Showing posts with label wafflings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wafflings. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

I have to admit that there really are not that many things that I miss as a result of this pandemic. I am sure that comes as something of a surprise for people who know how much I love going to the pub, but I am lucky that in my part of Virginia most pubs are open with restricted seating and so I can get my fix at least weekly. As a result of the changes brought about by the pandemic, I have limited my choice of boozers in Charlottesville to basically just Kardinal Hall and Beer Run, mainly because I can rely on them to have a good selection of lagers worth drinking.

Perhaps the main thing I miss is the fact that I haven't been on a business trip since last March, when I went, with much trepidation, to Austin for a conference. Usually when I travel for work, I try to fly through Atlanta, simply because I really enjoy sitting at the bar of the Gordon Biersch restaurant on concourse A. It will come as no surprise that my beer of choice when I am there is their Czech style pale lager, served in a half litre glass no less, though often served well over the half litre line, not that I am complaining...

All that is a long winded backdrop to saying, having not been through Atlanta airport for the longest time since I started my current job, I woke up one day in December with a hankering for a pint of Gordon Biersch Czech Pilsner. Said craving may have been stoked as a result of the news that they were closing down their Virginia Beach location, to which I had never made it. All was not lost though as due to the wonders of contract brewing, of which I am a fan, my craving would go satisfied by virtue of Trader Joe's. As you are likely aware, Gordon Biersch are the contract brewer behind Trader Joe's "Josephsbrau" range of central European lagers, and as I understand it, Josephsbrau PLZNR and Gordon Biersch Czech Pilsner are one and the same beer.


As is appropriate I poured a bottle and a half into my half litre Chodovar glass that I purloined from a pool hall in Prague, side note, I hate 12oz bottles for beers like this, is it really so hard to package them in the half litre that such beers warrant?


Ah the classic rich golden colour of a well made Czech style pale lager, it really is a thing most beautiful, especially when the beer is crystal clear and topped with a decent half inch of white foam. The head didn't linger as some Czech beers I have had, dissipating to a patch quilt network of bubbles that clung tenaciously to the side of the glass. The aroma was mostly grainy cereal with subtle hints of honey and fresh bread that made me wonder if there was just a touch of something like CaraBohemian in the grist somewhere. The hops also made an appearance with the spicy, hay, lemongrass notes that I have come to associate with the noblest of noble hops, Saaz. Tastewise, you should know the form by now if you have had a Czech style pale lager ever in your life, a gentle toasty character, with spicy hop flavours as a counterpoint to the malt. Very simple, very classic, very much what I expect, and enjoy.


Whether it is being sold as a Gordon Biersch or Josephsbrau beer, this is a lager that I am always happy to see in the fridge or on tap. While not rippingly bitter, it has a good firm bite to it that cleanses the palate leaving you ready for more. The bitterness is helped along by an excellent clean fermentation that gives the various elements of the beer voice. The finish is dry and with a delicate balance that reaches a high note before collapsing to that moment when another mouthful is required.

I will admit that I have a slight preference for the draught version that I enjoy when I am in Atlanta airport, for all the usual obvious reasons. Bluntly put, draught beer is better beer. Until the conference world restarts, and I am in no rush to get back to "normal" (if "normal" is really something worth getting back to), I will be more than happy to get more PLZNR from our local Trader Joe's, and at $7 a six pack, you really can't complain, unless you are the pretentious wanker type that wants a pilsner for $90 a six pack.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Coming Darkness

One of the many things I love about lager is its sheer variety. Now, if you are the kind of poor, misguided soul that thinks lager is some wan, piss coloured, fizzy liquid then you need to give your head a wobble and do some learning.

In recent years in particular I have been thrilled to see a steadily increasing range of lager styles available to the discerning drinker on this side of the Pond. Naturally I am most thrilled by the number of Czech style lagers that are being brewed.

While I have been known to grumble (what? me?) about the fact that many allegedly Czech style pale lagers tend more toward světly speciál rather than světly le?ák, I am just happy to have some Czech-ish to drink. More recently it has been the dark Czech lagers that are becoming more common, and having designed what I believe to be the first authentic tmavé to be brewed in Virginia, it is a trend I keep a thoroughly interested eye on.

It was with this interested eye that I liked a picture on Instagram from Jeff Alworth of a tmavé called Tmavá Sova, which translates as "Black Owl". Naturally I approve mightily of getting the grammar right, so of course I went to take a look at the website of the makers, Matchless Brewing from Washington State and I think they make the kind of beers I like. My only beef, and thus the genesis of the this post, was the description for Tmavá Sova, which defines tmavé as being:

"a re-emerging style from the Czech Republic".

Forgive me if I am being a little touchy here, but there is no way on Odin's green Midgard that tmavé is a "re-emerging style" for the simple reason it never really went away. That's not to say that the style makes a huge proportion of beer sales in Czechia, but as far back as I can remember most breweries have at least one dark lager in their range.

When I first moved to Prague, back in the 20th century, I was a dedicated Guinness drinker and gravitated quite naturally to dark lagers such as Herold Bohemian Black Lager, a beer well regarded by Michael Jackson. Of course there is the legendary U Flek? 13° dark lager with roots back to the 19th century, when dark beers in Bohemia were still top fermented.

While it is true that there are exceedingly few Czech dark lagers actually from Czechia that make it to this side of the pond, I can think of all of 1 that is easy-ish to find, Budvar's lovely version of the style, that should not be taken as a sign of a style dying in its heartland. Pretty much every regional and local brewery in Czechia has at least one dark lager offering. Often that beer is a 14° plato beer, the type that was the inspiration behind Morana, though as is common with all Czech beers, gravities for different colours can be all over the map, Kozel ?erny is a desítka for example.

Now, I know this will come as a shock to some, but there is more to beer than craft breweries making styles of beer which are little known in a brewery's sitz im leben. If I remember rightly tmavé represents about 5% of Czech beer production, which in 2018 was about 18.1 million barrels. As such somewhere just slightly north of 900,000 barrels of tmavé was brewed that year, just shy of the total production of New Belgium Brewing.

So, where am I going with all this? Simply put, just because something is new to you doesn't mean it is new, or re-discovered, or re-emerging. Tmavé is not like Grodziskie, Broyhan, or even Kulmbacher that needs to be resurrected, it is alive, well, and even evolving in its heartland.

On a less snarky note, I would love to try Tmavá Sova, and I applaud any brewery that takes a gamble on a less well-known style of beer, especially if it happens to be a lager style from central Europe. As I said at the beginning, lager is not some just wan, piss-coloured, fizzy drink for the masses, but rather a noble family of beers that have their roots in central Europe and make up some of the best beers you will ever drink, so explore, go find a brewery that is making the same kind of decisions as Matchless, and discover what real lager can be.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Happy to Schill

September 4th. The first time in the course of the whole pandemic thing that I went to the pub without a reservation, and to meet someone for a drink that I do not live with.

At that point, Virginia had been in phase 3 or something like that for a while, and my good friend Dave and his family had been sheltering in much the same way as Mrs V and our little family. It had been a damned long time since we had gone for a bevvy. We decided that it would be safe for Dave and I to meet for a beer, as long as the venue was somewhere we could sit outside and have a little physical distance, a beer garden perhaps. On a side note, both Dave and I hate the phrase "social distancing", preferring "physical distance", human beings are social animals and we can be socially close without being physically close. 

Anyway, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon as I sat on the benches of Kardinal Hall's beer garden waiting to finally see my friend for the first time in what seemed like forever. By "see my friend" I mean sit, drink, and talk shit without anyone else around. Sorry wives and kids, love you loads but sometimes I just need to have some bloke time. I had arrived a little early and already had my first litre sitting in front of me...

Said beer was from a then new-to-me brewery in New Hampshire, Schilling Brewing Company, the beer in question was Alexandr, a rarity in these parts, an actual desítka!! Technically speaking a desítka is just a beer that has a starting gravity of 10° Plato, usually though they are also pale, though more often than not they don't pack the same 5% abv punch as Alexandr. Even so, I wasn't quibbling, I was too busy reveling. Alexandr is quite simply a wonderful pale lager, clean, flavourful, moreish, is it any wonder that I declared it the Fuggled Pale Beer of 2020? Nope, it isn't.

Other than their very nice Oktoberfest lager, Konstantin, again at Kardinal Hall, I had kind of given up on getting to drink much more of Schilling's range as their beers appeared to be rarer than hens' teeth in this part of Virginia. There was a fair amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth at this situation because I kept seeing folks I follow on Twitter and Instagram posting about another Czech style pale lager in their lineup called "Palmovka".

Other than the obvious reason for wanting to try it, Czech style pale lagers are just my thing and I am willing to try any beer that claims to be one, sadly much to my own disappointment. The second reason though was that for a year or so of my decade in Czechia I lived in said part of Prague. Palmovka is one of Prague's main transport connection hubs, with a metro station, bus station, and tram stops all clustered round a crossroads. I was living just a couple of tram stops up the hill from Palmovka during the flood of 2002 when the metro station, and a fair old chunk of the surrounding area, was completely inundated by the water. I also thought the can label was just wonderful, showing the three metro lines that criss cross the city. 

Random fact, when I first moved to Prague I lived in an area called ?erny Most, right at one end of the yellow line (that's line B if we're be officious) and a couple of stations were still under construction, Hloubětín and Kolbenova. The maps back in 1999, however, showed the future Kolbenova as being named ?KD, after a large Czech engineering firm that had a factory nearby once upon a time.

To cut a long story short, I was in Beer Run picking up some other stuff, checking on my order of a case of únětické pivo when they mentioned that they had some Schilling stuff, namely Alexandr and Palmovka. If you were in the queue that day when I dashed off to grab a couple of 4 packs of Palmovka and kept you waiting, I can but apologise again, and thank you for being so gracious. How I waited the couple of hours needed to get the beer down to a decent temperature is baffling to me now...

Oh. My. Good. God. What is this nectar? A perfect example of a dvanáctka, starting gravity of 12° Plato, but you knew that, that's what. Again there is the slight cognitive dissonance of a dvanáctka being 5.5% (would be closer to a 14° beer based on multiplying the abv by 2.5), but in terms of Maillard reaction breadiness dancing on your tongue, gorgeous Saaz hoppiness - grass, lemon blossom, and a light spiciness - all singing together into a glorious whole, this is as good a Czech style beer I have ever had in the US. I am not sure I could have chosen between this and Alexandr had I tried Palmovka before writing my Pale beer of the year review.

Now I want to buy everything I can in their range that makes it to central Virginia, and drink gallons of Alexandr whenever it is on tap at Kardinall Hall. Beer Run currently has Alexandr, Palmovka, and a 13° Polotmavy called Augustin that looks like a fantastic beer from the reviews I have seen. I fear a sly trip to the bottle shop is in order to add supplies to the already groaning beer fridges is in order, even if I will be waiting until February to actually tuck in.

Based on these two beers, and also their Oktoberfest lager Konstantin that I had one afternoon, I can safely say that another New England brewery has been added to my list of favourite lager brewers in the US. Properly made lagers seem, finally, to be a more prominent part of the craft brewing scene on this side of the Pond. When you have the likes of Schilling, Olde Mecklenburg, and Von Trapp churning out consistently great beer it is becoming easier to ignore the IPAs, fucked up goses, and daft pastry stouts that take up too many taps, and revel in my own personal Ostalgie.

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, July 21, 2020

Carolina Pilsner

A couple of weeks ago, Mrs V and I took ourselves off to her parents' place in South Carolina for a week of quarantined change of scenery. 

Unusually for one of our trips South we didn't stop at Olde Mecklenburg on the way down for a feed and to let the ever growing twins run around for a bit, though we did stop in on the way to buy a stash of beer to bring back to Virginia.

The day before we headed back north, I popped into a local bottle shop, suitably masked of course, and as I was wondering around I thought it would be fun to try a taste off of pilsners from South and North Carolina. I ended up with the six beers below.


The beers were:
  • Birdsong Rewind Lager (NC)
  • Edmund's Oast Pils (SC)
  • Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack (NC)
  • Revelry Glorious Bastard (SC)
  • Coast Brewing Pilsner (SC)
  • Indigo Reef Pilsner (SC)
Let's just dive on in shall we...


Birdsong Rewind Lager - 4%, Czech style, canned April 10, 2020
  • Sight - golden with slight haze, health half inch of white head, good retention
  • Smell - faint grass, Southern biscuits, some herbal notes, very lightly fruity
  • Taste - bready malt, slightly crusty, clean hop bitterness, herbal
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Really refreshing and session worthy beer. Body in light-medium, maybe a little on the watery side int he finish, but nothing I haven't experienced with Czech made desítky. I really like the can design too, made me think of Anthony Bourdain describing Kout na ?umavě as "nostalgic" when he visited the brewery with Evan Rail. Will definitely pick more of this up next time I see it.


Edmund's Oast Pils - 4.5%, German style, canned July 6, 2020
  • Sight - golden with a thin white head that dissipates to a lingering schmeer of foam, excellent clarity.
  • Smell - floral hops, fresh scones, slightly spicy
  • Taste - juicy sweet malt, firm pithy bitter hop bite, slightly lemony
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3/5
An absolute stunner of a beer, but it reminded me more of Czech pilsners that German, in particular Hostomicky Fabián 10. Medium bodied with a soft maltiness in the finish rather than the crackery dryness you often get with German pilsners. An early contender for the Fuggled beer of the year.


Olde Mecklenburg Captain Jack Pilsner - 4.8%, German style, canned June 22, 2020
  • Sight - straw yellow, thin white head, brilliant clarity
  • Smell - fresh bread, lemons, limes, some spice
  • Taste - cereal grain, citric hops, grassy, floral spiciness like nasturtium flowers
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
Classic German style pilsner. Clean, dry finish with great snap that you get from proper lagering. Medium bodied and insanely moreish. There is a reason this is a beer I drink a lot of, it is simply a stunning brew, I love it.


Revelry Glorious Bastard - 5.25%, Czech style
  • Sight - golden with thin white head, good clarity
  • Smell - floral hops, some hay, kind of a musty cheese thing going on (aged hops?), fruity
  • Taste - crusty cread, saccharin sweetness in background, rough bitterness
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2.5/5
When I asked Mrs V to give this a try her instant response was "is this an IPA?", says it all really. Such a disappointment as the aroma is generally spot on, but the balance is missing in the drinking.


Coast Brewing Pilsner - 4.8%, German style
  • Sight - slightly hazy gold, quarter inch of white foam, decent retention
  • Smell - almost non-existent, slightest trace of flowers and grain, maybe
  • Taste - dominated by bready sweetness, extracty
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 1/5
This one was a major disappointment, and most of it went down the drain. It was a syrupy mess, lacking any of the snap that well made lagers have, it was kind of flaccid and lacking any hop character. Will try again though at some point in case I got a duff can.


Indigo Reef Surface Interval - 6%, Czech style, canned on April 29, 2020
  • Sight - straw yellow, kind of cloudy, think white head
  • Smell - floral hops, light citrus character, Southern biscuits
  • Taste - sweet malt, very sweet actually, some spicy hops
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 1.5/5
Given ABV, I am assuming this is about 15 degrees Plato, which would be darker in Czechia as this was surprisingly pale. Medium-full body made it quite syrupy though there was a lingering spicy finish.

As I posted the other day on Instagram, 2 stunners, 1 drain pour and 3 decent beers, though I kind of question the brewers' experience of actual Czech beer. The 2 stunners were head and shoulders above the others, and the Edmund's Oast was particularly enjoyable. 

One thing has been on my mind in particular. I am starting to think that the term "pilsner" is insufficient for describing Czech style pale lagers brewed by American craft breweries. If you take the extremes of the ABV for the 4 beers I have, you have 4.5%, 4.8%, 5.25%, and 6%. Multiplying the ABV by 2.5 gives you the ball park starting gravity in degrees Plato, and we have (rounding to the nearest whole number) 11°, 12°, 13°, and 15°. 

Under Czech beer law these four beers straddle 2 different categories, le?ák, aka "lager", and speciální pivo, aka "special beer". Even within the speciální pivo category, Czech would expect different things from a 13° and a 15° beer, think the difference between a strong helles and a bock respectively. Yet they all bear the moniker "pilsner", mainly because they use Saaz hops, or some higher alpha acid derivative, looking at you Sterling.

While I am happy that Czech style lager seems to be increasingly popular with both brewers and drinkers in the US, I think lumping everything pale under the banner of "pilsner" actually does a disservice to one of the great brewing cultures of the world, and I would argue that we reserve the world "pilsner" for those beers that are in the same sitz im leben as the original, Pilsner Urquell - 12°, 4.5-5% abv, 30-40 IBUs of Czech hops. Anything below that could be a "Session Czech Lager", anything above that a "Strong Czech Lager", but pilsner sets expectations in knowledgeable drinkers' minds, so stick to it.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

NoVA Franconia

Whether it is a trendy fad or something more lasting and meaningful, I love the fact that well made lager beers are enjoying a moment in the spotlight here in Virginia.

Sure, there have always been reliable go-to breweries and beers when the lager cravings hit, or as I like to call them, "the weekend", such as Devils Backbone or Port City, but it seems as though there are more options in the shop when it comes to Virginia brewed lager.

Right now I am drinking a lot of one particular beer from the ever reliable Port City Brewing of Alexandria up in Northern Virginia. They already make 2 of my favourite beers, the lovely Downright Pilsner, and an Oktoberfest that is a more than welcome sight in autumn, so when I heard they had brought out a beer called "Franconian Kellerbier", well you knew I would hunt it down.

I didn't really have to do much hunting as another of Charlottesville craft beer fixtures, Beer Run, had it available for curbside pickup about a week after I first heard about it. Minor aside, Beer Run have been an absolute lifesaver in the last few months with a steady supply of Von Trapp lagers.

This is not about the glorious wonders of Von Trapp, it is about this beer here...


Doesn't it just look lovely in my Port City half litre bierkrug, even if the can is slightly less than a full half litre. I love that rich, ever so slightly hazy, amber and the big cap of foam so befitting of a German style lager. To look at it kind of reminds me of my usual favourite German lager, the divine aU from Mahr's Brau. 

The aroma is dominated by a wonderful toasted malt character, sitting beneath the rustic earthiness and general spice that you get with Spalt hops. I have to admit that I don't spend an awful lot of time sticking my nose into the beer because it is just so damned tasty.

That toasted bread thing is there, as is the deep sweetness that I always associate with Munich malts (ie, not sugary), and again the earthy hops bring balance and some slightly floral notes to the party. All of this is rounded out with a clean finish, a medium body, and a touch of hop bitterness that makes it magnificently easy to drink, which at 4.7% means no hangover if you bash a few of these of a school night.


I like to think of these kind of beers as "country beers", the kind of thing you would find in a village Gasthaus, possibly the only beer on tap, served just metres from where it was brewed, and very much the local hero of beer. The kind of beer that you could imagine sitting in the sun, under the shade of a old tree, and just letting the world go by, while you engaged in something completely unrelated to beer, like shelling peas that you just picked from the garden.

I have drunk a fair old whack of Franconian Kellerbier, and it is more than fair to say that I am going to miss it when it is gone, being but a seasonal beer, rather than year round. Would I swap it for one of Port City's regular lineup to be a year round brew, you bet I would, the world is quite sufficiently stocked for IPAs these days, so one of those can go as far as I am concerned.

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.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Stick Don't Twist

I have developed a business plan.

I believe that if it is successful, then I will become an exceedingly rich man, can buy a small Hebridean island to retire on and raise my children in a place of peace.

The plan is devastatingly simple, whenever a brewery uses one of the following phrases in their beer description, the give me a Dollar, a Pound, or a Euro, depending on the brewery's location:
  • "our interpretation of"
  • "classic <insert style>, with a twist
Not wanting to limit my revenue streams, any phrase that has similar connotations will be included in the collection scheme.


Now, I am not the kind of person who is wildly strict about beer styles, if your porter is just a touch strong, I will not insist you call it a stout. If your best bitter uses Cascade instead of Goldings, I won't declare it a Session IPA. However, beer styles have evolved for a reason, especially when it comes to beers that have a very distinct geographical basis.

Take one of my favourite brewing projects that I have ever been involved with, Devils Backbone Granát, the first polotmavé to be brewed in Virginia. Granát just squeezes out Morana, which incidentally is on tap at the Devils Backbone Brewpub at the moment, because polotmavé as a style is even less well known and understood than tmavé.

Part of the pleasure of doing brewing projects with local brewers is designing the recipe itself, which for me is not just a case of wanging a few ingredients into brewing software to hit the right numbers but about background reading on the style and how it is perceived in its homeland, and the expectations of drinkers. For fear of sounding like an anti-innovation stick in the mud, part of my aim when I design these recipes to to be as faithful to the culture whose beer I am attempting to replicate and introduce to a different audience. In a perfect world, I'd be able to ship some of the Czech over to the likes of Evan and Max to get their take on them, and where they would stand in the pantheon of Czech breweries,

Anyway, back to Granát. As a recipe it built on the Morana research quite a bit, for the non-Czech speakers "polotmavé" literally means "half-dark", so the idea is to use the same malts as in your tmavé but less of the specialty malts to make a lager that sits somewhere between dark copper and deep red. From the research that went into the recipe's creation, the specialty malts used are more often than not:
  • Munich
  • CaraBohemian or CaraMunich
  • Carafa, usually de-bittered
Sticking with the kind of malts used in Czechia is important as far as I am concerned because substituting in different malts, more easily obtainable perhaps, changes the flavour profile. While it is perfectably possible to make a tasty red lager using Caramel 60, chocolate malts, and black malt, it isn't how it is done in Czechia.

This applies, in my mind at least, to most beer styles, though obviously Czech lagers are a world I am very interested in. Of particular concern, and perhaps I am being idealistic here, is that when bringing a little known style into a new market and not being faithful to the ingredients used in the originals breweries do their customers a disservice. When friends of mine who have tried Granát and Morana go to Czechia, I want them to have an accurate frame of reference for the tmavé and polotmavé they will drink there. A case in point would be swapping out CaraMunich for a crystal malt, the sweetness is so different that the same beer brewed with these malts would be noticeably different, and in my mind without CaraMunich, much diminished.

Imagine trying to brew an American Pale Ale with just Saaz, it wouldn't be identifiable as an American Pale Ale. It might be, and I would put money on it being so, a fine tasty beer, but American Pale Ale it is not. I have written before that I think authenticity is important, and even more so with styles that are unusual in a given brewery's sitz im leben.

If we in the beer world want to co-opt concepts such as terroir and the importance of place with regard to how beer styles originate and evolve then I think we also need to pay respect to those concepts when brewing relatively rare styles. One of the things I really love about beer culture is learning new things, trying styles from places I have never even considered, but how can I trust that I am getting as close to the real thing is breweries are constantly twisting, and shouting about it?

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,

Friday, May 1, 2020

The Session: At Home

Once upon a time, The Session was a monthly event where beer bloggers got together and wrote about a common theme. Like all good sessions it lasted quite a while, the best part of 11 years before last orders was called and punters filed out into the dark. The dark though doesn't last forever, not even in the depth of a Hebridean winter, eventually the sun returns and again the possibility of a session presents itself. In the spirit then of the hair of the dog, I present the Quarantine Edition of The Session, with a theme of "where are you at?", looking at how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our drinking lives...


In many ways I am deeply priviledged at this time, and I am very much aware of it. I have worked from home for a couple of years already, so that is nothing new for me. My wife, a Montessori teacher, is working from home too, she has not been furloughed, and we are very grateful that her school continues to pay her, and watching her adapt to teaching online and by distance has been nothing short of remarkable. If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting Mrs V you will know why I am immensely proud of her. Perhaps my 30 month old twins have it hardest at the moment as school has been cancelled until at least the end of May and they haven't seen their friends in 6 weeks. They are just toddlers and so don't understand what is going on, and Zoom sessions with their classmates are studies in how to fail at holding a kid's attention.

The biggest change for us has been at weekends. We had a nice routine going prior to the outbreak. Saturday morning to the store for the weekly shop followed by a trip to one of our favourite beer places for lunch and beer, often Beer Run or South Street Brewery, but with a rag tag collection of other places worth going to. Mrs V and I are not fans of "scenes" so we like to get done and back to our Piedmont fastness before the masses descend. All that is gone now, and I am longing for the day when I have my first pint of South Street's My Personal Helles.

As my good friend Eric once said, I am much more of a pub fan than a craft beer fanatic. I love going to the pub. There are genuinely few things I would rather do with myself than pull up a seat at a bar, get a pint, and just while away some time with a book, or people watching. I am very much an introvert and the pub is a place where I can shut the world out of my head while not becoming a total recluse. All that is gone now as well.

At the beginning of the lockdown, when all this was very new, I was drinking a six pack of something almost every night. Given that most of the beers I enjoy are lagers of varying styles in the 4.5% to 5.5% ABV bracket, a six pack a night didn't feel all that drastic. The lagers of Von Trapp Brewing have been my staple go to beer for the duration of our isolation, mainly because our local breweries that are still operating are not known for the beers I enjoy drinking, and I am not at the point of wanting to load up on local IPA just to get my beery fix.

After a week or so I decided that I should raid my cellar a bit, thinking that the beers I had stashed away "for a special occasion" might never get drunk. It was a nervous time for me as I am asthmatic, as is the eldest of my twins, and it is still fresh in my memory having a child in the intensive care unit. Being locked in when you have 1.75 acres is no doubt much easier than being locked in to some of my friend's flats back in Europe, but still there was the nagging doubts in my mind about the business trip to Texas I had just returned from. So I raided the cellar for the big ones, barleywine, old ale, imperial stout, the kind of stuff you rarely see mentioned on Fuggled.

Now it is almost as though the lockdown is normal life. I still work from home, I just have odd hours, and as things have settled into routine I have found myself going back to my more normal drinking pattern of weekends only. This is really only possible because Beer Run continues to operate on a curbside pick up only basis, and thus every Friday has become "take out" day in the VelkyAl household. It is the day we jump in the car, go and pick up food from a restaurant, and get the beer for the weekend. More than ever right now I am glad they carry Von Trapp's superb lagers. Their Pilsner, Helles, Vienna, and Dunkel are staples, and in their K?lsch they have a beer that Mrs V really loved, hopefully it will be back in stock soon.

There have been a couple of welcome additions to my drinking world that perhaps I would previously have skipped on by, Bitburger's superb collaboration with Sierra Nevada being one of them, as well as Ommegang's new Idyll Days Pilsner, a Belgian style pale lager that is absolutely lovely. It being Friday we have placed our orders and in a few hours will go pick up the goodies for the weekend, including a new Czech style lager lager to try out from a Virginian brewery...

It all sounds so humdrum and banal, quite possibly because it is in so many ways. There are times when I joke with my wife that growing up on a small island in the Outer Hebrides was perfect preparation for this, especially given my loner tendencies. Still, life goes on, and beer is there, and for both of those right now I am grateful.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Raiding The Cellar: 2016 Fullers Vintage

I have a maroon elephant in my beer cellar, almost a decade's worth of Fuller's Vintage Ale spanning the years 2008 to 2016. For some reason I haven't been able to find anything post 2016 to fill out the collection, but there we go. In looking for something to dip into last week, I thought it would be interesting to try one of the youngest of the collection, so I pulled a bottle of 2016...

I always enjoy reading the blurb on the back of the box when I dip into the Vintage stash, and apparently this version was brewed with Nelson Sauvin hops. Now, I have a confession to make, it has been a very long time since I knowingly had a beer with Nelson Sauvin in it, the previous one being New Belgian's Shift Pale Lager back in 2012, and I haven't used it in my own homebrew.

With the bottle having spent the requisite hour or so in the fridge to bring it down in temperature a wee bit, my cellar is pretty settled at around 60oF, which while not perfect doesn't seem to negatively affect the beers, but I like to drink my British ales at about 50oF, I poured into my current favourite glass from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in North Carolina, they call it a Franconia.


What a simply beautiful beer it is, crystal clear, rich copper, light red at the edges, all topped off with a firm quarter inch of ivory foam. Minor ranty detour, but I am sure I am not alone in thinking that all these soupy things that are all the rage these days are just plain ugly. Sorry, ok not really, but if I wanted an alcoholic beverage that looked like fruit juice with whipped cream on top, I'd buy a bottle of orange juice, tip the requisite vodka in and make free with the aerosol "cream". Give me a clear beer any day of the week, rant over.

As I say, it had been a long time since my previous daliance with Nelson Sauvin hopped beer, so I really didn't have much of a frame of reference for what I was sticking my nose into. What an incredibly floral hop this one is, and at the same time rather herbal, it actually put me in mind of lavender. Being a good, solid British strong ale, there was plenty of biscuity, digestives not savory scones, and toffee like caramel notes. I was looking forward to this one.


Now, I don't know whether to put this down to subliminal marketing stuff, but there is a very noticeable white wine character to this beer. Not being one to trust my general lack of interest in the boozy grape juice world, I asked Mrs V and try it and let me know what she thought, without telling her the hops involved. Sure enough she said it tasted somewhat like the Sauvignan Blancs that she is a fan of, replete with the slight mustiness that seem sto be par for the course with such wines. In amongst the mix was the classic Fullers flavour, which always puts me in mind of marmelade, and which I really like. Sure, there are some for whom "the Fuller's flavour" is something they don't care for but I am a fan. I also, and again this may be entirely sub-conscious, thought the beer tasted rather like a Werther's Original, likewise a good thing.

What a cracking, cracking beer this is, and perhaps I caught it in a good moment, but I look forward to trying the other 2016 vintages I have floating around in the cellar, as well as doing some brewing with Nelson Sauvin, most likely in my best bitter recipe to begin with, though I can imagine it working rather well in my lime witbier too.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Changing the Conversation - Parents in Pubs

According to some folks I had a misspent childhood.

There are many Sunday afternoons in memory where my little brother and I were at the Sergeants' Mess bar with my mum, dad, and assorted other military families. We would be given a stack of 10p pieces, the old big ones that often had a two shilling coin mixed in, and summarily told to fuck off and play pool while the adults sat around drinking. If the noise of a group of kids got too loud, within moments there would be one of the collected kids' parents, invariably actually one of the dads, on their way to tell us to pipe down.

My dad had an equally misspent childhood in London, and often regales anyone that is listening with stories of being sat outside the pub, given a glass of orange juice and an arrowroot biscuit to keep him company.

My twin sons are continuing that tradition, we first took them to the pub when they were 10 days old, they slept the entire time. Now they are toddlers they are learning to sit at a table, drink their milk or water (juice and soda for kids can fuck off in our world), and colour in their books. Growing up around alcohol and the people drinking it is just plain normal.

When I was back in central Europe in October, basically every pub I went to had families sitting at tables together, parents with half litres in hand, and kids engaged as part of the group and the occasion, and more than once given a sneaky sup of booze. Growing up around alcohol and the people drinking it is just plain normal.

As a result of the recent article in Pellicle on the theme of kids in pubs, these thoughts and memories came flooding back. The article is well worth the read, though in my opinion it is really more about women in pubs than children as no-one seems to be addressing the idea that fathers take their kids to the boozer with them. Likewise I am not going touch that aspect here, mainly because as a father to toddlers I know from experience that even taking them to the park by myself can be a challenge. The boys will have to wait a couple more years before the three of us head to the pub sans Mrs V.

Several of the commentaries I have read as a result of the original article take the approach that kids in pubs are a "bad thing" and that the norm for "family-friendly pubs" is basically Lord of the Flies. From a purely anecdotal level, as that is the only level possible in a beer blog unless I plan to document pub life with pictures, dates, and times (I have no such ambition, or the time to do so), is that the vast majority of kids in pubs are supervised and reasonably well behaved. Of course, if your expectation of kids is that they should be seen and not heard then you are ripe for disappointment, and frankly that is your own problem.

What I did decide to do though was to take a look at the history of children and the pub, and one of the first things to pop up was this cartoon.


As you can see, the picture purports to show the scene at a London pub at 9 PM, and right there front and centre are children. To the left I see a toddler and probably an older sibling, getting a jug of ale, the toddler may be about to have a meltdown and is being taken away. To the right a mother, I assume, is holding the hand of another toddler. Stood at the bar is at least one woman holding a baby. The picture was first published in The Evening Chronicle in 1858.

Kids in pubs is not some kind of new alternative lifestyle being pushed by the politically correct hordes intent on destroying western civilisation as we know it. For as long as pubs have been regarded as community assets the community has taken its kids to the pub with them. Growing up around alcohol and the people drinking it is just plain normal. A little further evidence for this is the poll I decided to run on Twitter:

From more than 300 responses to the poll, 58% of respondents' parents took them to the pub as children. What then is going on?

The problem here, in my unhumble opinion, is that we are focusing far too narrowly on children in pubs. Kids that misbehave in pubs are in all likelihood the kind of children who misbehave in other public spaces such as on the high street and in the shops. In reality the issue here is one of parenting, of which the child's behaviour in public is a symptom not the disease itself. Parents that take their kids to a public space and then let them run wild to the detriment of others using the space are the problem.

What then, to paraphrase Lenin, is to be done? The knee jerk reaction is to ban children from all pubs and create a generation that have no idea how to behave in the pub, have no positive impressions of life around alcohol, and are thus more likely to view booze and boozing as illicit and ripe for misuse. Not being a fan of bans in general, even ones, like the smoking ban, that don't impact me personally, landlords should have the freedom to set the rules for behaviour in their own pub, whether that is no kids after a certain time of day, making plain that families breaching said rules will be asked to leave the premises, or having a separate "quiet lounge" so that those who just want a pint can enjoy the space without being triggered by the presence of small humans.

Such is the nature of our society, seemingly on both sides of the Pond, that no one solution will make everyone happy. Some will cry out "why should I go to a different part of the pub?" if the landlord creates a quiet lounge, others will go running to the local tabloid with stories of the mean landlord kicking them out because their kids are high on sugar and the sheer bliss of being ignored by parents. Of course there is the old refrain from pre-smoking ban days that if you don't like smoky pubs just don't go, the same could be argued for pubs with kids in them, if you don't like it, go some place else.

Kids will always be in pubs, it's just part and parcel of being a community, but they also need to be given the tools and space to learn how to behave when they are there, and that is the responsibility of the parents. It is on the parents to make sure their children are behaving in a manner that respects the public nature of the space they are in. So let's stop raising the straw man of children in pubs and focus on the core issue, parents control your children.

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.

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Perfect Partner

For the best part of a decade my Black Friday tradition of walking 7 miles to the Columbia Flying Saucer and spending the afternoon on the bevvy has been something I looked forward to immensely. This year though Mrs V and I decided to leave the twins in the care of her parents and sister overnight and head down to Charleston for a night out. It was the first night in just over 2 years that both of us slept away from the kids.

The highlight of the trip was having dinner reservations at a restaurant called The Grocery. When I was in the city last year for a conference, I went there twice as a result of my bosses making arrangements without consulting each other, though given the wonderful food, especially the bone marrow br?lée, I really wasn't complaining.

Rather than having the standard 3 course meal of starter, main, and dessert, we picked and chose from various dishes, and ended up sharing between us, among other dishes:
  • bone marrow br?lée
  • roasted autumn roots
  • South Carolina Yellowfin tuna crudo
  • churros with salted caramel, chili chocolate, and creme anglaise sauces
Every dish was an absolute delight, especially the tuna crudo and bone marrow br?lée, rounding out the meal with the churros and a nice glass of calvados was just the icing on the cake. What though has this to do with beer, after all Fuggled is a blog about beer. Fear not dear reader, I haven't become a wine drinker, and my meal at The Grocery was certainly accompanied by beer, to be precise.

Paycheck is, having actually only just now checked the Fullsteam website for details, an American style pilsner, made with, horror of horrors, flaked corn as well as 2-row malt. Side question, why is it ok for craft brewers to use "cheap adjuncts" like corn in their beer but not the likes of Miller and Coors, in whatever configuration they are this week?

Anyway, the beer, it was just what I wanted to drink, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Knowing that it uses corn will in no way affect the fact that I will drink it again in the future, in fact I'll probably hunt it out. It's a good beer, end of story.

The corn discovery though makes no difference to the thoughts behind this post. Driving home to Virginia yesterday I said to Mrs V that my experience of drinking Paycheck with all these fantastic dishes on Friday made me think that celebrity chefs who own that they drink American style pale lagers rather than whatever is this week's rage in the tasting rooms of the US might actually be on to something.

Dinner at a place like The Grocery is always going to be primarily about the food, as it should be, and so I want the beer to take a back seat, but still be an enjoyable experience in its own right. Enter pilsner, German, Bohemian, or American. Give me a glass of well brewed pale lager, reasonably well hopped, showcasing the clean snap of a good lager fermentation, and you have a beer that complements almost any food you have it with.

I am fairly sure that had the pilsner in question been Rothaus or Albrecht 10° the overall experience would have been similar, great food, supported by good beer, in supreme company, making for a wonderful night out with the inestimable Mrs V.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Och Ayinger

One of my pet annoyances is lager being displayed in the store, whether supermarket or independent bottle shop, on a shelf at room temperature. More so at the independent bottle shop than the supermarket admittedly as supermarkets rarely prattle on about being "passionate about craft beer", but that's a rant for a different post.

That pet annoyance was one of the reasons I hadn't drunk anything from the Privatbrauerei Ayinger until this year when I took a punt on their Oktoberfest-M?rzen for my massive Oktoberfest taste off earlier this year, I had never seen them in a fridge. Said beer was still not in a fridge, but I figured it was a seasonal beer and thus more likely to still be in a decentish condition.


It was so different from the other Oktoberfest branded beers I had in September and October, richer, more characterful, and with so many more nuances that it ran Sierra Nevada's collaboration with Bitburger close in terms of volume consumed. I knew I needed to try more, and so I did...


The only other Ayinger beers at our local Wegmans are the Jahrhundertbier, a malty pale lager that was first brewed to mark the brewery's 100th anniversary, obviously, and the Br?uWeisse, a classic hefeweizen. As ever I wasn't bothering unduly with notes, I have found that they add little to my enjoyment or otherwise of a beer and so I have largely given that Sisyphean exercise up. Both are lovely beers, though as I noted in my post about Munich Airport, I rarely drink weizen, so the Br?uWeisse has not made an appearance in the fridge since I tried it, the Jahrhundertbier though is another story. Most Saturday evenings in the last month or so have seen a half litre bottle poured into one of my German style glasses (more beer should be in half litre bottles in my world) and indulged in.

Kind of on a whim one Friday afternoon I wandered into Beer Run's back room where they keep the European beers, and behold there were more Ayingers to try, happy days...


First a minor gripe, pilsner in 33cl bottles? That's just taking the piss. Bloody nice beer though, but you knew I'd say that right? Of course you did, you know I love pilsner in both its German and Bohemian styles. Seriously though, this gives Rothaus a run for its money in my opinion, especially given the delightful floral aroma and flavour, like drinking a summer Alpine meadow.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I don't think I have enjoyed a dunkel in the last few years anywhere as much as I did the Altbairisch Dunkel, lovely smooth drop, with traces of dark roast coffee and just enough hop bite to balance it out. Apparently Michael Jackson, no not the singer you plum, was a fan, yeah he was right. Again, it has become a regular in the fridge.

Looking at the bottles of Urweisse in Beer Run I wondered to myself why they would have more than one hefeweizen, yeah I did a poor job of reading the label. Richly amber rather than pale, but with all the spiced bananas you kind of expect, but with more of a malt richness than a regular hefeweizen, this was almost nutty and toothsome. I like, but you know that weizen thing I mentioned earlier, yeah it still applies here, maybe if I saw it on tap I'd have a rethink, but until then...

I don't have a picture, but on the strength of the outstanding quality of the Ayinger beers I had tried, I got myself a four pack of Celebrator, their doppelbock. Doppelbock is not something I drink very often, though I do have a soft spot for Trader Joe's Winter Lager. Goodness me what a divine beer Celebrator is! Later this year I am going to buy as many doppelbocks as I can find in my usual beery haunts and do another comparative tasting, it inspired me that much. The night after I polished of a couple of bottles the temperature hit -8°C (that's teens in °F), there was a hard frost, and it felt like winter was well on its way, a happy thought.

So yes, I am fan of Ayinger now, actually going through something of a kick as I cling tenaciously to my time in central Europe...

Friday, November 8, 2019

Bamberg - Spezial, Swaying, and Stumbling

When I learnt that I was going to central Europe for a couple of conferences with a weekend between them, I knew I wanted to take the opportunity to visit somewhere new.

One of my great regrets from my decade in Prague was that I had never taken advantage of its proximity to Germany to take weekends drinking legendary beer. When there is so much great beer at home why bother?

My options were legion. I could go to Zoigl country, Munich, Regensburg, or Berlin and get my fill of great beer. Then there was Bamberg...

I well remember my first ever beer from Bamberg, and by extension my first ever rauchbier. It was the m?rzen from Schlenkerla. On one of my many forays into Pivovarsky klub, then barman Ambroz told me that they had purloined 50 bottles of smoke beer from Germany, suitably intrigued I had one, and then another, and another. Of the 50 bottles it is entirely possible that my friends and I demolished about 40 of them, it became something of a go to beer for the few weeks it was available. Thus my love affair with rauchbier was born. And so with 24 hours to spare between leaving Prague and needing to be in Hannover, I went to Bamberg.

I say I had 24 hours to spare, in reality after travelling to Bamberg via Nuremburg I actually had only about 18, and given my train to Hannover was leaving at 11am the next morning, I really only had 6 or so for drinking. 6 hours in a city with probably more renowned breweries than any other in Germany? This time the decision was go broad and shallow or go narrow and deep? I went for the latter option and picked the two breweries I wanted to visit more than any of the others, Schlenkerla, naturally, and Brauerei Spezial, mainly at the recommendation of Evan.

First though I took a wander around the centre of the city, discovered that Hegel had lived for a year in Bamberg, and it was on these wanders that I noticed brass plaques embedded in the pavements. Finding Schlenkerla was pretty easy, yay Google Maps, and there were crowds of folks outside downing their beers. Now, this may come as something of a surprise, but I am a raging introvert, and painfully shy, particularly when it comes to going into pubs, cafes, and restaurants that I have never been into before and I am by myself. I walked past the front door two or three times before actually entering the building. Thankfully there was an empty table in the Dominikerklause and so I parked my self conscious arse down and revelled in the vaulted ceiling of this most beautiful of rooms dedicated to beer drinking.

A menu came and I soon realised that while my reading comprehension of German is still pretty good, my listening and speaking skills have gone somewhat awry, but stammer on I did - pet hate is people that assume everyone speaks English and doesn't at least even try the basics of "ein m?rzen bitte", at this point I was actively worrying about what I would have for dinner. Anyway, the m?rzen.


Now, I drink this beer in bottles regularly, as in at least a couple of litres a month regularly, but on tap at the brewery it shattered my every preconception of rauchbier. The only way I can think to describe it is fuller, deeper, rounder, perhaps there is less carbonation, less prickliness to highlight the smoke? Whatever was going on, that first half litre of Schlenkerla m?rzen in the brewery itself was almost a religious experience, communion with a beech smoked, dark, divine, and it wasn't cold, being just slightly cooler than a well kept real ale in the UK. It was over far too quickly, thankfully being in the brewery itself, I had another, though I drank the second somewhat more circumspectly, savouring the nuances and interplay of the malt and hops, yes there were actually hop things happening that were noticeable, but guess what, no notes.


Also on tap that day was the Ur-bock, only available on draft in autumn, and absolutely necessary drinking. Everything I just said about the m?rzen applies here as well. I drink Ur-bock pretty often, though not as often as the m?rzen, but on tap it was a much fuller experience. At only €3.50ish a half litre I could have happily sat here all afternoon and evening getting merrily preserved by the smoke to then crawl back to my hotel, but Evan's praise of Spezial Brauerei had been effusive, so I took myself off for another decent length, head clearing, walk.

As I walked I came back to the main street leading to and from the railway station. This time there were riot police walking down the street, and again I spied the brass plaques, but it was the police that had my attention. A protest was in full swing, the local Kurdish community was out in force protesting the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. I stood and watched the procession wend its way to the river and looked down at my feet, I was almost right on top of a clutch of brass plaques, so I took a moment to read, and then photographed them.


They were Stolpersteine, "stumbling blocks", memorials to victims of the Holocaust, placed, as I would later learn, at the last known willing address of the people they memorialise. In this case the memorial was to the Walter family, who were deported the nearly 1600 miles to Riga in Latvia, to be murdered for the crime of not being Aryan. Having never heard of the Stolpersteine project before, I was taken aback by the stark, even callous, beauty of these memorials. If I'd have had a stone handy I would have laid it on the Stolpersteine as my own personal mitzvah to victims of fascism. Never again, for in forgetting we deny.

Sobered, emotionally if not necessarily physically, I wandered with my thoughts to the Brauerei Spezial, again taking a few reccies of the space before walking in, found myself a seat at an empty table, in the corner of a side room, and made myself comfortable. On my stroll I had identified the place I would be going to have my dinner, but there was beer to drink first, and first up was their ungespundetes lager as recommended by Evan. Ungespundetes is basically an unfiltered beer that is served from a wooden barrel by gravity, sound a lot like some kinds of real ale really.


One thing that I had definitely not been expecting in Bamberg was for Schlenkerla to be usurped as my preferred Bamberg brewery, but here I was revelling in the ungespendetes lager and feeling distinctly conflicted about my loyalties. So I ordered the regular lagerbier.


Yeah done deal, I was very much in the Spezial camp my the end of my first half litre of this sublime beer, and still not taking notes, but every mouthful was relished, especially as the clean lager bite that I love so much was in full attendance. At this point I was wondering if I could persuade Mrs V that we needed to move to Germany and make Spezial our new local. Following the lagerbier with their m?rzen I thought I was about to break into song at the glories of the beer I was drinking, thank goodness for my innate British reserve that had me merely smiling broadly in my corner, as I engaged in a little people watching to pass the time.


The couple in that picture below sat for about an hour, hardly speaking yet perfectly content in each other's company, a state where noise would ruin the perfection. I hope one day to sit like this with Mrs V in whenever our local pub at the time is, happy in the security of being with my best friend, confidant, and completer of my world.


I had another morning train, and so again I didn't want to get myself blootered on superb beer. I paid my bill, and allowed my legs to carry me to a snackbar where the promise of a doppel currywurst awaited, just what the doctor ordered.


I loved my time in Bamberg and hope one day to go back with Mrs V and the boys to enjoy more of the many delights the city has to offer.

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

I have to admit that there really are not that many things that I miss as a result of this pandemic. I am sure that comes as something of a ...

男女真人后进式猛烈动态图_男人让女人爽的免费视频_男人脱女人衣服吃奶视频