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

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Carolina Pilsner

A couple of weeks ago, Mrs V and I took ourselves off to her parents' place in South Carolina for a week of quarantined change of scenery. 

Unusually for one of our trips South we didn't stop at Olde Mecklenburg on the way down for a feed and to let the ever growing twins run around for a bit, though we did stop in on the way to buy a stash of beer to bring back to Virginia.

The day before we headed back north, I popped into a local bottle shop, suitably masked of course, and as I was wondering around I thought it would be fun to try a taste off of pilsners from South and North Carolina. I ended up with the six beers below.


The beers were:
  • Birdsong Rewind Lager (NC)
  • Edmund's Oast Pils (SC)
  • Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack (NC)
  • Revelry Glorious Bastard (SC)
  • Coast Brewing Pilsner (SC)
  • Indigo Reef Pilsner (SC)
Let's just dive on in shall we...


Birdsong Rewind Lager - 4%, Czech style, canned April 10, 2020
  • Sight - golden with slight haze, health half inch of white head, good retention
  • Smell - faint grass, Southern biscuits, some herbal notes, very lightly fruity
  • Taste - bready malt, slightly crusty, clean hop bitterness, herbal
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Really refreshing and session worthy beer. Body in light-medium, maybe a little on the watery side int he finish, but nothing I haven't experienced with Czech made desítky. I really like the can design too, made me think of Anthony Bourdain describing Kout na ?umavě as "nostalgic" when he visited the brewery with Evan Rail. Will definitely pick more of this up next time I see it.


Edmund's Oast Pils - 4.5%, German style, canned July 6, 2020
  • Sight - golden with a thin white head that dissipates to a lingering schmeer of foam, excellent clarity.
  • Smell - floral hops, fresh scones, slightly spicy
  • Taste - juicy sweet malt, firm pithy bitter hop bite, slightly lemony
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
An absolute stunner of a beer, but it reminded me more of Czech pilsners that German, in particular Hostomicky Fabián 10. Medium bodied with a soft maltiness in the finish rather than the crackery dryness you often get with German pilsners. An early contender for the Fuggled beer of the year.


Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner - 4.8%, German style, canned June 22, 2020
  • Sight - straw yellow, thin white head, brilliant clarity
  • Smell - fresh bread, lemons, limes, some spice
  • Taste - cereal grain, citric hops, grassy, floral spiciness like nasturtium flowers
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
Classic German style pilsner. Clean, dry finish with great snap that you get from proper lagering. Medium bodied and insanely moreish. There is a reason this is a beer I drink a lot of, it is simply a stunning brew, I love it.


Revelry Glorious Bastard - 5.25%, Czech style
  • Sight - golden with thin white head, good clarity
  • Smell - floral hops, some hay, kind of a musty cheese thing going on (aged hops?), fruity
  • Taste - crusty cread, saccharin sweetness in background, rough bitterness
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
When I asked Mrs V to give this a try her instant response was "is this an IPA?", says it all really. Such a disappointment as the aroma is generally spot on, but the balance is missing in the drinking.


Coast Brewing Pilsner - 4.8%, German style
  • Sight - slightly hazy gold, quarter inch of white foam, decent retention
  • Smell - almost non-existent, slightest trace of flowers and grain, maybe
  • Taste - dominated by bready sweetness, extracty
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
This one was a major disappointment, and most of it went down the drain. It was a syrupy mess, lacking any of the snap that well made lagers have, it was kind of flaccid and lacking any hop character. Will try again though at some point in case I got a duff can.


Indigo Reef Surface Interval - 6%, Czech style, canned on April 29, 2020
  • Sight - straw yellow, kind of cloudy, think white head
  • Smell - floral hops, light citrus character, Southern biscuits
  • Taste - sweet malt, very sweet actually, some spicy hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Given ABV, I am assuming this is about 15 degrees Plato, which would be darker in Czechia as this was surprisingly pale. Medium-full body made it quite syrupy though there was a lingering spicy finish.

As I posted the other day on Instagram, 2 stunners, 1 drain pour and 3 decent beers, though I kind of question the brewers' experience of actual Czech beer. The 2 stunners were head and shoulders above the others, and the Edmund's Oast was particularly enjoyable. 

One thing has been on my mind in particular. I am starting to think that the term "pilsner" is insufficient for describing Czech style pale lagers brewed by American craft breweries. If you take the extremes of the ABV for the 4 beers I have, you have 4.5%, 4.8%, 5.25%, and 6%. Multiplying the ABV by 2.5 gives you the ball park starting gravity in degrees Plato, and we have (rounding to the nearest whole number) 11°, 12°, 13°, and 15°. 

Under Czech beer law these four beers straddle 2 different categories, le?ák, aka "lager", and speciální pivo, aka "special beer". Even within the speciální pivo category, Czech would expect different things from a 13° and a 15° beer, think the difference between a strong helles and a bock respectively. Yet they all bear the moniker "pilsner", mainly because they use Saaz hops, or some higher alpha acid derivative, looking at you Sterling.

While I am happy that Czech style lager seems to be increasingly popular with both brewers and drinkers in the US, I think lumping everything pale under the banner of "pilsner" actually does a disservice to one of the great brewing cultures of the world, and I would argue that we reserve the world "pilsner" for those beers that are in the same sitz im leben as the original, Pilsner Urquell - 12°, 4.5-5% abv, 30-40 IBUs of Czech hops. Anything below that could be a "Session Czech Lager", anything above that a "Strong Czech Lager", but pilsner sets expectations in knowledgeable drinkers' minds, so stick to it.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

VPL - Virginian Pale Lagers

It took eight weeks, but by last Saturday I was actually getting a little bit of cabin fever, so I asked Mrs V if it would be ok if I went out to do the weekly shop. Generally Mrs V is our designated person for doing the shopping during these weird times as both myself and one of my boys are asthmatic, and so we want to minimise the possibility of either of us getting sick.

There were ulterior motives for wanting to get out of the house for a few hours, namely it was Mother's Day and I needed to get Mrs V a card, some fancy booze, and ingredients for dinner. I also wanted to pick up some different beer from Wegmans as they still do BYO six packs, and so ended up with a selection of 2 Czech style Pilsners, 2 German style Pilsners, and a pair of Munich Helles.

I started with the two Czech style beers, both of which I have drunk plenty of over the years but not really sat down and analysed them.

Champion Brewing Shower Beer

  • Sight - pale golden, healthy quarter inch of foam with good retention, superb clarity
  • Smell - Cereal grain, hay, touch of lemon, some floral hops
  • Taste - Bready malt base, spicy hops, nice citrusy, clean, bitterness
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3
In so many ways this is a wonderful Czech style pale lager. Only 4.5% abv, 100% Saaz hops, a really nice firm bitterness and a lingering clean finish pointing to good clean fermentation. If I were comparing to some of the pale lagers back in Czechia, I would put this in the same league as Herold, a good solid brewery with a devoted following.

Port City Brewing Downright Pilsner

  • Sight - Slightly hazy pale gold, good firm white head, nice retention
  • Smell - Lemony and lime citrus character, some breadiness, alpine meadow floral notes
  • Taste - Bready malt character, some spice, bit lemony edging to pithy, clean fermentation
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
Medium bodied, with high carbonation, almost too bitter in some respects, citrus character borders of pithiness.

As I said, I have drunk plenty of both these beers of the years, and am of the opinion that they are dead certs for being in the top five pale lagers in Virginia. I am pretty sure that both would go down pretty well back in Czechia too, but they just don't reach the heights of something like Pivovar Hostomice's majestic Fabián 10°, úněticky's 12°, or the much missed Kout na ?umavě 10°. Making a not entirely unreasonable assumption that the ingredients are broadly similar, I do tend to think that the difference is in process, in particular the fact that Czech breweries still do decoction mashing, and that the Maillard reactions that causes brings something indefinable to the glass that focusing on ABV, IBUs, and other brewing by numbers stats simply cannot bring to the beer? I say it fairly often, but decoction really does matter if you want to make an authentic Czech style lager, regardless of colour or strength.

Moving from Czech style pale lagers over the border, so to say, to German style...

Basic City Our Daily Pils (unfiltered)

  • Sight - Pale gold, slight haze from being unfiltered, thin white head, distinctly not fizzy
  • Smell - Subtle malt sweetness, fresh bread crust, floral hops, some citrus like mandarin
  • Taste - Bready malt with a touch of biscuity sweetness, slightly earthy, spicy hops and a trace of citrus
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
This has actually become something a regular tipple for me. Back in open pub days, ah the memories, I enjoyed many pints of it at Beer Run, often sat at the bar of a Friday afternoon with work done and the boys yet to be picked up from school. At 4.8% it sits squarely in the ball park for a German pils and has all the refreshing drinkability you would expect from Germany's finest. Definitely a welcome addition to Virgini'a lager scene.

Lost Rhino Brewing Rhino Chaser

  • Sight - Gold, thin white head, dissipates quickly, good clarity
  • Smell - Mostly cereal and bread upfront, almost worty, with some subtle spice
  • Taste - Sweet, sugary caramel notes, a little hop flavour with a spicy cinnamon finish
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
This actually reminded me more of the modern Festbier than a pilsner. At 5.6% it is simply too strong to be authentic, but then the can does tout that the brewery has ""Americanized" the classic European Pilsner", a turn of phrase that strikes fear into my heart as it invariably leads to a disappointing drinking experience. If you want to make a pilsner, make a fucking pilsner. If you want to make a strong pale lager then make a strong pale lager. Just as decoction matters, so do styles when it comes to setting the drinker's expectations.

Ok let's leave the pilsners behind and venture into Helles.

Bingo Lager

  • Sight - Yellow, excellent clarity, fizzy, lots of bubbles, no head at all (WTF?)
  • Smell - Light floral hops, slightly grainy, generally indistinct
  • Taste - Bready malt, clean citrus bitterness, touch of corn in the finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
I want to give the brewery the benefit of the doubt here as there seemed to be a dink in the seam of the can lid, which may help explain the absolute absence of head. When I swirled the glass half way through drinking I did come some white foam but it disappeared quickly. The beer itself is well balanced and decent enough, I guess I will have to buy another one just to see if the can lid theory works out.

Stable Craft Helles

  • Sight - Pale golden, think white head, fizzy, good clarity
  • Smell - Crusty bread, spicy hops, earthy, some rather odd onion/garlic notes in the background
  • Taste - Non-descript, some malt, some hops, prickly carbonation, lacking clean lager character
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
This one was a major let down. I was willing to give Stable Craft a try because I have enjoyed their brown ale from time to time, but this was dull and muddled rather than bright and zingy as I would expect from a Munich Helles.

We are lucky in some ways in Virginia that we have some decent pale lagers being brewed, but we also have some that are simply sub-par, and in this tasting we ran the gamut of what is out there in that regard. On the helles front it is safe to say that once South Street have some of their My Personal Helles back in stok I will be slaking my thirst with it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Munich - Flying Visit

When I flew to central Europe back in October, I landed firstly in Frankfurt before heading on to Prague. For my flight back I had a choice, either fly from Hannover back to Frankfurt or to Munich and then on to Washington DC. The difference in price was negligible and the flight from Munich would actually get me back to Mrs V and my boys earlier than the Frankfurt flight....oh and Munich has its own brewpub, Airbr?u, it seemed like a sign.

The day of my flights though Munich was fog bound and everything was delayed, so I got to spend an extra 45 minutes in Hannover airport. Because the boards at Munich said the flight to DC was on time I headed straight to the gate, through document check, into a barren wasteland where the "limited shopping and restaurant options" amounted to 3 vending machines with soda and snack foods. Bugger.

Eventually though came an announcement that there would be an announcement about how long the flight would be delayed and if people wanted to leave the secure area they could do so, on the understanding that returning would mean going through document check again. Very few people moved, but if Airbr?u was close by then you bet your life I was going somewhere more comfortable and with something better than fizzy water to drink. Oh joy of joys, the restaurant was just a five minute walk and so I left the secure area with a decided spring in my step.


Other than a couple of ladies sitting at a table, the place was empty, perfect. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a Fliegerquell helles, again relying on my dodgy German, which a few days of bumbling over like the perennial reserved Brit was actually improving again. The barman asked if I wanted a "kleines", "gro?es", or a "ma?", yeah you know what I ordered...


Just what the doctor ordered, and as good a helles as I can remember having. Fresh, unfiltered, unpasteurised, groaning with bready malt flavour and a lemony tinge in the hops that made me think of Tettnang. I was a happy chap again, so the litre disappeared in about 6 mouthfuls, and the barman was shocked when he returned to find I had polished off the ma? so quickly. Same again? I genuinely pondered it, but settled for a half litre of their 1918 m?rzen.


Again a perfectly good beer, but not up there in the same league as the helles, by this point the barman and I were talking about brewing and all that good stuff, and the prospect of a 9 hour flight didn't seem so terrible, I am not a fan of flying really. The m?rzen had more of a crusty bread thing going on that the helles did, a subtle honeyed sweetness that balanced nicely with the hops, it was just a bit flabby round the edges to warrant a second, so I did something I rarely do.


I ordered Kumulus, their hefeweizen, and it was as lovely an expression of hefeweizen as I have had in many a year, all those clove and banana aromas you expect from the style, but completely missing the bubble gum character that screams out bad fermentation control. As I say I rarely get a hefeweizen these days, admittedly it is not one of my favourite styles but done well, and presented properly as it was here, it can be a refreshing change of pace. There was just one more beer available that needed to be tried, the Jetstream Pilsner.


Sure the glass says Fliegerquell, but the liquid was the Jetstream, and again it was a solid, thoroughly to style, and thoroughly satisfying German pilsner, with all the wonderful hop bitterness and clean crackery lager bite that involves. German beer and me just seem to get along like a house on fire, and once again I thought to myself that it really is no surprise that the likes of Stone can't make a go of US style craft beer in Germany. When the native beers are so well made, so tasty, and are such perfect companions to the communion of the stammtisch why bother with the wacky stuff?

Having spent an hour sitting at the bar it was time to wander back to the secure area, where it had been announced that boarding was about to begin. And soon I was on a Lufthansa plane, speeding its way back across the Atlantic Ocean to Virginia, and I promised myself it will not be 11 years before I go to Germany again. Next time I hope I will have the family with me as places I love are just so much better with the people I love.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Hannover - Brauhaus Ernst August

I have probably mentioned this several times but I am a total Germanophile, much of which stems from having lived in ye Olde West Germany back before the Wall came down. My father was in the British Army and we were posted to the town of Celle a couple of times before my 10th birthday. I don't remember much of the first posting, I wasn't even a year old when we moved there, but the second time I was about 8 years old and so I have some recollections.

Another reason for my Germanophilia is that my great-great-great grandfather was German. Much beyond that fact we aren't 100% sure of, though there is a group of descendants from this guy who have claimed he was from Minden. My own great-uncle in his research had him coming from Hannover in Niedersachsen, just a few miles from Celle, and the birthplace of my little brother.

When I was in New Orleans for a conference last year it was mentioned that the next instance of the conference was to be in Hannover, and so I knew if possible I wanted to get there, and get there I did. As usual I did a bit of research into the breweries in the area, and discovered that Brauhaus Ernst August was just around the corner from my hotel, and so I knew where I would be going on the one night where I didn't have dinner plans with other attendees of the conference.


I actually went to "the Brauhaus", as the German conference hosts referred to it, a couple of times. The first time was after a dinner that included the most immense currywurst I have ever had, and then on the night before I was due to fly back to the US.

On both occasions they only had 2 beers on tap, Pilsener and Bernstein, a m?rzen. I have to admit that I was not particularly taken by the Bernstein, not that it was bad, it just didn't grab my attention, I found it just underwhelming, perhaps being a 12.5° beer with an ABV of 5.2% makes it too dry and lacking in body for my tastes. Using the old ABV times 2.5 to approximate the starting gravity, maybe the extra 0.5° to make it 13° would have made all the difference, especially as most m?rzens I have had have a fuller body.


Anyway, on my second trip I stuck to the Pilsener (their spelling), a 4.8%, 11.5°, pale lager hopped with Hallertauer Tradition and Smaragd. As I recall, again I wasn't taking notes, this was a solid, tasty German style pilsner, yes drier than you would get in the Czech Republic, but pretty close to something like Rothaus Pils or K?nig Pils. With Tradition and Smaragd in the mix there was a lovely grassy and spicy hop character to the beer that offset the crackery malt nicely, making it a dangerously easy beer to just knock back several of, so I did.


Having polished off my currywurst dinner, I think I ate currywurst about 4 times in a week while I was in Germany, I decided to treat myself to a digestif and ordered a shot of , which is made with 45 wild herbs and accompanied another glass of the Pilsener just about perfectly.

It might seem that a bar with just a couple of beers would be disappointing, but I actually loved my time at Brauhaus Ernst August for that very reason, when the beer is good, fresh, and clearly well made then I am happy to just sit, enjoy the beer and the atmosphere.


Talking about the atmosphere, for a Wednesday night the place was pretty busy, not entirely full but with enough people to generate a buzz of people out enjoying company with good beer, and really want else do you want from a brewpub. When I next get back to Hannover, hopefully not in 35 years, I look forward to going to Brauhaus Ernst August again.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Echt!

It used to take about six and a half hours to drive from Central Virginia to Columbia, South Carolina whenever Mrs V and I would head down to her parents'. Since the advent of the twins, now 20 months old, it often takes about eight with all the additional stops to change diapers, feed, etc, etc, etc...

We've been making the trip down US Route 29, I-85, then I-77 for almost 10 years. I am fairly sure I have some kind of muscle memory for the road, and for the longest time our single stop on the trip was at a place called Eden, very close to where the 29 crosses the Virginia/North Carolina state line. There is pretty much nothing at the rest area other than well cleaned toilets, drip coffee, and vending machine soda. This weekend though we eschewed the delights of the Eden rest area and pushed on the ninety minutes to Charlotte for our break.


I don't recall the first beer from the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery that I ever had. I feel confident it was the Copper, an absolutely on point altbier, but as to where I had it, I don't remember. What is true though is that whenever the family and I head south, or in-laws/friends come north, I make sure to stock up on Olde Meck beer, usually the Copper and their, on a par with Rothaus, Captain Jack Pilsner. I had long held ambitions to pop into the brewery some time, but just assumed it would need to be part of a longer trip to Charlotte.

For nearly ten years, as Mrs V and I were making the road trip to and from Central Virginia we were unwittingly driving within a couple of blocks of the Olde Mecklenburg Brewery and their eight acre biergarten, yeah you read that right, an eight acre biergarten right in the heart of Charlotte, just off the I-77. How that knowledge was not in my head sooner is a mystery to me, you live and learn, and having learnt, we jumped off the interstate, parked up and headed into the brewery's beer hall and biergarten...


Once through the hefty wooden doors it was delightfully cool and to be honest had Mrs V and the bairns not been with me, I would have parked at the bar and never bothered with the biergarten itself, the South and I don't agree with each other when it comes to suitable summer weather. The interior is everything you expect from a central European beer hall, dark wood, benches, and a bar with banks of taps.


The boys both needed changing so Mrs V took one at a time, while I kept tabs on the other and ordered myself a flight of the 4 beers I have not tried before:
  • Mecklenberger Helles
  • Southside Weiss Ale
  • Hornet's Nest Hefeweizen
  • Fat Boy Baltic Porter
No notes were taken, but the Fat Boy will make an appearance or two in the fridge this autumn and winter, to go head to head with Port City's divine Porter, and the other three were perfectly lovely beers.


The boys suitably refreshed, and thankfully cheerful despite 4 hours cooped up in a car, with the dog in his flexi crate between them, Mrs V ordered a pilsner and I got to have my first Olde Mecklenburg Copper on draft. Naturally in the excitement of having a properly brewed altbier served in a proper altbier glass I forgot to take a picture, so take my word for it that it was superb, and looked the part to boot. With beers and bairns in hand, we headed out in the sunshine to take a place among the benches of the biergarten.


It was pretty quiet when we were there, so we took a place on a bench near the children's play area, tied the dog up to a heavy bench so he could nose around, and waited for our food buzzer to go off. Mrs V was being very responsible and had a Cobb salad that she has raved about to all our friends since, and I had the currywurst...


It was perfect. Everything about Olde Mecklenburg was perfect. The biergarten was actually a garden, you know with trees, lots of shade, and the cool air that brings. The food was bang on, the service exemplary, and the beer, oh the beer. I love Copper, but when I wandered back to the bar to get a second, I knew it was Captain Jack Pilsner that I wanted, and having inquired about the possibility of getting a litre it was back to the table to sit in the shade with my little family.


If we hadn't had another ninety odd miles to go to get to Columbia, we would have sat all afternoon, enjoying the very chill vibe, and letting the boys run off some pent up energy. It is though now a given that we will be breaking our journey at Olde Mecklenburg as a matter of course, especially as I got a couple of their one litre growlers and they have a system akin to getting propane at the hardware store where you swap the empties for filled ones at a superbly reasonable price (finally it seems someone is taking the pricing side of Reinheitsgebot as seriously as the ingredients).

The presence of a place with the ethos of Olde Mecklenburg Brewery gives me hope that the future of craft beer is not all "wacky flavors, cheap ingredients, or added colors", that there are breweries out there who share my ideal of the perfect beer experience, and who deserve to thrive because of their commitment to quality and not taking shortcuts, heck they don't even sell to retailers that will not commit to keeping their beer in a refrigerated environment!

With all that said, I think I will be filling my Olde Mecklenburg branded altbier glass with Copper from a growler when the boys go to bed tonight.

Every prospect pleases.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Pilsner...Nailed

Pilsner.

It is near impossible to think of a more polarising word, or beer style, in the beer world. For some the very idea of a pilsner is an adjunct laden pale lager made by one of the big breweries, after all, Miller Lite claims to be 'a fine pilsner beer' on the can. Others though, and here I count myself, can think of no higher expression of the brewer's craft that a well made pilsner that sticks pretty much to Reinheitsgebot, whether Bohemian or German in style.

It is also a word that actually fills me with excitement and dread when I see it on a taplist in a brewpub, tap room, or pub. At once I am both eager to try it and yet worried that it will turn out to be gack. Side note, you can always tell a shitty craft pilsner being made in the US because daft phrases like 'it has just the right amount of skunk to be authentic' - said 'right amount' is zero so please stop fucking around.

I spent most of last week in Charleston, South Carolina at a library conference. It was the longest time I have spent away from my little family since the twins were born just over a year ago, so I was happy to get home and do all those domestic bliss kind of things, the weekly shop being one of them. With the shopping out of the way we decided to grab some lunch at South Street Brewery, one of my favourite places to go for a drink in central Virginia. The beer is generally very good, Mitch knows what he is doing, especially with lagers (his helles is a very regular beer in my world), said beer is very reasonably priced, usually around $4.50 for a 16oz pint, compared to $6 for a similarly sized pint not that far away, oh and they have a glorious fireplace that now that the cooler months are upon us will be lit daily.

There, in the middle of the beer list was the word. Pilsner, a collaboration with a local real estate company, German malt, Czech hops, 4.3%, 28 IBU...like a cosmic alignment, dare I try. I trust Mitch, so I dared...


In the famous words of the motto of the SAS, he who dares wins, this was nailed on, Czech style pilsner in all it's drinkable, noble hoppy glory. So good was it that it stopped conversation mid flow, Anton Ego style, glass handed straight to Mrs V for her verdict....it passed muster, leading to the abandonment of her wine for a pint of nostalgia for the Czech Republic.

So if you are in the Charlottesville area get along to South Street and revel in the delights of a pilsner the equal of anything from Central Europe, yes including you Rothaus.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Session 114 - Urquell and Not


This month's Session is around the theme of 'Pilsners', I asked bloggers to find examples of the various subsets of the pilsner style and do a  little tasting and comparing, but first I have a confession to make.

Believe it or not, I have not always been a devoted drinker of Plzeňsky Prazdroj, the original, eponymous, lager from Plzeň. That's not to say that I haven't always been a fan of Czech pale lagers, but in my first few years living in the Czech Republic I preferred Budvar, Velkopopovicky Kozel, or Gambrinus. Then as I started breaking out and drinking lagers from small breweries I discovered wonders such as Zlata Labut Světlé Kvasnicové Pivo 11°, Koutsky 10° Kvasnicové Světlé Vy?epní, or Chodovar Kvasnicovy Skalní Le?ák.


Plzeňsky Prazdroj was something I drank on the occasions when I went to places like U Pinkas?, Bredovsky Dv?r, or Bruska. Sure I liked it enough but it was really only when Pivovarsky Klub had a keg of the unfiltered, kvasnicové Prazdroj, that was normally only available in a couple of bars in Plzeň, that I realised what a magnificent beer it truly is. Now that it is available in the US, cold shipped in brown bottles, it is a fairly regular, though fleeting, visitor to my fridge.


It seemed only logical for this iteration of The Session then that I get myself some of the original pilsner and subject it to my slightly modified version of the Cyclops beer tasting method, but then I decided it would better to actually write about the beer than have a set of bullet points. Thus I poured a bottle into my hand blown glass from Williamsburg, and as I expected it was a rich golden colour, not yellow, deeply golden. The head that formed was a cap of tight white bubbles that just lingered. I took time to actually smell the beer, something that I find gets overlooked with beers you know well, and there was everything I love about Saaz, the closest description I can come to it like mown grass in a lemon grove, with just a trace of honeyed digestive biscuits in the background. That theme of sweet cereal and bracing hop bitterness continues into the drinking, and while I wouldn't say that I can tell if a beer has been decocted, there is something ethereal about the sweetness, it's almost dainty, lacking the clunkiness of caramel malts. Beautifully balanced, crisply bitter, clean, and thirst quenching, Prazdroj is a classic, simple as.


When trying to decide where in the pilsner universe to go next, Germany was the obvious destination, but which of the many, many, excellent examples of the style would I pour into my goblet? Really there was always a leading contender, a beer that I simply adore, Rothaus Pils. When Kardinal Hall opened up here in Charlottesville and I was able to drop $11 on a litre of Rothaus Pils, I was almost giddy with excitement. I was a little worried that bottled Rothaus wouldn't stand up to draught, what a silly boy I am sometimes. Where Prazdroj is golden, Rothaus is very definitely yellow, again topped with a firm white head that clings to the side of the glass. I don't know, nor particularly care, what hops are used in the beer, but they reminded me of summer meadows in the mountains of central Europe laced with lemongrass. The dominant flavour was that of wildflower honey schmeered onto a lightly toasted slice of homemade bread, with a bitterness that lingers in the background and build with every mouthful. The complexity of this simple beer is astounding and it is one that I never tire of drinking.



Having had the original, and then probably my favourite, where to go next? How about right up to date in the USA? I know there are people for whom Goose Island is off limits, for the same daft reasons as those railing against Devils Backbone, but when they released Four Star Pils a few months back I was eager to give it a whirl. This one pours a similar rich golden as Prazdroj, though the head here is slightly off white, as expected it sits around for the duration. The hops here are a mix of German and American, and it tells in the nose, a gentle blend of the German floral thing and a distinctly American citrus note, all dancing over a base of graham cracker malt. Drinking is a cascade of toffee infused graham crackers topped with bitter orange peel. Sneaking in the background is a light grassiness that sets off the sweetness of the malt nicely. Again a very nicely balanced beer, the bitterness of the hops drying out the finish to make it delightfully refreshing.


So what can be drawn from this little comparative tasting? There is scope under the pilsner umbrella for a raft of flavours and that hop bitterness is a key facet of the drinking experience. True pilsners are not bland in the slightest, and are very much a drinkers' beer. They are not built for sampling a few ounces of in a tasting room and cyberticking it on Untappd, but for engaging in real sociability with real people. So I encourage everyone this weekend to go beyond the IPAs, Belgians, and Imperials of this world, and have a few pints or litres of a pilsner.

Na zdraví! Prost! Slainte!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Of Mountains, Meadows, and Morana

With only a handful of weekends left until Mrs V and I fly to Scotland, via Reykjavik, the weekly training hikes are getting progressively longer. Having woken up at the crack of dawn to finish making baking morning rolls, and yet again grateful for having had the option of good session beer the night before, we eschewed our regular hiking haunt in the Shenandoah National Park to head for the Blue Ridge Parkway. The next 6 hours were spent hiking along a rocky part of the Appalachian Trail to record a 10.5 mile hike and by the time we got back to the car a well stoked thirst for a pint.


Now, I have to admit there was an ulterior motive for hiking this particular part of the AT. Just a couple of miles from where we parked the car is Devils Backbone, and it had been an age since we had been there of a Saturday afternoon. The main reason for swinging by was to pick up a growler of Morana, but we don't really need much of a reason to grab a seat and stay for a couple of hours. When the beer menu came, it was an easy choice. Morana is not on tap yet, the growler having been filled from the conditioning tanks, but there was a pilsner that I liked the look of, Meadow Bier.


As you can see from the picture, it was everything you would expect to see from a German style pilsner. Weighing in at 5%abv, and with 38 IBUs of Slovenian Celeia hops it was an absolute drinking delight - I had 6 and asked Mrs V if she would be so gracious as to drive us home. The highest praise I can give Meadow Bier is that if it were on tap at Kardinal Hall alongside the Rothaus Pils from Germany I would drink Meadow Bier instead. Yes, it really is that good of a beer. I am not sure how long it will be on at Basecamp, but I hope it will become a regular part of the lineup. If I hadn't been taking a growler of Morana home I would likely have filled up with it.

On then to the Morana, the 4th (I think) time that Devils Backbone have brewed the tmavé I designed for them back in 2010, and after polishing off the growler last night while Mrs V played the fiddle on our front porch - it was a rather idyllic afternoon at chez Velkyal yesterday - I am in full agreement with Jason that this is the best batch yet.


The beer is a deep inky darkness, the body voluptuous, and the mouthfeel almost silken as it goes down. There is plenty of clean Saaz bitterness to stop it from tipping over into being overly sweet, and damn is it drinkable. I might even go as far as to say that it comes even closer to the Kout na ?umavě 14° tmavé on which it was modelled.


 With Morana going on tap soon, I have a feeling that we'll be hiking that part of the AT a bit more often in the coming weeks...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Proper German Pilsner

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


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

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

From Dortmund to Pilsen

One of my homebrew projects that I have been keeping under wraps of late is my first attempt at a pale lager, which has taken the place of ?erny Lev in the lagering tank at the back of my fridge. It was another case of brewing on a whim because the temperature in my cellar was sitting at the perfect range for a cold fermentation and I wanted to put into action the things I had learnt with the tmavé.

The main purpose of both of my first lagers was to test out the viability of cold fermentation in a Virginia winter and to continue testing my rather rough and ready lagering system. As such I didn't do a decoction mash of any kind, although once Mrs Velkyal and I are sorted with the house we are looking to buy and I have extra brewing space in the garage, then I plan to start doing so. Just a minor aside, one of the first things I will do when we move in is get the well water tested so I can see what beer styles are best suited to my water source.

Anyway, back to the pale lager sat in the lagering tank. As it was a first attempt at a pale lager, and for purely illogical reasons, I didn't want to brew a variation on the theme of Pilsner Urquell, so I decided to brew a Dortmunder Export, which the BJCP guidelines (love 'em or loath 'em) describe as being:
  • Aroma: Low to medium noble (German or Czech) hop aroma. Moderate Pils malt aroma; can be grainy to somewhat sweet. May have an initial sulfury aroma (from water and/or yeast) and a low background note of DMS (from Pils malt). No diacetyl.
  • Appearance: Light gold to deep gold, clear with a persistent white head.
  • Flavor: Neither Pils malt nor noble hops dominate, but both are in good balance with a touch of malty sweetness, providing a smooth yet crisply refreshing beer. Balance continues through the finish and the hop bitterness lingers in aftertaste (although some examples may finish slightly sweet). Clean, no fruity esters, no diacetyl. Some mineral character might be noted from the water, although it usually does not come across as an overt minerally flavor.
  • Mouthfeel: Medium body, medium carbonation.
  • Overall Impression: Balance and smoothness are the hallmarks of this style. It has the malt profile of a Helles, the hop character of a Pils, and is slightly stronger than both.
  • Comments: Brewed to a slightly higher starting gravity than other light lagers, providing a firm malty body and underlying maltiness to complement the sulfate-accentuated hop bitterness. The term "Export" is a beer strength category under German beer tax law, and is not strictly synonymous with the "Dortmunder" style. Beer from other cities or regions can be brewed to Export strength, and labeled as such.
  • History: A style indigenous to the Dortmund industrial region, Dortmunder has been on the decline in Germany in recent years.
  • Ingredients: Minerally water with high levels of sulfates, carbonates and chlorides, German or Czech noble hops, Pilsner malt, German lager yeast.
  • OG: 1.048 – 1.056
  • IBUs: 23 – 30
  • FG: 1.010 – 1.015
  • SRM: 4 – 6
  • ABV: 4.8 – 6.0%
Thus my recipe was very simple:
  • 94% Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 6% Aromatic malt
  • 21 IBU Spalt hops @ 90 minutes
  • 6.5 IBU Spalt hops @ 15 minutes
  • 0.5 IBU Spalt hops @ 1 minute
  • 2 packets Wyeast 2308 Munich Lager
Using 2 packets of yeast rather than just 1 meant I had a quick kick off to fermentation and within 12 hours had a very healthy looking krausen and rampant bubbling, and so the beer sat at 48oF for nearly 3 weeks, only coming indoors to get up to 68o for a couple of days diacetyl rest. The original gravity fell from 1.048 to 1.012, giving me a nice 4.8% abv. Admittedly my numbers are at the low end of the spectrum for a Dortmunder, so I took an executive decision to relabel it a German Pilsner, speaking of labels, here is the one I designed for it:


It should be ready for drinking some time in May.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Austria. Thuringia. Bavaria. California?

There are some breweries that never, ever, fail to impress, or at least make beers that I enjoy and want to drink multiple pints of. Word on the street is that one such brewery is looking to open an East Coast operation and one of the options is just a few hours south of where I live. I am, of course, talking about Sierra Nevada, who, rumour has it, have a site near Roanoke as one of their options for the new operation.


My first beer from Sierra Nevada is the one in the picture, sat in the magnificent, and sadly defunct, Sheridan's On The Docks in Galway, watching Ireland play New Zealand with the supreme company which is The Tale of the Ale's Reuben and his wife. Before splashing the cash to buy it, I had sent a quick message to Evan Rail to ask his opinion, and he was right, it was a delight.


Since moving to the US, I have enjoyed every Sierra Nevada beer I have encountered, from the comforting autumnal Tumbler to the smooth yet zingy Glissade. Their stout and porter both make regular appearances in the cellar and the fridge, and I'm even partial to a drop of their IPA, Torpedo.

On Thursday night, there was a Sierra Nevada invasion at Beer Run. Every tap, including the hand pull was dedicated to Sierra Nevada. On a side note, I enjoy these "tap takeovers" because you get to see how good a brewery actually is as a result of lesser known beers being available. Having dropped Mrs V off at the library so she could crack on with her latest paper for her Masters degree, I headed over for a couple of pints.


A quick glance at the menu revealed the words that immediately make me want to try a beer, "lager", "pilsner", you know by the now the stuff I like. So a pint of Vienna Lager was ordered. I had never seen a Sierra Nevada Vienna Lager before, hardly surprising as it is one of their "Specialty Drafts" according to their website. 4 mouthfuls later and the glass was empty. That is one delicious beer, clean and crisp, yet laden with toasty malt sweetness. Had it not been for the limited time available to me, and the dark winkings of the Schwarzbier, I could have drank that all night. But turn to the dark side I did. The Schwarzbier was, um, schwarz, and roasty, full of flavour and just bursting with goodness and again with a nice clean finish. Perhaps this explains my love of lager, I like clean flavours. My final pint was the FOAM Pilsner, a German Pilsner, and a very decent brew it is too. Had it been served in a biergarten in Central Europe it would have been the lubricant to a night of conversation and revery.

I also did a side by side tasting of Torpedo, one from keg and one from cask. The cask version was sparkled, as is the correct method, and the difference was startling. The hop aromas were much more pronounced in the cask version than the regular keg, and the body slightly fuller. Whilst not a cask fundamentalist, if I was I would be pretty much teetotal in this country, I am yet to be convinced by the argument that keg is better for highly hopped brews. Every time I have the opportunity to compare the same beer side by side from keg and cask, it was been a highly hopped pale ale, and the cask was won hands down.

My only wish is that these lagers were more regularly available in this neck of the woods. It is clear that not only do Sierra Nevada make some exceptional ales, their lagers are right up there as well, but sadly not getting the distribution and praise they clearly deserve.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Of Pilsners

Mrs Velkyal and I went to a wedding at the weekend.

The bride is a colleague of Mrs V, and when they started working together we discovered that her then boyfriend, now husband, had lived for a time in Prague, a time which overlapped with my ten years in that most beautiful of cities. When chatting at a party, comparing notes really, you could say, we learnt that from about 1999 to 2001 we went to the same pubs and clubs, knew a few of the same people and had quite probably shared a beer or two. Through the groom, Mrs V and I have been introduced to a few other people with a Prague connection, and again one of them is someone that went to the same clubs and pubs, and in this case definitely someone I shared a beer or two with. I am getting convinced that the City of Charlottesville should enter into a twinning arrangement with a city in Czech Republic, Plzeň for example or ?eské Budějovice, although Jablonec nad Nisou has a similar population, and is an excellent place for a beer.


Anyway, given the Czech connection, there was bottled Pilsner Urquell available at the reception, and it went rather quickly as those of us still being clawed by the Old Mother dived in. Now, I am quite happy to say that Pilsner Urquell is best drunk in Plzeň itself, preferably kvasnicové, failing that then tankové. However, even pasteurised and in a green bottle it is a damned sight better than many a "craft" pilsner that is available unpasteurised in this neck of the woods. As you can imagine, our little Prague coterie indulged in much nostalgia infused revery about the beers of the Czech Republic from the late 90s to the early Noughties. Themes such as how great a beer Velkopopovicky Kozel was back then, how even Braník was a decent brew, especially the tmavé and lamenting the passing of the pubs and clubs we all got hammered in with much abandon, the Marquis de Sade, the Radegast beer hall and the original Iron Door nightclub (there is kind of a successor but it has never been as good as the original).


Once the Pilsner Urquell had been polished off, we moved on to the other pilsner available, North Coast's Scrimshaw Pilsner - just a side note, one of the best things about this reception was the complete and utter absence of beer from one of the big American breweries, the tap selection was from Allagash, North Coast and Bluegrass Brewing Company, and bottles from Legend, Port City and a few others I can't remember. It was interesting to go from Pilsner Urquell to one of the imitation pilsners and compare, and the most immediate thing I noticed is the absence of a firm hop bitterness that I grew to love about proper Czech lagers. There was a touch of butterscotch, but nothing overwhelmingly drastic, and so I drank shed loads of it, especially as it is bang on style with an ABV of 4.4%. So, yes I drank a lot of pilsner on Saturday night, though managed not to fall over, throw up or do anything else to embarrass myself, which is usually the sign of a successful drinking session.

Yesterday though I felt rough, rougher than I have in a long time. Perhaps as I get older it gets more difficult to drink in quantity and rely on that lifestyle drug of choice, paracetamol, to get me through the next day. As I lay on the sofa nursing a hangover, I read bits and pieces from the Oxford History of Britain and Stan Hieronymous' Brew Like A Monk. A phrase that hit me from Stan's book was something along the lines of "you can't make a great beer from numbers" and I wonder if that is one of the reasons so few craft breweries over here fail to make good pilsner - I almost wrote "great pilsner" but even just plain "good" is hard to find at times.

 
A great pilsner is not just about having an OG of 1.048, 40 IBUs and 4.4%ABV, it is about the intangibles of the triple decoction mash, the letting the beer lager until it is ready, the judicious use of Saaz hops whilst telling the accountants to sod off worrying about the cost of using only Saaz. If making a great pilsner, or any beer really, was just a case of following the numbers, I'd have been brewing my own pilsners by now, but it isn't.

Perhaps with lager style beers it isn't enough to be passionate about brewing, a brewer needs to be passionate about lager in particular. To quote the Gospel writer, "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also".

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Lingering Lager Longing

I am sure I have mentioned this before, I have been on something of a lager kick of late. I am sure this is, in part, a consequence of my continuing mission to discover well made Pilsners in America, but also partly because I just fancy nice, clean, crisp beer at the moment.

As I have no doubt mentioned, ad nauseum, my favourite beer at the moment is Devils Backbone's beautiful Vienna lager, another growler of which was happily imbibed with abandon on Saturday night. On Saturday afternoon, Mrs V and I met with Eric from Relentless Thirst and his good lady other half, for a few pints and lunch at the Legend Brewing Company in Richmond. We were in Richmond as Mrs V had spent the morning winning a gold medal at a rowing regatta and needed liquid refreshment in the afternoon. Legend have a few lagers in their range, including a decent enough Pilsner, though at 6% abv it is significantly more potent than regular pilsners. On Saturday though, I was sticking to their run of the mill lager, called in a fit of creative mania, Legend Lager, which is clean, tasty and refreshing - just what you need sat on the deck in blazing sun.


I mentioned in passing last week that I had discovered the perfect pub, in Greenville, and part of its appeal was the Coney Island Mermaid Pilsner. I had never bothered with any of their beers before, for no particular reason, but again my lager kick was being demanding. It was only later on, as in a couple of days later on, that I learnt that it is in fact a rye pilsner, and hopped with a raft of American hops that almost make me feel bad about enjoying it so much. Needless to say, I will be buying some bottles from Beer Run at some point so I can do a more thorough analysis (that's my new title for getting shedded in the comfort of my armchair "More Thorough Analysis"). Again, the thing that kept me coming back for another pint was it's crisp easy drinkability.

A somewhat surprising addition to the "lagers I rather like" has been Sam Adams Light, a beer that I thought was pretty crap when I first arrived on these shores, perhaps as a result of being a fan of their Boston Lager and post-Czech life lager expectations. Sam Adams Light is one of the selections in the summer variety pack and being loathe to let beer go to waste, unless absolutely necessary, I popped open both bottles while bottling my Virginian Best Bitter (gravity fell a bit short for an APA, so I invented a new style). Again something easy to knock back that doesn't taste like gnat's piss when it gets slightly above 0 degrees Kelvin - I can see me buying a case of it for beachside drinking when I head to Florida for a week next month.

It is plain to see that I like my lagers, as any beer lover should, long may it linger.

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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