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

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, May 11, 2016

Morana Unleashed

Last night I met up with Jason from Devils Backbone for a pint, or two, of his new rye Maibock that was being released at Kardinal Hall, a very nice beer it is as well. Naturally we discussed many things beer, including ideas for forthcoming brewing projects together, and I also learnt that Friday is the release date for the current batch of Morana, which I posted about on Monday.

I realise this is of more interest for Stateside folks than for my friends in Europe, but if you're in the vicinity of the Devils Backbone Basecamp sometime in the next few weeks drop in and give Morana a try.


If you've never had a Czech style dark lager before, called "tmavé" or "?erné" in Czech (assuming that the following word is 'pivo' that is - ah the joys of Czech grammar), then this would be a great opportunity to type of beer not well known on these shores. I tend to tell people that it kind of a middle ground between a Munich Dunkel and a Schwarzbier, though as with any analogy that's not a perfect rule.


As I mentioned in my last post, Morana is very much inspired by the 14° tmavé speciální from Kout na ?umavě, and I would go as far to say that if Evan Rail, Max Bahnson, or even the guys from Kout itself had the opportunity to try it, they would approve heartily.

So...Friday is coming, and the beer will be flowing. No doubt I'll get down there at some point to fill a growler or two for another afternoon on the chez Velkyal front porch.

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...

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hail to the Goddess!

Yesterday, as I went about my business, I got a notification on my phone to tell me that someone had left a message on my Facebook timeline. Said someone was Jason Oliver, head brewer of Devils Backbone, one of my favourite brewing folks in this neck of the woods and overseer of one of Virginia's best breweries (I am biased but I think central VA has a far higher concentration of quality breweries than anywhere else in this commonwealth). Said notification was to let me know that they had re-brewed Morana and that it would be available sometime in May.


A quick reminder. Morana is a Czech style dark lager, or tmavé pivo, inspired by the magnificent 14° tmavé from Kout na ?umavě. Jason and I first brewed back Morana in 2010, and again in 2012. She, for the numbers geeks, has about 25 IBUs of good old Saaz hoppiness, and packs a 5.3% abv punch, lagers for between 45 and 60 days, and tastes simply wonderful, as my notes from the second batch attest:
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.


To say I looking forward to seeing her again would be an understatement, I am positively thrilled at the thought of heading down to Roseland for an afternoon of drinking, and filling growlers to bring home.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In Mysterium

If you happen to be in Nelson County in the coming days, and happen to have a sudden craving for good food and beer to warm and cheer the heart, be sure to stop by Devils Backbone.



Of course, dropping by Devils Backbone for good food and fine beer is an excellent idea at any time of the year when in the Nelson County area, when then do I mention the next few days?

Last night I got an email from Jason telling me that the last keg of the batch of Morana we brewed back in the winter is now on the mystery tap.



Unfortunately I won't be getting out that way in the next little while, and due to some medical stuff I can't drink for 10 days. But what I can do is to encourage you, dear reader to venture forth and enjoy.

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.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Again She Rises!

It gets dark reasonably early these days, I say 'reasonably' because as a child growing up in the Outer Hebrides the sun would set at about half past three in the depths of winter. I am a big fan of winter, I love the cold, the dark and the opportunity to wear my lambswool sweaters and tweed cap every day, I also love, as if you needed telling, the dark beers that seem to be required drinking at this time of the year.

A couple of years ago I went to Devils Backbone for a day to brew a tmavy, or dark lager, which we named for an old Slavic goddess called Morana.

Morana, just one of several spellings, is the goddess of death and and winter in the pre-Christian Slavic traditions, though traces of her cult linger on in modern day Czech Republic through the annual tradition of ?arodějnice, or Witch Burning Night. Each spring, on April 30th, effigies of witches are burnt in the Czech Republic to symbolise the defeat of winter, prior to the coming of Christianity with Saints Cyril and Methodius, those effigies were of Morana.

In Poland the effigy of Morana, known there as Marzanna, is burnt and then drowned, there the effigy is:
a large figure of a woman made from various rags and bits of clothing which is thrown into a river on the first day of the spring calendar. Along the way, she is dipped into every puddle and pond ... Very often she is burned along with herbs before being drowned and a twin custom is to decorate a pine tree with flowers and colored baubles to be carried through the village by the girls. There are of course many superstitions associated with the ceremony: you can't touch Marzanna once she's in the water, you can't look back at her, and if you fall on your way home you're in big trouble. One, or a combination of any of these can bring the usual dose of sickness and plague.
—Tom Galvin, "Drowning Your Sorrows in Spring", Warsaw Voice 13.544, March 28, 1999
Yesterday I was down at Devils Backbone again, to perform the ancient rite of brewing in order to resurrect Morana, she should be back in time for the Winter Solstice, get your growlers ready!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

600 Not Out

Back in November 2009 I marked the 300th post of Fuggled. At that point I had been in the States a matter of months, and so, obviously, it was a somewhat reflective piece about the fine people I had met as a result of this blog and was heavily Prague centred.

Almost 2 years have passed since that post, and this post is my 600th. In that time I have drunk a lot of beer, brewed and fair bit of beer and learnt a hell of a lot more about beer. From having deep discussions on the merits or otherwise of decoction mashing with Tom Cizauskas and Eric of Relentless Thirst fame, to being sat on the terrace at Devils Backbone on a breezy yet sunny spring day, beer has been the focal point of so many of the good times since moving the States. It is through my homebrewing that I have come to know the many fine people at the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale homebrew club, and through their advice and opinion I like to believe that I have become a better brewer myself. One thing I can say that seems to be a transnational fact, beer people are by and large good people.



My brewing highlights of the last two years have all taken place in the very same building, again Devils Backbone. The first time, Jason was brewing a pilsner based on research into the original recipe and done properly - triple decoction mash, 100% Saaz hops to get 40IBU and water softer than ice cream with sun stroke. We had a great day, and Jason brewed a great Pilsner, I can give no higher accolade than to say if I had been served it in Pivovarsky klub it would not have been out of place with the great Czech lagers of this world.

The second time I brewed at Devils Backbone was probably the highlight of my beer life so far. During the pilsner brewday Jason and I kept coming back to the topic of Tmavé pivo, or Czech dark lager. Neither a dunkel nor a schwarzbier and descended from warm fermented beers made in Bohemia as late as the 1890s, tmavé is one of the unique beer styles of Bohemia that I believe is misunderstood outside the Czech lands. We agreed then to brew our own version of the beer, and it was up to me to do the research and eventually formulate a recipe. So I trawled through websites in Czech, Slovak and German, looking for clues to the makeup of the grist - the hops were something of a no-brainer really, 100% Saaz. I contacted brewmasters in the Czech Republic who were very helpful and eventually Jason and I finalised the recipe. Brewing my own recipe on professional equipment, with a master of lager brewing was an awesome day, and when some 2 months later I went down to the brewpub to try the beer I was blown away, and about 3 weeks later all 2000 half litres of Morana were gone.


I always enjoy those days when I get to brew with Jason. Brewing with Jason and Ron Pattinson when we recreated a London dark lager from the 1930s was just as immense. Talking with Ron about beer history and beer styles is like having a walking encyclopaedia with you. I learnt shed loads of stuff that day, and we drank some great beers made as a result of his work. You can imagine then that a cask of the Barclays London Dark Lager going off to the Great British Beer Festival and getting good feedback was something that had me buzzing for days.

Another of the highlights in the life of Fuggled is the Brewer of the Week series, and I want to thank every brewer that has agreed to take part, and perhaps a gentle reminder to those who said they would and have yet to get their answers back to me.

So here I am, 600 not out and with no intention to declare for a while to come....

BTW - it seems today is a day for marking the longevity of blogs as Mark over at Pencil and Spoon is celebrating 3 years of his blog, as is Dave from Hardknott Brewery two guys whose blogs are always worth reading!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Get It While You Can

On that crisp December day when I pottered down to Devils Backbone to see the culmination of months of researching, chatting with brewing contacts back in Prague, looking at malt specifications from the Czech Republic and Germany, and discussing all things tmavé with anyone daft enough to listen to me, I felt an immense sense of satisfaction that the beer Jason and I had discussed when brewing the Pilsner was finally coming to life.

When February 1st eventually arrived, and Morana had lain for nearly 45 days in the lagering tanks, that first pint was a revelation. Jason had masterfully realised my vision of a faithful Czech style dark lager, one that is neither dunkel nor schwarzbier. Every pint I have had in the 15 days since then has been an absolute delight, so enjoyable in fact that I keep forgetting to write notes or take pictures.

On Monday, Jason sent me an email to let me know that in 2 weeks, they had sold half the batch - which equated to about 4.5 hectolitres, or 900 half litres of beer. 900 half litres in 14 days, 64 pints a day. As I was in the area yesterday, really a 25 minute detour counts as being "in the area", I popped in to re-fill a growler and have a couple of pints. In the hour or so I was sat at the bar, at least two more growlers were filled with Morana, and several people had pints.

The moral of this tale is simply this. Get to Devils Backbone before it is gone. I would say you have about ten days.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pub Induced Blogitis

I wonder how many of you were expecting to see a picture of Devils Backbone's Morana Dark Lager, which went on sale yesterday, accompanied by my waxing lyrical about the colour, texture, taste and all round wonderfulness of the beer? Well, yes I was kind of expecting that myself but then the thing that I love most about beer kicked into gear last night. Drinking the stuff, with mates and having a damned fine time.

If it were possible to get air miles for the distances a conversation goes, we would be well stocked after last night, having jaunted from CVille to Fredericksburg, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Belarus, Philadelphia, the UK and many points beyond and between. Sat with the Backbone's head brewer Jason, Mrs Velkyal, my Pocket Pub Guide collaborator Mark, and Dan, formerly of CVille Beer Geek - the company was as excellent as the brew.

Sure it doesn't make for fascinatingly insightful blog posts, but it is what beer is actually all about. Drinking with mates in the pub. Oh and the beer is good, seriously good, I have 2 growlers in the fridge, so you'll get your pictures and lyrical waxings at some point. I know this advert is for whiskey rather than beer, but it sums up pretty well how I feel about the pub.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Arise Morana!

For nearly 45 days she has slumbered, this goddess of death and winter. Her time is nigh, to come forth from the darkness of slumbering into the glorious light of a Devils Backbone glass.

Yes, tomorrow is the day when Morana Dark Lager makes its debut. The beer itself is a 14° Czech tmavé, a style of beer which is neither a dunkel nor a schwarzbier.

Historically speaking, most beer in Bohemia was warm fermented until the revolution started by Josef Groll's introduction of Bavarian brewing techniques in 1842, resulting in the creation of Pilsner. So in contrast to Franconia and Bavaria, there was no tradition of dark lager on which pale lager built. The dark beers of Bohemia switched to cold fermentation some time in the late 19th century, hundreds of years later than the Germans were making dunkel and schwarzbier.

So if you want to try an authentic Czech style tmavé, made with a double decoction mash, water that is softer than Plzeň and of course only Saaz hops, then Devils Backbone is the place to be in the near future. Personally speaking, I will be there tomorrow for dinner - hopefully with my Pub Guide collaborator Mark Stewart, and most definitely with growlers to fill.

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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