Showing posts with label williamsburg alewerks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label williamsburg alewerks. Show all posts

Friday, March 20, 2020

Raiding the Cellar: Grand Illumination

It has been 11 years now since Mrs V and I moved to the US, and in almost all that time I have had a bottle of Williamsburg Alewerks, as was, Grand Illumination American Style Barleywine in the cellar. Brewed in 2009, Geoff and the guys at Alewerks only made the same number of bottles, mine was number 1836.


This particular bottle has been almost a perennial amongst the bottles I would put in the fridge at the beginning of each Thanksgiving, and returned to the cellar each Epiphany. But today it is just another empty in the recycling bin, because a couple of nights ago it was my choice when raiding the cellar.


Not sure the picture really does it justice but the shade of ruby red in the glass was actually not quite what I was expecting, I thought it would be in the same dark vein as the Irish Walker. That little cap of off-white to ivory foam was pretty consistent as I drank the beer.


In terms of aroma, this was anything but one dimensional. There was plenty of unsweetened cocoa, as well as toffee, bread, and some dried fruit, more in the raisin realm than prune. Also floating around was a nice spicy thing that made me think of nutmeg, and it went nicely with the soft dulce de leche notes I was picking up.


Ok, enough of the smells, on to the tastes, and whoa booze is right there from the get go, like a rum soaked cake, full of rum soaked fruit. The alcohol really dominated the beer, though it wasn't harsh and didn't burn, it was just so noticeable. The body was thinner than the Irish Walker had been, more medium than full, and perhaps that contributed to the boozy character. In the finish there was a lingering citric hop bite that I imagine comes from the American hops that were used.

All in all a most acceptable 11 year old drop of barleywine, a style I don't actually have that many of, most of my cellar beers are old ales, imperial stouts, and the occasional Orval, no doubt there will be some of those in future posts.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Old Friends: Alewerks Tavern Brown Ale

The brown ale kick shows no sign of abating, at least not in the immediate future, especially given my next homebrew project is to make another batch of my own nut brown ale.

What seems like an interminably long time ago these days, Mrs V and I went for a weekend to Williamsburg in 2010 to mark our 5th anniversary of meeting in a boozer in Prague. Williamsburg was the colonial capital of Virginia, home of the College of William & Mary, (yes, the Glorious Revolution William and Mary), and all round delightful little place to visit for history nerds like myself. We also took some time to head out to an industrial estate and try the beers from Williamsburg Alewerks, these days simply known as Alewerks Brewing Company.


Alewerks' beer regularly shows up in my annual Top 10 Virginia Beers lists, and their Weekend Lager is something that I am always happy to see on tap in the Charlottesville area, and even happier when the first glass is placed in front of me. My first Alewerks crush though was their Tavern Brown Ale, a beer I first had in August 2010 in a pub near Starr Hill Brewing, where I worked in the tasting room at the time, and it was a revelation. At the time I described it as:
wonderfully smooth and tasty, a great beer for sitting on the balcony in the autumn chill and just watching the sun go down over the turning leaves.
Once again the leaves are turning, and while I didn't sit on the deck, I did sit looking out over the deck to the woods at the back of my property, past the garden where the chickens are making a wonderful stab at eating the weeds and clearing out the raised beds.


Anyway, on to the beer itself, which was a couple of bottles stashed at 54°F for a few days. Poured into my Timothy Taylor pint pot, perhaps my current favourite glass. The beer was a deep garnet, with flashes of dark copper around the edges, the small, tan head dissipated rather quickly, and I have to admit that at one point I didn't think I was going to have much foam in the glass at all. The aroma department was dominated by tangy sourdough bread, unsweetened cocoa, and hazelnuts, there were some traces of toffee and caramel, but not much going on hop wise. The bready, nutella theme carried on when drinking the liquid itself, with some added caramelised oranges and spicy hop bite that reminded me of cinnamon chucked into the mix for good measure.

I thoroughly enjoyed Tavern Brown Ale again, and I think pouring it at 54°F as opposed to the usual chill of a beer straight from the fridge accentuated the complexity, making it a more pleasurable drinking experience. The word that kept running through my head as I drained my pint was that this was a "satisfying" beer, complex, balanced, and moreish, the kind of beer that you thoroughly enjoy drinking. It may just have made itself a front runner to be the Fuggled Dark Beer of 2018.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2017

This weekend is the 6th annual Virginia Craft Brewers Fest in Charlottesville, actually in the city itself rather than down at Devils Backbone as in previous years. As in each of the previous 6 years of the festival, I spent time earlier this year judging the Virginia Craft Beer Cup, in which a beer that I designed won a silver medal. As usual I won't be attending the festival itself as I will be in western Virginia with Mrs V at a fiddle camp - basically she has music workshops all day and I find a cosy chair, beer, and a book to while away the day.

In years past I have presented a list of the 10 best Virginia beers I have drunk in the past 12 months, and I see no reason to change it this year...
  1. Port City Brewing - Porter (7.2%). I am fairly sure there are regular readers of this blog who will be sending me emails to make sure I am ok because number 1 on my list this year is not a sessionable pale lager. Fear not, I am fine. I was reminded of what a simply magnificent beer Port City's Porter is when I did a comparative porter tasting last December, describing it as 'rich' and 'unctuous'. During the winter and spring it was a regular in my my fridge and given half an hour to get to a decent temperature never failed to impress. If there is a better porter in America right now I would be surprised.
  2. Devils Backbone Brewing - Czech 10 (4.3%). I was desperately trying to avoid recency bias with this choice as the beer was only released last Friday. I failed. The highest praise I can give this beer is that if I were poured a pint of it in a pub in the Czech Republic I would love it, rave about, drag my friends to the pub to drink it. Obscenely easy to drink, packed with the flavours and aromas of Saaz hops, and so well made that had it been allowed in the Czech lager category at the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup this year it would have blown all other competition out of the water. Proof, yet again, that corporate structure has no impact on beer quality.
  3. Alewerks Brewing - Weekend Lager (4.8%). This Munich style helles was a new one for me back in June when I wrote about a slew of this style that I tried (would the plural of 'helles' be 'heli'?). I enjoyed the beer, but there was something odd about the bottle I drank, so when I saw it on tap a few days later I tried again and it was delicious, I may have had several more. A wonderful competition of cracker graininess and lemongrass hops make it something to sit and enjoy on a sunny patio. Marvellous.
  4. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). Probably the single most regular beer I have drunk in the last 12 months, and it hasn't even been on tap at the brewpub for about 4 months (seriously guys, sort it out!). It is a lovely beer, with a superb balance of malt and noble hops, finishing with soft, clean bite that makes the first pint go quickly, and the second, and maybe even a third, fourth, fifth....
  5. Champion Brewing - Shower Beer (4.5%). Yes, yes, yes, another pale lager. It's what I like and it's my list. Another example of a Czech style lager being made in Virginia that would be perfectly welcome back in Bohemia, bursting with the hay and lemon character that I associate with Saaz hops. A great beer for rounding off a day's hiking.
  6. Three Notch'd Brewing - Ghost of the 43rd (5.2%). A fairly common, and frankly welcome sight in the bars of central Virginia. Ghost is one of the nicest American pale ales I have ever had, up there for me with Sierra Nevada's iconic Pale Ale. Loads of hops and enough bitterness to remind you that you are drinking beer (I seriously have issues with beer that has little to no bitterness), Ghost quite often disappears as soon as you see it.
  7. Devils Backbone Brewing - Excel Lager (2.6%). That is not a typo. Earlier this year, Devils Backbone brewed a 7° pale lager that was the equal of many a far stronger pale lager being brewed in this country. Beautifully balanced, not thin in the slightest, and oh so refreshing after a morning climbing to one the highest points in this part of the Blue Ridge. As I said in my post on the beer at the time, this beer showed Jason and so as true masters of the craft of brewing beer.
  8. South Street Brewery - Virginia Lager (5.0%). Despite being a wee bit stronger, South Street's Virginia Lager kind of reminds me of a less bitter Pilsner Urquell, with a similar malt profile and clean hop bite in the finish. While it lacks the additional Saaz characteristics that Pilsner Urquell has, it is a nice pintable beer that in the absence of My Personal Helles has seen me drink plenty in the last couple of months. One of the few South Street beers available bottled, it is always a good option when out and about.
  9. Three Notch'd Brewing - Oats McGoats (5.5%). This winter will be difficult since Three Notch'd have discontinued this wonderful oatmeal stout. Seriously, it is one of the best oatmeal stouts I have ever had, and so while every one and his mate runs around like headless chickens after the latest fruited murky IPA, those of us who like a grown up beer see our favourites cut from under us. Rich chocolate enveloped in a silky smooth body made this a beer that will live long in the memory, and if it should come out as a special something to fill every available growler with.
  10. Devils Backbone Brewing - Schwartzbier (5.1%). Recently rebranded as just plain old 'Black Lager', but forever in my mind 'Schwartzbier', this is a beer that I drink quite a bit of. Wonderfully roasty, yet smooth and clean, Black Lager reminds more than anything of a bottom fermented stout, which is you know anything of my drinking history is probably why I like it so much. I have to admit I don't see the point of the rebrand, but there we go, as long as the beer stays the same I am a happy camper.
I say this every year, but it bears repeating, this is a purely subjective list based exclusively on the beers I have enjoyed most in the last 12 months. I don't have any time for the daft purity dick waving that goes on as to who is 'craft' and who is not, and yes the list is skewed to my local breweries, but that's just the way it is. If you see these beers out in the wild, try them, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Helles Yeah!

I've not been to South Street as much as usual of late, for one very simple reason, they haven't had the magnificent My Personal Helles on tap for a few weeks now. That's not a slight on their other beers, Mitch does a great job with them, it's just that the helles is my go to beer, and when the go to is gone, I get a dose of the wandering eye. Part of my particular brand of wandering eye it to pay closer attention to what is available in bottles and cans in the show (whilst lamenting the storing of lagers at room temperature and the general oldness of much of a shop's 'craft' beer selection). Browsing the racks at our local Wegman's a few weeks ago it struck me just how many breweries are bringing out helles lagers these days, so I figured I'd gather a clutch and give em a bash...


First out of the fridge was Southern Tier's Why The Helles Not? As is obvious from the picture, the liquid is a lovely clear golden colour, topped with a decent inch or so of rocky white head, which lingered for the duration of the 4 or 5 mouthfuls it took to drink. Thankfully the beer wasn't overly fizzy, though there was a reasonable amount of carbonation. Breathing in the aroma deeply, I was hit by a distinct cereal crackeriness, think Carr's Water Biscuits and you're not far wrong, now sprinkle some fresh lemongrass onto said water biscuit, you see where this is going. In the taste department, we're clearly in solid helles territory, bready malt to the fore, with that lemony bite that I associate with central European hops, beautifully balanced and very tasty. This is the kind of beer that I could happily down pint after pint of, and at only 4.6% so very close to being a session beer, it is simple but not simplistic, if that makes sense.


Up next was Weekend Lager from Alewerks Brewing, just down the road in Williamsburg, and sporting a very elegant rebrand too. Weekend Lager was distinctly paler than the Southern Tier beer, and had much less head retention, and less obvious carbonation. Rather than having the aroma of a water biscuit, Weekend Lager had a more dry bread crust thing going on, with a herbal hop note in counterpoint, and a very slight touch of earthiness that put asparagus in my brain. As for the taste, we're back to the Carr's Water Biscuits and lemongrass ballpark, but with just a miserly schmeer of butter chucked in for fun. Again an enjoyable beer, other than that odd vegetal/asparagus thing that I couldn't quite pin down, but will require me buying more of the beer for investigative purposes you understand. A bit stronger than the Southern Tier one at 4.8%, but still well within pintable territory.


I really ummed and ahhed about whether to put Samuel Adams Fresh As Helles in the basket, mainly because it has added orange blossom 'and natural flavors', and I wasn't sure I wanted a flavour tainted helles. Clearly though, I relented. Looks wise it's pretty much on the spot, golden, a half inch of white foam that leaves traces of lacing all the way down the glass. The aroma though was very different from the other two, gone was the crackers and lemongrass, come was orange peel, marmelade and a soft toffee note. Tastewise was again a departure from what I had expected, this was clearly toasty rather than cerealy, and the orange blossom (I assume) was very noticeable, but in a thin marmelade kind of way that left a slighty artificial aftertaste. Oh dear. For the first time in many years I didn't finish the bottle, it was too slick on the tongue and just generally bleurgh. Nope, won't be doing that one again.


Now, if South Street could just hurry up and get My Personal Helles back on tap, I will be a happier camper this summer.....

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Top Ten Virginian Beers - 2016

It's that time of year again, the first round judging for the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup is this Saturday. Once again I'll be driving up to Northern Virginia to take part, and as with last year missing out of the festival itself as I will again be accompanying Mrs V to fiddle camp in West Virginia.

Given the impending judging session then, I present to you my annual top ten Virginian beers that I have drunk since the last time I did this list, so without further ado.....
  1. Devils Backbone Brewing - Meadow Bier (5.0%). I know for some, a rather obnoxious and overly vocal some at that, Devils Backbone are off limits since they are now part owned by a much larger brewery rather than those upright honorable folks at investment banks or private equity firms, but that's their problem not mine. After a day of hiking the AT we swung by Devils Backbone and I saw those magical words 'German-style Pilsner' and immediately ordered a pint. Clean, crisp, absurdly refreshing, and delightfully moreish, so I had 5 more and asked Mrs V to drive us home (she really is a wonderful woman). While Meadow Bier is not the most regular beer I drink, Devils Backbone being something of a trek for a pint, it is the best example of the style I have had in ages and one that I will be making a bee line for this weekend if I drag the wife down that way.
  2. South Street Brewery - My Personal Helles (5.2%). This actually is the beer I drink most of at the moment. An unfiltered Munich helles which is beautifully balanced, firmly bitter, with a pillowy soft mouthfeel, and ideal whatever time of day. It has got to the point now that the folks behind the bar at South Street know what I want the minute I put my backside on the chair, it can only be a matter of time before they see me walking in and have a pint waiting for me as a get to the bar.
  3. Three Notch'd Brewing - Ghost of the 43rd (5.1%). Last year's number 1 beer, and always a welcome sight on the taps of the pubs and restaurants of Virginia. Still one of the most eminently drinkable beers available in the Virginia market, and now that it is canned, a fairly regular visitor to my fridge. While this pale ale has a massive hop presence, there is enough malt to stand up to it and actually make it interesting to drink rather than being a one-dimensional hop bomb.
  4. Champion Brewing - Shower Beer (4.5%). Get the feeling that I am very much a lager boy yet? Though this time the pilsner is in the Czech rather than German mould. A veritable medley of Saaz hops and pilsner malt. Simple but with the complexity needed to keep it interesting and expertly crafted, so much so that were I served this in the pubs of Prague I would be more than happy.
  5. Lickinghole Creek Brewing - 'Til Sunset (4.7%). Another returnee from last year's list, though up a place, 'Til Sunset is perhaps the best Session IPA I have had in the US (I'll ignore the 0.2% overage on the session status). As I said last year, the interplay of toffee malts and graprefruity hops just works perfectly on a late summers day sat on the deck wondering how many more days you can avoid mowing the lawn.
  6. Mad Fox Brewing - Altbier (5.5%). When my parents came to visit last November Mrs V and I drove up to Northern Virginia to meet them, so naturally a trip to Mad Fox was on the cards, my parents love the place almost as much as I do. Normally I go for one of their cask ales, either the mild or the bitter, but this time I saw the word 'altbier' and went German. Altbier is one of my favourite beer styles, and one that many American breweries do wrong by getting the sweetness from caramel malts rather than Munich malt. mad Fox got it emphatically right, add to the mix the woodiness of Spalt hops and you may as well be drinking in Düsseldorf.
  7. Three Notch'd Brewing - Oats McGoats (5.5%). Oats McGoats is pretty much the Ronseal of stouts, it does exactly what it says on the tin, it's a straight up oatmeal stout with all the silky mouthfeel that comes with it. Layer that with chocolate and roasty notes and a firm hop bite that cleans the palette but doesn't intrude on the classic stout flavours and you have the quintessential beer for the cooler days and nights, and a cracking pint to sit next to the fire with.
  8. Hardywood Park Craft Brewing - Pils (5.2%). Yes, yes, yes, another pilsner. First time I had this one it reminded me distinctly of Budvar 12°, a resemblance that continues to this day. A solid malt backbone with a clean, firm hop bite, and a touch of sweetness in the finish. I would love to try it unfiltered and krausened, but as is it is one of those beers that you simply can't go wrong with.
  9. Alewerks Brewing - Tavern Ale (5.5%). It had been a while since I had indulged in this wonderful brown ale from Williamsburg, and I was kicking myself for not bothering with it for so long. Rich and dark, sweet without being cloying, lots of complex malt fun going on. Superbly balanced and great to drink or use as an ingredient in cooking - especially for soaking dried fruit to go in a cake.
  10. Blue Mountain Brewing - Lights Out (7.0%). This Old Ale has become something of a winter tradition. Once it is released I get myself a case and leave it in a nice cool spot in my house rather than the fridge as the excessive chill ruins the beer. The wonderful blend of EKG and Fuggles hops makes this beer deeply earthy, backed up with a rich malt body, it is the ideal winter night cap, and is also well suited to a day's drinking when you have nothing to do but enjoy the coziness of home. Delish.
As ever this is purely subjective, based on what I have enjoyed drinking in the past 12 months, but each and every beer on this list I would recommend you try it if you see it.

Happy drinking!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Top Ten Virginian Beers 2013

Taking my lead from the wonderfully urbane company which is Boak and Bailey, and with half an eye on the Virginia Craft Brewers Fest this weekend, here is the Fuggled Top Ten Virginian beers...
  1. AleWerks Brewing - Caledonia (4.5%). A delightfully fragrant, hoppy, British style IPA. The combination of Fuggles, Willamette, and Styrian Goldings is a vibrant, Seville orange laced delight.
  2. Port City Brewing - Downright Pilsner (4.8%). A Czech style pale lager that wouldn't be out of place if served in the beer halls of Prague, positively pulsating with Saaz goodness, more is rarely enough.
  3. Mad Fox Brewing - Mason's Dark Mild (3.3%). Think warm toast spread with Nutella and you are not far from reality, and best of all it is served on a sparkled beer engine.
  4. Devils Backbone Brewing - Schwartz Bier (4.9%). Last year's Virginia Beer Cup winner, and now available in bottles, this is a roasty, clean, crisp black lager that never gets tired.
  5. Starr Hill Brewing - Dark Starr Stout (4.2%). The most award winning Dry Irish Stout in the USA, coffee, chocolate, and a smooth luxuriant body makes this Starr Hill's best beer by a country mile.
  6. St George Brewing - English IPA (5.5%). A showcase for the delights of Fuggles hops, a good dollop of malt sweetness, balanced with the herby, almost tobacco like Fuggles makes it a great British IPA.
  7. Blue Mountain Brewing - überPils (7.6%). 40 IBU of noble hops and a solid malt backbone make this big pale lager surprisingly easy to drink.
  8. Devils Backbone Brewing - Vienna Lager (4.9%). Always good, and thankfully fairly widely available. One of the best ambers lagers anywhere in the US.
  9. Port City Brewing - Porter (7.2%). Some beers have no business being so drinkable with so a potent ABV, silky, chocolatey, and to be honest crying out to be available on cask somewhere, preferably near me.
  10. AleWerks Brewing - Café Royale (8%). Take a coffee infused stout, chuck it in bourbon barrels, and then save for a special occasion.
There we have it, and I am sure Saturday's Virginia Craft Brewers Fest will bring more great Virginian beer to my attention.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Caledonia Werks!

As I mentioned in last Friday's post, McGrady's Irish Pub in Charlottesville was planning to have a beer called Caledonia on tap for Session Beer Day. It was a beer that I had never had before, but from its description on the Williamsburg Alewerks website, I was eager to try it:
Caledonia is a session-able IPA featuring Styrian Goldings, Willamette, and Fuggle hops balanced with pale malt and crystal malts. ABV:4.5%
Once my Sunday shift at the Starr Hill tasting room was done and dusted, I headed over to to give it a bash. Expecting a friend to join me, I grabbed a booth rather than squeezing myself into the one spare seat at the bar, and promptly ordered. I think the server may have been a touch confused by my not wanting Samuel Adams Alpine Spring, which has been my go-to beer since February. Anyway, a few minutes later the beer was sat in front of me.


I have to admit I was expecting a slightly paler beer, what I got was an ever so slightly cloudy rich amber, like orange marmelade, though minus the thick cut peel that is my preference in the marmelade world. There was not much of a head, though given a quick swirl a half head white cap appeared. The hops in the beer are three of my favourites, so I had half an idea of what the aroma would be, but wasn't really expecting the sheer intensity of the Seville orange assault on my nostrils, back behind the oranges though was a touch of toastiness and a trace of light syrup...I was looking forward to the best bit about beer, drinking the damned stuff.

Such a delicious beer can only be described with one word, balance. Yes the hops are there, bitter, fruity, fragrant and tangy, but that is not all there is to the beer. The malt weighs in with juicy sweet sugars, more of the toasty theme and a soft toffee element which just dances with the hops and spins your head as it pirouettes round and round.

Is this stuff really only 4.5%??? Caledonia is an absolute dream of a beer, let alone a session beer, and one that my friend was equally impressed by, as was the owner of McGrady's - in fact I think it is the beer we have drunk more of this week than any other, and hopefully it will become a regular on tap.

I seem to have garnered a reputation with my friends for not being a fan of pale ales, I can't imagine where they get that idea from, but when done right, and Caledonia is done emphatically right, it is a real pleasure to down a few pints of pale.

Picture credit: taken from the Williamsburg Alewerks website.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Daily Liquid Bread

This Sunday is a special day. Well, at least it is for us drinkers of the world, for this Sunday is Session Beer Day. For those not aware of this most worthy day, it is a day to celebrate those beers which are, in my opinion, the best in the beer world, and often the most difficult to make. I am, of course, referring to session beers. Of the various drinking establishments in Charlottesville, I know for sure that will have a selection of session beers available this weekend.


Making a return appearance is 21st Amendment's Bitter American, which is 4.4% and boasts 42 IBUs of Warrior and Cascade. I have to admit that I was not a big fan of this beer when I first had it in cans, but on tap it was a rather moreish pint and definitely worth having several rounds of, which is kind of the point of session beers.

Closer the home, McGrady's will have Caledonia from Williamsburg Alewerks. The guys at Alewerks describe this as a 'Scottish Style IPA' and it weighs in at a thoroughly sessionable 4.5%. As a British style IPA, Caledonia uses Styrian Goldings, Willamette and Fuggles for its hopping, which makes be keen to try it as they are three of my favourite hop varieties.

Sneaking a little over the upper limit of session beer as espoused by the Session Beer Project, will be Founder's All Day IPA. As with the Bitter American, this beer has 42 IBUs of American hops and while it is just a touch on the strong side for a session beer, everything I have had from Founders before has been good, so I would expect nothing less here.

Again coming closer to home, and again a touch on the strong side, it is possible that McGrady's will have the Great Outdoors Pale Ale from Three Brothers Brewing, up in Harrisonburg. Great Outdoors is described as being a 'Virginia Pale Ale that is clean, crisp and refreshing'.

There are few better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than sat in the pub with mates enjoying a few well earned rounds before heading back to the daily grind, session beers like those available at McGrady's this weekend make that idyll almost complete..

Friday, December 24, 2010

Fuggled Review of the Year - Dark Beer

Whereas the Amber Beer of the Year presented me with the challenge of where to draw the line between amber and brown, the dark beer category presents me with a very different challenge. Simply put, this year has been excellent for dark beers, whether brown ales, milds, stouts or porters, even the occasional Black IPA (sic) hasn't been entirely awful. As such, this category will not only have the same "bests" as the previous categories, but will also have several honourable mentions. On then to the lists:
Before discussing the relative merits of the various finalists, the honourable mentions go out to:
  • Virginia - Starr Hill Dark Starr Stout, Blue Mountain Original Summer Mild, Williamsburg Alewerks Tavern Ale, Devils' Backbone 1904 Ramsey Stout.
  • USA - Terrapin Moo Hoo, Samuel Adams Honey Porter, Sierra Nevada Porter, Sierra Nevada Stout, Stone Smoked Porter, Highland Oatmeal Porter
  • World - BrewDog Paradox Smokehead, Unibroue Terrible, Zatec Black Lager, Porterhouse Oyster Stout, Fullers London Porter, Young's Double Chocoloate Stout, 

Ok, so on to the beers that made the list. The Washington's Porter from Williamsburg Alewerks is a beer that not only made excellent drinking, but goes well in fruit cake as well. Rich, chocolately and velvety, it is simply a wonderful beer that goes down insanely easily and is so packed full of flavour that I wouldn't worry too much if all other beers were outlawed from midnight.

My first taste of Left Hand's Milk Stout was in St Augustine, Florida. It was hotter than hell and to be perfectly honest stout of any kind would not have really hit the spot, though tasty it was. Come autumn, the leaves and temperature we plummeting and Left Hand had taken over the taps at Beer Run, along with Terrapin. Milk Stout, poured into a pint nonic? Yes please. A second just minutes later, you bet! Everything you expect from a stout, and then the creaminess of lactose. Simply lovely.


I have waxed lyrical about Porterhouse's Wrasslers XXXX before, so when I learnt that bottles of this delightful stout would be available in the US I immediately emailed every bottle shop in Charlottesville to find out if they intended to stock it. Beer Run said they would and patiently I waited. Then I blew $40 on getting plenty when it arrived. Big on chocolate and with a healthy bitterness to balance it all out, this is one of the best stouts available.

A very difficult choice, very difficult. However, the Fuggled Dark Beer for 2010 is:
  • Porterhouse Wrasslers XXXX
Sure there may be a hefty dose of nostalgia in my choice, but the fact that the $40's worth of Wrasslers in the cellar has been refreshed more than once is testament to my enduring love of this beer.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hitting the Mark

I posted the following status on my Facebook account the other day:

"you can keep your extreme beers as far as I am concerned, nothing beats balance, complexity and drinkability in a beer. Williamsburg Alewerks' Washington's Porter is great example of just that".

The more I think about beer, both in the context of the stuff I buy and that which I brew, I am more and more convinced that those three descriptors are the basis of good beer (regardless of who brews it):
  • balance
  • complexity
  • drinkability
I happily admit that my preference in beer is toward the maltier end of the spectrum, and on the occasions when I do venture into hop head territory, I like a beer that has a solid malty backbone. Balance is something though which is difficult to achieve and is the key criteria by which a beer should be judged in my world - I don't suck lemons as a general rule, any more than I drink syrup (on a side note, one thing you will never see me do is drown pancakes in syrup).

I know very few people who don't like complex flavours in their beer, but I wonder sometimes if people confuse complexity with extremity, or in some cases simply too many flavours. By complexity I mean a beer that develops while drinking it, you could say unravelling as the temperature rises and releases differing aromas and flavours. The thing I find with a good complex beer is that the flavour improves as you drink it, unlike some well known beers which taste awful when served a single degree above freezing. Forgive the crappy analogy (are not all analogies crap at the end of the day?), but a good beer is like a Gypsy Rose Lee interpretation of burlesque, beertease you could say.

It stands to reason that beer is made for drinking, so a beer really isn't all that great if you can have a half pint and not want more. When I say "not want more" I am thinking of a situation where you don't have to drive home or similar, but you drink it and by the end of it you aren't interested in taking another drop of it. I often have to suppress my sarcastic side when I hear people describe something as "very drinkable", what the hell did you expect?

I find then, that when I go to the pub, I am looking more and more for beers that I can sup several of and not worry too much about my legs refusing to function when I get up to go home. Sure, I like stronger beers such as barleywine and imperial stout, but find myself distinctly unfussed by double IPAs and the like - I can sup on a barleywine over a longer period of time than I can a DIPA, and still enjoy the beer.

Coming back then to the Porter in the second half of the quote there, Williamsburg Alewerks' Washington's Porter. When Mrs V and I went to Williamsburg in October, I bought a growler of the porter from the brewery shop and duly put it in the fridge when we got back to CVille. There it sat until I used about a pint in my porter fruit cake. It went back into the fridge, with me fully intending to drink it that evening after the baking was finished. 

For reasons that escape me now, it sat in the fridge for a further 3 weeks, until I used it in a date, apricot and cranberry fruit cake on Sunday. I was convinced it would be lifeless and dull having been opened some 21 days prior, yet it was in excellent condition and the remaining half a growler or so (about 2 pints), was gently imbibed over a few hours. Lots of chocolate and coffee flavours, laced with a US Fuggle bitterness made it my beer highlight of the weekend. At 6.3%, it doesn't really fall into the category of a "session beer", but it hits the mark perfectly in terms of balance, complexity and drinkability.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Porter Fruit Cake

When Mrs V and I went to Williamsburg back in October, I bought a growler of Williamsburg Alewerks' Washington's Porter. As with the best laid plans of mice and men, my original intention to drink said growler never happened, and so it sat in the fridge for the last few weeks. Wanting to both use the beer, being loathe to waste it, and also because I love cooking with beer as much as drinking it, I decided to use it for a few culinary projects.


Waking up with something of a hangover yesterday morning I decided I would make a fruit cake, which seems to be something of an acquired taste this side of the Pond. Traditional fruit cake from home starts off the night before baking with steeping the dried fruit in tea. My plan however was to ditch the tea and replace it with the porter. The recipe I used came from a small Czech language Irish cookbook I bought several years ago in Prague and I adapted it somewhat.
  • 12 ounces sultanas
  • 1lb dried black currants
  • 8 ounces glace cherries
  • 13.5 fluid ounces porter
  • 1 cup soft brown sugar
  • 3.5 cups plain flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons apple pie spice - cinnamon, nutmeg, clove
Firstly steep the dried fruit, sugar and spice in the porter overnight, or for 8 hours.


When the steeping is done, lightly beat the eggs and add them to the mix. Stir in the flour and baking powder to make a thick batter.


Usually you would just use a single large cake tin, but I used three disposable loaf tins, which I sprayed with oil before filling about half way.


Heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for about 2 hours, or until you can put a knife in the centre of the cake and it comes out clean.


So there we have it, three fruit cakes for Thanksgiving, moist, dark and spicy......like a good porter!


Monday, October 18, 2010

As Things Should Be

If you are a regular follower of this website then you will of course know that Mrs Velkyal and I got out of town this weekend and headed up the I-64 to Williamsburg, oh and thank you for being a regular reader, it is much appreciated. We had in mind a few things to do over the weekend, admittedly mostly beer related though not exclusively. I am fairly sure that you are not here for the delights of Colonial Williamsburg, and delightful it is, but rather for the beer stuff, so to the beer stuff we go. Also if you read this site often, you will know that I planned to mark the 5th anniversary of meeting Mrs Velkyal with a bottle of J.W. Lees 2005 Harvest Ale, here's a picture, it was very nice!


The first order of business over the weekend was a trip to Williamsburg Alewerks, a brewery that could very easily become a favourite of mine. At the Connoisseur session of the River Bend Beer Festival last month, I tried their Cafe Royale, a barrel aged imperial stout aged that is obscenely smooth and drinkable for such a potent brew, so I knew I wanted to get down to the brewery do a tasting, pick up some more beer and perhaps get some merchandise.

Down a winding lane in an industrial estate, the brewery has a shop right next door and it has to have been one of the best tasting/merchandising setups I have seen in a brewery. Everything was nicely laid out and it felt clean and welcoming. We did our tasting, including their porter from a wooden cask, though not primed I believe as it was flat, but it made an interesting counterpoint to their standard porter, with which I filled one of my growlers. I also bought a boxed set of their Brewmaster Reserve series, which includes the aforementioned Cafe Royale, an American Barleywine and a Farmhouse Ale.

As I have written about before, I have a soft spot for glassware. That doesn't necessarily mean that I am convinced by the whole glass shapes for certain beers thing, but I like to have branded glassware floating about. The hand-blown goblet I got on Saturday then has instantly become one of my favourites, not quite in the same league as my Lovibonds glasses, but still, very, very nice. I am sure you'll see it around on Fuggled when I post tasting notes, but you can also see the type of glass here.

While at the Alewerks, we were talking with the girls in the shop about a pub that had been recommended independently to both Mrs Velkyal and myself, a place called Green Leafe. Having been assured that it was worth going to, we went to. One quick aside, parking in Williamsburg can be a pain in the backside at times, especially when you don't look a little bit into the distance and so circle the parking garage a couple of times before realising that's what it was.

Green Leafe is quite simply a pub, as a pub should be. Not too bright, bare wooden floor and an atmosphere suggesting that serious drinking gets done in this place, oh and they had a hand pump! Unfortunately though they had nothing on cask on Saturday, but they had some very good beers including the 10.10.10 Vertical Epic Ale from Stone Brewing. The only bum note beer wise was having Old Speckled Hen from a nitro tap. We ended up sat at the bar for a few hours, chatting with the excellent bar staff and enjoying some of the best fish and chips I have had in a very long time, and discovering the joys of soft pretzels with mustard just in case the fish and chips hadn't quite only filled my left leg. In the world of Mrs Velkyal and I, we can only give Green Leafe the highest praise possible, if we lived in Williamsburg, it would be our local.

All in all then we had a good weekend, with plenty of good beer, decent food and walking for hours on end with our dog, rounded off with a stop in Richmond for lunch at Legend Brewery with Eric of Relentless Thirst fame.

Is it possible to have a better weekend?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Nostalgic Beer Photos

Mrs Velkyal and I love taking trips. When we lived in Prague we would quite often, as in every other month or so, go off on a jolly. Most of the time we stayed in the Czech Republic, going to places like ?esky Krumlov or Liberec, sometimes though we would jump on a plane, such as we did for Ireland and the UK. We haven't done much of that kind of thing since we got to the US, usually if we take a trip it is down to South Carolina to visit family. This weekend though we are staying in Virginia but getting out of town for a couple of days and going to Williamsburg.

We first went to Williamsburg with my parents earlier this year, and we liked it immediately. We've been back a couple of times since, in order to go to the water park, but this weekend we'll be wandering around the town itself a bit more. Naturally there is a beer activity planned for the trip, well possibly two if you include maybe meeting up with fellow blogger and homebrewer E.S. Delia in Richmond on our way back. On our first trip down there I picked up a mixed case of beer from the Williamsburg Alewerks, including the brown ale I wrote about some time ago. At the recent River Bend Beer Festival, Williamsburg Alewerks had the best beer of the 13 I tried, an imperial stout with coffee - if I remember rightly it was called Coffeehouse Stout and bloody marvellous it was too! Hopefully then at the weekend I will pick up some more, and maybe fill a growler or two with it, we'll see.

Thinking about this trip got me in a slightly nostalgic mood, and I was looking back at some of the beer related pics Mrs Velkyal and I took on our various trips, and so here are some of them....


The bar in Dublin's Bull and Castle


The amber lager from Hotel Pegas in Brno


A lovely pair at Purkmistr near Plzeň.


The bottom of a glass of Fuller's 1845, drunk in Bicester.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Anything But Brown and Boring

Growing up in the far north west of Scotland, there were two main beer choices when you finally hit your 18th birthday for your first legal beer. The cool kids at school almost uniformly went for mass produced lagers, your Carlings, Fosters and Tennants of this world. Those outside the secondary school jet set drank Guinness, or Murphy's depending on which pub you went to. When you ventured to the mainland, quarterly trips to Inverness being the highlight of life pretty much (even Skye was a thrill!), pubs with bigger selections beckoned, Caffrey's or John Smith's in a pub rather than from a widgeted can was the height of excitement.

Yet, sat on the bar, seemingly forlorn was Newcastle Brown Ale, the old man beer. As far as I knew nobody drank it other than the old men. Brown ale had an image problem, it was boring. Fast forward nearly 20 years and I still hear the same way of thinking, though usually about bitter as well as brown ale, the so-called "boring brown beers" that Britain seems to excel at producing. A minor aside, it really pisses me off when Brits bash their native products, being lured by the glamour of sexy foreign imports with odd names and sufficiently pretentious ingredients to get mentioned in the Guardian.


Last weekend Mrs Velkyal and I went out with some of my Starr Hill tasting room colleagues for some post work drinkies. I say post work, it was for them post work, it was for me post brewing at Devils Backbone. Just round the corner from the Starr Hill brewery is a pub called Fardowners, and it is a good pub, with nice food, a good buzz and a decent selection of beer. On reading the draught beer selection (sorry I rarely drink a bottle when I go to the pub, I just don't see the point of that unless it is something rare), I was almost aghast when the only beer that appealed was a brown ale from Williamsburg Alewerks just a couple of hours up the road. Aghast purely because I had always thought of brown ale as old man beer, and well, who wants to admit they may be getting old?

Three fabulous pints later and I knew I needed to explore more in the world of brown ale, in particular American Brown Ale, I will however admit to Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale being something of a go to beer in the absence of anything else that take's my fancy. After digging around in the cellar, I found a couple of bottled versions of the Williamsburg Tavern Ale that had so delighted my palate, and as luck would have it, our local supermarket just got in Sierra Nevada's autumnal seasonal, Tumbler, a brown ale.


First up was the Williamsburg Tavern Ale, which poured a deep crimson with a thin, ivory head and then out of the bottle came the evidence of bottle conditioning, a happy surprise! Can we have more bottle conditioned beers over here please? The nose was just as I remembered from Fardowners, lots of cocoa off set with the slightest hoppy citrus thing. Drinking it was a wonderful balance of the sweet chocolate maltiness and the bitter bite of the hops, which are Cascade and Amarillo I believe, to round out the beer there is a soft toffee touch that makes it such easy drinking. Really it was wonderfully smooth and tasty, a great beer for sitting on the balcony in the autumn chill and just watching the sun go down over the turning leaves.


What can be said about Sierra Nevada that hasn't already been said? They nail classic styles so perfectly that it would be easy to drink nothing but Sierra Nevada and never get bored. Their Tumbler seasonal special, described as an "Autumn Brown Ale" rather than a "Fall Brown Ale" which I would have expected, pours a very dark copper, with a red tinge and a light tan head. Again the cocoa notes are there, but this time there is a tobacco smell - you know the kind of tobacco smell from people rolling their own, a smell I love by the way, even though I have never smoked in my life. Tastewise, again chocolate, but lighter than the Williamsburg brew, with caramel and biscuitiness thrown in for good measure, with a crisp hoppy bite in the background. Another beautifully balanced beer that you could drink all night.


Brown Ale in the hands of Sierra Nevada and Williamsburg Alewerks is anything but boring, it is well made, tasty and the kind of beer that makes you more than happy to have another, and then another. All round good stuff, if drinking this stuff makes me an old man, then the old men knew a thing or two.

Beyond January

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

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