Showing posts with label starr hill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label starr hill. Show all posts

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Doppeling Bock Down

Ah winter....I love it. Not for me sunshine, sand, and beaches. Give me darkness, cold, and the warming glow of a log fire, or a even a peat fire in a perfect world. It's also the time of year when I drink more of the bigger beers of the world, especially doppelbocks. My love of a good doppelbock, in common with many of my beer preferences, stirred in the Czech Republic and drinking Primátor Double, a 24° behemoth of a beer that made a great nightcap on long winter nights. Closer to home in both time and space, Trader Joe's does a lovely doppelbock called Winter Brew which makes regular appearances in the fridge at this time of year, which reminds me, I need to stock up.

With Christmas getting inexorably closer I thought it would be fun to attempt a mass doppelbock tasting akin to the one I did for Oktoberfest when that was the seasonal de jour. Alas, there are not nearly enough versions of the style available to make such a project worthwhile, there were though the following in my local Wegmans:
Given that I had a final bottle of Olde Mecklenburg Brewing's Bauern Bock sitting in the fridge ready for a mass tasting, I figured I'd get the quartet together and try then in a single sitting as the boys watched Krtek before bed. First we head north to Pennsylvania...

  • Sight - beautiful garnet, half inch of lingering tan head
  • Smell - slightly metallic, dried fruit, honey, touch of marzipan, grassy hops
  • Taste - mostly honeyed toast, some maple syrup, stollen
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Perhaps it is because I love their Sunshine Pils on the rare occasion I can get hold of some but I was surprisingly disappointed by this, especially how understated it was for an 8.2% abv beer. I just expected more heft from it, the body was on the light side. Not bad, just not the big, chewy, beer I expected.

Closer to home for beer number 2, and of course I worked for Starr Hill for several years when Mrs V and I first moved to central Virginia.

  • Sight - deep ruby red, thin, off-white head that dissipates quickly
  • Smell - very light grass/hay, some bread, not much else
  • Taste - toffee and bread to the fore, clean hop bite in the finish
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Another bit of a let down. Not a bad beer, just not as complex as I would expect for the style. I found the body to be a little on the cloying side, but it was a smooth drink without any noticeable alcohol character.

Let's head further south now, to Charlotte.

  • Sight - richer copper/light red, healthy half inch of rocky ivory head that lingers
  • Smell - toasted stollen, light lemongrass, toffee, floral hops
  • Taste - bready malt, dried fruit, some raisin and prune notes, cherries, slight nuttiness, and a hint of Dutch cocoa
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
This was more like it, a lovely, complex beer that was still approachable and displayed plenty of Maillard character from decoction mashing. Definitely not a bashing session beer, but one that could definitely form the basis of a lengthy evening's supping in the pub.

Now for a trip abroad.

  • Sight - deep red bordering on chestnut brown, long lasting tan head that lingers at about a quarter inch
  • Smell - black treacle, sublte umami thing like soy sauce, winter spices, prunes, floral hops
  • Taste - rich treacle, minus acrid burnt flavour though, fruit cake with lots of booze soaked stone fruits, raisins, cherries, dark honey
  • Sweet - 3.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
This is one complex beast of a beer, so much going on, each mouthful revealing more layers to the beer. While it is definitely sweet, and a touch syrupy, it isn't cloying as the clean lager fermentation ad hop bitterness snap everything back into line in the finish.

Four very different beers, but I found myself with a very definite order of preference:
  1. Bauern Bock - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  2. Celebrator - Brauerei Ayinger, Germany
  3. Troegenator - Tr?egs Brewing, PA
  4. Snow Blind - Starr Hill Brewing, VA
Bauern Bock wins out largely because I can imagine myself being sat in the biergarten in Charlotte, under the lighted trees, enjoying several of these on draft with friends, but then finishing out the night with a Celebrator. Hopefully I will be able to persuade the in-laws to swing past the brewery on their way up for Christmas....

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Old Friends: Starr Hill Northern Lights

Many moons ago, when Fuggled was in its infancy, Mrs Velkyal and I were still living in Prague, and a night out on the lash didn't cost me an arm and leg, a friend brought me a bottle of beer from a brewery called Starr Hill. The beer in question was simply called Pale Ale, and I wrote about it here. Fast forward a few months and Mrs V and I had made the transition across the Pond, a night out on the lash cost me an arm and a leg, and I was working for the very same Starr Hill Brewery, spending my weekends behind the bar at their tasting room.

Back then in the dim and distant days of the late noughties, I actually quite liked the occasional IPA, and given the employee perk of a pay day case of beer, I quite often drank Starr Hill's IPA, Northern Lights, and I quite liked it. Sure, I preferred Dark Starr Stout, but a pint of Northern Lights was a regular sight.Come the beginning of 2015 I decided to move on from Starr Hill and start enjoying 2 day weekends without any work, and as a result I drank less and less of their beer. When thinking about beers to include in my Old Friends series, it made sense to include some Starr Hill stuff, and Northern Lights seemed the obvious choice, so I bought a couple of 12oz bottles as part of a build your own six pack, and poured them into my imperial pint dimpled mug...


I have to admit to almost reveling in an IPA that poured as beautifully clear as Northern Lights, a light copper liquid topped with a good half inch of white foam that lingered resolutely and left a delicate lacing down the sides of the glass.


The aroma was classic American style IPA, redolent with pine resin, positively dripping with grapefruit, and just a hint of herbal dankness in the background, it was like time travel. Tastewise the citrus and pine flavours from the hops where upfront and centre, but being an East Coast IPA there was a sweet toffee note that lent an element of balance. Being a more old school IPA, the bitterness was very much there, firm, bracing, and everything a bitter beer should be, lovers of NEIPA need not apply here for sure.


With each mouthful, and a quick 4oz top up on the 20oz pint glass, the bitterness built, like the layers of hand dipped candles. With an ABV of 5.3%, Northern Lights isn't going to knock you on your arse, but the booze is well integrated and doesn't detract from the interplay of hop bitterness and malt sweetness. Northern Lights is an old school East Coast IPA, but in a good way, a bracingly bitter beer that deserves revisiting by many.

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.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Changing The Guard

My first, and so far only, paid job in the beer world was working in the Starr Hill tasting room. As is obvious from the previous sentence, that is something that is now in the past. After five and half years of serving flights, pouring pints, giving tours, and being the 'gregarious Scotsman with a wry wit', I left Starr Hill back in December. The reason? More than anything I felt as though my time there was done, and also the utterly selfish delight of having 2 day weekends after a week at my regular job.


Today I got news which made me sad. The founder of Starr Hill, Mark Thompson has decided to retire from the brewery to pursue new opportunities and interests in life. I think that Mark, and Kristen, were the only people still at the brewery from when I started working there in September 2009, so it really does feel like the end of an era, though the beer is in very safe hands with the new brewmaster Robbie at the helm.

I have served Mark many a pint of Northern Lights, Starr Hill's flagship IPA and without wanting this to sound like an obituary, it was a great experience for me to work with Starr Hill and to get to know him.


Mark really is the pioneer of craft beer in Virginia, starting Starr Hill in 1999 and overseeing its growth from a brewpub on Main Street to a production brewery whose beer is available through the Mid-Atlantic region. A brewery that boasts the most award winning dry Irish stout in the USA, Dark Starr, and a raft of awards from the GABF, World Beer Cup, and even the Michael Jackson award at the Great British Beer Festival.

Mark was also gracious enough to do my Brewer of the Week interview, which you can read here.

Cheers Mark! Looking forward to having a pint with you some time.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Viennese Whirl

I was running early for work, and by work I mean a shift behind the bar at Starr Hill, so I pottered into a supermarket near the brewery to peruse the beer selection, you know, just in case. In many ways it was a fairly standard Harris Teeter beer aisle, and fair play to them they generally have some good beer. In with the cases was Sierra Nevada's 'Fall Pack' mix case, a selection of 4 beers, 3 bottles of the Pale Ale, Tumbler, Oktoberfest, and Vienna. Having not had the Oktoberfest at all  or the Vienna in quite some time, I got myself one and drove off to work.

As I drove home after work, I decided that a blind tasting was in order. I recalled Sierra Nevada's Vienna Lager being rather nice when I had it on draft a few years back at a Beer Run tap takeover (they also had Torpedo on cask, and it is much better than the kegged product), so I decided to compare Viennas. To that end I got another couple of representations of the style, and with the aid of my beautiful assistant, Mrs V, set to comparing the following:
Here are my notes, in the style of Cyclops as usual.


Beer A
  • Sight - amber, large fluffy head, lots of carbonation
  • Smell - dominated by bready malts, light honey notes, some earthiness
  • Taste - juicy cereal/graininess, soft caramel like sweetness, gentle hop bite, clean
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
  • Notes - slightly slick mouthfeel, bit on the watery side but nicely refreshing

Beer B
  • Sight - orange/copper, large slightly off white head, no noticeable bubbles
  • Smell - grain, general sweet aroma, light toast, grass
  • Taste - clean malt flavour, bready, slight syrup, undertones of earthy hops
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
  • Notes - Slightly on the sweet side, medium bodied, nice carbonation, easy drinking

Beer C
  • Sight - rich copper, medium sized ivory head
  • Smell - some toast, juicy sweet honey
  • Taste - richly malty, honey/maple syrup, fresh scones, clean crisp hop bite
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
  • Notes - Complex array of malt flavours, balanced really well with a clean hop bitterness, refreshing and moreish, slightly slick mothfeel
Rather than try to identify the beers, I decided to just note the order in which I preferred them, and was as backward as C, B, A, which turned to be as follows:
  1. Devils Backbone Vienna Lager
  2. Starr Hill Jomo Vienna Lager
  3. Sierra Nevada Vienna

All three beers are perfectly drinkable, but Devils Backbone's Vienna, as befits a multiple award winning beer just stands out with its complexity. It really is one of the best lagers in general in the US in my utterly unhumble opinion.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Get Your Smokey On!

Tomorrow sees the release of a very exclusive beer at the Starr Hill tasting room, where, I am sure you are aware if you've been reading Fuggled or a while, I occasionally work behind the bar and give tours of the brewery. The beer in question is hopefully the first in a series of brews designed and brewed by the tasting room staff, and available only in the tasting room.

This first beer is a smoked altbier, brewed with Pilsner, Munich, and Carafa II malts, as well as mesquite smoked malt from the Copper Fox distillery in Sperryville, Virginia. In terms of hops we used Perle as a first wort hop, and for the bittering addition, with Hallertau for flavour and aroma. Rather than using Starr Hill's standard top fermenting yeast, we used the Wyeast German Ale strain, which is from Düsseldorf's Uerige brewery.

A few weeks ago at the monthly tasting room team drinkies we got to sample the beer before it sat in cold conditioning, and it was everything we wanted it to be. The smoked malt is evident, without overpowering the rest of the beer. The Munich malt adds body and a malt richness, and the hops balance everything delightfully. At 5.6% and a deep brown colour, this really is a fine beer for an autumnal Friday evening. It's only a shame there is no fire place in the Starr Hill tasting room.

The name of this august brew? Smokey Das Bier, and it will only be available tomorrow from 5pm at the tasting room in Crozet.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Top Ten Virginian Beers 2014

This Saturday is the first round of judging for the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup, the finals for which will be decided a week later at the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest, down at Devils Backbone. The first round judging takes place at Mad Fox up in Falls Church, so nice and early on Saturday morning I'll be jumping in my car for the drive north. This time last year I presented the Fuggled Top Ten Virginian beers for 2013, so I present this year's list....
  1. Three Notch'd Brewing - Oats McGoats (5.5%). Oats is the base beer for Three Notch'd's espresso stout. Take out the coffee and you have a wonderfully silky, moreish stout that just screams to drunk whilst sat in a comfy chair, in front of the fire, with the dog stretched out at your feet. Idyllic.
  2. Blue Mountain Brewing - English Pale Mild (4.6%). On the day I went to brew a Burton Ale with the guys at Blue Mountain, they were pouring an English pale mild, a brew so rare these days that people likely saw the words 'pale mild' and thought it was some modern twist on mild. With a generous smattering of English hops, it was a great beer to have a few pints of, or as we call it in the UK, lunch.
  3. Port City Brewing - Downright Pilsner (4.8%). The perfect Czech style pilsner, a love song to Saaz. Magnificent.
  4. Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery - Enlightened Despot (11.3%). A Russian Imperial Stout, aged in Pappy van Winkle barrels, balanced, seductive, and superb with a well matured cheddar cheese make this beer something of a rarity in Fuggled-world, a big barrel aged beer that was actually worth drinking. I bought the last bottle from batch 1 when I went to the brewery, and it sits in my cellar awaiting a suitable occasion.
  5. Three Notch'd Brewing - 40 Mile IPA (6.1%). Don't look now but there is an American style IPA on this list. Absolutely redolent with the tropical fruit flavours of El Dorado hops, this has become my go-to IPA, there simply is no better IPA being made in Virginia right now in my opinion. If you see it in the massed ranks of IPA in a bar, forget the rest.
  6. Starr Hill Brewing - Dark Starr Stout (4.6%). There have been some tweaks to this beer recently, specifically a change in the chocolate malt being used in the brew, and it has elevated an already magnificent dry Irish stout to higher standards. I honestly can't think of a dry stout I would rather drink.
  7. Devils Backbone Brewing - Vienna Lager (4.9%). A well established go-to lager which never disappoints. It is great to see that as Devils Backbone continues to grow Vienna Lager doesn't seem to suffer, testament to the superb work that Jason, Aaron, and the DB brewing crew are doing.
  8. Three Notch'd Brewing - Of, By, For Pilsner (5.6%). Yes, yes, yes, I know, another Three Notch'd beer, but seriously, these guys are consistently making the best beer in central Virginia at the moment, and across a range of styles. Of, By, For is a solid Bohemian style pilsner, though at an estimated 14° Plato it is more in the speciání range than a le?ák. Showcasing the Saaz-derived Sterling hop, it is dangerously moreish, and returns to the tasting room this week!!
  9. Ardent Craft Ales - American Mild (5.5%). More a brown ale that a mild, as understood these days, but a lovely combination of nutty malts, spicy hops and a rich mouthfeel. Probably the highlight of my Saturday drinking in Richmond recently.
  10. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - Bohemian Pils (5%). What is happening to Virginia brewing? Czech style lagers seem to be popping up all over the place, and this one reminded me very much of beers I drank in the Czech Republic, mainly Budvar. Well worth seeking out.

So there we have it, my favourite Virginian beers since last year's list. Naturally the list is purely subjective, but that part of the joy of beer.

Monday, June 23, 2014

In Praise of Science

Business is booming. Breweries are springing up left, right, and centre. It seems like not a month goes by without reading about a new brewery opening up, an established brewery expanding, homebrewers 'living the dream' by opening their own place. It seems as though every one and his uncle wants a piece of the everyman drink right now (which kind of makes me nervous, but that's for a different post).

In all the excitement of the new, I wonder if we forget the excitement of the improved? Let me give you an example. I work in the tasting room at Starr Hill from time to time, it's a job I love doing, and the most recent cause for excitement from my perspective is the continued resurgence of a beer I once really enjoyed and then went off. Jomo Lager is one of the staples of Starr Hill's range, it has been brewed, as far as I am aware, for as long as there has been a Starr Hill Brewing Company.

In the last couple of years the brewery has invested a lot of time and money into process management, quality assurance, and brewing science. It is an investment which is paying off in the most important place, in the glass. There was a time when Jomo was something I didn't really care for, because it was inconsistent, sometimes good, sometimes not. With the improvements in process over the last few years, Jomo is a beer I have come back to and found myself thoroughly enjoying once more. In fact, I think it is the Starr Hill beer I have drunk most of so far this year, even more so than the lovely Dark Starr Stout.

I sometimes wonder if the science of brewing doesn't got lost in the excitement and occasionally homespun culture that is much of 'craft' brewing, almost as though scientific rigour in the brewing process is a path to the dark side of BMC-esque status. Whether or not you want to drink the beers being made by the big boys, you cannot deny that they have the science side of things down to a fine art, ensuring a consistent customer experience, and the brand loyalty that comes with it. It makes me think that there are breweries out there that need to spend less money on more tanks and more money on getting the liquid in their existing tanks consistently excellent.



It has been the application of brewing science that has made Jomo one of my go to Starr Hill beers, making it again the beer I described as:
a lovely clean lager which goes down with inordinate ease, nicely hoppy but with a lightly sweet undertone - just the kind of beer which requires a leafy beer garden, a warm late summer afternoon and a busty serving wench making regular trips to your table, laden with steins of joy, the smell of bratwurst grilling nearby and so on.
There really is no higher praise for a beer than wanting to drink lots of it...

Two 'In Praise of...' posts in a couple of weeks? What the heck is wrong with me? I haven't had a rant in a while.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Getting Raucous

I spent Saturday drinking homebrew. No shock there you might think, but it wasn't my own brews I was imbibing, I was judging at a competition.

The competition was a very small affair, just six entrants, but the winner is to have their beer brewed on the big system at Three Notch'd. I have to admit I was somewhat worried about the judging as the chosen style for the competition was IPA, a style that I rarely brew myself, and then it is usually so I can dodge the style at other competitions I am judging. I am also not a huge fan of drinking IPAs, though I think our local breweries in Central Virginia actually make some damn good ones, especially Devils Backbone's 8 Point, Three Notch'd 40 Mile, and Starr Hill Northern Lights - maybe I just prefer the East Coast way of doing the style...

Anyway, the winner of the competition brewed a beer which was simply delightful. Boatloads of malt complexity and a real balance from the hops, this was no tooth enamel stripper and it was all the better for it. To add some creativity to the brew, she added honey and orange peel, that actually had me thinking she had used Goldings hops at first. The drinkability of the beer, and it was bloody delicious, belied its 7.88% heft. The beer was called Raucous IPA and I am very much looking forward to it being available around Charlottesville. From my experience with Session 42, it is such a great feeling seeing your beer in restaurants and bars.

The standard of the entrants got me thinking about how this part of Virginia seems to have a real wealth of brewing talent, whether doing it for a living or as a hobby - I love Levi Duncan's, formerly of Starr Hill and now at Champion, thoughts on brewers, whether you are a pro or a homebrewer is irrelevant, we are all brewers. One of the members of the homebrew club I go to, the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale, recently won a gold and two bronzes in round one of the NHC, and our club regularly does well in competitions like the Dominion Cup and Virginia Beer Blitz.

Brewing in such a well stocked area for talent definitely makes a brewer have to strive to improve all the time, which can only be good the brewing community as a whole. Not only is it a good time for the beer industry, it's a good time for brewing your own as well.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Taste of the New

It seems crazy sometimes, but it is almost 5 years since I drank my first ever Starr Hill beer. It was in May 2009 that a friend of mine brought a bottle of the much missed, at least in my world, Starr Hill Pale Ale back to Prague with her. A few months later, having arrived on these shores, I was working in the Starr Hill tasting room, and drinking a fair bit of the Pale Ale, and the Dark Starr Stout as well.


Fast forward to April 2014 and I still work at the tasting room a few weekends a month, and I still wish the powers that be would resurrect the old Pale Ale. I haven't worked since the beginning of March for one simple reason, the tasting room has been closed for renovations.


This weekend, that all changes. The tasting room will once again be open for business, though it is hugely different from the old days. Gone is the simple wooden bar with industrial kegerators behind it, replaced by a custom built bar with lines that run directly to the cold store, so no more lugging kegs from the cold store to the bar on a trolley I guess. Gone is the stifling heat of summer, and the frozen backsides of winter, we now have a closed in, temperature controlled space which looks out on the production floor of the brewery itself.


A couple of weekends ago we had a team meeting to be introduced to the new space and, to put it simply, it is stunning. The guys that designed the space have done an amazing job, and incorporated some neat touches from the old days of Starr Hill when it was a brewpub in Charlottesville.

To say I am looking forward to getting back behind the bar is something of an understatement, and what a glorious bar it will be to be working behind!

The grand opening is this Saturday, but I will be working on Sunday, so come on down, enjoy the new space, and of course drink the beer!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Top Ten Virginian Beers 2013

Taking my lead from the wonderfully urbane company which is Boak and Bailey, and with half an eye on the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest this weekend, here is the Fuggled Top Ten Virginian beers...
  1. AleWerks Brewing - Caledonia (4.5%). A delightfully fragrant, hoppy, British style IPA. The combination of Fuggles, Willamette, and Styrian Goldings is a vibrant, Seville orange laced delight.
  2. Port City Brewing - Downright Pilsner (4.8%). A Czech style pale lager that wouldn't be out of place if served in the beer halls of Prague, positively pulsating with Saaz goodness, more is rarely enough.
  3. Mad Fox Brewing - Mason's Dark Mild (3.3%). Think warm toast spread with Nutella and you are not far from reality, and best of all it is served on a sparkled beer engine.
  4. Devils Backbone Brewing - Schwartz Bier (4.9%). Last year's Virginia Beer Cup winner, and now available in bottles, this is a roasty, clean, crisp black lager that never gets tired.
  5. Starr Hill Brewing - Dark Starr Stout (4.2%). The most award winning Dry Irish Stout in the USA, coffee, chocolate, and a smooth luxuriant body makes this Starr Hill's best beer by a country mile.
  6. St George Brewing - English IPA (5.5%). A showcase for the delights of Fuggles hops, a good dollop of malt sweetness, balanced with the herby, almost tobacco like Fuggles makes it a great British IPA.
  7. Blue Mountain Brewing - überPils (7.6%). 40 IBU of noble hops and a solid malt backbone make this big pale lager surprisingly easy to drink.
  8. Devils Backbone Brewing - Vienna Lager (4.9%). Always good, and thankfully fairly widely available. One of the best ambers lagers anywhere in the US.
  9. Port City Brewing - Porter (7.2%). Some beers have no business being so drinkable with so a potent ABV, silky, chocolatey, and to be honest crying out to be available on cask somewhere, preferably near me.
  10. AleWerks Brewing - Café Royale (8%). Take a coffee infused stout, chuck it in bourbon barrels, and then save for a special occasion.
There we have it, and I am sure Saturday's Virginia Craft Brewers Fest will bring more great Virginian beer to my attention.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

In Praise of Workhorses

Last night I did something that I hadn't in a while. Having lost track of the time whilst pottering around in my garden and realised that I wouldn't have time to get cleaned up and out to the local homebrew club monthly meeting. So, with dinner cooking in the oven (a rather fabulous potatoes au gratin, to which I will add mustard powder next time), I wandered down in the beer cellar to pick something to drink.

My beer cellar, as I am sure is pretty common, is a mixture of my own homebrew, a bevvy of strong beers which are being aged (most of which are Fuller's Vintage Ales) and what I tend to think of as my 'drinking' beers - the ones which will be polished off well before their best before date. Looking at the collection of beer, which has been dwindling gently while I have been unemployed (thankfully I start my new job on Monday), the only beer that leapt at me was a beer I had not drunk at home in a very, very long time, Starr Hill's Amber Ale.


The Amber Ale at Starr Hill is one of those beers which gets labelled an 'Irish Red Ale', a style which according to some was originally just an Irish equivalent of keg bitter, the kind of beer to strike fear into the heart of any CAMRA member. Over here in the US it is kind of sweet, with a caramel element and a touch of earthy/spicy hops, some versions of the style are overwhelmingly cloying and as such it is not something I bother with very often, though on the rare occasions I get to have O'Hara's Red on tap then I fill my boots. Unlike many an Oirish Red Ale, Starr Hill's Amber is actually nicely balanced, with neither the malt nor the hop dominating, I polished off three bottles  in pretty short order - and it was at the right temperature, about 56° Fahrenheit.

This got me thinking about all the beers out there which don't get the love and praise they warrant, simply because they are not very hip, sexy or labelled as some form of IPA. Beers, like Starr Hill Amber Ale, which fulfil my very simple definition of a good beer, does it make me want another one? I like to term such beers 'workhorses', sure they might not prance around like Vienna's Spanish Riding School, but they are great at ploughing a field.

What are your local workhorse beers that deserve more praise and recognition?

The picture is from Starr Hill's website as I was too busy drinking the beer to even think about taking a photo.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A New Starr

One of the benefits of working in the Starr Hill tasting room is getting to know what new beers are coming down the line for seasonals, the brewery's 'All Access' series, and other special beers such as Pro-Am for the GABF, and the annual(ish) Brew Ridge Trail collaboration beer.

Earlier in the year, at our quarterly tasting room managers meeting, we learnt that the summer seasonal for this year would be an American Pale Ale. We had heard rumour of there being a new pale ale on the horizon, and a few of us were hoping for a revival of the old Pale Ale, which I reviewed here back in 2009 (random fact, Fuggled is now 5 years old!). I was a big fan of the old Pale Ale and, like quite a few of our regular customers, a little disappointed when it was discontinued.

Another of the benefits of working in the tasting room is being able to taste beers before they are on sale to the general public, thus I acquired some of the new pale ale, which is called Grateful, an homage to our master brewer's favourite band. But what about the beer itself I hear you ask....well, it looks like this:


More of a golden colour than the old pale ale, but still with a good half inch or so of tight, white, foam. Yep, it looks like an American Pale Ale to me. In terms of aroma, you get that punchy citrus element that you would expect from a beer brewed with Centenntial, Chinook and Cascade, and sure there is a trace of pine resin, again classic, but there is something else, something different, something funky. Also in the hopping is Topaz, an Australian hop variety which has some earthiness to it, as well as the tropical fruit thing which is apparently common in Antipodean hops. Is Topaz where the beer is getting its grassiness from? By grass I don't mean the common garden stuff that makes a lawn, I am talking about special grass. Maybe it's just me, but I think it smells a bit like marijuana. So, plenty of interesting things going on in the smell department, but nobody in their right mind only smells beer, what about drinking it?


Up front and centre is a big whack of bright, tangy, citrus flavours, I wouldn't go as far as to say grapefruit, more bitter orange in my opinion, but it is there and very much a star of the show. The backing singers though are noticeable and certainly add harmony to the main attraction with a light caramel note, blended with a light toasty element which gives it just enough of something else so as not to make this just yet another hop transportation system. The body is just on the light side of medium, which makes it nicely pintable, though not really a session beer at 4.7%. I can easily see this being a regular beer in the fridge over the summer months.


So, where can you get this lovely beer? Erm, until May 1st only at the Starr Hill tasting room. Despair not though, especially those of you living in Virginia, this Saturday (4/20) is the release party at the brewery, so if you can, get along and try a very welcome addition to the Starr Hill line up.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Notions Challenged

I am perfectly happy to admit that I am somewhat opinionated, one thing I do hope though is that when someone or something contradicts my opinion then I am open to listen and change my viewpoint.  On Saturday, whilst working in the Starr Hill tasting room, I had two of my preconceived notions given a good battering.

If you have followed Fuggled for more than a few posts, you will know that I have a problem with the whole "black" IPA thing - originally on the basis that the concepts of 'black' and 'pale ale' are mutually exclusive, but mainly because several versions of the 'style' I have tried have overwhelmingly been dreck. In general, my experience of beers where dark malts have been added to a traditionally pale beer have been negative, but given that hope springs eternal I will try most things when I have the opportunity. On Saturday such an opportunity presented itself.

One of the delights of this part of Virginia is that it is an alcoholics paradise, vineyards, cideries, distilleries and of course for the beer lovers there is the Brew Ridge Trail, which consists of 6 local breweries, , Wild Wolf, Blue Mountain, Blue Mountain Barrel House, Starr Hill and South Street. Every now and again the brewers get together to make a collaboration beer and the latest iteration of said brew was on tap at the tasting room on Saturday, it was a 'black' tripel. It really had the potential to be the perfect shit storm of things I am not a fan off (say it quietly, but I don't really dig tripel as a regular tipple, unless it actually comes from Belgium, or Canada for that matter). Dutifully I poured myself a sample so I would be able to explain the beer to visitors, and low and behold I liked it. The dark malt lends the beer a light roastiness which roughens up the sugary sweetness that you expect from tripels and judicious use of Saaz hops gives it slightly spicy edge. It is a very nice beer, though quite how it differs from a Belgian Dark Strong Ale is beyond me. If you are at any of the breweries on the Brew Ridge Trail and they have it on tap, then look it out and give it a bash, it's good.

About half way through a somewhat quiet shift, it was also the Top of the Hops beer festival on Saturday, one of my other notions was thoroughly debased. A little back story first, in 2006 I worked as the Tour Manager for a stag party organising company in Prague for a few months. One thing that always filled me with dread was when we would have a hen party, that's 'bachelorette' party for my American readers. My experience of large groups of girls together is that they were uniformly louder, more drunken and more of a nuisance than a similar sized group of men, I am not entirely sure why. We didn't have a hen party come into the tasting room on Saturday, we had a bunch of girls from a sorority at Longwood University - about 20 or so in total, with 12 doing the tasting. The tasters ended up on my side of the bar, and were good fun, with plenty of laughs and frivolity all round - and I stand by my comment to one of them that the Soviet Union would have won World War 2 eventually without the Normandy invasions. I also enjoyed the ego stroke of most of them thinking I was in my late 20s, early 30s (I am 36, nearly 37).

So there we go, one shift, two preconceived notions thoroughly challenged and by the time I got home, to the blaring tunes of The Jam, The Clash and The Doors it was time to hang with friends on the deck and booze the evening away. A pleasing prospect that pleased immensely.

Monday, May 7, 2012

And the winner is...

It seems like only yesterday I was having a little moan about the awards handed out as part of the World Beer Cup, especially the Bohemian Pilsner category. As it is, that particular moan was from June 2010, when Gambrinus Excelent somehow contrived to come second in the aforementioned category. It was then with a modicum of interest that I read my way through the winners list for this year's edition.

Good news for this part of Virginia in the form of Devils Backbone taking gold for their Vienna Lager. As I mentioned recently, the Charlottesville area breweries do well with lager and now boast both the current World Beer Cup gold for the Vienna lager category and the current Great American Beer Festival gold, in the form of Starr Hill's Jomo Lager. There was also a silver in the grammatically incorrect "American-Belgo-Style Ale" category, for Blue Mountain's Blue Reserve. Correct grammar would have be "Americo-Belgian Style Ale".

I was also very pleased to see Jeff at Lovibonds picking up some shiny yellow bling for his Sour Grapes in the "Wood or Barrel Aged Sour Ale" category, and I say this more in hope than expectation - could someone please start importing Lovibonds beer in the US?

However, there were a few bits and pieces that I found either startling or down right ridiculous, let's start with my favourite hobby horse, Bohemian Pilsners. Of the 62 entrants, the top three were Starobrno Le?ák, Kru?ovice Imperial and Gambrinus Premium, or to put it another way Heineken, Heineken and SABMiller. I have read that Kru?ovice has improved of late, and given that Starobrno is owned by the same company perhaps they have likewise got better, but Gambrinus Premium is the third best pilsner in the world? While it is true that I haven't had Gambrinus in a few years, I keep in touch with my mates back in Prague and they consistently tell me that it is getting worse than it was, and that many of them have given up on Gambrinus entirely in favour of Pilsner Urquell. Once again I would love to see who the other 59 entrants were, because if this crop of swill is the best available then there are real problems with the Pilsner brewing community (which I actually believe there are, but mainly because too many people don't have enough experience of proper pilsner within it's "sitz im leben" to brew it properly).

Then there are some of the categories themselves, but in particular "German-Style K?lsch/K?ln-Style K?lsch" category. How gracious to allow for a "K?ln-Style K?lsch", though the fact that K?lsch can only ever come from Cologne in order to be true to the Convention governing the style makes the category something of a tautology. Would it not be better to use a name like K?lsch-style Ale, which basically says everything necessary, a blonde ale made in the style of a K?lsch but not actually from Cologne. Now, I know nomenclature is not really wildly important to a lot of people, but I think these cack-handed categories simply breed confusion and are unnecessary when definitions such as the K?lsch Convention already exist.

I realise that competitions really need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but I wonder sometimes if all the meddling makes the pinch more of a hefty slug?

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Thursday Drop

Mrs Velkyal had some friends round last night in order to put together their costumes for various Halloween bashes this weekend. Seeing the opportunity, I pottered off to Beer Run, book in hand, hoping for a place at the bar to sit with a fine libation, or two, and while away a couple of hours.

Eventually a space opened up at the bar and I perched myself, half pint of Samichlaus 2006 in hand and Hogwaller sandwich in tow - the Hogwaller is simply sandwich heaven, bread, ham, bacon, cheese, mustard, a finer companion for beer is hard to imagine (though maybe some caramelised onions would work in there as well?).

The half pint of Samichlaus lasted about an hour and a half, at 14% it is not something you want to be chugging, and with the minging hangover from a growler of Legend's 15.9% barleywine in mind, I wanted to savour the beer. I didn't take pictures or tasting notes, but it was deliciously boozy, sweet and smooth yet clean as all good lagers are.

This got me thinking about strong beers in general, and a thought flashed through my mind that cold fermented beers are perhaps better suited to extreme strength than their warm fermented cousins. It could of course just be my acknowledged predilection for cold fermented beers in general, but I find powerful lagers so much more pleasurable to drink than boozy ales.

Once that half pint had been supped and savoured, I ratcheted down the gears a fair bit for a pint of Left Hand's Sawtooth, which is one of my favourite British style ales being made in the States, I would love to see it on cask sometime. I rounded off with a pint of Donnybrook Stout from Victory, by now well into a discussion with a guy at the bar about the book I was reading.


A thoroughly pleasant evening finished at home with a pint of Starr Hill Dark Starr Stout from a growler, listening to the Peatbog Faeries on Spotify and with my wee Cairn Terrier at my feet. I can of no better way to spend a Thursday night.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Great British Beer Festival - a Reminder

This week is the Great British Beer Festival, held at Earl's Court in London rather than in the Earl's Court of London Below. Anyway, for those of you lucky people able to get along to the festival and enjoy the best of British brewing (and no, "they" are not, never have been and never will be the best of British brewing), do remember to pop round to the Bières Sans Frontières area.

In particular, head for the American Cask Ale Bar, which is designated according to the website as "W2 - Blackwell", and order a lager. Not just any lager mind, order the Devils Backbone Barclays London Dark Lager that I have posted about several times. I would ask that you only have thirds of a pint rather than anything bigger, at least until Ron has been able to get there to try some.


If crafted lagers are not your thing, preferring instead to have your tongue savaged and abused by hops, then while you are trying Virginia beers, you might want to have a bash at the Starr Hill Double Platinum, a double IPA from the brewery where I do occasional stints behind the bar of the tasting room. A third choice if you are on a Virginia themed drinking session, is St George's Nut Brown Ale - I have never had it so can't vouch for it in quality terms, but I quite like their IPA - they have the temerity to use British hops, Fuggles exclusively no less!

If you do get to try the Barclays London Dark Lager and are of the social media type, please could you tweet about it when you try it? Perhaps I could suggest the following hashtag "#BarclaysDarkLager", and please cc Devils Backbone's Twitter accout, @dbbrewingco.

Cheers and have a great time if you are going!

Monday, April 18, 2011

In Praise of Growlers

I still remember the first growler I ever saw, perched atop one of the fridges at PK in Prague, a mammoth bottle sporting a swing top, capable of holding 2 litres of beer and with Svijany branding on the side. Given that pubs serving my favourite beers were but a few steps from my front door, I never bothered with a growler, though I often saw people in PK filling PET bottles with beer to take home. Only once do I recall someone coming in with a d?bán - basically a traditional ceramic jug used for taking beer home from the pub for dinner, the kind of task in more civilised times you would send the kids to do.


On moving to the States, I got a job working in the tasting room at the Starr Hill brewery, where you can still find me one day a month behind the bar, talking a lot and being asked where in Australia, South Africa (?!) or even Canada I am from. Seriously, nobody ever seems to get that I am British, I know my accent is all over the place but even just ten minutes listening to the World Service will put you on the right island. Admittedly my habit of muttering to myself in Czech may be a bit off putting. Anyway, we sell a lot of growlers, and we fill even more.

I now have three growlers, the Blue Mountain Brewery one in the pictures, and a couple of Starr Hill ones, which have a metal handle that makes them a little easier to carry that the one above, but it is the beer inside that is important. One Friday afternoon, my good friend Mark Stewart (seriously talented photographer and all round top bloke, soon to be moving to London, but here for a while yet) and I met up and drove out to Devils Backbone en route to going to his place for dinner. Mrs Velkyal had been at a quilting workshop close to Mark and his wife's place, so we decided to have a get together. Having two growlers to fill gave us a window of opportunity to sit at the bar and enjoy a few pints, and a chat with Jason about many things beer, including an upcoming brew we'll be doing - but more about that at the right time.

I filled up with Devils Backbone's Maibock, which is a deliciously smooth beer with something of a booze kick that creeps up on your from behind and smacks you across the head, I liked it. I also got a fill of my current "go to" beer, the Vienna Lager (another minor aside, I am researching the similarities and differences between Vienna Lager and Czech polotmavé pivo), which I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday afternoon.


Perhaps I am something of a stickler, but whenever I finish a growler, I make sure that I rinse it. Every once in a while I will give them a thorough cleaning - fill with hot water, add a teaspoon of Oxyclean and leave overnight, the next morning, rinse with hot water 6 or 7 times as Oxyclean leaves a slight film on the glass, once clean it gets closed and stored in the cellar until needed. Before I fill them again though, I will use my non-rinse One Step cleanser just to make sure - like I say, I am a stickler. There have been times though at the tasting room when people present you with a growler caked in all manner of crap and you just shudder at the thought of putting beer in it, and I don't mean the kind of crap a quick rinse sorts out.


I love having growlers, though they will never replace going to the pub for a few pints. A word to the wise though, it is never a good idea to drink 2 litres of Legend's 15.6% abv barleywine from a growler on a week night. Trust me.

Monday, February 14, 2011

In Praise of Brewpubs

We are inordinately fortunate in this part of the world, as I have mentioned before, to have a wealth of brewing companies within an hours drive. Whether we are talking about the likes of Starr Hill, whose beers are available throughout the south east of the US, with the exception of Georgia, or one of the local brewpubs, we have loads of beer options here. It is great being able to go into our nearby shops and pick up six packs of locally made beer. Having said that, I have to admit that I prefer to combine my two favourite things, pubs and beer, by going to one of the brewpubs.


If you follow Fuggled with even the vaguest sense of regularity you will know that my favourite brewpub in the Charlottesville area is Devils Backbone, out in Roseland. I love the beer, the food, the atmosphere, the drive back in the depths of night can be a bit hairy at times though. Mrs Velkyal and I also enjoy popping over to Blue Mountain from time to time, again for good beer and a nice relaxing vibe. Whenever we venture away from home, we look instinctively for brewpubs to drop in to, and so we have enjoyed Blue Ridge Brewing in Greenville, Hunter Gatherer in Columbia, Southend Brewery in Charleston (yes we go to South Carolina a lot). All this got me thinking about reasons for preferring a brewpub to pretty much any other drinking experience, and I came up with a couple of reasons.


Firstly, most brewpubs are good pubs in general. If you go to South Street Brewery in the centre of Charlottesville, the building itself is beautiful, and it feels very much like a proper pub. Dark, almost brooding, plenty of bare brick and dark wood, it is very much my kind of ambience. Devils Backbone by contrast is mainly stone, wood and corrugated iron (it might be tin, so don't quote me), the high ceilings add a sense of space and light which doesn't translate to bright and gaudy. Blue Mountain kind of feels like my living room, with a very nice patio outside. Different places with different atmospheres but all identifiably pubs. They are places for enjoying beer, first and foremost.


Now this might be slightly controversial, or entirely obvious, but brewpubs succeed or fail on the basis of their beer, and that means they need to be on top of their game constantly. By this I mean that they have no place to hide when it comes to criticism. They brew their own beer, condition their own beer, serve their own beer. If there is a problem with a beer then they can't blame the distributor for not looking after it properly, or the pub for not serving it properly, the buck stops with them. Why then is this a reason for me to prefer the brewpub experience? Simply because if I am enjoying a pint of excellent beer, then I am confident that if I switch drinks, they will likewise well made and cared for, at the same time if the pint is not up to scratch and then neither is another, then it suggests a systemic problem with the brewing setup. As such, it allows me to make an informed decision as to whether or not I want to continue pouring money into their cash register.


A major benefit of the brewpub though is having had a flight of samples, you can then order a pint of the one you liked best and get tucking in to a good session - which is, after all the prime purpose of beer, if beer needs to have a purpose.

The best brewpubs combine the best of the beer world, good beer in a convivial environment.

Now, just in case you are thoroughly confused with me writing a positive post rather than ranting, here's something to restore your sense of normality. Yesterday I was in Barnes and Noble when I picked up the book The Beer Trials, turning to the page about Pilsner Urquell, I was dumbstruck by the ignorance and all round bullshit of the description of the beer. For starters "Pilsner Urquell" is GERMAN for Pilsner from the Original Source, not Czech. Yes they really said that. Twice. Ignorant tits. Secondly opening a bottle of pasteurised Pilsner Urquell thousands of miles from the Czech Republic is hardly the best way to enjoy a famously delicate beer, especially when the glass is green, and so the "traditional lightstruck/noble hop" aroma is not normal. Try drinking Pilsner Urquell from a tankove system, in the Czech Republic before waffling bollocks. Here endeth the lesson.

Monday, August 2, 2010

On Reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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