Showing posts with label von trapp brewing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label von trapp brewing. Show all posts

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Fuggled Beers of the Year - Dark, Proper Dark

Off we head then to the end of 2020 with a quick review of the year's dark beers...

Virginia

  • Morana - Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Schwartz Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing
  • Porter - Port City Brewing
Honorable mentions: Fast Mild - Ballad Brewing Company

In years past I have refrained from putting Morana on my beers of the year list for the simple reason that I researched and designed the recipe, but as many have said throughout 2020, all bets are off now, so it is on the list. This was the 5th brewing of the beer, and in my unhumble opinion the best so far, thanks largely to open fermentation and horizontal lagering, in addition to the usual double decoction. 

Schwarzbier, the style, is one of those lager styles that just doesn't get enough love in the craft brewing scene, and Devils Backbone's nod to Space Balls is right up there with the finest examples from Germany, and regularly finds a place in the fridge. 

It wouldn't be a 2020 review of the year without Port City now would it. Their Porter is one of those beers that is just wonderful, an archetype of the style if you will, when it is served at a proper temperature, like 55°F, is so much more than the sum of its parts, it sings.

Call it bias, call it nepotism, but only Morana can be the Fuggled 2020 Dark Beer of the Year and with the ever growing list of tmavé lagers hitting the shelves, I really hope to see it packaged one day soon.

Rest of the USA
  • Dunkel - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Irish Walker 2012 - Olde Hickory Brewing, NC
  • Tr?sten - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
Honorable mentions: Dunkel - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC; Porter - Anchor Brewing, CA.

Of my various crushes on Von Trapp beers, and I think I have a little something for all of them bar the K?lsch, the Dunkel is as solid a US made Dunkel as is possible to find, and it makes a great component of a ?ezané pivo, especially with Von Trapp's Helles. I have been known to polish off an entire 6 pack of cans in the course of an evening once the boys go to bed, it is that moreish.

I hope you are sitting comfortably, but yes a barleywine makes this list, a very dark barleywine for sure, and one that had been sitting in my cellar since 2013. I described Irish Walker as being a "cacophonous love song to malt" that was "just glorious", a very worthy contender indeed.

Tr?sten is Von Trapp's smoked lager winter seasonal, though I have to admit that I find the smoke character to be somewhat subdued. Despite that, it is a beer that I love drinking for it's fuller dark body and satin smooth mouthfeel.

A surprise perhaps for regular readers then that the Fuggled Rest of USA 2020 dark beer is....Irish Walker from North Carolina's Olde Hickory Brewing, an utterly lascivious beer, with all the temptations and delights that word implies.

Rest of the World
  • Schlenkerla Urbock - "Heller-Br?u" Trum, Germany
  • Icelandic Toasted Porter - Einst?k ?lgere, Iceland
  • Imperial Stout - Samuel Smith's Brewery, England
Honorable mentions: Schlenkerla M?rzen - "Heller Br?u" Trum, Germany.

Some beers are simply worth every penny of buying a case worth to sit in the fridge and pulling out when the mood strikes for a taste of the divine. Schlenkerla Urbock is one such beer, and having said that, I have about a half case in the fridge for such occasions.

I don't generally do coffee infused beers, but the Icelandic Toasted Porter from Einst?k is an exception to the rule. Think a fine London porter with a taste of espresso and you are very much in the ballpark of this North Atlantic wonder.

Classic. Is there any other word that best describes this imperial stout from Yorkshire? Honestly there isn't one that pops into my mind. Insanely drinkable, unlike many an imperial stout, Samuel Smiths nail this style to a tee, despite the .5% abv.

Tricky, tricky, tricky...but then push comes to shove, the 2020 Fuggled Rest of the World dark beer is the classic from Bamberg, Schlenkerla Urbock.


Pick one they said, pick one.

Ok then, the Fuggled Dark beer of 2020 is laden with bias, nostalgia, and a longing to be home in the forests of Bohemia.

Morana takes the crown.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Fuggled Beers of the Year - Darker Than Pale Lighter Than Dark Brown

How's that for a description of colours in this category? Suitably vague and broad of scope I would hope you agree.

Onwards then to the runners and riders

Virginia
  • Franconia Kellerbier - Port City Brewing
  • Rauch M?rzen - Port City Brewing
  • Alt Bier - Devils Backbone Brewing
Honorable mentions: Doppelbock - Port City Brewing; Bavarian Prince - New Realm Brewing.

As I mentioned in my last post, this year has been stellar from Port City, so it is no surprise to see them dominating the DTPLTDB category. I drank loads of the Franconian Kellerbier earlier this year, often while harvesting fresh green things from my garden, the experience was a series of delightfully rustic moments in the midst of this most odd year. 

When you compare a rauchbier to the glories of Spezial in Bamberg, you know you are drinking something, erm, special, Rauch M?rzen is just such a beer. A gorgeous drop of rauchbier that hits my sweet spot with unerring accuracy. 

Technically speaking, Devils Backbone Alt Bier was my first beer of 2020, from the zwickel at the brewpub while brewing Morana back in February. When finally Morana was on tap, and people were allowed to reserve tables in the Devil Backbone meadow, we did so. With double digit numbers of crowlers of Morana acquired, I was drinking the Alt Bier, revelling in the sense of normality with a version of altbier that could actually pass for a German beer. 

This years Virginia DTPLTDB beer of the year is Port City's Franconian Kellerbier, a beer so good it pretty uch made up all of my drinking for a couple of months in the summer.

Rest of the USA
  • Copper - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Oktoberfest - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • 40 - Sierra Nevada Brewing, CA/NC
Honorable mentions: Winter Ride - JosephsBrau, CA; Yule Bock - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC; Vienna - Von Trapp Brewing, VT.

Very much a tale of old favourites here. I wax lyrical about Olde Mecklenburg at length to anyone crazy enough to listen about the glories of decoction mashing, extensive lagering, and a commitment to making beers with malt, hops, yeast, water, and "nothing else". Whenever I have the opportunity it is Copper that takes up a fair amount of space in my fridge. 

For the second year in a row, I did a mass Oktoberfest tasting, and Von Trapp's eponymous beer is probably my favourite version of the style, though it didn't win the blind tasting. However, a ma? at Kardinal Hall on an overcast Friday afternoon brought a ray of sunshine to an otherwise grim day. 

I know you are shocked, a top fermented, American hopped, IPA made it on my list of contenders this year, but it is Sierra Nevada and they are simply one of the best breweries on the planet, and in "40" they had the perfect beer to mark such an august anniversary. 

Sierra Nevada then, in their anniversary year take the honours as the best DTPLTDB beer in the rest of the US for 2020.

Rest of the World
  • Vintage Ale 2016 - Fuller's, England
  • Oktober Fest-M?rzen - Privatbrauerei Ayinger, Germany
  • Maudite - Unibroue, Canada
Honorable mentions: Orval - Abbaye d'Orval; London Pride - Fuller's.

With the lockdown in its infancy I decided to hit the cellar for some of the old ales, barleywines, and other assorted heavy hitters that had been lingering for a while. From those DTPLTDB beers the 2016 iteration of Fuller's Vintage Ale was the standout beer, and I am eyeing at least one more bottle of it before the year is out. 

Sure, I know Ayinger's autumnal festbier is not strictly speaking an Oktoberfest lager, it is though the one German lager of that season that I look forward to most, chewy, fully bodied, warming, echt lecker.

I renewed acquaintances with Maudite early in the year for an Old Friends post, such a nice beer, one that I have had a couple of times since, when the urge for a well brewed dubbel strikes (admittedly something of a great conjunction in my lager driven world). 

Not only was it the standout cellar beer of 2020, Fuller's Vintage Ale 2016 is the standout DTPLTDB beer of 2020 from the rest of the world. A worthy taker of the accolades.


Decisions, decisions...As ever it is tricky for me to choose one, but in reality given the amount of it I drank earlier in the year, and the fact I drove 60 miles round trip to pick up several unexpected 4 packs, the winner of the Fuggled DTPLTDB Beer of the Year is Port City's glorious Franconian Kellerbier, and I look forward to indulging in more in 2021.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Fuggled Beers of the Year - Pale

January 2020 promised much.

Potential work commitments would mean trips to Texas, New York, South Carolina, Canada, and Rome. With work trips come opportunities to try local beers, either as part of the horror of conference "networking happy hours" or when heading out for dinner in the evening. When I travel by myself I tend to deliberately make my dinner choices based on beer lists.

We all know what happened instead, lots of Zoom meetings.

Despite being largely stuck in central Virginia, this year has been pretty good on the beer front. I have tried beers from new-to-me breweries, made a point of supporting local bottle shops, often to the tune of a case a week at the beginning of lockdown, and where local breweries have had clearly laid out booking systems and strict mask requirements I have been happy to sit in their beer garden with the family and enjoy beer, sunshine, and happy toddler banter (Bertie, the younger of the twins, is a glorious gobshite).

Up until last year my annual review had often been a single post, and I thought this year would be a return to that format, but when I started thinking about all the beers I have had, it was clear that I could break things up a bit. Thus, we begin the review with pale beer and in keeping with last year, my top three each from Virginia, the rest of the US, and the rest of the world.

Virginia

  • German Pilsner - Port City Brewing
  • Helles - Port City Brewing
  • Downright Pilsner - Port City Brewing
Honorable mentions: Our Daily Pils - Basic City Brewing; Euphonia Pilsner - New Realm Brewing.

This year has been stellar on the lager front from Port City up in Alexandria. I have long been a fan of their Downright Pilsner, which is modeled on Bohemian pale lagers. The Helles is their regular summer seasonal, and when the season is right a regular in the fridge. German Pilsner is part of their monthly Lager Series, which has been an absolute boon for this lagerboy in 2020. Choosing just one of the three is seriously difficult, but given that I drove a 60 mile round trip for another beer, and was thrilled to find a stash of German Pilsner in the shop I went to, it is a worthy Virginia Pale Beer of 2020.

Rest of the USA
  • Captain Jack Pilsner - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Helles - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Alexandr - Schilling Brewing, NH
Honorable mentions: Pilz - Live Oak, TX; Helles - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC; Bavarian Pilsner - Von Trapp Brewing, VT; Pilsner - Von Trapp Brewing, VT; Pils - Edmund's Oast Brewing, SC; Rewind Lager - Birdsong Brewing, NC.

You get the feeling I mostly drink lager? I can't imagine what gives you that impression. There are several beers in the honorable mentions that I would happily drink exclusively for the rest of my days if need be, especially the Edmund's Oast Pils. Of the three finalists though, the Helles from Von Trapp is a near fixture of my drinking life, it is simply perfect and always welcome. Olde Mecklenbburg are, as you well know unless you live under a rock, are one of my favourite breweries. Whenever Mrs V and I go through Charlotte, we stop and stock up on beer, and the Captain Jack Pilsner will take up at least half of the purchase. So good is Captain Jack that it is Mrs V's beer of choice if I have any in the fridge and she fancies a beer. Alexandr from Schilling was the icing on the cake. My first trip to a pub to see someone other than my wife was to see my best mate at Kardinal Hall. We sat in the beer garden, suitably socially distant, with litres of beer, and just had a perfect afternoon. This desítka from New Hampshire was a revelation, and I a convert to another brewing from New England. The Rest of the USA Pale Beer of 2030 then is...drumroll gents...Schilling's glorious Alexandr.

Rest of the World
  • Plzeňsky Prazdroj - Plzeňsky Prazdroj, Plzeň, Czechia
  • aU - Mahr's Br?u, Germany
  • Jahrhundert Bier - Privatbrauerei Ayinger, Germany
Honorable mentions: Icelandic White Ale - Einst?k ?lgere, Iceland; Pils - Mahr's Brau, Germany; Helles - Schlenkerla, Germany; Weihenstephaner Festbier - Weihenstephan, Germany.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I was supposed to have visited Canada and Italy this year for work, and at least for the Italy trip I was hoping to try Tipopils in its native climes to see if it better than the tired, flaccid beer I had in Baltimore in 2012. Even so, there have been plenty of good international beers to enjoy. A couple of weeks ago I popped into Kardinal Hall and had a few litres of Prazdroj in their beer garden, draft Prazdroj is a rarity in these parts, and the keg had just gone on, so it was fresh too, each litre went down with inordinate ease, goodness me I love this beer. Mahr's Br?u's delightful aU turned up in Beer Run in February, so naturally I snaffled the lot and indulged in what has become in many ways the archetype of the perfect lager in my world, and when Andreas Krennmair nails his homebrew clone recipe, I plan to start making it too, I just love the rusticity of it. Last up is Ayinger's Jahrhundert Bier, a full bodied pale lager that makes a wonderful nightcap, the bitterness is just enough to take the edge off the malt sweetness, but I find I can only drink a couple of bottles of an evening, hence the ideal nightcap. I feel almost guilty for not making Prazdroj my internsal pale beer of 2020, but Mahr's Br?u's aU is simply too delicious and warm fuzy feeling inducing to come second in a year so in need of comfort.


For sure I say this every year, but deciding on a single beer to be the Fuggled 2020 Pale Beer of the Year is a difficult task, and this year is no different. For all its machinations and peregrinations I have enjoyed some absolutely outstanding pale beers (yeah, yeah, I know you are saying "pale lager" to yourselves) this year. The stand out though has to be Schilling's divine Alexandr (and not only because it has a magnificent name). I haven't had many Czech style pale lagers that in an instant take me back to life in Czechia, but this one did so. If you have it available somewhere near you, go get it, it is damned good stuff.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Rauch Against the Machine

I am just going to come out and say it, I have loved rauchbier ever since I first had Schlenkerla's iconic M?rzen back in Prague in 2008. Just as honest is that so many American made smoke beers have been deeply disappointing. In my experience they just lack enough of the smoke character to keep me coming back for more. When it comes to rauchbier I am an extremist, I don't want a hint of bacon, I want an entire side of pig smoked up a chimney burning good hardwoods.

As autumn continues its drift toward ever deepening darkness, and my mood generally improves as I much prefer the cold and dark of a northern winter, smoke beers become more and more appealing. For the first time, this year I gave in to my love of Schlenkerla and ordered an entire case of M?rzen from the awesome folks at Beer Run, minor aside I wish all European lagers in the US came in half litre bottles. With that case running low, I got a case of Urbock and decided it would be fun to do a side by side tasting, with a couple of American beers chucked in for interest's sake. Here's the lineup.


I did a comparative tasting of the Von Trapp Tr?sten and Schlenkerla Urbock last winter and even then knew I wanted to compare it to both the M?rzen and Urbock this year. Port City having their Rauch M?rzen available as part of their fantastic Lager Series was the icing on the cake. For fear of prattling on ad nauseum, I will go to the tasting... starting with the lowest ABV:


Port City Rauch M?rzen
  • Sight - deep auburn, red highlights, rocky ivory head that lasts, nice clarity
  • Smell - wood smoke to the fore, touch of breadiness, some molasses
  • Taste - mix of bread and wood smoke, settles to reveal some herbal hop notes
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
When I first tried this is reminded me of the Spezial M?rzen I had in Bamberg last year, at least in terms of colour. While it is a lovely beer and certainly one of the best US made rauchbiers I have had, it isn't as transcendently glorious as Spezial. What we do have here is a beautiful, clean, medium bodied lager that finishes nicely dry, and leaves you wanting more, which is just as well as I have another dozen 16oz cans in the fridge.


Von Trapp Tr?sten
  • Sight - dark brown, deep red highlights, lasting half inch tan head, excellent clarity
  • Smell - light smoke, roasted malts, toasty, some spicy hops, hints of coffee
  • Taste - bready Munich like malt sweetness, wisps of smokiness, roasty, dark bitter chocolate
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
I have no evidence for this other than my own subjective opinion, but I feel like the smoke in this has been dialed back compared to the 2019 version. That's not to say that this is a bad beer, far, far from it, it is a lovely complex dark lager with a hint of smoke that if you didn't know was there would probably stand out as a key element of that complexity. Being me though, I wanted more of the smoke, but I guess that just means I'll drink it next to the fire and breath deeply.


Schlenkerla M?rzen
  • Sight - deep, deep garnet, 1 inch off-white head that lingers, and lingers, good clarity
  • Smell - it's Schlenkerla so dollops of beechwood, like sitting next to a roaring fire, a hint of well aged cheese (in a very good way)
  • Taste - beechwood very much front and mittel, beyond that a lovely breadiness, pumpernickel, earthy hops, did I mention the smoke yet?
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Even after all these years this just hits the spot perfectly, though for the first time I noticed that the body is actually relatively light for a rauchbier, probably explains the insane drinkability. Great balance, and deeply complex.


Schlenkerla Urbock
  • Sight - dark chestnut, rich ruby hints, light brown head that lasts an age
  • Smell - it's another Schlenkerla, the aroma is so distinctive that there is not a better way of saying it, loamy earth and leaf litter, tobacco
  • Taste - deeply smokey, some almost stollen like sweet bread character, seriously dark chocolate
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
What. A. Beer. Absolutely glorious, even if a touch on the cold side straight from the fridge. Medium to medium-full body, beautiful silken mouthfeel, and a finish that is clean and dry yet doesn't linger too long. Where the M?rzen is angelic, the Urbock is simply divine.

So there we have it, 4 excellent beers, each worth drinking in their own right, and in the case of the Port City evidence that all is not lost when it comes to American made examples of the style. Given that I have a total of about 2 cases' worth of beer remaining of these four, I have plenty of fine drinking ahead of me this autumn, every prospect pleases.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Oktoberfest Champions League: The Final 6

We needed a tie breaker...

If you recall from the previous post, where I tasted 24 beers marketed for Oktoberfest, Benediktiner Festbier and Left Hand Oktoberfest had tied for top position in their group. In terms of their score, they had exactly the same points in each of the categories, the solution then was to drink them blind again, score them again, and then average their scores to break the tie, hopefully. It turned out the Benediktiner squeaked home by the narrowest of margins, giving me a final 6 of:

  • New Realm Bavarian Prince (m?rzen)
  • Ayinger Oktober Fest-M?rzen
  • Great Lakes Oktoberfest (m?rzen)
  • Benediktiner Festbier
  • Sierra Nevada (m?rzen)
  • Von Trapp Oktoberfest (m?rzen)
For the final 6 I decided to stick with the blind tasting and my points method of
  • Appearance - 3 points
  • Aroma - 10 points
  • Taste - 15 point
  • Balance of bitterness and sweetness - 2 points
  • Personal opinion - 10 points
With the inestimable Mrs V again decanting the various cans and bottles while I pottered away to make sure I wasn't aware of what I was drinking, the final 6 scored as follows:
  1. Ayinger - 34/40
  2. Great Lakes - 33/40
  3. New Realm - 33/40
  4. Sierra Nevada - 32/40
  5. Von Trapp - 31/40
  6. Benediktiner - 27/40
Having used the average of 2 tastings to split Benediktiner and Left Hand, I had decided that I would use the same method to decide the final rankings of the 2020 Fuggled Oktoberfest Taste Off, giving us...
  1. New Realm Bavarian Prince - 67/80 (33.5)
  2. Great Lakes Oktoberfest - 65/80 (32.5)
  3. Ayinger Oktober Fest-M?rzen - 64/80 (32)
  4. Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest - 63/80 (31.5)
  5. Von Trapp Oktoberfest - 61/40 (30.5)
  6. Benediktiner Festbier - 58/40 (29)
I won't bore you with my full tasting notes for the winner, but on both occasions, about 10 days apart, I noted a superb malt complexity that was mostly the classic toasted bread thing that you get with Munich and Vienna malts, sweet without being sugary or caramelly. In terms of personal opinion, both times I gave it 8/10 and noted that it is the kind of beer I would happily sit and drink several ma? of.

As in previous years, I wouldn't be too surprised if I pick up some singles of other Oktoberfest lagers that weren't available when I collected the entrants to see if Bavarian Prince can hold onto its crown, but as things stand, well done New Realm for creating a lovely m?rzen that will be in my fridge for a while yet this autumn (also, yay autumn is here!).

Monday, August 10, 2020

To Helles and Back

If you've been paying attention these last few years, you'll know that pale lager is my thing. Whether we are talking světly le?ák, Pilsner, helles, or even Dortmunder, I probably drink far more pale lager than anything else. In my world, the path to brewery greatness is paved with golden lager and if a brewer can knock out a good one then I am more likely to try their other wares, while coming back to the pale stuff regularly.

Returning from a recent sojourn to South Carolina, as I mentioned a few posts ago, I stocked up on Olde Mecklenburg beers, their altbier, pilsner, and the seasonal helles specifically. I had it in my mind that I wanted to include it in a three way tasting with Von Trapp Helles from Vermont and Virginia's Port City Helles, which is their current seasonal as well.

There was only one problem, the seeming ambivalence of central Virginia's supermarkets when it comes to lager -  seriously, most of them will have the complete range of Port City but not the Downright Pilsner, or they'll stock everything from Tr?eg's except Sunshine Pils. Having been back from South Carolina for well over a month now, I only got round to the tasting this weekend due to the hassle of finding the Port City Helles, having scored a case from the ever reliable Beer Run.

With the runners and riders in place, I dived on in...


Port City Helles - 5.2%, bottled June 8, 2020
  • Sight - clear light golden yellow, half inch white foam that leaves nice lacing
  • Smell - floral hops, light bready malt, lemon, hay
  • Taste -  subtle wildflower honey, nice light crustiness, lemongrass
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
A lovely, lovely beer. Supremely balanced with a medium dry finish that just leaves you wanting more, nice and clean. Port City have a wonderful way with lager beers and this year's Helles is up there with the best of their range. Beer this good makes the Virginia summer almost bearable. With the lemon and grass thing going on, I wonder if they use Saaz for the hopping?


Olde Mecklenburg Mecklenburger Helles - 4.9%, canned July 2, 2020
  • Sight - crystal clear yellow, thin white head, visible carbonation
  • Smell - cereal grain, lemongrass, wildflower meadow
  • Taste - water biscuits, citrus (lemon and key lime), subtle spice note
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
Another very moreish beer. Finishes really clean though maybe just a touch on the dry side, which brings the hops slightly to the fore. Delightfully well balanced.


Von Trapp Helles - 4.9%, best before September 29, 2020
  • Sight - golden yellow, excellent clarity, half inch of white head that lingers, tracing a fine lacing on the glass
  • Smell - citrus, freshly microplaned lemon zest, all flavour no pith, freshly baked southern biscuits
  • Taste - crackers, lemon, wildflower honey, elegant herbal notes
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
The finish on this one is soft and pillowy, just dry enough to keep it clean, but with a malt presence that is just cut through by a lingering bitterness that doesn't dominate. The balance is absolutely perfect making this an absolutely magnificent beer that would more than hold its own in the biergartens of Mitteleuropa.

Three absolutely storming beers, all wonderful examples of a style that when South Street's My Personal Helles is available is basically my go to. I would love to be able to compare all four at some point, though that may have to wait as South Street haven't had it on in a while. However, as I tweeted last night....


Thinking further of this question today, if I had to choose either the Port City or Von Trapp then after much agonising it would be the Von Trapp, by the shortest of short noses. Both are gorgeous beers that I will happily drink all day and night sat on my deck, but Von Trapp has one significant advantage that pushes it into the winner's circle. It is available year round and not just for a couple of months in the summer.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Half Cut

Decisions, decisions, an excess of choice is not always a good thing.

There are times when I sit agonising over a beer list trying to decide what beer to pour down my gullet next. Interestingly enough, such existential angst rarely happens when faced with the tap wall equivalent of an anti-immigrant's wet dream, invariably it is when faced with both a pale and a dark lager that rank among my favourites.


When facing this dilemma back in the Czech Republic, the answer was often to order a "?ezané pivo" which literally translates as a "cut beer". A ?ezané pivo is nothing more than half a serving of pale lager and half of dark, though in Czech law said beers must share the same starting gravity. From experience, however, pubs are more than happy to make a ?ezané that would be technically illegal. In the warm fermented world this is known as a black and tan, where a pale ale and stout are the ingredients.


As you are no doubt aware, the drinking world that is Fuggled is a lager dominated one. On a couple of occasions at the Devils Backbone Basecamp I have asked for a ?ezané, though memory is hazy as to what was involved, most likely their magnficient Schwartzbier and Gold Leaf lagers. When sitting at home though I have been known to mix up Von Trapp's Helles and Dunkel, and more recently the Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner and their winter seasonal Dunkel. To add some context to what was going into my glass, the Captain Jack is 4.8%, thus assuming a starting gravity of 12°, and has 25 IBUs. The Dunkel by contrast is 4.9%, so just a quarter degree of Plato difference assuming the Czech method of multiplying ABV by 2.5 to arrive at starting gravity, and again has 25 IBUs.


It was halfway through a recent ?ezané that I realised I had never bothered to sit down and actually think about the interaction of the two beers. So it was that one of the final beery drinks of 2019 ahead of my dry January was decided upon and I poured the Olde Mecklenburg combination into a glass...
  • Sight - beautiful clear red, mottled head, quarter inch of foam, excellent retention
  • Smell - freshly baked crusty bread, Nutella, some floral hops
  • Taste - toasty, blonde roast coffee, nutty toffee, lemons in the background, trace of cocoa
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
First things first, a confession, I only just looked up the specs on the Dunkel and was surprised that it has 25 IBUs. I had assumed that it would be a little lower and that the overall perception of bitterness in the blend would be more subtle than I found it. Thankfully I like my beers to be bitter, and in this blend that bitterness is right there, front and centre. There is a very strong possibility that my first beer at home when I resume drinking on February 1st will be this precise mix as I have plenty of both beers in the fridge. Now that I know they are so close in starting gravity to each other, I might try to layer the beers so that the dunkel sits on top of the pilsner. At some point I will also delve deeper into the Von Trapp Helles and Dunkel mix, as well as bringing their Pilsner to the party, and if by some miracle I can squirrel a bottle of Olde Mecklenburg Dunkel away somewhere then when they bring out their summer seasonal Helles an experiment could be called for.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Breweries

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

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

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.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 20, 2019

Rauchy Little Numbers

I mentioned in my previous post that I have recently become a devotee of the Von Trapp Brewing Company from Vermont. Most of my drinking of late has been Tr?sten, their smoked lager winter seasonal and as I have commented to friends of mine, one of the few smoke beers I have had in the that compare favourably with the rauchbiers of Bamberg, exalted praise yes I know. Given that I work in the academic publishing world, on the IT side, I figured that it really wouldn't do to make such a bold assertion without putting it to the test. With that in mind when last I was in Beer Run to stock up on Tr?sten I grabbed a bottle of Schlenkerla Ur-bock with which to compare it.

Having let both beers get nice and properly cold, major bugbear of mine is bottle shops that leave cold fermented and cold conditioned beer on a warm shelf, but that's a moan for another day, I asked the wonderful Mrs Velkyal to decant the beers into my nearly identical half litre beer mugs, yeah one is Port City branded and the other Blue Mountain, for a blind tasting with modified Cyclops notes.


Beer A went into the Port City glass...

  • Sight - deep chestnut brown, persistent half inch of rocky light brown foam
  • Smell - Earthy smoke, roasty, dark chocolate, hint of nutmeg spiciness
  • Taste - Subtle smoke, caramalised oranges, clean hop bite that build to firm bitterness, slightly floral, justa touch acrid finish
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2.5
An excellent, balanced beer. I feel as though I got more smoke in the aroma than in the flavour, but the cleanliness of the fermentation was evident, and left me wanting more after each mouthful, definitely something to drink plenty of during the dark winter nights.

On then to the Blue Mountain glass for beer B...

  • Sight - fire ruby red, garnet edges, quarter inch of dark ivory, lingering, foam
  • Smell - distinctive beechwood smoke of Schlenkerla, almost pungent riot of wood, leaf litter, and earthiness
  • Taste - baked Christmas ham, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, slight umami character defying the malt w=sweetness, clean hops in the finish
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
This knocked me out even more so than when I recently had it at the brewpub itself in Bamberg, I had never really appreciated just how distinctive Schlenkerla's smoke aroma and flavour actually are. Instantly I was back at the table in the Dominikerklause savouring each drop of Ur-bock, a simply divine beer.

Perhaps this was an unfair test given that Tr?sten is 6% while the Ur-bock is 6.5%, so perhaps I will re-run the experiment using the classic Schlenkerla M?rzen either as well as or instead of the Ur-bock. Either way the Von Trapp offering held its own and is an excellent rauchbier that I am glad to have available in this part of the world, and yes more shall be imbibed.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Falling Into Von Trapp

Lager is kind of my thing.

I can't think of a single warm fermented beer style that I would rather drink than a well executed cold fermented style. Sorry folks but your New England IPAs just don't compare to the height of craft brewing that is an Old School Czech pale lager. If you think that you foreign extra stout with gorilla snot and dingleberries can hold a candle to schwarzbier then you are in for disappointment.

Most of my favourite breweries are those that brew lager, giving it the deference and respect it is due, even those like Sierra Nevada who are better known for their ales do some magnificent lagers as well. This year I added a new to me brewery to my list of go to purveyors of fine decocted booze, Von Trapp Brewing from Vermont (yes, that Von Trapp family and yes they do decoction mashing).


Since trying their Oktoberfest back in the appropriate season, I have been on something of a Von Trapp kick. Other than my 10 days in central Europe, I have probably indulged in at least one six pack of their various beers each weekend since September, and in keeping with my worldview these days I haven't really taken notes other than when needed for other projects and schemes.



Something that each of the beers I have tried so far shares is that it is an excellent example of whichever style it is. For example I am actually fairly confident that had Beer Run had any more of the Oktoberfest when I decided to do my mass tasting that it would have been in at least the final 4, possibly the top 2.


Most recently I have been revelling in Tr?sten, a rauchbier that unlike many an American made smoke beer is actually worthy of the name. Sure it might not be a full frontal assault on the senses a la Schlenkerla, but it is a beautifully smokey dark lager that could easily become a regular in winter for me, and may even be used to soak the raisins, sultanas, et al in the fruit cake I plan to make this weekend for my father-in-law and I.

Of the regular styles available my go tos of late have been Helles and Dunkel, both of which I would put right up there with the best versions available back in Germany and which, as a side note for us Czech beer fans of the world, make a delightful ?ezané pivo, or black and tan.


If you live in any of the states where Von Trapp is available, I recommend getting out to the store and stocking up, and if said store isn't carrying these superb lagers given them earache until they relent! I have been desperately trying to avoid cheesy Sound of Music references, but truly these are a few of my favourite things! Whilst in the mood for cheesy puns, yes I am happy to declare myself a Von Trappist too.

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