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

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Perfect 10

A pub. Green tablecloths draped over dark wooden tables. Beermats propped up between the salt and pepper shakers. Above the wooden wainscoting, black and white photos of the pub being on the front line of a rebellion against the Nazis, or the Communists, who knows? Working men, smoking, talking, drinking. The barman taking minutes to pour each glass of beer, the server whisking them to tables, seemingly without being asked. The beer, slightly hazy yellow, topped with a solid white foam, gone in four mouthfuls, replaced by the server with a fresh one.

The pub I am thinking of here is U slovanské lipy, in the ?i?kov district of Prague, as I remember it before leaving the Czech Republic for my current sojourn in Virginia. U slovanské lipy was, at the time, probably my favourite place to drink, utterly unpretentious, down to earth, and serving what I, to this day, think of as the height of Czech pale lager, Kout na ?umavě's magnificent desítka, or 10° lager.

All of those memories came flooding back last Saturday while I was at Devils Backbone brewing up the 16°polotmavé, which we decided to call 'Granát', and sampled their new beer called Czech 10, which as the name suggests is a Czech style 10° pale lager.

Brewed to 10° Plato, obviously, this delight of a beer has an abv of 4.3%, and if memory serves me rightly 35 IBUs of pure Saaz joy. So painfully simple, so perfectly done, just this one half pint from the lagering tank was a joy. A billowingly soft, almost pillow like, malt characteristic dances like Fred and Ginger with the lemon and hay of Saaz, coming to a firm crisp snap of a finish.

It is a mighty fine beer, and it is being release on tap today at the Devils Backbone Basecamp brewpub, so I am sure you can guess where I will be this afternoon, filling growlers.

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.

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 name is Velky Al, and I'm a Lagerboy.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Drinking a Shiftload

Friday afternoon was a case of finish work, swing by the old apartment to pick up some bits and pieces in preparation for having satellite internet installed and then a quick jaunt to the store to buy ingredients for baking as Mrs V had the urge to make cupcakes.

As is my habit I went straight for the beer aisle, which is reasonable in the Giant we shop in, and will continue to shop in as it is on the way home. Their selection is pretty diverse, serveral Samuel Adams' products, a couple of Sierra Nevada, plenty of Starr Hill, nothing that would have the hardened hophead racing over, but plenty for those of us who like to drink good beer whilst avoiding the de riguer tongue rape of whatever colour and multiple of IPA we are on these days. Nestled in amongst the selection are a few brands from New Belgium, the ubiquitous Fat Tire, Ranger IPA and as a four pack of cans, Shift Pale Lager. The choice was easy.

Lager, as I am sure you well know, is my thing. I love lager, I think the best brewers are the ones that make tasty lager, and thankfully in this neck of the woods we have 3 brewers of very fine lagers. I knew what I was getting into with Shift because on the day we closed the contract for the house, Mrs V, myself and Mrs V's running partner went out aboozing to celebrate, and the bar we went to had Shift in cans, so I had a few.

One of the things I liked straight off the bat with Shift was that New Belgium weren't trying to pass it off as a Pilsner, but I also liked the firm hop bitterness which subtley avoids being harsh and reminded me of the best Pilsners. You realise by that by "best" I mean "Czech"? Of course you do, you are a suave, sophiscated, worldly person, whatever was I thinking? The hops in question are Target, Nelson Sauvin, Liberty and Cascade, and they work wonderfully well together.

According to the marketing waffle on the packaging, which was cardboard rather than those duck strangling plastic things, Shift is the beer the guys at New Belgium drink when they come to the end of their alloted hours of employment. While I wouldn't call it a session beer, at 5% it is just a touch outside the boundaries for that, it is definitely a beer you can sit and have a few of. Just an aside, when I say "session" I am thinking of having at least 6 imperial pints, 3 pints is popularly known as "lunch".

I can see Shift becoming something of a regular in the fridge, especially for unwinding from a week of work on a Friday evening, preferably when it isn't hotter than Satan's horns outside and we can sit on the deck without developing a case of sympathy with the pains of the fried egg.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Gap in the Market?

A couple of Saturdays ago I was working in the Tasting Room at Starr Hill Brewery. To cut a long story short, one of the visitors to that brewery that day was someone I went to school with in the Outer Hebrides - he was a couple of years ahead of me but it turns out we share a few Facebook friends, and he is in the USA for a few months. Needless to say I was flabbergasted, you really don't expect to meet people from South Uist when you are doing your one day a month stint behind the Tasting Room bar.

Over the weekend just gone we met up a couple of times for beer, on Friday night we went to Beer Run and then yesterday afternoon we were out at the Timberwood Grill. Naturally we talked about the beer that he liked, and the pubs he ran when he lived in London, and those conversations got me to thinking that there is a very obvious gap in the craft beer industry, non-premium lagers. Essentially, very few of the up and coming craft brewers, and even fewer of the older microbreweries make low alcohol, session lagers (interesting thing to note, the term "craft beer" meant nothing to my friend, but microbrewery was instantly recognisable).

Of course in countries like the Czech Republic, lager isn't really all that strong to begin with. Pilsner Urquell for example fits very handily in Lew Bryson's definition of a session beer, at 4.4% abv. Many of the standard everyday lagers of Bohemia and Moravia are 4%. The fact that a pale lager with less than 4.5% abv can be tastier and more satisfying than something like an "Imperial Pilsner" (a total sham concept) is only noteworthy to those who have no real appreciation of the golden drop.

So where are the craft session lagers? Samuel Adams does a reasonably drinkable light lager which weighs in at a mere 4.07% and for widely available craft lagers, that's about it really. I am not sure about the lager scene in the UK, though I believe there are a few breweries making session strength lagers.

For all the growth in the craft beer industry, and the stagnating of sales for the macros, the fact remains that the most commonly drunk beer on the planet is pale, session strength lager. Bud Light, regardless of your opinion on the taste, is the best selling beer in the US, with 16% of the market, for a comparison, Samuel Adams has just 0.9% of the market when you add together all their brands.

There is a huge thirst out there for pale lagers but where are the craft pale lagers, the craft pilsners which are less than 4.4% abv? It's all good and well to be self-congratulatory and be "sticking it to the man" by drinking your 10% imperial stout aged on your grannies corset strings or some such, but if the big boys are truly going to be afraid of craft brewers then perhaps taking flavourful pale lagers to the guys sitting in the pubs and bars is the way to go?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Oh for crying out loud!!

Love 'em or hate 'em, beer styles are part and parcel of life for the beer aficionado. Styles should be a product of a communal consensus as to what makes, for example, a stout a stout rather than a porter, and while I sympathise with those who see limited value in styles, they do give a frame of reference, a sitz im leben if you want to get hermeneutic, for what are the accepted parameters for a beer.

The one thing though that makes me rant and rave about beer styles is when beers are misplaced within the beer category world. Take for example the current edition of All About Beer, which I pick up from time to time at my local Barnes and Noble. This edition has a "Buyer's Guide for Beer Lovers" about the many varied strains of lager out there on the market place, such styles as "pale lager", "pilsner" (I promise not to get into provenance and authenticity here), as well as a few bock variants.

Gripe number 1 is putting Primátor Premium Lager in the pale lager category, while Staropramen Lager apparently belongs in the pilsner category. Now, those of us who know something of the Czech brewing scene, and if I am mistaken I am sure emails will be arriving fairly quickly, will know that when a brewery from outside Plzen labels their beer "premium", then you can be fairly sure that it is their 12o version of the original, especially when said brewery also has a lower gravity lager available.

Gripe 2, when giving a history lesson, please, please, please get your history right. When describing the Baltic Porter category, apparently "traditional lager-making breweries along the export route [from the UK to Russia] developed their own version of the style". Firstly, the style was developed in the UK and was picked up as a top fermented beer in the 18th century by brewers on the route. It wasn't until many breweries switched over to bottom fermenting in the second half of the 19th century that Baltic Porter became a predominantly "lager" style beer, though some places still make it as a top fermented ale, mostly in Sweden.

Gripe 3 - this is a quote from a review for Colorado K?lsch, which describes k?lsch as being a "response to the popular pilsners being produced in the Czech Republic in the 1840s". Historically speaking, bollocks, bollocks and more bollocks. There was only 1 pilsner being brewed in Bohemia in the 1840s, strangely it was a beer called Pilsner, from the town of Pilsen, to use the name of the city at the time. There were no doubt other lagers aplenty, but only one pilsner. Secondly, there was no Czech Republic in the 1840s, there was Bohemia, a multi-ethnic part of the Austrian Empire (the Austro-Hungarian bit turned up in 1867), the Czech Republic however didn't exist until 1993 to be strict about these things.

My last gripe, or rather the last gripe that I will share with you good people, came from the regional winners of the USBTC winner for the "Bitter/ESB" category in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast region. The beer in question is one I have written about before, Starr Hill's Pale Ale. Now, Starr Hill Pale Ale is a perfectly decent pale ale, it has plenty of the citrus hoppiness you would expect from a pale ale made in the US - anybody else seeing my issue here? If I were to put Fuller's style defining ESB next to Pale Ale, they simply would not be considered expressions of the same style. Whoever decided to label this beer a Bitter/ESB (and don't get me started on the differences between Bitter, Best Bitter and ESB), really needs a trip to the UK to discover the glories of Bitter in its natural environment.

Here endeth the lesson. The lesson being "get your bloody facts right!"

Now that I have calmed myself a bit, I am planning which beer to have this evening as the doctor says I can have a beer a couple of times a week - will it be homebrew, Budvar or a nice hoppy American IPA?

The agonies of choice.

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...