Showing posts with label highland brewing company. Show all posts
Showing posts with label highland brewing company. Show all posts

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Beers of the Year

In years past I have written multiple 'Review of the Year' posts, across various beer styles, and then colours. This year, I am feeling somewhat lazy and am writing just the one long post highlighting what I think have been the best pale, amber, and dark beers from Central Virginia, the rest of Virginia, the rest of the US, and the rest of the world. So without further ado....
Pale Beer of the Year:
  • Central VA - Blue Mountain Classic Lager
  • Rest VA - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest US - Samuel Adams Alpine Spring
  • Rest World - Oakham Citra
Overall Pale Beer of the Year: Oakham Citra, which I wrote about here.

Amber Beer of the Year:
  • Central VA - Devils Backbone Vienna Lager
  • Rest VA - Port City Oktoberfest
  • Rest US - Highland Gaelic Ale
  • Rest World - Timothy Taylor Landlord (bottled)
Overall Amber Beer of the Year: Timothy Taylor Landlord, one of the best beers in the world. End of.

Dark Beer of the Year:
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd No Veto Brown Ale
  • Rest VA - Mad Fox Mason's Mild
  • Rest US - Green Flash Double Stout
  • Rest World - Fullers London Porter
Overall Dark Beer of the Year: Three Notch'd No Veto, probably the beer I drink most of, when not bashing Session 42.

From those three Beers of the Year, this year's Fuggled Champion Beer of the Year is...

Timothy Taylor Landlord. 

I have come to the conclusion that there are insufficient superlatives to describe the bottled version of Landlord. Simply one of the best beers on the planet in my opinion and one which is so insanely difficult to get hold of on this side of the Pond that it astounds me that it never makes the 'Best Beers in the World' lists (oh wait, it's not a boozy hop bomb and/or Belgian). I never tire of drinking it, and in many ways, Session 42 is something of an homage to it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale

It's that time of year...piles of food, booze and pressies all wait their turn for opening, the Doctor Who Christmas Special on the tele, accompanied by a large slab of Stilton and a bottle of port...and yes it's time for the annual Fuggled Review of the Year. As in years past I will choose my favourite pale, amber and dark beer of the year, from a list of the best beer I have drunk this year from Virginia, the rest of the US and the rest of the World. I will as ever also hail the blog I consider to have been the most interesting this year, and in adding a 'p' to review I will take a quick look forward to 2013.

Let's start then with the Fuggled Pale Beers of 2012:
  • Virginia - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest of US - Highland Brewing St Terese's Pale Ale
  • Rest of World - Williams Brothers Scottish Session Ale

Port City is one of my favourite breweries in Virginia all round, especially their porter, but when I saw they had bought out a pilsner as a seasonal brew my interest was piqued. I love pilsner, it is probably my favourite style of beer (competing regularly with stout for that accolade) and so a brewer that makes a good pilsner is a brewer I like. Downright Pilsner has everything going for it, 43 IBUs of pure Saaz goodness, 100% pilsner malt, unfiltered and simply gorgeous. The first 6 pack I bought went in an evening (is it just me or does '6 pack' sound more impressive that the reality of 3 and bit half litres?). When Mrs V and I had our Czech-Slovak party, it went down a storm. Hopefully this will see the light of day again next summer, and with advance warning I will be buying plenty this time round.

This may be something of a surprise for those that follow Fuggled regularly and/or have the dubious pleasure of going to the pub with me. You see, I am known to grumble about the amount of pale ale taking up taps at the bars I drink in, so for my favourite pale beer from the rest of the US to be a straight up Pale Ale might shock. St Terese's Pale Ale from Highland Brewing was originally picked up whilst in South Carolina, I had never noticed it before and curiosity got the better of me. It was a revelation, not some insane hop bomb but a nicely drinkable pale ale that refreshed and kept me interested to come back for more, which I did several times. Strangely I have yet to see St Terese's in Virginia, so when Mrs V's uncle and partner came up from North Carolina earlier this month, I made sure to stock up...

Another beer that I picked up on the strength of having enjoyed a brewer's other wares, in this case being a fan of Fraoch and William's Brothers 80/-. There really is no better way to sum up this beer than how I described it when I wrote about a Wiliams Brothers jag I was on earlier this year:

if I hadn't read the label I would have thought is was a lager, pale golden topped off with a firm white head. The nose has lots of spice, earth, hay and a touch of grain in the background. The taste is a riot of malty complexity with a very firm hop bite and lots of fruity flavours, the finish is clean, crisp and distinctly lageresque. Suffice to say I loved this beer straight off the bat, and was back at Wine Warehouse a week later to get more.

From this veritable bevvy of hot blondes, I can choose but one to crown Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year, and it is:
  • Williams Brothers Scottish Session Ale
At 3.9% this pale golden ale is simply irresistible and the more we see of this kind of beer in the world the better.

Picture credits: St Terese's Pale Ale pic taken from the Highland Brewing website, and the Scottish Session Ale pic from

Monday, August 6, 2012

Changing Tastes

I vaguely recall the first time I drank a Pilsner Urquell. It was 1999 and I had just moved to the Czech Republic for a year, which became 10 but that's a different story. It wasn't my first Czech beer, I had drunk Budvar on the recommendation of my eldest brother and Gambrinus in the All Bar One in Birmingham, but Pilsner Urquell was different, a lot more bite and for a few years I wasn't that big of a fan, preferring Kozel.

Before moving to Central Europe my tipples of choice had been Caffrey's, Guinness or John Smith's Extra Smooth, in that order. A few years later and the only one of the three that I would drink with any regularity was Guinness, then I found a shop in Prague that sold London Pride, Ruddle's County and Old Speckled Hen. While I certainly never abandoned the delights of Czech lager, it was nice to be able to have a taste of home from time to time.

While we were in Florida on holiday a couple of weeks ago we pottered along for dinner at a British ethnopub just down from the resort called The Black Sheep. I wrote about it last year, and the liver and onions is still very nice, but there was something that I didn't expect. I ordered a pint of London Pride and polished it off with a distinct sense of being underwhelmed, so I ordered a pint of Bombardier and thought to myself, what a sweet and vaguely dull disappointment, and so I drank a couple of pints more of Pride, there not really being anything else that grabbed my attention.

That night I lay on the sofa, drinking a bottle of Highland Brewing Company's St Terese's Pale Ale and wondering how my tastes in beer have changed in the last 13 years. St Terese's Pale Ale is certainly no hop bomb, having a "mere" 24 IBU, but those hops are Cascade and Chinook and Highland are one of the few breweries I know that really use America C-hops well in my unhumble opinion. Were St Terese's a more common sight in the beer shops in this area it would likely be a more frequent visitor to the Velkyal beer cellar.

I am not saying here that I now prefer Cascade and Co to the delights of Fuggles and Goldings, and Saaz is still safe on its perch as my favourite hop, but in the hands of Highland, and admittedly Sierra Nevada, I am starting not to think "oh god, not Cascade again".

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What's In Your Beer?

I am nearly at the end of the my case of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and the few bottles of Saint Terese's Pale Ale from Highland Brewing that I bought with me. To head off any potential beer shortage, when we went to the nearest Publix I grabbed a couple of six packs of Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale. When we were back from the shop, Mrs V bimbled on down to the pool to enjoy a drink in the gathering gloom of night, and I was surprised to find that Dale's Pale Ale was much sweeter than I expected. Further research was required, and not of the liquid kind, but rather a quest for information online.

One of my bugbears with the vast majority of beers over here is the complete absence of key, decision making information on the label. I bought Dale's mainly because it was in cans and the name would suggest it is a regular American style pale ale, yet at 6.5% and 65 IBUs it is more in the American IPA ball park. When I am sitting by the pool (when you grow up on a small island in the Hebrides in the North Atlantic, sand and beaches really hold very little fascination) I really don't want to be drinking beers too far north of 5% - call me a wimp or a dilenttante if you wish. Admittedly with Dale's the alcohol content is listed on the side of the can, but other than that there is nothing to tell me what I might expect, like what hops are involved. With SNPA and Saint Terese's Pale Ale, you need to check their websites to learn about the alcohol content, IBUs, hop varieties and malts involved.

Is it really so difficult for brewers, or their designers, to actually find space on the labels to tell us what is in their beer? At a bare minimum there should be a list of malts and hops as well as the alcohol content. To completely misappropriate Ricoeur's hermeneutics of suspicion, what are they trying to hide by giving us just waffly bollocks about being a "completely natural ale", utter tosh since beer does not occur in nature, or that the beer in the bottle is "just a wee bit different". Sure you can argue that I can just look it up on the internet, but when in a shop and without owning a smart phone, yes there are still those of us out here who believe the telephone is for talking to people, you are effectively relying on producers of any foodstuffs to tell you what they use. In the case of the Dale's Pale Ale, checking out the website for meaningful information about the beer is as useful as a chocolate teapot.

I am not entirely sure if there are legal reasons for an absence of useful information on beer labels, but if not then could brewers please start telling their consumers at least the alcohol content, malts and hop varieties in a beer?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber

I almost went to live in Lithuania once, well actually twice, but there we go. For the first few years of my stint in Prague I taught English as a Foreign Language, and the same year I moved to Minsk in Belarus, I was offered a position in Klaipeda, and again the year after, but Prague has claws. That little story is entirely irrelevant other than whenever I think of amber, I think of Lithuania. So to the contenders for the Fuggled Amber Beer of the Year:
You often hear that beer is best drunk fresh, well it didn't get much fresher than the night I had Blue Mountain's lovely Lights Out Holiday Ale earlier this year. The company I work for got the beer for our Halloween party from Blue Mountain, and it was my job to drive out to the brewpub and collect it, and take the opportunity for lunch and a pint. So fresh were the cases of Lights Out that the bottles were still wet as I packed then into my car for the drive back to Charlottesville. The rich mahogany of the beer pointed to the delights of sweet and spice which were to come.

Our local Whole Foods recently moved to a new building, and the new venue has a bar with 8 taps and a selection of wine, but most importantly of all, they have happy hour from 4 to 6 every work day. Mrs V and I regularly go to happy hour on Friday's and for a while in October they had the simply delicious Clawhammer Oktoberfest lager. Dollops of juicy malts balanced with noble hop aromas and a drinkability that was insanely dangerous. Highland are fast becoming a favourite brewery of mine, and they had a couple of contenders for this award, including their Gaelic Ale, several of which I polished off recently.

The Isle of Arran is one of the most beautiful places in Scotland, and Scotland has plenty of beautiful places (minor side note, I haven't been home since 2005 and am yet to show Mrs V the delights of Highlands, one day, one day). The Arran Dark was another of the beers brought up from South Carolina by Mrs V's best friend. There was only one word to describe this beer, gorgeous, and next time I get to Greenville, South Carolina, I will be buying at least a case of it.

It's very difficult to decide from the three beers for this award, but while I always enjoy seasonal offerings, I like to be able to drink superb beers at any time of the year, and so the Fuggled Amber Beer of the Year is:
  • Arran Dark
If you are looking for a classic Scottish ale, then Arran Dark is it, sweet without being sickly, a light hop bite in the background to keep it balanced and at 4.3% the kind of beer you could drink all night and then stumble to bed without too much hassle. The only thing missing would be a fire, so here's one for you.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dashed Expectations

Early on Saturday morning Mrs Velkyal and I piled ourselves and our little dog into the car and set off to Columbia in South Carolina. Yesterday we drove back to Charlottesville, minus the dog. Don't worry, we haven't sold our wee Honza to people with nefarious designs on world domination. We are going to France this week and can't take him with us, so he is on holiday at Mrs V's parents and I am left wondering what to do when I wake up at 5.30 in the morning.

Before we got to the in-laws' place, we swung by a Walmart to pick up some bits and pieces for dinner, including a six pack of something or other.

Highland Brewing from Asheville are fast becoming a go-to brewery in my world. I loved, and dranks lots of, their Clawhammer Oktoberfest lager when it was available. The Black Mocha Stout is as flavourful a stout as you could ask for. I was looking for something a bit easier on the palate and so I picked up a six pack of Gaelic Ale.

Once we got to the house I read the blurb on the bottle and my heart almost sank as I read that they used "Cascade and Willamette hops". The last thing I wanted was some classic C-hop citrus attack, still I had splashed the cash and pretty much had no choice, so I dived in. The beer pours a rich dark amber, bordering on deep red and with a thinnish off white head. It was in the nose that I got all confused, where was the grapefruit, the pine resin? The aroma was a complex layering of sweet malts, cocoa and rich earthy spiciness. Confused and yet encouraged. Goodness me, what a lovely tasting beer! More of the sweet malts, with a healthy wallop of biscuits, toast and caramel, all balanced by an unobtrusive but still noticeably firm hop bite. I polished off the 6 pack with the minimum of fuss and the maximum enjoyment.

I learnt something this weekend. It seems that Cascade in the hands of a brewery like Highland doesn't have to be the dominant flavour and aroma in a beer. As part of the whole it was a key element of a very nice beer and one that I will be buying on a regular basis in the future.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Farewell to Oktoberfest

Today sees the end of Oktoberfest, that most famous of cultural festivals and quite possibly the most famous thing about Munich, though I am sure Bayern Munich would be right up there as well. Meanwhile, over here in the US we are in the middle of the annual slew of autumnal beers, mostly variants on the Oktoberfest lager or pumpkin beer theme.

This has been the first autumn that I have really bothered with Oktoberfest lagers, mainly because when the temperatures finally cool off I have this urge for porters and stouts, and I generally don't bother with pumpkin beers because they all taste like soggy cardboard to me. My delving into American made Oktoberfest lager started at the monthly meeting of the homebrew club I belong to, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale. We have our meetings at the excellent Timberwood Grill, and usually they have a decent pale lager on tap, but last month that had been replaced with Bell's Octoberfest and so I polished off a pint or two of that. Thoroughly enjoying the Bell's stab at the style sufficiently piqued my interest to try other Oktoberfest lagers, and I think I have found my favourite.

Charlottesville has a nice, new shiny Whole Foods. More than that, we have a nice, new shiny Whole Foods with a bar. Yes, a bar. They have 8 beers on tap, do growler fills and most importantly have happy hour from 4 until 6. Now, tell me, can you think of a better way to finish off the work week than sitting in a bar, drinking quality craft beer at happy hour prices and having the bar strategically placed next to the cheese counter? No? Me neither. It has become one of my favourite places to go for a pint. I think it helps that Whole Foods reminds me so much of the French supermarkets round my parents' neck of the woods. You know the kind of place, where they actually like food rather than simply sell lowest common denominator shite. Any way, back to the beer.

The Highland Brewing Company from Asheville, North Carolina, make some of the best beers in the US, their Black Mocha Stout is divine, Gaelic Ale gorgeous and the Oatmeal Porter puts other oatmeal beers to shame. Clearly I like Highland Brewing's ales, but how would their lagers fare? Well, Clawhammer Oktoberfest is magnificent. Burnished orange, topped with a tight white head, the nose is bready, grainy and with a nice light spiciness from the Mittlefruh hops. The taste is that sweet malt character that is so much a key element of German style lagers, toasty, grainy but without tasting like caramel. A nice crisp, lingering finish which only gives way when the second put is placed in front of you and you get to start the process again.

I am not sure how long they will have it in our local Whole Foods, but you can bet I'll be in there on Friday for a couple of post work pints. Now a confession, I have never been to Oktoberfest, and really have very little interest in going, Starkbierzeit though is a different proposition.

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...