Showing posts with label tasting room. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tasting room. Show all posts

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.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Session: Who Do I Think I Am?

This month's Session is being hosted by Ding, and is based around the theme of who are we in our beer 'scene', or to put in in Ding's own words:
"So, where do you see yourself? Are you simply a cog in the commercial machine if you work for a brewery, store or distributor? Are you nothing more than an interested consumer? Are you JUST a consumer? Are you a beer evangelist? Are you a wannabe, beer ‘professional’? Are you a beer writer? All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above? Where do you fit, and how do you see your own role in the beer landscape?"
I am not really a fan of excessive introspection, which is perhaps odd for an introvert, but when I look at the beer milieu in which I find myself, it becomes clear that I have irons in plenty of fires.

Obviously I have this blog, which I have been writing since 2008, when I still lived in Prague and was delving into the wonderful world of Czech beer beyond the confines of Gambrinus. Writing this blog has afforded me lots of opportunities which I doubt I would have had without it; being invited to brewdays at breweries; working on recipes for breweries; being trusted to design and brew a beer for a local brewery. Would I have met as many interesting, informed, and knowledgeable people if it weren't for Fuggled? Some of the people I have met since I started Fuggled I am sure I would have met and become friends with anyway, but would I have had experiences like hearing people I had never met talk about how they went to that particular pub because of this blog they love called 'Fuggled', obviously not. Would I call myself a beer writer? I am not sure really, it is true I write about beer, and not just in this forum and medium, but it is something I do just because I enjoy writing, not something I do for a living, so I'll let others make that distinction.

If you've followed Fuggled for any length of time, you'll know that I also work for a brewery, Starr Hill Brewing in Crozet, just down the road from Charlottesville. I work in the tasting room, pouring flights, giving tours, talking about beer. It's work that I very much enjoy, especially when people comment about the 'gregarious Scotsman with a wry wit' who gives a great brewery tour. Working behind the bar often makes me wish I had my own pub, where I could have total freedom to run my bar as I saw fit (though I'd likely go bust pretty quick because I would probably serve almost exclusively real ale, which is a tricky sell over here).

Even a cursory following of Fuggled will tell you that I am a homebrewer, involved in my local homebrew club, and all that entails.

I am not someone who 'loves' beer or is 'passionate' about hops/malt/yeast. I have got over the ridiculous notion of youth that I need to go about bashing people over the head with a beer Bible and evangelise them into drinking 'craft beer'. Random side note, my favourite quote from the original Fever Pitch film is that football fans are 'like bloody missionaries, they bore you to death until you give in then they fuck off' - which actually sounds a lot like many a self proclaimed 'beer evangelist'.

So yes I brew, serve, and write about beer, but the most important thing in my opinion when it comes to my 'place' in the beer world is that I am a pubcentric beer drinker. I am a man who can think of nothing he would rather do than sit in a good pub, with a pint of something that meets my standards for good beer, with or without friends, and just enjoying the taste of well made, flavourful beer. I will do flights and samples mainly so I can find something I want a pint of, ticking and its online equivalents is not something I really understand.

So that's who I say I am, first and foremost I am a beer drinker. That I am an opinionated gobshite of a beer drinker is kind of secondary.

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.

Friday, June 13, 2014

In Praise of the Brewery Tap

I went to the pub the other day, shock horror, and something has been on my mind ever since.

The pub in question had a good selection, including a decent range of local beers and those from further afield, such as:
  • Champion Killer Kolsch
  • Three Notch'd Hydraulion
  • 21st Amendment Bitter American
  • Bell's Oberon
Something that piqued my interest was the pricing. The 2 local beers in that list, Champion and Three Notch'd, were priced at $5 and $6 for a pint respectively, and the beers from further away were both $5.

Said pub is about equidistant between the two local breweries, so what would be the reason for the extra $1 in price? Sure it could be the extra 0.3% abv that Hydraulion has over Killer Kolsch, though the extra 0.3% abv, but given that Blue Mountain's very nice Full Nelson was likewise priced at $5 on the menu and is 0.6% abv more than Hydraulion, I assume not.

This little vignette shows the one big annoyance of mine with retailers of 'craft' beer, their sheer inconsistency when it comes to pricing similar products, oh and don't get me started about places claiming to have hundreds of 'craft' beers and then including Estrella, Guinness, and Leffe in their lists.

I guess this is one of the reasons why I find myself drinking more and more locally produced beer ('local' beer is a total misnomer given that ingredients are shipped in from around the world) in the places where they were brewed. I prefer my money to be going directly to the producers of the beer rather than through the mitts of various middle men. One of the best things to happen to Virginia beer is the passing into law of SB604, which allowed breweries to sell pints through their tasting rooms.

The brewery tap is fast becoming the best place to drink, and support, local producers of beer. Long may it continue.

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!

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, November 23, 2009

Beer People Stand!

This part of Virginia sometimes seems to be booze central, with 4 breweries, plentiful vineyards, at least one cider maker (that's proper cider people, without alcohol it is called "apple juice"), and a newly operational distillery - all within about 30 miles of Charlottesville. One of the most interesting things about working a brewery tasting room is indulging in a little people watching, whilst talking with people about the beers produced by Starr Hill.

We get quite a few people who are out touring a couple of the vineyards and taking in a couple of breweries, usually it is the ladies who advocate for the vineyards, while their significant male others prefer the breweries - and from talking with such couples, I find it interesting that the beer lover of the pair often has a well developed opinion of the wine, even if he doesn't drink it often, while the wine buff is, to be blunt, either pig ignorant about beer (and unwilling to learn) or passive aggressive toward it, simply refusing to try a few tiny samples. The usual form with such couples is that both will approach the bar, ascertain that tastings are available and when I suggest both starting out with a particular beer, the beer lover will say something like "sounds good", while the wine buff sneers and says "I don't do beer" or some such crap, said buff then wanders off to browse the merchandise, or sit at a table cross legged and armed waiting for the beer lover to be done with.

Now, I am aware that it is sweeping generalisation here, but I am coming to the conclusion that beer lovers are simply more open-minded than our wine loving cousins, and that in many ways wine people simply do not understand beer people. Take for example tasting notes. I believe that many of vineyards in this neck of the wood provide their customers with tasting sheets, and these are greatly appreciated apparently. In the brewery tasting room context, and I speak as a note taker, on the days I remember my note book and/or pen, very few people bother to take notes, even when asked if they would like a tasting sheet - which we do have at Starr Hill, and only once has someone taken said sheet when offered at the bar. I think those of us who do take notes, again sweeping generalisation here, do so in the comfort of our own home when supping on a bottle of something we probably tried in the pub context and want to get a better handle on.

Beer is a deeply unpretentious drink, it is not an aspirational product, or even a lifestyle choice, and from my experience beer people are unpretentious, open and fun loving, so why we would try to ape the wine buff world of spouting drivel about being able to taste curried rubber or some such crap when talking about beer? Yes there are different tastes, flavours, aromas and feelings that beer produces, but let's remember where most of us do our drinking, down the pub with mates, the social aspect is key, and it is something a lot of wine buffs simply do not understand in my experience, sometimes I am sure that "I don't like beer" really means "I don't like life and people".

Again, yes I know there is a lot of generalisations in this piece, and we all know people who defy them - just needed to blow off some steam about waffly wine buffs looking like they are being forced to suck lemons by even being in a brewery. oh and the wine in the picture was lovely (I really do like wine, and get as excited by a good wine as I do a good beer).

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...