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

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Happy to Schill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 3, 2020

Because We Can

Saturday was one of my favourite kind of days, a brewday with one of my local breweries.


In this case I was down at the Devils Backbone Basecamp once more. The plan, to brew Morana for the fifth time. Morana is, as a quick recap, a 14° tmavé speciální, or for the non-Czech speakers a 14° dark special lager, modeled on the sadly now departed Kout na ?umavě dark lager of the same strength.


From the very first time we brewed Morana, back in 2010, it has been double decocted as a nod to the traditional brewing practices of central Europe. It has also always undergone a long period of lagering, about 45 days. It has always used floor malted Bohemian pilsner malt, as well as CaraBohemian, Dark Munich, and de-bittered Carafa II, and it has always been hopped exclusively with Saaz hops. For this most recent brew none of these things have changed. At the end of the slightly longer than many a brewday, decoction does that, we had an on the nail wort that is going to make a simply fantastic beer.


From here on in though, Morana is in uncharted territory. You see, Devils Backbone have recently invested in some fun brewing equipment that we hope will bring Morana, a beer described in Jeff Alworth's Beer Bible as "the best New World effort to make an Old World beer", closer to her Old World antecedents.


Where in years past Morana would have undergone fermentation in a cylindrical conical tank, this time she is being fermented in Devils Backbone's new open fermenter, indeed she is the first lager to do so. As ever when Jason Oliver and I get together I learn shit tons of fun stuff about brewing, and naturally I asked what difference, if any, an open fermenter would make. Apparently the difference is less in the open nature of the vessel than it is in the geometry of it, being broader and shallower than a CCT. If I understand what Jason told me correctly, the CO2 generated by the yeast has a larger area in which to bubble to the surface, raising the yeast as it goes. This results is a fermentation with less circulation in the vessel, resulting in a more leisurely process, and thus the yeast is less stressed than it would be in the CCT. Again, assuming I understood correctly, this will impact the body and mouthfeel of the beer, making it even more luxuriant than previous iterations.


Having fermented for the requisite length of time, and once it is with about 1.5° Plato of target gravity, it will be moved over to a CCT to finish the fermentation with the CO2 valve firmly shut. With the natural carbonation achieved, it will be pumped over to another new toy that Jason gets to play with, one of the horizontal lagering tanks. There she will sit for 45 days at near freezing, and when the time comes to keg her up and drink, she will not be filtered.


During the brewday, Jason treated me to a couple of samples of German style beers sitting in the horizontal tanks. Currently lagering and soon to be on tap at Basecamp are Ein K?lsch and Alt Bier, no prizes for guessing the styles based on the names. Whenever they have been on tap in the past, Mrs V and I have made a point of getting to the brewpub for a few jars and to fill several growlers, based on the samples taken from the zwickel, we'll definitely be heading down in the not too distant future.

I remember once Jason being asked for an article in some brewing magazine about why he does decoction mashes for his lagers, to which he responded "because I can". What better reason to decoct, open ferment, and lager horizontally a Czech style tmavé for authenticity than simply that, because we can?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

17° Perfection

Goodness me it's been a while since I posted.

Mitigating circumstance is that just 5 days after my previous post, Mrs V gave birth to our twin sons, the malé Ali?ky as they have been nicknamed, and we are getting to grips with this whole parenthood thing.

On Saturday, we introduced the malé Ali?ky to that most august of establishments, the pub. I fear that in the rampantly puritanical mind of the Institute of Alcohol Studies (for those unaware, a front organisation feigning academic respectability for the heirs of the Temperance League and their prohibitionist cohorts) the boys are already scarred for life as I have had several beers right in front of them already.

Said introductory pub was the original Devils Backbone brewpub down in Nelson County, and the occasion was the tapping of the beer I brewed with them back in August, a Czech style Polotmavy Speciál. Polotmavy because it is neither light nor dark, but a deep red kind of in between, and Speciál because it has an original gravity of about 17° Plato. In keeping with Czech tradition the name of the beer is Granát, which is "garnet" in Czech, a reference to the famous gemstones from Central Bohemia.


"But how did the beer turn out?" I hear you say....

Well, it pours a really rich deep auburn, that the picture above maybe doesn't capture fully, and yes I am biased but I think all my children are gorgeous. The head is a healthy inch of ivory foam that lingers for the duration and leaves some lovely lacing down the glass. Aroma wise, there are some traces of a lightly herbal hop character, but given the beer is more balanced toward the malt, the classic Central European smells of fresh bread and a sweet malt aroma (I can't think of a better description honestly, when you smell CaraBohemian malt you get what I mean). In terms of taste, there is lots of breadiness, and a healthy dollop of sweetness, think dulce de leche and you're close, all backed up by a firm hop bite that stops the beer from being sickly - is there anything worse than a sickly sweet beer? Having lagered for a nearly 10 weeks, the finish is clean, crisp, and despite the malt forward nature of the beer, refreshing.

You know, the more I think about it, the more it reminds me of a 14° Polotmavy Speciál from Minipivovar Hukvaldy that I relished back in 2008 over lunch with Max in Prague.

So yes it turned out exactly as I wanted it to, and my only regret is that it won't ever see the light of day at Pivovarsky klub. Given the volume of the batch, I expect it will only be on at Devils Backbone for a few weeks, so if you are in the area get along and try the first recorded authentic Czech style Polotmavy in Virginian history.

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Perfect 10

A pub. Green tablecloths draped over dark wooden tables. Beermats propped up between the salt and pepper shakers. Above the wooden wainscoting, black and white photos of the pub being on the front line of a rebellion against the Nazis, or the Communists, who knows? Working men, smoking, talking, drinking. The barman taking minutes to pour each glass of beer, the server whisking them to tables, seemingly without being asked. The beer, slightly hazy yellow, topped with a solid white foam, gone in four mouthfuls, replaced by the server with a fresh one.


The pub I am thinking of here is U slovanské lipy, in the ?i?kov district of Prague, as I remember it before leaving the Czech Republic for my current sojourn in Virginia. U slovanské lipy was, at the time, probably my favourite place to drink, utterly unpretentious, down to earth, and serving what I, to this day, think of as the height of Czech pale lager, Kout na ?umavě's magnificent desítka, or 10° lager.

All of those memories came flooding back last Saturday while I was at Devils Backbone brewing up the 16°polotmavé, which we decided to call 'Granát', and sampled their new beer called Czech 10, which as the name suggests is a Czech style 10° pale lager.


Brewed to 10° Plato, obviously, this delight of a beer has an abv of 4.3%, and if memory serves me rightly 35 IBUs of pure Saaz joy. So painfully simple, so perfectly done, just this one half pint from the lagering tank was a joy. A billowingly soft, almost pillow like, malt characteristic dances like Fred and Ginger with the lemon and hay of Saaz, coming to a firm crisp snap of a finish.

It is a mighty fine beer, and it is being release on tap today at the Devils Backbone Basecamp brewpub, so I am sure you can guess where I will be this afternoon, filling growlers.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Czech It Out!

Think rare beers.

Think legendary beers.

Think Budvar.


Now rename it Czechvar, and if you go to Beer Run on Sunday, you can get it on draught.

Yes, you read that correctly, on tap. As in fresh, not bottled. None of those dodgy green vessels here.

Nope, Budvar, sorry Czechvar, from a keg.

Not only that, but if you are a fan of dark beers, they also have have Budvar Dark available (in bottles). Yes you read that correctly, a genuine Czech tmavé is available for purchase in Central Virginia.

Beer Run is open right now, I think, so what are you waiting for? You know you need Czech dark lager in your life to tide you over until Sunday?

Sorry for the lame pun, but it had to be done.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Downright Demanding

Over the last couple of weekends, Mrs Velkyal and I have hosted a couple of parties at our house. The first, on the 27th October, was to mark Czechoslovak Independence Day, which is on the 28th but we felt a Saturday night would be better, and the second was our house warming.

In the last year or so we have found a group of Czechs and Slovaks living here in the Charlottesville area, as well as people descended from those most august nations, and we will meet up once in a while. Although Mrs V and I are neither Czech nor Slovak, neither do either of us have the required ancestry, we have become kind of adopted Czechs by virtue of our years living in the country, and we love the opportunity to break out our rusty language skills.

My best friend, whose wife is Slovak, came down from DC for the weekend, bringing with him all the essentials to cook gulá? - basically a cast iron pot, tripod to go over the cobbled together fire pit, copious amounts of pork and beef and a few hours to stand around, beer in hand watching my favourite central European food being made.


Obviously no Czechoslovak party would be complete without beer, and there was plenty. Just the day before I was laid off, I put in an order with Market St Wine in Charlottesville to get a couple of the remaining 80 cases of Port City's Downright Pilsner especially for this party. People also brought Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Lagunitas Pils, and my best friend brought a bottle of 5 year old Kosher Slivovice - that's damned fine plum brandy!

The Downright Pilsner went down an absolute treat with the assorted Czechs, Slovaks and fellow travellers, as it should do given that it is pretty much spot on for a Czech style pale lager, 4.8%, 43 IBUs of Saaz, unfiltered and just downright good. It is very much a contender for the Fuggled Pale Beer of the Year - an award unencumbered with value, monetary or otherwise - and as such I really hope, nay I plead, that Port City don't let this just be a one off, but brew it again. In fact, I would go as far as to say it is the best of the Port City beers I have had, just edging ahead of their amazing Porter, and I would love to see it as part of their core range of beers.

Yes, it is that good.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Hope for Pilsner

If you have gleaned anything from the more than 700 posts on Fuggled, it should be, at least, that I love lager. In particular I love Czech lagers, hence Mrs V and I started our annual trip to Florida with a six pack of Budvar last night, at the half way point of our journey, her home town of Columbia, South Carolina.

When I swung by Greens Discount Beverage last night (I wonder if this country has a Trades Description Act, because I couldn't work out where the "discount" came in to it) in the hopes of picking up some cans of lager from the Bohemian Brewery, I made a point to see what Czech lagers they had available, Budvar, Pilsner Urquell and B.B. Burgerbrau Tmave were there but sadly nothing from Bohemian Brewery.


Anyway, recently the people from Pilsner Urquell announced that they are doing something new for the American market - they have started shipping their beer from the Czech Republic in refridgerated containers, and it will apparently be "express shipped". Hopefully this will see an improvement in the overall quality of Pilsner Urquell available in bottles in the States. I also hope that if the freshness of Pilsner Urquell improves we'll see an end to this ridiculous notion that Pilsner style lagers from Europe are supposed to be "skunky", and there are several pro-brewers I have in mind with that comment as well as muppets making uninformed comments on websites that advocate the rating of beer.

In other fairly recent news relating to beer from the Czech Republic, Budvar is cancelling its contract with AB-InBev to import and distribute its quality lager, thankfully there is another importer taking up the contract - and if I may be blunt, I hope they do a damned sight better job at getting the beer into shops and bars.

As I said, we are on holiday for the coming week, so here's to a week of beach and beer!

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, May 18, 2011

What Does A Czech Have To Do?

I have found in my almost two years of living here in the United States that amongst the beer loving community there is a reverential awe that comes out whenever it comes up in conversation that I lived in Prague for the best part of a decade. I was going to write "beer fraternity" rather than "beer loving community" but equating the fine people I have met through beer with the boorish, obnoxious pillocks that are the stereotype of "frat boys" would be doing many a top bod a disservice.

Czech beer has, quite rightly in my opinion, an aura of excellence associated with it, and several people I have come in contact with talk about their few days drinking in Prague as one of the highlights of their beer drinking lives. However, the ignorance in the beer community over here about Czech beer never fails to astound me, and as ever it is Those Sites (how Shakespearian, like calling MacBeth "the Scottish play") that unwittingly, or otherwise, promulgate such ignorance through their rigid misunderstanding of beer styles in central Europe.

I have argued at length, both on here and on one of Those Sites, that tmavé should be a separate style for ratings, rather than being lumped together with either Dunkel or Schwarzbier. The knee jerk response is that there are too many styles already and it would just sow confusion amongst the ranks. Suggest however that Black IPA should be style and hey presto, a new style is born with an almost religious anti-critical fervour.



Czechs, however have another style of beer which is misunderstood and neglected on such sites. Polotmavé, which translates literally as "half-dark" is usually lumped together with Vienna lager, usually on the basis of them both being the same(ish) colour. Using such logic, I guess then that Schwarzbier is in fact a porter. The problem with calling polotmavé a Vienna lager is that Vienna lager as originally created by Anton Dreher used a single malt, can you guess what it was called? Most modern Vienna lagers, from what I have learnt, use a base of pilsner malt with a hefty dose of Vienna malt. Personal aside here, if you are making a Vienna with none of the eponymous malt then it isn't really a Vienna lager, regardless of the colour.



Polotmavé on the other hand, as the name kind of suggests, uses the same malts as tmavé but less of the specialty malts that make tmavé darker. As with many things in Czech brewing, their is a huge spectrum covered by the term polotmavé - from the 13o version made by Primátor to the insanely gorgeous 16o beer from Hotel Pegas that I drank in Brno. There is at least one brewery in the Czech Republic that makes both a polotmavé and a Vienna lager, called a Vídeňské ?ervené or "Viennese Red", which to me at least suggests that Czech brewers understand the styles differently.



I guess what I am really trying to say here is that Czech beer, just as much as British, German, Belgian or American, must be understood on its own terms and not forced into artificial categories just because it makes life easier for some. It is this false categorisation that makes ratings from certain sites for some beer styles entirely irrelevant, because the model against which the beer is judged is not the same as the model from which the beer is made.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Meaning of Lite

I am on record, either here or through my Twitter feed, as believing that the mark of a truly talented brewer lay not in his, or her, ability to brew an imperial India stout and then age said behemoth in a bourbon barrel whilst dry hopping it. For me the truly great brewers are those that can put a glass of something below 5% abv in my hand and my hand come back for more, time after time. As such, I am a fan of bitters in their various forms, mild as understood in the modern world, proper Bohemian pilsners and a multitude of other beer styles than don't knock me on my arse after half a pint. There is a reason why I differentiate between a drinker and a drunkard.

Something that has been trundling through my mind of late has been finally make the move to brewing lagers as well as ales in my little homebrew operation - a quick aside, sometimes when I read Brew Your Own magazine and see these huge great fancy setups, I feel positively embarrassed by my pot on a stove. I posted a little while ago about the technical difficulties of lagering in my small flat, but I feel as though I have a viable idea to solve that - basically my fridge has space to stand up a couple of 1 gallon jugs, so that will be the location for primary fermentation. For lagering, I plan to buy a chest cooler to fill with ice and do the lagering in the cellar, changing the ice as required.

With the technical aspects solved in theory, my mind has turned to what kind of lager to make first. Doing a proper Bohemian Pilsner would obviously be something I would love to try, but I want to learn as much about the mechanics of decoction before I step up to that particular plate. There is however a style of Czech lager that is exceedingly rare, that kind of takes my fancy as a fun little proof of concept project, I am talking about lehké pivo.

Lehké pivo translates literally as "light beer" and is, according to the Czech brewing laws, a beer which is brewed below 8o Plato, or 1.032. From what I can discover in my reading, the actual colour of said beer is not defined. "Light" in this context then is all about the low alcohol content of the beer. As far as I know, only a couple of breweries in the Czech Republic make this kind of beer, including the wonderfully titled Sklárna a minipivovar Novosad & Syn Harrachov - which translates as the Novovsad and Sons Glassworks and Microbrewery, Harrachov. The name gives us a reminder of the alleged origins of lehké pivo as a form of hydration for glassworkers, as well as for workers in heavy industry such as steel mills. Paraphrasing from memory, Evan Rail described the lehké pivo made in Harrachov as better than many a 10o lager made by the bigger breweries.

My planned recipe then is as follows:
  • 83% Weyermann Bohemian Pilsner Malt
  • 17% Weyermann CaraBohemian Malt
  • 18 IBUs of Saaz @ 90 minutes
  • 4 IBUs of Saaz @ 20 minutes
  • 1 IBU of Saaz @ 1 minute
  • Wyeast 2000 Budvar Lager
My target OG is 8o Plato, finishing off at 2.3o Plato and having 3.1%abv. In terms of fermentation and lagering, I am going to do primary for 14 days as usual (I recently learnt that Budvar is fermented for 12 days), and then lager for 30 days. Given that 30 days is pretty standard for a 12o lager, that should be plenty. I chose the Budvar yeast because it apparently brings the malt to the fore, and I don't want this beer to feel thin despite the low gravity nature of the brew.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Wish List

When I go to a bottle shop I am instinctively drawn to the British beer section, swiftly followed by the "European" section - I say "European" because you sometimes get the feeling that there are only 5 types of beer: American, British (usually with Irish beers included, though not mentioned specifically as "Irish"), Belgian, German and "European" or "Other". It is in the "European" sections that you find Czech lagers more often than not, although I have seen them in the German section, oh such delicious irony.

This habit got me wondering over the weekend about the breweries whose products I would love to see available in Virginia, assuming of course that they aren't already elsewhere in the US. So here, is my wish list:


Kout na ?umavě, as I have mentioned many times, make the best lager on the planet. End of story. Full stop. To achieve this magnificent feat of zythophilic engineering there is no imperialising, no india-ising (made up word I know, but you know what I mean), but making great beer using excellent local ingredients (sounds like a story I know from history...). I have heard rumour that someone is trying to bring it in to the States, so hopefully rapture is near indeed.


Leicestershire based Everards make honest to goodness superb ales. Again you won't be finding any imperial best india bitter shite going on here, but traditional British bitters and ales, superbly made. They bottle, to my knowledge, 3 of their line, Original, Beacon and Tiger. Don't just take my word for how good their beers are, see here, and here.


I have raved many times about Lovibonds on here, Jeff was the first Brewer of the Week and yes my Lovibonds glasses are my favourites. The best thing to put in a Lovibonds glass though would be a Lovibonds beer, in particular the Wheat Wine you see in the picture, or the Henley Dark. I can't comment on the 69 IPA, because you can't get it here - but if past experience is any guide, then I look forward to it when I am home in Blighty come this summer.


A Kentish brewery making a range of lovely drops of ale that in my opinion deserve a wider audience. You see that bottle of Timothy Taylor Landlord in the back of the picture there? I would love to find that in a Virginia bottle shop as well.

These are just some of the beers I would love to see available over here, and maybe some of the distributors are listening. I can think of a few other breweries that I would love to see over here, purely on reputation as I haven't actually had any of the beers, Hardknott springs to mind, as does Dungarvan. What beers would you like to see available where you live?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Into Darkness...

Think Czech lager.

Ok, do you have an image in your head of Czech lager? Let me guess, it is golden, topped with a frothy white head (which, if well made and poured, can support the weight of a small coin), the nose is grassy, lightly lemony, all the things you expect from Saaz, the taste is bready and malty and when you get a great example of Czech beer you wonder why anyone would ever drink anything else. That is Czech lager, yes? The vast majority of the time you'd be right, but for the 5% of beer production in the Czech Republic devoted to the dark arts, to tmavy, or ?erny, le?ák (dark or black respectively). Legally speaking the only official name for a dark lager in the Czech Republic is tmavy, and thus that is the term I will use.


According to Czech tradition, or at least the things I was told by Czech men in pubs when I first moved to Prague back in the 20th Century, tmavy is beer for women, specifically beer to give women bigger breasts. What they neglected to mention was that the dark lagers of the Czech Republic are a whole different world from the Pilsner inspired golden lagers, and so it was only in my last few years in the city that I got a taste for them.


When I went down to Devils Backbone to help brew their recreation of the 1842 Pilsner recipe, Jason and I discussed at length Czech beer, and came back again and again to tmavy and how it differs from the German dark lagers, dunkels and schwarzbier. We came to the conclusion that it would be an interesting project to brew a tmavy and so we set about finding as much information as we could. Emails were sent to various Czech brewers, websites were read in various languages, style guidelines were consulted, though not in the obvious places - certain websites are of the opinion that a Czech tmavy is either a dunkel or a schwarzbier. Why then do I maintain that tmavy should have it's own style? Simply because the history of dark lager in Bohemia is very different from that of Bavaria, where dark lagers preceded pale lagers by a few centuries, in Bohemia, however what became dark lager was dark ale until the 1890s - you could then argue, if you so wish, that tmavy is in reality more closely related to porter than dunkel or schwarzbier. Indeed, the iconic, and distinctly stouty dark lager from U Flek? is known to have been warm fermented until that era.


Having garnered the relevant information, got the necessary malts and hops, scheduled a time which worked for all involved, we got together on Saturday to brew. Taking part in the brewday on Saturday was myself obviously, Jason and Aaron from Devil's Backbone, Lyle Brown of Battlefield Brewery in Fredericksburg and Nathan Zeender, a journalist from DC, whose article in Brew Your Own magazine about kvass was fascinating.


We used floor malted Bohemian pilsner malt, Munich malt, CaraBohemian malt and Carafa II special malt in the grist, and only Saaz hops in the boil, to achieve about 25IBUs, the yeast is Jason's prefered Augustiner lager yeast, and the brewery's incredibly soft well water. Because we wanted to be as traditional and authentic as possible, we did a double decoction mash. When everything was done, which took about 8 hours, we had, in the fermenter, 11 hectolitres of 14o tmavy speciál - that's 1100 litres or about 290 gallons. The beer will ferment for about 8 or 9 days and be lagered until, at the earliest, February 1st 2011, though ideally we would like to do 2 months worth of lagering.


For naming this beer, I suggested, and Jason agreed, that we use the name of an ancient Slavic goddess, Morana, the goddess of winter and death, who goes under several other names as well, but Morana was the one I liked best. Traditionally when Spring comes, an effigy of Morana is burnt to celebrate the end of winter, and given the timing of the beer being released, it is kind of fitting that a beer dedicated to her would be available during the last throes of winter.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Everyone Else is Writing About Styles So I May As Well Jump on the Bandwagon

Beer styles seems to the topic de jour in the blogosphere, "do they matter?" asks Mark Dredge, Pete Brown tells us that his post is the last he will ever write on the topic and Adrian Tierney-Jones gives us more thoughts about beer styles.

My take on beer styles is this, if you are going to insist on them, then don't do it half-arsed and make sure you have your bloody facts right. Take for example a thread I started recently on RateBeer about Czech style dark lager, known either as "Tmavé" or "?erné" in the Czech Republic - that's "dark" and "black" respectively. The crux of my argument is that Czech Dark Lager is neither a Dunkles nor yet a Schwarzbier and as such, should not be lumbered in those categories but should stand alone. Of course you then have the problem of putting a fairly pale dark lager such as Kozel ?erny in the same category as Kout na ?umavě's almost black 14o Koutsky tmavé - two beers which very nicely show the inconsistency of naming protocols.

Of course, beer styles have their uses in helping people decide what they what to drink, or at least that is the argument you hear quite often from defenders of styles. I am not convinced by that argument to be honest. I would argue that most people choose their beer primarily on the basis of colour - I well remember speaking with my friend Rob, back in Prague, about his idea that beer lists should have a little box showing the colour of the beer and I still think it is a good idea. Rightly or wrongly, we generally expect darker beers to be sweeter and less bitter than pale beers, hence one of my problems with Black IPA/CDA/Insert Name of the Week. I don't want beer that messes with my head - but then I don't believe beer to be an existential experience to chase, which is an entirely different post.

I wonder though sometimes if the ever increasing number of styles and sub styles isn't a product of the proliferation of competitions and awards? I am sure this is something of a chicken and egg situation, but it seems at times as though some brewers decide to make something different, or at least change the hops and claim it is an innovation, and so the competitions in order to remain relevant add another style, another gong and so the cycle goes.

As I said earlier, if you are going to insist on beer styles, then do it thoroughly and properly - otherwise, what is the point?

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 ...

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