Showing posts with label williams brothers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label williams brothers. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tradition Ale

There are some things that I assume lovers of beer are aware of. I assume that people know that pilsner is more than shorthand for pale lager, whether figuratively or literally, for example. I would love to be able to assume that people know that the word 'ale' does not mean 'top-fermented beer', or at least, that it didn't many moons ago.

If you are, like me, an avid reader of Martyn Cornell's wonderful blog, Zythophile, you will know that that the word , as opposed to that foreign 'beer' muck that had hops in it. Eventually hops made their way into every form of malt liquor that warmed the cockles of the native English speaker, but only to the degree that ale was less hopped than beer.

Recently, as I pottered around a local bottle shop, I decided to get myself some ales that are light on the hops, but heavy on other bittering agents. Thus is was that I ended up with bottles of Williams Bros Grozet, Fraoch, Alba, and Kelpie in my fridge, and last night I polished them off.

First up of the four ales was Grozet, brewed with probably my favourite fruit, gooseberries. As you can see from the picture, the glass is a hand blown affair that I bought in Williamsburg a few years ago, pours a pale yellow though you can't see the firm white head. In terms of aroma, we're talking a light breadiness, some honeyed notes and a noticeable fruitiness which reminds me of gooseberry fool. The aromas blend on into the taste side of things as well. While the ale does have hops in it, there are really not that noticeable, but the bogmyrtle helps to balance the sweetness of the malt, making it a nice, easy drinking brew.

Fraoch heather ale is legendary, and was one of the first non-macro ales to cross my lips. I remember it well, I was home in Uist after my first year in Prague and after a year of drinking Czech lager for come reason Caffreys didn't do it for me anymore. Fraoch pours a slightly hazy dark straw, topped with a fluffy white head that sits and sits. Aroma wise we're talking a hefty earthy, floral smell, backed up with a sweetness which reminds me of my mother's tablet. In tasting,  we're back on familiar malty ground, think a fresh scone from the over, smeared with honey and you're somewhere close, but then with a long, dry, crisp finish. Did I mention yet that this is one of my favourite beers?

According to the label, Alba is an ale brewed with pine and spruce, based on a recipe that was popular in the Highlands until the 19th century. I was expecting a very different beer to the one was poured a beautiful light copper, capped with a nice ivory head. For some reason, I expected the aroma to remind me of an American style IPA, redolent with the pine resin that goes hand in hand with grapefruit. What I got though was more of a Seville orange marmelade with just a touch of pine in the background. Tastewise the dominant flavour was one of chewy toffee and just enough bitterness to balance the malt and avoid it being cloying. Definitely the kind of beer to sit next to the fire with in the depths of winter.

There is a beach on my home island of Benbecula known as 'Stinky Bay' for the piles of rotting seaweed strewn across the bay. My dad is an avid gardener, and in continuing an old Highland tradition, would dump seaweed on his vegetable beds to add nutrients and make the thin soil fertile. Using seaweed as fertilizer would have given the ales of coastal Scotland a distinct brininess, which is really difficult to explain as anything other than the taste of sea air. Marry that aroma and flavour with the sweet, almost smokiness, of chocolate malt and you have a complex brew that would pair wonderfully with a rain driven winter's day, next to the fire, and with a side of Lagavulin...I can see Kelpie becoming a regular in the cellar this winter.

Sometimes it seems as though the beer world these days is obsessed with more, and the latest, hops, Just now and again though it is nice to take a step back in time and enjoy something a little more traditionale.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale

It's that time of year...piles of food, booze and pressies all wait their turn for opening, the Doctor Who Christmas Special on the tele, accompanied by a large slab of Stilton and a bottle of port...and yes it's time for the annual Fuggled Review of the Year. As in years past I will choose my favourite pale, amber and dark beer of the year, from a list of the best beer I have drunk this year from Virginia, the rest of the US and the rest of the World. I will as ever also hail the blog I consider to have been the most interesting this year, and in adding a 'p' to review I will take a quick look forward to 2013.

Let's start then with the Fuggled Pale Beers of 2012:
  • Virginia - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest of US - Highland Brewing St Terese's Pale Ale
  • Rest of World - Williams Brothers Scottish Session Ale

Port City is one of my favourite breweries in Virginia all round, especially their porter, but when I saw they had bought out a pilsner as a seasonal brew my interest was piqued. I love pilsner, it is probably my favourite style of beer (competing regularly with stout for that accolade) and so a brewer that makes a good pilsner is a brewer I like. Downright Pilsner has everything going for it, 43 IBUs of pure Saaz goodness, 100% pilsner malt, unfiltered and simply gorgeous. The first 6 pack I bought went in an evening (is it just me or does '6 pack' sound more impressive that the reality of 3 and bit half litres?). When Mrs V and I had our Czech-Slovak party, it went down a storm. Hopefully this will see the light of day again next summer, and with advance warning I will be buying plenty this time round.

This may be something of a surprise for those that follow Fuggled regularly and/or have the dubious pleasure of going to the pub with me. You see, I am known to grumble about the amount of pale ale taking up taps at the bars I drink in, so for my favourite pale beer from the rest of the US to be a straight up Pale Ale might shock. St Terese's Pale Ale from Highland Brewing was originally picked up whilst in South Carolina, I had never noticed it before and curiosity got the better of me. It was a revelation, not some insane hop bomb but a nicely drinkable pale ale that refreshed and kept me interested to come back for more, which I did several times. Strangely I have yet to see St Terese's in Virginia, so when Mrs V's uncle and partner came up from North Carolina earlier this month, I made sure to stock up...

Another beer that I picked up on the strength of having enjoyed a brewer's other wares, in this case being a fan of Fraoch and William's Brothers 80/-. There really is no better way to sum up this beer than how I described it when I wrote about a Wiliams Brothers jag I was on earlier this year:

if I hadn't read the label I would have thought is was a lager, pale golden topped off with a firm white head. The nose has lots of spice, earth, hay and a touch of grain in the background. The taste is a riot of malty complexity with a very firm hop bite and lots of fruity flavours, the finish is clean, crisp and distinctly lageresque. Suffice to say I loved this beer straight off the bat, and was back at Wine Warehouse a week later to get more.

From this veritable bevvy of hot blondes, I can choose but one to crown Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year, and it is:
  • Williams Brothers Scottish Session Ale
At 3.9% this pale golden ale is simply irresistible and the more we see of this kind of beer in the world the better.

Picture credits: St Terese's Pale Ale pic taken from the Highland Brewing website, and the Scottish Session Ale pic from

Monday, May 28, 2012

Summer Session

Today is Memorial Day over here, and as well as being a day to remember those that fell in combat, it is also traditionally understood as the beginning of the summer season in the US - and given temperatures in the high 80s this week (low 30s in Celsius), that sounds pretty reasonable to me.

Memorial Day is a public holiday, and so this morning, rather than writing all ready for the office, I am slumming it. Originally I had planned to brew both yesterday and today, but then on a whim I decided to just get it all done in a single day. As a result of which I now have two carboys fermenting away furiously, one with a honey malt and ginger saison and the other with my attempt to clone the magnificent Williams Brothers Scottish Session Ale.

I had to make a last minute change to the Dark Island Blonde as when I went to Fifth Season to get my grains, they didn't have any Bohemian Pilsner malt, so I upped the amount of Golden Promise and Vienna and used the following recipe:
  • 50% Golden Promise
  • 25% Vienna Malt
  • 13% White Wheat Malt
  • 6% Munich Malt
  • 6% Caramel 20
The beer has, according to Hopville's Beer Calculus, 25 IBUs of First Gold, Cascade and Saaz and I am using the dry Windsor yeast strain for fermentation. Having mashed at a slightly higher temperature than normal, I am hoping for a beer with a reasonable amount of body and somewhere in the region of 3.8-4% abv.

Essentially I hope that Dark Island Blonde will be a good beer for sitting on the deck of our new house (once the deal finally goes through and I can stop caring about it all the time), with a bucket full of ice keeping several bottles cold. Never having had a lawn, I have never seen the need for "lawn mower beers", but the 1.6 acres of land that go with the house will no doubt see to that.

I will be doing plenty of brewing in the weeks to come, both for the inevitable house warming party and the forthcoming Dominion Cup homebrew competition, so there should be no shortage of beer for those lazy afternoons on the deck...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

So Stylish

Sure, beer styles aren't perfect, and yes it is true that brewers, whether pro or home, brew beer rather than styles. However, beer styles do serve a purpose as a frame of reference for both drinkers and brewers. If I brew, for example, a 10% pale lager, hopped with Tettnang to 55 IBU and lagered for 60 days, then it is quite clear that it is not a Premium American Lager. The question though that has been bouncing around my head for the last couple of days is "who decides what style of beer a product is?".

It is clear in my mind that the final say should rest with the actual brewers themselves. The one group of people who should resolutely not be allowed anywhere near the decision making process for a new beer is the marketing department. If a brewer, for example, brews a generic pale lager, and the company markets it as a Pilsner, it does nobody any favours, least of all the consumer.

Someone with sufficient knowledge of Pilsner beers, whether German or Czech, will be disappointed drinking a generic pale lager which has been labelled a Pilsner because it doesn't have the requisite hoppiness, body and flavour. If said drinker is also a member of sites such as BeerAdvocate and RateBeer, they will then give their opinions on the beer as a Pilsner and likely how it fails as one and score it accordingly.

Worse yet are reviewers who, through no fault of their own, have never had the inestimable pleasure of travelling to Germany or the Czech Republic to drink the real thing in it's natural environment. Having grown up on beers from green bottles which have been pasteurised and then travelled long distances in less than prime conditions, it is no wonder they come out with some of the drivel you read on the rating sites. It makes me want to scream when I read that an American made Pilsner "has the right amount of skunkiness" for the style, when in Germany and the Czech Republic such a beer would be entirely unacceptable. You only have to drink fresh Pilsner at the source to know that the bottled version is a travesty.

Having said that, if a brewery sticks with the decision to market a generic pale lager as a Pilsner, and the beer is listed as such on the rating sites then the brewery deserves being beaten with the big stick of public opinion. It is a different situation when the beer is clearly labelled as a certain style but listed on the rating sites as something else, take this example for one of my favourite beers:

Why, oh why, is Williams Bros 80/-, known in the US as Heavy, listed as a "bitter"? The commercial description attached to the page claims that the beer is a:

"traditional Scottish ale brewed with an emphasis on the malt characteristics. Lightly hopped, as is true to this style of beer, with fruity malt aromas and a toffeeish mouth feel"

this despite the fact that the site's definition of "bitter" reads:

"gold to copper color, low carbonation and medium to high bitterness. Hop flavor and aroma may be non-existent to mild"

while their definition of a Scottish Ale is:

"generally dark, malty, full-bodied brews"

Whoever listed Williams Bros Heavy as a Bitter is clearly as clueless as people that believe Miller Lite to be a Pilsner.

My problem with all of this is that ultimately two constituencies are affected, the consumer because they are buying into false expectations and the beer itself because when it is mislabelled by either the brewery marketing department or the self appointed arbiters of style it will be panned for not being something it isn't.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Session Beer Day Update

If you read the solitary comment to Wednesday's "Get Your Session On!" post, you will know that here in Charlottesville currently has the following sub 5% abv beers available:
  • Guinness Draught (4.3%)
  • Allagash White Ale (5.0%)
  • Smithwick's Ale (4.5%)
  • Harp Lager (5.0%)
  • Starr Hill Dark Starr Stout (4.2%)
  • Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat (4.2%)
  • Devils' Backbone Vienna Lager (4.9%)
After taking up Scott on his offer to email with suggestions, I am happy to say that McGrady's will have the following beers on tap in time for Session Beer Day next Saturday:
In my continuing efforts to see more Williams Brothers beer from Scotland on the taps of Charlottesville, I mentioned to Scott that they do a couple of session beers, mainly Scottish Session at 3.9% and the Scottish Heavy, known at home as the 80/-, which is 4.2%. Also Joker IPA is a phenomenal beer and at 5% isn't quite a session beer, but is a gorgeous beer that I am happy to drink a few pints of.

Scott also mentioned that session beers will be on special that day and there will be live music from 8 to 11, so get along and get your session on!

Hopefully I'll have an update on Beer Run's Session Beer Day offerings at some point, and if anyone knows any other pubs in Charlottesville or the area doing something special to promote session beer, let me know!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Love the Brethren

As you most likely know, I lived in Prague for ten years before moving over to the States in 2009. During that decade, I made it home to Scotland all of 4 times, the last trip being in 2005. Those were the days of drinking the smoothflow ales I wrote about a few posts ago, although I also managed to develop a taste for Fraoch. I enjoyed it because had the flavours that I liked in an ale coupled with the drinkability of a lager.

Coming closer to the present, I have been on something of a William Bros Brewing jag of late. During my trip to Wine Warehouse, where I picked up the cans for the smoothflow tasting, I also got a couple of bottles of their Heavy and Midnight Sun porter as well as a new beer for me, Scottish Session.

I have long liked the Heavy, which I believe in the UK is known as 80/-, it's deep russet colour and fluffy white head reminding me of drinking with friends on the Byers Road in Glasgow on the way from Birmingham when I was a student. Aromas of toffee, cocoa and a little grassiness with flavours of caramel nicely balanced with a delicate bitterness and only 4.2% abv, making it insanely drinkable. Likewise with the inky blackness of Midnight Sun, a porter brewed with ginger. Lots of roasty aromas and flavours abound, with a spicy zing in the finish. It's fair to say that I had great expectations for the Session.

I was not to be disappointed, and admittedly I was thrilled to see the abv was "only" 3.9%. Thrilled because I actually enjoy drinking beer rather than needing an age to get through a single 12oz bottle of something stronger. The Session, which I think is called "
On Friday I swung by
Beer Run in the hope of getting some altbier to compare my homebrew version with something commercial, but they didn't have any so I picked up some other stuff, including their Joker IPA. My introduction to Joker came when Beer Run had it on cask, and what a delight it was. The bottled version is just as good, packing a hefty hop punch but with a solid malty backbone and a mouthfeel that suggested the silkiness of a touch of oats in the grist, this is just lovely, lovely beer.

I can see this Williams Bros jag carrying on for quite some time to be honest. Packed with flavour and balanced beautifully for drinkability rather than sensory abuse, the guys in Alloa are getting things right and are, in my as ever unhumble opinion, probably brewing the best Scottish beers that are available in the States right now.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Stepping Back

I am fairly certain that were you to scratch the surface of even the most die hard of beer aficionado you will find a person who once upon a time drank stuff that they now deride and rail against. My particular skeleton in the cupboard is that before moving to the Czech Republic I drank the likes of John Smith's Extra Smooth, Tetley's Smoothflow and my favourite, Caffrey's. I loved the adverts, and could often be found propping up the bar of the O'Neill's pub on Broad Street in Birmingham when I was a student.

Having attended to the weekend chores on Saturday, I dragged Mrs V round to Wine Warehouse here in Charlottesville in order to completely ignore all the cases of wine and instead have a gander at the shelves of beer. I like Wine Warehouse's selection of beer, largely because they have decent British stuff, including Fuller's 1845 and a selection of Willams Brothers ales. As I perused the selection a thought occurred, I should try some of my old favourites in cans, and so I picked up these three, erm, delights.

As I said above, Tetley's was a fairly regular tipple in the misguided days of my youth, Old Speckled Hen and Bombardier were likewise something I enjoyed and bought plenty of in Prague when Robertson's would get some in, though I hadn't tried them in cans. Yesterday I set about them.

First up was Tetley's, mainly because at 3.6% it was the lightest of the bunch in terms of alcohol and, as it turned out, pretty much everything else. Any aroma that was there was basically that of a digestive biscuit dunked in week old black tea, and the flavours were a touch of toffee sweetness, a dab of crisp hop bite and sod all else. My overwhelming reaction was one of "I used to drink this?" confusion and disappointment, though only a little, in keeping with the beer. Four mouthfuls and it was gone, mind you it looked pretty in the glass, clear amber and a classic nitro can creamy white head.

I love the story of Old Speckled Hen, named for a rusty old MG in the brewery courtyard, and for a while in Prague it was a special treat, go to ale. In the can though it is another nitro abomination (sorry I really have issues with nitro, both for cans and draught, and it pains me to see "craft" brewers that make great stouts wandering down the nitro path to flavourless crap), so it poured a rich dark copper with that iconic shaving foam head. You know, I think they might actually have put hops in this beer, classic British spicy earthy ones at that. Big dollops of caramel and toast were the main features in the tasting department, and it was actually not that bad. Still, the bottles I remember were better, could that be a sign of entering one's dotage, thinking beers used to better in the old days?

Bombardier was the only non-nitro beer, as you can see from the huge voluminous head in the picture, which was topping off a nice red ale. Other than the looks though, Bombardier was just plain dull, kind of a souped up version of the Tetley's but without the nitro and a touch more malt. In my experience though the more loud and obnoxious the advert the worse the product, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised then given the puerile cack of their latest Rik Mayall adverts?

So, yes Old Speckled Hen was the best of a decidedly mediocre bunch. Thankfully I also had in the fridge a few bottles of Williams Brothers beers, including one I had not tried before, the 3.9% Scottish Session - a magnificent delight of a beer, packed with bite, flavour and all round drinking happiness which reminded me again that the truly great brewers are those that don't have to hide behind insane volumes of alcohol, hops, random flavourings and gimmicks.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Brewer of the Week

This week's Brewer of the Week brews one of my favourite tipples whenever I head home to Scotland, the magnificent Fraoch.

Name: Scott Williams
Brewery: Williams Bros Brewing Co.

How did you get into brewing as a career?

Homebrew. I have a homebrew shop in Glasgow which I took over from my dad via my brother years ago. I work in the shop one day a week and chat to brewers – sharing ideas and talking about malt n hops etc.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

To love beer. To be open to variety and seemingly opposing styles.

Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full scale production?

Yes. Loads.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Yes – but truth be told mainly I brew at work.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

Ask me which of my children I love most why don't you.

If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?

Didn't. But would like to brew in Japan.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

See #5.

How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?

I feel very strongly that using authentic ingredients is important – i.e. using heather picked in Scotland and in the right way – picking pine and spruce at the right time etc. However. I brew a lager using a single stage mash and lager yeast (ferments at 8 degrees), Saaz hops blended with bobek and Amarillo – Belgian lager malt and then lager the beer for 90 days. So using the word "lager" is correct and unusual, however non-traditional in that the ingredients are a blend of influences.

If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?

Lets say 'Little Creatures' – sounds like a fantastic place to hang out and watch the Ocean after I have been kicked out of the brewhouse for interfering.

Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?

For the sake of my family I would have to say Carlsberg – nothing to do with the beer but could do with the distribution (and dosh). Just think how many fantastic microbrewies/brewpubs I could build with those resources.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Lads Among Heather

I seem to be an eternal expat. I haven't lived in the country I call home in any meaningful sense since 1995 (sure 3 years of that time was living in Birmingham in England, but it counts in my mind). Part of the expat experience is that occassional hankering for something from home, whether that takes the form of haggis on Burns Night, a nice single malt scotch, preferably Talisker, or one the beers that you always held a soft spot for; being the stout drinker I am, I still miss Gillespies. One of the beers I like to drink when these almost melancholic moods hits me is Fraoch, a beer I tried and loved long before I knew anything of beer beyond the megaswill.

Thankfully I have found a supplier of Fraoch, and the other beers that the Williams Brothers make in Alloa, although I still need to find somewhere to get my hands on one of the anniversary bottles - whisky aged Fraoch sounds like a dream to me! So I was really pleased to see that the recent International Beer Challenge awarded the WIlliams Brothers a slew of medals, and in order to mark the occassion I though what between song from the Corries to post here on a Friday than The Lads Among Heather?!

Enjoy the song, and have a good weekend people.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...