Showing posts with label old friends. Show all posts
Showing posts with label old friends. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

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 surprise for people who know how much I love going to the pub, but I am lucky that in my part of Virginia most pubs are open with restricted seating and so I can get my fix at least weekly. As a result of the changes brought about by the pandemic, I have limited my choice of boozers in Charlottesville to basically just Kardinal Hall and Beer Run, mainly because I can rely on them to have a good selection of lagers worth drinking.

Perhaps the main thing I miss is the fact that I haven't been on a business trip since last March, when I went, with much trepidation, to Austin for a conference. Usually when I travel for work, I try to fly through Atlanta, simply because I really enjoy sitting at the bar of the Gordon Biersch restaurant on concourse A. It will come as no surprise that my beer of choice when I am there is their Czech style pale lager, served in a half litre glass no less, though often served well over the half litre line, not that I am complaining...

All that is a long winded backdrop to saying, having not been through Atlanta airport for the longest time since I started my current job, I woke up one day in December with a hankering for a pint of Gordon Biersch Czech Pilsner. Said craving may have been stoked as a result of the news that they were closing down their Virginia Beach location, to which I had never made it. All was not lost though as due to the wonders of contract brewing, of which I am a fan, my craving would go satisfied by virtue of Trader Joe's. As you are likely aware, Gordon Biersch are the contract brewer behind Trader Joe's "Josephsbrau" range of central European lagers, and as I understand it, Josephsbrau PLZNR and Gordon Biersch Czech Pilsner are one and the same beer.


As is appropriate I poured a bottle and a half into my half litre Chodovar glass that I purloined from a pool hall in Prague, side note, I hate 12oz bottles for beers like this, is it really so hard to package them in the half litre that such beers warrant?


Ah the classic rich golden colour of a well made Czech style pale lager, it really is a thing most beautiful, especially when the beer is crystal clear and topped with a decent half inch of white foam. The head didn't linger as some Czech beers I have had, dissipating to a patch quilt network of bubbles that clung tenaciously to the side of the glass. The aroma was mostly grainy cereal with subtle hints of honey and fresh bread that made me wonder if there was just a touch of something like CaraBohemian in the grist somewhere. The hops also made an appearance with the spicy, hay, lemongrass notes that I have come to associate with the noblest of noble hops, Saaz. Tastewise, you should know the form by now if you have had a Czech style pale lager ever in your life, a gentle toasty character, with spicy hop flavours as a counterpoint to the malt. Very simple, very classic, very much what I expect, and enjoy.


Whether it is being sold as a Gordon Biersch or Josephsbrau beer, this is a lager that I am always happy to see in the fridge or on tap. While not rippingly bitter, it has a good firm bite to it that cleanses the palate leaving you ready for more. The bitterness is helped along by an excellent clean fermentation that gives the various elements of the beer voice. The finish is dry and with a delicate balance that reaches a high note before collapsing to that moment when another mouthful is required.

I will admit that I have a slight preference for the draught version that I enjoy when I am in Atlanta airport, for all the usual obvious reasons. Bluntly put, draught beer is better beer. Until the conference world restarts, and I am in no rush to get back to "normal" (if "normal" is really something worth getting back to), I will be more than happy to get more PLZNR from our local Trader Joe's, and at $7 a six pack, you really can't complain, unless you are the pretentious wanker type that wants a pilsner for $90 a six pack.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Old Friends: Unibroue Maudite

From time to time I wonder if I have ever really got over the fact that my parents moved back to Scotland after about 6 years living in the Haute Vienne region of France. Don't get me wrong, I am glad to have somewhere to stay when Mrs V and I go to Scotland, but I loved going to the part of France they lived in.

During our 2008 Christmas trip we went into the Leclerc supermarket in La Souterraine, as ever I made a bee line for the beer aisle, where I noticed a few bottles of beer that looked markedly different from the massed ranks of French macro pale lager. Naturally I picked up a couple of each, and some Orval, hoping to try local French craft beer. Those bottles were all Unibroue, and I didn't read the back label at first, so only at my parents' place did I learn said brews came from Canada.

From that moment on I knew that Unibroue beers would be something I would enjoy from time to time when Mrs V and I jumped over the Pond, and so it has been, though usually their tripel, La Fin du Monde. Over the years I have found my tastes shifting ever further away from big hitters, as you probably know if you follow Fuggled with any sense of regularity. Having recently been reminded that I quite like the occasional dubbel, I figured I'd resurrect the Old Friends series and get myself a 750ml bottle of Maudite, Unibroue's dubbel...


First things first, I love the fact that the label is still basically the same as it was in 2008, showing the chasse-galerie of French Canadian lore, which may, if my reading is correct, itself be a version of ancient Wild Hunt stories. Any way, the beer...


This is an interesting one when it comes to describing how it looked on pouring into my goblet because so much depended on the light. Sat looking out of a window, sunlight streaming through, the beer was a deep dark copper, with red highlights, but sit with the light behind you and it appears to be a muddy brown. Whether light is to the fore or behind, the head is slightly off white, rocky, and lingers, leaving some delicate lacing down the sides of the glass.

The aroma is dominated by spices, hardly surprising as this is a spiced ale according to the label, mostly I was getting nutmeg and ginger, with a touch of clove. It immediately put me in mind of the fruit cake recipe I make each Yuletide. Lingering among the spices was a touch of molasses. some grassy hops, and just a hint of dried fruit. All of those characteristics carried on over to the flavour department as well. The fruitcake motif was reinforced, and augmented, with prunes, brown sugar, and just a light trace of banana as it warms - I drank it at the recommended 50° but inevitably it warmed as 750ml of 8% booze is not something for chugging fresh from the fridge, unless you are a philistine of course.


Maudite is definitely on the sweeter side of the spectrum, but the hops that are there give it just enough of a scrape to make drinking the entire bottle anything but a syrupy struggle. While a hefty beer for sure the alcohol is not really all that intrusive, it could even be called dangerous as it lies well integrated in the background. Overall a lovely beer that it was delightful to spend some time with again after many years, and having re-established contact I think I'll go hang out with the accursed crew of the flying canoe again some time soon.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Old Friends: Samuel Smiths Oatmeal Stout

We are on the cusp of a proper change in season here in central Virginia.

The threat of frost has receded, and most mornings when I walk Honza, our Cairn Terrier, it is a rather pleasant 55° Fahrenheit, that's about 13° Celsius for those of you that live in the 21st Century. With the warming days and shortening nights I tend to find that I am drawn to paler beers as my beloved porters, stouts, and dark lagers are banished for these painful weeks until the Summer Solstice has passed and I feel alive again - I am a winter soul through and through.

To wave farewell for a few months, I decided to do an Old Friends post on one of my absolute favourite beers, Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout.


Samuel Smiths' beers are probably the easiest British beers to get on this side of the Pond, and our local Wegmans carries most of their range, including the Organic Lager which may feature more regularly in the coming months' drinking.

Is there an Oatmeal Stout out there that is more closely associated with the style than Sam Smith's? I honestly can't think of one, it is as synonymous for me as Guinness is with Irish Stout, Sierra Nevada with Pale Ale, and ?ywiec with Baltic Porter. So how was this most famous, and august, brew?


As you would imagine it poured as black as India ink, and interestingly, just as lustrous. Having mastered the art of pouring into a nonic glass, there was a mere half inch cap of foam that lingered for the duration of the drinking, protecting the precious liquid below. I have given up drinking Sam Smiths beers from my Sam Smiths glasses due to the etching on the bottom of the glass that creates a massive head. The aromas were exactly what you expect from a stout, coffee, chocolate, you know the deal, though I always find with this one that a trace of pipe tobacco forces it's way through the head to make you think of Gandalf the Grey enjoying the finest pipeweed in all of The Shire.

The aromatic themes, as is so often the case with stouts, carry on into the flavour department, think a slice of grannies bestest chocolate cake, served with a fine Italian espresso, then add in the silken mouthfeel of the oats and you have a luscious pint of dessert. Having, as is my wont, let the beer come up to cellar temperature, the carbonation was unobtrusive, just enough to clean the palette and leave you wanting more.

What a simply glorious way to bid farewell to the colder days of winter and early spring, though admitted I am already looking ahead to autumn's return.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Old Friends: Left Hand Milk Stout

Back in October 2012 I was laid off by the company I worked for at the time. It was 10 o'clock in the morning when I got the news that it was happening, about 30 of us were laid off that day, and so I did what any sensible person does on such an occasion, I went to the pub. OK, maybe that's a British response, but by 11am I was on pint number 3 or 4. Said pints were all Left Hand's majestic Milk Stout, one of the few beers for which I will give up my animus against nitro. In a pleasing piece of circularity, I believe the nitro version is on tap at the same pub at the moment.

Anyway, this is not about the nitro version, this is about the non-nitro version that I picked up in the store last weekend, I guess at some point I should do a side by side comparison as I believe Left Hand also do a bottled version of the nitro. Before launching in to the tasting itself, look at this from the label:


I was thrilled to see a suggested serving temperature on the label, and while I won't be buying a 'stout glass' any time soon, my pint pot being more than adequate, I am glad that Left Hand encourage drinkers to take the temperature of their beer seriously. As I mentioned in a recent post I have taken to keeping my darker ales in the wine cooler, which is set at 54°F (12°C), so this was perfect as it poured....


Beautiful, perhaps I am odd finding beauty in an inky jet black liquid, but I found this absolutely entrancing in the glass. That thinnish half inch of mocha head clunk around doggedly. From that thing of beauty came a gentle roast aroma, a toffeeish thing that reminded me of dulce de leche, or creme caramel, all backed up by a lovely spicy hop note. In terms of flavours, lots of smooth chocolate and coffee (think Gervalia brand) going on, lovely stuff. Add to the mix some toast and biscuits with a really clean hop bitterness and you have a veritable smorgasbord of happiness to deal with.


Beauty is a word that ran through this beer like words trough a stick of rock, beautiful to look at, beautiful aromas, tastes, and so beautifully balanced that even at 6% abv this is a beautiful beer to just drink and drink and drink. Even though I will happily drink the nitro version, this is much more in my wheelhouse, and that wheelhouse may just be seeing more of it this winter.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Old Friends: Samuel Adams Boston Lager

What could be a more appropriate way to mark my 1000th post on Fuggled, than to write about one of the earliest American craft beers that I remember drinking? I say 1000th post with some qualification however, as there have been 1066 posts prior to this, it's just that 67 of them were guest posts or Brewer of the Week interviews where most of the content was provided by someone else, so I am not counting them.

There was a time when Samuel Adams Boston Lager was a reliable go to beer when the place I was in had nothing better on offer, whether that be a store or a restaurant. Given the changes that having 12 month old twin sons have wrought, I hadn't drunk it in an age, we rarely go to restaurants any more, and I am brewing more of my own beer than buying stuff at the moment. Still, Boston Lager would sit on the shelves like an old flame winking seductively, and this weekend I succumbed to the temptation and bought a couple of bottles.


Pouring the two bottles into my Purkmistr half litre mug, one of my favourite glasses, it was a delightful shade of light copper or amber, with a firmish white head that lingered for a while, and no visible carbonation. Definitely still looked the part. The aroma was mainly a bready malt quality, with a bit of light toffee sweetness, balanced with grassy hops that danced merrily into floral territory as well.


Leaving behind the olfactory delights, tastewise the bready thing was there in the drinking, with a toasty edge, toast that had been schmeered with dulce de leche that is, and then there was something you hadn't noticed before, a bitterness that seemed out of place, like singed sugar, acrid, distracting, not something you remember, absence may have made the heart grow fonder.


The sugary sweetness definitely dominated here, and given the fact that I am very regular lager drinker a couple of things were missing, bitterness and the clean snap of a well lagered beer. So entirely absent were they that the beer was basically unpalatably sweet and syrupy. I don't remember Boston Lager being so entirely meh, perhaps my tastes have changed? Perhaps the beer was been "re-formulated" to make it "smoother" (brewery code for making a beer bland as all hell by ditching the bittering hops)? Whatever it was, the daliance was a disappointment, and not one I plan to repeat again any time in the near future.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Old Friends: Alewerks Tavern Brown Ale

The brown ale kick shows no sign of abating, at least not in the immediate future, especially given my next homebrew project is to make another batch of my own nut brown ale.

What seems like an interminably long time ago these days, Mrs V and I went for a weekend to Williamsburg in 2010 to mark our 5th anniversary of meeting in a boozer in Prague. Williamsburg was the colonial capital of Virginia, home of the College of William & Mary, (yes, the Glorious Revolution William and Mary), and all round delightful little place to visit for history nerds like myself. We also took some time to head out to an industrial estate and try the beers from Williamsburg Alewerks, these days simply known as Alewerks Brewing Company.


Alewerks' beer regularly shows up in my annual Top 10 Virginia Beers lists, and their Weekend Lager is something that I am always happy to see on tap in the Charlottesville area, and even happier when the first glass is placed in front of me. My first Alewerks crush though was their Tavern Brown Ale, a beer I first had in August 2010 in a pub near Starr Hill Brewing, where I worked in the tasting room at the time, and it was a revelation. At the time I described it as:
wonderfully smooth and tasty, a great beer for sitting on the balcony in the autumn chill and just watching the sun go down over the turning leaves.
Once again the leaves are turning, and while I didn't sit on the deck, I did sit looking out over the deck to the woods at the back of my property, past the garden where the chickens are making a wonderful stab at eating the weeds and clearing out the raised beds.


Anyway, on to the beer itself, which was a couple of bottles stashed at 54°F for a few days. Poured into my Timothy Taylor pint pot, perhaps my current favourite glass. The beer was a deep garnet, with flashes of dark copper around the edges, the small, tan head dissipated rather quickly, and I have to admit that at one point I didn't think I was going to have much foam in the glass at all. The aroma department was dominated by tangy sourdough bread, unsweetened cocoa, and hazelnuts, there were some traces of toffee and caramel, but not much going on hop wise. The bready, nutella theme carried on when drinking the liquid itself, with some added caramelised oranges and spicy hop bite that reminded me of cinnamon chucked into the mix for good measure.

I thoroughly enjoyed Tavern Brown Ale again, and I think pouring it at 54°F as opposed to the usual chill of a beer straight from the fridge accentuated the complexity, making it a more pleasurable drinking experience. The word that kept running through my head as I drained my pint was that this was a "satisfying" beer, complex, balanced, and moreish, the kind of beer that you thoroughly enjoy drinking. It may just have made itself a front runner to be the Fuggled Dark Beer of 2018.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Old Friends: Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale

One of my favourite days of the year is fast approaching, the September equinox. The equinox marks the proper end of summer and the onset of cooler temperatures, nights slowing drawing in, and taking the dog for a walk in the gloom. Autumn and winter have always been my favourite seasons, I am not much of one for heat, and even less so when that heat is overload with lashings of humidity. I am one of the few people I know that would be perfectly happy in Narnia, pre-Aslan overthrowing Queen Jadis that is.

The last few days here in central Virginia have been rather dreich, which is actually far more welcome than the possibility we were looking at this time last week, when Hurricane Florence was forecast to batter the Commonwealth. So, in the midst of all this rain, and with the boys settled for the night, I cracked open my latest old friend beer, Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale.


Samuel Smith's is surely one of the least fashionable breweries on the planet, and a nut brown ale quite possibly the apogee of old man uncool, yet they make magnificent beer for which they are rightly lauded. In common with all the other beers I have chosen for an "old friends" post it was the realisation that it had been so long since I last had Nut Brown Ale that prompted me to pick up a half litre bottle while doing the weekly shop recently.

When I say recently, I mean a couple of weeks ago. For some reason the last couple of weekends have been pretty light on the booze front, I've enjoyed a few pints with lunch but when the evening comes and the boys are put to bed, I haven't fancied anything at all, and so the bottle sat. Thankfully said sitting was in our wine fridge, that's an official term given it has a ratio of 7:1 beer to wine in it, at a steady 54°F - perfect cellar temperature.


As I poured it into one of my Sam Smith's pint glasses, an annual treat to myself is a mix pack that comes with a glass and a few beer mats, a couple of things came to mind. Firstly, clear beer is a beautiful sight, and this was absolutely crystal clear. Secondly, that it was much lighter in reality than in the crevices of memory, where I expected a deep milk chocolate brown there was a shining polished mahogany, with flashes of auburn chestnut. God, this is a thing of beauty. The half inch of ivory foam that remained after I had scraped a knife across the rim lingered, and lingered, just sitting there like an obedient dog.

It's all good and well for a beer to look the part, ultimately it comes down to smell and taste, and Nut Brown is laden with subtle cocoa aromas, earthy hops, and a trace of coffee in there for good measure. Most of the aromas carry on over into the taste department, to be joined by something not unlike a slightly singed piece of toast with a spoon of rich dark honey on top, which tasted far better than it sounds. The malt definitely dominates here, but there is enough bitterness to ensure the beer doesn't cloy.


Nut Brown really was a wonderful beer for a dreich evening, smooth, comforting, autumnal, it was great to get re-aquainted and remind myself what fine company this is. As I sat looking out of the window at the rain pattering on the deck, I realised that brown ales have been scarce in the Velkyal household of late, that needs to change.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Old Friends: Guinness Draught vs Murphy's

Stout was probably my first beer love. Guinness was my first legal beer, when the other options at the Dark Island Hotel on my 18th birthday were Tennent's Lager or Newcastle Brown Ale. I literally chose Guinness because that was what my eldest brother drank, he is also the reason I love The Smiths, Madness, and The Jam, as well as know how to read the form at a bookies for the horse racing (hot tip, if a horse has come 4th in its two previous outings it's worth an each way bet as often a pair of fourth place finished is followed by a first). He has much to answer for.


When I eventually left the Hebrides for the mainland, I found myself drinking almost exclusively in Oirish pubs, they had Guinness you see, and usually Caffrey's as well, which was my back up. I don't recall where I had my first Murphy's, but I liked it immediately, as I did Beamish, and the much lamented (in Velkyal world at least) Gillespie's - my tipple on Friday nights at the bowling alley in Inverness. Oh yes, we knew how to live large in the 1990s Highlands....


I recently bought a four pack of Murphy's on a whim, basically it was reasonably priced, a recurring theme in my beer life at the moment - seriously, prices for self consciously 'craft' beer are getting out of hand. I polished off all four cans in a single sitting, watching the most recent Star Wars film and decided to do an Old Friends post comparing it to Guinness, so here goes...


As expected the Guinness poured black, with deep fire ruby highlights at the edge of my dimpled mug, the classic white nitro foam cascaded its way to about three quarters of an inch and then lingered for the duration, it looked as a pint of Guinness is expected to look. Forcing it's way through that shaving foam cap on the beer were lightly roasty aromas and a bit of grainy bread character too. It sounds like a disparagement in some ways, but it's not really, it tasted like Guinness and if you don't know what Guinness tastes like then when you finish reading this, go drink some. All the elementes were there, coffee, roastiness, and a bit of a hop bite to snap you back to attention, the bitterness of the hops accentuated by the bitterness of roasted grains. I was actually quite surprised at how light bodied the beer was, not watery at all, but more medium light than medium, maybe that's a nitro thing, maybe it's the Draught in general, and maybe it's me being too used to drinking Guinness Extra Stout as my go to Guinness.


On then to the Murphy's, which poured jet black, dark brown at the edges, and this time the nitro cascade left a good three quarter inch of dense beige head. Through the foam came aromas of cocoa, a touch of graininess, and that classic stout roastiness that you just kind of expect. Tastewise we are again in classic stout territory, roasted grains, light coffee, a biscuity character, and also some subtle unsweetened cocoa. The Murphy's has the medium body I was expecting ans an almost velvety mouthfeel that makes for smooth drinking. It is a really nicely balanced, satisfying pint.

So there we go, 2 classic stouts, 2 rather different tastes. I think that the Murphy's is my preference really, say it quietly but it was just a more satisfying pint than the Guinness Draught. I am sure though that both will continue to be regular visitors to the Velkyal fridge as I indulge my love of the black stuff, which reminds me, I need to finish my keg of homebrew stout to make room for my next keg of best bitter...

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Old Friends: Bell's Two Hearted Ale

When Mrs V and I do our weekly shop we generally go to the local Wegman's, which conveniently also has a pub, imaginatively called 'The Pub'. Often, with the groceries in the car, and the twins in need of a feed, we'll decide to have food and a pint there while we're in the vicinity. It was sitting in The Pub, and feeling thoroughly uninspired by the beer selection, that I plumped for the least uninspiring option, a beer I hadn't drunk in many, many years, Bell's Two Hearted Ale.

Once upon a time, in my early days of living in Virginia, it was one of my favourite beers, indeed I had four pints of it at Court Square Tavern the night before I was due in hospital to have a huge deep vein thrombosis removed from my leg (it was almost the length of my leg!). Being something of a non-IPA drinker these days, I expected to struggle my way through and be reminded of why IPAs are not my thing. I was wrong, I loved it, and so resolved to get a couple of bottles to include in my ongoing Old Friends series.


Last Saturday was a gloriously sunny day in central Virginia, the trees are starting to blossom, there are birds making their migratory way through the Commonwealth, and it was actually warm enough to sit outside on the deck with a beer. The brightness shone through the orange copper of the beer, the half inch of white foam seemed to glint in the sunlight.


The aroma was everything you would expect from an American IPA, pine resin and grapefruit up front and central, but there is also some spiciness in there too, with just enough malt character to remind you that you are smelling beer rather than industrial cleaning products. That upfront piney tang is right there in the drinking as well, coupled with a bracing pithy bitterness that scrapes away what toffee sweetness the malt lends the beer, leaving you wanting another mouthful.


Drinking Two Hearted is almost like time travel (and there is a such an obvious Whovian tie-in there), back to an era when beer tasted like beer. I know some folks don't like that phrase, but I have found that regardless of style, there is an almost meta flavour that is the essential interplay of malt and hops that is beer. This is an old school American style IPA, and it is all the better for it. No fripperies like fruit juice, no daft shit like only late hopping, this is a classic from the days when craft beer was actually about beer rather than envelope pushing and putting silly shit into mash tun, kettle, or fermentation vessel. That reason alone is why Two Hearted stands, and will continue to stand, the test of time, it is a proper beer.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Old Friends: Devils Backbone Vienna Lager

I am going to make an assumption with this post, namely that you have been reading Fuggled for a while and thus it will come as no surprise to you that I am a devotee of lager. There is just something about most lager styles that I find appealing, given a choice between some trendy glitter bomb juicy IPA and a pint of Miller Lite, I am likely to take the Miller Lite more often than not.

When Mrs V and I made the move from Prague to central Virginia we knew that finding a good local lager was high on our list of priorities. For a while we bounced around Blue Mountain's Classic Lager, Starr Hill's Jomo Lager, and the beer that is today's Old Friend, Devils Backbone Vienna Lager. Eventually Vienna Lager won the day and became my standard lager in the fridge. I really can't think why I stopped keeping a six pack of it in the fridge, probably something to do with the well made contract brewed lagers that I could buy at Trader Joe's.

Being a central European style lager, it seemed only right to pour it into my half litre mug from the lovely Purkmistr in Plzeň that I got at the first Slunce ve Skle festival a decade ago. What a glorious deep copper beer with orange edges and half inch of off-white head that leaves a fine tracery of lacing down the glass.


I had forgotten just how much I loved the aroma of Vienna Lager, laden with a smell that I can only describe as like large amounts of honey spread on freshly toasted bread. Floating around in the background is a lovely floral hoppiness that reminded me of walking in the Czech mountains in the height of summer, side note I have always loved the Czech word for flowers, 'kyti?ky'.


Anyway, before I lapse into a Bohemian revelry, we should actually drink the beer, that is after all the whole point of this most wonderful of liquids. Teacakes, that's what I get, teacakes freshly taken out of the oven, spread with more honey, and then snaffled with all the delight of an illicit, though simple, pleasure. There is a light citrusy bitterness to the beer that gives the beer a balance that makes it thoroughly moreish.


That thing I mentioned earlier about there being something about most lagers that I find appealing, it is the clean bite that comes with a well made, properly lagered beer. The best way I can think of to describe the perception I am thinking of is that it is a tight snap that leaves the palate waiting for more. Drinkability, that is ultimately what love about lager styles, I find them more drinkable than many of their top fermented cousins.

With it being Friday, I might just swing by the shop and pick up a 6 pack of Vienna Lager to enjoy this evening once the boys have gone down for the night...every prospect pleases.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Old Friends: Starr Hill Northern Lights

Many moons ago, when Fuggled was in its infancy, Mrs Velkyal and I were still living in Prague, and a night out on the lash didn't cost me an arm and leg, a friend brought me a bottle of beer from a brewery called Starr Hill. The beer in question was simply called Pale Ale, and I wrote about it here. Fast forward a few months and Mrs V and I had made the transition across the Pond, a night out on the lash cost me an arm and a leg, and I was working for the very same Starr Hill Brewery, spending my weekends behind the bar at their tasting room.

Back then in the dim and distant days of the late noughties, I actually quite liked the occasional IPA, and given the employee perk of a pay day case of beer, I quite often drank Starr Hill's IPA, Northern Lights, and I quite liked it. Sure, I preferred Dark Starr Stout, but a pint of Northern Lights was a regular sight.Come the beginning of 2015 I decided to move on from Starr Hill and start enjoying 2 day weekends without any work, and as a result I drank less and less of their beer. When thinking about beers to include in my Old Friends series, it made sense to include some Starr Hill stuff, and Northern Lights seemed the obvious choice, so I bought a couple of 12oz bottles as part of a build your own six pack, and poured them into my imperial pint dimpled mug...


I have to admit to almost reveling in an IPA that poured as beautifully clear as Northern Lights, a light copper liquid topped with a good half inch of white foam that lingered resolutely and left a delicate lacing down the sides of the glass.


The aroma was classic American style IPA, redolent with pine resin, positively dripping with grapefruit, and just a hint of herbal dankness in the background, it was like time travel. Tastewise the citrus and pine flavours from the hops where upfront and centre, but being an East Coast IPA there was a sweet toffee note that lent an element of balance. Being a more old school IPA, the bitterness was very much there, firm, bracing, and everything a bitter beer should be, lovers of NEIPA need not apply here for sure.


With each mouthful, and a quick 4oz top up on the 20oz pint glass, the bitterness built, like the layers of hand dipped candles. With an ABV of 5.3%, Northern Lights isn't going to knock you on your arse, but the booze is well integrated and doesn't detract from the interplay of hop bitterness and malt sweetness. Northern Lights is an old school East Coast IPA, but in a good way, a bracingly bitter beer that deserves revisiting by many.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Old Friends: Fuller's ESB

Wandering around the shop yesterday getting the weekly necessaries, I got thinking about what beer I wanted to buy. I have plenty of beer in the cellar at the moment, but most of it is dark, porters, stouts, that kind of stuff, there was very little pale beer, and no lager (purely because lager gets drunk pretty quickly in my house as I love the stuff). Usually when we go to our preferred supermarket we do our booze shopping last as the wine and beer sections are in the back corner. I have a confession to make, I am really bad about trying new beers and breweries at the moment, mainly because it is difficult to place any faith in the consistency and quality of many of the start up breweries flooding the shelves. Anyway, looking at the shelves of British beer available there were so many familiar names, but beers that I had not tried in goodness knows how long, and thus is the genesis of this new series on Fuggled, "Old Friends".

I almost picked up a four pack of London Pride, a beer I know well and enjoy drinking reasonably often. Between the stash of Pride and London Porter were a pair of ESB four packs, so I checked the best before date (a sad necessity in these parts) and took home the one pack that was still within the freshness range. It had been years since I had last indulged in a pint of Fuller's ESB, and that was on draft one homebrew club night many moons ago. Extra Special Bitter, as a style rather than the Fuller's brand in particular here, is one that gets brewed relatively often by American breweries, and even though it is part of the bitter family, I am much more of a best bitter drinker, and quite often leave the ESBs I see alone. Anyway, on to the ur-ESB...


As I said, it had been a long time since my last pint of Fuller's ESB, so for some reason best known only to the recesses of my memory I was mildly surprised at the beautiful copper colour of the beer as it sat in my freshly cleaned nonic imperial pint glass. I remember having a similar feeling when I had a few pints of cask London Pride in Inverness a couple of years back, why did I think they would be darker than that? I loved the colour, especially in the late winter sunlight streaming through the doors to our deck, with a schmeer of off white foam, every prospect pleased.

There are some breweries whose beer have a distinctive smell and Fullers is one of them. For some folks the familiarity of that aroma and taste has bred contempt, I find it deeply comforting as I know when I smell a Fullers beer it will be a good beer. The aroma is that of marmelade made with Seville oranges, citrusy, lightly floral and with traces of crystalised sugar. Tastewise, again that marmelade character is evident, though it is not overly sweet, being balanced with pithy hop bite that cleans the palate and leaves you ready for more.


Goodness me what a lovely beer I had been neglecting all these years, perhaps in part because of the 5.9% ABV, which while not strong (the average for core range beers in Central VA is about 6.5%), is a good 20% stronger than most beers I drink regularly. I still have a couple of bottles in the fridge, but they'll be gone soon enough, and I imagine ESB will be finding it's way more often in to my drinking life again, though more as an evening indulgence, perhaps while reading or watching something on Netflix once the twins have fallen asleep and Mrs V and I have an hour or so to ourselves of adult time. It'll be a welcome addition to the routine...

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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