Showing posts with label sierra nevada. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sierra nevada. Show all posts

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.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Oktoberfest Champions League: The Final 6

We needed a tie breaker...

If you recall from the previous post, where I tasted 24 beers marketed for Oktoberfest, Benediktiner Festbier and Left Hand Oktoberfest had tied for top position in their group. In terms of their score, they had exactly the same points in each of the categories, the solution then was to drink them blind again, score them again, and then average their scores to break the tie, hopefully. It turned out the Benediktiner squeaked home by the narrowest of margins, giving me a final 6 of:

  • New Realm Bavarian Prince (m?rzen)
  • Ayinger Oktober Fest-M?rzen
  • Great Lakes Oktoberfest (m?rzen)
  • Benediktiner Festbier
  • Sierra Nevada (m?rzen)
  • Von Trapp Oktoberfest (m?rzen)
For the final 6 I decided to stick with the blind tasting and my points method of
  • Appearance - 3 points
  • Aroma - 10 points
  • Taste - 15 point
  • Balance of bitterness and sweetness - 2 points
  • Personal opinion - 10 points
With the inestimable Mrs V again decanting the various cans and bottles while I pottered away to make sure I wasn't aware of what I was drinking, the final 6 scored as follows:
  1. Ayinger - 34/40
  2. Great Lakes - 33/40
  3. New Realm - 33/40
  4. Sierra Nevada - 32/40
  5. Von Trapp - 31/40
  6. Benediktiner - 27/40
Having used the average of 2 tastings to split Benediktiner and Left Hand, I had decided that I would use the same method to decide the final rankings of the 2020 Fuggled Oktoberfest Taste Off, giving us...
  1. New Realm Bavarian Prince - 67/80 (33.5)
  2. Great Lakes Oktoberfest - 65/80 (32.5)
  3. Ayinger Oktober Fest-M?rzen - 64/80 (32)
  4. Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest - 63/80 (31.5)
  5. Von Trapp Oktoberfest - 61/40 (30.5)
  6. Benediktiner Festbier - 58/40 (29)
I won't bore you with my full tasting notes for the winner, but on both occasions, about 10 days apart, I noted a superb malt complexity that was mostly the classic toasted bread thing that you get with Munich and Vienna malts, sweet without being sugary or caramelly. In terms of personal opinion, both times I gave it 8/10 and noted that it is the kind of beer I would happily sit and drink several ma? of.

As in previous years, I wouldn't be too surprised if I pick up some singles of other Oktoberfest lagers that weren't available when I collected the entrants to see if Bavarian Prince can hold onto its crown, but as things stand, well done New Realm for creating a lovely m?rzen that will be in my fridge for a while yet this autumn (also, yay autumn is here!).

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.

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.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber, Red, and Brown

On this Boxing Day, or St Stephen's Day if you insist, we move up in the colour charts to the rather broad notion of amber, red, and brown beers, which here I am defining as anything that you can actually see through without being held up to the light. With no further ados being necessary, let's jump straight on in.

Virginia
  • Vienna Lager - Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Satan's Pony - South Street Brewery
  • Hydraulion Irish Red Ale - Three Notch'd Brewing
Honorable mentions:
Fast Mild - Ballad Brewing; Oktoberfest - Port City Brewing
USA
  • Copper - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Oktoberfest - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Bigfoot 2019 - Sierra Nevada Brewing, CA/NC
Honorable mentions:
Bauern Bock - Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, NC; Troeganator - Tr?egs Brewing, PA
Rest of World
  • David's Not So Bitter - Spey Valley Brewery, Scotland
  • Lager - Brauerei Spezial, DE
  • I.P.A. - Isle of Skye Brewing, Scotland
Honorable mentions:
O'Hara's Red - Carlow Brewing, IE; Oktoberfest-M?rzen - Brauerei Ayinger, DE
Bringing the list of amber, red, and brown beers down to just three was actually pretty simple as in each regional category there was a standout beer across the year, so kind gentlefolk I give you the final three...


  • Virginia - Satan's Pony, South Street Brewery
  • USA - Copper, Olde Mecklenburg Brewing
  • Rest of World - Lager, Brauerei Spezial
Picking just one though is much harder, however there is one that achieved something special this year. I am a big fan of rauchbier, Schenkerla in particular, and so when I was sat in a side room at the Brauerei Spezial in Bamberg on my second, or possibly third, half litre of Spezial Lager it dawned on my that this would be my local and my tipple if I lived there. Such a lovely beer, and I am sure the location helps, but it was complex enough to be interesting, moreish enough to sit and enjoy several of, and so damned well made that I could find no fault in it. As such, it is worthy to be declared the Fuggled Amber, Red, and Brown Beer of 2019.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Oktoberfest Crown Challengers - Josephsbrau

Having seen off the challenge of Spaten, Josephsbrau Oktoberfest from Trader Joe's hoved into view.

I am happy to admit to having a soft spot for the Trader Joe's range of contract brewed beer, where else can you get thoroughly reliable, solid central European lagers for under $6.50 a six pack? Of course, the lagers are brewed by Gordon Biersch, and while they may lack the sex appeal of trendy breweries, I have never once had a bad beer from them, they just do them right, and do them well.

But how would it stand up to the beer that is the only annual release I keep an active eye out for?


Once again with the Cyclops:
  • Sight - pale copper, nice white head that lingers and leaves a lovely bit of lace
  • Smell - tangerine citrus hops, toasted teacake, some herbal notes
  • Taste - juicy sweet malt character, fresh scones, firm citric bitterness
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
What a cracking beer this is.

Let me tell you a story, last weekend Mrs V and I took the boys to the Kiptopeke State Park on Virginia's Eastern Shore for their first camping trip. Along for the trip was my good friend Dave, his wife, and their son who is only a couple of months older than our pair. Dave and I drink a lot of beer together, and we have been caning 12 packs of Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest like nobody's business this year. Indeed, we polished off another one on Friday night, having got the tents sorted and the children to sleep. On the Saturday, we started on the Trader's beer, though admittedly I waited until the sun was down to start drinking, and the consensus then was that Trader's is a more drinkable beer.

It is, then, on that basis that Sierra Nevada has been knocked off its perch in the Fuggled Oktoberfest Taste Off. Josephsbrau Oktoberfest is simply delightful and unlike other seasonal beers that folks describe as "drinkable" it doesn't fall into the bland trap.

The king is dead!


Long live the king!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Oktoberfest Crown Challengers - Spaten

So....where did we leave it? Oh that's right, from my perspective the winner of the Fuggled Oktoberfest Taste Off was Sierra Nevada's collaboration with Bitburger. As is the way of things though, the shops suddenly had more beers bearing the Oktoberfest label and so I knew I had to find a way of incorporating those into things.

The plan then is simple, a series of head to head tastings and whoever is left standing at the end will be declared the Fuggled Oktoberfest of the Year, a prize so unmatched in prestige that it is quite literally priceless, oh ok then it has no monetary value.

The first contender was Spaten's Oktoberfest, marketed as the "Ur-M?rzen", the original M?rzen, it seemed only natural to start things off with this.


Using the Cyclops beer evaluation tool, here's my thoughts on Sierra Nevada
  • Sight - copper, medium white head, nice lacing
  • Smell - toasty malt, light brown sugar, floral hops
  • Taste - slight peppery hop note, toasted teacake, nicely clean bitter bite
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
There is a reason I have drunk a lot of this since it came out in August, it is damned delicious. What then about the challenger?

  • Sight - rich orange with red highlights, firm white head, good lacing
  • Smell - sweet grainy malt, subtle honey, citrus and spicy hops
  • Taste - soft toffee, caramelised grains, a bit indistinct
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Ok, so it is a nice beer, good balance leaning more toward the malt, and with a nice clean finish. The problem with it though is that it is just rather forgettable.


Sierra Nevada then holds onto their crown...but other challengers are lining up.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Oktoberfest Taste Off - The Final

The final four.

Originally my intention had been to have a pair of semi finals followed by a final and third place play off, kind of like the World Cup, but I changed my mind.

On Sunday morning, Mrs V and I, with the twins in tow decided to go to the Somerset Pasture Party being held just up the road from us. Basically the "party" is an exhibition of vintage steam and gas powered contraptions, and with sons that get all excited at trains we figured they'd enjoy it too. We had also arranged to meet up with my good friend Dave and his wife Ali, along with their son, who is slightly older than our boys.


Once done with choking on wood and coal smoke, thank god for what remains of the EPA and the Clean Air Act frankly speaking, we all decamped to our place for lunch and drinkies. With the ladies in the kitchen preparing lunch, the kids watching cartoons and/or playing with toys, I decided to split the bottles I had for the four remaining beers with Dave and choose a final ranking for them. The final four, as a reminder, were:
We decided to rank them purely on the basis of personal preference rather than comparing to any particular style definition, especially as from the picture you can see that they cover a range of colours and interpretations of "Oktoberfest" lager.


Our initial rankings were:

Dave
  1. Goose Island
  2. Ayinger
  3. Sierra Nevada
  4. Samuel Adams
Al
  1. Sierra Nevada
  2. Ayinger
  3. Samuel Adams
  4. Goose Island
Other than both having Ayinger as our second favourite, everything else was up in the air. Dave had Goose Island ahead on the basis that it was not as interesting a beer as Ayinger and Sierra Nevada and therefore something he was likely to down plenty of in a sitting, I had it last because I thought it was not as interesting as the others and I would get bored after a couple, same justification, different outcomes.

We both agreed that Ayinger was a really complex, interesting beer, very different from the American beers, but excellent drinking. The question was whether we would want to drink it by the litre? Both of us said that a couple of pints would be fine, but eventually we would end up with palette fatigue.

Between us I think we have probably drunk well in excess of 120 bottles of this year's Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, and we both love it. I put it first because it would be something I could drink plenty of, and have done so far this year, without getting bored. Dave put it just behind Ayinger because Ayinger was more interesting and if he was just having a couple then he would go for the Ayinger.

It sounds terrible to say, but both of us thought Samuel Adams was just "meh". It's ok, not terrible interesting, not terrible, but also not something either of us would happily down a 12 pack of together on the deck, the sweetness we agreed was one dimensional.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, we asked our respective wives to try our first choices and let us know their thoughts, but Ali preferred the Goose Island, and Mrs V the Sierra Nevada. Birds of a feather and all that jazz.

So we decided to have a policy of horses for courses. If you are having a session and don't want to think too much about the beer you are drinking, go for the Goose Island. If you are having a session and want a beer that doesn't just fade into the background, go for the Sierra Nevada.

While Sam Adams will not likely make another appearance in my fridge this year, the Ayinger most certainly will as I found that I really enjoyed it, even though it was much more "old school" m?rzen than the moodern, paler, Oktoberfest lager styles. I can imagine using it in many late autumn and winter recipes, especially for soaking fruit for a cake, or in my roasted garlic and onion jam recipe that I plan to make again soon.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Beer and Breweries of 2018

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me.....time to get my review of 2018 done and dusted while she continues with tiling the kitchen backsplash. Of course, you dear reader as someone who doesn't work in a seemingly growing number of brewery marketing departments know that the 12 Days of Christmas run from December 25th to January 5th inclusive. As has become a tradition in these here parts at Fuggled, I'll be highlighting the best pale, amber, and dark beers from Virginia, the rest of the United States, and also the rest of the world. From said august list I'll pick the Fuggled Champion Beer of the Year, which comes with a quite immeasureable financial prize, as well as my Champion Brewery of the Year, with a prize equal to that of the champion beer. So onward to the runners and riders, so to say...

Pale
  • Virginia - South Street Brewery Shake Your Teal Feather Pilsner
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Southern Gothic
  • Rest of World - Pivovar Kout na ?umavě Koutská 10°
  • Honorable Mentions - Rothaus Tannenz?pfle, Gordon Biersch Czech Pilsner, Sierra Nevada BFD, Schlenkerla Helles, Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted
I think this category will always be dominated by pilsner style lagers, while it is true that stouts were my first beery love, pilsners are the highest form of the brewing craft that I can conceive of. With nowhere to hide, getting a pilsner right is the make of a truly great beer craftsman. I have to admit though that the champion pale beer would have been much harder to choose had my employer not decided to send me to a conference in New Orleans. It was during that trip that I reacquainted myself with Koutská 10°, a beer that I have missed more than any other single beer from the Czech Republic in the nine and a half years since Mrs V and I swapped Europe for Virginia. It is simply perfection.


Amber
  • Virginia - Three Notch'd No Veto Brown Ale
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Tumbler
  • Rest of World - Fullers ESB
  • Honorable Mentions - Alewerks Tavern Brown Ale, Sierra Nevada Winter Warmer Lager, St. GeorgenBrau Kellerbier, Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, Sam Smith's Nut Brown Ale, Stable Craft Brewing Britchin Brown
This autumn was all about brown ales, so stretching the definition of "amber" a wee bit to the darker side admittedly. The kick started with Sam Smith's Nut Brown Ale, and then just kept on going. If only American taprooms, brewpubs, and other beer outlets didn't serve the stuff at the temperature of penguin feet. The highlight of my brown ale kick was getting word from the guys at Three Notch'd that No Veto was back on tap after something of a hiatus, and then confirming that it tasted better than ever, once you leave it to sit for a bit and lose its chill. A worthy winner then.


Dark
  • Virginia - Three Notch'd Mild Marker 20
  • Rest of US - Anchor Brewing Porter
  • Rest of World - Guinness 200th Anniversary Export Stout
  • Honorable Mentions - Guinness Original, Murphy's, Deschutes Black Butte Porter, JosephBrau Winter Brew, Sierra Nevada Stout

Having mentioned beery loves earlier on, the dark beer of the year is very much a harkening back to my early days of beer drinking, indeed Guinness was my first legal beer, and I pretty regularly pick up 12 packs of the CO2 carbed versions of the black stuff. The highlight of several such cases this year was the 200th Anniversary Export Stout, apparently brewed with black patent malt rather than roasted barley. I am not sure what difference that makes, but the beer itself is a luxurious mix of coffee and chocolate, with a silken body, and roasted bite in the finish that is the very epitome of a great Guinness, let alone a great stout.


Fuggled Champion Beer of 2018

There really was no doubt what would be the Fuggled Champion Beer of 2018 was there? Rolling back the years to my old life in Prague, Pivovar Kout na ?umavě Koutská 10° was a veritable revelry of nostalgia, great beer, and a longing to return to the Czech Republic and drink it in its native land once more. In an era of craft beer where novelty ingredients (aka "silly shit"), murk, and one offs seem to be the order of the day, it is good to know that out there are breweries making a handful of beers, and making them seriously, seriously well. I would argue that any drinker incapable of appreciating the simple perfection of Koutská 10° should just give up on beer right now and go find some other fetish for their affectations.

Fuggled Champion Brewery of 2018
  • Virginia - South Street Brewery
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Brewing
  • Rest of World - Schlenkerla
Their name has popped up in every single category, whether as a regional winner or an honorable mention, they are in my opinion the most dependable craft brewery in the United States, and as such I am willing to go outside of my comfort zone and try beer styles I usually avoid with other breweries - yup looking at you double IPAs and co. Following on from 2017, Sierra Nevada Brewing have indeed kept up the good work and are very worthy winners of the Fuggled Champion Brewery for 2018.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Unadventful Calendar

I really should learn my lesson about how aft the best laid schemes of mice and men gang agley.

Before I went to New Orleans and revelled in the delights of Koutská Desítka, I had this grand plan to do a blog post Advent calendar of locally available, though not necessarily locally brewed, Christmas beers. I admit I pre-gamed the few days when I was in Louisiana, but when I got back I had a craving for Josephbrau Winter Brew from Trader Joe's, and that kick has lingered for the last couple of weeks.

Of the beers on my Advent Calendar list that I did try, there were two distinct highlights, and one absolute drain pour - something I haven't done in quite some time. Let's get the drain pour out of the way first...


I have to say it looked the part when I poured it out, dark copper with some orange edges, a long lasting, rocky, ivory head, it really is a pretty beer. And then it all went down hill. Barely any aroma other than a very generic maltiness, and while the aroma was generic, the flavour was unpleasant. Burnt toast and a metallic tang was basically all that was there, perhaps a trace of grassy hops, but really nothing much. Yep, it was a drain pour, and so that's where it went. It was the first time I have tried this beer so maybe I got a bum bottle, but having been unimpressed by Breckenridge before, I am in no rush to find out.

Onward and upward...


Deschutes, nominally a "local" brewery as they have some kind of operations just down the road in Roanoke, are becoming a trusted brewery in the Velkyal cosmos, especially their simply magisterial Black Butte Porter. In common with the Breckenridge Christmas Ale, this was my first ever Jubelale. Again it is a very pretty beer, a deeply festive red, topped with an inch of beige, so appealing. Yay, an aroma, well several. Candy sugar, toffee, spices, nutmeg in particular, and a hint of caramel, think caramelised nuts and you're close. Wow, what a big bready malt character Judelale has going, then take that bread and smother it with Biscoff spread, yum, yum yum, oh and don't forget the gorgeous spicy notes, assuming from the hops. What a great beer, beautifully integrated, delicate yet strong, seriously a wonderful beer, whatever the time of year.


Sierra Nevada simply do not get enough credit for their aptitude with lager beer, and Winter Warmer Lager join the increasing ranks of SN lagers that I will be keeping an eye open for. This one pours a deep, burnished garnet, topped off with a light tan head that quickly becomes a schmeer of foam. There is lots of fruit on the nose, mainly plums. Also in there is grassy hops, a trace of spice, like cinnamon, and a bit of toffee sweetness. I am assuming that the beer used a fair proportion of Munich malt as that classic sweetness that you get with Munich is there in spades, it's not caramelly, but it's sweet. There was also a bit of burnt sugar, cookies, and no much in the way of hop flavour at all. This is definitely a beer for sitting by the fire and enjoying with some winter pudding. Seriously lovely lager.

Monday, September 24, 2018

What Impact Temperature?

While drinking the Samuel Smiths Nut Brown Ale used for last week's "Old Friends" post, I tweeted the following:



Having tweeted out this minor rantette, I decided that in the interests of science I would conduct a little experiment. Earlier that day I had purchased one of Sierra Nevada's Fall Packs, containing three bottles a piece of Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale, Torpedo Extra IPA, Vienna Lager, and Ruthless Rye IPA. I put a couple of bottles of Tumbler into the wine cooler, which sits at 54°F (12°C), and the third bottle in the fridge, at about 40°F (4.5°C), and there they remained for a week.

Yesterday I pulled the beers from their cool places in order to do a comparative tasting, though again in the interests of science I wanted to make sure that the same process was followed for both glasses of beer. As such I used the same US pint glass for both beers, washed between pints and allowed to settle back to room temperature. This decision was a sop to the kind of people that would claiming using different glasses would have impacted the aromas and flavours - I have done a mass experiment on this before and concluded that different glassware is largely irrelevant, other that parting a fool from his cash.

I also decided that I would leave an hour between drinks, and have a goodly amount of water to cleanse the old palate in order to avoid recency bias of the taste buds. First up then was the bottle that had been sat in the fridge.


The beer poured a rich chestnut brown, deeply luxuriant, and capped with a healthy half inch or so of dark ivory foam, too pale to be light brown, too dark to be plain ivory. The head just sat there, and sat there, and sat there, leaving a delicate lacing down the glass. The aromas coming through the head were lightly toasted bread, a bit of medium roast coffee, but mostly it was the smell of a pub carpet. I realise that sounds unappetising, but it is a smell that reminds me of going to the bar in the Sergeants' Mess when I was a kid, before dad would give us a stack of 10p pieces and tell us to bugger off to the pool room while the adults drank. The overwhelming taste was a nutty, medium dark chocolatey thing that was smooth with a roastiness that never bordered on the acrid, brought back in to focus with a clean hop bite. With the fridge beer thoroughly enjoyed, I cleaned out the glass and set it to one side for an hour.


After a hour of playing with my twin sons, and generally romping in domestic bliss, I came back to the experiment and poured the cellar temperature bottle of Tumbler into the now dry and room temperature glass. Again the beer was a rich chestnut brown, though as I poured there was a significantly bigger head, about an inch and a half, but it settled down to about the same half inch as previously, again lingering for the duration of the drinking, leaving a marginally more impressive lacing. The aroma was that of freshly baked bread, sprinkled with unsweetened cocoa powder, and a subtle floral hop thing going on. Missing entirely was the smell of a freshly opened boozer. This time the beer tasted of rich chocolate, with a light coffee roastiness, and the hop bite came with an earthy spiciness that didn't seem to be there in the fridge version.

This experiment was not about trying to prove that cellar temperature beer tastes better than refrigerated beer, but about the sensory differences induced by temperature. The colder beer had a smoother mouthfeel, as the hop bite evident in the cellar temperature version was missing almost completely. The cellar temperature had more pronounced malt flavours, not different, just deeper, and the body was fuller, perhaps rounder than the refrigerated one. One thing I wasn't really expecting was that the cellar temperature beer seems to have a more evident carbonation that the fridge one, which may explain the elevated hop character in that version. I wonder what impact being bottle conditioned had on the experiment, and perhaps I will perform the same experiment again with force carbonated beers.


One thing that was certainly clear from this experiment is that Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale is an excellent beer, and was perhaps just the right beer for this experiment on a dreich afternoon. In my excitement each year for the new Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, I have overlooked what was once my favourite autumn beer, what a foolish thing to do. Perhaps brown ales are once again due their moment in the limelight, preferably without silly shit and fripperies to keep the trendseekers happy, just good old fashioned brown ale, as brown ale should be.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Unknown Sierra Nevada

I am on record across various forms of social media as being an unrepentant fan of Sierra Nevada Brewing. I have absolutely no qualms about saying they are probably my most trusted and favourite craft brewery in the United States today. Whenever Mrs V and I are in South Carolina you can guarantee that I will be stocking up on various SN products that are rarer than hen's teeth in Virginia, and also significantly cheaper in SC. For some reason the beer distribution and retail folks that service central Virginia believe that the following SN products are not worth carrying:
  • Porter
  • Stout
  • Kellerweis
  • Nooner Pilsner
Well, to that list you can now add Southern Gothic and BFD.

I came across these new-to-me SN beers the other day as I was wandering around Bottles here in Columbia, SC, and wondering how I was going to unwind after the 7 hour drive. Nooner was a given as it is one of my favourite German style pilsners made in the US, but it was the first time I had seen Southern Gothic, bearing those magic words on the can, "unfiltered pils". Yeah I was sold pretty much immediately, so into the cart a six pack went. The only problem was that there were no six packs in the fridges, dear god people is it too much to ask that lager always be stored in the fridge? Anyway, staring into the fridge for something to drink while waiting for Southern Gothic to chill, my eyes landed on imperial sized cans of a beer called BFD, and at just a couple of dollars for a pint of a Sierra Nevada beer I bought two.


Admittedly I had to check out Sierra Nevada's website for a description of the beer as there was nothing on the can to give much away, other than an ABV of 4.8%, very much in my happy zone for drinking. According to the beer's page, it would be "unfussy, uncomplicated, hoppy blonde ale". They forgot to say just what level of perfection is was too. I didn't take notes, but an imperial pint travelled from can to belly in about 5 mouthfuls over 3 minutes, hitting every single spot necessary along the way. Seriously, this is approaching the perfect summer beer. No silly fruit flavours, no bullshit gimmicks, just a damned good blonde ale that works as both a lawnmower beer to crush quickly and a complex beer that warrants a good few minutes to take all in.


A pair of BFD cans suitably polished off, the Southern Gothic was starting to approach drinking temperature, so it was time to carry on with the afternoons imbibing. Billed as an unfiltered pilsner, I was expected a bit more cloudiness to this one, a sign perhaps that beer being unfiltered has become shorthand for mirk, and as all good beer l overs know unfiltered = mirky beer is a false equivalence. How delicious was this beer? Damned delicious that's how. The interplay of hops, malt, and yeast is superb, leaving the drinker refreshed but not satisfied, longing for more. For comparison sake I had a can of Nooner in the mix too, and Southern Gothic has a more rounded, almost softer, character doing on. That's not to say that Nooner is brash but rather that Southern Gothic isn't as dry and crisp in the finish as Nooner, and while it has a classic lager snap to it, Nooner's clean snap is more prominent and pronounced.

Neither of these beers have, as a far as I m aware, graced the shelved of central Virigninia, so I guess I'll be stocking up...

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Beer and Breweries of 2017

A bit late admittedly, though there are mitigating circumstances involving trips to the emergency room with my twin sons, but as they say, never late than never eh? I have somewhat rationalised this year's lists by having just a single 'Virginia' entry rather than splitting it into central VA and the rest of the commonwealth as in years passim. With that, let's dive on in.

Pale
  • Virginia - Devils Backbone Czech 10
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Nooner
  • Rest of World - Rothaus Tannenz?pfle
  • Honorable mentions - Pilsner Urquell, Three Notch'd The Ghost, New Belgium Dayblazer, Black Sheep Ale


Admit it, you're shocked that my three choices here are all pilsners. If you are then clearly you haven't been paying enough attention. Anyway, all three are wonderful versions of my favourite pale lager style, all crisp, clean, painfully easy to drink, and so beautifully made it makes you wonder why people bother with dumping random shit in the fermenter. Choosing just one is tricky, but when it comes down to it, having a desítka in Virginia puts DB's lovely Czech 10 ahead by a short nose.

Amber
  • Virginia - Port City Oktoberfest
  • Rest of US - Olde Mecklenburg Copper
  • Rest of World - Minipivovar U Medvídk? Oldgott Barrique
  • Honorable mentions - Schlenkerla M?rzen, Fullers 1845, O'Hara's Irish Red, Three Notch'd Hydraulion


Whenever Mrs V and I, and I guess from here on in for a few years, the twins as well, head to South Carolina I always make a point of getting some Copper from Olde Mecklenburg Brewing in Charlotte, NC. Copper is an altbier that unlike many that claim to be of that style over here isn't made with caramel malts in place of the traditional Munich malts. It is as close a genuine altbier as you will find brewed in the US, and I love the stuff.

Dark
  • Virginia - South Street Brewing Munich Dunkel
  • Rest of US - Anchor Brewing Porter
  • Rest of World - Riegele Noctus 100
  • Honorable mentions - Sierra Nevada Porter, Sierra Nevada Stout, Guinness 200th Anniversary Export Stout, Three Notch'd Oats McGoats, Sv. Norbert Dark Lager


While in Columbia for Thanksgiving, I stocked up on beers that I rarely, if ever, see here in Virginia and it is one of those that walks off with the title of Fuggled dark beer of the year. Anchor Porter is a beer I had heard much about but never actually seen in the wild. When I popped open a bottle to go with my dinner one evening I was blown away with just how complex and beautifully made it was, especially given it's comparatively lightweight 5.6% abv - one I will be stocking up on whenever I am in SC for sure.

Fuggled Beer of the Year

Of my three category beers of the year, the one that walks away with the overall Fuggled Beer of the Year will come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that knows me. I will quite openly admit to the fact that I enjoy drinking beer, I am not much of one for visiting breweries and sampling their wares before moving on to another brewery and repeating the experience. If I do flights it is to find what I want to drink for the rest of my session. When I found out that my friends down at Devils Backbone were making a 10° Czech style pale lager I was excited to try it, and it was simply one of the best examples of the style I have ever drunk, up there with the likes of Kout na ?umavě and Zlatá labu?. Being able to sit in the Devils Backbone brewpub with friends, enjoying superb food, and the perfect desítka to wash it all down with, was sublime. Well done Devils Backbone, the Fuggled Beer of the Year is Czech 10, please make it again!!

Brewery
  • Virginia - Three Notch'd Brewing
  • Rest of US - Sierra Nevada Brewing
  • Rest of World - Guinness
  • Honorable mentions - Devils Backbone, AleWerks, Fullers, Olde Mecklenburg Brewing,
I am sure I have said this many a time, but I am a terrible beer tourist, and as such I don't tend to go off on brewery sampling trips. I am also a rather conservative drinker in the sense that I tend to find breweries that I trust to make quality beers and I stick to them. Given the price of a six pack these days, there is no way I am splashing north of $10 for a six pack without knowing that I will be enjoying every beer. There is one brewery that in my world stands heads and shoulders above all overs at the moment and I think I have drunk more of their beer this year than any other brewery. Congrats then to Sierra Nevada Brewing for being the Fuggled Brewery of the Year for 2017, keep up the great work!


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

In Praise of Sierra Nevada

There are times when the MO of much of the craft beer industry, whether producers or consumers, seems to be an obsessive compulsion toward the new, the varied, and the never to be repeated. In times such as these it feels as though any brewery that is more than a couple of years old has become passé, and god help them if they have the temerity not to completely revamp their lineup at the whim of an Untappd Beer Rating Advocate. In such a milieu, thank goodness is all I have to say for a brewery like Sierra Nevada.

I still remember vividly my first Sierra Nevada beer. I was in Galway, sat next to the peat fire in a pub called Sheridan's On The Docks, watching Ireland play New Zealand in the Autumn Internationals, it was the great way to round off what had been a grand day out drinking. Having reacquainted myself with Bishop's Finger and Spitfire from Shepherd Neame I spied the green label of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and texted Evan Rail back in Prague to ask if it was worth trying, at €6 a pop,...a few moments later came the resounding recommendation, thus I duly ordered a bottle and poured it into my glass. It was love at first mouthful, and sat in that bar on the very edge of Europe I knew that it was going to be a regular beer in my fridge.


Since moving to the US, beers from Sierra Nevada have probably been the most common in my fridge. Cans of Pale Ale and Nooner Pilsner are staples at the moment. Every August has taken on a near religious ecstasy as I wait for the latest iteration of their Oktoberfest collaborations.



Whenever I see their Stout and Porter in the shops I have to buy some.


Kellerweis and Summerfest remind me of many a drinking session in Pivovarsky klub. Narwhal is as good an imperial stout as you could imagine.


The fact that Sierra Nevada do so many classic beer styles so damned consistently well is something that needs to be lauded by beer lovers across the land. It's isn't boring to make a German style pilsner that would hold it's own in the Black Forest. It isn't playing it safe by being the archtype of the American Pale Ale. Quality and consistency don't get enough praise among beer lovers in this country at times, though maybe I am just a grumpy old man who wants his SNPA to taste the same every time I drink it. That trust is an important part of my willingness to splash out for Sierra Nevada beer more often than not, shit I even tried (and loved) Otra Vez simply because I trust them to do a good job.

I think I only have one gripe about Sierra Nevada really, that they don't have a best bitter as part of their regular range of beers. I am sure they would knock that so far out of the park, Timothy Taylor's would be looking over their shoulders.

So here's to the Grossman family that own and run Sierra Nevada, long may you continue and prosper doing what you do best, making quality classic beers.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Session 127: A Feast of Oktober


This month's Session is hosted by, well, me. My theme for this month is Oktoberfest lager, and I have had a few well meaning people ask me why I chose the theme of Oktoberferst for the September Session. It's quite simple really, Oktoberfest begins in the middle of September, that and the fact that given the weirdness that is American brewing's obsession with having season beers in the shops well before a season actually starts, the shelves of supermarkets and bottle shops are already groaning with Oktoberfest style lagers, so why not drink a load of them?

In my original announcement of the theme I said:

"Feel free to dress up for your tasting, dirndls, lederhosen, that Australian backpacker outfit you keep in the back of your wardrobe for special occasions. Hire yourself an oompah band, play the birdy song, and generally get into the spirit of celebrating for the 117th time the marriage of Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. Whip out the grill and buy all the bratwurst you can find, proper bratwurst that is, from Germany. Shout "O'zapft is!" at the top of your lungs...you get the idea."
Well, sadly I don't have any lederhosen, or an Australian backpacker outfit, nor to I have a thing for the birdy song. I do however love German sausages and mustard, so I gleefully paired my tasting of Oktoberfest lagers with a plate of bockwurst, fried potatoes, and Dusseldorf mustard...


This though is a beer blog, so on to the beers themselves, of which there were 5, said 5 being:
  • Leinenkugel's Oktoberfest
  • Blue Mountain 13.5 Oktoberfest
  • Great lakes Oktoberfest
  • Otter Creek/Brauerei CAmba Oktoberfest
  • Sierra Nevada/Brauerei Miltenburger Oktoberfest
How were they? Let's find out shall we?


Leinenkugel's Oktoberfest
  • Sight - copper, small white head that vanishes quickly
  • Smell - some bready malt, lightly spicy in the background
  • Taste - very lightly toasted bread, slightly grassy, crisp finish
  • Sweet - 1.5/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
So yes, Leinenkugel's is a MillerCoors owned brewery, but I really couldn't give a rat's arse about that, this is a beer blog not a corporate structure blog. The beer is pretty light bodied, but not thin, it just lacks the heft I have come to expect from American Oktoberfests. It's a pretty inoffensive, perfectly well made beer, something that would be fine to drink on a night out, though the lingering sweetness in the finish would get tired after a while, I like my beer bitter and my lagers clean.


Blue Mountain 13.5 Oktoberfest
  • Sight - deep burnished copper, half inch of linger white foam
  • Smell - noticeable noble hop character, floral, citrus, some toffee
  • Taste - lightly toasted bread, a very subtle smokiness, bit of a metallic tang
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
The local beer in my selection, Blue Mountain being about 20 miles from my house here in Central Virginia. 13.5, the number of degrees Plato that is the starting gravity for this beer, is very much the archetypal American made Oktoberfest lager. It has a nice smooth finish that isn't so sweet as to be cloying, but I find it has a slightly odd bite right at the end and lacks the clean snap I would expect from a Central European lager. Still, a decent beer for an afternoon in their brewpub, preferably in the rain, but I am weird that way.


Great Lakes Oktoberfest
  • Sight - dark honey (thanks Mrs V for that description!), voluminous slightly off white head that lingers for the duration
  • Smell - fresh scones and a floral meadow in the height of summer
  • Taste - caramel and toffee up front, bready backbone, malts definitely the star of the show
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
I quite like Great Lakes beers, in particular their porter, but this beer just didn't do it for me. It has a distinct lack of bitterness to balance out the sweetness of the malt, and the finish was oily sweet, not the clean snappy bite I expect from a lager beer. Not so much bad as misguided.


Otter Creek/Brauerei Camba Oktoberfest
  • Sight - rich golden, white head that disappears pretty quickly
  • Smell - saltine crackers, floral hops, lemongrass
  • Taste - fresh bread, some yeastinessm abd a good hop bite in the finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
I don't recall having an Otter Creek beer before, but this collaboration was one I really enjoyed. It has the expected lager snap that I love, and it very nicely balanced so that drinking it is an absolute pleasure. I may have mentioned this before, but I find myself liking the more modern paler interpretations of Oktoberfest lager than the darker sweeter efforts that seem to be the norm over here. More breweries should work with German/Central European breweries for their collaborations.


Sierra Nevada/Brauerei Miltenburger Oktoberfest
  • Sight - golden honey, firm white head
  • Smell - black tea, bread, and hay
  • Taste - sweet doughy malt, floral hops, quite grassy, juicy (not in a ridiculous NE "IPA" way though)
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
I really am biased toward this beer, I am sorry, but these annual collaborations are becoming the highlight of my drinking year. This year has a fantastic firm bitterness that scrapes the palette and makes you want another mouthful. The beer is hefty enough to be interesting without being overwhelming, and it has that perfect clean finish that I want, it is delish. End of story. Keep on doing this Sierra Nevada!

So there we go, five Oktoberfest lagers, all of which worked fine with my bockwurst, kartoffeln, und senf...and I am pretty sure it won't be the last time this autumn that I pull a package of German sausages from the freezer, fill up my 1 litre glass with lager, let's be honest it'll be Sierra Nevada's until the shops run out, and pay homage to my Germany ancestors and my own Germanophilia. Prost!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Public Service Announcement: Sierra Nevada Recall

A friend of mine posted a news article on my Facebook feed this morning about a Sierra Nevada recall that has been issued, so in the interests of public safety I figured I'd also post about the recall, just in case folks haven't seen it yet.

Apparently there is an issue with some of the bottles coming out of the Mills River brewery in North Carolina. According to articles I have read, there are a limited number of bottles which have a defect that causes them to lose carbonation, and possibly also break on opening - with the attendant risk of that piece of glass falling into the bottle and potentially causing injury if unwittingly drunk.

The beers impacted by the recall are:
  • Pale Ale, bottled between December 5th and January 8th
  • Torpedo Extra IPA, bottled between December 5th and January 13th
  • Tropical Torpedo, bottled between December 5th and January 13th
  • Sidecar Orange Pale Ale, bottled between December 5th and January 13th
  • Beer Camp Golden IPA, bottled between December 5th and January 13th
  • Otra Vez, bottled between December 5th and January 13th
  • Nooner Pilsner, bottled between December 5th and January 13th
  • Hop Hunter IPA, bottled between December 5th and January 13th

For more details on the recall itself, see Sierra Nevada's website.

Thankfully the bottles of Narwahl I was given by Mrs V's cousin while we were in South Carolina over the holiday period are unaffected, and I don't think I actually have any other Sierra Nevada beer in the house at the moment, but do please go and check your stashes.

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!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Feast of Oktober

It seems at the moment that every brewer and his uncle is having an Oktoberfest celebration, whether or not said brewer regularly makes bottom fermented beers in the German style (and they say craft beer isn't marketing driven!).

Being a fan of the lager arts, and not wanting to limit my Oktoberfest drinking to Sierra Nevada, I gathered together 7 bottles of American made versions of the 'style' to try in a blind tasting. As ever I was ably assisted by the lovely Mrs V, and her willingness to traipse up the stairs when I had finished each glass of beer is much appreciated.

The beers for this little taste off were:
Such a delightful little lineup...


Using, as ever, a slightly modified version the Cyclops beer evaluation method, here's my findings.


Beer A
  • Sight: rich copper, ivory head, dissipates quickly
  • Smell: general sweetness, touch corny, wood and spice
  • Taste: bready, touch of burnt toast, clean finish
  • Bitter: 2.5/5
  • Sweet: 2/5
Overall well balanced though on the thin side, nothing to really hunt out.


Beer B
  • Sight: orange, large off-white head, slight haze
  • Smell: some toffee, baking bread, floral
  • Taste: sweet juicy malt, herbal hob bite
  • Bitter: 2/5
  • Sweet: 3/5
Ever so slightly boozy/hot, mouthfeel was nice and full, and slightly creamy, a bit on the too sweet side.


Beer C
  • Sight: rich golden, white head
  • Smell: bready, biscuits, trace of spice
  • Taste: sweet toffee, pretzels, earthy hops
  • Bitter: 3/5
  • Sweet: 3/5
Nicely balanced, good clean dry finish, clearly well made and nicely integrated.


Beer D
  • Sight: gold, voluminous white head that lingers
  • Smell: grainy, light lemon and herbal hops, almost like autumn leaves
  • Taste: bready malt, sweet but not in a caramel way, firm bitterness
  • Bitter: 3/5
  • Sweet: 2.5/5
Slightly creamy mouthfeel, but firm bitterness cleans that right up, very nice beer.


Beer E
  • Sight: light red, smallish off white head
  • Smell: syrupy caramel
  • Taste: heavy caramel, dark toast
  • Bitter: 2/5
  • Sweet: 3/5
Full bodied and a touch cloying, really needs a hop bite, finish not as clean as expected.


Beer F
  • Sight: deep orange, off white lingering head
  • Smell: raw wort, weetabix topped with caramel sauce
  • Taste: Very sweet, sickly caramel/syrup dominates
  • Bitter: 1/5
  • Sweet: 3/5
Tasted undercooked, like the raw dough in the middle of an underdone loaf, barely any noticeable hops.


Beer G
  • Sight: rich copper, small, stable, white head
  • Smell: lots of toffee and bread, spicy hop notes
  • Taste: cereal, caramel, like dulce de leche on toast
  • Bitter: 1.5/5
  • Sweet: 2.5/5
Sweet, warming, and overall nicely balanced, bit too sweet though for my tastes.

Having drunk all seven beers, I ended up with the following rankings:
  1. Beer D
  2. Beer C
  3. Beer B, G
  4. Beer A, E
  5. Beer F
My favourite beer, and here I wasn't actually surprised, was Sierra Nevada's Oktoberfest, with the Ninkasi right on it's coat tails, a sign perhaps that I prefer the more modern pale Oktoberfest style to the older, darker, sweeter variant.

The other beers were:
  • Beer A - Brooklyn
  • Beer B - Port City
  • Beer E - Sam Adams
  • Beer F - Shiner
  • Beer G - Blue Mountain
So there we have it, 7 beers, all bar one that I would drink a pint of, 1 that I would happily drink plenty of, and one that I have been drinking ma?e of.

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