Showing posts with label dark lager. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dark lager. Show all posts

Monday, February 3, 2020

Because We Can

Saturday was one of my favourite kind of days, a brewday with one of my local breweries.


In this case I was down at the Devils Backbone Basecamp once more. The plan, to brew Morana for the fifth time. Morana is, as a quick recap, a 14° tmavé speciální, or for the non-Czech speakers a 14° dark special lager, modeled on the sadly now departed Kout na ?umavě dark lager of the same strength.


From the very first time we brewed Morana, back in 2010, it has been double decocted as a nod to the traditional brewing practices of central Europe. It has also always undergone a long period of lagering, about 45 days. It has always used floor malted Bohemian pilsner malt, as well as CaraBohemian, Dark Munich, and de-bittered Carafa II, and it has always been hopped exclusively with Saaz hops. For this most recent brew none of these things have changed. At the end of the slightly longer than many a brewday, decoction does that, we had an on the nail wort that is going to make a simply fantastic beer.


From here on in though, Morana is in uncharted territory. You see, Devils Backbone have recently invested in some fun brewing equipment that we hope will bring Morana, a beer described in Jeff Alworth's Beer Bible as "the best New World effort to make an Old World beer", closer to her Old World antecedents.


Where in years past Morana would have undergone fermentation in a cylindrical conical tank, this time she is being fermented in Devils Backbone's new open fermenter, indeed she is the first lager to do so. As ever when Jason Oliver and I get together I learn shit tons of fun stuff about brewing, and naturally I asked what difference, if any, an open fermenter would make. Apparently the difference is less in the open nature of the vessel than it is in the geometry of it, being broader and shallower than a CCT. If I understand what Jason told me correctly, the CO2 generated by the yeast has a larger area in which to bubble to the surface, raising the yeast as it goes. This results is a fermentation with less circulation in the vessel, resulting in a more leisurely process, and thus the yeast is less stressed than it would be in the CCT. Again, assuming I understood correctly, this will impact the body and mouthfeel of the beer, making it even more luxuriant than previous iterations.


Having fermented for the requisite length of time, and once it is with about 1.5° Plato of target gravity, it will be moved over to a CCT to finish the fermentation with the CO2 valve firmly shut. With the natural carbonation achieved, it will be pumped over to another new toy that Jason gets to play with, one of the horizontal lagering tanks. There she will sit for 45 days at near freezing, and when the time comes to keg her up and drink, she will not be filtered.


During the brewday, Jason treated me to a couple of samples of German style beers sitting in the horizontal tanks. Currently lagering and soon to be on tap at Basecamp are Ein K?lsch and Alt Bier, no prizes for guessing the styles based on the names. Whenever they have been on tap in the past, Mrs V and I have made a point of getting to the brewpub for a few jars and to fill several growlers, based on the samples taken from the zwickel, we'll definitely be heading down in the not too distant future.

I remember once Jason being asked for an article in some brewing magazine about why he does decoction mashes for his lagers, to which he responded "because I can". What better reason to decoct, open ferment, and lager horizontally a Czech style tmavé for authenticity than simply that, because we can?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Darkness Rising?

I have mentioned many times before that living in Virginia means that the lagerboy within me has plenty of good locally brewed options for satisfying the urge for clean, crisp beers. Whether it's Three Notch'd Of.By.For Pilsner (a beer that challenges all of my prejudices about what a pilsner is and I love all the same), South Street My Personal Helles, or Port City's simply divine Downright Pilsner, I never have to look too hard for a great pale lager.


Over the last year or so there seems to be a general popping up of dark lagers in the area, and I am wondering if this is part of a broader trend or whether it is serving a very localised taste. For as long as I have lived in Virginia, Devils Backbone have produced a schwarzbier, called Schwartzbier, which has found a regular place in my fridge. They also brewed Morana, a Czech style tmavé based on the magisterial Kout na ?umavě 14° tmavé, as well as Barclay's London dark Lager from a historic recipe for an English dark lager. From what Jason would tell me, dark lagers would also sell very well.


Recently I have noticed more dark lagers cropping up in the repertoires of local breweries. Last year South Street brought out Back to Bavaria, a Munich Dunkel that I drank almost exclusively for a couple of months and mentioned honorably in my review of 2015 - if Mitch at South Street is reading this, please bring it back, I loved it.

Speaking of Dunkels, just last weekend Mrs V and I met up with some friends for dinner at Blue Mountain and behold they too had one on tap, Blauerburg Dunkel, and I enjoyed several pints of it whilst half wishing it had been available at Edelweiss for Valentines Day. I am sure there is some level of crossover between the Back to Bavaria and Blauerburg given that the owners of Blue Mountain also own South Street, either way both were lovely beers.

This got me to thinking, is central Virginia something of an oasis for the dark lager arts, as it is in many ways for me with regards to pale lagers? Is it possible that after years of IPA domination, people are re-discovering the delights of lagers like dunkel, schwarzbier, and tmavé?

I for one certainly hope so.

UPDATE

I just got a message from Jason at Devils Backbone, and Morana is being brewed again this Friday. Keep your eyes peeled for a notice for when it will be released.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Doppelbock Fruit Cake

On Saturday morning I got to do one of my favourite things, doing the grocery shopping by myself. This isn't to say that I don't enjoy grocery shopping with Mrs V, but rather that when she goes running of a morning I like to take the opportunity to be in the shop early and alone, to avoid the crowds, to browse to my heart's content, and to avoid running into people with small children. As I wander the aisles I like to plan meals for the coming days, bread experiments to mess with, and beers in the booze realm to try. Thus it was on Saturday morning that I picked up a six pack of Trader Joe's Winter Brew, I won't wax lyrical here about my love for Trader Joe's beer but only because I did so in this post.


Winter Brew is labelled as a 'dark double bock lager', weighs in at 7.5% abv, is a beautiful deep garnet colour, and is rather fine drinking, so be sure to find yourselves some if you can as that is all I am going to tell you about when it comes to the beer. With two thirds of the 6 pack stoking a warming glow in the belly I decided that I needed to make fruit cake as it had been so long. I get why many people on this side of the Pond are not fans of fruit cake, especially when you see the shop bought abominations that get fobbed off on consumers and are, to put it bluntly, shit. One of the benefits of having a mother who is a phenomenal cook with a penchant for traditional cooking is knowing how things should be made (hence Mrs V and I still make our own mincemeat for Christmas, from a 250 year old recipe that includes meat).

Anyway....looking through my cook books for inspiration (there really are no such things as recipes), I pulled out my copy of 'The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook', a well thumbed resource, and decided to make a version of the Porter Cake recipe, but using doppelbock instead of stout, as well as some tweaks for what was in the cupboards, thus my recipe was:
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1 cup sultanas
  • 1 cup raisins
  • handful of dried cranberries that were floating about
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 0.75 cup chopped candied mixed peel
  • 12oz bottle of doppelbock
  • 2.75 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 eggs lightly beaten
The method to my madness began with putting all the dried fruits in a big ass bowl and pouring the beer into the bowl, having first de-gassed the beer a bit by whisking it in a pint glass, and leaving the mixture to sit for at least 5 hours.


When it is time to actually make the cake pre-heat the oven to 325°F/160°C. Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and allspice in a bowl, then cream together the butter and sugar in another, bigger, bowl until light and fluffy, beat in the eggs a little a time, with a spoon of the flour mix as you go. Once the eggs are nicely incorporated, dump in the rest of the flour mix and beat to smooth paste, so it looks like this.


Now dump all the fruit and remaining liquid into the paste and stir, so it looks like this.


The original recipe called for the use of a 7 inch square cake pan but I don't have one of those, so I used 2 8 inch by 4 inch pans, and played around with the cooking times accordingly. Once you have greased and floured the cake tins, split the mix evenly between the two pans, and put in the oven for an hour, then lick the spoon and bowl clean to your heart's content.


After an hour, turn the oven down to 300°F/150°C and let it bake for another hour or until you can put a toothpick into the centre of the cake and it comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the tins for about half an hour before turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely.


Serve with a nice cup of tea....


So there you have it, a really easy, nice fruit cake recipe for winter. Shame the weather in Virginia isn't cooperating, sod it being 75°F/24°C yesterday.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lagerboy Pride!

If you have been following Fuggled for a while now, you will doubtless know that I am a devotee of the lager arts.


Whether pale, amber, dark or pitch black, most of my favourite beers will have been cold fermented and then lagered before packaging. I am quite happily what some breweries like to disparagingly call a 'Lagerboy'. It therefore seriously pisses me off that 'lager' is used as shorthand for lowest common denominator beer.


Lager, as I have said many times before, is a labour of love from beginning to end, especially if a brewer is going to do a decoction mash, which makes the brewday longer. Then there is the lagering of the beer itself, tying up the brewer's capital for a long period of time, whether it be 4 weeks or 90 days - did you know that a batch of 12° Budvar takes 102 days to make, 12 days in primary fermentation followed by 3 months lagering? In a world that seems to love talking about beers being made with 'passion', it takes real passion and dedication to doing things properly and give your lager the time it needs to be ready.


I have said it before, and will continue to bang the drum, but a well made lager is, in my unhumble opinion, the height of the brewers' craft. Sure you can make your triple black IPA aged in soured gorilla snot barrels, but if a brewer is incapable of making a clean, crisp, refreshing and flavourful pale lager then are they really all that great, despite the ravings of those advocating the rating of beer?


Using the term 'lager' as a cover all for the lowest common denominator brews churned out by multinational breweries does a disservice to a family of beers as diverse and varied as ales. Whether drinking a Bohemian Pilsner packed with the flavours and aromas of Saaz, downing a pint of Schwarzbier with its clean roastiness, or supping gently on a powerful yet balanced Baltic Porter, there is little in life as satisfying as well made lager, where the brewer has nowhere to hide flaws.


So brewery marketing departments, cut it out with the lager hating, beer geeks, cut it out with phrases like 'it's good, for a pilsner'.


To paraphrase a cliche from self-help groups....my name is Velky Al, and I'm a Lagerboy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Double the Darkness

It was only after I discovered the delights of beer from small breweries in the Czech Republic that I started to develop a taste for dark lager, called either Tmavé or ?erné depending on the whim of the brewery. Kozel's ?erné is more of a dark amber while Kout na ?umavě's Tmavé absorbs light like a black hole, yet one is "black" and the other "dark respectively.

When I finally decided to make my own lagers, during a particularly cold snap in January, the style I chose first was tmavé, simply because I knew it would be more forgiving of any mess ups along the way than would be a pilsner. I wrote about the recipe and inspiration for the beer back at the beginning of the year. Having enjoyed most of my stash of ?erny Lev, I learnt that Schell's Brewing Company up in Minnesota had done a limited batch of tmavé, calling it Stag 5 and so I wanted to do a side by side tasting of the two beers.


First up was Schell's, which is 5.7% and has 30 IBU of Saaz, if the info on Ratebeer is to be believed. Although this picture makes the beer look almost pitch black, it is in fact a dark brown which becomes a rich crimson when held up to the light. The head is light tan and lingers for the duration. It most certainly looked the part.


In terms of aroma there was caramel, like toffee really, a hint of roasted coffee, though it wasn't harsh and in your face about it, and the gentle, soothing spiciness of Saaz hops in the background. I wasn't expecting the smooth flavours of bitter sweet chocolate to be at the fore in the taste department, but it was and it worked well, that roasty edge was there, like toast that is between done and burnt, and the bitterness of the hops kicks in at the end. I found myself sucking this beer down, well assembled, easy to drink and medium bodied, yes I liked it. Where I would put it in the spectrum of tmavé that I have drunk in the Czech Republic? Well ahead of the likes of Kozel and Staropramen, that's for sure, so on a par with Bernard I would say (for the unitiated, that means pretty damned good).


Now for my ?erny Lev, which is "Black Lion" in English, which ended up with 5.6% abv and 24 IBU, so in a similar ballpark to the Schell's. This time the picture doesn't hide anything, the beer is a very dark brown, bordering on black and edged with crimson in the light. The head is light tan and voluminous, when eventually it died down a bit, it stuck at about a centimetre for the time it took me to drink the beer. With the head duly receded, it again looked the part.


The aromas bouncing around in the glass for this were treacle, roasted coffee, with hints of spice and I thought a trace of lemony hay. In the taste department the coffee really came to the fore, coupled with sweet malty juiciness and a firm bitter bite which may have slightly unbalanced the beer. The body on my beer was fuller than the Schell's and there was a trace of something solventy about the beer, which I think may have come from underpitching the yeast and having it at slightly higher temperatures than recommended. I like my beer, always a good thing, but it isn't as well integrated and put together as Schell's. Mrs V expressed a clear preference for the Schell's, saying that my beer had too much roastiness in it for her tastes.

I think I might do this kind of comparative tasting a bit more often, as a way to gauge where my homebrew is going right and going wrong. Certainly a worthwhile experiment, I think the next one will be my German Pilsner next to Scrimshaw.

I just wanted to quickly thank Josh up in Minnesota for procuring and sending the beer down to fellow CAMRA homebrewer and occasional blogger, Jamey - have a read of his blog, Barlow Brewing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Bottling beer at half six in the morning is a challenge, especially when you have to get out to your penultimate day of your current job by quarter to eight. Thankfully though, I now have 19 bottles of 5.6% abv ?erny Lev (that's "Black Lion" for the non-Czech speakers among you) happily conditioning. My normal batch yields a case of 24 bottles, but I only had 19 caps (note to self: check these things first) so I used a mixture of 22oz bottles and the 12oz ones to make sure I only lost about half a bottle's worth of beer.


A quick reminder, ?erny Lev is a 14o Czech style dark lager, or tmavé. I based the recipe on the one I designed for the Morana Dark Lager brewed at Devils Backbone last year, which was itself the product of months of research in Czech, Slovak and German, talking to various brewers and using the malts at hand in the US to create something which I thought was very close to my ideal tmavé, the 14o Tmavé Speciální from Kout na ?umavě.


Having brewed the beer back in January, it spent 35 days in my somewhat less than technically magnificent lagering tank, basically a two and half gallon water bottle, sanitised and slotted into the back of the fridge to sit at near freezing point. Now it will sit at room temperature for at least a week to carbonate before being put in the cellar for at least another 5 weeks - I really don't want to rush this one, even though when I tasted the sample I liked what was there...

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Lion's Roar

The decision was taken on a whim, the cellar was sitting at about 55o and I thought to myself "what the heck, let's just give it a whirl". Some mild indecision followed, I knew the hops had to be Saaz, the base malt Bohemian Pilsner, but should I brew a pale or a dark beer? Dark beers tend to be more forgiving and so I took the plunge and brewed my first lager, a tmavé.

If you've read Fuggled for a while you will know that in 2010 I designed and brewed a tmavé with Devils Backbone, and my plan was to create something very much in that beer's ballpark. Given the short notice of my decision I was well aware that I would have to use pretty much whatever malts were available at our local Fifth Season, and so I ended up with a grist of:
  • 74% Bohemian Pilsner
  • 11% Munich Malt
  • 11% Caramunich I
  • 4% Carafa III Dehusked
From that little collection of grains I got a starting gravity of 1.058, about 14.5o Plato, putting the beer firmly in the realms of a "Speciální Le?ák". Into the wort I chucked in 25 IBUs worth of Saaz hops and then had a mild panic. I had a packet of Saflager S-23 yeast that I was planning to use, but a few online conversations later I decided to change tack and head off to Fifth Season to check out their lager yeast range. A range, that day, of 2, one of which was Wyeast's Staro Prague yeast, sourced from Staropramen back in Smíchov. With the yeast suitably pitched I went about the rest of my day, and when night came the temperature in the cellar plummeted to 35o and in the carboy, no life stirred.

In an attempt to insulate the carboy from the chill of the cellar, I wrapped a old lambswool sweater around it, and yet the carboy remained still. I read forums, realised I had pitched too little yeast and hoped that everything would sort itself out, while in the carboy the dark liquid sat. A day passed and on the advice of Kristen England, and to be fair Mrs V, I bought the carboy in from the cellar and sat it next to the double doors that lead to our "patio". There it remained, at 54o, for a couple of days. By last Thursday I was ready to make a starter with the Saflager S-23 and repitch.

Getting ready for work that morning, listening to the BBC World Service, seeing to our dog and getting my breakfast, I had put my dark problem to the back of my mind. It was only when I went to get my coat that I noticed the tiniest smudge of foam in the carboy. Was it an illusion, a trick of the light, a mirage, the fevered imaginings of a homebrewer so keen to have his first lager not be a wild flop? Sure enough, on closer inspection, it was the merest hint of the beginning of life, and a bubble forced its way from the blowoff tube. I went to work with hope renewed. 8 hours later my hope was assured, as krausen sat on top of the wort and the blowoff bubbled regularly, and the temperature was 56o, just outside the optimal range of 45o to 55o for the Staro Prague yeast but nothing I am planning to worry about. As I say, dark beers tend to be more forgiving.

This morning the krausen has sunk back and the bubbles are fewer. I will let it sit for another few days before I move it outside again to start the gradual lowering of temperature before preparing my lagering tank in the back of our fridge. The beer will sit there for 45 days, for no reason other than that's what I want to do, if I were to be really traditional it would sit there for 14 weeks, 1 for each degree of Plato.


Originally I was going to call the beer Marzenna, in honour of the Morana tmavé from Devils Backbone, Marzenna being a variant name of the goddess Morana. I changed my mind though as I was looking through some pitures of Prague and was reminded of the old brewery on Karlovo náměstí, just a few steps from where Mrs V and I tied the knot, and so the beer became ?erny Lev, or Black Lion.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Pint of the Past Please

It went on tap on Friday, and if experience of dark lager made at Devils Backbone is anything to go by, it will last about a month. Yesterday afternoon I drove out to Roseland with two aims in mind, meet up with my good friend and photographic genius Mark Stewart, and to try the Barclay's London Dark Lager which was brewed with Ron Pattinson of Shut Up About Barclay Perkins fame.


Recently they had a Bavarian Dunkel on at Devils Backbone which was delicious, so it was interesting to see and taste the difference from using British malts rather than German. For example, adding roast barley to the mash late, to get the colour without flavour, rather than using one of the Carafa malts.

I am not sure the picture really illustrates the beer very well, but it pours a rich mahogany tinged with auburn, topped off with a light beige head. The nose was grassy, with touches of lemon and spice, in the background, the merest hint of lightly roasted coffee. As for the flavours, the smooth sweetness of English toffee dominates, with some toastiness and nuts in the mix as well. The sweetness is cut through by a firm, assertive, but not brash, bitterness. This beer is insanely drinkable for a 5.8% abv lager and while it most definitely isn't a session beer, 5 pints of it does slip down with inordinate ease.

Yesterday afternoon felt like the culmination of a project I have enjoyed immensely. Brewing with Jason is always a pleasure, meeting Ron was likewise a delight - beer people are such good company, especially when you combine a passion for beer with a love of history. Sometimes I think it such a pity that more brewers aren't doing this kind of project instead of running after the latest trendiest hop variety (remember when Amarillo was all the rage?). On my own homebrew front, I think more of Ron's Let's Brew Wednesday recipes will be making appearances in the coming months.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Barclay's London Dark Lager - come forth!

1934 was a momentous year.

The British Empire Games (now the Commonwealth Games) were held in London, despite originally being awarded to South Africa, with Hong Kong, Jamaica and India making their debuts at the event. British composer Edward Elgar died, as did King Albert of the Belgians, to be succeeded by Prince Leopold. The British Industries Fair is held in both London and Birmingham, featuring a 200 year old weaver's loom from the Isle of Lewis. For 4 days in February, Austria was at war with itself. In a foreshadowing of what would come, Hitler became President of Germany on the death of Paul von Hindenburg, and ordered the Night of Long Knives to eliminate his rivals.

Meanwhile, in the Anchor Brewery of Southwark, Danish brewer Arthur Henius was at work brewing Barclay Perkin's Dark Lager, a London take on the dunkel style from Bavaria. Unusually for a Barclay Perkin's beer, nothing was done to the water to change the minerals, no Burtonising, no boiling, nothing. Using British malts and Bohemian hops Mr Henius set about making a German lager for the London market.

Come forward 77 years, skip across the ocean to Virginia and you find Jason Oliver, Ron Pattinson, myself and a few others, gathered round the copper recreating Mr Henius' beer. As I mentioned a little while ago, some of the lager is making its way home to London, to be enjoyed by beer lovers at the Great British Beer Festival. However, this weekend will see the tapping of the beer in the place of its resurrection, Devils Backbone Brewing Company. Due to a huge mess with my holiday dates, going next Friday rather than today, I will be around to try it.

If you are in the Charlottesville area, I might suggest you get along to try it yourself.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Homecoming Lager

There are not that many beer festivals that I have plans to visit at some point during my life. I would love to get to Slunce ve Skle again sometime, being in Munich during Starkbierzeit would also be good and the Copenhagen Beer Festival would be a blast too, as well as an opportunity to catch up with some friends. The one that I would love to get to though at some point is the Great British Beer Festival, which this year runs from August 2nd to the 6th.


Beyond the generic desire to go to the GBBF one year, if finances and time would allow, I would love to be at this year's festival, for one very simple reason - a beer that I had a hand in brewing will be available in the Bières Sans Frontières area.


The beer in question is the recreation of Barclay Perkins' Dark Lager from the 1930s, which was brewed at Devils Backbone with myself and Ron Pattinson. Last week Jason from Devils Backbone told me that he has registered the beer and it will soon be on its way to the festival, hopefully surviving the journey in good condition.

The beer is called Barclays London Dark Lager, so take the opportunity to taste some history and celebrate the coming home of dark lager to London.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lazarus Lager

Unless you've been living under a rock, as opposed to on this rock, you will know that I am rather partial to lager. My "go to" beer of late has been Devils Backbone's lovely Vienna Lager, I have also been availing myself of various American made pilsner style lagers, some decent, some not. Despite the fulminations of some in the beer world, Britain has a decent history of brewing lager style beers. The very first cold fermented beers in Britain are reputed to have been brewed in Scotland, as early as 1835. Unfortunately, being in the days before refrigeration, the yeast didn't survive more than a few brews, and although the 19th century saw several more attempts at brewing lager it wasn't until the early 20th century that British brewers started to make a more concerted effort to make lager.


In the 1930s, the London brewery Barclay Perkins, located in the Anchor Brewery in Southwark, employed one Arthur Henius, a Dane, to head up their lager brewing operations. During that time, Barclay Perkins produced three lager styles, two pales and a dark. Where am I going with all this historical information? Well, quite simply, last Thursday saw the culmination of a project between myself, Jason Oliver at Devils Backbone and Ron Pattinson of Shut Up About Barclay Perkins.


When we heard that Ron was coming over to the States, and would be just a couple of hours away in Washington DC, we decided that it would be good to try and arrange a brewday with Ron, and to brew a historical beer. Previously Jason had used a recipe from one of Ron's books as inspiration for his 1904 Ramsey's Stout, and with an interest in brewing forgotten beers it was natural to try and arrange something. The seemingly now tradition thread of emails ensued, unfortuantely Nathan Zeender from DC couldn't make it down for the brewday, though was involved in the email chain.

We went round several ideas of beers to recreate, and eventually came to the notion of brewing a British lager. From there it was a short step to deciding on a British dark lager, and it just so happened that in Ron's possession was a recipe from 1934 for Barclay Perkins' Dark Lager. It had to be done.

The recipe was fairly simple, the malts being lager, pale and caramel, added to the mash late on was roasted barley, in order to get colour without the harsh roasted flavour you associate with that grain. I was surprised when I saw the recipe that it was hopped only with Saaz, surprised but delighted!

Naturally we wanted to be as authentic as possible, and so various salts and minerals were added to Devils Backbone's insanely soft water to mimic as close as possible the hard water of London (when we brewed the pilsner last year I learnt that their water is softer than Plzeň!). From reviewing the brewing log's technical details Jason decided that it would be more authentic to do a temperature control mash rather than a decoction. At the end of the day we had 10 hectolitres of 14.25o Plato, dark brown wort, which had about 25 IBUs of Saaz goodness and should be ready for drinking some time in July I imagine.


It seems to have become traditional that these brewdays inevitably involve sampling various beers. Ron bought with him a bottle of the new East India Porter from Pretty Things, a recreation of a 19th century porter made with extra hops to survive the sea journey to India (sound familiar? cough, splutter, black IPA my arse cough). Keeping with the theme of historical beers, Ron also brought along a bottle of the first in the Fuller's Past Masters series, which you can see in the picture, and was a lovely beer. So lovely in fact, I wish I could find it in the States.


We had a really good day, it was a pleasure to meet Ron in person, and as ever to go brewing at Devils Backbone.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Into Darkness...

Think Czech lager.

Ok, do you have an image in your head of Czech lager? Let me guess, it is golden, topped with a frothy white head (which, if well made and poured, can support the weight of a small coin), the nose is grassy, lightly lemony, all the things you expect from Saaz, the taste is bready and malty and when you get a great example of Czech beer you wonder why anyone would ever drink anything else. That is Czech lager, yes? The vast majority of the time you'd be right, but for the 5% of beer production in the Czech Republic devoted to the dark arts, to tmavy, or ?erny, le?ák (dark or black respectively). Legally speaking the only official name for a dark lager in the Czech Republic is tmavy, and thus that is the term I will use.


According to Czech tradition, or at least the things I was told by Czech men in pubs when I first moved to Prague back in the 20th Century, tmavy is beer for women, specifically beer to give women bigger breasts. What they neglected to mention was that the dark lagers of the Czech Republic are a whole different world from the Pilsner inspired golden lagers, and so it was only in my last few years in the city that I got a taste for them.


When I went down to Devils Backbone to help brew their recreation of the 1842 Pilsner recipe, Jason and I discussed at length Czech beer, and came back again and again to tmavy and how it differs from the German dark lagers, dunkels and schwarzbier. We came to the conclusion that it would be an interesting project to brew a tmavy and so we set about finding as much information as we could. Emails were sent to various Czech brewers, websites were read in various languages, style guidelines were consulted, though not in the obvious places - certain websites are of the opinion that a Czech tmavy is either a dunkel or a schwarzbier. Why then do I maintain that tmavy should have it's own style? Simply because the history of dark lager in Bohemia is very different from that of Bavaria, where dark lagers preceded pale lagers by a few centuries, in Bohemia, however what became dark lager was dark ale until the 1890s - you could then argue, if you so wish, that tmavy is in reality more closely related to porter than dunkel or schwarzbier. Indeed, the iconic, and distinctly stouty dark lager from U Flek? is known to have been warm fermented until that era.


Having garnered the relevant information, got the necessary malts and hops, scheduled a time which worked for all involved, we got together on Saturday to brew. Taking part in the brewday on Saturday was myself obviously, Jason and Aaron from Devil's Backbone, Lyle Brown of Battlefield Brewery in Fredericksburg and Nathan Zeender, a journalist from DC, whose article in Brew Your Own magazine about kvass was fascinating.


We used floor malted Bohemian pilsner malt, Munich malt, CaraBohemian malt and Carafa II special malt in the grist, and only Saaz hops in the boil, to achieve about 25IBUs, the yeast is Jason's prefered Augustiner lager yeast, and the brewery's incredibly soft well water. Because we wanted to be as traditional and authentic as possible, we did a double decoction mash. When everything was done, which took about 8 hours, we had, in the fermenter, 11 hectolitres of 14o tmavy speciál - that's 1100 litres or about 290 gallons. The beer will ferment for about 8 or 9 days and be lagered until, at the earliest, February 1st 2011, though ideally we would like to do 2 months worth of lagering.


For naming this beer, I suggested, and Jason agreed, that we use the name of an ancient Slavic goddess, Morana, the goddess of winter and death, who goes under several other names as well, but Morana was the one I liked best. Traditionally when Spring comes, an effigy of Morana is burnt to celebrate the end of winter, and given the timing of the beer being released, it is kind of fitting that a beer dedicated to her would be available during the last throes of winter.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber and Dark Lager

This seems to have been a decent year on the amber and dark lager front of things, with new offerings from one of my favourite breweries back in the UK, the continued excellence of many a Czech polotmavé and tmavé, as well as a few good lagers from the USA in this category, although if I am honest the majority of amber and dark lagers over here are as crap as the pale ones.

The three beers which make the shortlist for amber and dark lager of the year are:
Here I must make a confession, in ten years living in Prague, I went to U Flek? a grand total of once and that was back in June while researching for my soon to be released pub guide to Prague (released as soon I sort out a technical issue or two). I had avoided it purely because it is such a touristy place to go, had I known just how damned good the beer was, I would have drunk far less in my formative Prague years but drunk far, far better.

Whilst talking of seemingly touristy places to go, U Medvídk? will always be a place I love and hanker for, whether for the lashings of Budvar, the wonderful Czech food (if anyone tells you Czech food is awful then they are pretentious knobs with no idea about being a normal human being), and of course U Medvídk?'s own range of excellent beers. As lovely as it is from a bottle, Oldgott Barique is simply divine on tap in the secluded little brewery area of this labyrinthine pub.

As for the Kout na ?umavě 18°, a magnificent Baltic Porter which rounded off many an evening in U Slovanské Lípy, I have to agree with the august Evan Rail that it is "simply miraculous". Beautifully smooth and rich, like a dark chocolate cake which is sinful beyond words but oh so damned good, as I say, it rounded off so many nights out to perfection.

This is, again, a very difficult decision to make, but when push comes to shove, I usually go for a beer which I can drink several pints of, as such the Fuggled Amber and Dark Lager of the Year for 2009 is:
  1. U Medvídk? Oldgott Barique 13°
I had the pleasure many times this year, with various people I have been lucky to get to know as a result of Fuggled, to sit in the brewery side of U Medvídk? and polish off copious amounts of the Oldgott Barique - each and every every occassion as good as the beer lubricating the conversation.

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.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber and Dark Lagers

There is a Czech tradition that if a woman drinks dark lager then she will have big breasts, though there is nothing said about getting a big gut as well, so we can only assume that dark beer is good for you!

In all seriousness though, there was a time when I didn't particularly like the darker lagers on offer in the Czech Republic - however this has changed in recent years, partly I think as a natural progression from when I was fed up with the Czech lagers I was drinking at the time, and thus looked for something different.

The reason I have put amber and dark lagers under the same post is that I drink proportionately less of them than other lagers here, so a post each would be stretching things practically to breaking point, despite the fact that this has given me something of a headache when it comes to choosing my top three of the year, which are

The Strahov Autumn Special was a magnificent beer, rich and flavourful and worth every drop of the two or three I enjoyed in the late autumn sun whilst looking at Strahov Monastery, one of my favourite buildings in Prague.

Hukvaldy 14° was one of those beautiful happy moments when you say, I'll just have the one, and end up having a couple over lunch and savouring every drop, telling all your colleagues that they should get to the pub that very day and try it - then discovering they took your advice and were raving about it too!

The Chodovar brewery makes some of my favourite beers, and their Skalní le?ák is quite simply a lovely beer which never fails to satisfy. When PK had it on tap earlier this year I was in heaven.

This is such a difficult choice, but in the immortal words of Connor MacLeod, there can be only one:
  1. Chodovar Skalní le?ák

Chodovar wins here for its consistency as one of my favourite amber lagers and the fact that I have used it in my various beer cooking experiment successfully.

Friday, November 14, 2008

BrewDog Prototypes

Sometimes when I read about the beers being made in the US and other countries less hide bound to traditions and beer styles I am green with envy. As much as I like Czech beer, innovative brewers are few and far between, Kocour and Primátor being the prime examples, although of course there are smaller regional breweries doing interesting things. Recently, in conjunction with Evan Rail and Pivní Filosof, I reviewed the Punk IPA from BrewDog that I picked up in Oxford. Thus it was last week that a box of BrewDog’s prototype beers for 2009 arrived at Mrs Velkyal’s school, containing Chaos Theory, Bad Pixie and Zeit Geist.



The first I tried was the 7.1% ABV IPA, tentatively called Chaos Theory, which I think is an excellent name and certainly allows plenty of scope for marketing guff on the label. Described as an IPA, I have to admit that I was expecting something along the lines of the Punk IPA. 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.



Next up was Bad Pixie, which according to the BrewDog website is a wheat beer flavoured with juniper berries and lemon peel. Having become something of a devotee of wheat beer in recent months, I was intrigued by the idea of the juniper berries and could half imagine the Queen Mother giving up her Gordon’s for this. The beer is very pale and had a bubbly white head that very quickly dissolved into nothingness, leaving an almost soapy rim around the glass. The nose confused me for a while, because I couldn’t place the smell, until eventually it hit me that it smelt a bit like a stale pub carpet. In some ways it was similar to the Zoigl smell I wrote about a couple of weeks back, but without sufficient potency to make you thing there was something going on, more that something was off. Taste wise, it was rather spicy – leaving a warm chilli glow on the roof of my mouth which was laced with citrus – given the juniper berry and lemon peel additions that is hardly suprising, the problem was that there was nothing backing up those flavours, rather it was just very dry. It was almost like a lemon meringue pie left on the windowsill for a few weeks.

Last up was Zeit Geist, advertised as a classic Czech style dark lager, and it is certainly dark – 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. As it is advertised as a Czech style dark lager, I guess it is only natural to compare it to beers such as Herold Dark, and while it doesn’t match that in terms of body and flavour, it would hold its own against the industrial darks such as Staropramen, as such it is an easily drinkable dark.

The point of this exercise is not just to rate three beers, but to say how one would change them with a view to their improvement. I would not make many changes to Chaos Theory, I really enjoyed it, and while at 7.1% ABV it is in no way a session beer, it is an excellent beer for enjoying a few pints with your mates, and I can imagine that it would go very well with a long meal – preferably involving stovies and clootie dumpling – its bitterness more than balancing out the sweetness of the latter. The Bad Pixie, if I may be so bold, I would forget about altogether, it simply does not work for me, I would also though add the caveat that a wheat beer is would be an excellent addition to the range, just not this one. Zeit Geist has potential, but it needs to receive a proverbial kicking from some of the big boys of the dark lager scene to whip it into shape. It isn’t bad, it is just a bit weedy and as such out of keeping with the image cultivated by BrewDog of being Britain’s bad boys of brewing, beef it up, maybe teach it the fine art of smoking and you could have a contender on your hands.

For more opinions on these beers also pop over to Pivni Filosof's blog!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Taking shape

As I am sure I have mentioned several times on here, in a couple of weeks I am heading to Ireland for a long weekend just before my birthday. I have never been to Ireland before and am really looking forward to it - not just for the opportunity to try out a few places like The Porterhouse and Messrs Maguire, but also because I have something of a fascination with Ireland in general (well ok then, I have a weakness for girls with a Connemara accent!).

We will be staying with friends of Mrs Velkyal in a village called Rochfortbridge in County Westmeath, so hopefully we'll avoid some of the tourist traps of Dublin and get to see the real Ireland a wee bit - whenever we travel we like to go to the places locals hang out in rather, my sincerest hope for the afternoon of the 15th is to find a good pub to watch the rugby in (unless someone reading this has 4 tickets going spare for the game at Croke Park and an overwhelming urge to let my lovely American wife continue her rugby education!).

As a result of the planning for this trip to Ireland, I have decided to make November my Dark Beers Month - as you can see from my Little Cellar Holdings list on the side of this page I have stocked up on a few bits and pieces, and plan to bring a couple back with me. Obviously I won't be drinking purely stout and porters for the month, but will also include dark beers from the Czech Republic and anywhere else I can get my hands on.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Sabbath Day's Drinking

Some recent arrivals to Prague are Oscar and Joanna. Joanna works with Mrs Velkyal and Oscar is, rather obviously I guess, her husband. For people who have only been in the country a matter of weeks, they have shown a refreshing willingness to get out and about to discover the delights of the Czech Republic. It stands to reason then that they like beer, and I am doing my best to ensure that their Czech beer experience is as good as possible. On their first night in the city Mrs Velkyal and I dragged them off to U Medvídk? and insisted they try the excellent Oldgott Barrique.

As Mrs Velkyal and I were headed for the shops to stock up, we got a message from Joanna and Oscar asking what we were up to and would we fancy going for a stroll. Naturally we arranged to meet up and enjoy the sunshine together. Meeting up in the centre of the city, we walked down Národní, across the bridge into Malá Strána and got the funicular railway up the hill. After about an hour or so of walking it was suggested that we stop for a rest and a “coffee” – Velkyal slang for finding the nearest bar for a beer. At the time we were stood under the imposing edifice of Strahov Monastery – one of my favourite buildings in Prague, and a place I have been fortunate enough see with one of the priests and get up close and personal with the assorted treasures they have in there. Having read last week that the brewpub there currently had their Autumn Dark Special on tap, I suggested we give it a visit.

The sun was shining there was a nice autumnal chill in the air, despite this and the stiff breeze, we ended up sitting outside in the courtyard so the girls could enjoy the sun. Looking at the menu I noticed that as well as their own beers, the restaurant also had a selection of Budvar and Bernard beers available, however I was only here to try their own stuff, and in particular I wanted the Autumn Dark Special. Joanna and I plumped for the seasonal special, while Oscar and Mrs Velkyal went for the year round amber lager.


Being something of a tourist trap, the beers are a touch on the expensive side at 60k? for 0.4l, however by the time I had tried everything on draught I didn’t mind paying the extra. When the Autumn Dark Special arrived it was very dark, like a deep fire ruby, which glows when held up to the light, on top of this sat a fluffy beige head. The nose was very sweet and malty, with caramel notes – like fruit slowly fried in butter. In the mouth it is remarkably smooth and sweet – reminiscent of a 80/- Scottish ale, with flashes of coffee and cocoa on the tongue. The only problem that I have with beers like this is not drinking gallon after gallon.


While I was savouring the autumn special, Mrs Velkyal had gone for the standard amber lager on offer. Naturally in the interests of science, we each had a taste of the other. I love the dark orange colour of this beer and the fantastic white head, I can’t just say that an amber lager looks like amber now can I? This was very hoppy in the nose, with subtle clove notes which put me in mind of the Kocour IPA we enjoyed last week. Despite being a rather bitter beer this was surprisingly smooth and easy to drink, the bitterness is only just trumped by the sweetness, but the combination is like drinking marmalade, especially given the wonderful fruitiness of the beer.

While the rest of the gang were pigging out on French fries, I decided to have a bash at the house weizen. I have had this before at Zly ?asy and enjoyed it, but this was a different kettle of fish entirely. It poured much darker than I had previous had it and had a rocky white head. I must admit that I find wheat beers somewhat difficult to describe at the moment, although there were very noticeable citrus flavours and the crisp refreshing bite I have come to appreciate in Bavarian and Bohemian style wheats. This was just a lovely beer to drink, and if I had closed my eyes ignoring the cold I could easily imagine myself enjoying glass after glass of this in the heat of a South Carolinian summer.

A few weeks ago on Beer Culture, Evan noted that there is a pub up in the Kobylisy area of the city with the Strahov beers at lower prices than at the monastery itself. Having enjoyed them in their natural environment, I am looking forward to hunting out this place and giving my wallet some respite.

I guess this picture below appeals to both the drinker and the technical writer in me!

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 ...

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