Showing posts with label relentless thirst. Show all posts
Showing posts with label relentless thirst. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Guest Post: Always There

My recent post on the theme of 'Always There' was the precursor to a mini-series of guest posts around the same theme. Today's post is from my good friend, and sometime drinking buddy, Eric, formerly of Relentless Thirst fame. And so with further ado.....

Let me begin by dishing out this well-worn saw: the brewing industry has undergone radical changes in the past ten years. When I first started blogging, I can recall tracking down new and exciting beers from other states that you had to make a special trip just to taste or buy. Since I've stopped blogging, it's hard to go anywhere without seeing beers from all over the country, let alone the world, on the menu at places that aren't even all that beer-centric. There are countless styles to choose from, new breweries to become acquainted with, and a wide range of quality. This should represent the triumph of the consumer, but much like the music industry these days, it's hard to sift through the noise. And much like that favorite album from yesteryear you still queue up on Spotify, there are certain beers that you always return to for their familiarity.

So what's "always there" actually mean? To me, this implies a reliable beverage that can satiate my palate's desires at any given moment; a beer that I don't have to think about to enjoy it, but when I do I appreciate it all the more. I can come up with a handful of beers that fit this motif, but one that sticks out indelibly in my mind is Stiegl Goldbrau. That's right, the pale Austrian lager that comes in pint cans. And let's start with that: cans. Great for transporting a light-sensitive product, as well as portability to places that don't allow glass containers (most useful in the summertime). Furthermore, it's a PINT - my preferred volume for easy-drinking, relatively-low ABV Central European beer.

Though if it were just tall cans of beer I was after, I could choose from thousands. Why this one? Well, for starters, it's inoffensive. I can drink this beer in the sweltering summer heat, or in the dead of winter. But inoffensive doesn't mean it has to taste like nothing (I'm looking at you, Landshark Lager). In this case, I'm talking about appreciating the subtle nuances, being nudged with flavor rather than beaten over the head by it. Goldbrau offers a pleasing, noble hop aroma and a touch, just a touch, of pale malt sweetness that makes it akin to a Munich Helles lager. A clean, drying finish allows you to take another sip and experience it all over again.

I could stop there, but I won't. The last, and most important criterion for me, is that it's consistently well-made. And this is after being transported thousands of miles from Salzburg to the States. Brewing is the intersection of art and science, and too much of either can leave you reaching for something else. But too often I think "craft" beer drinkers prize the unbridled whims of one madcap brewer over the technical prowess of another. It's infuriating to hear some zealots dismiss all lagers, and thus centuries of brewing knowledge and discovery, with the wave of a hand. When I drink this beer, I'm reminded of how light lagers came to be so long ago, and the concentrated efforts that were necessary for them to come to fruition and ultimately fill my glass.

Though I may never become the conservative-minded Teuton, content with drinking the one beer produced by the village brewery that dates back to the 13th century, I do prize a beer that's "always there". Though a beer may seem "simple" or common, I'm surprised at how many breweries miss the mark. If it were so easy, I'd have a difficult time choosing an "always there" beer. But it wasn't hard at all. For me, Stiegl Goldbrau is that beer.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Why I Blog

I have always enjoyed writing, and I hope it is something that I am not too shabby at. I make no claims to be anywhere near the standard of my favourite authors, Umberto Eco, Nick Hornby and Andrei Makine among them. However, in addition to my regular ramblings about beer on here, I occasionally write on another couple of blogs, one about whatever pops into my head and the other about philosophy and religion. Writing has always been part of my life, when I was a practising Christian I had about 30 poems published in various magazines and anthologies, as well as writing music reviews for Cross Rhythms magazine. I have written technical documentation, articles about real estate in Prague and sales proposals, I am even trying to write a novel, though that is going through a major mental revision at the moment.

It is just shy of four years ago that I wrote the first post on this blog. In that first post, I said that my posts could consist of:

"posting pictures and stories about beer, and most importantly the people that my journey brings me into contact with".

When I started blogging there were only two other beer bloggers that I knew of in Prague, Evan Rail and Max Bahnson. At first I read them, then met them and today I feel honoured to call both of them my friends. In various constellations we have shared many a beer, and to this day they are two of the people I miss most from Prague. Many a Saturday afternoon finds me wishing I could send either of them a text message and arrange to meet for a pint at Pivovarsky klub or Zly ?asy.

In November 2008 I realised a long standard ambition to visit Ireland. Mrs Velkyal had a friend that had married an Irishman, and so as we had a long weekend and it was close to my birthday we flew over. The Irishman was to become the author of The Tale of the Ale blog, and since then we have shared several beery adventures. One trip took in the delights of Prague, Brno and Southern Moravia, while more recently me met up in Paris to wander the streets and down many pints. During our initial trip to Ireland we went to Galway and found the most perfect pub on the planet. Sheridan's on the Docks, now sadly departed, had Budvar and Galway Hooker on tap, a peat fire and the rugby on the tv, it was simply idyllic. At the end of the trip Mrs V and I met with the eponymous Beer Nut and Barry, an Irishman writing about beer life in Germany having Bitten the Bullet.

Within weeks of moving to Charlottesville, we had met with one E.S. Delia, and his lovely wife to be, whose blog Relentless Thirst gave me plenty of insight before moving over. Eric had commented on Fuggled before we moved and invited us to his rooftop tasting. Meeting and getting to know Eric has been one of the highlights of life in Virginia.

I could wax lyrical about the people I have met, and friends I have made as a result of beer, but one story stands out. As you may know I work at the Starr Hill tasting room occasionally. Last year, I was there for my one day that month and my colleague asked me to come and chat with a customer, a fellow Brit. A couple of minutes later my colleague asked me where I thought the customer was from. Given the slight London/Estuary thing going on his voice, I assumed he was from the south-east corner. The customer's response was "I'm Scottish", and through a series of questions and stunned responses it transpired that we had both grown up in the Outer Hebrides, from adjacent islands and he had been 2 years ahead of me at school. We know a lot of the same people and happened to meet in the brewery on the one day of that month I was working. He is now my regular drinking buddy here.

That's what beer means to me, and by extension blogging about it. The people I have met. Beer people are good people, and this blog has opened many doors to meet them. That then is what drives me, writing not just for myself, but for the people I have met and hope one day to meet.

This month's Session is being hosted by the guys at Brewpublic and the theme is "what drives beer bloggers?".

Friday, December 16, 2011

My Local - Guest Blog

We come back to Virginia for this week's guest blog. Richmond based Eric Delia is the man behind the Relentless Thirst blog and an all round superb human being to boot. Since Mrs V and I moved to the States in 2009, Eric and his now wife have become good friends and we count it an honour to be able to name them as such. So let me hand over to Eric.....

I'll be up front with you. I don't have a local.

To make a fairly confident assumption, I'd argue that most Americans don't have one either. At least not in the traditional British sense of the word. The way I see it, you can be a frequent customer of a drinking establishment, but that still doesn't necessarily make it your local.

Local as an adjective is defined by Merriam-Webster as "primarily serving the needs of a particular limited district." In noun form, the same source also includes the British definition of "a nearby or neighborhood pub." Due to zoning laws, reliance on the automobile, and the vicious circle of demonization and quiet overindulgence of alcohol, "locals" in the United States are mainly confined to densely-populated urban centers, if they exist here at all. Oft-cited examples are bars, but to me, a public house means more than just that. Though that tangent is probably best left for another post.

Therefore, if I have to pick a place in order to appease Velky Al, I'll go out on a limb and pick Whole Foods.

That's right, I'm not going with any of the grassroots spots in Richmond, Virginia that have happened to catch the beer bug in the past few years. I'm picking a chain of upscale grocery stores that has caught the beer bug in the past few years. In particular, my local Whole Foods.

The Whole Foods in my area has quite the selection of beer, not to mention food, wine, homeopathic healing salves, and accessories for the home. It's a regular earth-loving granola-fest, and I dig it. The products on the shelf often emphasize local, organic, or both simultaneously, all of which I'm happy to support with my wallet. That, and they fill growlers. So it's a win-win.

At any given time, there are eight beers on tap, and they rotate constantly. In addition to standard releases from breweries, their beer buyer often stocks up on limited release kegs of various sizes to store for appropriate seasons or occasions, and rarely do I come across their current draft list without wanting to walk away with 64oz of something.

It's my local, in a sense, because it's where I buy my groceries, where I can have an open discussion about the latest trends in the beer world, and at times, it's also where I do my drinking. As always, there's more to do there than just drink. After work, when I need to pick up some made-in-house organic sausage or fresh local produce, I can grab a pint before I do my shopping. How cool is that?

It's also a place to get away from other places. Not to be insulting, but I'd rather discuss beer, or any topic really, with people I care about or whose opinions I respect. It would be nice to have the sense of community that truly local, neighborhood pubs often cultivate, but I just don't see it here in the US.

So while it may sound selfish to want to drink a pint alone in quiet reflection, or in the company of a small group of friends, it's the way I prefer to spend my valuable leisure time when having a pint out. It just so happens that I enjoy doing that at Whole Foods. Lately, it's the closest thing to a local that I can find.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Being Responsible

Mrs V and I went to another wedding on Saturday, that's 2 in a fortnight. This time, the wedding was that of fellow homebrewer, occasional beer blogger and all round top person Eric from Relentless Thirst. If I may take a moment, meeting Eric and his lovely wife has been one of the highlights of moving to the US - a more generous, enthusiastic and awesome couple would be difficult to meet.

Given that Richmond is but an hour away from us, I said to Mrs V that I would be responsible (for a change) and be the designated driver for the night. Usually Mrs V and I share the driving duties, I drive to the drinking hole and she drives home, this really is a case of practicality, I drink more than she does. As such, I was fully prepared for perhaps a couple of beers early on to then be followed by copious amounts of coke or similar.

At the ceremony, which was beautiful and a real expression of the now Mr and Mrs Relentless Thirst, we saw some familiar faces, including Tom from Yours For Good Fermentables, with whom we had shared beers and discussions on decoction mashing at Hogmanay.

Having made the short trip to Havana 59 for the reception in pretty quick time, other than one missed turn - it wouldn't be a trip to Richmond for us without making a missed turn - we secured a prime location at the bar and perused the beer list, which included Becks NA, at which point I made the decision to be responsible but still have the taste of beer. Thus I stood, swigging lager from the bottle for the first time in many a year, feeling like a college kid again going to some trendy pubs on Birmingham's Broad Street.

I will not bore you with tasting notes for a non-alcoholic beer made by InBev, suffice to say that it was wet, vaguely skunky, grainy and with a long dry finish. Interestingly the head retention was superb! The thought that crossed my mind several times was that it was actually better than the vast majority of "craft" lagers I have had and not entirely unlike watered down Gambrinus from the Czech Republic, in a word it was drinkable. Looking down the bar several times, I hope Havana 59 had a plentiful supply of Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA as it was flying over the bar.

The reception was again excellent, relaxed, full of fun and dancing - not that I partook in the dancing, I have two left feet and derive no pleasure whatsoever from dancing. Mrs V on the other hand loves to dance and so I tend to sit at the bar, beer in hand and watch. The only time I ever actually dance is if I am so mind addled on booze that suddenly I convince myself I have the moves of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, but that takes a very large amount of beer, and perhaps a shot or two of whisky flavoured Dutch courage. You can imagine then the amount of Becks NA I would have to drink to achieve that state.

When the night drew to its conclusion and the revellers had waved the happy couple off, we wandered back to our car, me with a Blood Alcohol Content which according to this online tool was "negligable" and Mrs V having finished her couple of glasses of wine a few hours previously. Arriving at the car, Mrs V turned to me and said something along the lines of "you know, it's ok, I'll drive home", and thus we got back to Charlottesville just past midnight having talked and joked all the way home.

It was a magnificent evening indeed.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Competition Time

Tomorrow is the Dominion Cup in Richmond, one of the largest homebrew competitions in Virginia from what I have read, and one of only 3 competitions that I will be entering this year.

Unlike last year I will be heading down to Richmond with a couple of other guys from the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale to steward and, in the afternoon, do a bit of judging. Thankfully I am only judging one style, but it is one of my two favourite styles, a style that I love muchly and have been drinking since the very beginning of my drinking career.

Naturally I have entered a few beers for the judging, so hopefully they won't get massacred. One thing I am looking forward to very much though is meeting up with Eric, James and a couple of other bods I know and having a good day with a great bunch of beer lovers.

Every prospect pleases.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Decanting Dissolution Dubbel

As I mentioned on Monday, I spent Saturday up in Fredericksburg bottling the first beer produced by the Broederschap Brouwerij project. A quick recap about the beer, basically we brewed a straight down the line Belgian Dubbel, which we called Dissolution Dubbel. If you are interested in the recipe, you can see it here. On the day we brewed 10 gallons, which were then kegged and carbonated over a couple of weeks, and so Saturday was all about drinking the beer, bottling up a case each for Eric and myself to take home, and preparing some bottles for upcoming competitions, including the Dominion Cup on August 13th.

James took the picture above when he transferred the beer from primary to kegs, and over than being clearer and having a good inch of foamy white head, that's a good representation of the beer. As for the beer itself, well, the nose is a melange of ripe bananas, general fruitiness and a firm herbal and grassy hoppiness, with a hint of lemon which I am putting down to the Saaz. Tastewise it was bready and sweet fruit, like raisins, with a long, long, dry finish. Considering it boasts 7.5% abv, the alcohol was nicely integrated and just a touch warming. Overall then we were very happy with the way this beer turned out, and I am looking forward to taking some down to the next meeting of my local homebrew club, not to mention drinking plenty at home.

The label at the top of this post was drawn by a friend of James' and is rather apt in many ways, but if you look carefully at the three monks leaving the monastery, they are all carrying beer. I guess the next thing to do is start planning the next beer for the ongoing Broederschap Brouwerij!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Broederschap Project

It started with an idea. Craft breweries seem to love their collaboration beers, so why not get a few homebrewers together to do likewise? Then the idea morphed into, why not get a few homebrewers that also blog together, and how about doing it with guys I only get to see from time to time and whose company I very much enjoy? Thus I sent an email to James from A Homebrew Log and Eric from Relentless Thirst with a very simple question - would you be interested in designing and brewing a collaborative beer?

Both responded that they thought it was a great idea, and so a mammoth chain of emails developed (I have to say that using Gmail kept that nicely together as an easy to follow thread). In the course of the emails we decided to brew up in Fredericksburg, on James' brewhouse in the picture.

We decided fairly early on that we would brew a Dubbel, and so we all did our research and created recipes from which to design the final project. The only Belgian beer I had brewing before was a witbier, so I went off and bought Stan Hieronymous' book "Brew Like a Monk" (minor aside, while reading the book I kept getting this idea that to brew like a monk, get someone else to do the actual brewing). Eventually we ended up with the following recipe:
  • 18.25 lb Pilsner (2 Row) Bel
  • 1.00 lb Aromatic Malt
  • 1.00 lb Biscuit Malt
  • 1.00 lb Special B Malt
  • 0.50 lb Wheat Malt, Bel
  • 0.25 lb Caramunich Malt
  • 1.00 oz Styrian Goldings [4.60 %] (120 min) (First Wort Hop)
  • 1.00 oz Styrian Goldings [4.60 %] (90 min)
  • 0.50 oz Saaz [3.50 %] (90 min)
  • 1.00 oz Saaz [2.60 %] (35 min)
  • 0.50 oz Saaz [3.50 %] (10 min)
  • 2.00 lb Sugar, Table (Sucrose)
  • 1.50 lb Amber Invert Syrup (35.0 SRM)
  • 2 Pkgs Belgian Abbey II (Wyeast Labs #1762)
This was to be my first all grain mash, and I had assumed that the grain would be crushed in advance - we got our supplies from Northern Brewer, and I always get stuff crushed in advance. However, James has his own mill, which is an adapted flour mill replete with grinding stones.

Eventually we had 22lbs of crushed grain ready to mash.

60 minutes later we had the first runnings in the kettle, and while sparging the grains, we added our first hop addition, an ounce of Styrian Goldings. When we were designing the recipe, we decided that we wanted to be as classic and authentic as possible. The combination of Styrian Goldings and Saaz kept cropping up in our research so that was something of a no-brainer.

Rather than just chucking hops into the kettle, James has a hop bag that hangs into the kettle. Given that we were using leaf hops for some of the additions, it was inevitable that a few bits got into the boil itself.

During the brewing process we took the opportunity to crack into some homebrew, Eric and I had bought some bits and pieces, as well as a growler of the Brew Ridge Trail Collaboration India Black Ale. Eric brought a coffee porter which was delicious, and James had his converted chest freezer laden with goodies. On tap at the time were his version of the 1933 Barclay Perkins Milk Stout, a Warrior single hopped American Brown Ale and an American Wheat Ale hopped with Cascade and Amarillo (I think). All three were very impressive, as was his Pilsner which was bottled, but the highlight for me was the wheat ale, which combined the best elements of a hefeweizen with the best of an American Pale Ale - so drinkable, hugely refreshing and just down right gorgeous.

We ended up boiling the wort for 2 hours rather than the planned 90 minutes so we could get to our target volume of 10.75 gallons, and so we added a few more hops at the end of the boil just to add a touch of aroma. As part of our aim to be authentic, we included a healthy dose of sugar to the boil, both plain table sugar and the remnants of James' invert syrup that he made for the International Homebrew Project.

When all was said and done, we had 10.75 gallons of 1.068 (16.6° Plato) wort, into which we pitched a healthy yeast starter that James had prepared a few days in advance, and put the fermenting vessel in the fridge to do its magic.

The name for this beer is Dissolution Dubbel. The inspiration for the name was that Virginia was originally named for Queen Elizabeth I, aka The Virgin Queen, her father was Henry VIII and it was during his reign that England became a, kind of, Protestant country and in order to pay his bills, the King dissolved the monasteries and sold most of the property to his friends and supporters.

We decided that as we had such a good time planning and brewing Dissolution Dubbel, that we would make this kind of project a regular occurence, perhaps a few times a year, and so another of the names suggested for the beer itself became the name of our new project, Broederschap is Dutch for "brotherhood".

A fantastic day was had, top company, excellent beer and the prospect of more excellent beer in top company, what more could you ask for?

Monday, April 11, 2011

International Homebrew Project - The Tasting

Five weeks ago we brewed it, 3 weeks ago we bottled or kegged it, this weekend the day had arrived to taste it, and this morning I am blogging about it. "It", of course, is the International Homebrew Project brewing of a Milk Stout from Barclay Perkins, the recipe for which dates from 1933.

My first taste of the beer was on Saturday, while up in Fredericksburg brewing with James and Eric from A Homebrew Log and Relentless Thirst respectively, more about that project on Wednesday - suffice for the time being to say that we had a fantastic day and hopefully the result will be an excellent beer. Then yesterday I had the flat to myself for a little while, so took the opportunity to pop open a bottle in the peace and quiet and really get to grips with the beer.

First a note about the labels, they were originally meant to be black, but running low on the ink cartridge front, they came out brick red - which Mrs V actually think looks better than the black, and who am I to argue? So, to the beer, and as ever with my rare tasting note posts, my homage to Cyclops will be used.
  • Sight - very dark brown, ruby edges, persistent tan head
  • Smell - some chocolate, golden syrup, vine fruits, notably grape and blackcurrant, some spice and a touch of marijuana
  • Taste - bitter chocolate upfront, fruity aftertaste mostly blackcurrant, slight acidic tang
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
I was very surprised by the complexity of the beer, given the very low alcohol involved, only 3.7%. There were many layers of flavour, and the blackcurrant/grape thing was most unexpected. While the beer was medium bodied and had a silky finish, I had it in my mind that it would be smoother than it turned out, I also didn't expect it to be as clean and refreshing as it was. Over all I was happy with the beer.

So the International Homebrew Project comes to an end for this year, if there is enough interest from the people that took part then it'll be back in 2012.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Keeping it Simple

I think I am about to utter the most disgustingly unutterably awful phrase you could imagine as a tippler. So abhorrent is this phrase that I fear I will be cast out into eternal darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. So, having taken a mouthful of Coke Zero for courage (it being too early for beer), here goes. I prefer simple beer.

I often find myself agreeing most heartily with Martyn Cornell over at Zythophile, and his recent post "Why extremophiles are a danger to us all" was read with many a nod and waving of papers whilst mumbling "hear, hear". That post came to mind again this weekend as I sat on the patio of Devils Backbone enjoying some spring sunshine and beers with Mrs V, Eric from Relentless Thirst and Steve, who works for a local beer distributor.  New on the beer menu at Devils Backbone is a beer called Ein Kolsch, an excellent example of the style and exceedingly drinkable, but I had to reign myself in and only have 4.

Having indulged in a further pint of Vienna Lager, and a half of Kilt Flasher Wee Heavy to drown my sorrows in preparation for the inevitable theft of the Calcutta Cup by perfidious Albion, we headed down the road to Blue Mountain Brewery. Their take on an altbier, Evan Altmighty, was very drinkable and named after brewer's son, and the film which was made in the area. As ever, the Classic Lager was most enjoyable. 

Classic beers, well made, are, in my ever so unhumble opinion, the height of the brewers craft. Sure, your imperial IPAs might be interesting to sample at a beer festival, but to drink several pints of on a night out? Sat with our pints of Ein Kolsch, or the Styrian Blonde in Steve's case, the sum total of geekery was as follows:
  1. observe colour and clarity of the beer
  2. take a mouthful
  3. nod appreciatively and say "that's good"
  4. continue discussing Steely Dan/Liverpool/homebrew/insert theme here
I don't want beer to be an existential experience, I am not looking for the next big hop high, I just want to drink several pints of something tasty, in the company of fine people and still be able to function the next morning. I am fairly sure that I am not in the minority on that front, and so Fuggled will continue to celebrate the session beer, the classic beer and the pubs in which to enjoy them.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Fuggled Review of the Year - Blogs

So to the final installment of the Fuggled Review of the Year, the blogs that I have enjoyed reading throughout 2010. Again making that final list of three is fraught with difficulty, thus requiring a list of honourable mentions again. I think today though, the honourable mention list will come first:

I have a tie for the best beer related blog from Virginia simply between Eric and James, of Relentless Thirst and A Homebrew Log respectively, cater to different aspects of my love of beer. Relentless Thirst has wide ranging posts of various aspects on the beer world which I find well thought out and thought provoking, whereas A Homebrew Log does exactly what it says on the tin - it is about homebrewing, but it is well written and always informative. I have had the pleasure of sharing beers, both commercial and homebrew, with both Eric and James, and they are top blokes, with a passion for beer and brewing. Keep your eyes open for an upcoming project the three of us are working on.

If you know anything about me, you know I love session beer, and what to see more of it produced over here in the States. Lew's The Session Beer Project then is an invaluable resource for keeping abreast of developments in session beer across the US.

What can you say about Ron that hasn't already been said? Challenging, backed up with facts rather than fables and recipes to brew historical beers! Not only is Ron's blog required reading as far as I am concerned, but the fact that it was one of Ron's books that inspired Devils Backbone to brew a 1904 London Stout recipe, which was one of my favourite beers of the year, has to be a good thing.

But as ever, the final few must become just the one, and so the 2010 Fuggled Blog of the Year is:
  • Shut Up About Barclay Perkins
Excellent reading all round and here's to another year of banging the drum about IPAs real nature!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Slaking the Relentless Thirst

I like beer. That may be a fairly obvious statement given that I write a blog about beer, drink beer and brew my own beer, not to mention working in a brewery tasting room. Rarely does a day go by when I don't think about, read about or wonder about something to do with beer.

Of the many things I like about beer, possibly the best aspect is meeting other beery people. Since Mrs Velkyal and I left the loveliness of LagerLand for the United States of Ale, we have been fortunate to meet many fellow travellers in the beer world. Of those fellow travellers, Eric Delia, author of the Relentless Thirst blog, has been one of the highlights.

Recently Eric and his future wife came up to Charlottesville from Richmond and we met up in the Starr Hill tasting room and then went for some food and beer at Beer Run. I came prepared with home brew for Eric to take away and try, some of which he is blogging about today. A week later, when passing through Richmond from Williamsburg, we met up again for food and beer, and Eric gave me some bottles of his home brew, about which I will write about now.

The first bottle I popped open was his dunkelweizen, although just as with mine, Eric thinks of it more as a wheat porter or stout. As you can see from the picture, it is certainly very very dark, pitch black would be an apt description really. Unlike a stout though, the dunkelweizen was very well carbonated, that head remained until the end of the beer and there were constant streams of bubbles refreshing the head. The nose was quite roasty, in particular a roasted coffee aroma, though in the background there were floral hop traces. Drinking the beer confirmed the stout/porter thing, up front was caramel and coffee, but as the beer warmed a dark chocolate note came to the fore. The body was quite velvety despite the weizen style carbonation, and all in all this was a very good beer. I would be happy to have more. Given the similarities to my own dunkelweizen, the beer gave me an idea to re-seed my next batch of dunkelweizen with brett and see where that takes the beer.

Next up was Eric's pale ale, which judging from the cloudiness of the beer I left in the fridge too long, or wasn't as careful in my pouring as I should have been. The beer itself though was amber, topped with the thin white head you can see in the picture. I have to admit here that I was expecting this to be a typical American full on assault on the olfactory glands, you know the kind of thing, grapefruit, grapefruit and well, more grapefruit. What I got was a nice balance of citrus, floral and a spicy notes, no one of them overpowering the others, but creating a whole which was very pleasant. In the mouth, there was a nice malty sweetness than balanced out the hop bite, and even a slightly fruity thing going on. I liked it immensely. Again a good beer to sit in the pub and drink all night whilst putting the world to rights. (I am starting to think that is my key criteria when evaluating a beer, could I drink this all night in the pub?).

I left the most intriguing beer to last. The dark amber delight you see in the picture is a chilli pepper beer, an ingredient I don't recall having ever had in a beer before. The nose was fragrant hops to begin with, kind of herbal in you like, but as the beer warmed up the chilli really started to be more and more noticeable. The same could be said of drinking the beer, out of the traps was a malty sweetness tinged with pepper, but as time passed the pepper came to the fore, but without being too much. The more I drank the warmer the chilli effect became, and I liked it a lot. The body of the beer was very smooth, almost oily, I imagine from the use of chilli peppers. Fascinating and very tasty drinking.

3 very good beers from a singularly excellent person.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Homebrewer of the Week

We are staying rather close to home for Homebrewer of the Week today. Just about an hour away from Charlottesville is Richmond, capital of Virginia and one time home to the government of the Confederate States of America. It is also home to fellow homebrewer, beer blogger, beer enthusiast and all round general top bloke, E.S. Delia, whose blog, Relentless Thirst is always a worthy read.

Name: Eric Delia

How did you get into home brewing?

I got into homebrewing after delving into the craft beer movement in general. One catalyst for this was the blog I started years ago, which began to lead me on a path to discover what beer was truly about. It’s a path I was already sort of on before I even was aware of it. The brewing process had always intrigued me, ever since I visited the Anheuser-Busch plant in Williamsburg, Virginia as a kid. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that you can’t understand beer without being a homebrewer, but I do believe it adds a certain depth to that understanding.

Are you an all grain brewer or extract with grains?

All-grain. Started as an extract brewer doing partial mash.

What is the best beer you have ever brewed and why?

A saison I brewed the first time around turned out to be phenomenal, at least by my meager standards. I think the temperature settings I used in fermentation imparted great flavors, but the yeast didn’t attenuate all the way (something saison yeasts are known for). I then had to use a neutral yeast to finish it out, but it had been a while and I worried that I’d lose the batch. When everything seemed to go wrong, the beer turned out great in the end.

What is the worst, and why?

Hard to pick just one! Ha! But I’d venture to say it was a Dark Mild ale I brewed with maple syrup. The extra sugar ended up making this beer overcarbonated, and while the flavor was where I wanted it, the carbonic acid really killed the round sweetness it was supposed to have.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

Well, I do all sorts of styles and types, but I’d have to say that the saison I revisited is my favorite, just because it turned out so delicious. This latest batch is coming into its own.

Do you have any plans or ambitions to turn your hobby into your career?

It would be an amazing opportunity to turn my homebrewing into a career, but it’s nice to dream, isn’t it?

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

Again, I’d have to go with that saison. However, I brewed a Witbier that was just a rock-solid, standard, easy-drinking beer that seemed to be great to enjoy at any time of the day or year. Relatively low alcohol content and a straight-forward, full wheat flavor made it quite quaffable.

How do you decide on the kind of beer to brew and formulate the recipe?

Research and experimentation. I’ll normally get an idea for a beer, look around to see what my malt base will look like and what kind of additional flavors I want to infuse into my mash. Then, I’ll construct the rest of the beer on top of that. Sometimes it doesn’t produce the characteristics I’m hoping for, but other times it makes for fantastic surprises.

What is the most unusual beer you have brewed?

I collaborated with a couple friends on a beer called Figgy Stardust. We basically reduced some whole figs, used Laphroaig malt in the grain bill, and added honey. The flavor components were quite subtle, but together it was off-the-wall enough to be named in honor of the Starman himself.

If you could do a pro-am brew, what would you brew and with which brewery?

Tough question, and for me it would depend on what we’re trying to brew. At the moment, I’d love to peer into the mind of Dany Prignon over at Fant?me and do an off-the-wall saison, but it’d be hard to pass up this kind of offer with any brewery, really.

Monday, August 2, 2010

On Reflection

It has been a year and 3 days since Mrs Velkyal and I pitched our tent in Charlottesville, Virginia. Of course regular readers will know that the 10 years before that, 6 in the good lady's case, were spent mostly in Prague. I say "mostly" because I had a three month stint in Minsk, Belarus, and a few months living in a town called Mlada Boleslav about 50km outside Prague, and home to Skoda Auto.

When we moved over to the States, I was very much looking forward to getting to grips with the craft beer scene here, especially the local one. I have mentioned several times that we live in an excellent part of the world for beer, and one that has a fair bit of brewing heritage - we are only about 2 miles from Thomas Jefferson's estate, Monticello, and the good man was known for the quality of his homebrew. Despite wanting to immerse myself in local beer (take that whatever way you will), one of my priorities was to find a source of Budvar so I could still enjoy my favourite large scale production Czech lager. So far, I am yet to find the pot of golden lager at the end of the rainbow, and so when we venture to South Carolina, I pick up a case of the good stuff to grace the shelves of the cellar.

As you most likely know, I work occasional weekends in the Starr Hill Brewing Company tasting room, giving out little samples of beer and trying not to baffle visitors with technicalities - I work on the theory that they are more interested in the beer, and not the process, those interested in the process can take the tour. Reactions are always interesting when taking people through the samples, and it is surprising how often someone will tell me their favourite beer and when asked why they like it, they answer "because it doesn't taste like beer". I also find it interesting the number of ingrained preconceptions which abound and need to be gently corrected, though that really isn't my style. The number of times I have had to explain the difference between cellar temperature and room temperature is as numerous as the grains of sand in the Sahara. Oh, and quite how people can think I am Australian given my pretty standard BBC accent is beyond me, answers on a postcard please.

While we are happily blessed with good breweries in the area, and in the case of Blue Mountain and , excellent brewpubs, finding a pub to call my regular has proven to be somewhat trickier. It is not a case that there are no good pubs, it is a case of not being able to walk to them, or to get the bus (ok, ok, there is a bus system and I am sure I could work it out somehow), so going to the pub means driving, finding a parking space and then one of us having to be exceedingly moderate, and I guess you know who that is most of the time! My favourite haunt  in terms of pub ambience is Court Square Tavern in the centre of the town - a quietish pub with a decent selection of beer and a nice feel to it. If we lived closer I would most likely call it my local. Beer Run also has a good selection of beer and a variety of draught beers, not to mention one of the few handpulls in town, but again I can't just totter home merrily after a night out.

As for the world of tipplers, I have met several fellow bloggers and even a few readers who have come into the tasting room at Starr Hill and it is great to see that beer lovers here are broadly similar to beer lovers I have met in other parts of the world - good humoured, generous and always happy to share knowledge. I think it was the first or second weekend we were here that we went up to Richmond to attend a beer blogger/lover get together hosted by E.S. Delia of Relentless Thirst renown. We had a great time, drank some wonderful beers, my contribution being BrewDog Paradox Smokehouse, but the beer highlight of the event was a homebrewed dark mild, which was delightful.

Memories of the dark mild, partly brewed by this rather talented artist, leads me nicely into one of my few criticisms of the brewing, and drinking, scene in this neck of the woods, the lack of session beer. I am a big fan of the Lew Bryson's Session Beer Project and wish more brewers took up the challenge of making flavourful beer with less than 4.5% abv. One brewer with whom I am acquainted commented that "there is no market" for session beer. I would however suggest that he is wrong, the market is out there, but it is drowned out by the hopheads and extreme beer fanatics who salivate like rabid dogs at the thought of the latest, greatest "innovative" beer. Such fanatics are, thankfully, in my experience a minority here, but they are so vocal, so passionate, so bloody Talibanesque that you would think their view of beer is the only legitimate one, and they are wrong.

To quote
All in all though, I am enjoying experiencing American beer, and, for the most part, meeting American beer lovers. I still have plenty to discover, more beer to drink, more people to hang out with in bars, all the while remaining true to my belief that beer is the everyman drink, not a lifestyle accessory, not a badge of being cool, not a fashion statement, and most certainly not an opportunity for oneupmanship. Beer is about people. The people who make it, the people who care for and serve it and the people who drink it. Beer people are largely good people, beer people are my people.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fuggled Review of the Year - Blog of the Year

Slowly we are getting to the end of my review of the year, only a couple more categories to go! This in some ways though is the one I have been looking forward to writing the most, because I get to give credit to some of the people who make my days infinitely more interesting with their writings.

Like so many of the categories I have done, it really it difficult to whittle it down to just three from which to pick a winner, however I did give myself a couple of criteria which were absolutely vital. Firstly, the majority of blog posts had to be actually about something rather than a few words about how many beers they drank or something equally vacuous. Secondly, the ability to continue the conversation in the comments section is important - I like being able to make a comment and have it responded to, after all, one of the points of web 2.0 isn't just to give every gobshite with a keyboard a mouthpiece, but rather to facilitate dialogue, and through that greater understanding of a topic.

Without further ado, the three best blogs in my world are:
I can't remember exactly when I came across Dave's blog, but from day one I have enjoyed the refreshingly open and honest perspective that Dave brings to his writing.  Whether posting on the trials of running a countryside Free House, tax issues relating to beer, or even why he invested in BrewDog, Dave brings a depth of passion and also willingness to have his views challenged by the wider beer blogging community.

E.S. Delia of Relentless Thirst fame doesn't write as often as some, but when he does it is always worth reading, often bringing subtle insights into the Virginia craft brewing scene as well as tips about beers to drink, and which good beers are actually available in this neck of the woods. Of the three bloggers on the list, E.S. Delia is the only one I have actually met, spoken with in person and had the pleasure of his company, in every way he is the stereotype of what a beer lover and blogger should be.

I am sure that most of us appreciate Ron Pattinson's fascinating historical perspectives on gravities and brewing ingredients, I know that I very much plan to make some of the homebrew versions of the beer recipes he has been posting of late. From deep within all the statistics, logs and numbers shines Ron's deep love and passion for beer, which is of course the driving force behind any good beer blogger.

Given that I have one UK based, one Europe based and one American based blogger on my list, it would be so easy to make each of them the winner in their respective geographical location, but that would be shifting the goal posts. So my Blog of the Year is:
  1. Dave's Beer Related Blog
Always challenging, always interesting and always worth thinking over and ruminating on, Dave's blog is the one I always go to the moment it is updated.

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...