Showing posts with label lager. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lager. Show all posts

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Book Review: Vienna Lager

 A few months ago I bought "Historic German and Austrian Beers for the Home Brewer" by Andreas Krennmair and have thoroughly enjoyed dipping and and out of the book for inspiration and plans for the upcoming winter lager brewing season. It was on the basis of having enjoyed it so much that I ordered his latest book, "Vienna Lager", from Amazon within moments of him announcing it's release on Twitter.

A few days later it dropped through the door (figuratively speaking), and just last night I finished it. Sure it is not a weighty tomb, but I have read it in snatches as life allows, even so, a month is pretty good going by my standards these days.

What we have here is the life and story not just of the Vienna Lager style, but also a deep dive into the life of it's creator, Anton Dreher - he who went wandering around British breweries with Gabriel Sedlmayr, filching samples with Bondesque contraptions as they went. Scion of a family of innkeepers and brewers, Dreher built the largest brewing company on mainland Europe in the 19th century, at its height boasting 4 breweries, one each in Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, and Italy.

Andreas then follows Vienna Lager on its journey from its Austrian homeland to the New World, as it became an established part of the German brewing world in both the US and Mexico, and thence onward to its acceptance within craft beer.

While being focused on Dreher and Vienna Lager in particular, the book gives the reader an insight into the massive changes wrought on the European brewing industry in the second half of the 19th century. Not only are we talking about the introduction of three of the most influential beer styles, but also the introduction of English malting techniques that allowed maltsters to create consistent pale malt, and thus the world was set on the path of pale lager domination.

Andreas' book is full of fascinating technical detail, the kind of thing that very much appeals to the technical writer in me. At the same time he succeeds to keeping the technical details accessible and not overwhelming. An added bonus for homebrewers, and possibly commercial brewers looking to re-create history, is a selection of recipes for Vienna lager through the ages, naturally the early ones of just Vienna malt and Saaz hops appeal to me most of all, and perhaps this winter will finally see me take the plunge into decoction mashing.

What Andreas has done here is write the definitive guide to Dreher and his Vienna Lager, and made a valuable contribution to knowledge of the development of pale lager in general. It is an excellent read, go and buy it, now.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

NoVA Franconia

Whether it is a trendy fad or something more lasting and meaningful, I love the fact that well made lager beers are enjoying a moment in the spotlight here in Virginia.

Sure, there have always been reliable go-to breweries and beers when the lager cravings hit, or as I like to call them, "the weekend", such as Devils Backbone or Port City, but it seems as though there are more options in the shop when it comes to Virginia brewed lager.

Right now I am drinking a lot of one particular beer from the ever reliable Port City Brewing of Alexandria up in Northern Virginia. They already make 2 of my favourite beers, the lovely Downright Pilsner, and an Oktoberfest that is a more than welcome sight in autumn, so when I heard they had brought out a beer called "Franconian Kellerbier", well you knew I would hunt it down.

I didn't really have to do much hunting as another of Charlottesville craft beer fixtures, Beer Run, had it available for curbside pickup about a week after I first heard about it. Minor aside, Beer Run have been an absolute lifesaver in the last few months with a steady supply of Von Trapp lagers.

This is not about the glorious wonders of Von Trapp, it is about this beer here...


Doesn't it just look lovely in my Port City half litre bierkrug, even if the can is slightly less than a full half litre. I love that rich, ever so slightly hazy, amber and the big cap of foam so befitting of a German style lager. To look at it kind of reminds me of my usual favourite German lager, the divine aU from Mahr's Brau. 

The aroma is dominated by a wonderful toasted malt character, sitting beneath the rustic earthiness and general spice that you get with Spalt hops. I have to admit that I don't spend an awful lot of time sticking my nose into the beer because it is just so damned tasty.

That toasted bread thing is there, as is the deep sweetness that I always associate with Munich malts (ie, not sugary), and again the earthy hops bring balance and some slightly floral notes to the party. All of this is rounded out with a clean finish, a medium body, and a touch of hop bitterness that makes it magnificently easy to drink, which at 4.7% means no hangover if you bash a few of these of a school night.


I like to think of these kind of beers as "country beers", the kind of thing you would find in a village Gasthaus, possibly the only beer on tap, served just metres from where it was brewed, and very much the local hero of beer. The kind of beer that you could imagine sitting in the sun, under the shade of a old tree, and just letting the world go by, while you engaged in something completely unrelated to beer, like shelling peas that you just picked from the garden.

I have drunk a fair old whack of Franconian Kellerbier, and it is more than fair to say that I am going to miss it when it is gone, being but a seasonal beer, rather than year round. Would I swap it for one of Port City's regular lineup to be a year round brew, you bet I would, the world is quite sufficiently stocked for IPAs these days, so one of those can go as far as I am concerned.

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.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Because We Can

Saturday was one of my favourite kind of days, a brewday with one of my local breweries.


In this case I was down at the Devils Backbone Basecamp once more. The plan, to brew Morana for the fifth time. Morana is, as a quick recap, a 14° tmavé speciální, or for the non-Czech speakers a 14° dark special lager, modeled on the sadly now departed Kout na ?umavě dark lager of the same strength.


From the very first time we brewed Morana, back in 2010, it has been double decocted as a nod to the traditional brewing practices of central Europe. It has also always undergone a long period of lagering, about 45 days. It has always used floor malted Bohemian pilsner malt, as well as CaraBohemian, Dark Munich, and de-bittered Carafa II, and it has always been hopped exclusively with Saaz hops. For this most recent brew none of these things have changed. At the end of the slightly longer than many a brewday, decoction does that, we had an on the nail wort that is going to make a simply fantastic beer.


From here on in though, Morana is in uncharted territory. You see, Devils Backbone have recently invested in some fun brewing equipment that we hope will bring Morana, a beer described in Jeff Alworth's Beer Bible as "the best New World effort to make an Old World beer", closer to her Old World antecedents.


Where in years past Morana would have undergone fermentation in a cylindrical conical tank, this time she is being fermented in Devils Backbone's new open fermenter, indeed she is the first lager to do so. As ever when Jason Oliver and I get together I learn shit tons of fun stuff about brewing, and naturally I asked what difference, if any, an open fermenter would make. Apparently the difference is less in the open nature of the vessel than it is in the geometry of it, being broader and shallower than a CCT. If I understand what Jason told me correctly, the CO2 generated by the yeast has a larger area in which to bubble to the surface, raising the yeast as it goes. This results is a fermentation with less circulation in the vessel, resulting in a more leisurely process, and thus the yeast is less stressed than it would be in the CCT. Again, assuming I understood correctly, this will impact the body and mouthfeel of the beer, making it even more luxuriant than previous iterations.


Having fermented for the requisite length of time, and once it is with about 1.5° Plato of target gravity, it will be moved over to a CCT to finish the fermentation with the CO2 valve firmly shut. With the natural carbonation achieved, it will be pumped over to another new toy that Jason gets to play with, one of the horizontal lagering tanks. There she will sit for 45 days at near freezing, and when the time comes to keg her up and drink, she will not be filtered.


During the brewday, Jason treated me to a couple of samples of German style beers sitting in the horizontal tanks. Currently lagering and soon to be on tap at Basecamp are Ein K?lsch and Alt Bier, no prizes for guessing the styles based on the names. Whenever they have been on tap in the past, Mrs V and I have made a point of getting to the brewpub for a few jars and to fill several growlers, based on the samples taken from the zwickel, we'll definitely be heading down in the not too distant future.

I remember once Jason being asked for an article in some brewing magazine about why he does decoction mashes for his lagers, to which he responded "because I can". What better reason to decoct, open ferment, and lager horizontally a Czech style tmavé for authenticity than simply that, because we can?

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Falling Into Von Trapp

Lager is kind of my thing.

I can't think of a single warm fermented beer style that I would rather drink than a well executed cold fermented style. Sorry folks but your New England IPAs just don't compare to the height of craft brewing that is an Old School Czech pale lager. If you think that you foreign extra stout with gorilla snot and dingleberries can hold a candle to schwarzbier then you are in for disappointment.

Most of my favourite breweries are those that brew lager, giving it the deference and respect it is due, even those like Sierra Nevada who are better known for their ales do some magnificent lagers as well. This year I added a new to me brewery to my list of go to purveyors of fine decocted booze, Von Trapp Brewing from Vermont (yes, that Von Trapp family and yes they do decoction mashing).


Since trying their Oktoberfest back in the appropriate season, I have been on something of a Von Trapp kick. Other than my 10 days in central Europe, I have probably indulged in at least one six pack of their various beers each weekend since September, and in keeping with my worldview these days I haven't really taken notes other than when needed for other projects and schemes.



Something that each of the beers I have tried so far shares is that it is an excellent example of whichever style it is. For example I am actually fairly confident that had Beer Run had any more of the Oktoberfest when I decided to do my mass tasting that it would have been in at least the final 4, possibly the top 2.


Most recently I have been revelling in Tr?sten, a rauchbier that unlike many an American made smoke beer is actually worthy of the name. Sure it might not be a full frontal assault on the senses a la Schlenkerla, but it is a beautifully smokey dark lager that could easily become a regular in winter for me, and may even be used to soak the raisins, sultanas, et al in the fruit cake I plan to make this weekend for my father-in-law and I.

Of the regular styles available my go tos of late have been Helles and Dunkel, both of which I would put right up there with the best versions available back in Germany and which, as a side note for us Czech beer fans of the world, make a delightful ?ezané pivo, or black and tan.


If you live in any of the states where Von Trapp is available, I recommend getting out to the store and stocking up, and if said store isn't carrying these superb lagers given them earache until they relent! I have been desperately trying to avoid cheesy Sound of Music references, but truly these are a few of my favourite things! Whilst in the mood for cheesy puns, yes I am happy to declare myself a Von Trappist too.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

To a T

I spent my formative teenage years living in the Outer Hebrides, in particular for the geographically challenged the bit in the red box in the picture:


The blue bit to the west of the islands is, obviously, the Atlantic Ocean. That blue bit stretches all the way to Canada with nothing between. It is not for nothing that the islands are often referred to as being on the edge of the world. I loved living there, and there are still times when I have moments where I think it would be good to go home and raise my boys the relative peace and safety.

Like most teenage kids growing up in isolated communities drinking started at a relatively early age, I think I was 14 when I had my first sneaky can of beer, nicked from a fridge at someone's house during a party at which parents were free to bring their kids along. I am not counting here the cider my parents would give us as younger kids, or my dad's homebrew that we would drink from time to time. There is something about that first illicit beer, as I say taken from the fridge when the adults weren't looking, that means more than all your parents' enlightened attitudes toward booze.

Most definitely among those first ill-gotten cans of nectar was Tennent's Lager, at a time when the cans still featured the , scantily glad models that were probably many a teenage beer filcher's first crush. With said cans safely hidden in coat pockets we would head out to the garden and sit behind a dry stone wall, in the lee of the wind, and pretend like we knew anything about beer.

Such memories came flooding back when
Boak and Bailey posted a story about them drinking Tennents when in Scotland recently, and so I resolved that on my trip home in July to do likewise. Thus it was that on the first Friday night in the Highlands, Mrs V and I left the bairns with their grandparents and wandered up to one of my favourite institutions, the public bar of a Highland hotel, the Station Hotel in Alness.

Entering through the hefty, weather beaten, teal blue doors you land practically on the bar. In keeping with public bar tradition there is no carpet, old school wooden floorboards are the order of the day. There is no fancy furniture, a few barstools, well used wooden tables around the periphery of the room, and equally well used wooden chairs. My kind of bar.

Dotted around the bar are groups of working men, ignoring the barstools entirely, standing just shy of an arm's length from their pints. At a table in the corner, a mixed group of Polish seasonal workers, in many a Highland public bar when there are ladies present in your group, you sit at a table rather than stand at the bar. Mrs V and I took up station at the short end of the bar itself, I like to be at a bar when I am drinking, next to the gaming machine, flashing with promises of paying your drinks bill for the night if you are lucky enough.

The Station doesn't do craft beer, doesn't really do local beer either if I remember rightly. I am not sure it would matter anyway, basically everyone was drinking Tennent's, which apparently accounts for 50% of all lager drunk in Scotland. I didn't bother with pictures of my pints, perhaps for fear of being called out as the metropolitan middle class softie I have become, or because it was irrelevant to being out with my wife on a rare trip sans enfants.

The first thing that strikes me is just how fizzy the pint is, though given the laser etched nucleation points on the base of the branded glassware, is it always that carbonated? Given the never ending stream of bubbles, the head pretty much stayed put, it was actually a rather alluring sight, and possibly the first time I had drunk Tennents and been able to see it.

Taking a first mouthful, my initial reaction was that if I was served this at an American craft brewery, either as a pilsner or helles, I would be pretty happy. Sure it is no Port City Downright Pilsner, but it is not a bad pale lager by any stretch of the imagination. The flavour is mostly a grainy crackeriness, somewhat similar to a Jacob's Cream Cracker, with a similar subtle sweetness as well. Am I allowed to say that it actually tasted of barley? That's a thing right? Hops are not a major component of the brew seemingly, but what was there gave enough of a clean bitterness to snap the malt to attention, as well as wisps of floral lemoniness that reeks of classic noble hops, you know, the ones from Central Europe.

Four mouthfuls in and the pint was gone, a fresh one on its way, then another, and another as we settled into the buzz and banter of the bar. At some point a pair of young girls came in, one with ID and one without, dolled up for a night on the town and pre-gaming before heading into Inverness. The gathered older folks, which Mrs V and I have accepted we are now part of, shared looks of recognition of days gone by, while the barman gave the IDless girl short shrift, and soon they were gone, while hands reached out for pints and the drinking continued.

I don't recall how many pints I had, maybe 8, but I did wonder, perhaps out loud and a tad overly loud as Mrs V and I walked back to my parents' place whether an avowedly craft bar is capable of such an atmosphere? Merrily buzzed and with no regret whatsoever for drinking Tennent's all night, I fell into a happy slumber that thankfully the twins didn't disturb until about seven thirty the next morning. I would drink Tennents again several times on the trip, each time knowing that I would miss it when I got back to Virginia.

Maybe it is the Tennents I miss, maybe it's public bars in Highland Hotels. Either way, that session will live on in the memory, despite no pictures.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Lager Doesn't Need You

Oh FFS, it's 2019, why does craft beer still feel the need to come out with this level of shite...?



So Stone Brewing, fresh from failing to revolutionise the German brewing scene with their, now sold on to Brewdog, Berlin operation, have decided that lagers "deserve flavor too"? How fucking gracious of them.

I wonder at times if there is a mine that delivers endless piles of marketing bullshit to breweries to simply reinforce the fallacy that seems common among certain sectors of the beer world that somehow lager is flavourless fizzy water (which is kind of ironic considering the nascent popularity of the "hard seltzer").

That lager is still used as shorthand for bland beer is sadly typical for for too many in the craft beer world, especially among the types that think everything needs a boatload of New World hops, or have the world "India" somewhere in its moniker.

I enjoyed a glorious lager last night, 8.3% abv, wonderfully dark, and brewed with only malt, hops, yeast, water, and nothing else. It was Olde Mecklenburg's Fat Boy Baltic Porter and it went with my wife's homemade apple pie an absolute treat. Most of my drinking since I got back from Scotland has been Sierra Nevada's Oktoberfest collaboration with Bitburger, again a wonderful example of the lager arts.

Anyway, back to the original tweet from Stone, and to riff on their style of marketing, lager doesn't you to add flavour, perhaps you need to learn to appreciate the flavours and aromas of classic central European lagers. So give it a rest with the lager bashing, both obvious and insidious, and own the fact that the bottom fermented family of beer is as interesting and varied as its top fermented cousin.

Monday, April 29, 2019

For The Love of Lager

I am a Lagerboy, plain, simple, and proud of the fact.

Sure there are top fermented beer styles that I love as well, but nothing is as satisfying as a pint of well made pale lager. The crackery, bready, malt, the snap and floral bouquet of noble hops, the lingering finish, clean, crisp, and almost daring you to try and stop drinking. Perhaps a dark lager could compete however, adding some toasty, smoothly roasty notes into the mix, hopefully with some of that Munich sweetness that is beyond even the finest crystal malts in the deftest of hands.


I have written before about how in this part of Virginia we are somewhat spoilt for choice when it comes to locally brewed lagers. South Street in the heart of Charlottesville have probably the single most regular beer I drink, My Personal Helles, which in my mind is pretty much the archetype for a good helles in my world. Devils Backbone's Schwartzbier is a staple during the colder months, and if I am honest I doubt there is a better example of the schwarzbier on the planet - a bold claim I know.


However, I have a gripe, for some reason the beer distributors in this part of Virginia have decreed that craft lager from breweries such as Port City and Troegs will not be available on the shelves. When Mrs V and I go to do our weekly shop at the local Wegmans it appears that the entire Port City lineup is there. If you fancy their magnificent Porter, you will be happy. If their delightful witbier is your thing, not a problem. Want one of their IPAs, bob's your uncle. Hankering for the deliriously wonderful Downright Pilsner.....yeah, fuck you, not a chance.


I can tell the same story about Troegs. Fans of hoppy beers of varying degrees of India-ness are more than catered for, people that know Sunshine Pils is one of the best pale lagers being made anywhere on planet earth, let alone the east coast of the USA, can once again fuck off in the minds of the beer distributors and retailers of central Virginia.

I have asked time after time at store after store in the area for them to stock both of these delights, but their absence continues to stand out like a sore thumb, more galling for the fact that just a couple of hours drive away in Warrenton, gateway to the gridlock that is Northern Virginia, the Wegmans stocks both Downright and Sunshine. So what gives?

I assume the same distributor handles Port City Optimal Wit as Port City Porter (though with the fucked up nature of distribution rights and the asinine politics of beer distribution who knows if that is actually true), so why have they taken the unilateral decision to deny the drinkers of central Virginia a world class Czech style pale lager? I likewise assume the guys filling the Charlottesville Wegmans shelves with Troegs' IPA have the ability to add a little Sunshine to our lives, but choose not to.

Can anyone explain?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Stand Up For Lager

If you follow pretty much any of my social media accounts, you will know that I am a devotee of lager. I love the stuff, absolutely love it. That's not to take anything away fro, or cast aspersions at, their top fermented cousins, but given the choice, I will always choose a well brewed lager beer. Just to give you an idea of my love for the lagering arts, here's a quick selection of my favourite posts on the subject:
This morning as I had my coffee and watched YouTube videos, having dispatched Mrs V to work and the Malé Ali?ky to daycare, a video was recommended to me by the Craft Beer Channel about lagers...here it is:



What a fantastic video! Thank goodness for people out there telling the truth about the various lager styles. If I were in the UK you bet I'd be trying to get along to the lager festival mentioned in the video, and if you are in the UK, do try and get along.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Most Excellent Lager

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

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


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

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

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

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

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...

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Flagship Craft Lager

On the same shopping trip that resulted in buying the Coors Banquet that I wrote about in my previous post I decided to also get myself some craft lager. Wanting to try something I had not had before I perused the collection of singles rather than splashing on a 6 pack. I learnt my lesson with buying 6 packs of craft lager when trying out Samuel Adam's Noble Pils.

As the aisle I was standing in was in a supermarket rather than a specialist beer retailer the selection of craft lagers was somewhat meagre. I did though find a craft lager that I had never had before...


Now, I know there will be people looking at that picture and wondering where the craft lager is, it's the rather fetching copper liquid that I poured out of the can into the glass. According to the ever flexible definition of a craft brewery espoused by the Brewers Association, America's oldest family owned brewery became a craft brewery in 2014, and if I have understood the numbers correctly, Yuengling Traditional Lager instantly became the best selling craft lager in the US. It really was remiss of me to have not drunk it already, and how was it? Well, here goes:
  • Sight - orange copper, topped with a thin, loose bubbled, white head that rather surprisingly didn't disappear quickly
  • Smell - imagine walking into a pub first thing in the morning, that distinct beer smell that pubs have, that, with some light butter and earthiness lingering in the background
  • Taste - distinctly grainy, like Weetabix, with a toasty taste in the middle and a slightly nutty finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5

The thing that really surprised me with this was that the body was more on the medium side of light than I expected. It was also nowhere near as carbonated as I expected, no fizzy mess here thankfully. Overall it was a nicely balanced beer that I really rather enjoyed and at 4.4% definitely one I can see myself ordering in the pub from time to time.


Without wanting to get into the politics of what makes a craft brewer, it is after all the BA's definition and they can do with it as they will, Yuengling tick every box when you think about a bit. Small, independent, and traditional, it's just that the tradition they adhere to isn't some puritanical obsession with Reinheitsgebot, but a very American tradition, innovation - a tradition that these days sadly gets confused for having an ingredient wankfest.

Monday, October 26, 2015

More Than Lite

Take a quick scan through this list and tell me what each of these beer styles has in common:
  • Schwarzbier
  • American Light
  • Vienna
  • Baltic Porter
  • Pilsner
  • Munich Helles
  • M?rzen
I am sure that if you know your onions, so to speak, when it comes to types of beer then you read that list and got the connection straight off the bat. Still scratching your head? Well ok then, let me put you out of your misery, they are all lager beer styles, as in bottom fermented and then cold conditioned beers.

This tiny little exercise highlights a semantic problem that we have in the independent beer world, the total abuse of the word 'lager' to refer to any pale, adjunct laden, quality control obsessed, beer put out by the large multinational brewers like ABInBev or Carlsberg. All we do when we use the word 'lager' in this way is show a contemptuous disregard for a family of beers that are as diverse, interesting, and worthwhile as their top fermented cousins.

I have written several times before about my love of the lagered arts, but it seems at times as though the use of the term 'lager' as a lazy shorthand for beers being mass produced by multinationals is on the rise, and that bothers me greatly. When I worked in the Starr Hill tasting room, we had a guy come in and ask what 'bocks and doppelbocks' we had on tap and that he didn't 'like lager at all', and that was 'passionate about real beer'. Hmm, well. While being all outward sweetness and light I was thinking 'get the fuck out of my bar you pompous twat' on the inside. I wish I could say that was a very rare occurrence but sadly the level of ignorance about lager is staggering, especially when you consider the hoopla around beer these days.

So let's see an end to this kind of lazy lager language, especially from beer writers, bloggers, and other semi-pro talking heads. Let's highlight lager style beers being made by independent brewers and not dismiss them with nonsense like 'not bad for a lager'. Let's remind breweries that just because they don't have the wherewithal to make lager doesn't mean the fans of lagers are afraid of tasting something. I've said it before, let's have more lagerboy pride.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Homely Brew

There are times when I read other homebrewers blogs and I am overcome with a sense of equipment inadequacy. Seriously, some of the rigs that people have bought, built, pilfered, or otherwise acquired are seriously impressive. It can leave a chap and his cobbled together 'system' feeling something akin to a malady requiring the work of Doctor Freud to overcome.

My 'system' has no pumps, no false bottoms, no flashing lights and gizmos, but the beer doesn't seem to suffer from such technical rusticity. Perhaps my favourite piece of kit though is my lagering tank.


If you have followed Fuggled for a while, you know that most of my homebrew projects are done on a small scale, about 2.5 gallons usually, and so a 2.5 gallon water bottle makes an ideal lager tank, once you rack the beer off the yeast cake. You will also know that lagers are generally spekaign my favourite types of beer.


My latest homebrew project to use the lagering tank is a doppelbock, with a starting gravity of 18.5° Plato, which attenuated sufficiently to give me 7.6% abv. I transferred it last night into my latest lagering tank, where it will sit for about 8 weeks, for no other reason than capricious whimsy. I usually give lagering tanks a couple of uses and then chuck them in the bin. An added bonus is that they slip nicely into the fridge, so there is no need to go out and buy a lagering fridge and the attendent temperature controls.

Ever since my first homebrew efforts in a poky flat in the heart of Prague, I have tended to repurpose everyday bits and bobs for the noble art of making beer, you could call me a Homebrew Womble if you wish.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Answer...

...is an emphatic 'YES!'

The question though comes from this article on Slate.com, which poses the deep and meaningful question as to whether:
'friends let friends drink only pilsners?'
One would have thought that a person who starts an article with 'As a beer writer' would actually have some vague notion of what they are talking about, but yet again people use terms like 'lager' and 'pilsner' as lazy shorthand for boring beer.

If your friend wants to drink 'only' pilsners, then bloody well let them. It's their body, their taste buds and their money, so they can drink whatever the hell they want to. If you can't have a good time while your friends drink 'only' pilsners, then I suggest you have a deeper problem than a person's choice of beer.

On that note, I'm going to buy a six pack of Pilsner Urquell...have a good weekend people.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lagerboy Pride!

If you have been following Fuggled for a while now, you will doubtless know that I am a devotee of the lager arts.


Whether pale, amber, dark or pitch black, most of my favourite beers will have been cold fermented and then lagered before packaging. I am quite happily what some breweries like to disparagingly call a 'Lagerboy'. It therefore seriously pisses me off that 'lager' is used as shorthand for lowest common denominator beer.


Lager, as I have said many times before, is a labour of love from beginning to end, especially if a brewer is going to do a decoction mash, which makes the brewday longer. Then there is the lagering of the beer itself, tying up the brewer's capital for a long period of time, whether it be 4 weeks or 90 days - did you know that a batch of 12° Budvar takes 102 days to make, 12 days in primary fermentation followed by 3 months lagering? In a world that seems to love talking about beers being made with 'passion', it takes real passion and dedication to doing things properly and give your lager the time it needs to be ready.


I have said it before, and will continue to bang the drum, but a well made lager is, in my unhumble opinion, the height of the brewers' craft. Sure you can make your triple black IPA aged in soured gorilla snot barrels, but if a brewer is incapable of making a clean, crisp, refreshing and flavourful pale lager then are they really all that great, despite the ravings of those advocating the rating of beer?


Using the term 'lager' as a cover all for the lowest common denominator brews churned out by multinational breweries does a disservice to a family of beers as diverse and varied as ales. Whether drinking a Bohemian Pilsner packed with the flavours and aromas of Saaz, downing a pint of Schwarzbier with its clean roastiness, or supping gently on a powerful yet balanced Baltic Porter, there is little in life as satisfying as well made lager, where the brewer has nowhere to hide flaws.


So brewery marketing departments, cut it out with the lager hating, beer geeks, cut it out with phrases like 'it's good, for a pilsner'.


To paraphrase a cliche from self-help groups....my name is Velky Al, and I'm a Lagerboy.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Square Pegs Round Holes

Back in the death throes of the 20th century, when I moved from Blighty to the Czech Republic, beer came in a few very broad categories, lager, old man ale and Guinness. Lager was pale, vaguely tasteless and often drunk straight from the bottle. Old man ale was everything else that wasn't Guinness. Generally speaking I was an old man ale and Guinness drinker, depending on my mood. Lager was something I didn't really drink, unless it was Czech, my first Gambrinus was had in an All Bar One in Birmingham, Polish, drinking Hevelius Kaper with my girlfriend at the time's father is one of my earliest foreign beer memories, or German, usually Becks. Pretty much all I knew of lager back then was that anything from Central Europe was, by definition, better than the cans of Tennent's Lager that we used to indulge in as teenagers.

Moving to Prague, and staying for 10 years, shaped my drinking life far more though than those early years of surreptitious cans of Tennent's or even my first legal pint of Guinness. It was in the Czech Republic that I learnt that lager came in a range of colours, světly, polotmavy and tmavy, pale, amber and dark, and even in strengths, lehké, vy?epní, Le?ák and Speciál - 'light' (sub 8° Plato), 'tap' (8-10.99°), 'lager' (11-12.99°) and 'special' (13°+) respectively. Essentially, for the duration of my life in Prague there was no such thing as beer style, just beers of varying colours and strengths. Often even phrases such as vy?epní and le?ák were irrelevant, because you ordered your beer by the number of degrees Plato, thus you ordered a 'desítka' (10°), 'dvanáctka' (12°) and so on. Most pubs would carry a grand total of three beers, a 'desítka' a 'dvanáctka' and a 'tmavy', and when you simply asked for a 'pivo' it was invariably 'desítka' that was soon in front of you. If you didn't fancy a 'světly' or a 'tmavy' and the pub didn't have a polotmavy, a fairly regular occurrence back then, you would ask for a '?ezané pivo' or '?e?ák', a half and half mixture of a pale lager and dark lager, both of which should have the same Plato. Apropos of nothing, the longer I lived in Prague, the more often I would have a '?e?ák' when I was out and about.

The reason I mention all this is that when people ask me my favourite beer 'style' I hesitate for a moment, not because I can't decide between a Czech pale lager and a dry Irish stout, but because in my mind there is no such thing as a 'Czech pale lager' or a 'Bohemian Pilsner', but rather there are desítky that I love, dvanáctky I can drink until the cows come home and Speciály that rock my boat like the Minch in winter. This is, for me, one of the big failings of websites such as RateBeer and BeerAdvocate in trying to shoehorn the various Czech beers in an essentially Anglo-American taxonomy.

When we had our celebration of Czechoslovak independence back in October someone brought a six pack of Lagunitas Pils. When one of our Czech guests drank it, he grimaced and simply pronounced 'this is not Czech', and went back to drinking Port City's Downright Pilsner, which reminded him of the great beers from home. He didn't care for style, for numbers, only that it tasted right.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Looking Ahead

Well, we made it. 2013 is here and as modern day Mayans have been telling us for most of 2012 their calendar did not predict a cataclysm. Given that it is January now, I am in the early stages of my annual booze fast. I realise that some people think giving up the booze for a month is pointless from a health perspective, but I like to go the entire month without mainly to prove to myself that I can live without it for extended periods of time, also I find my tastebuds to be pretty jaded by the end of the holiday season and they appreciate the break as much as my liver.

What about the rest of the year though, what do I hope 2013 will see happen in the beer drinking and brewing world? This isn't really a list of New Year's resolutions, rather an overview of things I would like to see happen in the next 12 months.

Top of my list is hoping that some will get their heads out of their arses and smell the free air again rather than wallowing in the stink of their own shit. There are times when I get the feeling there are people in the beer world carving out their own little fiefdoms and then they stomp their feet in a mass hissy fit when someone comes along to do something similar. The whole Brewers Association 'Craft vs Crafty' thing was a case in point, not only did they bang on about what or what isn't 'genuine craft' (cynical side note - at this rate 'craft beer' will become the US equivalent of 'real ale' in the annals of annoying terminology). They also managed to insult a large section of the beer drinking community by claiming that many people don't realise that something like Blue Moon is a MillerCoors product - more likely is that most people don't give a shit, they either like it or they don't. I fail to see the point of picking ridiculous fights, especially when the BA are then happy to take BMC money for associate membership and presence at the GABF. At the end of the day it is the beer that counts, not the corporate structure of the company making the beer, so how about everyone just chill out, remember it is only beer and get on with enjoying beer in all its forms?

Another thing I would like to see is more session beer. As a man who likes a drink, well, ok then, likes plenty of drinks, preferably sat in the pub with mates, maybe playing some pool and generally having a good time, I like session beer. Having more breweries exploring the range of styles out there that can be brewed to have less than 4.5% abv would be a great thing - while there are some good session beers being made by the breweries in my part of the world, not one of them makes a bitter with any regularity, or a mild or even a brown ale. Indeed, I can can think of just 3 regularly brewed session beers available from my local breweries, Starr Pils and Dark Starr Stout from Starr Hill and Devils Backbone's Gold Leaf Lager.

Finally, and probably my most ardent wish for 2013 is for the word 'lager' to stop being used as a lazy synonym for crap beer. Forgive my cynicism but anyone can make an IPA, whether golden, white, black or any other colour, dump a shitload of hops into it and call it 'craft beer', but making one of the lager styles properly takes time, patience and a willingness to tie up your capital for far longer than for a warm fermented style. I have no problem with people not liking a given beer style, but sneering at an entire family of beers simply because they are lagers shows nothing more than the drinker's ignorance. From the desítkas of the Czech Republic to Polish Baltic Porters, the world of lager is vast, diverse and packed with flavour, just get out there and try stuff, you never known, you might just find that you love lager as much as I do.

What do you want to see in 2013?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Get It While It's Cold!

Yesterday I took an afternoon trip to Devils Backbone on a mission of mercy, to pick up a sixtel of Morana for a chap called Lyle who was part of the brewing day of the aforementioned libation. A quick refresh, Morana is a 14° Czech style dark lager, or Tmavé, which packs a perfectly respectable 5.8% abv punch. One thing I wasn't expecting was to get a growler of it in to the bargain, and so when I got home I opened it up and tucked straight on in...


While I was at the brewery, Jason mentioned that he thought this batch was actually better than the original, and I am inclined to agree with him. Still there is the deep mahogany colour, the bready grains and grassy Saaz goodness, the sweet juicy caramel of the CaraBohemian malt and the lingering crisp finish you expect from a lager, but new to the mix was a lovely nuttiness, like chestnuts roasted on a open fire, all you need is Jack Frost nipping at your toes, better yet while sitting next to the fire in the Devils Backbone brewpub.


This magnificence will be available at Devils Backbone tomorrow or Saturday and given the fact that the last batch was devoured in about 2 weeks, it will be gone fairly quickly I imagine. Also on tap at the brewpub, as of yesterday afternoon that is, are another couple of excellent lagers, a German Helles hopped exclusively with Hersbrucker and a red lager, brewed with English ingredients and fermented with Jason's preferred Augustiner lager yeast strain, both are delicious and very much recommended.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mmmmm.....Lager.

You know me by now, unless this is your first visit to Fuggled, in which case welcome, I am a lager drinker, nay a lover of lager. Whether it is a Bohemian Pilsner, Schwarzbier, Vienna or Baltic Porter, the lager 'family' of beers is the one I like to spend as much drinking time as possible with. That's not to say that warm fermented beers aren't wonderful as well, but just that beer that takes its own sweet time to be ready is my preferred tipple. Given a bank of taps pouring pale ales in various states of Indianess, stouts, porters, brown ales and wheat beers, if there is a solitary good lager available then I will gladly ignore everything else, even if it is super rare, super strong and aged in gorilla snot barrels.

Without being mean, any brewer can chuck more hops into the kettle, or add spices to secondary and get something that is at least drinkable, but it takes a master brewer to have the confidence to brew a great lager, such as Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, Victory Prima Pils, or Kout na ?umavě 18° (it also takes a master brewer to do the whole extra hops and spice thing well without turning the beer into a flavour mess). We can argue all day about the merits or otherwise of decoction mashing, for the record I think it makes a better beer though I know at least one of my favourite lagers is done with infusion mashing, but one thing is clear, lager is a labour of love, and if a brewery does it properly then it ties up capital and equipment for a very long time.


Take Budvar for example. I remember reading that each batch of their flagship 12° lager takes 102 days to make, from start to finish. Primary fermentation lasts 12 days and then the beer sits in the lagering tanks for 90 days, that's three months, 12 weeks (1 week for each degree of Plato as used to be the norm), just sitting around. Would most people recognise a difference if they brought it out after 60 days? Probably not, but some traditions are worth keeping regardless of what science tells us with numbers.

Brewing, any brewing, is not just about the numbers. Sure your pilsner might have a starting gravity of 1.048 (12° Plato), you might even have gone crazy and hopped it to 40 IBUs but it might still suck because there is too much alcohol from the yeast over attenuating and making it thin in the body (more alcohol is not always a good thing). Perhaps you used some high alpha hops for bittering rather than Saaz all the way through. Perhaps you didn't wait for the lager to tell you when it was ready and just pulled it from the tanks after 28 days regardless. Lager, in  my thoroughly unhumble opinion is not something to be taken lightly, and one of the reasons I brew them so infrequently is simply because I want to do them justice and I don't really have the equipment to do so.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy living in this part of Virginia, I have access to great local lager whenever I want it, made by brewers who do it properly and rightly win awards as a result.

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 ...

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