mind. In a perfect world, I would brew on every system with every Brewmaster. To pick on, though, I do plan on reaching out soon to Evolution Brewing Co. in Salisbury, MD. I grew up in the Salisbury area, during a time when there was no craft beer scene and Natural Light reigned king. Evolution is the pioneer of the craft beer movement going on today in Salisbury. It would be special to brew with Geoff DeBisschop as that would be a sort of homecoming for me.

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

This is an easy one. Rye Barchetta, brewed by Champion and Blue Mountain. Not only is it an amazing beer that I wish I would’ve come up with, but I’m a huuuuge fan of the band Rush that this beer is a nod to. I would’ve loved to be a part of that collaboration. Maybe next year for an anniversary, (hint, hint). I might’ve just answered the previous question with a different answer.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Opening Time

This story started, for me at least, in the pub, McGrady's to be precise.

I had finished at my previous job and had a couple of days off before starting my first stint at the company I now work for, and had arranged to meet my mate, and fellow islander, Darren for a few pints.

Darren and I were perched at the bar when a guy came in with a child in one hand and a growler in the other. Picking up on non-American accents, we got talking, and it turned out that he was Irish, and also worked for the company I was starting with in a couple of days, at the time as a contractor. Since that meeting we've become friends, even if he does support Everton.

Today my friend is opening a brewery.

Three Notch'd Brewing are having their soft opening this afternoon, with the doors being opened at 4pm - what a great way to start a holiday weekend. I would be there myself but for the fact that I will be on US-29 heading south. They will have 2 beers available

Hydraulion Red:
In 1828, the University of Virginia created their own fire company made up of students, professors and servants. Their sole fire engine was called the Hydraulion, a pump wagon with the waterpower of 16 men. The UVA Fire Company left their mark for almost 100 years before giving way to the town of Charlottesville’s Fire Department. Our Hydraulion Red is a nod to not only UVA’s firefighters, but the brave men and women everywhere who risk their lives every day, while saving ours.

This Irish-Style Red is a perfectly balanced beer with a great caramel sweetness alongside a tangy, citrusy hop profile.

Trader: Crystal Hopped Saison:
We, who live by values, not by loot, are traders, both in matter and in spirit. The Saison style of beer originates from farmers in French-Belgium regions that would brew during the winter months for refreshment during the busier, hotter months of the summer. Virginia’s history is rich in the farm trade and Three Notch’d Road was a central thoroughfare that facilitated this trade. The Trader is our tribute to the mark this hard work left for all of us to benefit from.

This Farmhouse Ale, originating from the Northern France/Southern Belgium region, encompasses the flavors of many herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables that were historically added by the farmhands after harvest each year. The special Belgian yeast is the highlight of this beer, complemented with the single-hop of Crystal and it’s complex herbal/spice/pepper profile.

The brewery is right next door to McGrady's Irish Pub, has a grand looking tasting room, and if the beers live up to the samples I tried, some great additions to the local scene.

If you're in the Charlottesville area this afternoon, swing on by and welcome the town's newest brewery (in Cville itself there are 3 breweries for about 50000 people!).

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Happy Discovery

Coming soon will be the 2013 Fuggled Calendar - yes I am that confident that crazies claiming that the Mayan Calendar points to the end of the world later this week are wrong. This year's calendar, as in previous years, will feature the photography of my good friend Mark Stewart, of Black Gecko Photography, and the theme is Charlottesville pubs. With that in mind, Mark and I headed off on something of a pub crawl on Saturday afternoon and evening to get the requisite pictures and generally hang out as we don't see each other nearly often enough.

I have mentioned many times, whether or not you were listening, that I don't believe that a pub needs to have great beer to be a great pub. Pubs are about people, about socialising, meeting old friends and maybe new folks along the way - most of my friends I have met as a result of going to a pub for some reason. One of the pubs that we visited on our trawl through the seedy underbelly of Charlottesville, or at least The Corner over by the University where students of all ages hang out, was Trinity Irish Pub.

I had only been to Trinity once before and while I knew it had the look we were aiming at for the pictures, I was a little worried about the beer selection as all I remember my wanting to drink the last time I was there was Guinness - pretty much my fall back beer if the rest of the selection is comically bad or just another bank of endless pale ale in varying stages of Indianess.

Things seem to have changed a little since my previous visit, sure they still had beer from the big boys, Guinness, Stella Artois and Natty Light (think Bud Light then remove flavour, aroma and drinking enjoyment), but also on tap were a couple of local brews, Starr Hill's Jomo and Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, there were another couple of 'small and independent' taps as well but I don't recall what they were. I started off with the Vienna but soon migrated to Guinness and have to say it was pretty decent.

Trinity was fairly buzzing, with a good crowd, a healthy mix of students and older folks, I assume plenty of them were getting their drinky on before heading to the Dave Matthews concert. Despite all that, the service was excellent, efficient and friendly, basically all I ask for in a bar staff. I am sure this is heretical but you don't need to be able to spout prosaically about hop varieties and decoction mashing to be able to pour a good pint.

Having polished off a few pints, taken an unhealthy number of pictures - the ones in this post are mine and won't be appearing in any calendar for obvious reasons - we moved on, happy in the knowledge that there was another decent pub to sit and enjoy beers with friends in.

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.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Pub

Pubs. It is fair to say that I love the places.

There are few places in the world I would rather spend an entire day in, tucked up in a dark corner, or sat at the end of the bar, preferably with my back to a wall so I can glance up from my book or newspaper from time to time and simply people watch. My mind wanders back to Mrs V and I's trip to Oxford in 2008, I spent inordinate amounts of time in the city's pubs while she was at a conference. In one day sat in Far From the Madding Crowd (a more perfect name for my kind of pub simply doesn't exist) I read about 80% of the Iain Banks book I had bought in a bookstore just minutes before opening time.

A few months later and Mrs V and I were again on our travels, this time to Ireland to visit Tale of the Ale's Reuben and wife, though in his pre-Tale days. Sadly the pub in which we sat and watched Ireland play New Zealand in the rugby is no longer in business as far as I know. Sheridan's On The Docks was everything you could possibly want from an Irish pub, a peat fire, an excellent selection of beer, including the delightful Galway Hooker, and it was there that I had my first Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. In many ways it was like being in your own living room, with the benefit of a bar.

On our various travels, whether it be Berlin, Paris, Columbia or Charlottesville, Mrs V and I have found pubs in which to spend time and just relax over pints. I am convinced that regardless of whether a country has a vibrant, overwhelming beer culture or just a few major brands doing nothing weird and wonderful, pubs are almost universally the kind of places I like to be in.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Want Local, Don't Want Just IPA

Something that bothers me at times is how difficult it can be to find local beer on tap here in Charlottesville. I could almost understand it if I lived in a town with an obscure nano-brewery making a few kegs a week and nothing else, but there are 5 breweries within a 30 mile radius of town and at least 2 in the planning that I know of, and yet I can't remember ever seeing my favourite Starr Hill beer on tap in town.

Before continuing this post let me make something clear, I am not talking here about going to places like Beer Run where the modus operandi is to have an every changing selection of beer. I am talking about your every day restaurants, the kind of places you go for food rather than the beer selection (believe it or not I don't make my eating out decisions based on how many taps a place has).

On Sunday for example, having spent a few hours out at the house painting, Mrs V and I headed out to our local Mexican restaurant for food. Usually when we go to a Mexican restaurant I'll have a Michelob because it is often the best beer available, minor side note, I actually quite like Michelob on occasion, clean, crisp, very easy to drink and best of all the bottles are re-useable for homebrew. Imagine then my surprise that our local Mexican had decided to start serving New Belgium Fat Tire as one of their 4 draft beers! I can say that Fat Tire goes quite nicely with Pollo con Chorizo and at $5 for a 22oz pour no complaints on the money front either.

But why have New Belgium beer when there is plenty of local beer which is as good? This is especially galling when you live in a town topped to the brim with "Buy Local" enthusiasts.

When you do see a Starr Hill tap, and I am not singling out Starr Hill, it's just that they are biggest and oldest brewery in the area, it is usually for Northern Lights IPA. Now, I like Northern Lights from time to time, unlike many an IPA over here it isn't so weighed down with hops as to be like sucking a lemon sized grapefruit, but I don't think it is the best beer that Starr Hill makes. I think it is third behind Dark Starr Stout and Festie, an amber lager which is wonderfully clean and delicious, and criminally not seen on draft at all in my experience, outside the tasting room that is.

When a bar is so laden with American Pale Ales, IPAs and Double IPAs, it would be wonderful to see more beers like Dark Starr and Festie breaking the banks of pale hoppy monotony. So come come restaurants, mix up your beer list, and support your local breweries.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Session Beer Day Update

If you read the solitary comment to Wednesday's "Get Your Session On!" post, you will know that here in Charlottesville currently has the following sub 5% abv beers available:
  • Guinness Draught (4.3%)
  • Allagash White Ale (5.0%)
  • Smithwick's Ale (4.5%)
  • Harp Lager (5.0%)
  • Starr Hill Dark Starr Stout (4.2%)
  • Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat (4.2%)
  • Devils' Backbone Vienna Lager (4.9%)
After taking up Scott on his offer to email with suggestions, I am happy to say that McGrady's will have the following beers on tap in time for Session Beer Day next Saturday:
In my continuing efforts to see more Williams Brothers beer from Scotland on the taps of Charlottesville, I mentioned to Scott that they do a couple of session beers, mainly Scottish Session at 3.9% and the Scottish Heavy, known at home as the 80/-, which is 4.2%. Also Joker IPA is a phenomenal beer and at 5% isn't quite a session beer, but is a gorgeous beer that I am happy to drink a few pints of.

Scott also mentioned that session beers will be on special that day and there will be live music from 8 to 11, so get along and get your session on!

Hopefully I'll have an update on Beer Run's Session Beer Day offerings at some point, and if anyone knows any other pubs in Charlottesville or the area doing something special to promote session beer, let me know!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Is It Worth It?

Over the weekend the landlord of the Gunmakers in London tweeted about a female CAMRA member (yes, really, a female member of CAMRA - do they get issued with beardy wigs?) requesting her 20p discount for the pint she had just ordered and then being horrified at the price. The pint in question cost £3.90, which at current market rates is €4.67 or $6.14, and no CAMRA discount was forthcoming.

This got me thinking about the price of beer in a pub, because to be perfectly honest, it wouldn't bother me all that much paying £3.90 for a pint of cask ale right in the heart of London. When I was in Paris over the Christmas holiday, I was paying €8 (£6.68/$10.60) a pint at the various Frog and Rosbif pubs we went to. Even here in small town Virginia, Charlottesville is about three-quarters the size of Inverness, I regularly pay $6 (£3.78/€4.51) for a proper pint, as in an Imperial pint or 20oz, in the few places that serve them. The usual price for a 16oz American pint is about $5, which equates to £3.15 or €3.77.

I am deliberately not including the price of drinking the best lager in the world in Europe's most beautiful city, because the economics of beer are completely different in Prague - the most expensive beer is Pilsner Uruqell, while the phenomenal Kout na ?umavě 12° is usually about two-thirds of the price.

So, what am I getting when I pull up a stool at the bar and hand over my 6 dollars, 4 quid, or 4 Euro 50? Obviously I am presented with a pint of beer, hopefully with a nice head sitting atop the beer itself - I am not bothered about losing half an inch of beer in the glass to head, though I can imagine those asking for a 20p discount would quibble about that as well. A portion of the money, which having just changed hands is no longer mine, goes to the pleasure of having my beer handed to me by a member of staff. If I wanted to pay for the pleasure of getting my own beer, I'd install a coin slot on the fridge door. Assuming that the Gunmakers has electric lighting and some form of heating, a portion of the money will go to paying the bills, and of course the tax man wants his cut. Also, let's not forget that the landlord needs to make a living or there won't a pub for me to drink in.

It would be an interesting pie chart to see exactly where this £3.90 actually goes, and I would guess that the profit on a pint of cask ale in central London is fairly small. I also wonder if this is the main reason for the many pubs shutting across the UK these days, there simply isn't a decent living to be made.

The question then is, how much do you pay for your pint when you go to your local, and do you feel as though you are getting value?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Running for Stout

International Stout Day is now but a day away. When I learnt about the project, I contacted several pubs in Charlottesville to see if they were doing anything special, and hopefully to persuade them that having multiple stouts available would be a good thing. For the sake of full disclosure, this may have been an act of unrepentant self interest - I love stout and am always happy to see more of it on tap in my favourite drinking holes.

Naturally, the first place I asked was Beer Run, and of course they have extra stouts on tap in honour of the day. Making a guest return is the world's most famous stout brand, Guinness, which has been replaced of late with a rotation of other stouts. Where would International Stout Day be though without a nod to Guinness?

Also on draft will be Founder's Breakfast Stout (I am assuming a little here as it was a picture of Breakfast Stout that Beer Run used to advertise their draft stouts). I have to admit that I have never tried this one before, it is, I believe, an Oatmeal Stout, so I imagine I will enjoy it muchly when I swing by tomorrow. The third stout on tap is Beer Run's regular strong stout, Bluegrass Brewing Company's Bourbon Barrel Stout. I don't often partake in the Bourbon Barrel, mainly because at about 9% abv, it packs too much of wallop to have a few pints and then drive home.

In a nod to the history of stout, Beer Run will also have a few porters on tap - and while talking about the difference between the two styles, I recommend Martyn Cornell's excellent post on the subject. On draft will be porters from Flying Dog, Troegs and Left Hand.

Plenty of dark goodness to be had then at Beer Run. What are other Charlottesville pubs up to? What about your locals? Anything good going down to honour my joint favourite beer style?

Late update: just heard from the guys (or possibly gals) at Beer Run, that there will be no capping fee on any bottled stout tomorrow! Trust me, they have an excellent selection to choose from.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...