Showing posts with label czech beer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label czech beer. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Prague - The New

There are few people in the world I enjoy a pint or two with more than Evan Rail.

When he came into Pivovarsky klub on my first day back in Prague it was such an unexpected pleasure that it literally made my day, even though it was a fleeting moment that didn't involve us having a beer together, but we agreed to meet later in the week.

In those brief moments Evan mentioned his local pub had some of the best beer in the Czech Republic and we agreed that we would meet there. "There" was a place called Hostomická nalévárna, a hole in the wall taphouse with beer from Pivovar Hostomice, one of the many breweries to have sprung up in the decade since Mrs V and I left the Czech Republic.

Having spent the morning wandering around the Old Town, taking photos, and buying Krtek souvenirs for the twins (they love Krtek so much it does my heart good), I arrived at the pub about 10 minutes early, so naturally got a half litre of Fabián 10°.

Oh my goodness, what nectar is this? Prior to polishing off my first half litre in literally four mouthfuls I would have sworn that Albrecht 10° was my favourite Czech pale lager but this blew it out of the water. The interplay of malt and hop was delightful, neither truly dominating but both clearly evident and expressing themselves fully. Ok, so where I had thought to have a half litre while waiting for Evan, I may have had a couple, I was enthralled, it was like that first taste of Kout na ?umavě 10° way back when.

The pub itself was a throwback as well, it is a proper urban Czech boozer. I could probably, if I were vaguely handy at these sorts of things, recreate it in one half of my garage. The bar is right next to the door, the space around the bar clearly set up for standing around drinking beer. There is a space further back which has four tables, all of which had reservation notices on them, letting us know that we could sit there until 7pm, well past our window of time to hang out, drink, and discuss the state of craft beer.

With a few desítky polished off, I decided to try the 14° tmavé and it was just as lovely. Being thoroughly biased it reminded me a lot of the Morana that I designed and brew occasionally with Devils Backbone. Again notes were not being taken, come on people, who takes beer notes when you are shooting the shit with a friend you haven't seen in years? Then I did something technically illegal under Czech beer law...I asked for a ?ezané pivo, or black and tan.

According to Czech law, at least if I understand it correctly and I am sure folks will correct me if I am wrong, a ?ezané must be poured with beers of the same gravity, and there was no 14° pale lager with which to mix with the dark, so we used the 12°. It was delish. Yeah I was getting merry, and that was before the 15° b?eznovy, that's m?rzen to you, turned up, another magnificent brew. I am not going to go into the details of Evan and I's conversation, which wandered down many a beery lane with a common theme about how US craft breweries simply get "Bohemian pilsner" wrong, and after a few days having my palate reset by the real thing I still haven't had a Czech style lager since I got back, I am afraid of the disappointment.

Eventually Evan needed to head home, and so I picked his brain about where to find beer by the one Czech brewery I had probably heard more about than any other...úněticky pivovar.

Cafe Frida was just round the corner from my hotel. I eschewed the tram for a head clearing half hour walk to discover the place was practically empty, so I took a seat at the bar and ordered a desítka, yep another lovely beer. Perhaps my tastebuds were just plain busted at this point, but while it was clearly a lovely beer, and one I would happily drink all day long, it didn't match up to the Hostomická desítka, though it was more my thing than Albrecht 10°. The 12° was likewise excellent, a superb demonstration of why I think Czechs make the best lagers on the planet bar none, sorry you innovative craft folks, you don't compare to the level of craftmanship on show in the Czech Republic lager world.

Gently pickled and with a bus to Germany to catch in the morning I headed back to Florenc and my shoebox sized hotel room...

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Prague - Back to the Beginning

Some dates are seared into memory. For me one such date is October 14th 2005.

It was a Friday and I was meeting up with some friends to go drinking, as one did of a Friday evening as a late 20 something single bloke living in Prague. The pub we were going to was Pivovarsky klub, which had only just opened in the district of Karlín. Back then Karlín was one of the less salubrious neighbourhoods in the city and was still recovering from the the 2002 flood that decimated the area. Not only would this night be the night I found my local for the next four years of my life in the city, it was the night I met Mrs V, and we've been together every since.

Another date seared into memory is October 16th 2017, the day Mrs V and I welcomed our twin sons into the world, and now on their second birthday I was landing in Prague on my way to speak at a conference. With their birthday being on a week day this year, we had already had their party, but still I felt bad about not being at home on the day itself.

Having discovered that my Czech was not as atrocious as I had worried, successfully purchasing a short term pass for the city's magnificent public transport system, and carrying on a decent length conversation with the hotel receptionist, I needed a beer. My hotel was just two doors down from my old local, some might say I planned it that way, some might known me well, and so with a flutter of excitement I wandered a few hundred feet and back more than 10 years...

Walking through the door it felt as though literally nothing had changed. The signs on the walls were the same, the tables and chairs exactly where we left then in the Noughties, had I not known that Klara now works for a another pub, I would have not been surprised to see her behind the bar. So I took my seat.

My seat. On the left hand corner of the bar, first chair on the side. This seat allows you to watch the bar and the wider room at the same time, it is a seat for people watching, it is the seat that I always chose if it was available, and as I was often in before the crowds it usually was. I also had a regular seat in the basement bar, but it was sunny out so I wanted to sit in the light of the upstairs bar.

One thing that had changed was the absence of ?těpán, Pivovarsky klub's světly le?ák that was a reliable go to beer for many nights out when I didn't fancy anything new or different. In it's place was B?evnovsky Benedict, a 12.5° pale lager from B?evnovsky Klá?terní Pivovar, and from what I understand basically the only near permanent tap at PK. It just seemed right that my first beer back in Prague was a pale lager in Pivovarsky klub.

What a delightful beer, brimming with everything you expect from a Czech lager, a lovely subtle sweet graininess, a firm bitterness that while evident isn't harsh, light lime citrus notes from the hops, along with just a trace of white pepper, and that hay and floral aroma that always makes me think of freshly mown meadows in the mountains. Served at the right temperature, around 8°C/46°F, it was conditioned without being fizzy, the fuller body so classic of lower attenuated Czech lagers smoothing out the drinking...god this was good.

I had made a conscious decision that I would stick to local beer styles while in Prague rather than chasing after IPA, whether hazy or otherwise, when in Rome and all that jazz - plus I love Czech lager styles and they are so painfully rare here in Virginia. With that in mind, next up was the 14° Tmavy speciál from Pivovar Falken?tejn.

Tmavé is one of those beer styles that almost defy definition as even in the Czech Republic vastly different beers bear the moniker "tmavé" and couldn't be more different. As you can see from the picture, this one was very much on the inky blackness end of the colour spectrum. In terms of drinking, it was deliciously complex, layers of caramel, chocolate, and espresso swirling around in the glass, both as flavours and aromas. When I was about half way through the glass, the door opened and in walked Evan Rail.

Evan and I enjoyed many a session when Prague was definitively home for Mrs V and I, he was not expecting to see me, and I was thrilled to see him, even if only for a few moments as he was guiding a photographer around for a story on Karlín. We made arrangements to meet later in the week to catch up properly.

Sat at my usual corner of the bar, and Evan's too as it turned out, everything felt instinctively as it should do. I was in the city I will always regard as home, in the pub which for years was basically my living room, drinking beer styles I never tire of. All that was missing was Mrs V and the boys, but one day we'll all go to Prague as a family.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Session 140 - The Round Up

As the host of 140th monthly Session, I asked people to write something about Czech beer, beer culture, or the impact of Czech beer on the wider beer world. I chucked out a few suggestions as well:
  • reminiscences of a trip to the Czech Republic
  • a Czech beer that is your go to drink
  • lesser known styles of Czech beer, tmavé or polotmavé for example
  • the booming craft beer scene in the Czech Republic
  • small Czech breweries that deserve a wider audience
  • a beer you love inspired by Czech styles
So what did the folks come up with?

A new site for me, Franz Hofer is the mastermind behind A Tempest in a Tankard, and his post regaled us with memories of a few days drinking in the Czech capital. His trip included several of my favourite watering holes from my time there, as well as a few new places that when Mrs V, the Malé Ali?ky, and I eventually get back to Prague.

Over at The Brewsite, Jon admittedly to being "woefully inexperienced" in the delights of Czech beer, other than a keg of Pilsner Urquell at the Beer Bloggers Conference in Tampa. He also lamented that the Full Sail website no longer seems to list any Czech style lagers.

Stan Hieronymus wondered on Twitter if he had gone off topic by writing about Czech hops rather than Czech beer, but given the importance of hops to Bohemian history I have no problem whatsoever with that slight sideways step, especially as it is a very interesting article.

For my own post, I wrote about a pub that I loved when I lived in Prague but seem not to have written lots about on Fuggled, it also helped that said pub sold the wonderful Zlatá labu? Světlé Kvasnicové pivo 11°

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Session 140 - Of Swans and Bulldogs

The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic.
As the host of this month's Session, I have a confession to make, I have no idea where to go with our common theme of Czech beer. There are so many potential avenues for my post today. I could talk about how that very first half litre of Budvar 10° in a ?erny Most pizzeria has lead to a life long appreciate of the youngest of the claimants to the Budweiser name. I could talk about Kout na ?umavě's magnificent 14° tmavé that was the inspiration for Morana, my first brewing collaboration in the US with Devils Backbone. I could regale you dear reader with tales of kicking kegs of rare, at the time, beer styles with noted beer writers like Evan and Max. I could even ramble on about my ongoing mission to find an American made Bohemian Pilsner worthy of the name, thankfully there are a couple available in Virginia - looking at you Port City and Champion Brewing.

As I pondered what to write, I took to looking through pictures that I took in the Czech Republic during the ten years that I lived there, pictures in general and not just beer. In many ways life in the Czech Republic revolved around my favourite institution, the pub. I love the fact that the Czech language has at least 5 words for pub:
  • hospoda
  • hostinec
  • pivnice
  • hosp?dka
  • vy?ep
Naturally plenty of other words for drinking dens have crept into the language, "bar" and "lokál" being two of the more obvious examples. I am sure there are some out there that would want a taxonomical definition of the difference between a hospoda and a pivnice, but it would largely be an exercise in splitting hairs, and thus pretty pointless. The fact remains that the Czech hostelry is to the Czech Republic as the church is to the Southern states of the US, ubiquitous and largely indistinguishable one from the other.

From my experience the pub is the epicentre of Czech life, not just a place to go for a drink. It's the place where after some time you get to know the staff, if not by name then very much on a nodding acquaintance level. If you go often enough to particular places your regular tipple is on the table just as you take off your coat and they will keep on coming until you tell the servers to stop, a tricky proposition when the next beer usually arrived with a finger or so of the current one still in the glass.

Czech pubs are just as much a sociable place as they are a social centre, let me give you an example. You walk into a bar and there are people sat at every table, here in the US you do one of two things, wait for a table to open up or try somewhere else, in the Czech Republic you find the table with enough space for your group and ask if the seats are taken, if not you join that table. There is something about that friendly exchange with a stranger that I miss, maybe because it was this way of doing things that helped me overcome the crippling shyness of my teens and early twenties. When your beer comes, you cheers your new table mates and on you go, knowing the cheers will be reciprocated. In that interaction strangers become acquaintances, and sometimes even friends, and so the pub achieves one of its great purposes as society's greater leveller.

Throughout the decade of writing Fuggled I have no doubt waffled at length about my favourite pubs in the Czech Republic, Pivovarsky Klub where I met Mrs V, Zlatá Hvezda where I watched Liverpool twice a week most weeks during the football season, or even Bruska, the place with just tankové Pilsner Urquell on tap, but that was irrelevant because it was a damned good pint every time. One place though that I rarely seem to have mentioned, and also the beer that pulled me there time after time, is U Buldoka - in fact a quick search of the site shows that I have made passing reference to it all of twice. The beer that I drank in U Buldoka was always Zlatá labu? Světlé Kvasnicové pivo 11°, brewed by Pivovarsky dv?r Zvíkov. Whenever I throw my mind back to the many, many half litres I drank of this beer, two descriptors come to mind, sherbet and pear drops. Zlatá labu? 11° was a lovely, lovely beer - having not had it in nearly ten years I can't comment on what it is today - and U Buldoka was a great place to sit for an afternoon and just merrily drink your fill.

One of the delights of U Buldoka in winter is the big green thing you can see in the picture above, which I got from the U Buldoka website. That my good people unversed in the ways of Central Europe is a masonry heater, used for radiating heat throughout the room by virtue of a fire in the belly of the beast. These things are phenomenal at keeping a room warm, and so sitting a good distance away in the middle of winter becomes an art form in itself. Come summer, the fire is not lit, so it makes a handy place to prop yourself up against and use for stashing empty glasses. When I was writing the Pocket Pub Guide to Prague, several of the pub tours just so happened to pass close to U Buldoka, so my photographer Mark and I would finish up the chosen route for the day and then pop in for a pint or several, well ok then, just several. U Buldoka has so many of the things that I associate with a "good pub", dark furniture, dim lighting when the evening comes (nothing worse than glaring light bulbs to ruin a place's atmosphere), good beer, efficient staff, and simple but filling food. There are times when I would like nothing more than to take my twins for a stroll along the Vltava, perhaps from ?ech?v most down to Smíchov, crossing the river a couple of times, finishing up at U Buldoka for a well earnt pint or several, oh who are we kidding, several.

May be one day Mrs V and I will get back there, until then there are always the wonderful memories.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Session 140 Announcement - #Pivo

The Session, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic.

I was wondering to myself what the theme would be for this month's iteration of The Session, and so on looking at the list I realised that there was no theme for October. A quick scan through themes passim revealed a glaring topic omission, so I pinged Jay and Stan and hey presto they agreed to let me host The Session again!!

In the autumn of 1999 I jumped on a bus at London's Victoria Bus Station and spent the next 20 or so hours making my way across Europe to the mother of cities. The Czech Republic, most specifically Prague, would be my home for the next ten years, although my original plan had been just one year and then moving on to visit as many former Soviet countries as possible, best laid plans of mice and men, and all that jazz. I still remember my first Czech beer in situ, I'd had a couple of Czech lagers as a college student in Birmingham, a half litre of 10° Budvar in a little pizza place among the paneláky of ?erny Most. Beer was to be part and parcel of life for the duration of my stay in the country I still wistfully think of home. That my dear readers is the theme then for The Session this Friday, Czech beer. You could write about any of the following:
  • reminiscences of a trip to the Czech Republic
  • a Czech beer that is your go to drink
  • lesser known styles of Czech beer, tmavé or polotmavé for example
  • the booming craft beer scene in the Czech Republic
  • small Czech breweries that deserve a wider audience
  • a beer you love inspired by Czech styles
So let's has a love song to Bohemia and her beers, the land that gave us the original pilsner, and so much more.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Always There

Sometimes it seems as though every time you turn around there are breweries bringing out new beers, retiring old (or simply unappreciated, whether by brewery or customer) beers, or adding American hops to an extant beer style and calling it a IPA of some level of bastardisation. This constant obsession with the new, whether actually new or not, can leave one's head spinning. Thankfully though, there are some breweries for whom the constant demand for new products holds no sway, for whom having their beer dispensed in a different manner is not something they aspire to, who understand that for the vast majority of beer drinkers the beer that is always there is the one that they will come back to time and again. Yet at times it appears that such beers slide under the radar, ignored, sometimes despised, simply because of their ubiquity.

I have a beer that I come back to time and again for simple drinking pleasure, and really if you don't actually like drinking beer rather than just doing sampling flights then what's the point? It is the classic of its style, consistently good, and one that I can never remember having been disappointed by. People that know me well or have followed Fuggled for a while will know it is Pilsner Urquell.

Whatever the veracity or otherwise of the creation myth that surrounds Pilsner Urquell, the fact remains that when Josef Groll revealed his pale golden lager to the drinkers of Plzeň he changed the beer world forever. Just a few decades later and brewers from across Europe and America were copying, to varying degrees of success, this archetypal Bohemian beer. I'll admit that when I lived in the Czech Republic I drank more Gambrinus that Pilsner Urquell to begin with, and that when I started discovering the many wonderful beers from smaller breweries I drank a lot of their beer too, but the simple pleasure of going to a Prazdroj pub like Bruska or U Pinkas? and drinking several pints of bracingly bitter lager was something to be savoured.

When Mrs V and I upped sticks and moved to the US, the sight of Urquell in a grocery store was a little reminder of that much loved distant land about which we knew plenty and so it became a delight to come home from the shop with a 6 pack and drink it from one of my Czech beer glasses, usually with the wrong branding, but who really cares about that shite anyway? On those rare occasions when it was available on draft, I practically parked myself at the bar. Sure it was pasteurised and filtered, and as such not quite as good as the kvasnicové, or even the tanková, to be had back in Plzeň, but it was a darned sight better than the majority of attempts at Czech pilsner being brewed by small American breweries at the time. Then came the changes.

They didn't change the recipe, the lagering time, the shape of the fermenters or any of that stuff, they changed the shipping procedure. In came 'express cold shipped' Pilsner Urquell and the difference was palpable. Yes it was still filtered and pasteurised, but it was fresher, kept in better conditions through the transport process and as such tasted closer to that I would drink in the Czech Republic. Then they went back to brown bottles and again the beer was more like itself. Then, o miracle of miracles, a Charlottesville pub had unfiltered, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell on tap (a proper tap no less!), and there it was, Pilsner as Groll intended.

I probably drink a 6 pack or two of Pilsner Urquell every month. I love that beer. I don't care that it is brewed by a 100% owned subsidiary of SABMiller. I don't care that it doesn't use the latest experimental hops from the Pacific Northwest. I don't care that it is a style of beer so roundly disregarded and misunderstood by the ignorati of the craft beer world. I care that it is always good, it's always the same, and it always transports me to another time and place, that city with claws.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Into the Woods

Last night saw a rather large thunderstorm roll over the Charlottesville area. Being something of a non-fan of Thor smacking Mj?lnir against his anvil, I took refuge in my beer cellar, sat myself down on an unopened case of beer, and began to read. My material for this delve into sanctuary? Evan Rail's latest Kindle eBook, "Beer Trails: The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest".

Without wanting to steal Evan's thunder, because each and every one of you needs to go and buy this work, this is all about my favourite Czech brewery, and the brewery that if I never drank another beer from any other brewery I would still have a rich and flavourful beer life, Kout na ?umavě. If i remember rightly, and there is a fair old beery fog to claw my way through, it was Evan himself who first recommended I head up to U slovanské lipy to try Kout's beer, and what occurred was simply obsession with first mouthful, both for the pub, which was a right Czech dive (aka the perfect pub), and the beer. There were many more nights spent in U slovanské lipy with Evan, Max, Rob, Boak and Bailey, Mrs V, and a raft of other folks that I insisted on dragging up there to try the beer, usually finished off with a malé 18° tmavé...

One thing that really comes through in Evan's prose is his sheer passion for the brewery, its history, and their products. You can't help but get the feeling that Evan thoroughly enjoyed writing this book, such passion for the subject makes the book an absolute delight to read. I may have mentioned this in my review of Evan's last eBook, but reading his work is almost like being sat in the pub with him, talking about beer, from that perspective it is clear to me that Evan is a writer with a clear, authentic, and unforced, voice.

The book also recounts a tale about an American writer wanting information for an article about the tmavé style, which brought a smile to my face, because said writer was Nathan Zeender, and the article in question included my tmavé recipe. Such a small, and friendly, beer writing world we live in. For those with long memories, Nathan joined Jason and I at Devils Backbone the first time we brewed Morana.

There are plenty of other episodes recounted in the book, each revolving around that wonderful, almost anachronistic brewery in the wilds of Bohemia, but to find out what they are, you need to pop over to Amazon and spend literally a few bucks (seriously, $2.99 for a work of this quality is insanely cheap), and don't wait for a thunderstorm to read it. Find your favourite pub, that serves your favourite beer, and listen to the voice you will recognise instantly.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Old Dark Prague

When we think about the history of lager brewing and the evolution of beer 'styles', for want of a better word, we usually talk about how the dark lagers like Schwarzbier have been around for centuries, while Pilsner and Helles are relatively modern creations. Lager brewing didn't really become common until the 15th century, and as malting technology improved, new, paler lagers were developed, thus the history of lager is predominantly one of dark lager preceding pale.

Except in Bohemia, where it is generally accepted that the first lagers to be brewed there were pale, based on the 1840s Pilsner phenomenon which was sweeping the brewing world (hhmmm, where does this story sound familiar from?). Up until about 1890, the dark beers of Bohemia were warm fermented, the breweries took their recipes, switched to a cold fermenting yeast and essentially created the Tmavé style which makes up about 5% of modern Czech brewing production. This story is exemplified by the legendary U Flek? beer hall in Prague, whose almost stouty 13° Tmavé was warm fermented until about 1892, if I remember rightly.

I have brewed a couple of Tmavé lagers since moving to Virginia, both homebrew and at Devils Backbone, but when my best friend suggested that we do a brewing project together, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to recreate a little bit of history - and not just in terms of he and I sitting on a balcony necking beer, like we did in Prague back in 1999/2000. I already had an idea for a recipe in my head and my friend liked the look of it, so this Saturday will be our first joint brewday when he gets down here from DC way.

The beer is being called Staropra?ské Tmavé Pivo, which translates as 'Old Prague Dark Beer', and the recipe is:
  • 76% Bohemian Pilsner Malt
  • 22% CaraMunich II
  • 2% Carafa III
  • 7 IBU Kazbek for 90 minutes
  • 13 IBU Saaz for 60 minutes
  • 10 IBU Saaz for 30 minutes
  • Wyeast 2565 Kolsch yeast
The hop schedule is based on that of my favourite Czech dark lager, Kout na ?umavě's magnificent 14° Tmavé, which was itself the inspiration for Morana, the Tmavé I brewed at Devils Backbone. When it came to deciding on the yeast strain, I knew I wanted to use a European warm fermenting strain rather than a British or American, which pretty much meant going with a K?lsch or Altbier strain, and so out of pure whimsy I plumped for Cologne rather than Düsseldorf. The recipe, assuming everything goes well, should give us a beer with the following:
  • OG - 12.5° P (1.050)
  • FG - 3.3° Plato (1.013)
  • ABV - 4.9%
  • IBU - 30
  • SRM - 21 Brown to Dark Brown
I haven't decided whether or not to lager the beer for a couple of weeks yet, but it should be ready sometime in June either way.

The pictures in this post were taken by Mark Stewart of Black Gecko Photography when we were working on our book - The Pocket Pub Guide to Prague.

Monday, April 15, 2013

It's Real!

I noticed on Friday that Ratebeer has finally caught up with the real world and accepted that Polotmavy, which is Czech for 'half dark', is a distinct beer 'style' from Vienna lagers or the more generic 'amber lager'. They describe the 'style' as follows:
'This is the amber lager style of the Czech Republic. The character that the brewery usually aims for with this style is a hybrid between the dark lager and the pale pilsner. The result has a richer malt character than the American Dark/Amber Lager/Vienna style and more hop than the Oktoberfest/Marzen style'.
While I understand what they are trying to say here, let me just clear something up, Polotmavy is not a 'hybrid' of pale lager and tmavy, which is dark lager, it is a descendent of Vienna lager. For a better idea of these beers, this is what Evan Rail says about it in the 'Good Beer Guide - Prague and the Czech Republic':
'Unlike Pilsner-style brews, which usually require extremely soft water, half-darks can be made with a higher carbonate content and can include caramel and dark malt to various degrees, as well as Pilsner malt. Extremely clear and reddish-amber in colour, they are perhaps closest to the Vienna lager invented in the 19th Century by Anton Dreher'.
Something that is important to remember with Czech brewing though is that what we in the Anglo-American centric beer world call a style, such as polotmavy, is really just a definition of the general colour of the beer. Most examples range from a rich amber to a garnet red, as such you'll see beers marketed as 'jantar' and 'granát' respectively. Remembering that fact is important, because under the current Czech brewing laws there are 4 categories of beer based on strength, each of which can be Polotmavy:
  • Stolní pivo or 'table beer', up to 6° Plato OG (up to 1.024 and rarer than hen's teeth)
  • Vy?epní pivo or 'tap beer' between 7° to 10° (1.028-1.040)
  • Le?ák or 'lager' 11° and 12° (1.044-1.048)
  • Speciální pivo or 'special beer' 13° and higher (1.052+)
Another thing to be aware of is that Polotmavy is not the same as a ?ezané, which is a blend of dark and pale beers, both should be the same gravity, to make a Czech lager equivalent of the black and tan.

As for how a Polotmavy will taste, again let me quote Evan (admittedly for the Le?ák variant but applicable across the board really):
'a lightly toasted taste and some serious malt complexity followed by a balanced hop finish'.
As with most Czech beers, the hops in question are likely to be Saaz, so expect lots of that wonderful lemony, hay, grassy thing that is so characteristic of the most noble of noble hops.

To mark Polotmavy's acceptance on Ratebeer, I cracked open some of my homebrew version, which I call Dark Island Granát, on Friday afternoon, when Mrs V got home from work....

Is it 'to style' (such a bullshit phrase)? I like to think so, is it dangerously moreish to drink? Oh yes.

Friday, January 11, 2013

To the Half-Dark Side

As I alluded to on Monday, I don't think it is possible, or even desirable, to force Czech beer into an essentially Anglo-American taxonomy. As such even I cringe when I use the term 'Bohemian Pilsner' as a catch all for the wonderful pale lagers produced throughout the Czech Republic, and think it should only apply to pale lagers made in the city of Plzeň itself. Anything from outside the city, though it may be made in the style of a Pilsner beer, is a Bohemian Pale Lager.

I am sure that some will see that as splitting hairs, especially given that the essential process of making Plzeňsky Prazdroj, Budvar or Svijany Rytí? is the same, but I think it is a question of respect. A sparkling wine that comes from California, Spain or Australia is not a Champagne, even though it may share may characteristics, the same holds true for Pilsner. When I first moved to Prague I noticed that often Prazdroj drinkers didn't like Budvar, and vice versa. For many years I much preferred Budvar to Prazdroj, though now I like them both equally, depending on my mood and in my opinion tankovy Budvar is every bit as good as tankovy Prazdroj.

Anyway, back to my original, though so far unstated, theme for today. I plan to brew my first beer of the year on Monday, a polotmavé vy?epní or 'half-dark tap' beer. If you want to force it into an entirely made up style for the Anglo-American mind, you could call it a 'session Vienna lager'. Of course polotmavé pivo is related to Vienna lager, although this type of beer was practically dead until 1999 when, to use Evan Rail's turn of phrase, Staropramen 'in a strangely heroic move' gave new life to it with Millennium. The recipe for my beer is as follows:
  • 48% Bohemian Pilsner malt
  • 42% Munich malt
  • 9% CaraMunich I malt
  • 1% Carafa II Debittered malt
  • 17 IBU 8% AA Kazbek for 60 mins
  • 10 IBU 3.9% AA Saaz for 15 mins
  • 0.5 IBU 3.9% AA Saaz for 1 min
  • Saflager S-23
The vital stats for this beer will be, hopefully:
  • OG 10.2° Plato (1.041)
  • FG 2.6° Plato (1.010)
  • ABV 4.1%
  • SRM 13 - copper to red
I plan to ferment the beer in my garage, which is sitting at about 49°F, or 9.5°C, at the moment, for about 2 weeks, with a diacetyl rest indoors at 60° for a week thereafter, followed by 4 weeks in the fridge, lagering at 38°. I haven't decided yet if I am going to attempt any decoctions for this one, though I am tempted to try a single decoction.

In theory in should be ready for March, and perhaps the National Homebrew Competition, though quite which category I would enter it in I have no idea.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Square Pegs Round Holes

Back in the death throes of the 20th century, when I moved from Blighty to the Czech Republic, beer came in a few very broad categories, lager, old man ale and Guinness. Lager was pale, vaguely tasteless and often drunk straight from the bottle. Old man ale was everything else that wasn't Guinness. Generally speaking I was an old man ale and Guinness drinker, depending on my mood. Lager was something I didn't really drink, unless it was Czech, my first Gambrinus was had in an All Bar One in Birmingham, Polish, drinking Hevelius Kaper with my girlfriend at the time's father is one of my earliest foreign beer memories, or German, usually Becks. Pretty much all I knew of lager back then was that anything from Central Europe was, by definition, better than the cans of Tennent's Lager that we used to indulge in as teenagers.

Moving to Prague, and staying for 10 years, shaped my drinking life far more though than those early years of surreptitious cans of Tennent's or even my first legal pint of Guinness. It was in the Czech Republic that I learnt that lager came in a range of colours, světly, polotmavy and tmavy, pale, amber and dark, and even in strengths, lehké, vy?epní, Le?ák and Speciál - 'light' (sub 8° Plato), 'tap' (8-10.99°), 'lager' (11-12.99°) and 'special' (13°+) respectively. Essentially, for the duration of my life in Prague there was no such thing as beer style, just beers of varying colours and strengths. Often even phrases such as vy?epní and le?ák were irrelevant, because you ordered your beer by the number of degrees Plato, thus you ordered a 'desítka' (10°), 'dvanáctka' (12°) and so on. Most pubs would carry a grand total of three beers, a 'desítka' a 'dvanáctka' and a 'tmavy', and when you simply asked for a 'pivo' it was invariably 'desítka' that was soon in front of you. If you didn't fancy a 'světly' or a 'tmavy' and the pub didn't have a polotmavy, a fairly regular occurrence back then, you would ask for a '?ezané pivo' or '?e?ák', a half and half mixture of a pale lager and dark lager, both of which should have the same Plato. Apropos of nothing, the longer I lived in Prague, the more often I would have a '?e?ák' when I was out and about.

The reason I mention all this is that when people ask me my favourite beer 'style' I hesitate for a moment, not because I can't decide between a Czech pale lager and a dry Irish stout, but because in my mind there is no such thing as a 'Czech pale lager' or a 'Bohemian Pilsner', but rather there are desítky that I love, dvanáctky I can drink until the cows come home and Speciály that rock my boat like the Minch in winter. This is, for me, one of the big failings of websites such as RateBeer and BeerAdvocate in trying to shoehorn the various Czech beers in an essentially Anglo-American taxonomy.

When we had our celebration of Czechoslovak independence back in October someone brought a six pack of Lagunitas Pils. When one of our Czech guests drank it, he grimaced and simply pronounced 'this is not Czech', and went back to drinking Port City's Downright Pilsner, which reminded him of the great beers from home. He didn't care for style, for numbers, only that it tasted right.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Brewer of the Week

Today sees the return of the Brewer of the Week series. As you know, unless you are new or haven't been paying attention, I lived in the Czech Republic for about 10 years before moving to the US in 2009. Czech beer is thus very close to my heart and it has bothered me for some time that there hadn't been a Czech brewery in my Brewer of the Week series. Today that gets put right, and on Saint Václav's Day as well!

Name: Jakub Vesely
Brewery: Pivovar Falkon

How did you get into brewing as a career?

As a small child I was very excited of beer, its foam and interesting smell. I grew up in the town, well known by hop cultivation and people there were really proud of it. So when I was 9-10 years old, I started to collect beer labels, coasters etc., and at 12, I got the idea to brew my own beer. Of course, I knew nothing about the beer brewing. I started with malt extract and after a few batches I tried a full grain batch. When I was 15 I started studies of fermentation technology (especially beer technology) in Prague, still active in homebrewing and after graduating I’ve worked in one small commercial brewery. Now I am starting studies at the University of Chemistry.

What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?

Brewer should be careful, handy (exactly it doesn’t concern me), open to new things.

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

I was homebrewing, I am homebrewing now and I will in the future as well. I have converted to this date 2 recipes, but this number will raise.

If you did homebrew, do you still?

Actually I’m developing 5 new Falkon beer recipes in homebrew.

What is your favourite beer to brew?

Every beer I brew.

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

It was non traditional beers (In Bohemia) - especially ales.

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

For Falkon I have already brewed 2 beers and I like them both.

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

Authenticity is thing, why customers decide to buy my beers. Not all materials, which I need for my “world wide concept brewing” are available, so I have to replace some of them by local ones. But not all of them of course! I always try to use original brewing method for individual beer styles. By this way traditional beers are produced with original character.

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

It’s hard to say. In the world, there are lot of excellent breweries with excellent brewmasters of course. For example Brewdog, Stone...

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

Recently i was in beer heaven of Brewdog "I Hardcore you" or Ov-ral double IPA fermented with wild yeast by To ?l.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Session - The Name of the Ring...

"What follows was translated from the original German. Found on top of a pile of papers, only rediscovered in the days of Restitution in 1990 when the government restored property confiscated in the heady days of 1948 and the Communist takeover, in a cobwebbed attic, littered with the remnants of a life hastily packed, a diary lay open...

“November 11th 1842

A few dozen people were gathered at the fair for the feast of Saint Martin, finally the moment had arrived for our new beer to be tasted. Would it be worth the wait? The money? The hassle with the brewer? The success of the last four years depended on the skill of the Bavarian who has spent recent months annoying all of us on the board of directors with his complaining, rough manner and drunkenness.

How bad was our beer in the days before we spent all that money on the English malting equipment? Sometimes it was reasonable, but most of the time it was just too smoky and heavy to drink more than a few mouthfuls of. How we wished we had smashed open barrels of it on the steps of the town hall, but Herr Schmitzer insisted we didn't.

The cask was sat on a bar, Herr Groll looking smart and sober for a change fidgeted, clearly eager to show us the outcome of his labour. Groll turned the tap and out gushed a torrent of golden liquid and bright white foam into the waiting jug.

Around the cask, the directors gasped as the beer, topped with a cap of foam, was poured from the jug into our crystal goblets. How was it possible for beer to be so light in colour, sparkling like the finest French champagne?

We felt as though the very future of our town rested on how the beer tasted...the bitterness of the hops was so much more than any of us had ever known. There was a sweetness there, which Groll said was the product of the English malting methods he used and his special way of mashing the grains. It was without doubt the finest, most refreshing beer we had ever tasted.

To think that we had everything to make such a pure beer right here in Pilsen! Most assuredly Saint Martin has left behind the grape in favour of the grain!”

Forgive the most likely abysmal rip off of Umberto Eco's style for The Name of the Rose, but the truth remains, I would love to have been at the Martinmas Fair in Plzeň, a week before my birthday, to taste Josef Groll's original Pilsner Urquell. To my mind the beers of the Czech Republic inspired by Groll's Pilsner are the finest on earth, end of story...

This month's edition of The Session is being hosted by Drink Drank, the stated topic is "One Beer to Rule Them All"

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Some Advice for MolsonCoors

I realise that this is maybe somewhat cheeky, but I would like to offer MolsonCoors some advice.

It seems, if the news is correct, that they are intent on buying a company called StarBev. Perhaps the jewel in StarBev's crown is Staropramen in Prague, but they also own breweries in other Central and Eastern European countries as well as distributing a range of western brands in the region. Obviously then the purchase is to gain a foothold in the CEE marketplace, which happens to include the country with the highest beer consumption per capita in the world, the Czech Republic.

There is though, I believe, an opportunity for MolsonCoors to do something good for the beer world in Central and Eastern Europe through their purchase of StarBev, and in particular their Czech brands. Beyond Staropramen, the purchase of StarBev has brought Ostrovar, Mě??an, and most of all Braník into their portfolio.

Braník is something of a sad, cautionary tale of the pitfalls of privatisation and calamities of consolidation. If I remember rightly, when Staropramen in some form or other took over Braník they eventually shut the brewery itself, which is a lovely building overlooking the river in south Prague, and moved production to the main Staropramen brewery. The brands themselves became something of an underappreciated runt of the family and eventually their pubs started to disappear. Caught up in all this though was a legendary beer, the 12° ?erné pivo, or dark beer, reputed to have been a close second to U Flek?'s magnificent 13° tmavy. Unfortunately I never tried the Braník ?erné, though I believe it was until recently sold in Germany.

In some ways I guess I am out of concert with a fair few people when it comes to talking about the large brewing multinationals, I simply don't see them as some monolithic monstrosity which is the antithesis of good beer, and MolsonCoors are a case in point. Over the Christmas holidays I revelled in the delights of a beer called Worthington White Shield, an IPA of such outstanding drinkability that I really hope the rumours are true and it will be available Stateside in the coming months. Sure, MolsonCoors are never going to qualify for anyone's definition of a "craft brewery", but in White Shield they have a beer which makes an absolutely mockery of the idea that only small breweries make great beer.

It is my experience of Worthington White Shield that I think gives MolsonCoors an opportunity in the Czech Republic to revive a legend and bring back Braník ?erné from the dead, to once again be enjoyed by the beer loving people of Prague and beyond.

* the picture is not mine, it is the work of Hynek Moravec and used under the licence terms of Wikipedia, the original file can be seen here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Prague's Old Spring

I haven't drunk Staropramen in a very long time. Well OK then, not since I had a bottle of their dark lager with Evan Rail in U Rotundy (a pub beloved of Ron Pattinson) back in 2009, just before leaving the Czech Republic. In October of the same year, the former owners, InBev, decided to sell off their Central European operations to raise some cash in the wake of buying Anheuser-Busch, included in this package was Staropramen.

I remember when Staropramen, at the turn of the millennium brought out the beer which eventually became known as Granát, though originally it was Staropramen Millenium, and revived the old Bohemian style of "polotmavé". Polotmavé is another of those Bohemian beer styles which, while similar to Vienna lager, is actually not the same as Vienna lager. The defining ingredient of the latter being Vienna malt, whereas the former usually has the same malts as a tmavé, just less of the dark ones, hence being a "half-dark".

Anyway, today as a result of a tweet from a friend, I decided to have a look at the Staropramen website, and I have to admit to being impressed by their use of video content, which I can't quite work out how to embed here, but pop along to their site and have a look for yourself. Interestingly, Staropramen apparently do a double decoction mash, and there is no mention of the corn syrup which allegedly made up about a third of the fermentables in the InBev days.

Given that Budvar, Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen are all available over here, I am tempted to do a blind tasting of commercial Czech lagers and see which one I prefer these days.

* strangely enough I don't have any pictures of Staropramen (gasp, shock, horror!), hence the sepia pic of St Vitus Cathedral that I took one early morning while wandering round the city.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Longing for Sunshine

If I were still living in the Czech Republic there is only one place I would be this weekend. Assuming I had survived more rounds of redundancy at my old employer, I would have been taking advantage of their generous "benefits" system and have booked Mrs V and I into a plush 4 star hotel for Friday and Saturday night.

Said four star hotel has a bowling alley, restaurant with excellent Czech cuisine (anyone who says Czech food is rubbish is an idiot in my world - pigs and beer, what's not to love?), oh and they have a brewery in the hotel as well. The hotel in question is called Purkmistr, which translates as "Slunce ve Skle beer festival.

Translating as "Sunshine in a Glass", this beer festival was the first I ever attended, and is the model for what I think of as a good beer festival. Not so big as to be intimidating, not too small so as to be quickly over, oh and it is more or less a drinking festival rather than a 2oz sample thing. Hence why I would be booking a room at the hotel for the weekend if I were going, recovery time in a nice environment and breakfast included.

At this year's festival there are breweries from Slovakia and the UK being represented at the event, as well as plenty of good small Czech brewers like Kocour, Matu?ka and Pivovarsky dv?r Zvíkov, makers of the magnificent Zlatá Labu? range of beers, which compare very favourably with those of Kout na ?umavě.

So, if you are within striking distance of Plzeň, jump on the train, then take the trolley bus out to ?ernice and enjoy excellent beer in a wonderful location, and from what I hear meet some of the UK's best beer bloggers as well!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beer After Prague - A Response

My good friend Max, aka Pivní Filosof, pointed out an article on the Prague based website, with the title , wherein the writer claims that there is no good beer outside the Czech Republic. Seemingly the writer spent a few years in Prague before heading off to the sunnier climes of the Iberian peninsula and started to have longings for Gambrinus. The article is hilarious, so painfully bad that I hope the guys at Expats didn't actually stump up good money for it. Its premise is ludicrous and the writer's comments on American beer utterly devoid of knowledge of anything beyond the pale lagers dished up by the very same multi-national brewing companies that make, and entirely fucked up, the Gambrinus for which the writer hankers.

In describing Coors Light as "diet alcoholic nonsense" the writer simply highlights their ignorance of beer. Sure, I don't drink Coors, whether light or otherwise, but a beer that is 4.2% abv, or to put that in a Czech context, just 0.2% abv less than Pilsner Urquell and 0.1% abv more than the much missed Gambrinus, is hardly "diet alcoholic nonsense". The writer then goes on to lament that American pale lager is "light" and "watery" and makes her (I assume) want to run back to her precious wine, yet her beloved Gambrinus is some of the most watery, light piddle I have ever drunk, and from talking with friends in Prague, it has gone even further downhill of late.

Now, unless you have been living under a cyber rock, you will know that I too love and miss Czech beer (oh just one more gripe about this article - typical expat Pragocentric bollocks, all the best Czech breweries and pubs are outside the city). And while it is also true that I search, achingly at times, for an authentic Czech style lager brewed here in the US, or even a good German one, that hasn't stopped me from enjoying all the delights of the Virginian, and wider American, beer world. Let me say this loud and clear, the American brewing scene is fantastic, for the sheer range of beer styles being brewed here, there are few places that come close. Where else can I go to a brewpub and have superb examples of Vienna lager, American IPA, hefeweizen and pale lager?

As you quite likely know, I spent 10 years living in the Czech Republic, and I drank a lot of beer, I remember when Kozel was still independent and making beautiful lagers, I remember when Gambrinus didn't go in for high gravity brewing and post fermentation dilution, I remember when a beer festival like Slunce ve Skle would have been virtually impossible. However, it has been 2 years since I left and in answer to the writer's article, yes there is beer after Prague, it's just you've never got off your arse to go find it, just as many expats never get their indulgent arses out of Prague to discover the real Czech Republic.

There is no shame in missing a place, hell I miss Prague practically every day, but one thing I hope you will never read on this blog is a lamentation about how bad the beer culture is wherever I happen to find myself. I also hope that I am proactive enough to go and find the beer culture in the places I live, which is pretty much a given as my favourite way to waste a few hours is sat in the pub. This article did my head in for several reasons, other than the simpering style. Firstly, it is clear that the writer has no idea that there is more to beer than just lager. Secondly, that there is more to the Czech Republic than just Prague.

Yes Czech lager is great, and I would say the best in the world for certain styles, but it is just one bright star in a beery sky full of stars, America, Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Norway, France, Australia......the list goes on, you just have to go exploring.

Friday, May 20, 2011

What's in a Name?

Whilst looking through the pictures that are already on Fuggled, I rediscovered this little delight:

I took the picture at Hotel Pegas, a hotel and brewpub in the centre of Brno, the second city of the Czech Republic, during a trip down to Moravia in 2009. The sign was in fact one of a pair, unfortunately I didn't take a picture of the other, or if I did, I can't find it. The second picture though was a German version of the Czech sign, which translates roughly in English as "Original Porter from ?eské Budějovice" - or Budweis as it is also known.

You can see from picture that the brewery making this porter was Mě??ansky Pivovar, the brewery that today is known generally as Samson, though was originally called "Die Budweiser Br?uberechtigten - Bürgerliches Br?uhaus-Gegründet 1795 - Budweis". I am guessing from the fact that the sign was in both German and Czech that it dates from the period known as the Czech National Revival, which led to Josef Jungmann publishing the first Czech dictionary and eventually the building of the Czech National Theatre in June 1881 - the original building burnt down in August 1881 and was re-built and opened in 1883.

I don't know about you, but I find that sign fascinating on so many levels. Firstly the fact that it was made in both Czech and German pointing to the multi-cultural nature of Bohemia. Secondly, the brewery that produced the beer was using Budweiser as an appellation, and this before Budvar was even created in 1895 (so if anyone say Budvar is the original Budweiser they are wrong). Thirdly, and perhaps most intriguing was that the brewery was making a porter, a style more commonly associated with London and the Baltic region.

In the modern Czech brewing law, a porter is a dark beer brewed to greater than 18o Plato, about 1.076. However, it is dangerous to read the modern Czech interpretation of porter back into the 19th century, so what was this beer? I would like to posit a theory, and I am perfectly happy for it to be complete bullshit, but I think without much more evidence available (until I finally get round to reading a book I have on brewing in ?eské Budějovice pre 1895) I think it holds water.

As discussed elsewhere, tmavé up until the late 19th century was warm fermented. Even today if you go to the legendary beer hall U Flek?, their tmavé is distinctly stout like. From what I understand of that beer, the recipe is largely the same today as it was in the 1890s, but it is cold fermented and lagered. What is today called tmavé in the Czech lands bears an uncanny resemblance to porter, whether Baltic or otherwise. Was it then a version of porter that was poured down the drains of Plzeň that eventually led to Pilsner?

Obviously without the brewing records it is impossible to know for sure was Budweiser Porter was, but I am thinking that a little homebrew project to brew a Czech Porter would be interesting, and I have to do something with the 5 extra ounces of Saaz that I have knocking about in the fridge. When it comes to the yeast strain, I think a German ale strain is in order, something from Dusseldorf for example. I imagine that the beer would have enjoyed a long cool conditioning phase, somewhat akin to Scottish beers, and so once fermented in will sit in the cellar for a while.

Another project for an every growing list.

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 ...