Devils Backbone Vienna Lager

devils backbone vienna lager

Every so often I find a beer so delicious, it magically disappears. I open one and perhaps another, then amazingly they’re gone! Where did they go – I certainly didn’t drink them all myself!

Devils Backbone Vienna Lager is one such beer – two six packs have managed to vanish in as many weeks. I think my fridge may have been burglarized.

I have a soft spot for Vienna lager, as it sits nicely beside other Central European beers I enjoy – Czech pilsner, German lager, even lager variations such as schwartzbier and märzen. Vienna lager, amber or light red in color, is slightly sweeter and softer than its Bavarian or Bohemian brethren. Honestly, it’s hard for me to choose a favorite style of beer originating from Germany, Austria, or the Czech Republic.

Oddly enough, the number of U.S.-brewed Vienna style lagers seems to outnumber the actual number of lagers exported from Austria. Domestic microbrewers have capitalized on the American thirst for these lagers by producing their own versions. A quick search on Beer Advocate easily shows the few European imports among the vast American selections. (This list of course says nothing about what is actually available here in the states.)

This brings us to Devils Backbone, the Virginian microbrewer producing the beer I’ve struggled to keep stocked. The beer itself is lighter than ordinary ambers, but is nonetheless complex on the tongue, finishing clean and crisp – yet not so abruptly as to confuse it with a German lager. Vienna lager is also rounded and comforting, without the filling quality of a hefeweizen or the sharp snappiness of a pilsner.

The lager’s characteristics are reminiscent of Vienna itself: similar to its regional neighbors of Prague and Munich, yet approachable and navigable. Vienna is simultaneously Eastern and Western European (if such a distinction still exists). It is inviting and expansive, seated at the crossroads of western luxuries and eastern functionality. Both decadent and conservative.

My visit to Vienna was all too brief – a few days during a nearly month-long journey through Europe almost 10 years ago. Still, the lager brings fond memories of a few days spent casually walking the city, enjoying its cafes and cuisine, relaxing in palace gardens between meals and museums. To this day, it still ranks as one of my favorite cities.

How nice to be reminded of such a wonderful place by such a wonderful, easily available American microbrew. All I have to do is open the refrigerator – if there’s any left.

Published in: on August 19, 2013 at 9:03 pm  Comments Off on Devils Backbone Vienna Lager  
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Enjoying Europe from Home – Olympic Edition

August is here, and for the DC area that means hot and humid weather, an exodus from the city to area beaches, and a general slowdown until September.  This July was unseasonably hot, so perhaps the dog days of summer arrived early this year.

Washington is notorious for getting nothing done in August: Congress is in recesses and most bureaucrats take vacation.  The city, sweltering in its swampy heat, grinds to a halt.  And while I’d love to get out of town, I’ve already enjoyed some time off overseas this year.

So in the spirit of another European vacation I wish I could take, as well as to welcome to the London Olympics, I found a few fun multimedia pieces to peruse while enjoying summer’s best beverages, preferably in the comfort of air conditioning.

First is a fantastic time-lapse video titled EuroLapse by David Kosmos Smith via The Atlantic’s Video Channel, which is described as “a lovely five-minute escape to London, Amsterdam, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Milan, and more.”

Second is a hilariously accurate and surprisingly informative graphic from Food and Wine comparing the drinking style and culture of New York City and London, according to notable barmen and writers David Wondrich and Simon Ford.

Titled, “New York vs. London: A Drinker’s Guide to Bars, Trends, and Bad Customers” by Justine Sterling, the graphic compares several categories, such as the cities’ competing Bartender Style, Favorite Gimmick, Historical Influence, Trendy Cocktail, and my favorite, Alcohol Tolerance: Who Holds the Most Liquor.  Not surprisingly, the Brits mop the floor with us Americans is this category.

So find yourself a shaded, comfortable spot with an ice cold beverage – perhaps a Rickey or a Prohibition Lemonade –and enjoy Europe from the comfort of home.  Sure beats the pants off of an overnight flight in Economy Class.

And if anyone can explain the London Games Opening Ceremony to me – specifically the Lord Voldemort versus the Mary Poppins aerial armada portion, pictured below – I would love to know.  I am so very confused.  Perhaps I should have had more to drink while watching.


London Bridge Image by Julian Finney/Getty Images.

Opening ceremony Image by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images.

Published in: on August 1, 2012 at 1:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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What else can I say about French beer?  Most informed beer drinkers laugh and pigeonhole French beer solely on Kronenbourg 1664.  And perhaps that’s not too far from the truth.  But if you’re in France, take the opportunity to enjoy a another unique French beer: Pelforth.

Unless you’re a frequent visitor to France, you’re probably unaware – just as I was – of this delightfully tasty beer, which comes in both Brown and Blonde varieties.*  I first discovered Pelforth in a small corner bistro in Paris’s Dupleix neighborhood, just southwest of the Eiffel Tower.  Before Pelforth, my universe of French beer consisted solely of Kronenbourg; I was thus eager to expand my horizons.

While the bistro’s menu listed both brune and blonde varieties, I tried the brown first (I’m typically partial to dark beer over light) and was immediately a fan: it was slightly sweet, medium bodied, and left a pleasant and light malty aftertaste.  After returning to our hotel after dinner, I hopped on the internet – courtesy of the hotel’s free wi-fi – and started researching.

Coincidentally – amazingly so! – Toby Cecchini profiled Pelforth in a New York Times Magazine article titled Case Study: The Pull of Pelforth.  The article’s date: March 19, 2012 – the day before I discovered the beer!

Cecchini’s article provided an interesting read for his American audience for one key reason: “There’s nothing rare or precious about Pelforth. It’s available in most cafe-bars and supermarkets in France, where it’s one of the most widely consumed beers… But it’s rarer than rare here: it doesn’t exist. Unlike most worthwhile French products, somehow the powers that govern Pelforth Brune have never seen fit to export it to the United States.”

While its rarity is certainly interesting, it’s not the article’s central point.  No, Pelforth’s quality is of central importance here.  Cecchini continues, and quite hilariously so, I might add:

“I’ve had friends drag me back bottles of it, with disbelief. Truly?  With all the haut de gamme products one might purloin from Paree, you want this beer from the supermarket? This reaction is a mere shadow of what the French themselves exhibit when I regale them of my love for Pelforth Brune. Most of them smirk acidly, trying to parse whether I’m being facetious or not. Imagine some excitable French nerd sputtering on about his deep love for Miller High Life.”

As I said, it’s hilarious – simply laughable, in fact – to read Pelforth and Miller Lite in the same paragraph. Perhaps it’d be more accurate to compare Pelforth to Yuengling, a true medium-bodied working man’s beer. (Not surprisingly, Pelforth’s marketing tagline is “Donnez une Pelforth Brune aux hommes qui ontsoif” – which translates to “Give a Pelforth Brune to thirsty men.”)

Armed with this knowledge, I enjoyed Pelforth – both varieties, as well as plenty of Kronenbourg, to be sure – whenever possible during the remainder of the trip.  While Pelforth is commonly available in French groceries and supermarkets, it’s still not as common in Parisian bistros and restaurants as Kronenbourg. So for now, I’ll rely on my memories of cold Pelforth in Paris, and hope for a return visit, sooner or later.  As long as it doesn’t take another ten years.

* In addition to the blonde and brown, Pelforth’s official website also advertises an amber (ambrée) variety, which I didn’t see while in Paris.

Published in: on May 8, 2012 at 11:44 pm  Comments (1)  
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Considerat​ions While Abroad

Perhaps it was a little ambitious to take three books on my recent European vacation with my family, a little ambitious to think I would actually have time to read while visiting Paris with my toddler and wife.

On past trips, overnight flights began with dinner and a few drinks then a bit of reading or channel surfing before dozing off for a few hours before arrival.  Of course not this time – occupying a two-year old while maintaining a moderate noise volume for six-plus hours is a full-time job. And with the five-hour time difference, there was no way bedtime over the course of our visit would go smoothly.

Yet as is often the case, I was proven completely wrong: both flights and every night save one were surprisingly uneventful, even pleasant.  I was able to imbibe and read much more than I had thought possible (in other words, more than none). I finished two books over the eight days in Paris: Tony Judt’s The Memory Chalet and Scott Fitzgerald’s On Booze.  Reading these books – especially while traveling with my family – provoked a bit of introspection into my own life since first visiting Paris in 2002.

First, traveling with a young child, more importantly one eager to assert their burgeoning independence, is far different from traveling with oneself or another adult.  Everything takes more time, which is both good and bad: bad because daily tasks are dreadfully inefficient and frustratingly slow; good because you are forced to slow down, compelled to enjoy your surroundings, to relax, and refresh. Which, for a high-strung, tightly wound person like me is very necessary.

Secondly, you’re guaranteed imperfection when traveling with kids: they will spill drinks; defiantly stand on the seats of moving trains; and distract you enough so as to become lost.  Oftentimes things don’t go as planned and that’s ok. It has to be ok, a fact that dawns on all fathers eventually.  Fitzgerald too learned this while traveling in Paris with his own family: “[At] the Deux Mondes in Paris…we bathed the daughter in the bidet by mistake and she drank the gin fizz thinking it was lemonade and ruined the luncheon table next day.” Sometimes your kid gets sick on the lunch table, or in my case, vomits in your bed for no apparent reason. These things happen.

The week’s experiences drove home the differences between my two visits to Paris, the changes in my life between then and now.  Here too, Fitzgerald’s words neatly reflect my own thoughts, albeit in far better prose: “Life, ten years ago, was a largely personal matter.  I must hold in balance the sense of the futility of effort and the sense of the necessity to struggle; the conviction of the inevitability of failure and still the determination to ‘succeed’—and, more than these, the contradiction between the dead hand of the past and the high intentions of the future.”

A decade ago, where did I think my life would be?  Did I make perfect decisions based on absolute knowledge in every circumstance? Of course not.  Life can only be described as making the best of, even enjoying imperfect situations.  You do the best with the incomplete, the inefficient, and the exhaustive.  And you focus on what you’ve done right: marry the right woman; raise your child well; and make your parents proud.


Please visit the Recommended Reading page for Fitzgerald’s On Booze, as well as other books I’ve enjoyed.

Published in: on May 1, 2012 at 10:39 pm  Comments (5)  
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Kronenbour​g 1664

France, like many other countries I’ve discussed, doesn’t have aparticularly notable beer selection. Like gin in Britain and vodka in Russia, France’s mammoth wine industry greatly overshadows their beer.

That fact is especially prevalent here in the states, where French beer is surprisingly difficult to find in on draft or even in bottles.  Surprisingly, even French restaurants – the one place most likely to serve French beer – more commonly serve Belgian beer.*  From the restaurateurs’ perspective, it’s understandable: Belgium is a beer-producing powerhouse in terms of both variety and quality.

Yet that doesn’t mean French beer is bad.  On the contrary, when available, Kronenbourg 1664 is, by far, my favorite beverage when dining on French cuisine.  (Let’s forego the lecture on choosing beer over French wine at this point; your protest is duly noted.)

Thus, I took every advantage to drink the delicious crisp and bitter Kronenbourg while in Paris a few weeks ago. I drank it during lunch and dinner and even stocked the hotel room refrigerator full of 33 centiliter cans from a nearby grocery. I was then able to drink in the afternoon, while my toddler napped, as well as in bed after she fell asleep; I even enjoyed one in the bathtub.  Such behavior is only permitted on vacation, of course.

Kronenbourg was the fourth member of our vacation during mealtime.  It wasn’t my only choice of drink while visiting Paris, but it certainly was my go-to beverage.  Well, either that or Orangina – a delicious French treat of the non-alcoholic variety.


* At this point I recall fond memories of the now-closed Pennsylvania Avenue location of Brasserie Les Halles, the French restaurant my wife and I considered our preferred “date restaurant.” It was here, many years ago, that I discovered 1664 and likely the reason I so closely associate it with French cuisine.  Thankfully, after many attempts over the course of several years, we finally found a worthy replacement: Capitol Hill’s Bistro Cacao, which in addition to delicious food, serves a wonderfully presented absinthe.

Published in: on April 23, 2012 at 10:42 pm  Comments Off on Kronenbour​g 1664  
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