Showing posts with label port city brewing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label port city brewing. Show all posts

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Fuggled Beers of the Year - Dark, Proper Dark

Off we head then to the end of 2020 with a quick review of the year's dark beers...

Virginia

  • Morana - Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Schwartz Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Porter - Port City Brewing
Honorable mentions: Fast Mild - Ballad Brewing Company

In years past I have refrained from putting Morana on my beers of the year list for the simple reason that I researched and designed the recipe, but as many have said throughout 2020, all bets are off now, so it is on the list. This was the 5th brewing of the beer, and in my unhumble opinion the best so far, thanks largely to open fermentation and horizontal lagering, in addition to the usual double decoction. 

Schwarzbier, the style, is one of those lager styles that just doesn't get enough love in the craft brewing scene, and Devils Backbone's nod to Space Balls is right up there with the finest examples from Germany, and regularly finds a place in the fridge. 

It wouldn't be a 2020 review of the year without Port City now would it. Their Porter is one of those beers that is just wonderful, an archetype of the style if you will, when it is served at a proper temperature, like 55°F, is so much more than the sum of its parts, it sings.

Call it bias, call it nepotism, but only Morana can be the Fuggled 2020 Dark Beer of the Year and with the ever growing list of tmavé lagers hitting the shelves, I really hope to see it packaged one day soon.

Rest of the USA
  • Dunkel - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Irish Walker 2012 - Olde Hickory Brewing, NC
  • Tr?sten - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
Honorable mentions: Dunkel - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC; Porter - Anchor Brewing, CA.

Of my various crushes on Von Trapp beers, and I think I have a little something for all of them bar the K?lsch, the Dunkel is as solid a US made Dunkel as is possible to find, and it makes a great component of a ?ezané pivo, especially with Von Trapp's Helles. I have been known to polish off an entire 6 pack of cans in the course of an evening once the boys go to bed, it is that moreish.

I hope you are sitting comfortably, but yes a barleywine makes this list, a very dark barleywine for sure, and one that had been sitting in my cellar since 2013. I described Irish Walker as being a "cacophonous love song to malt" that was "just glorious", a very worthy contender indeed.

Tr?sten is Von Trapp's smoked lager winter seasonal, though I have to admit that I find the smoke character to be somewhat subdued. Despite that, it is a beer that I love drinking for it's fuller dark body and satin smooth mouthfeel.

A surprise perhaps for regular readers then that the Fuggled Rest of USA 2020 dark beer is....Irish Walker from North Carolina's Olde Hickory Brewing, an utterly lascivious beer, with all the temptations and delights that word implies.

Rest of the World
  • Schlenkerla Urbock - "Heller-Br?u" Trum, Germany
  • Icelandic Toasted Porter - Einst?k ?lgere, Iceland
  • Imperial Stout - Samuel Smith's Brewery, England
Honorable mentions: Schlenkerla M?rzen - "Heller Br?u" Trum, Germany.

Some beers are simply worth every penny of buying a case worth to sit in the fridge and pulling out when the mood strikes for a taste of the divine. Schlenkerla Urbock is one such beer, and having said that, I have about a half case in the fridge for such occasions.

I don't generally do coffee infused beers, but the Icelandic Toasted Porter from Einst?k is an exception to the rule. Think a fine London porter with a taste of espresso and you are very much in the ballpark of this North Atlantic wonder.

Classic. Is there any other word that best describes this imperial stout from Yorkshire? Honestly there isn't one that pops into my mind. Insanely drinkable, unlike many an imperial stout, Samuel Smiths nail this style to a tee, despite the .5% abv.

Tricky, tricky, tricky...but then push comes to shove, the 2020 Fuggled Rest of the World dark beer is the classic from Bamberg, Schlenkerla Urbock.


Pick one they said, pick one.

Ok then, the Fuggled Dark beer of 2020 is laden with bias, nostalgia, and a longing to be home in the forests of Bohemia.

Morana takes the crown.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Fuggled Beers of the Year - Darker Than Pale Lighter Than Dark Brown

How's that for a description of colours in this category? Suitably vague and broad of scope I would hope you agree.

Onwards then to the runners and riders

Virginia
  • Franconia Kellerbier - Port City Brewing
  • Rauch M?rzen - Port City Brewing
  • Alt Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing
Honorable mentions: Doppelbock - Port City Brewing; Bavarian Prince - New Realm Brewing.

As I mentioned in my last post, this year has been stellar from Port City, so it is no surprise to see them dominating the DTPLTDB category. I drank loads of the Franconian Kellerbier earlier this year, often while harvesting fresh green things from my garden, the experience was a series of delightfully rustic moments in the midst of this most odd year. 

When you compare a rauchbier to the glories of Spezial in Bamberg, you know you are drinking something, erm, special, Rauch M?rzen is just such a beer. A gorgeous drop of rauchbier that hits my sweet spot with unerring accuracy. 

Technically speaking, Devils Backbone Alt Bier was my first beer of 2020, from the zwickel at the brewpub while brewing Morana back in February. When finally Morana was on tap, and people were allowed to reserve tables in the Devil Backbone meadow, we did so. With double digit numbers of crowlers of Morana acquired, I was drinking the Alt Bier, revelling in the sense of normality with a version of altbier that could actually pass for a German beer. 

This years Virginia DTPLTDB beer of the year is Port City's Franconian Kellerbier, a beer so good it pretty uch made up all of my drinking for a couple of months in the summer.

Rest of the USA
  • Copper - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Oktoberfest - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • 40 - Sierra Nevada Brewing, CA/NC
Honorable mentions: Winter Ride - JosephsBrau, CA; Yule Bock - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC; Vienna - Von Trapp Brewing, VT.

Very much a tale of old favourites here. I wax lyrical about Olde Mecklenburg at length to anyone crazy enough to listen about the glories of decoction mashing, extensive lagering, and a commitment to making beers with malt, hops, yeast, water, and "nothing else". Whenever I have the opportunity it is Copper that takes up a fair amount of space in my fridge. 

For the second year in a row, I did a mass Oktoberfest tasting, and Von Trapp's eponymous beer is probably my favourite version of the style, though it didn't win the blind tasting. However, a ma? at Kardinal Hall on an overcast Friday afternoon brought a ray of sunshine to an otherwise grim day. 

I know you are shocked, a top fermented, American hopped, IPA made it on my list of contenders this year, but it is Sierra Nevada and they are simply one of the best breweries on the planet, and in "40" they had the perfect beer to mark such an august anniversary. 

Sierra Nevada then, in their anniversary year take the honours as the best DTPLTDB beer in the rest of the US for 2020.

Rest of the World
  • Vintage Ale 2016 - Fuller's, England
  • Oktober Fest-M?rzen - Privatbrauerei Ayinger, Germany
  • Maudite - Unibroue, Canada
Honorable mentions: Orval - Abbaye d'Orval; London Pride - Fuller's.

With the lockdown in its infancy I decided to hit the cellar for some of the old ales, barleywines, and other assorted heavy hitters that had been lingering for a while. From those DTPLTDB beers the 2016 iteration of Fuller's Vintage Ale was the standout beer, and I am eyeing at least one more bottle of it before the year is out. 

Sure, I know Ayinger's autumnal festbier is not strictly speaking an Oktoberfest lager, it is though the one German lager of that season that I look forward to most, chewy, fully bodied, warming, echt lecker.

I renewed acquaintances with Maudite early in the year for an Old Friends post, such a nice beer, one that I have had a couple of times since, when the urge for a well brewed dubbel strikes (admittedly something of a great conjunction in my lager driven world). 

Not only was it the standout cellar beer of 2020, Fuller's Vintage Ale 2016 is the standout DTPLTDB beer of 2020 from the rest of the world. A worthy taker of the accolades.


Decisions, decisions...As ever it is tricky for me to choose one, but in reality given the amount of it I drank earlier in the year, and the fact I drove 60 miles round trip to pick up several unexpected 4 packs, the winner of the Fuggled DTPLTDB Beer of the Year is Port City's glorious Franconian Kellerbier, and I look forward to indulging in more in 2021.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Fuggled Beers of the Year - Pale

January 2020 promised much.

Potential work commitments would mean trips to Texas, New York, South Carolina, Canada, and Rome. With work trips come opportunities to try local beers, either as part of the horror of conference "networking happy hours" or when heading out for dinner in the evening. When I travel by myself I tend to deliberately make my dinner choices based on beer lists.

We all know what happened instead, lots of Zoom meetings.

Despite being largely stuck in central Virginia, this year has been pretty good on the beer front. I have tried beers from new-to-me breweries, made a point of supporting local bottle shops, often to the tune of a case a week at the beginning of lockdown, and where local breweries have had clearly laid out booking systems and strict mask requirements I have been happy to sit in their beer garden with the family and enjoy beer, sunshine, and happy toddler banter (Bertie, the younger of the twins, is a glorious gobshite).

Up until last year my annual review had often been a single post, and I thought this year would be a return to that format, but when I started thinking about all the beers I have had, it was clear that I could break things up a bit. Thus, we begin the review with pale beer and in keeping with last year, my top three each from Virginia, the rest of the US, and the rest of the world.

Virginia

  • German Pilsner - Port City Brewing
  • Helles - Port City Brewing
  • Downright Pilsner - Port City Brewing
Honorable mentions: Our Daily Pils - Basic City Brewing; Euphonia Pilsner - New Realm Brewing.

This year has been stellar on the lager front from Port City up in Alexandria. I have long been a fan of their Downright Pilsner, which is modeled on Bohemian pale lagers. The Helles is their regular summer seasonal, and when the season is right a regular in the fridge. German Pilsner is part of their monthly Lager Series, which has been an absolute boon for this lagerboy in 2020. Choosing just one of the three is seriously difficult, but given that I drove a 60 mile round trip for another beer, and was thrilled to find a stash of German Pilsner in the shop I went to, it is a worthy Virginia Pale Beer of 2020.

Rest of the USA
  • Captain Jack Pilsner - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Helles - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Alexandr - Schilling Brewing, NH
Honorable mentions: Pilz - Live Oak, TX; Helles - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC; Bavarian Pilsner - Von Trapp Brewing, VT; Pilsner - Von Trapp Brewing, VT; Pils - Edmund's Oast Brewing, SC; Rewind Lager - Birdsong Brewing, NC.

You get the feeling I mostly drink lager? I can't imagine what gives you that impression. There are several beers in the honorable mentions that I would happily drink exclusively for the rest of my days if need be, especially the Edmund's Oast Pils. Of the three finalists though, the Helles from Von Trapp is a near fixture of my drinking life, it is simply perfect and always welcome. Olde Mecklenbburg are, as you well know unless you live under a rock, are one of my favourite breweries. Whenever Mrs V and I go through Charlotte, we stop and stock up on beer, and the Captain Jack Pilsner will take up at least half of the purchase. So good is Captain Jack that it is Mrs V's beer of choice if I have any in the fridge and she fancies a beer. Alexandr from Schilling was the icing on the cake. My first trip to a pub to see someone other than my wife was to see my best mate at Kardinal Hall. We sat in the beer garden, suitably socially distant, with litres of beer, and just had a perfect afternoon. This desítka from New Hampshire was a revelation, and I a convert to another brewing from New England. The Rest of the USA Pale Beer of 2030 then is...drumroll gents...Schilling's glorious Alexandr.

Rest of the World
  • Plzeňsky Prazdroj - Plzeňsky Prazdroj, Plzeň, Czechia
  • aU - Mahr's Br?u, Germany
  • Jahrhundert Bier - Privatbrauerei Ayinger, Germany
Honorable mentions: Icelandic White Ale - Einst?k ?lgere, Iceland; Pils - Mahr's Brau, Germany; Helles - Schlenkerla, Germany; Weihenstephaner Festbier - Weihenstephan, Germany.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I was supposed to have visited Canada and Italy this year for work, and at least for the Italy trip I was hoping to try Tipopils in its native climes to see if it better than the tired, flaccid beer I had in Baltimore in 2012. Even so, there have been plenty of good international beers to enjoy. A couple of weeks ago I popped into Kardinal Hall and had a few litres of Prazdroj in their beer garden, draft Prazdroj is a rarity in these parts, and the keg had just gone on, so it was fresh too, each litre went down with inordinate ease, goodness me I love this beer. Mahr's Br?u's delightful aU turned up in Beer Run in February, so naturally I snaffled the lot and indulged in what has become in many ways the archetype of the perfect lager in my world, and when Andreas Krennmair nails his homebrew clone recipe, I plan to start making it too, I just love the rusticity of it. Last up is Ayinger's Jahrhundert Bier, a full bodied pale lager that makes a wonderful nightcap, the bitterness is just enough to take the edge off the malt sweetness, but I find I can only drink a couple of bottles of an evening, hence the ideal nightcap. I feel almost guilty for not making Prazdroj my internsal pale beer of 2020, but Mahr's Br?u's aU is simply too delicious and warm fuzy feeling inducing to come second in a year so in need of comfort.


For sure I say this every year, but deciding on a single beer to be the Fuggled 2020 Pale Beer of the Year is a difficult task, and this year is no different. For all its machinations and peregrinations I have enjoyed some absolutely outstanding pale beers (yeah, yeah, I know you are saying "pale lager" to yourselves) this year. The stand out though has to be Schilling's divine Alexandr (and not only because it has a magnificent name). I haven't had many Czech style pale lagers that in an instant take me back to life in Czechia, but this one did so. If you have it available somewhere near you, go get it, it is damned good stuff.

Monday, August 10, 2020

To Helles and Back

If you've been paying attention these last few years, you'll know that pale lager is my thing. Whether we are talking světly le?ák, Pilsner, helles, or even Dortmunder, I probably drink far more pale lager than anything else. In my world, the path to brewery greatness is paved with golden lager and if a brewer can knock out a good one then I am more likely to try their other wares, while coming back to the pale stuff regularly.

Returning from a recent sojourn to South Carolina, as I mentioned a few posts ago, I stocked up on Olde Mecklenburg beers, their altbier, pilsner, and the seasonal helles specifically. I had it in my mind that I wanted to include it in a three way tasting with Von Trapp Helles from Vermont and Virginia's Port City Helles, which is their current seasonal as well.

There was only one problem, the seeming ambivalence of central Virginia's supermarkets when it comes to lager -  seriously, most of them will have the complete range of Port City but not the Downright Pilsner, or they'll stock everything from Tr?eg's except Sunshine Pils. Having been back from South Carolina for well over a month now, I only got round to the tasting this weekend due to the hassle of finding the Port City Helles, having scored a case from the ever reliable Beer Run.

With the runners and riders in place, I dived on in...


Port City Helles - 5.2%, bottled June 8, 2020
  • Sight - clear light golden yellow, half inch white foam that leaves nice lacing
  • Smell - floral hops, light bready malt, lemon, hay
  • Taste -  subtle wildflower honey, nice light crustiness, lemongrass
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
A lovely, lovely beer. Supremely balanced with a medium dry finish that just leaves you wanting more, nice and clean. Port City have a wonderful way with lager beers and this year's Helles is up there with the best of their range. Beer this good makes the Virginia summer almost bearable. With the lemon and grass thing going on, I wonder if they use Saaz for the hopping?


Olde Mecklenburg Mecklenburger Helles - 4.9%, canned July 2, 2020
  • Sight - crystal clear yellow, thin white head, visible carbonation
  • Smell - cereal grain, lemongrass, wildflower meadow
  • Taste - water biscuits, citrus (lemon and key lime), subtle spice note
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Another very moreish beer. Finishes really clean though maybe just a touch on the dry side, which brings the hops slightly to the fore. Delightfully well balanced.


Von Trapp Helles - 4.9%, best before September 29, 2020
  • Sight - golden yellow, excellent clarity, half inch of white head that lingers, tracing a fine lacing on the glass
  • Smell - citrus, freshly microplaned lemon zest, all flavour no pith, freshly baked southern biscuits
  • Taste - crackers, lemon, wildflower honey, elegant herbal notes
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
The finish on this one is soft and pillowy, just dry enough to keep it clean, but with a malt presence that is just cut through by a lingering bitterness that doesn't dominate. The balance is absolutely perfect making this an absolutely magnificent beer that would more than hold its own in the biergartens of Mitteleuropa.

Three absolutely storming beers, all wonderful examples of a style that when South Street's My Personal Helles is available is basically my go to. I would love to be able to compare all four at some point, though that may have to wait as South Street haven't had it on in a while. However, as I tweeted last night....


Thinking further of this question today, if I had to choose either the Port City or Von Trapp then after much agonising it would be the Von Trapp, by the shortest of short noses. Both are gorgeous beers that I will happily drink all day and night sat on my deck, but Von Trapp has one significant advantage that pushes it into the winner's circle. It is available year round and not just for a couple of months in the summer.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2020

As July draws to its inevitable end, it is that time of the year when I sit down and think about all the Virginian brewed beers I have had this year and select a top ten.
  1. Port City Brewing - Franconian Kellerbier (4.7%). I have drunk an awful lot of this beer in the last couple of months, and the highest praise I can give it is that I am gutted it is not part of the regular lineup, as it would be a permanent fixture. A lovely balance of sweet Munich malt and German hops makes it far too easy to keep pouring down my throat, which is exactly what I have been doing. Sadly I have just one 4 pack left...
  2. Port City Brewing - Downright Pilsner (4.8%). A well deserved one-two for the guys up in Alexandria. Now, sure it is not exactly "traditional" to dry hop a Czech style pilsner, but when it crams so much Saaz goodness into a bottle then I am inclined to turn a blind eye. I bitched and moaned to the beer buyers at our local Wegmans for about 18 months to get this in stock, and my shopping trips have been happier ever since they did, even if I had to wait a month to buy some as it came in just in time for my dry month at the beginning of the year.
  3. Basic City Brewing - Our Daily Pils (4.7%). Our Daily Pils is one of those beers that is a fantastic stand by, whether on tap or as a six pack of cans. Absolutely redolent with the wonderful flavours and aromas of Saaz hops, it is somewhere between a Czech style and German style pale lager, and one that I enjoy muchly, usually with three cans tipped into my litre glass.
  4. Ballad Brewing - Fast Mild (4.2%). This one came right out of left field. Back in December I popped into Beer Run on a Friday afternoon for a feed and a pint before picking up my boys from school. I saw the magic words, "dark mild" and thought, what the heck, let's give it a bash. And bash it I did, 4 mouthfuls. Bash again I did, a slightly more considered pint this time as I let it warm up to something akin to cellar temperature, and what you have here is a gorgeous mild that I would love to have on cask, preferably without the silly shit American breweries are so fond of.
  5. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). You know the story, this is the local beer that I drink far more of than any other. It really is a fabulous helles, perfect soft billowing maltiness, subtle hopping, and that snap to attention that proper lagers have. Sat at the bar one day, the barman said he thought it should be bottled, I disagreed, and still do, a beer like this is best in the pub it is brewed in. With all that has gone on though with lockdown, I haven't had it in months, it is quite possibly the only beer I really miss.
  6. Devils Backbone Brewing - Alt Bier (5.6%). Beers that have undergone extensive lagering are always going to be a major theme in any list I produce. When Jason and I brewed Morana back in February I had a half pint straight from the lagering tank, where it had rested for about 6 weeks already. When I went down to drink Morana, it was on tap, having lagered for another couple of months, I had a few pints, brought home some crowlers, and reveled in every drop. I have never been to Dusseldorf so I can't trot out the old line about it taking me back to the Altstadt, but by Odin it makes want to go one day.
  7. Alewerks Brewing - Tavern Brown Ale (5.7%). The ultimate in old man beer styles, and one that thankfully so far the weird shit ingredient brigade have largely left alone. Once the leaves start to turn, not too long now, I get the urge to drink brown ale, at cellar temperature of course, and just enjoy beer for it's own sake. Of the brown ales that grace the fridge each autumn, this is the one I look forward to more than any other, just a wonderfully complex beer that leaves you more than satiated, it leaves you satisfied.
  8. Alewerks Brewing - Weekend Lager (4.8%). Weekend Lager is to spring and summer what Tavern Brown is to autumn, a wonderful complement to the season, especially on draft with brunch sat on a patio. Another beer that warrants pulling out my litre glass, filling it up, and losing myself in the golden liquid.
  9. Port City Brewing - Helles (5.2%). Three beers in my top ten for Port City, all of them lagers of course, and also the third helles on the list. You might get the idea that I love lager or something like that. Unfortunately this is is just a seasonal for a couple of months in the summer, but it is always worth the wait, and when it is available you'll find me on my deck, under the umbrella (not a big fan of the sun to be honest), taking in the sounds of rural Central Virginia, admittedly while dream of rural Mitteleuropa.
  10. Champion Brewing - Shower Beer (4.5%). Yeah, I know. a seventh lager on the list, the third pilsner. What can I say, lager is what I like to drink and Shower Beer is a damned good lager. Supremely sessionable, dripping with Saaz, and painfully easy to just sit and drink several crowlers of in an evening (I may or may not have done that several times). Consistently good beer, not much more than that you can ask for.
Every year I say this, but this list is the perfection of post-modernist beer thought, entirely subjective, based on the last year of drinking, and sure it says more about me than it does about Virginian beer. I am though happy to hear what people think are great beers being made in the Commonwealth so that I can hunt them out and give them a bash.

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.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Pilsners of the South

Just after Christmas Mrs V, myself, the twins, and the in-laws took a trip down to Williamsburg, one of my favourite places in Virginia to visit. As the one time capital of the colony of Virginia, and close at hand to places like Jamestown and Yorktown, Williamsburg really appeals to the history nerd in me, it also happens to be home to the Alewerks Brewing Company, makers of one of my favourite brown ales in the US, and also a lovely helles lager.

Unfortunately for this trip a visit to a brewery was not on the cards, so I had to limit my beer to what was available in the store, in this case a pretty decent Harris Teeter. Having driven the couple of hours it takes to get there, I took a detour to the store to stock up on booze, picking up a six pack each of New Realm Euphonia Pilsner and Wicked Weed Uncle Rick's Pilsner. Knowing that I had some Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner back home in the fridge, I decided on a comparative tasting.

Said tasting was planned for the evening of the last Sunday of 2019 when joy of joys I discovered that our local Wegman's was finally stocking Port City Downright Pilsner (it had only taken 18 months of badgering for this wonder to occur). Thus the threesome became a foursome, and as the kids watched their Krtek cartoons I dived in...

New Realm Euphonia Pilsner - Georgia/Virginia


  • Sight - pale yellow/straw, thin white head, poor retention, slightly hazy
  • Smell - white pepper, watermelon, trace of generic citrus
  • Taste - crackers, melon, slightly musty, pithy bitterness in the finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
New Realm Euphonia, from the new brewery of Mitch Steele formerly of Stone Brewing, won best in show at the 2019 Virginia Craft Brewers Cup, and sorry if I am being blunt here, how that happened I have no idea, there are plenty of much better beers in general in the Commonwealth. This is not a bad beer, far from it, it is a nice German style pilsner. I found it a bit thin overall, though it didn't go so far as to be watery, and it was just too fizzy for me, perhaps that is a reaction based on my week or so of drinking German pilsners in Germany on tap, but still, too much gas involved.

Wicked Weed Uncle Rick's Pilsner - North Carolina/Virginia


  • Sight - crystal clear gold, quarter inch white head that lingers for the duration
  • Smell - spicy, pepper, slightly bready, some floral notes, tangerines
  • Taste - soft marmelade, custy bread, citrus - lime/mandarin, pithy bitter bite
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Even though this is a Wicked Weed beer, the can says that it is brewed and packaged in Lexington, Virginia, which makes me think that it is being brewed by Devils Backbone on behalf of their AB-InBev stablemates. This is a really good beer, ticks all the right boxes for what you would expect from a German style pilsner, especially given it has that sharp snappy crisp bite that screams good fermentation practices. I can see this being pretty regular in the old beer fridge this year.

Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner - North Carolina


  • Sight - clear gold, half inch white head, very good retention
  • Smell - floral hops, lemony citrus, a touch of spice, some grainy character
  • Taste - light toast, clean citric hop bite, touch of lemon, water biscuit crackeriness
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
I make no secret of the fact that love this beer, and indeed Olde Mecklenburg in general. Captain Jack is beautifully balanced, with both hops and malts shining through but neither stealing the limelight from the other. There are times when I can think of nothing I would rather drink than three bottles of this poured into my Paulaner 1 litre mug, every mouthful finishes dry and refrshing, willing you to keep on drinking. I have no shame in showing my bias here, but this is for me one of the top 5 lagers being brewed in the US right now.

Port City Downright Pilsner - Virginia



  • Sight - golden, slightly hazy, firm white head, excellent retention
  • Smell - Saaz, Saaz, more Saaz, and then some Saaz, lemons, lemongrass, slightly spicy, orange blossom, think alpine meadow and you're close
  • Taste - very much dominated by the hoppiness that comes with the judicious use of Saaz, lemons up front and some some grass and spice in there too, malt background has bready character
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Again I will make no apologies for being a fan of this beer. Downright is a wonderfully balanced, drinkable beer that I can happily sit and drink all night. However, it does lack a little of the clean finish that I really like in my lagers, and although it is in the Bohemian style it doesn't quite have the body that comes with the territory, perhaps due to it not being decoction mashed. Even so, it is a damned fine beer and one I am thrilled to see available at Wegmans. I will be stocking up come February.

If I were pushed into ranking these four very good beers, all of which I would happily drink wherever and whenever, it would look like this:
  1. Olde Mecklenbug Captain Jack Pilsner
  2. Port City Downright Pilsner
  3. Wicked Weed Uncle Rick's Pilsner
  4. New Realm Euphonia Pilsner

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Breweries

Hark what is that bugle call....? It's the last post, or at least the last review post for 2019. Having looked at the beers themselves, the places I drink them in, so finally we come to the companies that actually make the booze itself. To be listed as one of the regional breweries of the year, said brewery needs to have at least a couple of beers I have had this year, also no honorable mentions. Onward then.

Virginia
  • Port City Brewing - Alexandria
  • South Street Brewery - Charlottesville
  • Alewerks - Williamsburg
Rest of USA
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing - CA/NC
  • Von Trapp Brewing - VT
  • Olde Mecklenburg Brewing - NC
Rest of the World
  • Cromarty Brewing - Scotland
  • Pivovar Hostomice - CZ
  • Schlenkerla - DE
Reviewing that list of breweries, I realise that if I were given that list and told I could only ever drink beer from those 9 breweries then I would never be left wanting for quality beer, so whittling it down to just three is nigh on impossible, but needs must.
  • South Street Brewery - Charlottesville
  • Von Trapp Brewing - VT
  • Pivovar Hostomice - CZ
There really is a clear winner when it comes to my brewery of the year, but first let me point out that each of these breweries makes wonderful pale lagers that I would happily guzzle every day, they also each make dark lagers that I would happily guzzle every day. The winner though is the brewery who do every beer they produce superbly well and who I can drink pretty much whenever I feel like it, so well done to Von Trapp Brewing from Vermont for being the 2019 Fuggled Champion Brewery, and for making all those glorious lagers.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Drinking Dens

Moving on from the beers of the year to the places in which I drank them, and with an utter absence of ceremony, I give you...

Virginia
  • Beer Run - Charlottesville
  • Port City Brewing - Alexandria
  • South Street Brewery - Charlottesville
Honorable Mention:

Kardinal Hall - Charlottesville

Rest of USA
  • Barley House - Cleveland, OH
  • Olde Mecklenburg Brewing - Charlotte, NC
  • Fraunces Tavern - New York City, NY
Honorable Mentions:

Scholz Biergarten - Austin, TX; Gordon Biersch Brewing - Atlanta, GA; Bar America - San Antonio, TX; Hofbr?uhaus Cleveland - Cleveland, OH

Rest of World
  • U Slovanské lipy - Prague, CZ
  • Hostomická nalévárna - Prague, CZ
  • Brauerei Spezial - Bamberg, DE
Honorable Mentions:

Schlenkerla - Bamberg, DE; Airbr?u - Munich, DE; Brauhaus Ernst August - Hannover, DE; Pivovarsky klub - Prague, CZ; Cromarty Arms, Cromarty, Scotland

Given that this was the first time I had visited many of these cities, it is no wonder that there are so many new pubs on this list. I own the fact that I am an abysmal beer tourist, I simply don't plan my trips around breweries, tap rooms, and pubs, I find out where I am going and then arrange the booze around that. One thing that is clear though is that I definitely have a soft spot for places in the US that harken back to central Europe. My final three boozers though for 2019 are:
  • Beer Run - Charlottesville
  • Olde Mecklenburg Brewing - Charlotte, NC
  • Hostomická nalévárna - Prague, CZ
This is actually a much harder decision than choosing the various beers of the year. Beer Run is basically my local and I love a couple of hours just sat at the bar talking with the staff. Since Mrs V and I started stopping at the 8 acre biergarten that is Olde Mecklenburg, our trips to South Carolina have a genuine thing to look forward to with the driving, the thought of a couple of jars of quality Germanic lager in a proper beer garden after 5 hours of driving is a delight. My one afternoon with Evan in Hostomická nalévárna back in October will probably be my favourite individual session for many a year, it was simply perfect. However, I don't feel I can base my decision on a single visit, and so the Fuggled Drinking Den of 2019 is Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, a more perfect place to drink great pilsner, superb altbier, or cracking hefeweizen is hard to imagine.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Dark

On third day of Christmas, we move on to the undeniably dark beers of the world, porter, stout, dunkel, tmavé, et al, including some brown ales simply because you can only see though them by holding them up to the light, ah the delights of capricious whimsy. Here are the runners and riders for today.

Virginia
  • Porter - Port City Brewing
  • No Veto Brown - Three Notch'd Brewing
  • Schwartzbier - Devils Backbone
Honorable mentions:

Britchin' Brown - Stable Craft Brewing;

USA
  • Dunkel - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Dunkel - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Narwahl 2018 - Sierra Nevada Brewing, CA/NC
Honorable mentions:

Dunkel - Hofbr?uhaus Cleveland, OH; Porter - Sierra Nevada, CA/NC; Tr?sten - Von Trapp Brewing, VT

Rest of World
  • Altbairisch Dunkel - Brauerei Ayinger, DE
  • M?rzen - Schlenkerla, DE
  • Fabián 14° tmavé - Pivovar Hostomice
Honorable mentions:

Oatmeal Stout - Samuel Smiths, England; Black - Belhaven Brewery, Scotland; Urbock - Schlenkerla, DE

Some absolutely glorious beers there, and that is just with the honorable mentions, several of which came very close to breaking into the top three in each regional category. As a devotee of the dark beer arts, I could happily drink just the honorable mentions and be a happy camper, imagine then the ecstasy of only being able to drink the top three. Cutting 9 down to an ultimate three then was insanely difficult as there have been plenty of occasions where I have preferred, for example, Devils Backbone Schwartzbier over Port City Porter, it's so often a question of context.

  • Virginia - Porter, Port City Brewing
  • USA - Dunkel, Von Trapp Brewing
  • Rest of World - M?rzen, Schlenkerla
Carrying on the theme of context, it is that factor that decided the winner of the Fuggled Dark Beer of 2019. Drinking a legendary beer in a legendary brewpub in a legendary beer town just cannot be beaten, and so obviously the winner is Schelnkerla M?rzen. As I mentioned in my post about drinking in Bamberg, I have loved rauchbier since I first have bottled Schlenkerla in Prague, and I drink a couple of litres of it every month still to this day, so having it on tap was a nigh on religious moment. I didn't expect though for the divine itself to be even more divine, but it was, and I savoured every drop of that holy communion.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale

It has been almost a decade since I wrote multiple blog posts for my annual review of drinking. When I was in my thirties, and new to this beer blogging malarky, I even broke down the annual review into seven individual posts. In more recent years passim I have stuck to a single post, list style for pale, amber, dark, pub, and brewery categories. This year though I have travelled a lot more than I have for many years, thus have a lot more options for all the categories and a post for each is, in my unhumble opinion, warranted.

As usual I will decide the top three applicable beers from Virginia, the USA, and the rest of the world, as well noting any honorable mentions. From those finalists I will pick the ultimate winner of the category, and we start today with pale beers.

Virginia
  • Downright Pilsner - Port City Brewing
  • My Personal Helles - South Street Brewery
  • Weekend Lager - Alewerks Brewing
Honorable Mentions:
40 Mile IPA - Three Notch'd Brewing; Lagerboi - Champion Brewing; Striped Bass - Devils Backbone Brewing; Saison - Reason Beer; Helles - Port City Brewing
USA
  • Pilz - Live Oak Brewing, TX
  • Captain Jack Pilsner - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Helles - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
Honorable Mentions:
Celis White - Celis Brewery, TX; Southern Gothic - Sierra Nevada, CA/NC; Allagash White - Allagash Brewing, ME; Czech Pilsner - Gordon Biersch Atlanta Airport, GA; Lager - Firestone Walker, CA; Play Action Pils - Victory Brewing, PA
Rest of The World
  • Fabián 10° - Pivovar Hostomice, Czech Republic
  • EPA - Inveralmond Brewery, Scotland
  • aU Ungespundet Naturtrüb - Mahr's Br?u, Germany
Honorable mentions:
B?evnovsky Benedict - B?evnovsky Klá?terní Pivovar, CZ; Albrecht 10° - Zámecky pivovar Frydlant, CZ; únětické Pivo 10° - úněticky pivovar, CZ; Jarl - Fyne Ales, Scotland; Tennent's Lager - Tennent's, Scotland; K?nig Pilsener - K?nig-Brauerei, DE
Come on admit it, you're really shocked by the prevalence of pale lagers, whether they be helles or pilsner. I have said it many, many times on here, as well as on various social media outlets, lagers are just my thing, and pale lagers are the style of beer I drink more than any other. To whittle this list down further, the regional winners are:
  • Virginia - My Personal Helles, South Street Brewing
  • USA - Helles, Von Trapp Brewing
  • Rest of World - Fabián 10°, Pivovar Hostomice

The overall winner was pretty much decided after four mouthfuls of beer, and I am sure it comes as no surprise that the Fuggled Pale Beer of 2019 is Pivovar Hostomice's simply majestic Fabián 10°. If I may get on my soapbox for a moment, why American brewers seem unwilling to brew sessionable lagers in the vein of the Czechs is frankly a mystery. Sure I get the fact that the Untappd tickers and braggers are unlikely to rate it very highly, but when done to such a high level of craftsmanship, there is simply no better type of beer on the planet. Fabián 10° hits all the right high notes, loads of Czech hop character, with all the fresh lemon zest, spice, and floral notes that implies, behind that sits a decocted malt backbone that no amount of modified malt can replicate, even if a brewer follows a brew by numbers approach to brewing.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2019

Picking up my dog from the in-laws in South Carolina after a trip to Scotland always feels like the beginning of the end of summer, something I am always grateful for. I am not much of a fan of summer, preferring the cool delights of spring and autumn, or in a particularly happy year, the cold and snow of winter - Narnia under Queen Jadis sounds fantastic to me. Another sign of the impending end of summer is mulling over the beers I have had in the last 12 months from Virginian breweries and coming up with my top ten...
  1. Port City Brewing - Downright Pilsner (4.8%). Normal service has been restored for my regular readers who may have been concerned that the last couple of years of this has seen the top spot taken by an imperial stout and a porter. Earlier this year my family and I has a weekend trip to Alexandria in Northern Virginia to visit my wife's cousin and her family, while in town we took the opportunity to visit Port City in the flesh for the first time. Thus it was that I had Downright Pilsner as fresh as fresh could be, and it was simply divine, singing with the lemon, hay, and oh so subtle spice of Czech Saaz hops. This beer is so painfully simple in terms of its ingredients, Pilsner malt, Saaz hops, water, yeast, but in doing things properly, including 6 weeks lagering and natural carbonation, it is process and attention to quality that make this beer stand out as the drinking highlight of the last 12 months in my world.
  2. Three Notch'd Brewing - No Veto Brown Ale (5.0%) . Last autumn I went on something of a bender. Not the traditional, all in one extended sitting, bender that is, perhaps going on a kick is a better description. I had a craving for a brown ale one rainy weekend, and thus started about 5 weeks of pretty much only drinking that style, and in the process revisting several beers that had been missing from life for a while. No Veto made a welcome return to the taps at the Three Notch'd brewpub right in the middle of that kick, and dominated it from there on in. Beautifully layered flavours of crusty bread, unsweetened cocoa, hazelnuts, and a light chocolate dance with richly earthy hops, with just a twang of a tobacco note in the mix as well. Given a quick stir to knock out the excessive carbonation so beloved of American drinkers, and some time to get it to cellar temperature and you have a simply wonderful wet afternoon tipple.
  3. South Street Brewing - Shake Your Teal Feather Pilsner (4.3%). I sometimes think I am a sucker for punishment. I see the words "pils", "pilsner", or even on occasion "pilsener" on a beer list and I know I need to try said beer. More often than not said urge leads to mild disappointment as the vast majority of craft brewed pilsners are meh at best. Thank god then for Mitch at South Street who knows his way round brewing an excellent lager. I ordered SYTF over my regular South Street tipple, took an obligatory large mouthful, none of your sipping fannying about in Fuggled world, and boom in an instant I was back in the Czech Republic. Two more mouthfuls, with a taste for Mrs V, confirmed that here was an absolutel belter of a Bohemian style pale lager. Singing with hops, the malt backing group added the necessary harmonies, and a finish that just screamed out for another mouthful. Yeah, it was that good, and all I drank for a while.
  4. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). As I said, Mitch knows how to brew a damned fine pale lager, and My Personal Helles is still probably the beer I drink the most of, I cannot say this enough, I freaking love this beer. It has got ot the point that often the folks at South Street are confused if I don't order it, and depending who is behind the bar on a given day, they don't even have to ask what I want.
  5. Alewerks Brewing - Tavern Brown Ale (5.7%). The other highlight of my autumn on the brown ale, and one that will be a feature of this autumn in all likelihood. When served at the perfect cellar temperature of 54°F, having been stored in our wine cooler at that temperature for a week or so, the complexities of the malt jump to the fore, a beautifully blended melange of sourdough bread, roasted hazelnuts, and cocoa, with caramelised oranges in the background. You often hear beer referred to as liquid bread, this was liquid bread with Nutella, lovely.
  6. Basic City Beer Co. - Our Daily Pils (4.7%). It was a Friday afternoon, I was at Beer Run in town using better wifi than I currently have at home, and this was the only beer on tap that wasn't some weird concoction, or Natty Boh, or Allagash White, which I wasn't in the mood for. Being unflitered there is a slight haze that reminds me more of a kellerbier, but the flavours were all on point and a second pint soon followed. Now if I see it on tap when I am out and about, I am a happy camper.
  7. Three Notch'd Brewing - 40 Mile IPA (6%). I know you are shocked that an American style IPA would make it onto the Fuggled list of the top 10 Virginian beers I have drunk in the last 12 months, but 40 Mile does something that so many IPAs simply do not do anymore, it gets the bitterness right. IPA is meant to be a bitter beer, not some juiced up wankfest for people who seem to not actually like the taste of beer, and yes there is a basic beer flavour. This was the first beer of 2019 for me, and also the first beer I wrote about for Flagship February. Coming back to this beer after several years of preferring other Three Notch'd beers was like seeing an old friend again. 40 Mile is everything a proper US IPA should be, a bit on the strong side, clean bitterness, firm malty backbone, and reeking with hop aroma and flavour. A classic.
  8. Stable Craft Brewing - Britchin Brown (5.5%). Yeah, brown ales need a moment in the limelight of their own, minus daft additions naturally. Stable Craft are a relatively new brewery, and Britchin Brown was on tap at a pub I frequent from time to time while I was in the middle of my brown ale kick. Once I had allowed it to warm up to a more reasonable temperature (seriously folks what's with the penguin feet obsession?), here was an excellently constructed version of the American brown ale style. Yes you get all the usual malt flavours associated with brown ale, nutty, chocolatey, and a trace of roastiness, but with Britchin Brown there is a clean refreshingness to it that makes it almost too easy to drink.
  9. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - VIPA (5.2%). VIPA is described by Hardywood as a Virginia India Pale Ale, or even a "Virgindia Pale Ale". It is brewed with locally grown Virginian hops, Cascade I believe, and is an interesting study in the impact of terroir on hop flavour, yes you get the grapefruit and pine that is the calling card of Cascade, but there is also a subtle coconut flavour and aroma that is apparently unique to Virginian Cascade. The coconut characteristic just about makes it through into the drinking with this beer, and at only 5.2% it is a very drinkable, if not entirely sessionable, beer.
  10. Blue Mountain Brewery Full Nelson Virginia Pale Ale (5.9%). Another local brewery's flagship beer that I revisted during Flagship February and wondered to myself why I had ignored it for so long? Seriously hoppy at 60IBU, a good dose of which is a pithy bitterness that just seems to be missing from so many pale ales these days. While I would argue that at 5.9% this is not a sessionable beer, it is more certainly pintable, and goes especially well with the spicy chicken and waffles at one of my favourite brunch places in Charlottesville. Again, I find that this beer really benefits from being allowed to warm up to cellar temperature, and I don't recall it ever being available cask conditioned, but it would absolutely sing in that format.
I point this out every year, but this is an entirely subjective list based purely on my drinking in the last 12 months. If you have any recommendations of good Virginia beers I should hunt out and try, I am more than open to suggestion.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Done Right, Damn Right, Downright.

I have mentioned many times that I am an abysmal beer tourist. Here in the Charlottesville area there are plenty of breweries I just haven't bothered to go visit, a fact perhaps influenced by many a local brewery's lack of lager in their lineup - it's a post for another day but recently I have been feeling as though I have come full circle in wanting mainly to drink properly made lagers to almost the exclusion of all else.

At the tail end of last year, Mrs V's cousin took up a job that had her and her husband transplant from Greensboro, North Carolina, to the interminable gridlock that is Northern Virginia, Alexandria to be precise. This weekend just gone, Mrs V and I went up, with the Malé Ali?ky to tow naturally, to visit, and I saw an opportunity to rectify my errant ways. Alexandria is home to one of my favourite breweries, Port City, and it really was high time for me to darken the door of their tasting room/bar.

Given the high regard in which I hold Port City, it is perhaps odd that I don't post about them more often, though there is a major mitigating circumstance. For some reason, best known only to the distributors and retailers in this part of the world, their Downright Pilsner is rarer than hens' teeth. Their majesterial Porter is something I save for the darker nights of autumn and winter, once I get my fill of the annual Oktoberfest, which is always a fine brew. Usually I have to limit my Downright consumption to the occasions when I see it on tap.

Well, on Sunday it was on tap just a few yards from where it had been brewed as I dragged the family along to get my fill of fresh Downright before Mrs V drove us back to central Virginia.

I am sure I have said this many times before, but there is simply no other Virginia brewed pilsner, whether Bohemian, German, or American in style, that is anywhere near as good as Downright Pilsner. There are a couple that come close, looking at you Devils Backbone Meadow Bier and South Street Shake Your Teal Feather, but Downright has so far held off all comers looking to take that particular crown.


Perhaps it's the simplicity of the recipe, just Pilsner malt and Saaz hops? Perhaps it is the 6 weeks of lagering, or maybe the mildly untraditional dry hopping with Saaz? Perhaps it's the 43 IBUs that all that Saaz brings to the table (yes you read that right, an American made Czech style pilsner that hops it with the best of Czech made Czech lagers). Perhaps it's the fact that Downright is a dvanáctka, that's a 12° Plato beer for the non-Czech speakers of the world?

Actually, it is all of the above. Downright is done right, and when you do things properly you get good results. Could Downright stand up if served on the taps of august Prague establishments like Pivovarsky klub? Damn right it would. In fact, I am convinced it would quickly become a favourite among the cognoscenti of the Czech beer world.

Now then, when can I get back to Alexandria, given that my crowlers are finished and already I am hankering for more...?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A Virginian Oktoberfest

This weekend sees the culmination of the ur-beerfest in many people's minds, Oktoberfest. While I have never been to the only Oktoberfest worthy of the name, nor actually do I have any ambition to go - beer festivals being generally not my thing - I do enjoy the Oktoberfest style lagers that are practically de rigueur at this time of the year.

Last year I bought myself a load of examples of the style to do a comparative tasting, only one of which though was from Virginia. Seeing as though our local Wegman's has a reasonable selection of beer, and customers can build their own 6 pack, I did just that, but with only Virginia brewed Oktoberfest lagers this time. The chosen six being:
In the fine tradition of Teutonic efficiency, I will dispense with the waffle and dive on in to my modified Cyclops tasting notes...


Devils Backbone O'Fest
  • Sight - amber, burnt orange, full inch of ivory foam that lingers
  • Smell - bready malts, a touch of hay, spicy hops, traces of cinnamon
  • Taste - bready again, think the crust of a Stollen, muted hop bitterness that fades, clean finish
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Not a bad start to the tasting for sure, and I have to admit to bashing a fair few pints of this on Wednesday night in DC whilst at the conference. The body is medium to full, with a slightly slick finish that the hop bite just manages to overcome and make this a really easy lager to drink. As ever, Devils Backbone know how to make a good lager.


Blue Mountain 13.Five Oktoberfest
  • Sight - light amber, half inch off white foam, little visible carbonation
  • Smell - subtle breadiness, some floral hops, traces of graininess
  • Taste - sweet malts, not caramelly just sweet, like brown sugar, floral hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Fuller bodied than the Devils Backbone, almost voluptuous. The sweetness flirts with the idea of being cloying but the hops bring it back into focus. As it warms though is starts to get a bit flabby around the edges, but still a fine beer.


Legend Oktoberfest
  • Sight - deep amber, light red highlights, thin off white head
  • Smell - cocoa, milk chocolate, toasty notes
  • Taste - toasty, cocoa, nutty, like nutella.
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
Not a particularly interesting beer to be honest. The cocoa/chocolate thing was really distracting, and the body was lacking, even veering toward an unpleasant thinness. Lurking in the background was an ickiness that I found really difficult to ignore. Blah.


Brothers Fest Bier
  • Sight - dark golden, light orange, inch of off white head
  • Smell - grassy hop aroma, suggesting Saaz or Tettnang, some light toast
  • Taste - juicy malt sweetness, brown sugar, herbal hop bite
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Again a medium bodied beer, though with a slick mouthfeel that the clean finish just about managed to scrape away. Not one that I would hunt out but decent enough in a pinch.


Smartmouth The Princess
  • Sight - light amber, thin white head
  • Smell - sweet Munichy malts, floral hops, touch of lemongrass, slight hint of corn
  • Taste - well done toast, dulce de leche, floral hop bite
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Medium bodied with a noticeably slick finish, really lacking a good hefty hop bite and clean lager finish to improve the drinkability, an odd vegetal note became more prominent as it warmed. Nope, not doing that again.


Port City Oktoberfest
  • Sight - amber, light orange, half inch off white head that dissipates quickly
  • Smell - light toast, floral hops, brown sugar
  • Taste - biscuity, touch of crackers, subtle honey
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
And a good beer to round out the selection. Rich rather than sweet and thankfully with a nice clean lagery finish that refreshes the palette. In the background were some nice subtle orange flavours going on that added to the complexity of a very nice beer. Yay for Port City!


The aim of this tasting was not to rank the beers, but I have to admit that I would only actively chose 3 of the 6 to drink again, the Devils Backbone, Blue Mountain, and Port City ones. So as Oktoberfest proper winds down this weekend, grab a six pack of one of them, a packet of proper German bratwurst, a tub of Dusseldorf mustard and go to town...prost!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2018

It's that time of year again. On Sunday I drove Mrs V, the Malé Ali?ky, and Honza the Cairn Terrier home from South Carolina, having been south for a couple of weeks. Coming home from our fairly annual week in Florida is one of the signs of the tail end of summer, another is my annual list of the top ten Virginian beers that I have drunk in the last 12 months.

So without further ado....let's dive on in.
  1. Blue Mountain Brewing - Dark Hollow (10.0%). No that is not a typo, a barrel aged imperial stout really was the highlight of my drinking last year. It is fairly common to read blog posts and tweets about how all beers have their time and place, usually in the context of a paid up member of the craft beer drinking guild having a cold, often adjunct laden, pale lager whilst on holiday. The time and place in question here was at the first evening session at the fiddle camp my wife and I have attended each of the last 3 years. Up in the mountains of Highland County in western Virginia, a bottle of Dark Hollow was the only beer available at the hotel bar that actually appealed to me. It fitted the context, mood, and atmosphere perfectly.
  2. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - Virgindia Pale Ale (5.2%). Probably another surprise for regular readers of Fuggled, a hoppy pale ale makes the list! VIPA is made using Virginia grown barley and hops, making it asas much a local beer as is really possible, oh did I mention it's delicious? Hardywood opened a satellite brewery in Charlottesville a couple of years ago and being the abysmal beer tourist I am, it took me until this spring to actually bother to make it round. When finally I did, I had a great Sunday afternoon drinking with Mrs V and our friends while watching the collective brood of children. VIPA was a lovely beer, positively dripping with American hop character, that late spring afternoon, and has since been a fairly regular tipple as summer has worn on.
  3. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). Still my go to beer when I darken the door of South Street, which is nowhere near as often as I would like now that I no longer work in the centre of Charlottesville. The subtle interplay of malt and noble hops make this a beer that simply goes down far too well. I think a few pints are in order this weekend with brunch....
  4. Alewerks Brewing Company - Weekend Lager (4.8%). I love this beer, simply love it. Of the recent spate of Helles lagers that have done the rounds in the craft brewing scene, this is one of the best, and whenever I see it on tap at a restaurant I know what I'll be drinking, especially with a Sunday brunch, when a litre of this little beauty pairs dangerously well with a plate of bacon, eggs, hash browns, and sausage, Just saying, like.
  5. South Street Brewery - Munich Dunkel (5.6%). My Virginia Dark Beer of 2017 and a cracking interpretation of a classic lager style. You may have noticed a common theme with the kind of beers that make this list, balance and drinkability are important to me, and Munich Dunkel has it in spades, and thankfully doesn't use caramel malts to achieve the subtle sweetness that lingers in the background of the beer, mmmmmmMunich malt!
  6. Devils Backbone Brewing - Alt Bier (5.8%). If there is one thing in life you can rely on it is Jason Oliver's ability to brew a solid, nailed on German beer. To mark Mrs V's first Mother's Day we took a little family trip to Nelson County to visit one of our favourite wineries, and while out that way decided to pop into Devils Backbone. One thing I love about DB is that for all their growth, and the new distillery is an impressive addition, they really haven't changed in the slightest. Still churning out world class beers in an environment which is welcoming, friendly, and somewhere I would go far more often if it wasn't an hour's drive. The Alt Bier reminded me of Schumacher Alt, and there is no higher praise than that really.
  7. Champion Brewing - Dorty South (5.4%). You don't see that many Dortmunder Lagers around, so when I popped into Champion Brewing on my way home from my previous job, having slunk out early because it was simply too depressing to sit in cubicled corporate hell much longer, to find they had a Dortmunder on tap I knew what I was going to drink. Dorty South is a lovely, toasty, clean, lager that has a delightful balance of malt heft with hop bite, I may have had several pints....
  8. Three Notch'd Brewing - Mild Marker 20 (3.6%). One of only a couple of redeeming features of an afternoon spent in the new Three Notch'd brewpub watching the Champions League final, the other being hanging out with a group of friends for the first time since the twins were born. Brewed to a recipe that won a homebrew competition down in Lynchburg, this was a nice solid English style dark mild, suitably balanced and quaffable, with neither hops nor malt dominating. There was only one thing missing, the beer being pulled from a beer engine with a sparkler and at the correct temperature, but I am ok to wait a few minutes for things to warm up.
  9. Port City Brewing - Porter (7.2%). My porter kick continues, both my own homebrewed ones, projects with Three Notch'd, and drinking an absolutely glorious beer from Alexandria, VA. I read recently that Port City is starting to distribute to the UK and I would encourage all of my British friends to stock up on Port City Porter when it hits Blight's shores. Rich, filling, and practically lascivious, this is my beer of choice on many a winter's night.
  10. Devils Backbone Brewing - Vienna Lager (5.2%).Earlier this year I started a series on Fuggled called "Old Friends", where I went back to beers I had once loved but for various reasons not drunk for a while. Coming back to DB's iconic Vienna Lager was like that moment in Ratatouille where Anton Ego is transported back in time at the taste of the ratatouille prepared for him. Obviously I wasn't transported back to childhood, but back to my early days living in Central Virginia, 9 years now, when Vienna Lager was a very common site in my fridge, and a trip to the brewpub was a regular occurrence. Toasty, floral, clean, and most importantly of all just plain good drinking. It also served as a reminder that being a part of Anhesuer-Busch hasn't ruined the beer, nor the company for that matter.
I say this every year, but this is a strictly subjective list based on my drinking in the last 12 months. I am not interested in trying to define who or what is or isn't craft, I just want to drink beer I enjoy. If you have any suggestions of beers that you think I would like then feel free to make add it to the comments.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2017

This weekend is the 6th annual Virginia Craft Brewers Fest in Charlottesville, actually in the city itself rather than down at Devils Backbone as in previous years. As in each of the previous 6 years of the festival, I spent time earlier this year judging the Virginia Craft Beer Cup, in which a beer that I designed won a silver medal. As usual I won't be attending the festival itself as I will be in western Virginia with Mrs V at a fiddle camp - basically she has music workshops all day and I find a cosy chair, beer, and a book to while away the day.

In years past I have presented a list of the 10 best Virginia beers I have drunk in the past 12 months, and I see no reason to change it this year...
  1. Port City Brewing - Porter (7.2%). I am fairly sure there are regular readers of this blog who will be sending me emails to make sure I am ok because number 1 on my list this year is not a sessionable pale lager. Fear not, I am fine. I was reminded of what a simply magnificent beer Port City's Porter is when I did a comparative porter tasting last December, describing it as 'rich' and 'unctuous'. During the winter and spring it was a regular in my my fridge and given half an hour to get to a decent temperature never failed to impress. If there is a better porter in America right now I would be surprised.
  2. Devils Backbone Brewing - Czech 10 (4.3%). I was desperately trying to avoid recency bias with this choice as the beer was only released last Friday. I failed. The highest praise I can give this beer is that if I were poured a pint of it in a pub in the Czech Republic I would love it, rave about, drag my friends to the pub to drink it. Obscenely easy to drink, packed with the flavours and aromas of Saaz hops, and so well made that had it been allowed in the Czech lager category at the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup this year it would have blown all other competition out of the water. Proof, yet again, that corporate structure has no impact on beer quality.
  3. Alewerks Brewing - Weekend Lager (4.8%). This Munich style helles was a new one for me back in June when I wrote about a slew of this style that I tried (would the plural of 'helles' be 'heli'?). I enjoyed the beer, but there was something odd about the bottle I drank, so when I saw it on tap a few days later I tried again and it was delicious, I may have had several more. A wonderful competition of cracker graininess and lemongrass hops make it something to sit and enjoy on a sunny patio. Marvellous.
  4. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). Probably the single most regular beer I have drunk in the last 12 months, and it hasn't even been on tap at the brewpub for about 4 months (seriously guys, sort it out!). It is a lovely beer, with a superb balance of malt and noble hops, finishing with soft, clean bite that makes the first pint go quickly, and the second, and maybe even a third, fourth, fifth....
  5. Champion Brewing - Shower Beer (4.5%). Yes, yes, yes, another pale lager. It's what I like and it's my list. Another example of a Czech style lager being made in Virginia that would be perfectly welcome back in Bohemia, bursting with the hay and lemon character that I associate with Saaz hops. A great beer for rounding off a day's hiking.
  6. Three Notch'd Brewing - Ghost of the 43rd (5.2%). A fairly common, and frankly welcome sight in the bars of central Virginia. Ghost is one of the nicest American pale ales I have ever had, up there for me with Sierra Nevada's iconic Pale Ale. Loads of hops and enough bitterness to remind you that you are drinking beer (I seriously have issues with beer that has little to no bitterness), Ghost quite often disappears as soon as you see it.
  7. Devils Backbone Brewing - Excel Lager (2.6%). That is not a typo. Earlier this year, Devils Backbone brewed a 7° pale lager that was the equal of many a far stronger pale lager being brewed in this country. Beautifully balanced, not thin in the slightest, and oh so refreshing after a morning climbing to one the highest points in this part of the Blue Ridge. As I said in my post on the beer at the time, this beer showed Jason and so as true masters of the craft of brewing beer.
  8. South Street Brewery - Virginia Lager (5.0%). Despite being a wee bit stronger, South Street's Virginia Lager kind of reminds me of a less bitter Pilsner Urquell, with a similar malt profile and clean hop bite in the finish. While it lacks the additional Saaz characteristics that Pilsner Urquell has, it is a nice pintable beer that in the absence of My Personal Helles has seen me drink plenty in the last couple of months. One of the few South Street beers available bottled, it is always a good option when out and about.
  9. Three Notch'd Brewing - Oats McGoats (5.5%). This winter will be difficult since Three Notch'd have discontinued this wonderful oatmeal stout. Seriously, it is one of the best oatmeal stouts I have ever had, and so while every one and his mate runs around like headless chickens after the latest fruited murky IPA, those of us who like a grown up beer see our favourites cut from under us. Rich chocolate enveloped in a silky smooth body made this a beer that will live long in the memory, and if it should come out as a special something to fill every available growler with.
  10. Devils Backbone Brewing - Schwartzbier (5.1%). Recently rebranded as just plain old 'Black Lager', but forever in my mind 'Schwartzbier', this is a beer that I drink quite a bit of. Wonderfully roasty, yet smooth and clean, Black Lager reminds more than anything of a bottom fermented stout, which is you know anything of my drinking history is probably why I like it so much. I have to admit I don't see the point of the rebrand, but there we go, as long as the beer stays the same I am a happy camper.
I say this every year, but it bears repeating, this is a purely subjective list based exclusively on the beers I have enjoyed most in the last 12 months. I don't have any time for the daft purity dick waving that goes on as to who is 'craft' and who is not, and yes the list is skewed to my local breweries, but that's just the way it is. If you see these beers out in the wild, try them, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Beers and Breweries of 2016

Jól is upon us. Today is my last day at work for this year. What better time to take a quick look back at the beers and breweries that have made my drinking life all the richer this year? As in years passim I am sticking with highlighting the pale, amber, and dark beers from Central Virgina, the rest of Virginia, the rest of the US, and the rest of the world that I have enjoyed most, as well as breweries that have impressed me in some way this year. As ever this list is utterly subjective, so let's start shall we?

Pale
  • Central VA - Devils Backbone Meadow Bier
  • Rest of VA - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • Rest of World - Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted
  • Honorable mentions - Champion Shower Beer, South Street My Personal Helles, Three Notch'd Road Soda, Cromarty Brewing Happy Chappy, Fyne Ales Jarl, West St Mungo Lager, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Fuller's London Pride (cask)
2016 has been a good one for this central Virginia based lager drinker (the only downside being that Three Notch'd didn't release their lovely Of.By.For Pilsner this year). My local clutch of brewers all seem to be churning out the kind of pale lagers I like, crisp, clean, packed with hop bite, and not crazy on the alcohol. Meadow Bier from Devils Backbone has been a revelation, and would compete with Rothaus Pils as my favourite iteration of a German Pilsner right now. Port City's Downright Pilsner makes it onto my list of best pale beers for the 5th year in a row, it really is that damned good. Now sure it's not likely to please a total Czech lager purist, dry hopped with Saaz as it is, but to this lover of all things Bohemian I can give it no higher praise than my belief it would sit very well among the lagers being brewed in the Czech Republic, and they know a thing or two about brewing lager. This year's Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest really had a high bar to meet after last year's version. Lighter in colour, but still packed with the glorious flavours of Munich malt and Record hops, it was great drinking, and I drank lots of it. The one top fermented beer on this list is one of the influences on Three Notch'd Bitter 42, and when I was home in Scotland over the summer I made sure to drink as much of it as I could get my hands on, and finally found a place with it on tap - Beinglas Farm Campsite since you ask. Bitter without being puckering, malty without being too sweet, moreish in the extreme, it is a simply great beer.


Four superb beers, it really is difficult to single one out, but making this list 5 times in a row, winning gold at the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup for the Pilsner style, and being the perfect expression of the simple delight of well made lager, Port City Downright Pilsner it is.

Amber
  • Central VA - South Street Satan's Pony
  • Rest of VA - Port City Oktoberfest
  • Rest of US - River Rat Broad River Red Ale
  • Rest of World - Isle of Skye Red
  • Honorable mentions - Cromarty Brewing Red Rocker, Schlenkerla M?rzen, Adnams Broadside, Fullers 1845, Fallen Brewing Dragonfly
Amber beers are always the most challenging category for me as I tend not to drink that many copper to red beers, being more of a pale or dark drinker. Having said that the four winners have been companions to pleasant afternoons, wonderful lunches, and enjoyable evenings. Satan's Pony from South Street is kind of my fall back beer if the magnificent My Personal Helles isn't available, nicely balanced, just bitter enough to not be sweet, and low enough gravity to make a couple of pints acceptable - I would love to see it on their beer engine, without any silly additions like cinnamon or gorilla snot (seriously why adulterate a beer just because it is going into a firkin? Another Port City beer makes the list, and their Oktoberfest is one of the few I will drink every year, mainly because in common with the Downright, they get the details spot on making the beer clean and crisp, just as a lager should be, and Port City's Oktoberfest is as eagerly imbibed in my world as the Sierra Nevada. On the rare occasions I head down to South Carolina to visit Mrs V's family, I now make sure to pick up at least a six pack of Broad River Red, again it is immensely easy to drink, and always something to look forward to. Isle of Skye Red was an integral part of one of my highlights of 2016, being sat in a pub in Mallaig on the west coast of Scotland, eating freshly caught langoustines in the Chlachain Inn, served from a sparkled beer engine, it was gorgeous.


Another 4 excellent brews, but this time the winner is easy to pick out. Isle of Skye Red Ale gets the nod, and if you're ever in the north west of Scotland and see it on cask, be sure to try it, and if you can get a dish of langoustines at the same time even better!

Dark
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Oats McGoats
  • Rest of VA - Port City Porter
  • Rest of US - Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin
  • Rest of World - Cairngorm Brewery Black Gold
  • Honorable mentions - Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter, Fullers London Porter, Guinness Original,
Mmmmm.....dark beer. I love porter, stout, mild, brown ale, schwarzbier, dunkles, and tmavé - all things generally dark, I like. Three Notch'd Oats McGoats has done something that I once considered impossible, it has replaced Starr Hill's magnificent Dark Starr Stout in my affections. If Starr Hill were to ever bring it back I would not really be all that interested in Oats was available. Smooth, creamy, roasty, and dangerously drinkable, Oats is one of those perfect winter beers, supped beside the fire whilst reading a good book and listening to an opera. Port City have swept the board with my rest of VA picks this year, and that is testament to their all round superb brewing skills, they make classic beers, they make them well, and the make them consistently well, Porter is just another example of their genius. Velvet Merlin from California's Firestone Walker is another oatmeal stout, and one that has just enough of trace of some lactic character that it isn't overly slick, six packs tend to disappear quickly. Cairngorm's Black Gold was another integral part of a great night's drinking in Scotland, in the Climbers' Bar at the Kingshouse Hotel. Beautifully conditioned, served at the right temperature, sparkled of course, I still remember that night with great fondness.


It probably comes as no surprise then that my dark beer of the year is Cairngorm Black Gold, the name says it all.

Fuggled Beer of the Year

Picking a single beer of the year from my three winners is pretty difficult, but the winner is the one which was an integral part of a night a great drinking, in a great bar, surrounded by great people, and lots of craic. I refer of course to that night in Glencoe, fuelled by beer and the occasional drop of Talisker and Balvenie.

Congratulations to Cairngorm Brewery, Black Gold is the Fuggled Beer of 2016.

Brewery
  • Central VA - South Street Brewery
  • Rest of VA - Port City Brewing
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Brewing
  • Rest of World - Fullers
  • Honorable mentions - Guinness, Three Notch'd,
Deciding on a brewery of the year for 2016 is actually quite difficult, especially given that Port City have taken the best of the rest for Virginia for all three beer categories. However, the other breweries have been regular features of my drinking this year. I have drunk more South Street beer than anything else in 2016, the My Personal Helles has been my go to beer for quite sometime, it is simply delicious, the brewery is a 2 minute walk from my office, and the bar staff know me well enough now that I rarely have to ask for another beer. When drinking at home, Sierra Nevada and Port City are both regulars in the fridge, whether that's Pale Ale or Downright Pilsner respectively, I never turn down a beer from either brewery. Fuller's might not have taken any of the gongs for best beers in the rest of the world, but with honorable mentions in each category they are most certainly one of the most consistently excellent breweries in the UK, and one that I am always happy to see on tap which side of the Pond I am on.


Mainly because I drink there so damned often, and they are brewing a beer that I can happily drink lots of and not grow tired of it, the Fuggled Brewery of the Year for 2016 is South Street Brewery - well done Mitch and crew, keep doing what you're doing, and keep brewing My Personal Helles!

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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