Showing posts with label south street brewery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label south street brewery. Show all posts

Monday, July 27, 2020

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2020

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

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Breweries

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

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

Monday, December 30, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Drinking Dens

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

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

Kardinal Hall - Charlottesville

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

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

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

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

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

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, December 23, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2019

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

Friday, May 10, 2019

Come Helles or High Water

One of my favourite places to grab lunch and a bevvy on a Friday has for a good few years now been South Street Brewery. When I worked in Charlottesville itself the place was just across the street from my office, these days I tend to go in and meet folks for lunch and do some work parked at the bar. So much of a regular am I at South Street that several of the bar staff no longer bother to ask me what I want to drink, they know I want a glass of My Personal Helles straight off the bat. If there is something new, and potentially worthy of further inspection, they'll give me a sample, just in case I wish to veer from the path of helles righteousness.


As there was no-one else at the bar I got talking with the barman about the brewery's bottled offerings, and wondered out loud more than anything else whether My Personal Helles would ever be part of that range? Thinking about it a bit more, I came to the conclusion that it would actually not benefit the beer itself to be available in bottles, especially given the abuses that appear to be the norm in the distribution and retail channels.

The barman, who to my shame I had been calling Drew forever until my mate told me it was Adrian (ugh....parent brain is a think for men too I am sure) asked why I thought that helles as a style was not really suited to the bottled format, especially given the prevalence of helles (heli?) in bottles as the style has gained traction with American drinkers. In reality it came down to one simple thing, I believe there are some styles that are simply best drunk in a pub, beer hall, or beer garden. Random memory from my early years in Prague, there was a beer hall in the heart of Staré Město called Radegast that was basically the perfect beer hall, sadly it is gone now, sacrificed to the "improving" Noughties that stripped the centre of the city of so many characterful boozers and drinking dens.

Beer styles, for want of a better word, are the product of the beer culture from which they arise, and there is something delightful about drinking German style lagers in Germanic style surroundings, hence beer hall or garden is perfect. Sure the beer tastes broadly similar sat on my deck, and I even have plenty of trees to look at, but the purest element of a beer culture is missing. People, lots of them, enjoying beer in a convivial environment.

Perhaps they are sitting alone at a table reading the newspaper, or with their minds buried somewhere in a book. Perhaps they are a family enjoying the garden, kids free to wander around a bit while their parents keep an eye on them and feel relatively normal for a little while (this particular street is a two way one, family friendly boozer, boozer friendly families). Perhaps they are a works outing for a Friday liquid lunch before calling it a day a few hours early. For whatever reason people are in a drinking establishment they are creating a culture, of which the beer itself is just a single part, and in the case of helles, and arguably the standard beers of beer cultures around the world, it is the supporting act, not the star.

It's entirely possibly that I am a contrarian, but I have never really been much of a trend follower. I have an inbuilt aversion to people of an evangelical persuasion, whether their evangelion be religion, craft beer, politics, the list could go on for pages, though I am sure my aversion is in reaction to my years as an evangelical Christian, even though Brit evangelicals are nowhere near as bad as many a 'Murican Evangelical.

I can't imagine a helles ever really being the main act. Even at South Street My Personal Helles isn't part of the core range, but it has a dedicated following among regulars. Perhaps that is why it is better as a draught only beer, you actually have to deliberately go there for a pint rather than having it commoditised into cans or bottles, thus participating in the beer culture, and the culture is the important thing.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

#FlagshipFebruary - South Street Satan's Pony

In the nearly ten years since Mrs V and I upped sticks from the Czech Republic (not sorry, but I will never refer to the Czech lands as "Czechia"), Charlottesville and it's immediate environs have experienced something of a brewing boom. In 2009 there were just 4 breweries within about 20 miles of the city, and only one of those in Charlottesville itself. The oldest of those 4 breweries, and the only one in the city of Charlottesville proper, is South Street Brewery. Established in 1998, the brewpub has always been one of my favourite spaces in which to drink, though until 2015 the beer was, all to often, undrinkable, as I wrote about here.

Apparently it hadn't ever been thus. Prior to starting Blue Mountain Brewery, Taylor Smack had been the brewer at South Street, and they had a good reputation. When 8 years later Taylor bought South Street, he and his wife Mandi set about restoring that reputation, to superb effect. South Street beers are now worthy of the space they are brewed and consumed in, and in doing so they also restored the flagship, Satan's Pony.


Satan's Pony is a rarity among flagship beers in that it is not an IPA, rather it is, officially, an Amber Ale. I tend to think of it though as more of a ruby mild in the tradition of Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby as it is 5.3%. Sadly I think the term "ruby mild" would sell less than "amber ale". The picture above was taken a couple of weekends ago at brunch, my good friend Dave and I shared a pitcher of Pony, and once it had got to cellar temperature it was quite revelatory. With only 12 IBU, malt complexity comes to the fore. It has a lovely biscuity base, British biscuits that is, think Rich Tea. On top of the base is layered toffee, a subtle toastiness, and the soothing flavours of unsweetened cocoa. With hops basically there to add bitterness for balance, this is anything but a one dimension hop fest, and it is all the better for it. It is simply delicious.

Now, if you know me in the slightest, you'll likely be reeling from all the glowing positivity above, so let me say this about Satan's Pony, it doesn't get the love it deserves.


South Street is one of the few places I know in Virginia that has a beer engine, and thus the ability to have real ale hand pulled at cellar temperature, and I can think of no better beer in their range to be elevated to the heights of real ale than Satan's Pony. When I say elevated, I mean no silly shit ingredients, I don't want a pastry ruby mild, or dry hopping, or cocoa nibs, or, well, anything else really. Satan's Pony, properly cask condititioned, then properly cared for by the cellarman, pulled, when ready, through a sparkler, would be a thing of beauty.

This year sees the 21st birthday of South Street, and Satan's Pony has been a major part of that ride. You could make a strong argument that Pony is the flagship craft beer for Charlottesville and central Virginia, and in the spirit of Flagship February get out there and try it folks, then thank Taylor and Mandi for restoring its lustre (before bugging them for having it on cask...)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Pilsner...Nailed

Pilsner.

It is near impossible to think of a more polarising word, or beer style, in the beer world. For some the very idea of a pilsner is an adjunct laden pale lager made by one of the big breweries, after all, Miller Lite claims to be 'a fine pilsner beer' on the can. Others though, and here I count myself, can think of no higher expression of the brewer's craft that a well made pilsner that sticks pretty much to Reinheitsgebot, whether Bohemian or German in style.

It is also a word that actually fills me with excitement and dread when I see it on a taplist in a brewpub, tap room, or pub. At once I am both eager to try it and yet worried that it will turn out to be gack. Side note, you can always tell a shitty craft pilsner being made in the US because daft phrases like 'it has just the right amount of skunk to be authentic' - said 'right amount' is zero so please stop fucking around.

I spent most of last week in Charleston, South Carolina at a library conference. It was the longest time I have spent away from my little family since the twins were born just over a year ago, so I was happy to get home and do all those domestic bliss kind of things, the weekly shop being one of them. With the shopping out of the way we decided to grab some lunch at South Street Brewery, one of my favourite places to go for a drink in central Virginia. The beer is generally very good, Mitch knows what he is doing, especially with lagers (his helles is a very regular beer in my world), said beer is very reasonably priced, usually around $4.50 for a 16oz pint, compared to $6 for a similarly sized pint not that far away, oh and they have a glorious fireplace that now that the cooler months are upon us will be lit daily.

There, in the middle of the beer list was the word. Pilsner, a collaboration with a local real estate company, German malt, Czech hops, 4.3%, 28 IBU...like a cosmic alignment, dare I try. I trust Mitch, so I dared...


In the famous words of the motto of the SAS, he who dares wins, this was nailed on, Czech style pilsner in all it's drinkable, noble hoppy glory. So good was it that it stopped conversation mid flow, Anton Ego style, glass handed straight to Mrs V for her verdict....it passed muster, leading to the abandonment of her wine for a pint of nostalgia for the Czech Republic.

So if you are in the Charlottesville area get along to South Street and revel in the delights of a pilsner the equal of anything from Central Europe, yes including you Rothaus.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2018

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

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2017

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

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Helles Yeah!

I've not been to South Street as much as usual of late, for one very simple reason, they haven't had the magnificent My Personal Helles on tap for a few weeks now. That's not a slight on their other beers, Mitch does a great job with them, it's just that the helles is my go to beer, and when the go to is gone, I get a dose of the wandering eye. Part of my particular brand of wandering eye it to pay closer attention to what is available in bottles and cans in the show (whilst lamenting the storing of lagers at room temperature and the general oldness of much of a shop's 'craft' beer selection). Browsing the racks at our local Wegman's a few weeks ago it struck me just how many breweries are bringing out helles lagers these days, so I figured I'd gather a clutch and give em a bash...


First out of the fridge was Southern Tier's Why The Helles Not? As is obvious from the picture, the liquid is a lovely clear golden colour, topped with a decent inch or so of rocky white head, which lingered for the duration of the 4 or 5 mouthfuls it took to drink. Thankfully the beer wasn't overly fizzy, though there was a reasonable amount of carbonation. Breathing in the aroma deeply, I was hit by a distinct cereal crackeriness, think Carr's Water Biscuits and you're not far wrong, now sprinkle some fresh lemongrass onto said water biscuit, you see where this is going. In the taste department, we're clearly in solid helles territory, bready malt to the fore, with that lemony bite that I associate with central European hops, beautifully balanced and very tasty. This is the kind of beer that I could happily down pint after pint of, and at only 4.6% so very close to being a session beer, it is simple but not simplistic, if that makes sense.


Up next was Weekend Lager from Alewerks Brewing, just down the road in Williamsburg, and sporting a very elegant rebrand too. Weekend Lager was distinctly paler than the Southern Tier beer, and had much less head retention, and less obvious carbonation. Rather than having the aroma of a water biscuit, Weekend Lager had a more dry bread crust thing going on, with a herbal hop note in counterpoint, and a very slight touch of earthiness that put asparagus in my brain. As for the taste, we're back to the Carr's Water Biscuits and lemongrass ballpark, but with just a miserly schmeer of butter chucked in for fun. Again an enjoyable beer, other than that odd vegetal/asparagus thing that I couldn't quite pin down, but will require me buying more of the beer for investigative purposes you understand. A bit stronger than the Southern Tier one at 4.8%, but still well within pintable territory.


I really ummed and ahhed about whether to put Samuel Adams Fresh As Helles in the basket, mainly because it has added orange blossom 'and natural flavors', and I wasn't sure I wanted a flavour tainted helles. Clearly though, I relented. Looks wise it's pretty much on the spot, golden, a half inch of white foam that leaves traces of lacing all the way down the glass. The aroma though was very different from the other two, gone was the crackers and lemongrass, come was orange peel, marmelade and a soft toffee note. Tastewise was again a departure from what I had expected, this was clearly toasty rather than cerealy, and the orange blossom (I assume) was very noticeable, but in a thin marmelade kind of way that left a slighty artificial aftertaste. Oh dear. For the first time in many years I didn't finish the bottle, it was too slick on the tongue and just generally bleurgh. Nope, won't be doing that one again.


Now, if South Street could just hurry up and get My Personal Helles back on tap, I will be a happier camper this summer.....

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, July 27, 2016

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2016

It's that time of year again, the first round judging for the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup is this Saturday. Once again I'll be driving up to Northern Virginia to take part, and as with last year missing out of the festival itself as I will again be accompanying Mrs V to fiddle camp in West Virginia.

Given the impending judging session then, I present to you my annual top ten Virginian beers that I have drunk since the last time I did this list, so without further ado.....
  1. Devils Backbone Brewing - Meadow Bier (5.0%). I know for some, a rather obnoxious and overly vocal some at that, Devils Backbone are off limits since they are now part owned by a much larger brewery rather than those upright honorable folks at investment banks or private equity firms, but that's their problem not mine. After a day of hiking the AT we swung by Devils Backbone and I saw those magical words 'German-style Pilsner' and immediately ordered a pint. Clean, crisp, absurdly refreshing, and delightfully moreish, so I had 5 more and asked Mrs V to drive us home (she really is a wonderful woman). While Meadow Bier is not the most regular beer I drink, Devils Backbone being something of a trek for a pint, it is the best example of the style I have had in ages and one that I will be making a bee line for this weekend if I drag the wife down that way.
  2. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). This actually is the beer I drink most of at the moment. An unfiltered Munich helles which is beautifully balanced, firmly bitter, with a pillowy soft mouthfeel, and ideal whatever time of day. It has got to the point now that the folks behind the bar at South Street know what I want the minute I put my backside on the chair, it can only be a matter of time before they see me walking in and have a pint waiting for me as a get to the bar.
  3. Three Notch'd Brewing - Ghost of the 43rd (5.1%). Last year's number 1 beer, and always a welcome sight on the taps of the pubs and restaurants of Virginia. Still one of the most eminently drinkable beers available in the Virginia market, and now that it is canned, a fairly regular visitor to my fridge. While this pale ale has a massive hop presence, there is enough malt to stand up to it and actually make it interesting to drink rather than being a one-dimensional hop bomb.
  4. Champion Brewing - Shower Beer (4.5%). Get the feeling that I am very much a lager boy yet? Though this time the pilsner is in the Czech rather than German mould. A veritable medley of Saaz hops and pilsner malt. Simple but with the complexity needed to keep it interesting and expertly crafted, so much so that were I served this in the pubs of Prague I would be more than happy.
  5. Lickinghole Creek Brewing - 'Til Sunset (4.7%). Another returnee from last year's list, though up a place, 'Til Sunset is perhaps the best Session IPA I have had in the US (I'll ignore the 0.2% overage on the session status). As I said last year, the interplay of toffee malts and graprefruity hops just works perfectly on a late summers day sat on the deck wondering how many more days you can avoid mowing the lawn.
  6. Mad Fox Brewing - Altbier (5.5%). When my parents came to visit last November Mrs V and I drove up to Northern Virginia to meet them, so naturally a trip to Mad Fox was on the cards, my parents love the place almost as much as I do. Normally I go for one of their cask ales, either the mild or the bitter, but this time I saw the word 'altbier' and went German. Altbier is one of my favourite beer styles, and one that many American breweries do wrong by getting the sweetness from caramel malts rather than Munich malt. mad Fox got it emphatically right, add to the mix the woodiness of Spalt hops and you may as well be drinking in Düsseldorf.
  7. Three Notch'd Brewing - Oats McGoats (5.5%). Oats McGoats is pretty much the Ronseal of stouts, it does exactly what it says on the tin, it's a straight up oatmeal stout with all the silky mouthfeel that comes with it. Layer that with chocolate and roasty notes and a firm hop bite that cleans the palette but doesn't intrude on the classic stout flavours and you have the quintessential beer for the cooler days and nights, and a cracking pint to sit next to the fire with.
  8. Hardywood Park Craft Brewing - Pils (5.2%). Yes, yes, yes, another pilsner. First time I had this one it reminded me distinctly of Budvar 12°, a resemblance that continues to this day. A solid malt backbone with a clean, firm hop bite, and a touch of sweetness in the finish. I would love to try it unfiltered and krausened, but as is it is one of those beers that you simply can't go wrong with.
  9. Alewerks Brewing - Tavern Ale (5.5%). It had been a while since I had indulged in this wonderful brown ale from Williamsburg, and I was kicking myself for not bothering with it for so long. Rich and dark, sweet without being cloying, lots of complex malt fun going on. Superbly balanced and great to drink or use as an ingredient in cooking - especially for soaking dried fruit to go in a cake.
  10. Blue Mountain Brewing - Lights Out (7.0%). This Old Ale has become something of a winter tradition. Once it is released I get myself a case and leave it in a nice cool spot in my house rather than the fridge as the excessive chill ruins the beer. The wonderful blend of EKG and Fuggles hops makes this beer deeply earthy, backed up with a rich malt body, it is the ideal winter night cap, and is also well suited to a day's drinking when you have nothing to do but enjoy the coziness of home. Delish.
As ever this is purely subjective, based on what I have enjoyed drinking in the past 12 months, but each and every beer on this list I would recommend you try it if you see it.

Happy drinking!

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.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Beers and Breweries of 2015

The Christmas tree is up and decorated, the salmon and beef for Christmas lunch have been bought, the tin of Quality Street chocs awaits opening and tipping into a fancy bowl for me to raid for the caramel barrels, so it must be time for a review of 2015. I have grown rather attached to my pale, amber, and dark beers from Central VA, rest of VA, rest of USA, and rest of world approach, thus I will not abandon it.....

Pale
  • Central VA - South Street My Personal Helles
  • Rest of VA - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest of USA - Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  • Rest of World - Pilsner Urquell
  • Honorable mentions - Three Notch'd Ghost of the 43rd, Devils Backbone Trukker Ur-Pils, Cromarty Happy Chappy, Hi-Wire Lager, Rothaus Pils
It has been a great year for this lagerboy (on a side note, I sometimes get the urge to have a t-shirt made up with the slogan 'What's wrong alehead, not got the palate to appreciate lager?'). South Street's My Personal Helles has become my go to lager when I fancy a pint in Charlottesville, one I wouldn't worry too much about if it was all I had to drink for months on end. Port City continue to make the best regularly available pilsner in the USA, bar none, and it graces my fridge often. But the winner of the Fuggled Pale Beer of 2015 is Pilsner Urquell. Now available in brown bottles, cold shipped from the Czech Republic, and just delightful drinking. The crowning glory though this year was that a local bar had nefiltrovany Prazdroj on tap a few months ago. Sure it was $7 a pop, but it was worth every single golden drop, as I raved about here.


Amber
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Hydraulion Red Irish Ale
  • Rest of VA - Mad Fox Altbier
  • Rest of USA - Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • Rest of World - Fullers Vintage Ale 2009
  • Honorable mentions - Yeungling Traditional Lager, Orval
Another collection of really good beers to choose from for the amber beer of the year. I drink Hydraulion fairly regularly, it's easy to get in to and stay with. Mad Fox's Altbier was a revelation when I was up there with my parents a few weeks back, once I got over disappointment of the Mason's Dark Mild not being on tap. It made me wish more American breweries made Altbier and got it so emphatically right. I have been drinking through my various Fullers Vintages this year, having come to the conclusion that storing them for a 'special occasion' is pretty much a waste of time, and each vintage has been lovely, with 2009 my favourite so far. If truth be told, the Fuggled Amber Beer of the Year was sown up months ago. I am not sure if I was on my second or third 12 pack of Sierra Nevada's collaborative Oktoberfest, but I knew that I would be drinking a lot of that beer while it was available, I think I ended up with about ten 12 packs all told, and several pints on tap, simply delicious.


Dark
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Oats McGoats Oatmeal Stout
  • Rest of VA - Port City Porter
  • Rest of USA - St. Boniface Bull's Head Mild
  • Rest of World - Pokertree Seven Sisters Black Treacle Oat Stout
  • Honorable mentions - O'Hara's Leann Follain Whiskey Barrel Aged, Skye Black, Starr Hill Dark Starr, South Street Back to Bavaria, Three Notch'd Method to My Madness Mild
Regular readers of Fuggled will know that I love drinking milds, porters, and stouts. Through the American Mild Month project I enjoyed several very nice milds this year, including a crowler of the St Boniface beer brewed for that event, which made it's way to central VA through the family of the St Boniface brewer, and was enjoyed with gusto one Saturday afternoon. I still remember well the first time I had Port City Porter, in a restaurant in Alexandria where I had several pints before looking at the ABV, a 7.5% drop that tasted like it was 5%, fantastic. Another Three Notch'd beer that I drink regularly, especially in the damp of cold of autumn and winter, Oats McGoats is silky smooth and moreish, all the more so once it gets to the proper temperature. However, the 2015 Fuggled Dark Beer of the Year comes from the north of Ireland. I only had one bottle of Pokertree Seven Sisters, brought over by Reuben of Tale of the Ale, and it was a revelation, one that I am hoping to recreate in my homebrewing at some point.

Fuggled Champion Beer

If the Amber Beer of the Year was sown up months ago, then the overall Fuggled Champion Beer for 2015 was also practically decided at the same time. Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest was everything I look for in a beer, superbly made, flavourful, on point for the style, and drinkable beyond measure. I drank a lot of this beer, often from my 1 litre Paulaner glass, often demolishing a 12 pack in a single afternoon. I drank it, I cooked with it, I revelled in every single drop. I wish I had stocked up more before it disappeared from the shelves of supermarkets and bottle shops. There was no finer beer I drank this year.


Breweries
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Brewing
  • Rest of VA - Port City
  • Rest of USA - Sierra Nevada
  • Rest of World - Fullers
  • Honorable mentions - Plzeňsky Prazdroj, South Street Brewery, Hi-Wire Brewing

Looking back at last year's review of the year, I noticed that 3 of the 4 breweries listed here were listed then as well. This tells me several things, but most importantly that I value breweries that produce consistently well made and tasty beers, that have a solid core range that I am happy to drink anytime, and also that I am out of kilter with many a craft drinker in that I am happy to stick to a single brewery rather than taking a scatter gun approach. At one point earlier this year, I was worried that I wouldn't have drunk enough beer to warrant my annual trawl through the pale, amber, and dark delights that constitute my drinking habit. It wasn't that I had inexplicably given up on beer rather that I found my self drinking almost exclusively Three Notch'd beer, hence they are again the Fuggled Brewery of the Year. Whenever I see their wonderfully simple tap handle in a pub I know what I'll be drinking, and I know I will not be disappointed, what more can you ask from a brewery?

Yes 2015 was a good year for drinking, here's hoping 2016 is just as good.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Top Ten Virginian Beers 2015

This Saturday is the first round of judging for the 2015 Virginia Craft Beer Cup, which unfortunately I won't be participating in this year as I will be in the mountains of West Virginia with Mrs V at a series of fiddle workshops – well, she'll be doing workshops and I'll be watching the dog, drinking beer, and catching up on some reading.

As in years passim, I therefore present to you my utterly subjective top ten Virginia beers for 2015, and by that I mean the best beers from Virginia that I have drunk since I did the list last year. So, here goes....
  1. Three Notch'd - Ghost of the 43rd (5.1%). This may come as a shock to some, an American Pale Ale being my current favourite Virginian beer, but I have drank an inordinate, if not intemperate, amount of Ghost in the last year. Unlike many an American hop bomb this actually has the malt character to stand up to the hops, making it a delightfully balanced and moreish beer.
  2. South Street Brewery - Back to Bavaria (5.7%). This time last year, South Street would have not got on this list at all, and I rarely, if ever, darkened the door of the place. How times change. Now under the ownership of the Blue Mountain guys, the beer is night and day in terms of quality and drinkability. Back to Bavaria is a style that is somewhat rare in Virginia, a Munich Dunkle, and it was delicious, the ideal lager for shaking off the cobwebs of winter and gliding into spring. Traces of cocoa and a rich nuttiness made this a great beer to spend an afternoon drinking, which I did, several times.
  3. Starr Hill - Dark Starr Stout (4.2%). There is simply no better dry Irish style stout out there which is the equal to Dark Starr. Anywhere on planet earth. Dark Starr is stout perfection in my books, all the more so since Starr Hill don't fuck it up with bullshit like nitro. I realise I am biased here as a lover of the black stuff, but it astounds me that Dark Starr is not the stout of choice for every pub in the Commonwealth of Virginia, don't you people realise what a magnificent beer is right here on your doorstep? Here endeth the lesson.
  4. Isley Brewing - Tall, Dark, and Hopsome (8.1%). I do hope you are sitting down. Another hoppy beer makes the top ten, and more unimaginable yet, it's a Black IPA. I had it down in Richmond after Mrs V had run the half marathon. I had ordered something else, but the keg had kicked and our server brought a sample of this, and to my consternation I loved it, probably because unlike most black IPAs it wasn't a horrific chaos of mismatched flavours. It worked, pure and simple.
  5. Lickinghole Creek - Til Sunset (4.7%). Forget the fact for a moment that session IPAs are neither session beers or really IPAs and focus on the beer in the glass. Til Sunset is a delicious hoppy brew that hits all the right hop highlights while having enough toffee maltiness floating around to not make it like sucking a grapefruit. Here is a beer that lives up to its name, and I have spent many a day drinking it on my deck until the sun has dipped behind the trees, and I am sure I will do so many more times this year.
  6. Three Notch'd - Method to Your Madness (3.2%). I promise you I am not on a stipend from Dave and the Three Notch'd guys, they just happen to make the kind of beers I love, and they make them damned well. Method was a dark mild brewed for the first American Mild Month back in May. Laden with dark malts and a body belying it's eminent sessionability, Method was everything a dark English mild should be, and I loved the fact that they kept it at the more usual strength for a mild rather than trying to up the booze.
  7. Port City - Downright Pilsner (4.8%). I love pilsners. Downright is a perennial favourite and regular visitor to my fridge. I love the fact that it is dry hopped with Saaz, sure it's not traditional but what the heck, that extra dose of Saaz pungnecy is wonderful. Downright is my favourite Virginia made pilsner by a country mile as it is lager perfection in my book, and available year round.
  8. Devils Backbone - Trukker Ur Pils (5%). Brewed to a recipe which purports to recreate the malts available to Josef Groll in 1840s Plzeň, hopped exclusively with Saaz, triple decocted, lagered for 30 odd days. Yup, it's a Czech style pale lager done properly. There is no higher praise than that, this is a beer that would stand up admirably to Kout na ?umavě and Zlatá Labut if it were served in the Czech Republic. I only wish this was a permanent part of Devils Backbone's range.
  9. Mad Fox Brewing - Mason's Dark Mild (3.3%). A return to the list for this cask conditioned, pulled through a sparkler magnificence from Falls Church. I described it back in 2013 as being like Nutella spread thinkly over warm toast, and that it is still as tasty as it sounds. Yum
  10. Three Notch'd - 40 Mile IPA (6.1%). Seriously? Another Three Notch'd beer? Well, yes. As I said before, they consistently make the beers I like to drink and they make them damned well. I can see the question forming in your head already, but an IPA? Yes I know, but 40 Mile has the quality that so many ludicrously dick waving over IBUs IPAs don't have, it's wonderful to drink, and I find that El Dorado hops don't have that omnipresent grapefruit/pine resin/cat's piss thing that puts me off so many other American IPAs. 40 Mile is pretty much the only IPA that I am always happy to drink.
So there we go, an entirely subjective list of the top ten beers that have been brewed in Virginia in the last 12 months. I await the inevitable comments of 'but what about....', but please remember that if the beer is a classic style 'with' extraneous stuff that has no place in beer, that's probably why it ain't on the list.

Although this list is entirely subjective, I feel that including beers to recipes that I created/researched would be taking the piss somewhat, hence the absence of Session 42, Morana, and Sensible Mole from this list.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Of Renovation and Restoration

When Mrs V and I first landed in Charlottesville back in 2009 there was a single, solitary, brewery in the city itself. Back before there was Three Notch'd Brewing, before there was Champion Brewing, there was South Street. A place I so desperately wanted to love, but which so painfully let me down time after time. Every time I went, whether with the wife or with friends, I left wondering why I had bothered to put cash in their coffers for beer that to my mind was all too often either bland, unbalanced, or in the case of Liberation Lager, simply undrinkable. I much preferred to drive for an hour or so to do to Blue Mountain or Devils Backbone.

Then the guys behind Blue Mountain bought South Street and started a renovation process that closed the brewpub for a few months. In the weeks leading up to the official re-opening I had a new lager from South Street, firstly at the local Whole Foods and then at a countryside cafe just up the road from where I live. Virginia Lager was the first inkling that things might be better at the new South Street, clean, crisp, and nicely balanced, here was a South Street beer that I liked drinking.

For reasons that escape me right now, Mrs V and I didn't make it to South Street itself until a couple of weeks ago, on a Sunday where the temperature reached a positively balmy 21°C/70°F, and in short sleeves we went into town for brunch.


One thing I always loved about South Street was the architecture, bricks and brass being order of the day, and the renovations have lightened that up a bit,but not so much that it feels like a characterless dorm room. The old copper bar is no longer there, which is kind of a shame, but the new wooden bar is beautiful in its own right, and there are bits of the old bar hanging from the walls as mementos.

Presented with the menu, we decided to do the full flight of 12 beers, which you can see below.


I didn't take notes, but each of them was perfectly drinkable, well made, and nothing to turn one's nose up at. Virginia Lager was the highlight for me, though the shandy was also excellent, as was the Anastasia's Chocolate Fantasy, a nod to one of the more notorious of Cville's former residents, Franziska Schanzkowska, better known as Anna Anderson.


The sun was shining brightly, the sky that wonderful shade of blue that winter seems to specialise in, the windows were open, and the beer was good. So we ate our brunches, can't remember what Mrs V had, but I had biscuits and gravy, which were very nice (biscuits and gravy is becoming something of an obsession), and ordered pints....to drink without regret.

The new South Street is pretty much everything you could wish for from a town centre brewpub, great location, good food, good beer, and at long last reasonable opening hours, being open from 11am now rather than the old 4pm. I get the feeling that I might be popping over more often, safe in the knowledge that disappointment is a thing of the past.

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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