Showing posts with label downright pilsner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label downright pilsner. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Done Right, Damn Right, Downright.

I have mentioned many times that I am an abysmal beer tourist. Here in the Charlottesville area there are plenty of breweries I just haven't bothered to go visit, a fact perhaps influenced by many a local brewery's lack of lager in their lineup - it's a post for another day but recently I have been feeling as though I have come full circle in wanting mainly to drink properly made lagers to almost the exclusion of all else.

At the tail end of last year, Mrs V's cousin took up a job that had her and her husband transplant from Greensboro, North Carolina, to the interminable gridlock that is Northern Virginia, Alexandria to be precise. This weekend just gone, Mrs V and I went up, with the Malé Ali?ky to tow naturally, to visit, and I saw an opportunity to rectify my errant ways. Alexandria is home to one of my favourite breweries, Port City, and it really was high time for me to darken the door of their tasting room/bar.

Given the high regard in which I hold Port City, it is perhaps odd that I don't post about them more often, though there is a major mitigating circumstance. For some reason, best known only to the distributors and retailers in this part of the world, their Downright Pilsner is rarer than hens' teeth. Their majesterial Porter is something I save for the darker nights of autumn and winter, once I get my fill of the annual Oktoberfest, which is always a fine brew. Usually I have to limit my Downright consumption to the occasions when I see it on tap.

Well, on Sunday it was on tap just a few yards from where it had been brewed as I dragged the family along to get my fill of fresh Downright before Mrs V drove us back to central Virginia.

I am sure I have said this many times before, but there is simply no other Virginia brewed pilsner, whether Bohemian, German, or American in style, that is anywhere near as good as Downright Pilsner. There are a couple that come close, looking at you Devils Backbone Meadow Bier and South Street Shake Your Teal Feather, but Downright has so far held off all comers looking to take that particular crown.


Perhaps it's the simplicity of the recipe, just Pilsner malt and Saaz hops? Perhaps it is the 6 weeks of lagering, or maybe the mildly untraditional dry hopping with Saaz? Perhaps it's the 43 IBUs that all that Saaz brings to the table (yes you read that right, an American made Czech style pilsner that hops it with the best of Czech made Czech lagers). Perhaps it's the fact that Downright is a dvanáctka, that's a 12° Plato beer for the non-Czech speakers of the world?

Actually, it is all of the above. Downright is done right, and when you do things properly you get good results. Could Downright stand up if served on the taps of august Prague establishments like Pivovarsky klub? Damn right it would. In fact, I am convinced it would quickly become a favourite among the cognoscenti of the Czech beer world.

Now then, when can I get back to Alexandria, given that my crowlers are finished and already I am hankering for more...?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Time To Take Your Pils

Something I had been planning to do for a while was collect a batch of 'Bohemian' Pilsners from various breweries and do a blind tasting. Last night, with not much else to do, I imposed on Mrs V's sweet-hearted nature and sent her up and down the stairs several times to bring me glasses of beer, without telling me which was which. The aim of the tasting was twofold, firstly to decide a ranking for each of the beers in question, and secondly to see if I could correctly identify each one. The five beers in the tasting were:
I took notes using my slightly simplified version of Cyclops, and here are the findings...

Pilsner 1


  • Sight - golden, slightly hazy, thick rocky white head
  • Smell - fresh bread, grass, light lemony citrus
  • Taste - juicy bready malts, sharp citric tang
  • Bitter - 4/5
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Notes - lovely balance between the malt and the hops, medium bodied, long lingering soft bitter finish.

Pilsner 2


  • Sight - light amber to orange, loose rocky white head
  • Smell - heavily grassy, musty, doughy, slight honey note
  • Taste - a little sweetness and a touch of lemon
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Notes - really kind of bland, light-medium bodied and with a watery finish

Pilsner 3


  • Sight - rich golden, inch of rocky white head with loose bubbles
  • Smell - fruity, a touch of bread, something corn like in the background
  • Taste - rather fruity, sweet with cocoa notes and a bit of nuttiness
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Notes - more of a pale ale than a pilsner, slick buttery finish and medium bodied.

Pilsner 4


  • Sight - rich gold to light amber, thin white head
  • Smell - grassy, herbal notes, backed with some bread and a little orange aroma.
  • Taste - rich toasty malts, sweet honeyed edge, firm hop bite
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Notes - nicely balanced between the hops and the malt, mouthfeel was crisp and clean with a long lingering bitter finish

Pilsner 5


  • Sight - light amber, half and inch of white head
  • Smell - citrus, lemon/orange, some grass and floral notes, touch of bread, bit of weed
  • Taste - toasted bread, some grass
  • Bitter - 4/5
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Notes - Crisp with a hop bite that smooths out to a slightly sweet finish, medium bodied.

Having got through the 5 beers, though admittedly numbers 2 and 3 didn't get finished, I ranked the beers in order of preference as follows:
  • 1st - Pilsner 1
  • 2nd - Pilsner 4
  • 3rd - Pilsner 5
  • 4th - Pilsner 2
  • 5th - Pilsner 3
When it came to identifying them I went with:
  • Pilsner 1 - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Pilsner 2 - Staropramen
  • Pilsner 3 - Lagunitas Pils
  • Pilsner 4 - Pilsner Urquell
  • Pilsner 5 - JosephsBrau PLZNR
Happily I was correct in each instance, though Mrs V managed to nip any smug moment in the bud by commenting that 'it's no bloody wonder, you know more about pilsners than most people'.


One thing though that surprised me was how much I liked the Josephsbrau PLZNR, which is Trader Joe's own brand beer, brewed by Gordon Biersch, and costs an insanely cheap $5.99 for a six pack. I really thought it was a pretty decent beer, a tad strong at 5.4%abv, but with 32 IBUs not shying away from the proper hopping level for Czech style pale lagers (one thing guaranteed to piss me off is 'Bohemian lager' with about 20 IBUs). However I need to take issue with the label, which reads:
JosephsBrau PLZNR (Pilsner) is a celebration of noble hops from Central Europe. This style of beer was developed by German brewmaster Josef Groll in 1840 in the town of Plzn (Pilsen), Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) and was the first beer to be brewed golden and clear. This beer's pin-point fine bitterness is perfectly accentuated by its crisp body.
Firstly, if you are going to spell the name of a town in the language of the country the town is it, please do it properly, it is 'Plzeň' in Czech, not 'Plzn', if your printer can't handle the há?ek over the 'n', use the German name instead rather than mangling something together that, to be frank, makes your marketing people look like rank amateurs.

Secondly, Josef Groll developed the beer that became known to the world as Pilsner Urquell in 1842, not 1840. He brewed the first batch of the beer on October 5th of that year and the first tapping was on November 11th.

Thirdly, the beer brewed by Groll was not the 'first beer to be brewed golden and clear', pale ales had existed in England long before the Bürgerliches Brauhaus decided to use English malting methods to produce pale malt. Sure it might have been the first lager to be 'brewed golden and clear' but not the first beer.

Here endeth the lesson....thanks be to Groll.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Downright Demanding

Over the last couple of weekends, Mrs Velkyal and I have hosted a couple of parties at our house. The first, on the 27th October, was to mark Czechoslovak Independence Day, which is on the 28th but we felt a Saturday night would be better, and the second was our house warming.

In the last year or so we have found a group of Czechs and Slovaks living here in the Charlottesville area, as well as people descended from those most august nations, and we will meet up once in a while. Although Mrs V and I are neither Czech nor Slovak, neither do either of us have the required ancestry, we have become kind of adopted Czechs by virtue of our years living in the country, and we love the opportunity to break out our rusty language skills.

My best friend, whose wife is Slovak, came down from DC for the weekend, bringing with him all the essentials to cook gulá? - basically a cast iron pot, tripod to go over the cobbled together fire pit, copious amounts of pork and beef and a few hours to stand around, beer in hand watching my favourite central European food being made.


Obviously no Czechoslovak party would be complete without beer, and there was plenty. Just the day before I was laid off, I put in an order with Market St Wine in Charlottesville to get a couple of the remaining 80 cases of Port City's Downright Pilsner especially for this party. People also brought Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Lagunitas Pils, and my best friend brought a bottle of 5 year old Kosher Slivovice - that's damned fine plum brandy!

The Downright Pilsner went down an absolute treat with the assorted Czechs, Slovaks and fellow travellers, as it should do given that it is pretty much spot on for a Czech style pale lager, 4.8%, 43 IBUs of Saaz, unfiltered and just downright good. It is very much a contender for the Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year - an award unencumbered with value, monetary or otherwise - and as such I really hope, nay I plead, that Port City don't let this just be a one off, but brew it again. In fact, I would go as far as to say it is the best of the Port City beers I have had, just edging ahead of their amazing Porter, and I would love to see it as part of their core range of beers.

Yes, it is that good.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Too Many Hops?

There are times when I get the feeling that I come across as being something of an anti-hop crusader. However, I prefer to think of it as being sick of the apparent notion that seems to float around the indie beer drinker world that the more hops there are in a beer, the better. The reality though is that I like beers with a firm hop bite, a nice hop flavour and a pleasing hop aroma, I like the hopping to be a distinct element of the beer, not the sole focus of the beer - and no, IPA is NOT 'all about the hops'.

Having said that, and for fear of completely contradicting myself, there are times when I think beers have, to bastardise the , 'too many hops'. By this I don't mean that a beer is 'too hoppy', whatever the hell 'hoppy' actually means anyway, but rather that some beers have such a melange of hop varieties as to effectively become a mess.

Often, though not always, such beers are in the generic world of 'pale ale' or a 'black india' version of something. When I read a list of 7 or 8 hop varieties, usually, though again not always, the high alpha varieties, I can't help but wonder at times if the beer that results would benefit from fewer hop varieties and more attention being paid to the effects of the remaining hops so they are more distinct and pleasurable when drinking.


In thinking about many of my favourite beers to drink, as opposed to sample, they tend to have a maximum of three hop varieties, though in reality the vast majority use just one or two. Take my current favourite pilsner (sorry Pilsner Urquell, you've been usurped for the time being), Port City's Downright Pilsner, which gets all 43 of its IBUs from that majestic hop, Saaz, or even my favourite IPA being brewed in Virginia today, from St George down in Hampton, with its judicious, and exclusive, use of Fuggles. From further afield, take one of my favourite stouts, Wrasslers XXXX from Ireland's Porterhouse, hopped with Galena, Nugget and East Kent Golding (which reminds me, I should stock up on this beer at some point). With all three beers the hops are noticeable without intruding on the drinking, in a sense you could say that the hops know their place.

Maybe this feeling harks back to something I mentioned in my previous post about balance being an essential part of my definition of 'good' beer. For me it is not just a case of the overall beer being balanced, but that there is balance within the elements of a beer as well, and perhaps it in the hopping that this balance is most important and most easily disrupted.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Getting It Right

I have written before about the fact that this part of Virginia is well stocked with breweries rather adept in the lager making arts, especially the guys at Devils Backbone and Blue Mountain, whose Vienna Lager and Classic Lager, respectively, are two of my go to tipples. I have also written many times about my ongoing attempts to find a Bohemian style Pilsner to satisfy my longings for something akin to the many golden drops I drank when I lived in the Czech Republic. This weekend I added another Virginia brewery to my list of go-to lagers.

Based up in Alexandria, I have been aware of Port City Brewing for a while now, mainly because their porter is quite simply sublime. The porter was the first of their beers I ever tried, when I was up in Alexandria to have my biometrics taken as part of the process of getting my unconditional green card sorted. It is an insanely easy beer to drink, which if it didn't pack a 7.5% punch I would happily drink all night, though if I am doing the drinking at home I might actually do so. Anyway, last week during one of my lunchtime wanders I popped into Market Street Wine to see if they had anything interesting on which to spend my tip money from a previous shift at Starr Hill, and so I picked up a single of Port City's Downright Pilsner. Just a side note, having the option of buying singles is great, too often have I bought 6 packs only to not really enjoy the beer and have 5 more to dispose of.


Come Friday night I got home and made a beeline to the fridge. Sadly I didn't take any pictures of the beer itself, I was too busy enjoying it. According to a tweet from Port City, the beer is simplicity in itself - 100% pilsner malt, 100% Saaz hops for 43 IBU, unfiltered, naturally carbonated. Sure enough the beer poured a touch hazy, reminding my of the kvasni?áks I loved drinking in Prague, topped off with a firm white head, I was excited to say the least. Aromas of bread, a touch of grainy cereal and the lovely hay and lemongrass of Saaz. Tastewise it is on the nail, a bit of biscuit and bread balanced with the bite of a well hopped beer, I loved it. The only thing missing was being in a beer hall like the sadly gone Radegast and being able to order a tuplak, a one litre glass. I think I'll be buying a case of this in the coming week, and foisting it on my Czech and Slovak friends when they come round to celebrate the establishment of Czechoslovakia, later in the month.


Having been suitably wowed by such finesse in bottom fermenting, I grabbed myself a six pack of Port City's Oktoberfest while I was at Whole Foods yesterday, to compare with Paulaner's Oktoberfest Wiesn - I treated myself to a 1 litre glass with a can of the Paulaner from World Market. One of my criticisms of a lot of Oktoberfest style lagers made over here is that they tend to be a bit too sweet, overloaded with caramel malts which makes them heavy to drink. Port City succeeded in not falling into that trap, making a nice clean, crisp beer with a nice juicy sweetness rather than the cloying caramel thing that some brewers go for. I can see the rest of the six pack being gleefully poured into the tuplak (sorry, just can't call it a ma?) and polished off with abandon, I wonder if I can persuade Mrs V to don a dirndl...


So there we have it, another brewery in Virginia making good lagers. Happy days all round.

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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