Showing posts with label schwarzbier. Show all posts
Showing posts with label schwarzbier. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Darkness Rising?

I have mentioned many times before that living in Virginia means that the lagerboy within me has plenty of good locally brewed options for satisfying the urge for clean, crisp beers. Whether it's Three Notch'd Of.By.For Pilsner (a beer that challenges all of my prejudices about what a pilsner is and I love all the same), South Street My Personal Helles, or Port City's simply divine Downright Pilsner, I never have to look too hard for a great pale lager.


Over the last year or so there seems to be a general popping up of dark lagers in the area, and I am wondering if this is part of a broader trend or whether it is serving a very localised taste. For as long as I have lived in Virginia, Devils Backbone have produced a schwarzbier, called Schwartzbier, which has found a regular place in my fridge. They also brewed Morana, a Czech style tmavé based on the magisterial Kout na ?umavě 14° tmavé, as well as Barclay's London dark Lager from a historic recipe for an English dark lager. From what Jason would tell me, dark lagers would also sell very well.


Recently I have noticed more dark lagers cropping up in the repertoires of local breweries. Last year South Street brought out Back to Bavaria, a Munich Dunkel that I drank almost exclusively for a couple of months and mentioned honorably in my review of 2015 - if Mitch at South Street is reading this, please bring it back, I loved it.

Speaking of Dunkels, just last weekend Mrs V and I met up with some friends for dinner at Blue Mountain and behold they too had one on tap, Blauerburg Dunkel, and I enjoyed several pints of it whilst half wishing it had been available at Edelweiss for Valentines Day. I am sure there is some level of crossover between the Back to Bavaria and Blauerburg given that the owners of Blue Mountain also own South Street, either way both were lovely beers.

This got me to thinking, is central Virginia something of an oasis for the dark lager arts, as it is in many ways for me with regards to pale lagers? Is it possible that after years of IPA domination, people are re-discovering the delights of lagers like dunkel, schwarzbier, and tmavé?

I for one certainly hope so.

UPDATE

I just got a message from Jason at Devils Backbone, and Morana is being brewed again this Friday. Keep your eyes peeled for a notice for when it will be released.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Lagerboy Pride!

If you have been following Fuggled for a while now, you will doubtless know that I am a devotee of the lager arts.


Whether pale, amber, dark or pitch black, most of my favourite beers will have been cold fermented and then lagered before packaging. I am quite happily what some breweries like to disparagingly call a 'Lagerboy'. It therefore seriously pisses me off that 'lager' is used as shorthand for lowest common denominator beer.


Lager, as I have said many times before, is a labour of love from beginning to end, especially if a brewer is going to do a decoction mash, which makes the brewday longer. Then there is the lagering of the beer itself, tying up the brewer's capital for a long period of time, whether it be 4 weeks or 90 days - did you know that a batch of 12° Budvar takes 102 days to make, 12 days in primary fermentation followed by 3 months lagering? In a world that seems to love talking about beers being made with 'passion', it takes real passion and dedication to doing things properly and give your lager the time it needs to be ready.


I have said it before, and will continue to bang the drum, but a well made lager is, in my unhumble opinion, the height of the brewers' craft. Sure you can make your triple black IPA aged in soured gorilla snot barrels, but if a brewer is incapable of making a clean, crisp, refreshing and flavourful pale lager then are they really all that great, despite the ravings of those advocating the rating of beer?


Using the term 'lager' as a cover all for the lowest common denominator brews churned out by multinational breweries does a disservice to a family of beers as diverse and varied as ales. Whether drinking a Bohemian Pilsner packed with the flavours and aromas of Saaz, downing a pint of Schwarzbier with its clean roastiness, or supping gently on a powerful yet balanced Baltic Porter, there is little in life as satisfying as well made lager, where the brewer has nowhere to hide flaws.


So brewery marketing departments, cut it out with the lager hating, beer geeks, cut it out with phrases like 'it's good, for a pilsner'.


To paraphrase a cliche from self-help groups....my name is Velky Al, and I'm a Lagerboy.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Mmmmm.....Lager.

You know me by now, unless this is your first visit to Fuggled, in which case welcome, I am a lager drinker, nay a lover of lager. Whether it is a Bohemian Pilsner, Schwarzbier, Vienna or Baltic Porter, the lager 'family' of beers is the one I like to spend as much drinking time as possible with. That's not to say that warm fermented beers aren't wonderful as well, but just that beer that takes its own sweet time to be ready is my preferred tipple. Given a bank of taps pouring pale ales in various states of Indianess, stouts, porters, brown ales and wheat beers, if there is a solitary good lager available then I will gladly ignore everything else, even if it is super rare, super strong and aged in gorilla snot barrels.

Without being mean, any brewer can chuck more hops into the kettle, or add spices to secondary and get something that is at least drinkable, but it takes a master brewer to have the confidence to brew a great lager, such as Devils Backbone Vienna Lager, Victory Prima Pils, or Kout na ?umavě 18° (it also takes a master brewer to do the whole extra hops and spice thing well without turning the beer into a flavour mess). We can argue all day about the merits or otherwise of decoction mashing, for the record I think it makes a better beer though I know at least one of my favourite lagers is done with infusion mashing, but one thing is clear, lager is a labour of love, and if a brewery does it properly then it ties up capital and equipment for a very long time.


Take Budvar for example. I remember reading that each batch of their flagship 12° lager takes 102 days to make, from start to finish. Primary fermentation lasts 12 days and then the beer sits in the lagering tanks for 90 days, that's three months, 12 weeks (1 week for each degree of Plato as used to be the norm), just sitting around. Would most people recognise a difference if they brought it out after 60 days? Probably not, but some traditions are worth keeping regardless of what science tells us with numbers.

Brewing, any brewing, is not just about the numbers. Sure your pilsner might have a starting gravity of 1.048 (12° Plato), you might even have gone crazy and hopped it to 40 IBUs but it might still suck because there is too much alcohol from the yeast over attenuating and making it thin in the body (more alcohol is not always a good thing). Perhaps you used some high alpha hops for bittering rather than Saaz all the way through. Perhaps you didn't wait for the lager to tell you when it was ready and just pulled it from the tanks after 28 days regardless. Lager, in  my thoroughly unhumble opinion is not something to be taken lightly, and one of the reasons I brew them so infrequently is simply because I want to do them justice and I don't really have the equipment to do so.

This is one of the reasons I enjoy living in this part of Virginia, I have access to great local lager whenever I want it, made by brewers who do it properly and rightly win awards as a result.

Monday, August 27, 2012

On the Judge's Bench

Saturday was my kind of day. The temperature was pleasant, it rained for about 9 hours and I was a at a beer festival. The festival in question was the Virginia Craft Brewers Festival being hosted at Devils' Backbone, and I had been asked if I would like to steward at the Virginia Beer Cup part of the festival.

Having driven for an hour or so to get there, Devils Backbone being even further away since we moved into our new house, I got myself checked in and promptly asked if I wouldn't mind being a judge for the day rather than a steward. Thus it was that I found myself in the august company of several BJCP Master and National judges, as well as the executive director of the - who I also enjoyed a good chat with over a re-competition pint in the brewpub itself.

Judging a commercial beer competition is slightly different from judging homebrew. For a start you can generally assume that the brewers know what they are doing, and don't need to be reminded off the importance of sanitation and such like, and using the GABF style guidelines means you don't have to discuss the nature of a black IPA.

With something like 70 beers to judge, in 5 categories, I was very happy to be given the task of judging dark beers in the first session and then lagers in the second. Dark beers covered a multitude of styles, from brown ales to stouts and pretty much everything in between, my personal favourite was an oatmeal stout, while in the lager category a schwarzbier stood head and shoulders above the competition. I am still not sure who the oatmeal stout was from, but the schwarzbier, which eventually took best in show and hence the Virginia Beer Cup itself, was a Devils Backbone brew.

One thing that became abundantly apparent during the competition was that what Virginia perhaps lacks in the quantity of breweries, when compared to say North Carolina, is more than made up for in the quality. We have some damned good breweries in the Commonwealth, and hopefully the many startups that are in the works will add as much to the quality of our local beer as to the quantity.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Austria. Thuringia. Bavaria. California?

There are some breweries that never, ever, fail to impress, or at least make beers that I enjoy and want to drink multiple pints of. Word on the street is that one such brewery is looking to open an East Coast operation and one of the options is just a few hours south of where I live. I am, of course, talking about Sierra Nevada, who, rumour has it, have a site near Roanoke as one of their options for the new operation.


My first beer from Sierra Nevada is the one in the picture, sat in the magnificent, and sadly defunct, Sheridan's On The Docks in Galway, watching Ireland play New Zealand with the supreme company which is The Tale of the Ale's Reuben and his wife. Before splashing the cash to buy it, I had sent a quick message to Evan Rail to ask his opinion, and he was right, it was a delight.


Since moving to the US, I have enjoyed every Sierra Nevada beer I have encountered, from the comforting autumnal Tumbler to the smooth yet zingy Glissade. Their stout and porter both make regular appearances in the cellar and the fridge, and I'm even partial to a drop of their IPA, Torpedo.

On Thursday night, there was a Sierra Nevada invasion at Beer Run. Every tap, including the hand pull was dedicated to Sierra Nevada. On a side note, I enjoy these "tap takeovers" because you get to see how good a brewery actually is as a result of lesser known beers being available. Having dropped Mrs V off at the library so she could crack on with her latest paper for her Masters degree, I headed over for a couple of pints.


A quick glance at the menu revealed the words that immediately make me want to try a beer, "lager", "pilsner", you know by the now the stuff I like. So a pint of Vienna Lager was ordered. I had never seen a Sierra Nevada Vienna Lager before, hardly surprising as it is one of their "Specialty Drafts" according to their website. 4 mouthfuls later and the glass was empty. That is one delicious beer, clean and crisp, yet laden with toasty malt sweetness. Had it not been for the limited time available to me, and the dark winkings of the Schwarzbier, I could have drank that all night. But turn to the dark side I did. The Schwarzbier was, um, schwarz, and roasty, full of flavour and just bursting with goodness and again with a nice clean finish. Perhaps this explains my love of lager, I like clean flavours. My final pint was the FOAM Pilsner, a German Pilsner, and a very decent brew it is too. Had it been served in a biergarten in Central Europe it would have been the lubricant to a night of conversation and revery.

I also did a side by side tasting of Torpedo, one from keg and one from cask. The cask version was sparkled, as is the correct method, and the difference was startling. The hop aromas were much more pronounced in the cask version than the regular keg, and the body slightly fuller. Whilst not a cask fundamentalist, if I was I would be pretty much teetotal in this country, I am yet to be convinced by the argument that keg is better for highly hopped brews. Every time I have the opportunity to compare the same beer side by side from keg and cask, it was been a highly hopped pale ale, and the cask was won hands down.

My only wish is that these lagers were more regularly available in this neck of the woods. It is clear that not only do Sierra Nevada make some exceptional ales, their lagers are right up there as well, but sadly not getting the distribution and praise they clearly deserve.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Samuel Adams - Brewmaster's Collection

Craft beer is not always synonymous with small breweries, I for one would include Budvar in my world of craft brewers simply because they use traditional ingredients and continue to make their, oh so lovely, lager traditionally, without cutting costs and corners by using maltose syrup or that nebulous ingredient in Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus, "hop products". Likewise in the UK is a craft brewer, and here in the US companies like the Boston Beer Company, who trade under the brand name Samuel Adams, would also qualify despite the fact that their beers are readily available and for all intents and purposes mass produced.

I have something of a soft spot for Samuel Adams because their Summer Ale was the first beer I had in the USA when I first came in 2007, it was also the first beer I had after 6 months abstinence in an attempt to lose weight (I lost 50lbs eventually, although I have regained a little of that, such is the price to pay for a love of beer). After a 9 hour flight from Prague to Atlanta, and then the short hop to Columbia, not to mention the fact that our bags where held back due to some lunatic driving his burning Jeep into Glasgow airport, it hit the nail right on the head. Thus, one of my aims once Mrs Velkyal and I arrived here to stay was to get to grips with the entire Samuel Adams line, a task which may take a while of course, however I made a start by picking up a boxed containing the following beers:

First up was the Blackberry Witbier, made with Oregon blackberries according to the blurb on the neck label, and a fairly new addition to the product line apparently. It certainly pours like a witbier, cloudy amber, slightly off-white head which did a vanishing trick fairly sharpish. This has lots of fruity flavours going on, the nose was like mixed fruit jam, while tastewise some sweet maltiness underlay the fruit flavours again. There was some spice, although I would like to have more as I think the fruit overpowers it and about half way down the glass it becomes boring and even flaccid.

On to the Irish Red then, a style I am planning to brew myself once in Virginia (actually I am planning to cross an Irish Red with an India Pale Ale and make an India Red Ale with lots of C-hop flavours!). Can you guess what colour it was, yes that's right, it was red, and the head was a big fluffy ivory affair. Caramel and cocoa dominated the nose, with some subtle earthy aftertones - my brain immediately said English hops, and thankfully the neck label said East Kent Goldings! The beer itself is quite sweet, with lots of syrupy caramel flavours, which put me in mind of a slightly thinner version of London Pride - which is never a bad thing in my world.

Last up and the most anticipated was the Black Lager, I was eager to see whether this would be a more Bohemian or German interpretation of the dark lager genre. It pours a very dark red with a tan head, and even on popping open the bottle their is a rush of roasted smells, with a light touch of coffee in the background. The roasted theme continues in the drinking, bittersweet and with more than a hint of coffee, with touches of burnt sugar and caramel ending in a gentle dry finish. Yup it's a schwarzbier for sure, and a mighty fine one at that.

For me the Blackberry Witbier does nothing, that is not to say it is a bad beer per se, just that it doesn't rock my boat. The Irish Red is a nice smooth ale which will no doubt make the occasional appearance in the fridge, although given that Irish Red is a style I haven't explored much it will need trying alongside others to get a handle on it properly. The Black Lager will no doubt become a regular in the cellar, it really is lovely and I can imagine that it would be very useful in some of my cooking ideas floating around my brain.

With another 8 styles in the Brewmaster's Collection, not to mention the very nice Boston Lager, I am fairly sure I will be returning time and again to Samuel Adams.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...

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