Showing posts with label virginia beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label virginia beer. Show all posts

Monday, July 27, 2020

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2020

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Visiting the Devil to Worship a Goddess

Mrs V and I went to the pub on Saturday.

Those words seem so unremarkable in the normal flow of things, but with life the way it is at the moment, it is quite staggering how poignant they are. I was inordinately excited to do something so banal as going for a feed and a drink with my wife.

Said pub was the Devils Backbone Basecamp brewpub about an hour's drive from where we live, and there was an ulterior motive, Morana was on finally on tap. According to the brewmaster, it was the best batch of the 5 we have done. It was also the first batch that included open fermentation and horizontal lagering as part of the process.

A while back, I wrote about what it would take to get me back to the pub and my thinking then was that would have to be a vaccine or reliable treatment. Thinking a little bit deeper, I had made the assumption that going back to the pub was within the context of business as normal where you pick a venue, rock on up when you feel like it, and deal with whatever is going on at the time. I had failed to consider the possibility of reduced capacity opening.

Here in Virginia we have just entered "phase 2" of the re-opening plan, which for pubs means 50% capacity, no more than 10 people at a table, and tables at least 6 feet apart, and no sitting at the bar itself, as well as various best practices and recommendations. One thing that Devils Backbone are doing which gave me the confidence to arrange a visit is that they are operating on a reservation only basis, and they have posted a full list of their practices on their website, including mandatory masks when not sat at the table.

With our bespoke, Mrs V made, masks on faces, we arrived at Devils Backbone and it was obvious from the get go that here was a process that had been thoroughly thought through and was functioning well. The major benefit of of reservations only is that there are no groups of people loitering while hoping for a table to to open up. Once we were seated we were told that there was a 90 minute limit to our reservation and that menus were available through a QR code on the table (which meant I had to download a reader app as my phone is a bit old).

Both Mrs V and I were seriously impressed with our trip to the Basecamp, and I think the reservations thing is going to be the deciding factor for any future trips to pubs. Pretty much everything was done in such a way as to minimise physical contact between patrons and staff, all food and drink was served in one time use containers, and staff wore masks all the time. If there was one thing that wasn't quite working it was the single occupancy status of the toilets, with nobody overseeing that, groups of people ignored the signs on the doors and went in together.

Anyway, the beer, that is after all why we were there...


Jason was on the money in telling me that it is the best batch yet. Goodness me it is a delicious brew, sure I am biased, but I honestly think Morana would stand up to and tmavé being brewed in Czechia. Reviewing notes on previous batches, this one has a silkier mouthfeel and a slightly fuller body. All the lovely deep malty sweetness of Munich malt is there, and the unsweetened cocoa of the Carafa too, in amongst it all is the spicy character of Saaz, not the star for sure, but not a wallflower either.

Admittedly the beer doesn't look its best in a single use plastic pot, so here it is as Perun intended, in a tuplák glass...


Fantastic beer, superb, safe setup for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, while still being able to enjoy a pint of one of my favourite beers in the world, and all at a place that Mrs V and I have loved ever since we came to this part of Virginia.

I know there are some people out there who still hold a grudge against Devils Backbone for being part of the AB-InBev universe, but at the end of the day that is their problem. I said it when the deal was first announced that as long as the beer remained good, the people running the show still ran the show, and the overall ethos of Devils Backbone didn't change, then I wasn't going to be a dummy spitter. I still haven't spat my dummy, see no reason on the horizon to do so, and with their superb handling of opening up in a safe manner, I can only say I love them more than ever.

So, if you are in the area, get yourself a reservation, another benefit was how easy that process was on their website, and go enjoy some beers in the sun.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Opening Up?

Today sees the beginning of "phase one" reopening in Virginia.

From a beer perspective that means restaurants, breweries and brewpubs are able to re-open for outdoor seating only, at 50% of their listed capacity, while maintaining appropriate physical distancing, and groups of no more than ten at any given table.

The various social media platforms I use have been almost swamped with posts from businesses announcing their decision to either expand their operations or not. The tone has varied from sombre and serious, mainly among those companies not opening up further, to celebratory from those opening up, and to be blunt some posts have been puerile to the point of crass.

Having seen a great swathe of posts I put the following on Facebook the other day:
"Have seen too many breweries, brewpubs, and restaurants touting offering outdoor seating service as of Friday with the notion of "getting back to normal".

Well forgive me for not sharing the relief while there is still no vaccine, no reliable treatment, and no cure.

Two weeks from Friday we'll be back to square one."
As a result of that post I have had several conversations with folks in the industry that I count as friends, whether brewers, servers, or owners. The majority of owners feel stuck between a rock and a hard place as they need to have some kind of revenue to pay the rent on their buildings, having unscrupulous landlords not willing to work with them to find a solution that doesn't put staff at risk. Most of the brewery staff I know are concerned that re-opening is going to turn into a shit show as people ignore physical distancing requirements, refuse to wear masks, or just behave in anti-social and frankly selfish manners, all in the name of getting their drinkies on.

One of the brewery owners I spoke with asked me the following question "what will it take to get you back to the pub?", I had no real answer on the spot, so I figured I'd take it out to Twitter...



Of the 25 people that responded to the question more than 75% are waiting for a vaccine or reliable treatment before heading back out to the pub, and I tend to agree with them.

I really do miss going to the pub, I am much more of a pub goer than a craft beer geek. I am as  perfectly happy in a great pub with a pint of Guinness as I am drinking craft lager in any of my favourite brewpubs in the Charlottesville area. However, until there is some form of medical protection against both the virus and the selfish stupidity of people banging on about their right to not wear a mask, I'll continue my drinking from home. Speaking of which, it's Friday and will soon be time to pick up a stash of fantastic lagers for the weekend while my Cascade hopped best bitter conditions in the kegerator.

Wherever you are drinking this weekend, drink responsibly, be safe, and wear a damned mask,

Thursday, May 14, 2020

VPL - Virginian Pale Lagers

It took eight weeks, but by last Saturday I was actually getting a little bit of cabin fever, so I asked Mrs V if it would be ok if I went out to do the weekly shop. Generally Mrs V is our designated person for doing the shopping during these weird times as both myself and one of my boys are asthmatic, and so we want to minimise the possibility of either of us getting sick.

There were ulterior motives for wanting to get out of the house for a few hours, namely it was Mother's Day and I needed to get Mrs V a card, some fancy booze, and ingredients for dinner. I also wanted to pick up some different beer from Wegmans as they still do BYO six packs, and so ended up with a selection of 2 Czech style Pilsners, 2 German style Pilsners, and a pair of Munich Helles.

I started with the two Czech style beers, both of which I have drunk plenty of over the years but not really sat down and analysed them.

Champion Brewing Shower Beer

  • Sight - pale golden, healthy quarter inch of foam with good retention, superb clarity
  • Smell - Cereal grain, hay, touch of lemon, some floral hops
  • Taste - Bready malt base, spicy hops, nice citrusy, clean, bitterness
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 3
In so many ways this is a wonderful Czech style pale lager. Only 4.5% abv, 100% Saaz hops, a really nice firm bitterness and a lingering clean finish pointing to good clean fermentation. If I were comparing to some of the pale lagers back in Czechia, I would put this in the same league as Herold, a good solid brewery with a devoted following.

Port City Brewing Downright Pilsner

  • Sight - Slightly hazy pale gold, good firm white head, nice retention
  • Smell - Lemony and lime citrus character, some breadiness, alpine meadow floral notes
  • Taste - Bready malt character, some spice, bit lemony edging to pithy, clean fermentation
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
Medium bodied, with high carbonation, almost too bitter in some respects, citrus character borders of pithiness.

As I said, I have drunk plenty of both these beers of the years, and am of the opinion that they are dead certs for being in the top five pale lagers in Virginia. I am pretty sure that both would go down pretty well back in Czechia too, but they just don't reach the heights of something like Pivovar Hostomice's majestic Fabián 10°, úněticky's 12°, or the much missed Kout na ?umavě 10°. Making a not entirely unreasonable assumption that the ingredients are broadly similar, I do tend to think that the difference is in process, in particular the fact that Czech breweries still do decoction mashing, and that the Maillard reactions that causes brings something indefinable to the glass that focusing on ABV, IBUs, and other brewing by numbers stats simply cannot bring to the beer? I say it fairly often, but decoction really does matter if you want to make an authentic Czech style lager, regardless of colour or strength.

Moving from Czech style pale lagers over the border, so to say, to German style...

Basic City Our Daily Pils (unfiltered)

  • Sight - Pale gold, slight haze from being unfiltered, thin white head, distinctly not fizzy
  • Smell - Subtle malt sweetness, fresh bread crust, floral hops, some citrus like mandarin
  • Taste - Bready malt with a touch of biscuity sweetness, slightly earthy, spicy hops and a trace of citrus
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
This has actually become something a regular tipple for me. Back in open pub days, ah the memories, I enjoyed many pints of it at Beer Run, often sat at the bar of a Friday afternoon with work done and the boys yet to be picked up from school. At 4.8% it sits squarely in the ball park for a German pils and has all the refreshing drinkability you would expect from Germany's finest. Definitely a welcome addition to Virgini'a lager scene.

Lost Rhino Brewing Rhino Chaser

  • Sight - Gold, thin white head, dissipates quickly, good clarity
  • Smell - Mostly cereal and bread upfront, almost worty, with some subtle spice
  • Taste - Sweet, sugary caramel notes, a little hop flavour with a spicy cinnamon finish
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
This actually reminded me more of the modern Festbier than a pilsner. At 5.6% it is simply too strong to be authentic, but then the can does tout that the brewery has ""Americanized" the classic European Pilsner", a turn of phrase that strikes fear into my heart as it invariably leads to a disappointing drinking experience. If you want to make a pilsner, make a fucking pilsner. If you want to make a strong pale lager then make a strong pale lager. Just as decoction matters, so do styles when it comes to setting the drinker's expectations.

Ok let's leave the pilsners behind and venture into Helles.

Bingo Lager

  • Sight - Yellow, excellent clarity, fizzy, lots of bubbles, no head at all (WTF?)
  • Smell - Light floral hops, slightly grainy, generally indistinct
  • Taste - Bready malt, clean citrus bitterness, touch of corn in the finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
I want to give the brewery the benefit of the doubt here as there seemed to be a dink in the seam of the can lid, which may help explain the absolute absence of head. When I swirled the glass half way through drinking I did come some white foam but it disappeared quickly. The beer itself is well balanced and decent enough, I guess I will have to buy another one just to see if the can lid theory works out.

Stable Craft Helles

  • Sight - Pale golden, think white head, fizzy, good clarity
  • Smell - Crusty bread, spicy hops, earthy, some rather odd onion/garlic notes in the background
  • Taste - Non-descript, some malt, some hops, prickly carbonation, lacking clean lager character
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
This one was a major let down. I was willing to give Stable Craft a try because I have enjoyed their brown ale from time to time, but this was dull and muddled rather than bright and zingy as I would expect from a Munich Helles.

We are lucky in some ways in Virginia that we have some decent pale lagers being brewed, but we also have some that are simply sub-par, and in this tasting we ran the gamut of what is out there in that regard. On the helles front it is safe to say that once South Street have some of their My Personal Helles back in stok I will be slaking my thirst with it.

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.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Done Right, Damn Right, Downright.

I have mentioned many times that I am an abysmal beer tourist. Here in the Charlottesville area there are plenty of breweries I just haven't bothered to go visit, a fact perhaps influenced by many a local brewery's lack of lager in their lineup - it's a post for another day but recently I have been feeling as though I have come full circle in wanting mainly to drink properly made lagers to almost the exclusion of all else.

At the tail end of last year, Mrs V's cousin took up a job that had her and her husband transplant from Greensboro, North Carolina, to the interminable gridlock that is Northern Virginia, Alexandria to be precise. This weekend just gone, Mrs V and I went up, with the Malé Ali?ky to tow naturally, to visit, and I saw an opportunity to rectify my errant ways. Alexandria is home to one of my favourite breweries, Port City, and it really was high time for me to darken the door of their tasting room/bar.

Given the high regard in which I hold Port City, it is perhaps odd that I don't post about them more often, though there is a major mitigating circumstance. For some reason, best known only to the distributors and retailers in this part of the world, their Downright Pilsner is rarer than hens' teeth. Their majesterial Porter is something I save for the darker nights of autumn and winter, once I get my fill of the annual Oktoberfest, which is always a fine brew. Usually I have to limit my Downright consumption to the occasions when I see it on tap.

Well, on Sunday it was on tap just a few yards from where it had been brewed as I dragged the family along to get my fill of fresh Downright before Mrs V drove us back to central Virginia.

I am sure I have said this many times before, but there is simply no other Virginia brewed pilsner, whether Bohemian, German, or American in style, that is anywhere near as good as Downright Pilsner. There are a couple that come close, looking at you Devils Backbone Meadow Bier and South Street Shake Your Teal Feather, but Downright has so far held off all comers looking to take that particular crown.


Perhaps it's the simplicity of the recipe, just Pilsner malt and Saaz hops? Perhaps it is the 6 weeks of lagering, or maybe the mildly untraditional dry hopping with Saaz? Perhaps it's the 43 IBUs that all that Saaz brings to the table (yes you read that right, an American made Czech style pilsner that hops it with the best of Czech made Czech lagers). Perhaps it's the fact that Downright is a dvanáctka, that's a 12° Plato beer for the non-Czech speakers of the world?

Actually, it is all of the above. Downright is done right, and when you do things properly you get good results. Could Downright stand up if served on the taps of august Prague establishments like Pivovarsky klub? Damn right it would. In fact, I am convinced it would quickly become a favourite among the cognoscenti of the Czech beer world.

Now then, when can I get back to Alexandria, given that my crowlers are finished and already I am hankering for more...?

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Golden Leaves of Vienna

Sadly this is not an Evan Railesque travelogue of drinking eponymous lager in the capital of modern Austria. Though when the boys are a bit more grown up a tour of the drinking cultures of central Europe sounds like a grand plan, after all them turning 18 and me 60 coincide quite nicely, and in winter as well so a tour of the Christmas markets could be fun. Anyway, I digress.

As you well know, dear regular reader, I am a big fan of Devils Backbone Brewing just down the road from us here in central Virginia. They were one of the first breweries we visited after moving here from the Czech Republic (sorry, but bollocks to Czechia) and have been a constant, and consistent source of lager beers to keep the lagerboys (and girls) amongst us happy. Of course I should also mention that Jason at Devils Backbone has been kind/crazy enough to brew a couple of my beer recipes at the brewpub.

Unlike many a craft brewery, Devils Backbone's flagship beers are lagers, the trailblazing Vienna Lager and the one time bestseller at the brewpub Gold Leaf. Between them they have picked up 13 gongs at various competitions, including the World Beer Cup. For a long time though if you wanted some Gold Leaf you had to go to the brewpub, which is no great travail, but the days of an hour's drive for a couple of pints are gone for the time being, twins eh? Those days though are over for a reason other than parenthood, Devils Backbone now package Gold Leaf.


Gold Leaf, described on the can as a "Golden Lager", is very much in the tradition of central European every day beer, which given Gold Leaf's nicely modest 4.5% abv makes it a grand session beer. I imagine the starting gravity is around 11° Plato - I can't remember who told me this but if you take the ABV and times it by 2.5 then you have an approximation of the starting gravity. Made with 4 different malts, and 3 hop varieties, including 2 of my favourites (Tettnang and Saaz), to give you 21 IBUs, it is a very easy beer to drink, and that my friend is it's charm.

No doubt I sound like something of a scratched record on this, but I have no time for the vast majority of silly shit beers, you know the kind of thing, porter with peanut butter, IPA with breakfast cereal, gose with fruit, anything you care to mention with vanilla. Gold Leaf is the kind of beer I love to drink, simple, classic, flavourful without being challenging, refreshing, and ideal for sitting on the front porch on a Sunday afternoon. Best of all right now, it is available in our local Wegmans as a 15 pack of cans for $15, you really can't beat that.

Unless of course you want something a little stronger, then get a 15 can pack of Vienna Lager for the same price and pour three into your 1 litre ma?....


Thursday, February 21, 2019

#FlagshipFebruary - Blue Mountain Brewery Full Nelson

It's fair to say that I like Blue Mountain Brewery, and have pretty much from the moment we first walked through the, original, door back in 2009. We have watched them grow, both as a venue with the original brewpub at least doubling in size, and as a company, adding the Blue Mountain Barrel House and South Street Brewery to their fold. I have named a beer for them, Isabel, and we did a historic brewing project together, introducing central Virginia to the delights of 1920s Old Burton Ale. It is also fair to say that I simply do not get down there often enough, thankfully there are plenty of places in town to find their beers on tap.

Weighing in at 5.9% abv and with 60 IBUs, Full Nelson is Blue Mountain's flagship, a beer that when I found my notes from our first visit in 2009 I described as being "a delight". That was also my opinion when I most recently had a couple of pints, again sharing a pitcher with my mate Dave.


As you can tell from the picture, Full Nelson is squarely in the old school American Pale Ale category, old school of course not being any denigration of a lovely beer. Despite the 60 IBUs, there is enough malt to balance that out and make for one very drinkable beer, perhaps not a session beer, but certainly something worthy of a few pints in a single sitting.

Being an old school American Pale Ale, you get a good wallop of bitterness as well as the classic pine and citrus flavours that the style is known for. That bitterness though is softened by the almost Plzeňesque water source, which gives the beer a roundness that pale ales made from a harder water source lack, and in my world that makes it a more pleasureable drinking experience. In many ways Full Nelson is a throwback to simpler times in the craft beer world, before the IPAification of everything, before beer as murky as sheep phlegm, before endless new releases. In other words, a flagship, pure, simple, and endlessly enjoyable.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Pilsner...Nailed

Pilsner.

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

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

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

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


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

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

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Session 136: Farm Brewing in Virginia


Another month has flown by, and here we are again on the first Friday of the month thinking about The Session. This month, Dave from Brewing In A Bedsitter, aka @Ramblin_Dave on Twitter, is hosting and his theme is:
Whether it's about the success of modern craft breweries like Jester King and Burning Sky, the worldwide spread of saison or the revival of international interest in Northern European traditions, farmhouse brewing is an recurring theme in the beer world....

You could talk about how the word "farmhouse" is used in modern craft breweries, or about historic brewing traditions. You might want to think about how, if at all, the two are related.

If you think that farmhouse brewing or farmhouse beer refers to something meaningful and relevant in modern beer, you could write something touching on what it means to you. What's its defining element? Is it about style, ingredients, location or something else? Would you call a crisp, clean pilsner or a hoppy IPA a farmhouse beer if it was brewed from local ingredients in a medieval barn? What about a mixed fermentation barrel-aged saison brewed in a light industrial unit in a suburb of Manchester? Why does any of this matter?

If you want to get specific, maybe talk about one or more beers or breweries that you think embody some aspect of the idea of farmhouse brewing. Or if you're a homebrewer, you could talk about ways that your own beer has been influenced by it.

Conversely, if you think that the modern idea of a farmhouse brewery is largely just about marketing and aesthetics then you could have a go at dissecting and deconstructing it. Where did it originate and what are its roots? Who popularized it? How is it constructed and signalled? Most importantly, why are people so keen to buy into it?

Here in Virginia "farm" breweries have exploded since the passing of SB430 back in 2014, which established a new brewery license type specifically for breweries located on farms. The relevant addition to the beer licenses section of the Virginia Code reads as follows:
Limited brewery licenses, to breweries that manufacture no more than 15,000 barrels of beer per calendar year, provided (i) the brewery is located on a farm in the Commonwealth on land zoned agricultural and owned or leased by such brewery or its owner and (ii) agricultural products, including barley, other grains, hops, or fruit, used by such brewery in the manufacture of its beer are grown on the farm...
The law sets out quite clearly what the definition of a farm brewery is, as far as the Commonwealth of Virginia is concerned:
  • produce no more than 15000 Bbl per year
  • brewery is on agricultural land in Virginia
  • brewery uses that farm's agricultural produce in its beer

The first brewery to take up this license type is just down the road from me here in Central Virginia, the wonderfully monikered Lickinghole Creek Brewery. I have to admit that I have only been to the brewery itself once, Mrs V and spent several hours sitting in the midst of glorious views, drinking the first batch of their Enlightened Despot Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (I realise some will be shocked by the thought of me drinking anything barrel aged) and eating extra mature cheddar cheese with crusty bread. I was also a big fan of their session IPA, Til Sunset, until they stopped making it.


In keeping with the requirements of SB430, Lickinghole Creek grow a portion of the barley they brew with, as well as wheat and rye, and many of the herbs, fruits, and vegetables that go into beers like their Carrot Cake and Rosemary Saison. In the spirit of keeping things local, they also get some of their barley malted at Woods Mill Malting.

In the 4 years since Lickinghole Creek became the first farm brewery in Virginia, at least 10 more breweries have got in on the act. So whether your in the south west of the Commonwealth, or up north, close to DC, there is likely to be a farm brewery making beer with the produce of their land near you. You're really only shit out of luck if you go east of Richmond, at lest until later this year when Virginia Beach will be getting in on the act.

Of course, when you think about it, farm brewing in Virginia is really nothing new. Peter Hemmings brewed with corn and wheat grown on the Monticello plantation of his owner Thomas Jefferson. James Madison was so impressed with the beer produced by Hemmings that he wanted to send one of his slaves to Monticello for the autumn brewing season so he too could learn the craft. The earliest recipe I have seen for a uniquely American farmhouse beer is from southern Virginia, and dates from 1765, for perhaps the original pumpkin beer, known as Pumperkin, which used that fruit for the fermentables.

All this reminds me that I still have a bottle of that original batch of Enlightened Despot sitting in the cellar...

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Session 129 - Whither the Session?


How exactly is it the first Friday of November already? Rhetorical questions aside, as it is so, that means it is time for The Session, hosted this month by Eoghan of Brussels Beer City. Eoghan's theme for the month is "Missing Local Beer Styles", which he boils down to being:
"what beer style would you like to see being brewed in your local market that is not yet being brewed?"
As Eoghan points out, beer choice can often seem to be an exercise in choosing from endless variations on the theme of IPA, which is incredibly boring after a while. While I consider myself very lucky to live in a part of Virginia with plenty of breweries who make beers beyond the confines of a modern interpretation of India Pale Ale (does the modern concept of IPA even relate to India Pale Ale in anything other than name any more?), I naturally have beer styles that I miss.

If you have read more that 2 or 3 of my blog posts you will likely know well by now that my favourite beer styles are (not necessarily in order):
  • Bitter
  • Pilsner
  • Dry Stout
  • Mild
Of those 4 styles, the only one brewed in this area that I can get with any regularity is Pilsner, Champion Brewing's lovely Shower Beer.


Once upon a time Starr Hill Brewing, where for the sake of full disclosure I used to work, brewed a dry Irish stout called Dark Starr, it was sublime, it is still the most award winning dry Irish stout in America, it hasn't been brewed for about 3 years if memory serves. When I worked behind the bar of the taproom I would pour Dark Starr early so it could get to the right temperature to unlock the flavours, and many people discovered they actually did like stout after all.


I manage to get my mild kick in the pub for a single month each year as several of the local breweries support my American Mild Month project, but outside of May, mild is as rare as hen's teeth. The same could be said for bitter. Unless Three Notch'd Brewing has put out my Bitter 42 Best Bitter recipe, fresh bitter is basically unicorn shit in these parts.



Thankfully there is a place where I can semi-regularly get my fix of all three styles, guaranteed fresh, and at the generally reasonable price of less than $1 for an imperial pint. That place is of course my kitchen, and the beers are my homebrew renditions of the styles.

Even though I like to think that I am a pretty decent brewer, there are times when I would like nothing more than to be sat in the pub nursing a pint some tasty, session beer while reading a book or hanging out with friends. Given that reality, the one beer "style" that is grossly underrepresented in Central Virginia is just that, session beers.

I recently did some research into the state of core beers being produced by the various breweries within 35 miles of my house and discovered that the average ABV is 6.7%, and found not a single core beer that would satisfy the definition of session beer as laid out by Lew Bryson.

I realise this has the potential of making me sound like a total druth, but I actively enjoy drinking. In common with most people from those mad islands on the west of Europe, the pub is the place I am happiest, and I can think of few things I would prefer to do than spend an afternoon drinking pints with friends, or alone just reading a good book. Were I to have such a session on 6.7% ABV beer, I would be in no fit state to get myself home.

So come on brewers of Central Virginia, try introducing session beers to your core ranges, bitters, stouts, milds, as well as pilsners! Given that they are cheaper to make, it'll help your bottom line as well!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

17° Perfection

Goodness me it's been a while since I posted.

Mitigating circumstance is that just 5 days after my previous post, Mrs V gave birth to our twin sons, the malé Ali?ky as they have been nicknamed, and we are getting to grips with this whole parenthood thing.

On Saturday, we introduced the malé Ali?ky to that most august of establishments, the pub. I fear that in the rampantly puritanical mind of the Institute of Alcohol Studies (for those unaware, a front organisation feigning academic respectability for the heirs of the Temperance League and their prohibitionist cohorts) the boys are already scarred for life as I have had several beers right in front of them already.

Said introductory pub was the original Devils Backbone brewpub down in Nelson County, and the occasion was the tapping of the beer I brewed with them back in August, a Czech style Polotmavy Speciál. Polotmavy because it is neither light nor dark, but a deep red kind of in between, and Speciál because it has an original gravity of about 17° Plato. In keeping with Czech tradition the name of the beer is Granát, which is "garnet" in Czech, a reference to the famous gemstones from Central Bohemia.


"But how did the beer turn out?" I hear you say....

Well, it pours a really rich deep auburn, that the picture above maybe doesn't capture fully, and yes I am biased but I think all my children are gorgeous. The head is a healthy inch of ivory foam that lingers for the duration and leaves some lovely lacing down the glass. Aroma wise, there are some traces of a lightly herbal hop character, but given the beer is more balanced toward the malt, the classic Central European smells of fresh bread and a sweet malt aroma (I can't think of a better description honestly, when you smell CaraBohemian malt you get what I mean). In terms of taste, there is lots of breadiness, and a healthy dollop of sweetness, think dulce de leche and you're close, all backed up by a firm hop bite that stops the beer from being sickly - is there anything worse than a sickly sweet beer? Having lagered for a nearly 10 weeks, the finish is clean, crisp, and despite the malt forward nature of the beer, refreshing.

You know, the more I think about it, the more it reminds me of a 14° Polotmavy Speciál from Minipivovar Hukvaldy that I relished back in 2008 over lunch with Max in Prague.

So yes it turned out exactly as I wanted it to, and my only regret is that it won't ever see the light of day at Pivovarsky klub. Given the volume of the batch, I expect it will only be on at Devils Backbone for a few weeks, so if you are in the area get along and try the first recorded authentic Czech style Polotmavy in Virginian history.

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.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Most Excellent Lager

It had been a while since Mrs V and I had gone hiking with our friends Dave and Allie. There are mitigating circumstances though, mainly revolving around Mrs V and Allie being pregnant. We decided though to go on a short hike of only 3 miles yesterday up a mountain called Spy Rock, which has some wonderful views once to you get to the top, having scaled a near sheer rock face to do so, an interesting logistical challenge with 2 pregnant women and 2 dogs.

One of the appealing features of choosing Spy Rock was it's proximity to Devils Backbone for a couple of post hike pints, and I was looking forward to sinking a couple of Meadow Biers in short order. Unfortunately when we arrived they didn't have it on tap, though Jason tells me that they recently brewed another batch, so I'll be heading down with growlers to fill for that. They did however have another pale lager that sounded like it would do the trick.


Do the trick it did. The beer is called Excel Lager, and as you can see from the picture is a beautiful golden colour, had a nice white head, though slightly diminished by the time I took the pic. In terms of flavour it was everything you would expect from a central European lager; a perfect balance of grain and hop, nicely medium bodied, light honey notes in the background, and a firm but unobtrusive bitterness that demands another mouthful. Both Dave and I polished off our first pint in about 5 minutes.

Best of all with this absolutely stunning beer was that it has an ABV of.......2.6%. Yes, you are reading that number correctly, 2.6%. Using a method I learnt in Prague of multiplying ABV by 2.5 to get the approximate starting gravity, I was drinking a 6.5-7° Plato lager, the like of which I could imagine being brewed in a northern Bohemian glass works as refreshment for the workers.

To put this beer in a bit more context, I spent Saturday up in Northern Virginia judging for the Virginia Craft Beer Cup and was handed the Czech lager category. This sedmi?ka would have easily made the top three beers we judged, and would have been a very strong contender for first place, it is that good. However, since Devils Backbone are no longer permitted to participate in the competition by virtue of being owned by Anheuser-Busch, this beer will likely not get the praise and credit it deserves.

I have said it many times, anyone can throw boat loads of hops into the kettle and get something the lupulin loonies will lavishly laud to the heavens, but it takes a true master craftsman to create a 2.6% beer that is refreshing and flavourful. Jason Oliver and the crew at Devils Backbone are such masters of the craft.

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'.

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!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hail to the Goddess!

Yesterday, as I went about my business, I got a notification on my phone to tell me that someone had left a message on my Facebook timeline. Said someone was Jason Oliver, head brewer of Devils Backbone, one of my favourite brewing folks in this neck of the woods and overseer of one of Virginia's best breweries (I am biased but I think central VA has a far higher concentration of quality breweries than anywhere else in this commonwealth). Said notification was to let me know that they had re-brewed Morana and that it would be available sometime in May.


A quick reminder. Morana is a Czech style dark lager, or tmavé pivo, inspired by the magnificent 14° tmavé from Kout na ?umavě. Jason and I first brewed back Morana in 2010, and again in 2012. She, for the numbers geeks, has about 25 IBUs of good old Saaz hoppiness, and packs a 5.3% abv punch, lagers for between 45 and 60 days, and tastes simply wonderful, as my notes from the second batch attest:
Still there is the deep mahogany colour, the bready grains and grassy Saaz goodness, the sweet juicy caramel of the CaraBohemian malt and the lingering crisp finish you expect from a lager, but new to the mix was a lovely nuttiness, like chestnuts roasted on a open fire.


To say I looking forward to seeing her again would be an understatement, I am positively thrilled at the thought of heading down to Roseland for an afternoon of drinking, and filling growlers to bring home.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Of Renovation and Restoration

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Top Ten Virginian Beers 2014

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

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

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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