Showing posts with label three notch'd brewing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label three notch'd brewing. Show all posts

Friday, December 27, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Dark

On third day of Christmas, we move on to the undeniably dark beers of the world, porter, stout, dunkel, tmavé, et al, including some brown ales simply because you can only see though them by holding them up to the light, ah the delights of capricious whimsy. Here are the runners and riders for today.

Virginia
  • Porter - Port City Brewing
  • No Veto Brown - Three Notch'd Brewing
  • Schwartzbier - Devils Backbone
Honorable mentions:

Britchin' Brown - Stable Craft Brewing;

USA
  • Dunkel - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Dunkel - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Narwahl 2018 - Sierra Nevada Brewing, CA/NC
Honorable mentions:

Dunkel - Hofbr?uhaus Cleveland, OH; Porter - Sierra Nevada, CA/NC; Tr?sten - Von Trapp Brewing, VT

Rest of World
  • Altbairisch Dunkel - Brauerei Ayinger, DE
  • M?rzen - Schlenkerla, DE
  • Fabián 14° tmavé - Pivovar Hostomice
Honorable mentions:

Oatmeal Stout - Samuel Smiths, England; Black - Belhaven Brewery, Scotland; Urbock - Schlenkerla, DE

Some absolutely glorious beers there, and that is just with the honorable mentions, several of which came very close to breaking into the top three in each regional category. As a devotee of the dark beer arts, I could happily drink just the honorable mentions and be a happy camper, imagine then the ecstasy of only being able to drink the top three. Cutting 9 down to an ultimate three then was insanely difficult as there have been plenty of occasions where I have preferred, for example, Devils Backbone Schwartzbier over Port City Porter, it's so often a question of context.

  • Virginia - Porter, Port City Brewing
  • USA - Dunkel, Von Trapp Brewing
  • Rest of World - M?rzen, Schlenkerla
Carrying on the theme of context, it is that factor that decided the winner of the Fuggled Dark Beer of 2019. Drinking a legendary beer in a legendary brewpub in a legendary beer town just cannot be beaten, and so obviously the winner is Schelnkerla M?rzen. As I mentioned in my post about drinking in Bamberg, I have loved rauchbier since I first have bottled Schlenkerla in Prague, and I drink a couple of litres of it every month still to this day, so having it on tap was a nigh on religious moment. I didn't expect though for the divine itself to be even more divine, but it was, and I savoured every drop of that holy communion.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

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

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

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


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

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.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

#FlagshipFebruary - Three Notch'd 40 Mile IPA

I do hope you are sitting comfortably dear reader, especially if you are one of my regulars, as I am about to do something rarely seen in these here Fuggledy parts, extol the virtues of a pale ale of a hoppy nature.

Not only was last Friday the beginning of Flagship February it was also the day on which my dry month was over, and so it seemed appropriate for me to break the fast with a local flagship beer. Thus I wandered into the cavernous brewpub that is Three Notch'd, sat at the bar, and ordered a pint of 40 Mile IPA.


40 Mile is a rare beast in that it is an IPA that I have liked from the outset of its brewing, and still like to this day, despite the fact that I don't often drink it. I think part of my liking for 40 Mile is that it eschews the modern craze for a lack of bitterness, it is properly twangy in that department. The star of the hop flavour department is El Dorado, popping with tropical and stone fruit, making 40 Mile so much more than just another pine and grapefruit bomb. As with any beer that I like, balance is important, and the malt character is not lacking either. With delicate poise, the light toffee notes of the crystal malt add restraint. With a relatively modest 6% abv, 40 Mile is something that you can take a couple of with lunch and not be the worse for wear, though caning it all day is most definitely not the wisest thing a one can do.


I remember with much fondness my first taste of 40 Mile, or at least the beer that would become 40 Mile. In the very early days of the Three Notch'd project, the founders organised a meet and greet with their brewer at the pub next door to their original location. Wanting to support my friend that is one of the founders, I got along and met with Dave Warwick and tried several of the sample beers he had with him, including an IPA that shock of all shocks, I really liked. When it first made an appearance in the old taproom (a space I deeply lament the passing of, it was for a long time the best drinking hole in Charlottesville) I drank 4 pints of the newly monikered 40 Mile while my friends watched aghast that Al was drinking multiple pints of an IPA.

In terms of sales, 40 Mile has been surpassed by Minute Man IPA, an IPA of the New England ilk, but in moving from their original digs to the new brewpub where I had my first beers of 2019 last week, it is clear that 40 Mile remains the flagship and the brewpub is known as "the house that 40 Mile built".

Friday, December 28, 2018

Beer and Breweries of 2018

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

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


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


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

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


Fuggled Champion Beer of 2018

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

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

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.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Blackwall Sails Again

Of the various brewing projects I have done local, and not so local, breweries, I think Blackwall London Porter is perhaps my favourite. It is the only one to have picked up a gong, taking a silver medal at last year's Virginia Craft Beer Cup, it is the only one to date to have been bottled, the label is pretty much as I envisioned, oh and it was a damned fine beer. That's not to denigrate any of the other beers I've done, just that Blackwall has a special place in my beery heart these days.


This weekend sees the return of Blackwall at the original Three Notch'd tasting room here in Charlottesville, but only 2 barrels worth. Why so little? Well it all started a few months ago...

Three Notch'd have moved their main base of operations to a large brewpub facility on the other side of Charlottesville, and the original brewery and tasting room have become their sour house. When I heard that they were going to be producing more soured beers, I sent the brewer responsible for that a message, suggesting that given Blackwall's 19th century roots, we should look at aging a batch in order to get the brettanomyces character that was an integral part of well vatted porter. Brian, the brewer, was enthusiastic about the idea, it was just a case of finding time to do a run.

Eventually, using the original Three Notch'd pilot system, a 3 barrel batch was brewed, with a single barrel being put into an oak barrel, with brettanomyces added for good measure. How long will it sit there? Not sure, we haven't talked about it yet, but as I said, the unaged version of Blackwall has been kegged and will be available from this weekend at the tasting room.

I am confident it won't last long, so if you're around, get out and get some. I might pick up a growler or two, and a bottle of Orval for the dregs to do my own souring.

Friday, May 25, 2018

#MildMonthUS Special Events

Memorial Day weekend is upon us, which of course means just one thing, other than inevitable mattress sales, the final weekend of American Mild Month!


About 20 breweries in total have officially taken part in American Mild Month and had mild ales available through their tasting rooms in May.

Three Notch'd here in Central Virginia are releasing their mild tomorrow, called Mild Marker 20 and brewed to a homebrew recipe from a brewer in Lynchburg, the beer is a thoroughly mild 3.6% and has just 18 IBUs. The beer is being released just in time for me to enjoy while watching the Champions League final, and hopefully afterwards as well.

If you go down to St Petersburg in Florida this weekend though, there is a veritable mildfest going on at Flying Boat Brewing Company.

Flying Boat are one of those wonderful brave souls of the American brewing scene that brew a mild ale year round. At 4.5% abv, Woodlawn Pub Ale is described by the brewery as:
"Irish Red meets an English Mild. Malt forward with notes of caramel and slight roast. Light and easy drinking."
That sounds like the kind of beer I would enjoy any time of the year. Not happy to just have their stock in trade mild around, they got together with some of their friends in Florida to brew a couple of collaboration milds.

With Crooked Thumb Brewery from Safety Harbor they brewed what they describe as a 4.3% 'Light American Mild', which uses rye, spelt, and oats in the grist, and is single hopped with 25 IBUs of fruity Azacca hops. Being honest, that sounds marvellous to me, perfect for barmy Florida days.

The second collaboration was with Brooksville's Marker 48 Brewing, with whom they brewed a rye dark mild that is 4.5% and hopped with East Kent Goldings, Pacific Jade, and more Azacca, to get 30 IBUs. Pacific Jade is one of my favourite hops, and the combination of that and EKG sounds really interesting.

So if you are in the St Petersburg area this weekend, get along to the Flying Boat tasting room and see just how much scope for creativity there is with mild ale.

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.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Blackwall in Bottles, and Harrisonburg

As I wrote about in my previous post, today sees the release of my new beer with Three Notch'd Brewing.

Blackwall London Porter will be on tap at the Charlottesville tasting room from opening time today. It is also being released today at their tasting room up in Harrisonburg, to my shame I am still yet to get out to Three Notch'd there, hopefully one day soon.

I mentioned on Monday that the beer is also being bottled, a first for my various brewing projects, though today's launches are draft only, so here's a sneak peak at the label.


When Dave at Three Notch'd told me the beer was going to be bottled, he asked me to come up with some ideas for the label. The only thing I knew I wanted on the label, without a doubt, was the part of the London docks where Blackwall actually is. The map used on the label dates from 1852, tying in with the era of porter I was looking to recreate. Three Notch'd use a local design company called Okay Yellow to do their label work, and I think they have captured my intention perfectly.

To say I am excited about today's release is an understatement.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Blackwall London Porter

On April 26th 1607, three ships came sailing into the Chesapeake Bay, they were the Susan Constant, the Discovery, and the Godspeed, and in their bowels lay the genesis of both the United States and the British Empire. These intrepid souls had set out on their journey on the 20th December 1606, setting sail from Blackwall in London, and sailing via the Azores and the Caribbean. Eventually the 105 men and 39 sailors would establish Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the then new world.

Blackwall is an intrinsic part of London's history as one of the great ports of the world. Not only did the colonists that established Virginia set sail from Blackwall, so to did Martin Frobisher in his search for the North West Passage, and it was here that the East India Company would build its ships to travel to the fabled Orient. By the 19th Century, Blackwall Yard was lending its name to a new type of ship that replaced the East Indiaman, the Blackwall Frigate, and eventually got into building steam ships as London held on to its position as the pre-eminent entrepot of the age.

What does this have to do with beer? Well, it was around this time last year that I got an email from the guys at Three Notch'd Brewing letting me know that we needed to find a new name for Session 42 because a brewery that is not even in the Virginia market has decided to trade mark the term 'session' and was doing what American craft breweries seem to do best and threatening legal action. One of the names that popped into my head at the time was Blackwall Best Bitter, but eventually we decided to go with Bitter 42. However, I really liked the name Blackwall, and given the history tying that part of London with Virginia, I decided to brew a porter using the name.

Now, as anyone who knows their beer history will tell you, porter didn't exist in 1606 when Christopher Newport and his crew set out from London, so doing a 17th century 'porter' was out of the question. Thus I came to the 19th century, when arguably London was at its peak, and the beer being drunk by the mass of people working in the docks and moving all the goods from place to place was porter.


I didn't want to just take a recipe from Ron's excellent book of homebrew versions of historic beers, but I did use it as my primary source for learning about the ingredients and their proportions for my recipe. Thus I settled on this as my interpretation of a 19th century London porter:
  • 53% pale malt
  • 30% brown malt
  • 15% amber malt
  • 2% black malt
  • 32 IBU of Fuggles for 60 minutes
  • 15 IBU of Fuggles for 30 minutes
  • Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale Yeast
According to Brewtoad, this would give me:
  • OG: 1.069
  • FG: 1.020
  • ABV: 6.4%
  • SRM: 32
  • IBU: 47
Happily the trial batch turned out pretty much as I wanted it to, and next Thursday will see a much bigger batch being released by my friends at Three Notch'd. If you're around the Charlottesville area, head out to the tasting room around 6ish and give it a bash. Apparently it will be available in bottles as well, so take some home and wait for winter to actually turn up to drink it by the fire!

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, June 28, 2016

Seriously Gorgeous Blonde

I went drinking on Saturday afternoon.

Mrs V was in South Carolina delivering our wee Cairn Terrier called Honza to her parents to look after while we spend the next 3 and a half weeks in the Highlands of Scotland, hiking the West Highland Way, climbing Ben Nevis, and then hanging out in the pubs of Inverness and area. If you read Fuggled regularly you won't be surprised to hear that I wound up in Three Notch'd Brewing watching the Euro 2016 footie on the tele.

At Three Notch'd I met an absolutely stunning blonde, so I took a picture....


Said blonde is the brewery's latest offering, Road Soda, a dry hopped blonde ale that packs an eminently pintable 4.9% ABV and is laden with the flavours of Simcoe and Amarillo. It would definitely be a contender for my beer of the summer, if I wasn't going to be, you know, elsewhere.

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.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Hail Bitter!

This Thursday sees one of my favourite events of my beer drinking year, the release of the best bitter I designed for Three Notch'd Brewing. This tapping is a little different than usual because the beer has a new name. No longer will the name Session 42 grace the tap lists of Virginian bars and restaurants as it is being replaced by the name 'Bitter 42'.

The name change is being forced on the brewery partly by the famed litigious nature of the craft brewing scene, and I now have another brewery whose beer I will never drink as a result. However, Three Notch'd decided to take the opportunity presented by the new name for a little bit of beer education for the masses.


It is perhaps a sign of very effective advertising that the very word 'bitter' seems to cause consternation among marketing folks, raising the spectre of Keystone Light, the mass produced, low grade swill whose slogan on the 1990s was 'Never Bitter Beer'. Running alongside the slogan were pictures of old men gurning because their beer was bitter.

Well, and forgive my French here, fuck that.

Bitterness is an essential part of beer, balancing out the sweetness of the malt. The family of beers called 'bitter', whether ordinary, best, or extra special, are the backbone of an entire nation's drinking culture. That's what the new name for Session 42 is about, reclaiming the idea that bitterness is a good thing in beer, and paying homage to the family of beers that are the inspiration for the beer itself.


Bitter 42 is proudly a best bitter, one that would stand up favourably to the finest bitters in England. I am very much looking forward to that first pint on Thursday at the Three Notch'd tasting room and being able to utter the words of benediction....'pinta bitter please'.

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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Let The Session Commence!

A couple of weeks ago I spent a Friday morning at Three Notch'd doing the ceremonial dumping of hops, the slightly more labour intensive digging out of a mash tun, and the ever pleasant ritual of watching the runnings of a beautiful copper wort flowing from the mash tun to the kettle. Or to put it more simply, brewing Session 42.


This Thursday brings the best part of brewing a beer to town, drinking the stuff!


Yep, on Thursday at the Three Notch'd Brewing tasting room, the third iteration of Session 42 Best Bitter will be tapped, from about 5.30pm if memory serves.

I am sure I have said this before, but it's always worth repeating, Session 42 is as close to a British style best bitter as is possible to get over in the States, at least, in the Virginia part of these United States. If you have ever had Timothy Taylor Landlord or Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted then you know what to expect in terms of colour, none of your 'boring brown bitter' here (the less said about people who think bitter is brown and boring the better really). That colour comes from a combination of 2 row pale malt and Victory malt, which lends the beer a distinctively biscuity flavour.

In keeping with the theme of the beer using all US ingredients, the hops are US Goldings, which are very similar to East Kent Goldings, in that they are spicy, orangey, delicious, all 42 IBUs of them. A good whack of bitterness, plenty of flavour and aroma.....mmmm......Goldings.

So guess where I'll be on Thursday after work, and with Friday off to boot, so I can have a fair few pints. Oh, and at some point, not this Thursday I believe, there will be cask Session 42....oh yes, cask best bitter!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Session Season Cometh

It's a four day week for me this week, but I will be working all five days of the week. Although I won't be spending Friday doing my usual business analyst tasks such as requirements gathering, writing user stories, or working with software developers to create something useful for our clients's users, I will be working. Working as in dumping sacks of grain into a mill, digging out the mash tun, and ceremoniously chucking hops into boiling wort, yes I am off to a brewery for a brewday and all the satisfaction that gives me.


The brewery in question is my favourite local brewery Three Notch'd, and the beer is the third rendition of Session 42, the best bitter I designed a couple of years back using Timothy Taylor Landlord as something of a model.

I know that I am utterly biased but Session 42 being available is one of the highlights of my drinking year, not just because it is great to see 'my' beer available in lots of places in the area, but also because best bitter is probably my favourite style of beer to drink. Whether I am sat on the patio just chilling with Mrs V, or with a group of colleagues kicking back after work, or even by myself at the bar of one of my favourite watering holes, I find that best bitters suit my mood more often than not.

For those in Virginia, and hopefully it will again make it down to Richmond,  maybe even up to Northern VA, Session 42 is a burnt orange delight that packs a punch belying its 4.2% abv and is essentially a love song to Goldings hops, with all their spicy, Seville orange goodness. Yes I am biased, but if you see it on tap in a few weeks time, give it try.

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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