Showing posts with label pilsner urquell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pilsner urquell. Show all posts

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Fuggled Beers of the Year - Pale

January 2020 promised much.

Potential work commitments would mean trips to Texas, New York, South Carolina, Canada, and Rome. With work trips come opportunities to try local beers, either as part of the horror of conference "networking happy hours" or when heading out for dinner in the evening. When I travel by myself I tend to deliberately make my dinner choices based on beer lists.

We all know what happened instead, lots of Zoom meetings.

Despite being largely stuck in central Virginia, this year has been pretty good on the beer front. I have tried beers from new-to-me breweries, made a point of supporting local bottle shops, often to the tune of a case a week at the beginning of lockdown, and where local breweries have had clearly laid out booking systems and strict mask requirements I have been happy to sit in their beer garden with the family and enjoy beer, sunshine, and happy toddler banter (Bertie, the younger of the twins, is a glorious gobshite).

Up until last year my annual review had often been a single post, and I thought this year would be a return to that format, but when I started thinking about all the beers I have had, it was clear that I could break things up a bit. Thus, we begin the review with pale beer and in keeping with last year, my top three each from Virginia, the rest of the US, and the rest of the world.

Virginia

  • German Pilsner - Port City Brewing
  • Helles - Port City Brewing
  • Downright Pilsner - Port City Brewing
Honorable mentions: Our Daily Pils - Basic City Brewing; Euphonia Pilsner - New Realm Brewing.

This year has been stellar on the lager front from Port City up in Alexandria. I have long been a fan of their Downright Pilsner, which is modeled on Bohemian pale lagers. The Helles is their regular summer seasonal, and when the season is right a regular in the fridge. German Pilsner is part of their monthly Lager Series, which has been an absolute boon for this lagerboy in 2020. Choosing just one of the three is seriously difficult, but given that I drove a 60 mile round trip for another beer, and was thrilled to find a stash of German Pilsner in the shop I went to, it is a worthy Virginia Pale Beer of 2020.

Rest of the USA
  • Captain Jack Pilsner - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC
  • Helles - Von Trapp Brewing, VT
  • Alexandr - Schilling Brewing, NH
Honorable mentions: Pilz - Live Oak, TX; Helles - Olde Mecklenburg Brewing, NC; Bavarian Pilsner - Von Trapp Brewing, VT; Pilsner - Von Trapp Brewing, VT; Pils - Edmund's Oast Brewing, SC; Rewind Lager - Birdsong Brewing, NC.

You get the feeling I mostly drink lager? I can't imagine what gives you that impression. There are several beers in the honorable mentions that I would happily drink exclusively for the rest of my days if need be, especially the Edmund's Oast Pils. Of the three finalists though, the Helles from Von Trapp is a near fixture of my drinking life, it is simply perfect and always welcome. Olde Mecklenbburg are, as you well know unless you live under a rock, are one of my favourite breweries. Whenever Mrs V and I go through Charlotte, we stop and stock up on beer, and the Captain Jack Pilsner will take up at least half of the purchase. So good is Captain Jack that it is Mrs V's beer of choice if I have any in the fridge and she fancies a beer. Alexandr from Schilling was the icing on the cake. My first trip to a pub to see someone other than my wife was to see my best mate at Kardinal Hall. We sat in the beer garden, suitably socially distant, with litres of beer, and just had a perfect afternoon. This desítka from New Hampshire was a revelation, and I a convert to another brewing from New England. The Rest of the USA Pale Beer of 2030 then is...drumroll gents...Schilling's glorious Alexandr.

Rest of the World
  • Plzeňsky Prazdroj - Plzeňsky Prazdroj, Plzeň, Czechia
  • aU - Mahr's Br?u, Germany
  • Jahrhundert Bier - Privatbrauerei Ayinger, Germany
Honorable mentions: Icelandic White Ale - Einst?k ?lgere, Iceland; Pils - Mahr's Brau, Germany; Helles - Schlenkerla, Germany; Weihenstephaner Festbier - Weihenstephan, Germany.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post I was supposed to have visited Canada and Italy this year for work, and at least for the Italy trip I was hoping to try Tipopils in its native climes to see if it better than the tired, flaccid beer I had in Baltimore in 2012. Even so, there have been plenty of good international beers to enjoy. A couple of weeks ago I popped into Kardinal Hall and had a few litres of Prazdroj in their beer garden, draft Prazdroj is a rarity in these parts, and the keg had just gone on, so it was fresh too, each litre went down with inordinate ease, goodness me I love this beer. Mahr's Br?u's delightful aU turned up in Beer Run in February, so naturally I snaffled the lot and indulged in what has become in many ways the archetype of the perfect lager in my world, and when Andreas Krennmair nails his homebrew clone recipe, I plan to start making it too, I just love the rusticity of it. Last up is Ayinger's Jahrhundert Bier, a full bodied pale lager that makes a wonderful nightcap, the bitterness is just enough to take the edge off the malt sweetness, but I find I can only drink a couple of bottles of an evening, hence the ideal nightcap. I feel almost guilty for not making Prazdroj my internsal pale beer of 2020, but Mahr's Br?u's aU is simply too delicious and warm fuzy feeling inducing to come second in a year so in need of comfort.


For sure I say this every year, but deciding on a single beer to be the Fuggled 2020 Pale Beer of the Year is a difficult task, and this year is no different. For all its machinations and peregrinations I have enjoyed some absolutely outstanding pale beers (yeah, yeah, I know you are saying "pale lager" to yourselves) this year. The stand out though has to be Schilling's divine Alexandr (and not only because it has a magnificent name). I haven't had many Czech style pale lagers that in an instant take me back to life in Czechia, but this one did so. If you have it available somewhere near you, go get it, it is damned good stuff.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Beers and Breweries of 2015

The Christmas tree is up and decorated, the salmon and beef for Christmas lunch have been bought, the tin of Quality Street chocs awaits opening and tipping into a fancy bowl for me to raid for the caramel barrels, so it must be time for a review of 2015. I have grown rather attached to my pale, amber, and dark beers from Central VA, rest of VA, rest of USA, and rest of world approach, thus I will not abandon it.....

Pale
  • Central VA - South Street My Personal Helles
  • Rest of VA - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Rest of USA - Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  • Rest of World - Pilsner Urquell
  • Honorable mentions - Three Notch'd Ghost of the 43rd, Devils Backbone Trukker Ur-Pils, Cromarty Happy Chappy, Hi-Wire Lager, Rothaus Pils
It has been a great year for this lagerboy (on a side note, I sometimes get the urge to have a t-shirt made up with the slogan 'What's wrong alehead, not got the palate to appreciate lager?'). South Street's My Personal Helles has become my go to lager when I fancy a pint in Charlottesville, one I wouldn't worry too much about if it was all I had to drink for months on end. Port City continue to make the best regularly available pilsner in the USA, bar none, and it graces my fridge often. But the winner of the Fuggled Pale Beer of 2015 is Pilsner Urquell. Now available in brown bottles, cold shipped from the Czech Republic, and just delightful drinking. The crowning glory though this year was that a local bar had nefiltrovany Prazdroj on tap a few months ago. Sure it was $7 a pop, but it was worth every single golden drop, as I raved about here.


Amber
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Hydraulion Red Irish Ale
  • Rest of VA - Mad Fox Altbier
  • Rest of USA - Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest
  • Rest of World - Fullers Vintage Ale 2009
  • Honorable mentions - Yeungling Traditional Lager, Orval
Another collection of really good beers to choose from for the amber beer of the year. I drink Hydraulion fairly regularly, it's easy to get in to and stay with. Mad Fox's Altbier was a revelation when I was up there with my parents a few weeks back, once I got over disappointment of the Mason's Dark Mild not being on tap. It made me wish more American breweries made Altbier and got it so emphatically right. I have been drinking through my various Fullers Vintages this year, having come to the conclusion that storing them for a 'special occasion' is pretty much a waste of time, and each vintage has been lovely, with 2009 my favourite so far. If truth be told, the Fuggled Amber Beer of the Year was sown up months ago. I am not sure if I was on my second or third 12 pack of Sierra Nevada's collaborative Oktoberfest, but I knew that I would be drinking a lot of that beer while it was available, I think I ended up with about ten 12 packs all told, and several pints on tap, simply delicious.


Dark
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Oats McGoats Oatmeal Stout
  • Rest of VA - Port City Porter
  • Rest of USA - St. Boniface Bull's Head Mild
  • Rest of World - Pokertree Seven Sisters Black Treacle Oat Stout
  • Honorable mentions - O'Hara's Leann Follain Whiskey Barrel Aged, Skye Black, Starr Hill Dark Starr, South Street Back to Bavaria, Three Notch'd Method to My Madness Mild
Regular readers of Fuggled will know that I love drinking milds, porters, and stouts. Through the American Mild Month project I enjoyed several very nice milds this year, including a crowler of the St Boniface beer brewed for that event, which made it's way to central VA through the family of the St Boniface brewer, and was enjoyed with gusto one Saturday afternoon. I still remember well the first time I had Port City Porter, in a restaurant in Alexandria where I had several pints before looking at the ABV, a 7.5% drop that tasted like it was 5%, fantastic. Another Three Notch'd beer that I drink regularly, especially in the damp of cold of autumn and winter, Oats McGoats is silky smooth and moreish, all the more so once it gets to the proper temperature. However, the 2015 Fuggled Dark Beer of the Year comes from the north of Ireland. I only had one bottle of Pokertree Seven Sisters, brought over by Reuben of Tale of the Ale, and it was a revelation, one that I am hoping to recreate in my homebrewing at some point.

Fuggled Champion Beer

If the Amber Beer of the Year was sown up months ago, then the overall Fuggled Champion Beer for 2015 was also practically decided at the same time. Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest was everything I look for in a beer, superbly made, flavourful, on point for the style, and drinkable beyond measure. I drank a lot of this beer, often from my 1 litre Paulaner glass, often demolishing a 12 pack in a single afternoon. I drank it, I cooked with it, I revelled in every single drop. I wish I had stocked up more before it disappeared from the shelves of supermarkets and bottle shops. There was no finer beer I drank this year.


Breweries
  • Central VA - Three Notch'd Brewing
  • Rest of VA - Port City
  • Rest of USA - Sierra Nevada
  • Rest of World - Fullers
  • Honorable mentions - Plzeňsky Prazdroj, South Street Brewery, Hi-Wire Brewing

Looking back at last year's review of the year, I noticed that 3 of the 4 breweries listed here were listed then as well. This tells me several things, but most importantly that I value breweries that produce consistently well made and tasty beers, that have a solid core range that I am happy to drink anytime, and also that I am out of kilter with many a craft drinker in that I am happy to stick to a single brewery rather than taking a scatter gun approach. At one point earlier this year, I was worried that I wouldn't have drunk enough beer to warrant my annual trawl through the pale, amber, and dark delights that constitute my drinking habit. It wasn't that I had inexplicably given up on beer rather that I found my self drinking almost exclusively Three Notch'd beer, hence they are again the Fuggled Brewery of the Year. Whenever I see their wonderfully simple tap handle in a pub I know what I'll be drinking, and I know I will not be disappointed, what more can you ask from a brewery?

Yes 2015 was a good year for drinking, here's hoping 2016 is just as good.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Guest Post: Going Steady with Golden Beers

Part 2 of the 'Always There' guest post mini-series comes from those fine folks Boak and Bailey, and with that minimalist introduction (seriously if you aren't already reading their blog you should be) out of the way, I hand you over to them.....

Al wanted us to think about beers that we keep going back to which, as far as we're concerned, is just another way of asking: 'What are your favourite beers?' After all, your favourite album isn't one you listened to once, enjoyed well enough, but then left to gather dust: it's the one that pops up under 'frequently played' on iTunes -- the one you have on CD, deluxe double CD, MP3 and in your Spotify favourites. You could hum it in your sleep.

We've said before, only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that Westmalle Tripel is the Very Best Beer in the World. We always have some in the house and it's pretty much Boak's default beer. It never seems to diminish in WOW factor -- every time, it amazes us afresh.

Pilsner Urquell is on the list, too, especially now it comes in brown glass in the UK and can be bought for around £1.50 ($2.35) per bottle. We have a fridgeful right now and it's the perfect no-brainer beer -- quietly satisfying, but not demanding of attention.

When it comes to cask-conditioned beer in the pub, there's an obvious answer: St Austell Proper Job. Established in the 19th century, St Austell is our local big brewery here in Cornwall, and Proper Job is a golden, US-accented IPA first brewed in homage to Bridgport's classic take on the style more than a decade ago. Brought down from 5.5% to 4.5% ABV over the years, it was a 'session IPA' before that was a buzz-phrase, and is a beer we can easily drink multiple pints of, several times a week. So that's exactly what we do.

So, there you go: that's what amounts to our top three beers, right now, in the real world. We like trying new things and find plenty to enjoy at the silly end of the market but, if need be, those three would easily do us for the rest of our lives.

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.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Many Have Copied, None Have Bettered

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Charlottesville branch of World of Beer put unfiltered and unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell on tap yesterday. Though I am not one for crossing hill and dale for beer, I knew, the moment I heard about this rare, momentous, occasion where I would be last night, once the chickens had decided they had scratched around the garden enough and headed up to their coop (Mrs V is away at a conference so I am looking after the animals).

With the chickens locked up for the night I headed into town, parked the car and went straight to the bar to meet a colleague from work, having picked up a former colleague from my Starr Hill days on the way. The sight of a Pilsner Urquell tap was a joy to behold in it's own right, not just a tap handle, a proper Pilsner Urquell tap, as in the kind that you turn to dispense the beer. Moments later, this was placed in front of me...


A bit hazier than I expected for sure, but I am not going to quibble over a tad bit more haze, it wasn't murky, but oh the head, a lovely shaving cream head, just as I remember from places like Bruska back in Prague. The beer itself was sheer delight.

There is something about unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell that you just don't get with the regular bottled version, a softer, almost biscuity malt flavour rather than an almost harsh cracker like taste, rounder perhaps? It's difficult to explain, but it doesn't snap to attention, it's more laid back, you could call it ?vejk-like.

Now this might sound faintly ridiculous to the lovers of enamel trashing lupulin delivery vehicles who think Miller Lite is a pilsner, but the magnficent Saaz hops are front and centre in this beer, firmly, almost bracingly, bitter, and simply redolent with freshly mown hay, lemon grass, and orange blossom aromas. Without the, ahem, 'benefit' of filtering and pasteurisation the hops sing, hitting all the right high notes.

So, easy to drink, not because it is bland and devoid of flavour, but because each mouthful is a delight (which when you think about it should be the definition of 'easy drinking'). Before I knew it, my glass was empty, but the tap was still there...


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Rare Treat

'Legend' is a word far too easily bandied around these days, as is the eternal hyperbole of 'awesome', 'mind-blowing', and 'world rocking'. It seems sometimes that there are a vocal minority of beer drinkers out there for whom every beer needs to be awesomely mind blowing whilst rocking their world to even be mentioned.

Then there are true legends, beers that changed the beer world, that became archetypes to be copied endlessly, though rarely, if at all, bettered. One such legend is Pilsner Urquell.


Since moving to the US I have seen the Pilsner Urquell available here improve immeasurably, firstly with the refrigerated shipping, then the switch to brown bottles, on Saturday I enjoyed two pints of draft Pilsner at my local Whole Foods, and took a growler home, and almost it was like drinking back in the Czech Republic.


But for all these improvements it still hasn't  quite scratched my Pilsner itch. I am hoping that Thursday will change all that.


Thursday, at the Charlottesville branch of World of Beer, will be a day I honestly thought I would never see. Pilsner Urquell will be on tap, no great shock there I suppose, but the version they will be putting on tap is unfiltered and unpasteurised. Pilsner Urquell as urquell as you can damn well get, without drinking it out of wooden barrels in the brewery.


To say I am excited at the prospect would be an understatement for sure.

For non-Czech speakers, the phrase at the top of the beer mat there is 'perfection need not be changed'.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Time To Take Your Pils

Something I had been planning to do for a while was collect a batch of 'Bohemian' Pilsners from various breweries and do a blind tasting. Last night, with not much else to do, I imposed on Mrs V's sweet-hearted nature and sent her up and down the stairs several times to bring me glasses of beer, without telling me which was which. The aim of the tasting was twofold, firstly to decide a ranking for each of the beers in question, and secondly to see if I could correctly identify each one. The five beers in the tasting were:
I took notes using my slightly simplified version of Cyclops, and here are the findings...

Pilsner 1


  • Sight - golden, slightly hazy, thick rocky white head
  • Smell - fresh bread, grass, light lemony citrus
  • Taste - juicy bready malts, sharp citric tang
  • Bitter - 4/5
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Notes - lovely balance between the malt and the hops, medium bodied, long lingering soft bitter finish.

Pilsner 2


  • Sight - light amber to orange, loose rocky white head
  • Smell - heavily grassy, musty, doughy, slight honey note
  • Taste - a little sweetness and a touch of lemon
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Notes - really kind of bland, light-medium bodied and with a watery finish

Pilsner 3


  • Sight - rich golden, inch of rocky white head with loose bubbles
  • Smell - fruity, a touch of bread, something corn like in the background
  • Taste - rather fruity, sweet with cocoa notes and a bit of nuttiness
  • Bitter - 2/5
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Notes - more of a pale ale than a pilsner, slick buttery finish and medium bodied.

Pilsner 4


  • Sight - rich gold to light amber, thin white head
  • Smell - grassy, herbal notes, backed with some bread and a little orange aroma.
  • Taste - rich toasty malts, sweet honeyed edge, firm hop bite
  • Bitter - 3.5/5
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Notes - nicely balanced between the hops and the malt, mouthfeel was crisp and clean with a long lingering bitter finish

Pilsner 5


  • Sight - light amber, half and inch of white head
  • Smell - citrus, lemon/orange, some grass and floral notes, touch of bread, bit of weed
  • Taste - toasted bread, some grass
  • Bitter - 4/5
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Notes - Crisp with a hop bite that smooths out to a slightly sweet finish, medium bodied.

Having got through the 5 beers, though admittedly numbers 2 and 3 didn't get finished, I ranked the beers in order of preference as follows:
  • 1st - Pilsner 1
  • 2nd - Pilsner 4
  • 3rd - Pilsner 5
  • 4th - Pilsner 2
  • 5th - Pilsner 3
When it came to identifying them I went with:
  • Pilsner 1 - Port City Downright Pilsner
  • Pilsner 2 - Staropramen
  • Pilsner 3 - Lagunitas Pils
  • Pilsner 4 - Pilsner Urquell
  • Pilsner 5 - JosephsBrau PLZNR
Happily I was correct in each instance, though Mrs V managed to nip any smug moment in the bud by commenting that 'it's no bloody wonder, you know more about pilsners than most people'.


One thing though that surprised me was how much I liked the Josephsbrau PLZNR, which is Trader Joe's own brand beer, brewed by Gordon Biersch, and costs an insanely cheap $5.99 for a six pack. I really thought it was a pretty decent beer, a tad strong at 5.4%abv, but with 32 IBUs not shying away from the proper hopping level for Czech style pale lagers (one thing guaranteed to piss me off is 'Bohemian lager' with about 20 IBUs). However I need to take issue with the label, which reads:
JosephsBrau PLZNR (Pilsner) is a celebration of noble hops from Central Europe. This style of beer was developed by German brewmaster Josef Groll in 1840 in the town of Plzn (Pilsen), Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) and was the first beer to be brewed golden and clear. This beer's pin-point fine bitterness is perfectly accentuated by its crisp body.
Firstly, if you are going to spell the name of a town in the language of the country the town is it, please do it properly, it is 'Plzeň' in Czech, not 'Plzn', if your printer can't handle the há?ek over the 'n', use the German name instead rather than mangling something together that, to be frank, makes your marketing people look like rank amateurs.

Secondly, Josef Groll developed the beer that became known to the world as Pilsner Urquell in 1842, not 1840. He brewed the first batch of the beer on October 5th of that year and the first tapping was on November 11th.

Thirdly, the beer brewed by Groll was not the 'first beer to be brewed golden and clear', pale ales had existed in England long before the Bürgerliches Brauhaus decided to use English malting methods to produce pale malt. Sure it might have been the first lager to be 'brewed golden and clear' but not the first beer.

Here endeth the lesson....thanks be to Groll.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

In Praise of Singleness

Last week I walked into one of my favourite pubs in Charlottesville. The barmaid was at the taps pouring a beer, so I took a seat at the bar and allowed myself a cursory glance at the menu, I knew what I wanted. The barmaid turned, wandered in my direction and placed a glass of what I wanted right in front of me and asked how I was doing. For the first time in almost four years I didn't have to ask for a beer, the right one just came. Obviously the barmaid had seen me coming into the pub and knew what I have been drinking most since I finished my booze fast, Samuel Adams Alpine Spring. Being known to that level in a pub is, at least for me, a good thing. So, Tracy at McGrady's I take my hat of to you as a superior practitioner of your craft.

That little vignette of life popped into my head yesterday as a result of a Twitter chat about pubs in Prague. I commented that several of the pubs I would frequent in that most beautiful of cities had just one beer available, usually it was Pilsner Urquell, and how nice it was to be able to go to a pub, know exactly what you wanted to drink and that it would satisfy every time. There would be no umming and ahhing at the beer menu clearly written by Franz Kafka in his most verbose magnificence, no starring blankly at a wall of taps trying to find the needle in an IPA stack that I would actually want to drink. Nope, very simply you walk into the pub, acknowledge the barmaid/man and wait a couple of minutes while he pours you a pint.


One pub in particular, at least in my experience, ticked all the boxes for guaranteeing a good session. Tasty beer, tankové Pilsner Urquell, well kept, they had several awards for the quality of their pour, efficient staff, two fingers to go, here have another and keep 'em coming, a crowd of locals enjoying good beer but primarily enjoying the company of their friends (which is after all the whole point of the pub). That pub was called Bruska, it is up in one of Prague's suburbs, and it is a place I never once regretted going to.

Having a single beer on tap, though admittedly I think they had bottled non-alcoholic Birell, can be one of the most challenging things for a pub to do. Your regulars will come to know the beer very, very well, so you better have a good one. Also, because your regulars will come to know the beer very, very well, you better keep it in tip top condition because they will be able to tell when the lines need a clean or something is just not quite right.

Sure it is nice to go into a drinking hole and have a choice of 25 or 30 taps, assuming of course it isn't just 24 or 29 variants on American pale ale of differing India-ness plus Guinness, but there is much to be said for going to a pub knowing that the beer you will be drinking will hit the spot, every time. That you won't spend time trawling through the beer list and ignoring your friends. That is the mark of a quality pub.

Picture credit: taken from my book 'Pocket Pub Guide to Prague', picture by Mark Stewart.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Cheaper Option

There are times when I simply fail to understand the pricing of beer. Take this weekend for example, Mrs Velkyal and I had guests from South Carolina, Mrs V's best friend and husband, so we went into Charlottesville to do some shopping at Whole Foods.

We had decided to splash out on some good steaks and we took our traditional detour to the beer and wine aisle. I was thrilled that they were now stocking the "express shipped cold" Pilsner Urquell in bottles though not in cans, so naturally in the interests of blogging science I bought a six pack.


Next to the Pilsner Urquell was another major Czech beer brand, Staropramen - the MolsonCoors owned brewing behemoth in Prague. Staropramen in the Czech Republic is cheaper than Pilsner Urquell, usually about two-thirds of the price, but in Whole Foods in Charlottesville the Pilsner Urquell was $7.99 for a six pack and Staropramen was $9.49.

I just couldn't get my head around the idea of Staropramen being more expensive that Pilsner Urquell, unless of course the fact that Plzeň is about 60km closer to the US than Prague is important - strangely though I rather doubt that.

So what would make Pilsner Urquell the cheaper, and infinitely superior, option?

btw - express shipped cold Pilsner Urquell is lovely, only one step down from tankove - so go and buy some  and enjoy.

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"

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!

Monday, June 25, 2012

In Praise of Familiarity

Earlier today I sat down to write a post for this blog and my mind was blank, what should I write about? What would people be interested in? Questions flashed through my mind and no answers came forth to announce themselves. So I had a cup of coffee, read the news on the various websites from which I glean my knowledge of world events, the BBC and the Guardian mostly, caught up on the football gossip, hoping to see that Liverpool had sign Gylfi Sigurdsson.


It's not as if I didn't drink anything over the weekend. I drank mostly homebrew admittedly, mainly my German pilsner, though with some lime witbier and the few remaining ?erny Lev Czech Dark Lagers chucked in for good measure. I worked at the Starr Hill tasting room on Saturday, and yesterday after painting in our new house I sat with a large New Belgium Fat Tire to wash down some Mexican food. There was no beer revelation, nothing new to tickle and tantalise the taste buds, nothing worth taking notes about, though I have practically given up on that particular activity, and you know that's perfectly fine by me.


While it is true that I have never been the kind of person to go chasing half way across town just to try a particular beer, let alone to another country, I wonder if at times I lose sight of that fact that beer is just part of life? Since leaving the Czech Republic almost three years ago I have come to cherish, and miss, the wonderful solid predictability of being able to walk into any of my favourite pubs and be guaranteed a beer I would want to drink. Whether it was ?těpán at Pivovarsky Klub, Zlatá labu? at U Buldoka or even Leffe Bruin at my nearest Potrefená Husa.


Don't get me wrong, I love going to the pub over here, but there is often an element of doubt in my mind as to whether there will be anything I am in the mood for, given the frequent rotation of taps, and the near constant chasing of the new thing, the latest big beer and that which contains the oddest ingredients.


They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but at the same time the familiar is a comfort, something reliable to go back to, knowing that it will be satisfying. Whether it is tankové Pilsner Urquell in the Czech Republic, London Pride in Southall or Samuel Adams Boston Lager here in the States, there is much to be said for those beers which are familiar, oh so familiar.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Session - Thanks to the Big Boys


Like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood, the stepmother in Cinderella or Captain Hook from Peter Pan, the multinational brewing companies have been cast as the pantomime villain in our little slice of all the world's a stage. In the finest traditions of the pantomime the blogosphere regale the stage with cries of "boo, hiss!" whenever the villains of the piece take centre stage, "he's behind you!" we cry when the evil doer approaches our hero. As good theatre goers we hope that, like pantomime, there will be a happy ending, with the villain vanquished and our dashing hero getting the girl.

Of course the world of commerce and business (and anyone who thinks making beer for a living, regardless of scale, is anything other than a business is naive in the extreme), things are never as clear cut as in pantomime. If we are honest with ourselves, we all have beers from the big boys that we like. Mine are Guinness, Murphy's, Boddington's, the occasional Michelob lager and of course Pilsner Urquell. Two of those are AB-InBev brands, one each for SABMiller and Heineken, and then there is Guinness, which belongs to Diageo.


Let me start with Guinness. I have said many a time on here that Guinness was my first legal beer, standing at the bar, having only drunk my dad's homebrew, Tennent's lager or cider, I really had no idea what I was doing. I ordered a pint of Guinness because that was what my eldest brother drank when I was a kid and he was still living at home. I also blame the same brother for my taste in music, but that is a different discussion. Still today, half a lifetime later, Guinness is a beer that I go to when my regular haunts have nothing else I feel like drinking. Guinness was also the fuel to the fire which is my love of stout, and one of my drinking highlights of life will always be standing in Garavan's in Galway, drinking pints of Guinness while watching Liverpool administer a clinical spanking to Bolton Wanderers.


Guinness was a treat for the decade I lived in Prague, simply because it was 4 or 5 times the price of a pint of insanely good Czech lager. It was though through the archetypal Bohemian lager that I overcame my ridiculous youthful prejudice that ale was better than lager, and that all lagers are gnat's piss. If you have only ever drunk Pilsner Urquell from a pasteurised bottle or keg, you really have no idea what you are missing. Unpasteurised and served from a "tankove" system, Pilsner Urquell is one of the great beers of the world, unpasteurised and kvasnicove it is quite possibly the greatest beer on the planet. Without wanting to sound like an old fogey, it was actually better in 1999 than it is in 2011, and yet it is still wonderful.

The big boys of the beer world can, and do, make magnificent beers, and even the beers that we deride as flavourless, boring and bland, are superb examples of consistency and process. Given that it is the beer in the bottle, or in the glass, which is a important rather than the manufacturer, a more honest appraisal of the brands from multinational brewers is in order instead of simply assuming any from AB-InBev and the like must be rubbish. Hopefully this will also lead to less comments along the lines of "it's not bad, for an 'insert multinational brewery here' product".

Today's Session is being hosted by my very good friend Reuben other at The Tale of the Ale.

*Picture Credit - the picture of the Pilsner Urquell was taken by Mark Stewart of Black Gecko Photography, during one of our research tours for the Pocket Pub Guide to Prague.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Of Pilsners

Mrs Velkyal and I went to a wedding at the weekend.

The bride is a colleague of Mrs V, and when they started working together we discovered that her then boyfriend, now husband, had lived for a time in Prague, a time which overlapped with my ten years in that most beautiful of cities. When chatting at a party, comparing notes really, you could say, we learnt that from about 1999 to 2001 we went to the same pubs and clubs, knew a few of the same people and had quite probably shared a beer or two. Through the groom, Mrs V and I have been introduced to a few other people with a Prague connection, and again one of them is someone that went to the same clubs and pubs, and in this case definitely someone I shared a beer or two with. I am getting convinced that the City of Charlottesville should enter into a twinning arrangement with a city in Czech Republic, Plzeň for example or ?eské Budějovice, although Jablonec nad Nisou has a similar population, and is an excellent place for a beer.


Anyway, given the Czech connection, there was bottled Pilsner Urquell available at the reception, and it went rather quickly as those of us still being clawed by the Old Mother dived in. Now, I am quite happy to say that Pilsner Urquell is best drunk in Plzeň itself, preferably kvasnicové, failing that then tankové. However, even pasteurised and in a green bottle it is a damned sight better than many a "craft" pilsner that is available unpasteurised in this neck of the woods. As you can imagine, our little Prague coterie indulged in much nostalgia infused revery about the beers of the Czech Republic from the late 90s to the early Noughties. Themes such as how great a beer Velkopopovicky Kozel was back then, how even Braník was a decent brew, especially the tmavé and lamenting the passing of the pubs and clubs we all got hammered in with much abandon, the Marquis de Sade, the Radegast beer hall and the original Iron Door nightclub (there is kind of a successor but it has never been as good as the original).


Once the Pilsner Urquell had been polished off, we moved on to the other pilsner available, North Coast's Scrimshaw Pilsner - just a side note, one of the best things about this reception was the complete and utter absence of beer from one of the big American breweries, the tap selection was from Allagash, North Coast and Bluegrass Brewing Company, and bottles from Legend, Port City and a few others I can't remember. It was interesting to go from Pilsner Urquell to one of the imitation pilsners and compare, and the most immediate thing I noticed is the absence of a firm hop bitterness that I grew to love about proper Czech lagers. There was a touch of butterscotch, but nothing overwhelmingly drastic, and so I drank shed loads of it, especially as it is bang on style with an ABV of 4.4%. So, yes I drank a lot of pilsner on Saturday night, though managed not to fall over, throw up or do anything else to embarrass myself, which is usually the sign of a successful drinking session.

Yesterday though I felt rough, rougher than I have in a long time. Perhaps as I get older it gets more difficult to drink in quantity and rely on that lifestyle drug of choice, paracetamol, to get me through the next day. As I lay on the sofa nursing a hangover, I read bits and pieces from the Oxford History of Britain and Stan Hieronymous' Brew Like A Monk. A phrase that hit me from Stan's book was something along the lines of "you can't make a great beer from numbers" and I wonder if that is one of the reasons so few craft breweries over here fail to make good pilsner - I almost wrote "great pilsner" but even just plain "good" is hard to find at times.

 
A great pilsner is not just about having an OG of 1.048, 40 IBUs and 4.4%ABV, it is about the intangibles of the triple decoction mash, the letting the beer lager until it is ready, the judicious use of Saaz hops whilst telling the accountants to sod off worrying about the cost of using only Saaz. If making a great pilsner, or any beer really, was just a case of following the numbers, I'd have been brewing my own pilsners by now, but it isn't.

Perhaps with lager style beers it isn't enough to be passionate about brewing, a brewer needs to be passionate about lager in particular. To quote the Gospel writer, "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also".

Friday, May 27, 2011

Beer Commercials

Friday mornings are pretty easy. Get up, walk dog, shower, shave, read beer blogs, go to work. While I was sat in the comfort of an armchair, I read the latest post from Tale of the Ale. The post is mostly about the Beer Bloggers Conference that took place in London last weekend, but the thing that caught my attention most was the new advertising campaign from the Czech branch of multinational beer conglomerate SABMiller, better known as Pilsner Urquell.



I am sure that if you know anything about the history of Pilsner Urquell you will see the glaring omissions and logical flaws in the advert. Actually if you know anything about the history of beer, you'll know that the "world's first golden beer" claim is also a pile of shite (the first pale ale was marketed in the early 18th century). Any way, as it is a Friday and I am in a fairly chipper mood, I am not going to rant about these things, after all who really expects truth and historical veracity in an advertising campaign? Also the fact that I rather like the advert, it is certainly well done and if it encourages more people to drink Pilsner Urquell, go to the Czech Republic and try the unpasteurised version and then demand its availability in Blighty, that can only be a good thing. No, I think today I will just post some of my favourite beer commercials, and we'll start with the other internationally renowned Czech beer, with a quick language alert for the faint of heart....



While we are on mass produced Czech beers....



Jumping across to Blighty....



and finally, down to Australia....

Monday, December 6, 2010

And the winner is....

Before announcing the winner of the first Fuggled Christmas Giveaway, I would like to make a meanderingly meaningless speech about how beer is more than just a sport, it is a unifying force in the world. I would like to, sure, but I am not Sepp Blatter and Fuggled is not FIFA, so I guess you good people just want to know who gave me the fattest of brown envelopes in order to win the coveted price.


Firstly though, the answer to the question. The first pub to sell Pilsner Urquell in Prague was, of course, U Pinkas?. It was in 1843 that Jakub Pinkas gave up making ecclesiastical vestments to bring the new wunderbier to the people of Prague, just five months after Josef Groll's brew was first tapped in Plzeň. Today the pub is one of the better places to get a half litre of Pilsner Urquell, especially in the summer when the garden is open. The picutre above is by Mark Stewart, my photography guru and all round top bloke.

So anyway, the winner of a Fuggled t-shirt is:
  • Dan Herman, of Greenville, South Carolina!
Congratulations, and I will be in touch later today to sort out colours, sizes and other logistical type things. To those that entered but didn't win, thanks for taking part!

While on the subject of winning things, I was very happy to discover yesterday that I will be adding some more bling to my collection. My Samoset Vintage 2009, which I wrote about last week, took silver in the Strong Ale category at the Palmetto State Brewers' Open.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Difference Does It Make?

Giving a tour of the Starr Hill brewery a couple of Sundays ago, I was asked the following question:
  • What do craft brewers do that industrial brewers don't?
Difficult question as I am sure you can imagine. I think at the time I answered that in terms of pure process, there is probably very little difference between an industrial brewers and craft brewers other than, of course, scale.

When you look at the websites of major industrial brewing companies, you do get the sense that the brand is of primary importance rather than the beer. That is an understandable reaction when you look at sites for companies such as AB-Inbev, who have a multiple of brands within their business, and in some cases they own only the brand, and leave the brewing up to someone else. But I am not talking here about business procedures, after all, only an idiot starts a company with no intention of making a living out of it, either that or someone with enough money not to care. I am talking about their methods of making beer.

Unless they are hiding something, AB-InBev claim that only 5 ingredients go into Budweiser. Again, unless they are hiding something, their process for making Budweiser looks exactly like the process used by every single craft brewer on the planet, apart from the beechwood aging that is. Now, you can argue until you are blue in the fact about the use of rice in beer, from my understanding it came about because American consumers in the mid 19th century wanted a paler, lighter bodied lager. The fact though remains that for the beer drinking masses of that time, Budweiser was what they wanted, just as for many a beer drinker today, a hoppy IPA is what they want. You could almost argue then that Budweiser, and pale lager in general, was the 19th century equivalent of the modern American IPA - all the rage among the beer drinking classes (by the way, that was everyone, not just "middle class tossers" to quote from this excellent post here).

Ah yes I hear some say, but craft beer uses traditional ingredients. The question then becomes, traditional to where? The use of rye is traditional in German brewing traditions, of course German brewing being so much more than Bavarian brewing, though sometimes you have to wonder (and yes I know that the enforcement of Reinheitsgebot was a pre-requisite for Bavaria joining the single German nation state in 1871). But using rye in British brewing? There isn't much of a tradition to go on there, though I am sure that if I am wrong I will be told soon enough. Tradition is such a nebulous concept as to be irrelevant, at what point do you decide something is traditional? You could argue that rice in American lager is traditional, so should craft brewers be making American lagers that use rice, rather than co-opting a tradition from Germany or Bohemia?

We won't get into the whole use of various extracts and adjuncts thing here, especially as so many of the Belgian beers beloved of the craft beer cognoscenti use hop extract and sugar.

So, the ingredients are by and large the same, the processes are same, so what differentiates craft brewers from industrial brewers? In terms of something objective, the only difference is the size and scale of operations, and even that is up for debate. Sometimes this whole craft vs industrial debate sounds like kids in the playground and when one kids says "my dad is bigger than yours" the craft kid replies "but my dad punches with artisan style".

Thinking this all through has given me a new appreciation for the likes of AB-InBev and SABMiller, because for all their failings, they do produce well-made, quality products. Sure, they may not be the kinds of beer I want to drink on a regular basis, but you would have to be exceptionally pig-headed to claim that Budweiser  is a poorly made product. They may not be putting the ingredients together in a way that I enjoy, but there are an awful lot of people out there who like what they are doing.

I guess for me, at the end of this pondering and pontificating, it is simple. I drink the beers that I enjoy, regardless of the producer. So I will still drink Guinness on occasion, Pilsner Urquell in the right circumstances and something from Michelob when the mood strikes. Sure, mostly I will drink what is labelled "craft beer", but is it necessary to be fanatical about it? I think not, it is, after all, just beer. The important thing is to enjoy what you are drinking, who are drinking it with and where you are drinking it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Guilty by Association

One theme that seems to do the rounds time after time is trying to define the nature of a "craft brewery". Some will tell you its about the ingredients they use, others will say that it is about the size of the operation, everyone seems to have a different opinion about what constitutes a craft brewery. While I don't want to get into that whole discussion in depth, one thing that has been bothering me of late is the loose use of the very term "craft beer".

I am on record as not being a huge fan of the term itself, after all, does a beer like Orval qualify as "craft beer" given the use of hop extract or not? I do not believe that we are experiencing a "craft beer revolution" as some would grandiosely put it, rather we are having the beer equivalent of the organic and slow food movements, realising that chemicals and additives have no place in the food chain. The craft beer movement is really just a reflection on our culture's return to a pre-industrial model where local products were the norm rather than the exception.

And so craft beer grows, while the mass produced beer makers lose market share. One trend that troubles me though, is the big boys picking up the term "craft beer" and claiming a portion of the market for themselves.

One example of this struck me the other day when I saw an advertisement for a beer festival which is coming to Charlottesville in the coming weeks, Top of the Hops. The event website proudly proclaims that visitors will get "two-ounce sampling[s] of craft beers from around the world", eager to see what samplings would be available, I checked out the breweries coming to town. Some of the local breweries coming include Legend from Richmond, whose beers are excellent, Blue Mountain from just up the road and from further afield Bell's Brewery.

A couple of brewers coming though kind of stand out from the crowd, Blue Moon, Leinenkugels and Pilsner Urquell in particular. Now, it isn't the quality of the beer I want to discuss, or the ingredients, but rather the companies behind these breweries. Everyone and his uncle knows that Blue Moon is a Molson-Coors product, while Leinenkugels and Pilsner Urquell are both SABMiller brands. Isn't it slightly incongruous to have a product like Blue Moon or Pilsner Urquell described as "craft beer" - are they even sure that the Pilsner Urquell is from Plzen rather than brewed under license in Russia or Poland?

A craft brewer, at least here in America, according to the Brewers Association is "small, independent and traditional". When discussing the independence of a craft brewer, they further claim that if more than 25% of the company is owned by a non-craft brewery, then they no longer qualify as such. Obviously that disqualifies Pilsner Urquell as a beer from a "craft brewery" in the American context, unless of course SABMiller are somehow to be afforded that status, oh wait, they aren't small enough.

In allowing representatives from the big industrial breweries in a "craft beer" festival, I feel that the image and "brand", if you will, of craft beer is diluted, blurring the edges for many consumers as to what constitutes a craft beer. A further example of this would be product placement in supermarkets, where you generally have beers divided into "domestic" and "import", with craft beer lumped in with the import beer. Given the amount of wrangling that goes on in the retail process about where products are placed on supermarket shelves, it is no coincidence that Blue Moon is always in the import/craft beer section, but surely as the product of mass swill producing Coors it should be in the domestic section?

I would like to make clear though that I have no problem whatsoever with Blue Moon, and even enjoy Pilsner Urquell in the right circumstances, but to create in the consumers' mind an association with craft beer through participation in a "craft beer" festival is disingenuous, whether on the part of the brewery or the festival organisers I wouldn't like to say. If, however, craft beer is to stand apart from the morass of mass produced muck, then the "movement" needs its own festivals, with clear and strict definitions of who qualifies to participate - I would suggest the Brewers Association definition as a starting point, even if that means well known breweries are turned away because they have gone beyond the definition of craft, to become small industrial brewers, it would also mean openness on the part of breweries as to ownership information.

One festival though that I will be attending is the River Bend Beer Festival in Scottsville where the criteria for being allowed to participate includes being a Virginia brewery, thus giving small local breweries an opportunity to present their beers to a slighter wider audience, kind of like the Slunce ve Skle festival I so enjoyed in Plzen - though unfortunately without Pivni Filosof to get rat-arsed with drinking shots.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Really?


For those who don't speak Czech, the Pilsner Urquell beer mat above says something along the lines of "it is not necessary to change perfection". It then goes on to say that the spirit level was invented in 1661 and that the extraordinary taste of Pilsner Urquell has been there since 1842 (being snide do they mean the taste of the unfiltered version or the standard bottled stuff?).

So the marketing boffs at Pilsner Urquell want us to believe that their beer tastes exactly the same as in 1842? I may not be up there in the zythophilic stratosphere with the likes of Michael Jackson, but after ten years in the Czech Republic I can tell that something has changed. Could it be the shorter lagering time now used? Or possibly the stainless steel fermenters and tanks rather than wooden barrels?

While the mat is indeed correct in stating that it is not necessary to change perfection, experience begs the question why the hell did they?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pilsner? Really?

Pilsner is one of the few beer styles to have a clearly defined birthday, the first ever glass of this golden lager was served in Plzeň on November 11th 1842 and soon gave birth to a multitude of imitations around the world. In the Czech lands however, Pilsner style beers eventually came to mean the vast majority of beer from Bohemia and Moravia. Thus any brewer which makes a “pilsner” lager will be judged next to the standards set by Josef Groll and subsequent makers of golden lager in the Czech lands.

When I received a bottle of BrewDog’s 77 Lager along with the production versions of Zeitgeist and Chaos Theory I knew I wanted to compare it to a couple of Czech lagers, in this case Budvar and ?amberecky Kanec. I choose Budvar because of the major Czech lager brewers they still use all malt and whole hops, rather than the somewhat ambiguous ingredient in Pilsner Urquell, “hop products”, Kanec because it is a small artisan brewer, and the BrewDog label calls 77 Lager a “artisan rebel lager”.

In an effort to be as fair minded as possible I decided to do the tasting blind, and so had Mrs Velkyal bring me each glass of beer individually without telling me what was what, here are my thoughts on each beer:

Beer A

  • Sight – pale golden, firm white head
  • Smell – quite malty, touch of smoke, a bit grainy – like Weetabix
  • Taste – nicely balanced, light caramel
  • Sweet – 2/5
  • Bitter – 2/5
I thought this beer was medium bodied, and had slight touches of banana, however it was refreshing.

Beer B

  • Sight – golden with a white head
  • Smell – not much going one, some grass and citrus notes
  • Taste – gentle sweetness up front, but delicately bitter aftertaste
  • Sweet – 2/5
  • Bitter – 1/5
Again a pleasantly refreshing beer.

Beer C

  • Sight – light amber with a smallish head
  • Smell – heavy on the citrus, grapefruit in particular – American C hops?
  • Taste – citrus in your face with malty undertones
  • Sweet - 1.5/5
  • Bitter – 3/5
This was clearly not a pilsner style lager, more like an IPA. As Mrs Velkyal commented on smelling it “no Czech beer smells like that”.

From the tasting I guessed that the beers were as follows:

  • A – Kanec
  • B – Budvar
  • C – BrewDog 99 Lager (not really a guess after smelling it)

I identified all three correctly, and while I enjoyed them all in their own right when it comes to being a Czech style pilsner lager, the BrewDog version was never in the running. It simply isn’t a pilsner beer despite claims to the contrary on the label. Of the other two, I enjoyed them very much, and they are both in the Bohemian tradition, but the one I would choose to drink regularly is the Budvar, which has long been my favourite mass produced Czech lager and thus my first task in Charlottesville is to find a regular supply of Czechvar as our American friends call it.

For a comparison of 77 Lager with German style pilsners, see Adeptus' thoughts over on The Bitten Bullet.

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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