Showing posts with label devils backbone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label devils backbone. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Visiting the Devil to Worship a Goddess

Mrs V and I went to the pub on Saturday.

Those words seem so unremarkable in the normal flow of things, but with life the way it is at the moment, it is quite staggering how poignant they are. I was inordinately excited to do something so banal as going for a feed and a drink with my wife.

Said pub was the Devils Backbone Basecamp brewpub about an hour's drive from where we live, and there was an ulterior motive, Morana was on finally on tap. According to the brewmaster, it was the best batch of the 5 we have done. It was also the first batch that included open fermentation and horizontal lagering as part of the process.

A while back, I wrote about what it would take to get me back to the pub and my thinking then was that would have to be a vaccine or reliable treatment. Thinking a little bit deeper, I had made the assumption that going back to the pub was within the context of business as normal where you pick a venue, rock on up when you feel like it, and deal with whatever is going on at the time. I had failed to consider the possibility of reduced capacity opening.

Here in Virginia we have just entered "phase 2" of the re-opening plan, which for pubs means 50% capacity, no more than 10 people at a table, and tables at least 6 feet apart, and no sitting at the bar itself, as well as various best practices and recommendations. One thing that Devils Backbone are doing which gave me the confidence to arrange a visit is that they are operating on a reservation only basis, and they have posted a full list of their practices on their website, including mandatory masks when not sat at the table.

With our bespoke, Mrs V made, masks on faces, we arrived at Devils Backbone and it was obvious from the get go that here was a process that had been thoroughly thought through and was functioning well. The major benefit of of reservations only is that there are no groups of people loitering while hoping for a table to to open up. Once we were seated we were told that there was a 90 minute limit to our reservation and that menus were available through a QR code on the table (which meant I had to download a reader app as my phone is a bit old).

Both Mrs V and I were seriously impressed with our trip to the Basecamp, and I think the reservations thing is going to be the deciding factor for any future trips to pubs. Pretty much everything was done in such a way as to minimise physical contact between patrons and staff, all food and drink was served in one time use containers, and staff wore masks all the time. If there was one thing that wasn't quite working it was the single occupancy status of the toilets, with nobody overseeing that, groups of people ignored the signs on the doors and went in together.

Anyway, the beer, that is after all why we were there...


Jason was on the money in telling me that it is the best batch yet. Goodness me it is a delicious brew, sure I am biased, but I honestly think Morana would stand up to and tmavé being brewed in Czechia. Reviewing notes on previous batches, this one has a silkier mouthfeel and a slightly fuller body. All the lovely deep malty sweetness of Munich malt is there, and the unsweetened cocoa of the Carafa too, in amongst it all is the spicy character of Saaz, not the star for sure, but not a wallflower either.

Admittedly the beer doesn't look its best in a single use plastic pot, so here it is as Perun intended, in a tuplák glass...


Fantastic beer, superb, safe setup for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, while still being able to enjoy a pint of one of my favourite beers in the world, and all at a place that Mrs V and I have loved ever since we came to this part of Virginia.

I know there are some people out there who still hold a grudge against Devils Backbone for being part of the AB-InBev universe, but at the end of the day that is their problem. I said it when the deal was first announced that as long as the beer remained good, the people running the show still ran the show, and the overall ethos of Devils Backbone didn't change, then I wasn't going to be a dummy spitter. I still haven't spat my dummy, see no reason on the horizon to do so, and with their superb handling of opening up in a safe manner, I can only say I love them more than ever.

So, if you are in the area, get yourself a reservation, another benefit was how easy that process was on their website, and go enjoy some beers in the sun.

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?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Dark

On third day of Christmas, we move on to the undeniably dark beers of the world, porter, stout, dunkel, tmavé, et al, including some brown ales simply because you can only see though them by holding them up to the light, ah the delights of capricious whimsy. Here are the runners and riders for today.

Virginia
  • Porter - Port City Brewing
  • No Veto Brown - Three Notch'd Brewing
  • Schwartzbier - Devils Backbone
Honorable mentions:

Britchin' Brown - Stable Craft Brewing;

USA
  • Dunkel - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Dunkel - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Narwahl 2018 - Sierra Nevada Brewing, CA/NC
Honorable mentions:

Dunkel - Hofbr?uhaus Cleveland, OH; Porter - Sierra Nevada, CA/NC; Tr?sten - Von Trapp Brewing, VT

Rest of World
  • Altbairisch Dunkel - Brauerei Ayinger, DE
  • M?rzen - Schlenkerla, DE
  • Fabián 14° tmavé - Pivovar Hostomice
Honorable mentions:

Oatmeal Stout - Samuel Smiths, England; Black - Belhaven Brewery, Scotland; Urbock - Schlenkerla, DE

Some absolutely glorious beers there, and that is just with the honorable mentions, several of which came very close to breaking into the top three in each regional category. As a devotee of the dark beer arts, I could happily drink just the honorable mentions and be a happy camper, imagine then the ecstasy of only being able to drink the top three. Cutting 9 down to an ultimate three then was insanely difficult as there have been plenty of occasions where I have preferred, for example, Devils Backbone Schwartzbier over Port City Porter, it's so often a question of context.

  • Virginia - Porter, Port City Brewing
  • USA - Dunkel, Von Trapp Brewing
  • Rest of World - M?rzen, Schlenkerla
Carrying on the theme of context, it is that factor that decided the winner of the Fuggled Dark Beer of 2019. Drinking a legendary beer in a legendary brewpub in a legendary beer town just cannot be beaten, and so obviously the winner is Schelnkerla M?rzen. As I mentioned in my post about drinking in Bamberg, I have loved rauchbier since I first have bottled Schlenkerla in Prague, and I drink a couple of litres of it every month still to this day, so having it on tap was a nigh on religious moment. I didn't expect though for the divine itself to be even more divine, but it was, and I savoured every drop of that holy communion.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber, Red, and Brown

On this Boxing Day, or St Stephen's Day if you insist, we move up in the colour charts to the rather broad notion of amber, red, and brown beers, which here I am defining as anything that you can actually see through without being held up to the light. With no further ados being necessary, let's jump straight on in.

Virginia
  • Vienna Lager - Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Satan's Pony - South Street Brewery
  • Hydraulion Irish Red Ale - Three Notch'd Brewing
Honorable mentions:
Fast Mild - Ballad Brewing; Oktoberfest - Port City Brewing
USA
  • Copper - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Oktoberfest - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Bigfoot 2019 - Sierra Nevada Brewing, CA/NC
Honorable mentions:
Bauern Bock - Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, NC; Troeganator - Tr?egs Brewing, PA
Rest of World
  • David's Not So Bitter - Spey Valley Brewery, Scotland
  • Lager - Brauerei Spezial, DE
  • I.P.A. - Isle of Skye Brewing, Scotland
Honorable mentions:
O'Hara's Red - Carlow Brewing, IE; Oktoberfest-M?rzen - Brauerei Ayinger, DE
Bringing the list of amber, red, and brown beers down to just three was actually pretty simple as in each regional category there was a standout beer across the year, so kind gentlefolk I give you the final three...


  • Virginia - Satan's Pony, South Street Brewery
  • USA - Copper, Olde Mecklenburg Brewing
  • Rest of World - Lager, Brauerei Spezial
Picking just one though is much harder, however there is one that achieved something special this year. I am a big fan of rauchbier, Schenkerla in particular, and so when I was sat in a side room at the Brauerei Spezial in Bamberg on my second, or possibly third, half litre of Spezial Lager it dawned on my that this would be my local and my tipple if I lived there. Such a lovely beer, and I am sure the location helps, but it was complex enough to be interesting, moreish enough to sit and enjoy several of, and so damned well made that I could find no fault in it. As such, it is worthy to be declared the Fuggled Amber, Red, and Brown Beer of 2019.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Golden Leaves of Vienna

Sadly this is not an Evan Railesque travelogue of drinking eponymous lager in the capital of modern Austria. Though when the boys are a bit more grown up a tour of the drinking cultures of central Europe sounds like a grand plan, after all them turning 18 and me 60 coincide quite nicely, and in winter as well so a tour of the Christmas markets could be fun. Anyway, I digress.

As you well know, dear regular reader, I am a big fan of Devils Backbone Brewing just down the road from us here in central Virginia. They were one of the first breweries we visited after moving here from the Czech Republic (sorry, but bollocks to Czechia) and have been a constant, and consistent source of lager beers to keep the lagerboys (and girls) amongst us happy. Of course I should also mention that Jason at Devils Backbone has been kind/crazy enough to brew a couple of my beer recipes at the brewpub.

Unlike many a craft brewery, Devils Backbone's flagship beers are lagers, the trailblazing Vienna Lager and the one time bestseller at the brewpub Gold Leaf. Between them they have picked up 13 gongs at various competitions, including the World Beer Cup. For a long time though if you wanted some Gold Leaf you had to go to the brewpub, which is no great travail, but the days of an hour's drive for a couple of pints are gone for the time being, twins eh? Those days though are over for a reason other than parenthood, Devils Backbone now package Gold Leaf.


Gold Leaf, described on the can as a "Golden Lager", is very much in the tradition of central European every day beer, which given Gold Leaf's nicely modest 4.5% abv makes it a grand session beer. I imagine the starting gravity is around 11° Plato - I can't remember who told me this but if you take the ABV and times it by 2.5 then you have an approximation of the starting gravity. Made with 4 different malts, and 3 hop varieties, including 2 of my favourites (Tettnang and Saaz), to give you 21 IBUs, it is a very easy beer to drink, and that my friend is it's charm.

No doubt I sound like something of a scratched record on this, but I have no time for the vast majority of silly shit beers, you know the kind of thing, porter with peanut butter, IPA with breakfast cereal, gose with fruit, anything you care to mention with vanilla. Gold Leaf is the kind of beer I love to drink, simple, classic, flavourful without being challenging, refreshing, and ideal for sitting on the front porch on a Sunday afternoon. Best of all right now, it is available in our local Wegmans as a 15 pack of cans for $15, you really can't beat that.

Unless of course you want something a little stronger, then get a 15 can pack of Vienna Lager for the same price and pour three into your 1 litre ma?....


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

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A Virginian Oktoberfest

This weekend sees the culmination of the ur-beerfest in many people's minds, Oktoberfest. While I have never been to the only Oktoberfest worthy of the name, nor actually do I have any ambition to go - beer festivals being generally not my thing - I do enjoy the Oktoberfest style lagers that are practically de rigueur at this time of the year.

Last year I bought myself a load of examples of the style to do a comparative tasting, only one of which though was from Virginia. Seeing as though our local Wegman's has a reasonable selection of beer, and customers can build their own 6 pack, I did just that, but with only Virginia brewed Oktoberfest lagers this time. The chosen six being:
In the fine tradition of Teutonic efficiency, I will dispense with the waffle and dive on in to my modified Cyclops tasting notes...


Devils Backbone O'Fest
  • Sight - amber, burnt orange, full inch of ivory foam that lingers
  • Smell - bready malts, a touch of hay, spicy hops, traces of cinnamon
  • Taste - bready again, think the crust of a Stollen, muted hop bitterness that fades, clean finish
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Not a bad start to the tasting for sure, and I have to admit to bashing a fair few pints of this on Wednesday night in DC whilst at the conference. The body is medium to full, with a slightly slick finish that the hop bite just manages to overcome and make this a really easy lager to drink. As ever, Devils Backbone know how to make a good lager.


Blue Mountain 13.Five Oktoberfest
  • Sight - light amber, half inch off white foam, little visible carbonation
  • Smell - subtle breadiness, some floral hops, traces of graininess
  • Taste - sweet malts, not caramelly just sweet, like brown sugar, floral hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Fuller bodied than the Devils Backbone, almost voluptuous. The sweetness flirts with the idea of being cloying but the hops bring it back into focus. As it warms though is starts to get a bit flabby around the edges, but still a fine beer.


Legend Oktoberfest
  • Sight - deep amber, light red highlights, thin off white head
  • Smell - cocoa, milk chocolate, toasty notes
  • Taste - toasty, cocoa, nutty, like nutella.
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
Not a particularly interesting beer to be honest. The cocoa/chocolate thing was really distracting, and the body was lacking, even veering toward an unpleasant thinness. Lurking in the background was an ickiness that I found really difficult to ignore. Blah.


Brothers Fest Bier
  • Sight - dark golden, light orange, inch of off white head
  • Smell - grassy hop aroma, suggesting Saaz or Tettnang, some light toast
  • Taste - juicy malt sweetness, brown sugar, herbal hop bite
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Again a medium bodied beer, though with a slick mouthfeel that the clean finish just about managed to scrape away. Not one that I would hunt out but decent enough in a pinch.


Smartmouth The Princess
  • Sight - light amber, thin white head
  • Smell - sweet Munichy malts, floral hops, touch of lemongrass, slight hint of corn
  • Taste - well done toast, dulce de leche, floral hop bite
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Medium bodied with a noticeably slick finish, really lacking a good hefty hop bite and clean lager finish to improve the drinkability, an odd vegetal note became more prominent as it warmed. Nope, not doing that again.


Port City Oktoberfest
  • Sight - amber, light orange, half inch off white head that dissipates quickly
  • Smell - light toast, floral hops, brown sugar
  • Taste - biscuity, touch of crackers, subtle honey
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
And a good beer to round out the selection. Rich rather than sweet and thankfully with a nice clean lagery finish that refreshes the palette. In the background were some nice subtle orange flavours going on that added to the complexity of a very nice beer. Yay for Port City!


The aim of this tasting was not to rank the beers, but I have to admit that I would only actively chose 3 of the 6 to drink again, the Devils Backbone, Blue Mountain, and Port City ones. So as Oktoberfest proper winds down this weekend, grab a six pack of one of them, a packet of proper German bratwurst, a tub of Dusseldorf mustard and go to town...prost!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2018

It's that time of year again. On Sunday I drove Mrs V, the Malé Ali?ky, and Honza the Cairn Terrier home from South Carolina, having been south for a couple of weeks. Coming home from our fairly annual week in Florida is one of the signs of the tail end of summer, another is my annual list of the top ten Virginian beers that I have drunk in the last 12 months.

So without further ado....let's dive on in.
  1. Blue Mountain Brewing - Dark Hollow (10.0%). No that is not a typo, a barrel aged imperial stout really was the highlight of my drinking last year. It is fairly common to read blog posts and tweets about how all beers have their time and place, usually in the context of a paid up member of the craft beer drinking guild having a cold, often adjunct laden, pale lager whilst on holiday. The time and place in question here was at the first evening session at the fiddle camp my wife and I have attended each of the last 3 years. Up in the mountains of Highland County in western Virginia, a bottle of Dark Hollow was the only beer available at the hotel bar that actually appealed to me. It fitted the context, mood, and atmosphere perfectly.
  2. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - Virgindia Pale Ale (5.2%). Probably another surprise for regular readers of Fuggled, a hoppy pale ale makes the list! VIPA is made using Virginia grown barley and hops, making it asas much a local beer as is really possible, oh did I mention it's delicious? Hardywood opened a satellite brewery in Charlottesville a couple of years ago and being the abysmal beer tourist I am, it took me until this spring to actually bother to make it round. When finally I did, I had a great Sunday afternoon drinking with Mrs V and our friends while watching the collective brood of children. VIPA was a lovely beer, positively dripping with American hop character, that late spring afternoon, and has since been a fairly regular tipple as summer has worn on.
  3. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). Still my go to beer when I darken the door of South Street, which is nowhere near as often as I would like now that I no longer work in the centre of Charlottesville. The subtle interplay of malt and noble hops make this a beer that simply goes down far too well. I think a few pints are in order this weekend with brunch....
  4. Alewerks Brewing Company - Weekend Lager (4.8%). I love this beer, simply love it. Of the recent spate of Helles lagers that have done the rounds in the craft brewing scene, this is one of the best, and whenever I see it on tap at a restaurant I know what I'll be drinking, especially with a Sunday brunch, when a litre of this little beauty pairs dangerously well with a plate of bacon, eggs, hash browns, and sausage, Just saying, like.
  5. South Street Brewery - Munich Dunkel (5.6%). My Virginia Dark Beer of 2017 and a cracking interpretation of a classic lager style. You may have noticed a common theme with the kind of beers that make this list, balance and drinkability are important to me, and Munich Dunkel has it in spades, and thankfully doesn't use caramel malts to achieve the subtle sweetness that lingers in the background of the beer, mmmmmmMunich malt!
  6. Devils Backbone Brewing - Alt Bier (5.8%). If there is one thing in life you can rely on it is Jason Oliver's ability to brew a solid, nailed on German beer. To mark Mrs V's first Mother's Day we took a little family trip to Nelson County to visit one of our favourite wineries, and while out that way decided to pop into Devils Backbone. One thing I love about DB is that for all their growth, and the new distillery is an impressive addition, they really haven't changed in the slightest. Still churning out world class beers in an environment which is welcoming, friendly, and somewhere I would go far more often if it wasn't an hour's drive. The Alt Bier reminded me of Schumacher Alt, and there is no higher praise than that really.
  7. Champion Brewing - Dorty South (5.4%). You don't see that many Dortmunder Lagers around, so when I popped into Champion Brewing on my way home from my previous job, having slunk out early because it was simply too depressing to sit in cubicled corporate hell much longer, to find they had a Dortmunder on tap I knew what I was going to drink. Dorty South is a lovely, toasty, clean, lager that has a delightful balance of malt heft with hop bite, I may have had several pints....
  8. Three Notch'd Brewing - Mild Marker 20 (3.6%). One of only a couple of redeeming features of an afternoon spent in the new Three Notch'd brewpub watching the Champions League final, the other being hanging out with a group of friends for the first time since the twins were born. Brewed to a recipe that won a homebrew competition down in Lynchburg, this was a nice solid English style dark mild, suitably balanced and quaffable, with neither hops nor malt dominating. There was only one thing missing, the beer being pulled from a beer engine with a sparkler and at the correct temperature, but I am ok to wait a few minutes for things to warm up.
  9. Port City Brewing - Porter (7.2%). My porter kick continues, both my own homebrewed ones, projects with Three Notch'd, and drinking an absolutely glorious beer from Alexandria, VA. I read recently that Port City is starting to distribute to the UK and I would encourage all of my British friends to stock up on Port City Porter when it hits Blight's shores. Rich, filling, and practically lascivious, this is my beer of choice on many a winter's night.
  10. Devils Backbone Brewing - Vienna Lager (5.2%).Earlier this year I started a series on Fuggled called "Old Friends", where I went back to beers I had once loved but for various reasons not drunk for a while. Coming back to DB's iconic Vienna Lager was like that moment in Ratatouille where Anton Ego is transported back in time at the taste of the ratatouille prepared for him. Obviously I wasn't transported back to childhood, but back to my early days living in Central Virginia, 9 years now, when Vienna Lager was a very common site in my fridge, and a trip to the brewpub was a regular occurrence. Toasty, floral, clean, and most importantly of all just plain good drinking. It also served as a reminder that being a part of Anhesuer-Busch hasn't ruined the beer, nor the company for that matter.
I say this every year, but this is a strictly subjective list based on my drinking in the last 12 months. I am not interested in trying to define who or what is or isn't craft, I just want to drink beer I enjoy. If you have any suggestions of beers that you think I would like then feel free to make add it to the comments.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

2 Years Later....

I realised the other day that it has been two years since the announcement was made that Devils Backbone Brewing had been purchased by the craft division of Anheuser-Busch, The High End. What followed on social media was the fairly predictable caterwauling and butt hurt statements about selling out and people never spending another penny on Devils Backbone beer, and even disgraceful abuse of Devils Backbone employees.


With it being two years out from the sale, I thought it would be good to reflect on how Devils Backbone is today. For the sake of full disclosure let me say that I am friends with several people that work at Devils Backbone, including Jason Oliver, and I have worked with them on a number of brewing projects to bring Czech style lagers to the drinkers of central Virginia.


I will admit that I don't get down to the brewpub location nearly as often as I would like, it is about an hour's drive from my house and since the birth of Mrs V and I's twin sons going anywhere much further than Charlottesville is an exercise in logistics. However, the times that we have gone down recently have been as they always were, superb. The beer has been excellent, the service on the ball, friendly, efficient, and it is great to see so many of the same faces as before the sale. I don't know how much airtime this got, but Devils Backbone have always believed in creating full time jobs, with benefits, and one plus of the sale was that DB immediately doubled the match for employee 401(k) pension plans from 3% of earnings to 6%.


This is though a beer blog and in my experience in the past 2 years I have not had a single bad beer. Have I had beers that were not my thing? Sure. Did that beer display poor brewing or quality traits? Nope, not once. Devils Backbone have, by virtue of the purchase, been able to invest in their equipment at the brewpub, and at the production facility, so that they can further explore the craft of making great beer, including getting in horizontal lagering tanks. That investment is paying off in the quality of the beer being made.

Every summer I produce a thoroughly subjective list of the best Virginia made beers that I have drunk in the previous year, and Devils Backbone are regulars because Jason and co know how to make great beer. As I said in my initial reaction to the sale "as long as the beer remains good, then I will remain a happy Devils Backbone drinker", 2 years later and I am still a happy Devils Backbone drinker.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Old Friends: Devils Backbone Vienna Lager

I am going to make an assumption with this post, namely that you have been reading Fuggled for a while and thus it will come as no surprise to you that I am a devotee of lager. There is just something about most lager styles that I find appealing, given a choice between some trendy glitter bomb juicy IPA and a pint of Miller Lite, I am likely to take the Miller Lite more often than not.

When Mrs V and I made the move from Prague to central Virginia we knew that finding a good local lager was high on our list of priorities. For a while we bounced around Blue Mountain's Classic Lager, Starr Hill's Jomo Lager, and the beer that is today's Old Friend, Devils Backbone Vienna Lager. Eventually Vienna Lager won the day and became my standard lager in the fridge. I really can't think why I stopped keeping a six pack of it in the fridge, probably something to do with the well made contract brewed lagers that I could buy at Trader Joe's.

Being a central European style lager, it seemed only right to pour it into my half litre mug from the lovely Purkmistr in Plzeň that I got at the first Slunce ve Skle festival a decade ago. What a glorious deep copper beer with orange edges and half inch of off-white head that leaves a fine tracery of lacing down the glass.


I had forgotten just how much I loved the aroma of Vienna Lager, laden with a smell that I can only describe as like large amounts of honey spread on freshly toasted bread. Floating around in the background is a lovely floral hoppiness that reminded me of walking in the Czech mountains in the height of summer, side note I have always loved the Czech word for flowers, 'kyti?ky'.


Anyway, before I lapse into a Bohemian revelry, we should actually drink the beer, that is after all the whole point of this most wonderful of liquids. Teacakes, that's what I get, teacakes freshly taken out of the oven, spread with more honey, and then snaffled with all the delight of an illicit, though simple, pleasure. There is a light citrusy bitterness to the beer that gives the beer a balance that makes it thoroughly moreish.


That thing I mentioned earlier about there being something about most lagers that I find appealing, it is the clean bite that comes with a well made, properly lagered beer. The best way I can think of to describe the perception I am thinking of is that it is a tight snap that leaves the palate waiting for more. Drinkability, that is ultimately what love about lager styles, I find them more drinkable than many of their top fermented cousins.

With it being Friday, I might just swing by the shop and pick up a 6 pack of Vienna Lager to enjoy this evening once the boys have gone down for the night...every prospect pleases.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Beer and Breweries of 2017

A bit late admittedly, though there are mitigating circumstances involving trips to the emergency room with my twin sons, but as they say, never late than never eh? I have somewhat rationalised this year's lists by having just a single 'Virginia' entry rather than splitting it into central VA and the rest of the commonwealth as in years passim. With that, let's dive on in.

Pale
  • Virginia - Devils Backbone Czech 10
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Nooner
  • Rest of World - Rothaus Tannenz?pfle
  • Honorable mentions - Pilsner Urquell, Three Notch'd The Ghost, New Belgium Dayblazer, Black Sheep Ale


Admit it, you're shocked that my three choices here are all pilsners. If you are then clearly you haven't been paying enough attention. Anyway, all three are wonderful versions of my favourite pale lager style, all crisp, clean, painfully easy to drink, and so beautifully made it makes you wonder why people bother with dumping random shit in the fermenter. Choosing just one is tricky, but when it comes down to it, having a desítka in Virginia puts DB's lovely Czech 10 ahead by a short nose.

Amber
  • Virginia - Port City Oktoberfest
  • Rest of US - Olde Mecklenburg Copper
  • Rest of World - Minipivovar U Medvídk? Oldgott Barrique
  • Honorable mentions - Schlenkerla M?rzen, Fullers 1845, O'Hara's Irish Red, Three Notch'd Hydraulion


Whenever Mrs V and I, and I guess from here on in for a few years, the twins as well, head to South Carolina I always make a point of getting some Copper from Olde Mecklenburg Brewing in Charlotte, NC. Copper is an altbier that unlike many that claim to be of that style over here isn't made with caramel malts in place of the traditional Munich malts. It is as close a genuine altbier as you will find brewed in the US, and I love the stuff.

Dark
  • Virginia - South Street Brewing Munich Dunkel
  • Rest of US - Anchor Brewing Porter
  • Rest of World - Riegele Noctus 100
  • Honorable mentions - Sierra Nevada Porter, Sierra Nevada Stout, Guinness 200th Anniversary Export Stout, Three Notch'd Oats McGoats, Sv. Norbert Dark Lager


While in Columbia for Thanksgiving, I stocked up on beers that I rarely, if ever, see here in Virginia and it is one of those that walks off with the title of Fuggled dark beer of the year. Anchor Porter is a beer I had heard much about but never actually seen in the wild. When I popped open a bottle to go with my dinner one evening I was blown away with just how complex and beautifully made it was, especially given it's comparatively lightweight 5.6% abv - one I will be stocking up on whenever I am in SC for sure.

Fuggled Beer of the Year

Of my three category beers of the year, the one that walks away with the overall Fuggled Beer of the Year will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that knows me. I will quite openly admit to the fact that I enjoy drinking beer, I am not much of one for visiting breweries and sampling their wares before moving on to another brewery and repeating the experience. If I do flights it is to find what I want to drink for the rest of my session. When I found out that my friends down at Devils Backbone were making a 10° Czech style pale lager I was excited to try it, and it was simply one of the best examples of the style I have ever drunk, up there with the likes of Kout na ?umavě and Zlatá labu?. Being able to sit in the Devils Backbone brewpub with friends, enjoying superb food, and the perfect desítka to wash it all down with, was sublime. Well done Devils Backbone, the Fuggled Beer of the Year is Czech 10, please make it again!!

Brewery
  • Virginia - Three Notch'd Brewing
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Brewing
  • Rest of World - Guinness
  • Honorable mentions - Devils Backbone, AleWerks, Fullers, Olde Mecklenburg Brewing,
I am sure I have said this many a time, but I am a terrible beer tourist, and as such I don't tend to go off on brewery sampling trips. I am also a rather conservative drinker in the sense that I tend to find breweries that I trust to make quality beers and I stick to them. Given the price of a six pack these days, there is no way I am splashing north of $10 for a six pack without knowing that I will be enjoying every beer. There is one brewery that in my world stands heads and shoulders above all overs at the moment and I think I have drunk more of their beer this year than any other brewery. Congrats then to Sierra Nevada Brewing for being the Fuggled Brewery of the Year for 2017, keep up the great work!


Thursday, November 2, 2017

17° Perfection

Goodness me it's been a while since I posted.

Mitigating circumstance is that just 5 days after my previous post, Mrs V gave birth to our twin sons, the malé Ali?ky as they have been nicknamed, and we are getting to grips with this whole parenthood thing.

On Saturday, we introduced the malé Ali?ky to that most august of establishments, the pub. I fear that in the rampantly puritanical mind of the Institute of Alcohol Studies (for those unaware, a front organisation feigning academic respectability for the heirs of the Temperance League and their prohibitionist cohorts) the boys are already scarred for life as I have had several beers right in front of them already.

Said introductory pub was the original Devils Backbone brewpub down in Nelson County, and the occasion was the tapping of the beer I brewed with them back in August, a Czech style Polotmavy Speciál. Polotmavy because it is neither light nor dark, but a deep red kind of in between, and Speciál because it has an original gravity of about 17° Plato. In keeping with Czech tradition the name of the beer is Granát, which is "garnet" in Czech, a reference to the famous gemstones from Central Bohemia.


"But how did the beer turn out?" I hear you say....

Well, it pours a really rich deep auburn, that the picture above maybe doesn't capture fully, and yes I am biased but I think all my children are gorgeous. The head is a healthy inch of ivory foam that lingers for the duration and leaves some lovely lacing down the glass. Aroma wise, there are some traces of a lightly herbal hop character, but given the beer is more balanced toward the malt, the classic Central European smells of fresh bread and a sweet malt aroma (I can't think of a better description honestly, when you smell CaraBohemian malt you get what I mean). In terms of taste, there is lots of breadiness, and a healthy dollop of sweetness, think dulce de leche and you're close, all backed up by a firm hop bite that stops the beer from being sickly - is there anything worse than a sickly sweet beer? Having lagered for a nearly 10 weeks, the finish is clean, crisp, and despite the malt forward nature of the beer, refreshing.

You know, the more I think about it, the more it reminds me of a 14° Polotmavy Speciál from Minipivovar Hukvaldy that I relished back in 2008 over lunch with Max in Prague.

So yes it turned out exactly as I wanted it to, and my only regret is that it won't ever see the light of day at Pivovarsky klub. Given the volume of the batch, I expect it will only be on at Devils Backbone for a few weeks, so if you are in the area get along and try the first recorded authentic Czech style Polotmavy in Virginian history.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2017

This weekend is the 6th annual Virginia Craft Brewers Fest in Charlottesville, actually in the city itself rather than down at Devils Backbone as in previous years. As in each of the previous 6 years of the festival, I spent time earlier this year judging the Virginia Craft Beer Cup, in which a beer that I designed won a silver medal. As usual I won't be attending the festival itself as I will be in western Virginia with Mrs V at a fiddle camp - basically she has music workshops all day and I find a cosy chair, beer, and a book to while away the day.

In years past I have presented a list of the 10 best Virginia beers I have drunk in the past 12 months, and I see no reason to change it this year...
  1. Port City Brewing - Porter (7.2%). I am fairly sure there are regular readers of this blog who will be sending me emails to make sure I am ok because number 1 on my list this year is not a sessionable pale lager. Fear not, I am fine. I was reminded of what a simply magnificent beer Port City's Porter is when I did a comparative porter tasting last December, describing it as 'rich' and 'unctuous'. During the winter and spring it was a regular in my my fridge and given half an hour to get to a decent temperature never failed to impress. If there is a better porter in America right now I would be surprised.
  2. Devils Backbone Brewing - Czech 10 (4.3%). I was desperately trying to avoid recency bias with this choice as the beer was only released last Friday. I failed. The highest praise I can give this beer is that if I were poured a pint of it in a pub in the Czech Republic I would love it, rave about, drag my friends to the pub to drink it. Obscenely easy to drink, packed with the flavours and aromas of Saaz hops, and so well made that had it been allowed in the Czech lager category at the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup this year it would have blown all other competition out of the water. Proof, yet again, that corporate structure has no impact on beer quality.
  3. Alewerks Brewing - Weekend Lager (4.8%). This Munich style helles was a new one for me back in June when I wrote about a slew of this style that I tried (would the plural of 'helles' be 'heli'?). I enjoyed the beer, but there was something odd about the bottle I drank, so when I saw it on tap a few days later I tried again and it was delicious, I may have had several more. A wonderful competition of cracker graininess and lemongrass hops make it something to sit and enjoy on a sunny patio. Marvellous.
  4. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). Probably the single most regular beer I have drunk in the last 12 months, and it hasn't even been on tap at the brewpub for about 4 months (seriously guys, sort it out!). It is a lovely beer, with a superb balance of malt and noble hops, finishing with soft, clean bite that makes the first pint go quickly, and the second, and maybe even a third, fourth, fifth....
  5. Champion Brewing - Shower Beer (4.5%). Yes, yes, yes, another pale lager. It's what I like and it's my list. Another example of a Czech style lager being made in Virginia that would be perfectly welcome back in Bohemia, bursting with the hay and lemon character that I associate with Saaz hops. A great beer for rounding off a day's hiking.
  6. Three Notch'd Brewing - Ghost of the 43rd (5.2%). A fairly common, and frankly welcome sight in the bars of central Virginia. Ghost is one of the nicest American pale ales I have ever had, up there for me with Sierra Nevada's iconic Pale Ale. Loads of hops and enough bitterness to remind you that you are drinking beer (I seriously have issues with beer that has little to no bitterness), Ghost quite often disappears as soon as you see it.
  7. Devils Backbone Brewing - Excel Lager (2.6%). That is not a typo. Earlier this year, Devils Backbone brewed a 7° pale lager that was the equal of many a far stronger pale lager being brewed in this country. Beautifully balanced, not thin in the slightest, and oh so refreshing after a morning climbing to one the highest points in this part of the Blue Ridge. As I said in my post on the beer at the time, this beer showed Jason and so as true masters of the craft of brewing beer.
  8. South Street Brewery - Virginia Lager (5.0%). Despite being a wee bit stronger, South Street's Virginia Lager kind of reminds me of a less bitter Pilsner Urquell, with a similar malt profile and clean hop bite in the finish. While it lacks the additional Saaz characteristics that Pilsner Urquell has, it is a nice pintable beer that in the absence of My Personal Helles has seen me drink plenty in the last couple of months. One of the few South Street beers available bottled, it is always a good option when out and about.
  9. Three Notch'd Brewing - Oats McGoats (5.5%). This winter will be difficult since Three Notch'd have discontinued this wonderful oatmeal stout. Seriously, it is one of the best oatmeal stouts I have ever had, and so while every one and his mate runs around like headless chickens after the latest fruited murky IPA, those of us who like a grown up beer see our favourites cut from under us. Rich chocolate enveloped in a silky smooth body made this a beer that will live long in the memory, and if it should come out as a special something to fill every available growler with.
  10. Devils Backbone Brewing - Schwartzbier (5.1%). Recently rebranded as just plain old 'Black Lager', but forever in my mind 'Schwartzbier', this is a beer that I drink quite a bit of. Wonderfully roasty, yet smooth and clean, Black Lager reminds more than anything of a bottom fermented stout, which is you know anything of my drinking history is probably why I like it so much. I have to admit I don't see the point of the rebrand, but there we go, as long as the beer stays the same I am a happy camper.
I say this every year, but it bears repeating, this is a purely subjective list based exclusively on the beers I have enjoyed most in the last 12 months. I don't have any time for the daft purity dick waving that goes on as to who is 'craft' and who is not, and yes the list is skewed to my local breweries, but that's just the way it is. If you see these beers out in the wild, try them, you won't be disappointed.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Perfect 10

A pub. Green tablecloths draped over dark wooden tables. Beermats propped up between the salt and pepper shakers. Above the wooden wainscoting, black and white photos of the pub being on the front line of a rebellion against the Nazis, or the Communists, who knows? Working men, smoking, talking, drinking. The barman taking minutes to pour each glass of beer, the server whisking them to tables, seemingly without being asked. The beer, slightly hazy yellow, topped with a solid white foam, gone in four mouthfuls, replaced by the server with a fresh one.


The pub I am thinking of here is U slovanské lipy, in the ?i?kov district of Prague, as I remember it before leaving the Czech Republic for my current sojourn in Virginia. U slovanské lipy was, at the time, probably my favourite place to drink, utterly unpretentious, down to earth, and serving what I, to this day, think of as the height of Czech pale lager, Kout na ?umavě's magnificent desítka, or 10° lager.

All of those memories came flooding back last Saturday while I was at Devils Backbone brewing up the 16°polotmavé, which we decided to call 'Granát', and sampled their new beer called Czech 10, which as the name suggests is a Czech style 10° pale lager.


Brewed to 10° Plato, obviously, this delight of a beer has an abv of 4.3%, and if memory serves me rightly 35 IBUs of pure Saaz joy. So painfully simple, so perfectly done, just this one half pint from the lagering tank was a joy. A billowingly soft, almost pillow like, malt characteristic dances like Fred and Ginger with the lemon and hay of Saaz, coming to a firm crisp snap of a finish.

It is a mighty fine beer, and it is being release on tap today at the Devils Backbone Basecamp brewpub, so I am sure you can guess where I will be this afternoon, filling growlers.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Halfway to Darkness

I have a habit of getting interested in, and advocating for, beer styles that are perhaps out of the mainstream of craft beer. What kind of loon starts American Mild Month, for example, or convinces a brewery to make a 1920s Burton Ale, a Czech tmavé, or thinks that best bitter could actually be appreciated by American drinkers? This kind of loon, that's what. Well the loon is at it again.


Tomorrow I will be taking the wonderfully scenic drive down to the Devils Backbone Basecamp, their original brewpub in the hills, and once again we are visiting the Czech brewing world to brew one of my recipes for a rare beer style, a 'polotmavé.


The word 'polotmavé' literally means 'half-dark', and is a style of beer that sits somewhere between pale and dark lager, the one above being from Klá?terní pivovar Strahov. Generally speaking, polotmavé lagers use the same malts as a tmavé, just less of the specialty malts so the beer has an amber or red colour. There is a school of thought that says polotmavé lagers descend from the Vienna Red lager tradition of the 19th century, but I don't want to jump into that today.

If advocating for Burton Ale, bitter, and mild was crazy, then I think this project is proof it is time to be packed off to the beer equivalent of the loonie bin. According to RateBeer, there have been a grand total of 15 polotmavé lagers made by US brewers, though I can't verify the faithfulness of those beers to the stuff I would drink from time to time back in Prague. In a purely Virginian context, I believe this will be the first genuinely Czech inspired polotmavé brewed in the Commonwealth. There is one other on RateBeer but the description says it was just a pilsner with a bit of roast malt chucked in to change the colour, not really in keeping with Czech tradition, so I am discounting that.

With our project, we are planning a 16° beer, which should probably finish out at about 6% abv and using the same specialty malts as for Morana, namely CaraBohemian, Carafa II Special, and Munich. On the hops front we are using a blend of Kazbek and Saaz, to give us about 30 IBUs, and of course we'll be using the Augustiner yeast strain for that clean lager bite that I love so much (especially lagers from Devils Backbone!).

The beer, which as yet doesn't have a name, should be on tap some time in October. Just in time, hopefully, to wet the heads of my soon to turn up twin sons...

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Most Excellent Lager

It had been a while since Mrs V and I had gone hiking with our friends Dave and Allie. There are mitigating circumstances though, mainly revolving around Mrs V and Allie being pregnant. We decided though to go on a short hike of only 3 miles yesterday up a mountain called Spy Rock, which has some wonderful views once to you get to the top, having scaled a near sheer rock face to do so, an interesting logistical challenge with 2 pregnant women and 2 dogs.

One of the appealing features of choosing Spy Rock was it's proximity to Devils Backbone for a couple of post hike pints, and I was looking forward to sinking a couple of Meadow Biers in short order. Unfortunately when we arrived they didn't have it on tap, though Jason tells me that they recently brewed another batch, so I'll be heading down with growlers to fill for that. They did however have another pale lager that sounded like it would do the trick.


Do the trick it did. The beer is called Excel Lager, and as you can see from the picture is a beautiful golden colour, had a nice white head, though slightly diminished by the time I took the pic. In terms of flavour it was everything you would expect from a central European lager; a perfect balance of grain and hop, nicely medium bodied, light honey notes in the background, and a firm but unobtrusive bitterness that demands another mouthful. Both Dave and I polished off our first pint in about 5 minutes.

Best of all with this absolutely stunning beer was that it has an ABV of.......2.6%. Yes, you are reading that number correctly, 2.6%. Using a method I learnt in Prague of multiplying ABV by 2.5 to get the approximate starting gravity, I was drinking a 6.5-7° Plato lager, the like of which I could imagine being brewed in a northern Bohemian glass works as refreshment for the workers.

To put this beer in a bit more context, I spent Saturday up in Northern Virginia judging for the Virginia Craft Beer Cup and was handed the Czech lager category. This sedmi?ka would have easily made the top three beers we judged, and would have been a very strong contender for first place, it is that good. However, since Devils Backbone are no longer permitted to participate in the competition by virtue of being owned by Anheuser-Busch, this beer will likely not get the praise and credit it deserves.

I have said it many times, anyone can throw boat loads of hops into the kettle and get something the lupulin loonies will lavishly laud to the heavens, but it takes a true master craftsman to create a 2.6% beer that is refreshing and flavourful. Jason Oliver and the crew at Devils Backbone are such masters of the craft.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Angry Ill-Informed Snobs Ahoy!

Several of my friends work for Devils Backbone, on the business side of things as well as the brewing. They are all really nice people, and I love it when I have the opportunity, or more usually the happy accident, to hang out with them and talk beer. You would be hard pressed to find a more knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and generally positive bunch of folks, and it helps that Jason shares my love of decocted and bottom fermented beers.


Yesterday, one of my friends was visiting another brewery taproom in Virginia, whose beer and staff are apparently awesome, and she was wearing her Devils Backbone sweater as the weather has been a little cold of late. On seeing said Devils Backbone sweater, some customers in the establishment began to harass my friend, including this delightful comment:
"Fuck those corporate sellouts, and fuck you for working for a bunch of overrated corporate dicks."
Charming eh?

Of course the root of this animosity is last year's news that Devils Backbone are now partially owned by AB-InBev, I am not aware of the full details of the deal but I vaguely recall hearing that AB-InBev don't own the entirety of Devils Backbone. If I am wrong I am sure I'll be corrected soon enough.

It would appear then that in the mind of some craft beer purists it is acceptable behaviour to accost someone you do not know, verbally abuse them, and basically be a total twat of a human being because that person works for a successful brewery. Part of me wouldn't be too surprised if the wanker in question used to drink lots of Devils Backbone beer and is all butt hurt because of the sale, or has a palette so refined that they can taste the corporate structure in the beer.

Whichever way you look at it, and I can understand people choosing to spend their money on whichever brewing company is most acceptable to them, this is completely unacceptable behaviour, the kind of thing you would expect in the school yard from 7 year olds, not from people legally old enough to drink.

One of the things I love about Devils Backbone, and the folks that work there, is that they live by their motto 'beer positive', craft beer fans would do well to do likewise.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Beers and Breweries of 2016

Jól is upon us. Today is my last day at work for this year. What better time to take a quick look back at the beers and breweries that have made my drinking life all the richer this year? As in years passim I am sticking with highlighting the pale, amber, and dark beers from Central Virgina, the rest of Virginia, the rest of the US, and the rest of the world that I have enjoyed most, as well as breweries that have impressed me in some way this year. As ever this list is utterly subjective, so let's start shall we?

Pale
  • Central VA - Devils Backbone Meadow Bier
  • Rest of VA - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • Rest of World - Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted
  • Honorable mentions - Champion Shower Beer, South Street My Personal Helles, Three Notch'd Road Soda, Cromarty Brewing Happy Chappy, Fyne Ales Jarl, West St Mungo Lager, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Fuller's London Pride (cask)
2016 has been a good one for this central Virginia based lager drinker (the only downside being that Three Notch'd didn't release their lovely Of.By.For Pilsner this year). My local clutch of brewers all seem to be churning out the kind of pale lagers I like, crisp, clean, packed with hop bite, and not crazy on the alcohol. Meadow Bier from Devils Backbone has been a revelation, and would compete with Rothaus Pils as my favourite iteration of a German Pilsner right now. Port City's Downright Pilsner makes it onto my list of best pale beers for the 5th year in a row, it really is that damned good. Now sure it's not likely to please a total Czech lager purist, dry hopped with Saaz as it is, but to this lover of all things Bohemian I can give it no higher praise than my belief it would sit very well among the lagers being brewed in the Czech Republic, and they know a thing or two about brewing lager. This year's Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest really had a high bar to meet after last year's version. Lighter in colour, but still packed with the glorious flavours of Munich malt and Record hops, it was great drinking, and I drank lots of it. The one top fermented beer on this list is one of the influences on Three Notch'd Bitter 42, and when I was home in Scotland over the summer I made sure to drink as much of it as I could get my hands on, and finally found a place with it on tap - Beinglas Farm Campsite since you ask. Bitter without being puckering, malty without being too sweet, moreish in the extreme, it is a simply great beer.


Four superb beers, it really is difficult to single one out, but making this list 5 times in a row, winning gold at the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup for the Pilsner style, and being the perfect expression of the simple delight of well made lager, Port City Downright Pilsner it is.

Amber
  • Central VA - South Street Satan's Pony
  • Rest of VA - Port City Oktoberfest
  • Rest of US - River Rat Broad River Red Ale
  • Rest of World - Isle of Skye Red
  • Honorable mentions - Cromarty Brewing Red Rocker, Schlenkerla M?rzen, Adnams Broadside, Fullers 1845, Fallen Brewing Dragonfly
Amber beers are always the most challenging category for me as I tend not to drink that many copper to red beers, being more of a pale or dark drinker. Having said that the four winners have been companions to pleasant afternoons, wonderful lunches, and enjoyable evenings. Satan's Pony from South Street is kind of my fall back beer if the magnificent My Personal Helles isn't available, nicely balanced, just bitter enough to not be sweet, and low enough gravity to make a couple of pints acceptable - I would love to see it on their beer engine, without any silly additions like cinnamon or gorilla snot (seriously why adulterate a beer just because it is going into a firkin? Another Port City beer makes the list, and their Oktoberfest is one of the few I will drink every year, mainly because in common with the Downright, they get the details spot on making the beer clean and crisp, just as a lager should be, and Port City's Oktoberfest is as eagerly imbibed in my world as the Sierra Nevada. On the rare occasions I head down to South Carolina to visit Mrs V's family, I now make sure to pick up at least a six pack of Broad River Red, again it is immensely easy to drink, and always something to look forward to. Isle of Skye Red was an integral part of one of my highlights of 2016, being sat in a pub in Mallaig on the west coast of Scotland, eating freshly caught langoustines in the Chlachain Inn, served from a sparkled beer engine, it was gorgeous.


Another 4 excellent brews, but this time the winner is easy to pick out. Isle of Skye Red Ale gets the nod, and if you're ever in the north west of Scotland and see it on cask, be sure to try it, and if you can get a dish of langoustines at the same time even better!

Dark
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Oats McGoats
  • Rest of VA - Port City Porter
  • Rest of US - Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin
  • Rest of World - Cairngorm Brewery Black Gold
  • Honorable mentions - Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter, Fullers London Porter, Guinness Original,
Mmmmm.....dark beer. I love porter, stout, mild, brown ale, schwarzbier, dunkles, and tmavé - all things generally dark, I like. Three Notch'd Oats McGoats has done something that I once considered impossible, it has replaced Starr Hill's magnificent Dark Starr Stout in my affections. If Starr Hill were to ever bring it back I would not really be all that interested in Oats was available. Smooth, creamy, roasty, and dangerously drinkable, Oats is one of those perfect winter beers, supped beside the fire whilst reading a good book and listening to an opera. Port City have swept the board with my rest of VA picks this year, and that is testament to their all round superb brewing skills, they make classic beers, they make them well, and the make them consistently well, Porter is just another example of their genius. Velvet Merlin from California's Firestone Walker is another oatmeal stout, and one that has just enough of trace of some lactic character that it isn't overly slick, six packs tend to disappear quickly. Cairngorm's Black Gold was another integral part of a great night's drinking in Scotland, in the Climbers' Bar at the Kingshouse Hotel. Beautifully conditioned, served at the right temperature, sparkled of course, I still remember that night with great fondness.


It probably comes as no surprise then that my dark beer of the year is Cairngorm Black Gold, the name says it all.

Fuggled Beer of the Year

Picking a single beer of the year from my three winners is pretty difficult, but the winner is the one which was an integral part of a night a great drinking, in a great bar, surrounded by great people, and lots of craic. I refer of course to that night in Glencoe, fuelled by beer and the occasional drop of Talisker and Balvenie.

Congratulations to Cairngorm Brewery, Black Gold is the Fuggled Beer of 2016.

Brewery
  • Central VA - South Street Brewery
  • Rest of VA - Port City Brewing
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Brewing
  • Rest of World - Fullers
  • Honorable mentions - Guinness, Three Notch'd,
Deciding on a brewery of the year for 2016 is actually quite difficult, especially given that Port City have taken the best of the rest for Virginia for all three beer categories. However, the other breweries have been regular features of my drinking this year. I have drunk more South Street beer than anything else in 2016, the My Personal Helles has been my go to beer for quite sometime, it is simply delicious, the brewery is a 2 minute walk from my office, and the bar staff know me well enough now that I rarely have to ask for another beer. When drinking at home, Sierra Nevada and Port City are both regulars in the fridge, whether that's Pale Ale or Downright Pilsner respectively, I never turn down a beer from either brewery. Fuller's might not have taken any of the gongs for best beers in the rest of the world, but with honorable mentions in each category they are most certainly one of the most consistently excellent breweries in the UK, and one that I am always happy to see on tap which side of the Pond I am on.


Mainly because I drink there so damned often, and they are brewing a beer that I can happily drink lots of and not grow tired of it, the Fuggled Brewery of the Year for 2016 is South Street Brewery - well done Mitch and crew, keep doing what you're doing, and keep brewing My Personal Helles!

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...

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