Showing posts with label evan rail. Show all posts
Showing posts with label evan rail. Show all posts

Friday, September 2, 2016

#TheSession 115 - The Write Rail

Goodness me, where did August go? Seems like only yesterday I was hosting the 114th Session. For number 115 Joan of Birraire asks us to:
talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped developing their local beer scene.
I want to start by stating the obvious, I love books. Whether we talking about beer book, historical novels, works on literary theory, scientific theory, or theology I have a constantly growing library that no Kindle or e-reader could ever replace. I have a near constant stack of about 7 books on the dresser on my side of the bed as I finish the top one, a new gets added to the bottom, or the middle. I read somewhat voraciously, any opportunity to read is seized upon.

Joan's theme though is specifically books about beer, and naturally I have a fair few, most that I use as reference books for my homebrew. Ray Daniel's 'Designing Great Beers' is an essential source for homebrewers in my world. Sure the history side of things can be questionable at times, but the analyses of various styles is very helpful when I am in the process of creating a recipe to try out. Just as valuable is Ron Pattinson's 'The Homebrewer's Guide to Vintage Beers', and while I have only brewed a straight up version of 4 or 5 of the beers there, I use the book again as a reference, looking for patterns in behaviour that I can interpret in my own brewing. The third in my triumvirate of regular reference reads for brewing might come as more of a surprise given how rarely I brew Belgian style beers, but Stan Hieronymous' 'Brew Like A Monk' is great reading.

When it comes though to beer books that I enjoy reading purely for their own sake, there is one writer that for me stands head and shoulders above us all (and admittedly I am stretching the definition of 'book' just a bit here), Evan Rail.

It may be that I am slightly biased given that Evan and I shared many a pint when I lived in the Czech Republic, but whether directly writing about beer or not I thoroughly enjoy reading his work. Evan's Kindle Singles are the kind of writing to which I can really only aspire, often witty, deeply profound, and drenched with experience. The singles 'Why Beer Matters', 'In Praise of Hangovers', and 'Why We Fly' are all wonderful, and the half hour or so it takes to read each one is to lose yourself for a bit as Evan draws you into his world.

Given that it is Friday, go download those three of Evan's titles on Amazon, sit with a pint or two of your favourite beer (it really doesn't matter what) and discover, or discover again, a fantastic writer.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Into the Woods

Last night saw a rather large thunderstorm roll over the Charlottesville area. Being something of a non-fan of Thor smacking Mj?lnir against his anvil, I took refuge in my beer cellar, sat myself down on an unopened case of beer, and began to read. My material for this delve into sanctuary? Evan Rail's latest Kindle eBook, "Beer Trails: The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest".

Without wanting to steal Evan's thunder, because each and every one of you needs to go and buy this work, this is all about my favourite Czech brewery, and the brewery that if I never drank another beer from any other brewery I would still have a rich and flavourful beer life, Kout na ?umavě. If i remember rightly, and there is a fair old beery fog to claw my way through, it was Evan himself who first recommended I head up to U slovanské lipy to try Kout's beer, and what occurred was simply obsession with first mouthful, both for the pub, which was a right Czech dive (aka the perfect pub), and the beer. There were many more nights spent in U slovanské lipy with Evan, Max, Rob, Boak and Bailey, Mrs V, and a raft of other folks that I insisted on dragging up there to try the beer, usually finished off with a malé 18° tmavé...

One thing that really comes through in Evan's prose is his sheer passion for the brewery, its history, and their products. You can't help but get the feeling that Evan thoroughly enjoyed writing this book, such passion for the subject makes the book an absolute delight to read. I may have mentioned this in my review of Evan's last eBook, but reading his work is almost like being sat in the pub with him, talking about beer, from that perspective it is clear to me that Evan is a writer with a clear, authentic, and unforced, voice.

The book also recounts a tale about an American writer wanting information for an article about the tmavé style, which brought a smile to my face, because said writer was Nathan Zeender, and the article in question included my tmavé recipe. Such a small, and friendly, beer writing world we live in. For those with long memories, Nathan joined Jason and I at Devils Backbone the first time we brewed Morana.

There are plenty of other episodes recounted in the book, each revolving around that wonderful, almost anachronistic brewery in the wilds of Bohemia, but to find out what they are, you need to pop over to Amazon and spend literally a few bucks (seriously, $2.99 for a work of this quality is insanely cheap), and don't wait for a thunderstorm to read it. Find your favourite pub, that serves your favourite beer, and listen to the voice you will recognise instantly.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Reasons to Fly

I love to travel. In my decade of living in the heart of Central Europe, I went for trips to Slovakia, Croatia, Tunisia, Germany, France, Ireland, and of course several trips home to the UK. It helps that pretty much everywhere in Europe is about 3 hours away from Prague by plane. Since moving to the US, Mrs V and I have taken several trips to various parts of the country, whether together or individually, probably my favourite place so far was North Dakota, wild, barren, and insanely beautiful. Only rarely do I travel for work, such as the occasional industry conference or sales trip.

Before taking such trips I spend time surfing the interwebs looking for information about pubs, breweries, restaurants, and sights worth seeing. Most of the hints, tips, and recommended places I find are written up by travel writers, whose jobs seem impossibly romantic. Imagine being paid to travel, sleep in fancy hotels, eat in several restaurants, and drink the local beer. It was with these lingering romantic notions that I sat down to read Evan Rail's latest Kindle single, 'Why We Fly'.

Taking something of a departure from his previous Kindle singles, about beer strangely enough, Evan looks at life as a travel writer, whom he describes as being
someone who can visit a first-tier destination like the Louvre and leave after ten minutes of taking notes, since there's always another museum and another deadline directly ahead...who can bluff past the waiting list for a trendy nightclub and then leave without even trying a drink...who will take an inordinate number of pictures of the inside of his hotel room in its just-made state and who annoyingly wants to photograph the restaurant menu as well as the food".

Couched within the tale of an unexpected ferry crossing, 'Why We Fly' is compelling, punctuated with wry observation of both his life as a travel writer and the interactions that are part and parcel of his work, and like a wonderful session beer, each page is a pleasure that makes you look forward to the next.

If you have read Evan's beer writing then you will enjoy his travel writing just as much, and if you haven't read his beer work, where exactly have you been? So pop on over to Amazon and buy 'Why We Fly'.

Monday, February 18, 2013

In Praise of Hangovers

I guess everyone has their favourite writers, whose works you read on the strength of what you have already read. Whenever Iain Banks has a new novel coming out, I know I will buy it and devour it in a few days, I have his latest book 'The Hemingses of Monticello'. My list of 'must-always read writers' includes Umberto Eco, Nick Hornby and Douglas Coupland. Also on that list is a chap I am very honoured to be able to call my friend, Evan Rail, and it is with a great sense of remiss that I have only recently got round to taking the 45 minutes or so it takes to read his latest Kindle single, In Praise of Hangovers (random thought - if it takes about 33 minutes to read something is it a Kindle LP?).

'In Praise of Hangovers' is a look at the aspect of the drinking world which is common to all drinkers, whether lovers of lager, ale, wine or spirits. Each and every one of us has, at some point, woken up with a splitting headache, a mouth that feels like fur and an unquenchable thirst, not to mention the intention never to drink again, or at least not until the pub opens.

Evan manages to thread together history, science, mythology, anecdote and some wonderful metaphors of the hangover experience in his 30 odd pages - if you don't how the pain of the hangover headache relates to Lev Trotsky then take a quick dash to Wikipedia to find out how that particular revolutionary met his end. There were several occasions when I found myself chuckling away at some point or other that was instantly recognisable in my own hangover experience, though I would add Irn Bru to the list of approved morning after pick me ups.

Like Evan's previous Kindle single, Why Beer Matters, this is a really enjoyable read, and one that I whole heartedly recommend you pop over to Amazon and buy.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Why I Blog

I have always enjoyed writing, and I hope it is something that I am not too shabby at. I make no claims to be anywhere near the standard of my favourite authors, Umberto Eco, Nick Hornby and Andrei Makine among them. However, in addition to my regular ramblings about beer on here, I occasionally write on another couple of blogs, one about whatever pops into my head and the other about philosophy and religion. Writing has always been part of my life, when I was a practising Christian I had about 30 poems published in various magazines and anthologies, as well as writing music reviews for Cross Rhythms magazine. I have written technical documentation, articles about real estate in Prague and sales proposals, I am even trying to write a novel, though that is going through a major mental revision at the moment.

It is just shy of four years ago that I wrote the first post on this blog. In that first post, I said that my posts could consist of:

"posting pictures and stories about beer, and most importantly the people that my journey brings me into contact with".

When I started blogging there were only two other beer bloggers that I knew of in Prague, Evan Rail and Max Bahnson. At first I read them, then met them and today I feel honoured to call both of them my friends. In various constellations we have shared many a beer, and to this day they are two of the people I miss most from Prague. Many a Saturday afternoon finds me wishing I could send either of them a text message and arrange to meet for a pint at Pivovarsky klub or Zly ?asy.

In November 2008 I realised a long standard ambition to visit Ireland. Mrs Velkyal had a friend that had married an Irishman, and so as we had a long weekend and it was close to my birthday we flew over. The Irishman was to become the author of The Tale of the Ale blog, and since then we have shared several beery adventures. One trip took in the delights of Prague, Brno and Southern Moravia, while more recently me met up in Paris to wander the streets and down many pints. During our initial trip to Ireland we went to Galway and found the most perfect pub on the planet. Sheridan's on the Docks, now sadly departed, had Budvar and Galway Hooker on tap, a peat fire and the rugby on the tv, it was simply idyllic. At the end of the trip Mrs V and I met with the eponymous Beer Nut and Barry, an Irishman writing about beer life in Germany having Bitten the Bullet.

Within weeks of moving to Charlottesville, we had met with one E.S. Delia, and his lovely wife to be, whose blog Relentless Thirst gave me plenty of insight before moving over. Eric had commented on Fuggled before we moved and invited us to his rooftop tasting. Meeting and getting to know Eric has been one of the highlights of life in Virginia.

I could wax lyrical about the people I have met, and friends I have made as a result of beer, but one story stands out. As you may know I work at the Starr Hill tasting room occasionally. Last year, I was there for my one day that month and my colleague asked me to come and chat with a customer, a fellow Brit. A couple of minutes later my colleague asked me where I thought the customer was from. Given the slight London/Estuary thing going on his voice, I assumed he was from the south-east corner. The customer's response was "I'm Scottish", and through a series of questions and stunned responses it transpired that we had both grown up in the Outer Hebrides, from adjacent islands and he had been 2 years ahead of me at school. We know a lot of the same people and happened to meet in the brewery on the one day of that month I was working. He is now my regular drinking buddy here.

That's what beer means to me, and by extension blogging about it. The people I have met. Beer people are good people, and this blog has opened many doors to meet them. That then is what drives me, writing not just for myself, but for the people I have met and hope one day to meet.

This month's Session is being hosted by the guys at Brewpublic and the theme is "what drives beer bloggers?".

Friday, January 27, 2012

Why Beer Matters

Living in Prague, there were many times when I could be found propping up one of the bars at Pivovarsky klub. Often the choice depended on who was working in which bar, and if there was any space at that particular bar. Usually the main reason for my being in PK was to meet with friends, though of course the beer was also important - I could have met my friends in any of Prague's wonderful watering holes, but it was PK I preferred above all others. PK was also where I did most of my drinking with Evan Rail, author of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic and all round top notch person. To say I miss sitting in PK with Evan would be like saying a fish misses the sea once it has been caught.

Yesterday, Evan emailed me a copy of his new booklet, "Why Beer Matters", which is available through Amazon's Kindle Store, so when I got home from work I sat down with it and had a read. The booklet only takes about half an hour to read, though I imagine I will dip in and out of it often. One of the central themes of Evan's thesis is that beer matters because of it's essential egalitarian nature, that it is a drink enjoyed by the haughty as much as the hoi polloi.

I am not going to go into a thorough review here, other to say that at many points while reading, I was nodding my head, mumbling agreement and generally wishing we'd been having this discussion sat in PK. What I will say though, is that if you love beer and the beer world, click on the link and buy the book, it is worth every penny.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Get Horner

The other day my good friend, and much missed drinking buddy, Evan Rail, posted about the 19th century Central European brewing texts which are available on Google Books.

One of the things that was mentioned in the books was Mozart's favoured tipple, Horner Bier. From what Evan mentioned in his post, and in the comments which follow, Horner Bier was pale, sour, effervescent, and made from oats. My initial thought was that it sounded remarkably like an oat based Berliner Weisse, and thus it turned out to be.

Horner Bier was described in 1816 as being "a white, unhoppy beer, similar to Hanoverian  Broyhan". That description is my own translation of the German text, and as with any translation there is room for debate, in particular around the German word "hopfenloses", which I have translated as "unhoppy" but might equally be translated as "hopless". Given that hops had achieved widespread acceptance in German brewing by the 14th century, I am assuming that hops were present, but not an important flavour factor, in this Viennese speciality. According to various guidelines, Berliner Weisse has an IBU rating in the single digits, which may attest to Horner Bier being unhoppy rather than hopless.

Being somewhat prone to experimenting with my homebrew, I have decided to attempt to create a Horner Bier. I do though have a major point that I need to resolve, was the beer made with 100% malted oats, or was there a portion of barley in there as well? Once that is decided, I am basically planning to take Berliner Weisse as my model, and create an oaten version thereof, with the follow characteristics:
  • OG - 1.032
  • FG - 1.004
  • ABV - 3.7%
  • IBU - 8
I am thinking at the moment to use a German Ale yeast for the primary fermentation and then inoculate it with lactobacillus delbrukii in secondary to get the sourness. But as I say, the only question I really have at the moment is the grist - any thoughts?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Meaning of Lite

I am on record, either here or through my Twitter feed, as believing that the mark of a truly talented brewer lay not in his, or her, ability to brew an imperial India stout and then age said behemoth in a bourbon barrel whilst dry hopping it. For me the truly great brewers are those that can put a glass of something below 5% abv in my hand and my hand come back for more, time after time. As such, I am a fan of bitters in their various forms, mild as understood in the modern world, proper Bohemian pilsners and a multitude of other beer styles than don't knock me on my arse after half a pint. There is a reason why I differentiate between a drinker and a drunkard.

Something that has been trundling through my mind of late has been finally make the move to brewing lagers as well as ales in my little homebrew operation - a quick aside, sometimes when I read Brew Your Own magazine and see these huge great fancy setups, I feel positively embarrassed by my pot on a stove. I posted a little while ago about the technical difficulties of lagering in my small flat, but I feel as though I have a viable idea to solve that - basically my fridge has space to stand up a couple of 1 gallon jugs, so that will be the location for primary fermentation. For lagering, I plan to buy a chest cooler to fill with ice and do the lagering in the cellar, changing the ice as required.

With the technical aspects solved in theory, my mind has turned to what kind of lager to make first. Doing a proper Bohemian Pilsner would obviously be something I would love to try, but I want to learn as much about the mechanics of decoction before I step up to that particular plate. There is however a style of Czech lager that is exceedingly rare, that kind of takes my fancy as a fun little proof of concept project, I am talking about lehké pivo.

Lehké pivo translates literally as "light beer" and is, according to the Czech brewing laws, a beer which is brewed below 8o Plato, or 1.032. From what I can discover in my reading, the actual colour of said beer is not defined. "Light" in this context then is all about the low alcohol content of the beer. As far as I know, only a couple of breweries in the Czech Republic make this kind of beer, including the wonderfully titled Sklárna a minipivovar Novosad & Syn Harrachov - which translates as the Novovsad and Sons Glassworks and Microbrewery, Harrachov. The name gives us a reminder of the alleged origins of lehké pivo as a form of hydration for glassworkers, as well as for workers in heavy industry such as steel mills. Paraphrasing from memory, Evan Rail described the lehké pivo made in Harrachov as better than many a 10o lager made by the bigger breweries.

My planned recipe then is as follows:
  • 83% Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner Malt
  • 17% Weyermann CaraBohemian Malt
  • 18 IBUs of Saaz @ 90 minutes
  • 4 IBUs of Saaz @ 20 minutes
  • 1 IBU of Saaz @ 1 minute
  • Wyeast 2000 Budvar Lager
My target OG is 8o Plato, finishing off at 2.3o Plato and having 3.1%abv. In terms of fermentation and lagering, I am going to do primary for 14 days as usual (I recently learnt that Budvar is fermented for 12 days), and then lager for 30 days. Given that 30 days is pretty standard for a 12o lager, that should be plenty. I chose the Budvar yeast because it apparently brings the malt to the fore, and I don't want this beer to feel thin despite the low gravity nature of the brew.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Homebrewers of the World Unite!

I had a thought yesterday evening, and yes it hurt. I guess most of the people who read Fuggled are more than just beer lovers, they are also home brewers - I know for a fact of at least 10 regular readers who also make their own brew, not to mention the two or three professional brewers who are also part of the Fuggled community.

Several of these home brew/pro-brew bods have given me invaluable tips and advice for improving my beer making, whether discussing ingredients, brewing techniques or methods for dispensing the amber nectar. It was this sense of community that got me thinking about organising an international home brewing project.

The project would be something along the lines of the multi-blog beer reviews I have done in the past with blogs like Pivní Filosof and The Bitten Bullet. However, instead of writing about the same beer and posting our review on the same day, this project would be to brew the same beer, on the same day, each brewer using their own preferred methods (whether all grain or extract with grains) and each brewer using their preferred yeast. The beer in question would sit in primary fermentation for 14 days before being bottled, then after 3 weeks of conditioning, each participating blogger would review their brew - whether they do it just themselves or get a group of people to try the beer and give their views would be entirely up to their whimsy.

Assuming the people I am thinking of would be interested in such a project we could have the same beer brewed in the US, Ireland, the UK, Germany and maybe the Czech Republic - it would also give us more insight into water differences, the influence of yeast on the same base ingredients and various other interesting questions. For those of us in geographical proximity to participants, we could trade beers and then write about those as well.

If you are interested in taking part in the project, then either leave a comment to this post, or drop me an email. The sharp of sight among you will have noticed a poll in the top left of the page, to decide which style of ale we will make (that is my only executive decision, we will be making an ale as opposed to a lager - largely because I don't have the technical necessities to do so!). You we see on the poll that to begin with I have rather broad beer styles to select from, the next decision will be which beer type from within the chosen group will be made.

So, let me know if you are interested, and cast your vote for the beer style to be made, and let's get this started.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Specialty Beer

The last of the beer style awards for this year is another rather large catch all category, basically the beers that don't fit in any of the other categories.

The top three in this category are as follows:

The Starr Hill Barleywine was a small batch made by Starr Hill back in the autumn and for a while was my favourite beer. Big sweet maltiness with a huge whack of spicy hops made this beer simply a magnificent drink. Of the Starr Hill beers I have had this year, the Barleywine was far and away the best and if I were in their shoes I would be doing this on a yearly basis and releasing it bottle conditioned in the same way Fullers do their Vintage Ale.

As I noted earlier this week, Lovibond's make excellent beers and the Gold Reserve is a notched up version of their Henley Gold wheat beer. Referred to as a "wheat wine" and with the brewer's weight in honey thrown in as well, this is a strong, sweet and yet a grassy noble hoppiness that just balances it out nicely.

Back in June, myself and Evan Rail got together to do a comparative tasting of Fuller's London Porter, Lovibond's Henley Dark and Ron Pattinson's re-creation of a 1914 London-style Porter recipe brewed in conjunction with De Molen. Rich and yet dry, it was a pleasure to try a re-created Edwardian beer.

As ever the decision is tricky, but for the pure pleasure of discovering a beer style I had never even heard of and it being a moreishly drinkable beer, the Fuggled Specialty Beer of the Year is:
  1. Lovibond's Gold Reserve
A second award there for the Lovibond's Brewery and my most keen wish for 2010 is that their beers somehow find their way to the USA, in particular this little corner of Virginia, where I know for sure they would be very much appreciated.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The 300

People quite often ask me what my blog is about, usually the conversation comes out something like this:

"I write a beer blog"
"oh, cool, so what do you write about?"
"mainly beer, pubs and brewing at home"

I probably spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about this blog, which was fine when I was unemployed, but now I have to squeeze blogging time into the wee hours of the morning before Mrs Velkyal gets up and we head off to work together - an incurable romantic perhaps, but I love the fact that we head out to work together. The question, however, remains; what is Fuggled about?

First and foremost, Fuggled is about me. I have met some of my regular readers, whether by design or them turning up at the Starr Hill tasting room and telling me they read Fuggled, or even by complete random chance as happened one night in PK, I hope that my personality is evident from the things I write about, because they are some of the things I care about as well. I do have another couple of blogs, one dealing with my religious issues, and the other kind of a catch all for the stuff that doesn't go here or there. I love writing, and while I accept that I am not in the Douglas Coupland (imagine his beer reviews!) league, I think I am a fairly decent writer. I am something of an opinionated git at times, which I guess helps to keep the content flowing for a blogger.

Of course beer is at the heart of Fuggled, not necessarily craft beer, not even necessarily "good" beer, just beer, the people that drink it, the places they drink it in - I love to watch people and I love a pint, so pubs crop up regular in my wafflings (which you may have noticed is the number 1 label on here).

From re-reading my early posts, it is evident that the beginnings of Fuggled was my ambition to make my own beer - to start with I wanted to make stout because in April of last year it was difficult to get stout in Prague, and what there was would mean going to one of the Oirish bars in the centre of the city. Out of my plan to make my own beer came wandering around various pubs in the city and discovering lots of good beer and plenty of good people, especially Rob, Evan and Pivni Filosof. So home brewing is very much key to Fuggled, I don't always post my recipes or even tasting notes, but it is always there, lurking in the background.

So there we go, in some small way, Fuggled is about me, my tastes in beer, my home brewing experiences, my thoughts on pub life wherever I happen to be at the time. As for today's title, nothing to do with Spartan warriors, but rather than since 10th April, 2008 I have now written 300 posts - a small milestone for sure, but one I am happy to have got to, and hopefully the next 300 will be just as much fun.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Better in the Bottle

A few weeks before Mrs Velkyal and I got on the plane to Atlanta, I was sat in PK with Evan, drinking the Primátor Weizen, commenting that it was one of the beers I knew I would miss - really it is that good! Evan mentioned that an esteemed beer blogger/writer (can't remember who it was though) wasn't unduly impressed with it when he had it on draft. Evan then said something along the lines of wheat beer generally being better from the bottle, which of course goes against the grain of so much received wisdom when it comes to beer, but I have to agree.

Most of you probably know that I work at weekends for the Starr Hill brewery, where I serve samples of the brewery's range to visitors, just little 2oz servings of each. When I went to meet the guys there about the job they treated me to a sample of all the beers available in the tasting room, including their wheat beer pictured above. The Love is a perfectly respectable wheat beer, clean, refreshing and enough to make me long for proper bratwurst from an imbissbude on the streets of Dresden (just outside Hauptbahnhof there is a fantastic little snack stand that does a sublime currywurst). I say proper bratwurst because the "brats" I have bought in the shops over here are nothing like the bratwurst I grew up on as a kid in Celle and have an ongoing love affair with (yes, yes I am a Germanophile).

Every time I am working, I have to explain exactly what a wheat beer is, usually followed by the question "what is in the other beers then?", and tell visitors that the bananas and cloves they are experiencing are perfectly normal, and that the slight bubblegum touch is also ok, often much to their wonderment.

Perhaps it is the comfort of drinking at home, although I much prefer being in the pub, even if I am not paying "Tesco prices" to use Cooking Lager's oft mentioned phrase, but I am convinced that The Love is a better beer from the bottle than from the tap. The banana and clove are as present as on tap, but there is just something more lively, slightly more in your face when you pour it from the bottle, and perhaps a touch more body, which fills out the beer perfectly.

The Love very much embodies what Evan and I were discussing that afternoon in PK, and is a very welcome part of my little cellar of treats. Popping open the bottle you see in the pictures last night just brought that whole conversation back, and made me a little nostalgic for the many sessions I had with Evan, Rob and Pivní Filosof in various bars in Prague.

If you haven't already, have a look at the Fuggled calendars(the Lulu links in the corner) and buy one - great photography and a good present for your beer loving mates!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bombed and Hacked

Yesterday, after work and a couple of errands, I met up with Evan, Pivní Filosof and Rob - with whom I have shared many enjoyable drinking sessions (including the infamous finishing off of a pub's remaining Primátor Stout and wondering why it was labelled as "coffee beer"). The aim was for Evan to introduce us to the delights of the American IPA, more specifically the IPAs of the Stone Brewing Company in San Diego, also into the mix, as an example of a more straight IPA I brought along a few bottles of Belhaven Twisted Thistle.

Being completely disorganised yesterday, I didn't bring a camera with me, nor did I bring my tasting notes book, so you'll get fuller descriptions of the beer on the blogs of the other guys.

We started out with the weakest of the quartet, the Twisted Thistle, which is made with Challenger and Cascade hops and weighs in at only 5.3%. I thought it rather nice IPA, the kind of beer you could happily sup away on all night.

Next up was the Stone IPA, and this was a world apart from every standard British IPA, not to mention every Czech made American IPA I have had in Prague. Big on the hops, and it was at this point that I discovered what marijuana tastes like, apparently. I have never been one for smoking, although I love the smell of pipe smoke. I was expecting a lot more citrus and bitterness - to be honest I was expecting it to be like sucking lemons, but it was suprisingly smooth and while not a beer for a Friday night session at 6.9%ABV, it was certainly very drinkable, and one I would like to try on draught.

Following on from the standard Stone IPA was the Cali-Belique IPA, which from what I understand is basically the normal Stone IPA fermented with a Belgian yeast, hence the name. The difference that the yeast made was very pronounced, again the apparent marijuana touch was there, but this time I was reminded of the Rochefort ales, with lots of cocoa on the nose. As the four of us sat around the kitchen table, we discussed using different yeasts with the same basic ingredients and seeing what the results would be - which has me concocting all manner of plans for my homebrew when I get to the US in the summer.

The last of the Stone brews was Ruination. Evan had warned us that this would be last as the bitterness would effectively render our tastebuds redundant. Again I was expecting something quite different on the bitterness front, and found that the maltiness of the beer, despite playing second fiddle to the hops, made the beer quite smooth and refreshing.

Throughout the tasting session we all had cans of Pilsner Urquell available, so that we could compare the hoppiness of a beer we all know quite well with that of the IPAs on the table. To put it bluntly, by the time we got to the Ruination, the PU was distinctly awful, and smelt rather similar to the boiling wort at U Medvídk? last Thursday. With time winding down on our tasting session, and our tastebuds being gently soothed by Bernard ?erné, Evan decided to open a bottle of his hacked Porter. Very interesting, but I will let Evan tell the full story of this experiment when he gets round to it.

Rob and I then sloped off to Pivovarsky klub to finish off their version of an American IPA - in the interests of research naturally. In a similar vein to last Wednesday and Thursday, there really are few pleasures as worthwhile as sitting with fellow beer lovers drinking excellent beer and discussing whatever comes up.

To sum up, a wonderful evening.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More Cream from the Cat

Last night I was at Pivovarsky Dum for the tasting session with Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf, where they presented 6 of their beers, most of which I had tried in Plzen at the Slunce ve Skle festival. However, I was looking forward to trying their 12 degree lager and Scottish Ale as well as re-trying their stout, which I had at Slunce ve Skle but by that point the note book was in my pocket and I was focusing on drinking.

The first offering was their unfiltered and unpasteurized 12 degree lager, which is a pale golden colour, Mrs Velkyal noted that it looked like sunflower honey, with a nice slightly off-white head. On the nose there was a touch of smokiness that put me in mind of the wonderful Schlenkerla Helles lager, as well as some cidery notes. Again like the Schlenkerla, the lager has a nice, crisp clean flavour, and the the first few mouthfuls are refreshing, although I found the body a bit thin for my tastes, even watery after a while. I found this to be quite bitter, with a low level of sweetness in the background.

I was really looking forward to the Scottish Ale as it would be a taste of home. The beer itself was brewed by a Scotsman who came over to make it. It pours a light brown, which put me in mind of McEwan's 70/- and had a smallish head which was a slightly darker ivory. There was very little on the nose, Mrs Velkyal commented that she didn't like what she could smell, and I thought it smelled like cigarettes. However, it tasted quite good, with a light caramel flavour, the only problem from my perspective was that is was a touch too bitter for a Scottish Ale and I would have liked to see more body and a fuller sweetness in the beer.

The highlight of the night for me was the stout. This stout is jet black and comes with a fantastic foamy brown head. The nose is full of roasted coffee and made me think of a fine Italian espresso, just wonderful. In the mouth it is smooth with the coffee notes balanced by a nice touch of chocolate and even a certain creaminess. The body was a little on the light side, which I actually found helped the drinkability of this beer. With a touch more sweetness than bitterness this is a beer I could merrily drink lots of - and the sooner it is a regular on the taps of Prague the better.

One of the things I really enjoyed about last night was comparing beers with Mrs Velkyal, it is said that women have better palates than men and so to get her input was interesting - for example with the stout, where I was enjoying the roasted coffee she thougt it teetered on the edge of burnt rather than roast. It was also a pleasure to finally meet Evan Rail, as well as seeing Honza from the brewery itself again. So a few hours with people who love their beer made it a throughly pleasant evening.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hoping for a great weekend

I have been looking forward to this weekend for a few weeks now, ever since Evan Rail over at Beer Culture posted that there would be a beer festival in Plzeň this weekend. The thing that attracted me most was that this wasn't one of the big brand fests with music and the like which seem to be de rigeur for the major breweries in the Czech Republic these days. Also there was plenty of notice, I would have loved to get down to Moravia for the ?tramberk event but I found out about it too late - such a shame as I think their dark beer is the best dark I have had in this country. The thought of trying beers from 14 small breweries and brewpubs was just too good a thought to put off, so I contacted a few friends and arranged for a group of about 5 of us to go down - at the moment it looks like me, Mrs Velkyal and 3 others.

The venue for the event is Hotel Purkmistr, a hotel which also happens to make its own beer, oh such a shame! I knew that there would be no chance of me wanting to come back to Prague after an afternoon enjoying various beers, so I decided to look into finding a reasonably priced hotel in the area. The company I work for has a benefits system which gives us 12000CZK a year to spend on cultural activities and the like, and so I looked into the system to see what hotels were available on it in Plzeň. You can imagine my joy when I discovered that Hotel Purkmistr was on the system. Two nights duly booked in the hotel and all set for a weekend in the home of Pilsner, although as the hotel's website says Plzeň equals beer but beer in Plzeň is more than just Urquell - and I am fairly sure they don't mean Gambrinus.

My plan of attack for the festival is simple, try all the Purkmistr beers tonight in the hotel bar whilst bowling with Mrs Velkyal, then attempt to try every beer available tomorrow - perhaps buying bottles if there are any available to try on Sunday and in the coming weeks. Working on the theory that each brewer has at least 2 brews a piece and 13 brewers makes 26 beers. Back in my hard drinking days I would have polished 26 half litres of beer off without the barest flicker of an eyelid, and if the company I was in was right would have moved on to demi-sec sparkling wine in a club, but I know better now.

I am not only excited about the many beers I am looking forward to trying, I am also hoping to meet with some of the writers of various blogs I read, and maybe some of the brewers themselves. Although the biggest thing that excites me, I bow my head in shame at this, but it willl be my first trip to Plzeň, so the camera will get a thorough workout.

Here's to a good weekend.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Entering the Cloister

As a result of an entry on Evan Rail's Beer Culture blog, as I have previously referred to, I tottered off to a local cheese shop recently in order to buy beer. I literally tottered as it was just round the corner from Pivovarsky Klub so I had stopped in for a quick pint, with became a rather chatty 4 pints and a meal. I had decided it was time to finally try some of the Trappist ales from Belgium.

On my first foray to the cheese shop I bought myself an Orval and a Rochefort 6, there was a second excursion a couple of days later because Mrs Velkyal had eaten most of the farmhouse cheddar I bought the first time and so we needed supplies, and I bought another Orval as well as a Rochefort 8 and 10.

Wanting to get as much as possible from these beers, I didn't open them that evening, I decided to do some background reading. Thus it was on Tuesday evening I decided to pop open the Orval, and this is what I got from the bottle.

For the sake of not repeating myself, I have decided to include the review I put for Orval on Beer Advocate:

"I fear I am about to commit beer heresy by admitting to not really enjoying this one all that much. The beer was bottled on the 31 May 2007 and as such was 14 months old when I drank it.It poured a very nice copper colour, and was of course cloudy - as a personal opinion this is a good thing, as I like beer unfiltered and unpastuerised. There was a fluffy head which dissipated slowly, and was gone within five minutes. On the nose were distinctly citrus notes. The first taste was a shock to be honest. This will sound odd, but it tasted fizzy, rather tart and almost like popping candy on the tongue.It wasn't awful, just not what I was expecting - so I will of course have another one to further hone my opinion." As of yet the second bottle hasn't been opened.

Last night after having had dinner and several very nice V3 Smoked Malt Special lagers at PK, and an Erdinger Dunkelweissen, I got home, popped Doctor Who into the DVD player and decided I would try the Rochefort 6, which poured like this:

I love that colour! It reminded me of the peat back at home in the Outer Hebrides, and I am sure there was a slight tinge of peat on the nose as well. After the fizz bang of Orval I was unsure of what to expect. The first taste of this was wonderfully smooth with a sweetness which reminded me of caramel. Eventually this gave way to dark chocolate, without wanting to sound like Jilly Goolden, it actually put me in mind of the organic dark chocolate from Marks and Spencer. As I say it is a nice smooth ale, with just enough zing to avoid it being cloying in the mouth, and the more I drank the more the chocolate was replaced by cocoa. Overall I really enjoyed this one, and am looking forward to trying the more potent 8 and 10.

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 ...