Showing posts with label pivovarsky klub. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pivovarsky klub. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Prague - Back to the Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Favourite Watering Holes

The inestimable pairing that is Boak and Bailey have a list of what look like wonderful pubs over on their blog today, and so in the spirit of shameless plagiarism I figured I would make a similar list. My list, by virtue of bouncing round the world for the last couple of decades needs to have the addition of dates for some places, as they have either closed down, or gone to shit from what friends have told me. In no particular order then, in we dive...

Pivovarsky klub, K?i?íkova 17, Prague

It really is inevitable that Pivovarsky klub is on this list, it was there that 13 years ago on Sunday I met Mrs V after all, and for the next four years before moving to the US it was our local. We lived about a 5 minute walk from the place, got to know the staff really well, had our wedding reception there, and still recommend friends that are visiting Prague to pop in. I remember how revolutionary the idea of 6 taps, 5 of which rotated, and at least 200 bottled beers seemed at the time, opening up a whole new world of Czech beer to me. Most of the time I drank in the cellar bar, sorry my American friends "basement" just doesn't cut it as a description for their subterranean space, sat at the bar, in the corner under the spiral staircase. From my perch I could happily engage in my favourite, well second favourite, pub pastime - people watching. I often tell this story, but one of the things we loved about PK was that we were such regulars that the staff knew exactly what Mrs V wanted to drink without having to ask (Primátor English Pale Ale), and usually had it ready as she sat down. In many ways the feel of the place was Craft™ before it became a thing, you know, stripped brick and shiny metal, with paler wooden furniture than many a traditional boozer.

Zlatá hvězda, Prague, 1999-2009

Comically poor beer, toilets that would disgrace a refugee camp, and an owner that was known to physically throw people out of his pub that were being arseholes shouldn't really make for a place that I loved and frequented regularly, but love Zlatá I did. It was the place that for all 10 years of my stay in Prague I watched football, mostly Liverpool obviously, but not exclusively. With a group of fellow Liverpool fans, as well as a revolving cast of English teachers, teachers at one of Prague's international schools, Finnish chefs on disability who supported Chelsea, this place could generate an atmosphere unlike any other sports bar I have known. Similar to PK, I lived just a 5 minute walk from the place for the last four years of my stay in Prague, and was known to pop in even when there was no football, the cavernous, cool, dark space being perfect for reading the international edition of the Guardian. Shame they never learnt to spell my name for my reservations, but I got used to being "All" instead of "Al".

The Bon Accord, 153 North Street, Glasgow

Only been here a couple of times, but both have been fantastic. A good range of well kept real ales, 25 year old Talisker just one of the superb whiskies available, and an all day breakfast that will keep you going for several days. Both of our visits have ended up with us sitting with owner getting bevvied, and remarkably he remembered us the second time we turned up, some 2 years after the first, so gets additional kudos points for that. During that second trip, on a Friday night, I mentioned to Mrs V that one of the things I miss about British life was Friday nights in the pub, without the need to worry about driving home, sadly in central Virginia regional public transport is non-existant and taxis cost several appendages.

Devils Backbone Basecamp, 200 Mosbys Run, Roseland, Virginia

Some places are worth the hour it takes to drive there, said places are often also a factor in deciding where to go hiking of a weekend, the original Devils Backbone brewpub is one such place. When we landed in Virginia back in 2009, Devils Backbone was just coming up to its first birthday, and our first visit was on a tour of local brewpubs with a friend from the Prague days who was now living in Pittsburgh. That first visit was a bit underwhelming, mainly because the server got our flight all mixed up and let's just say expectations went all awry until we worked out the correct order from the menu notes. In those early years we would pretty often jump in the car to spend Sunday afternoon sat at the bar, surrounded by the taxidermy, reclaimed wood, and superb lagers. It was that commitment to quality lager that pulled me into Devils Backbone's orbit, and I have been a happy lager drinker because of them ever since. Some might baulk at spending money at an AB-InBev owned brewery, but Devils Backbone really looks after their people well, many of the wait staff having been there for almost ten years, and the fact that the beer keep improving as they invest in new shiny toys means I will always be able to get my lager kick satisfied at what I still think of as Virginia's best craft brewery.

Kardinal Hall, 722 Preston Avenue, Charlottesville, Virginia

As close to a German style beer hall as we are likely to get in this part of Virginia, and a pretty damned good stab it is too. Any place where I can get a litre of Rothaus Pils on draft has got to be a good place, add to that the excellent food, and this is somewhere my friends and I pretty often end up after a morning of hiking in the mountains. Admittedly I have to get used to the fact that "bratwurst" in America means something different than in Nuremburg or Thuringia, and so I avoid them so as to not be disappointed, but their Belgian fries are phenomenal. One of the great things about Kardinal is they actually have a decent sized and pleasant outdoor space that when the trees grow to maturity is going to make a really nice beer garden.

The Castle Tavern, 1 View Place, Inverness

The first time Mrs V and I wandered into the Castle Tavern was in 2014 when I took her for her first trip to Scotland, and the first time I had been home in almost a decade. It was Sunday lunchtime and my parents were at church, being good heathen folks my wife and I had wandered along the River Ness and decided it was time for a pint. Said pint was Cromarty Brewing's majestic Atlantic Drift, and in that moment I had found two new loves, a brewery and a real ale pub. Whenever I am home, the Castle Tavern is an essential port of call, anywhere that gets Timothy Taylor Landlord on cask is going to be a place I want to be at. If Mrs V and I move to the Inverness area in the future, it will be a regular haunt.

Photo credits
  • Pivovarsky klub: Mark Stewart

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, April 1, 2011

Day Off.

Not from work, from blogging.

See you on Monday my good folks.

Oh alright then, something for the weekend.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Future of the Pub

It has been suggested to me that I am more of a pub fan than a beer geek, and I guess that is a fair comment in many ways. All you need to do to understand this fact is look at the 40 boozers and bars that I chose from the many in Prague to go into my book. There are a few well regarded beer geek hangouts which didn't make the cut, simply because I didn't enjoy going there when I lived in the city. Conversely there are a few pubs that serve generic macrobrew that I enjoyed going to, in spite of the beer, because they had a good atmosphere.

One of my friends of Prague posted this slideshow about how pubs have changed in Prague since the Velvet Revolution and it got me thinking about how pubs changed in the 10 years I lived there. One of the first pubs in the city that I went to regularly is called Planeta ?i?kov. Back in 1999 Planeta served Lobkowiz beer, but today it is just another Staropramen pub. I guess these pictures are fairly recent, and it still looks pretty similar to the days when the manager of the language school I worked for would get drunk and sack everyone. A very good reason not to go to Planeta these days is the minor fact that right opposite it is the venerable U Slovanské Lípy, a proper boozer with awesome beer at insanely low prices.

Of course the slideshow and accompanying commentary by and large lament the changes in pub culture brought about by the free market, whilst ignoring the advances that the free market have bought to the Prague beer scene. Without the free market, would a place like Zly ?asy be able to offer beers from around the world, including Left Hand's magnificent imperial stout? Perhaps I am going out on a limb here, but without the free market would consumers be able to choose to go to a non-smoking pub like Pivovarsky klub? Let me clarify that though by saying I do not, never have and never will support a blanket ban on smoking in pubs (and I say that as a non-smoker). Sure it is nice to go home from the pub reeking of only booze instead of booze and smoke, but I have always held the opinion that I know when I go to the pub that people are likely to smoke, and so I make an informed decision whether or not to go.

As much as I hate to see pubs shut, and during a decade of drinking Czech lager I saw many of my favourite watering holes disappear or change under new management, I come to the conclusion that if the pub is to survive then it needs to adapt to the market place. One of the curses, for want of a better word, of the craft beer movement, at least here in the States, is that craft beer is more expensive that macrobrew. A pint of Pabst Blue Ribbon costs about $2.50 here in Charlottesville, whereas something from Samuel Adams usually runs to double that, and very "exotic" beers can cost as much as $15 a pint. In effect craft beer, at least in the US context, becomes a niche product only available to those sufficiently well off to pay for it, and runs against the grain of beer as the everyman drink.

The economics of beer drinking in the US is viciously slanted against pub culture, especially when the economy isn't doing so well. People will still drink, sure, but I wonder how many people are abandoning the pub simply because a 6 pack is a cheaper option than a couple of pints? Perhaps this explains why many people here brew their own beer?

An average batch of homebrew for me costs about $1.75 a bottle, and even my recent barleywine will stretch that out to only about $2.50 a bottle. Thus it was with interest that I read on about North Dakota possibly allowing home brewers the possibility of getting a license to sell their beer at trade shows. I think this kind of legislation is an excellent idea, and of course it promotes the free market (so no doubt the big brewers would be horrified at all the extra competition). Given the possibility of selling their wares, homebrewers would be encouraged to improve their procedures and recipes. If I could sell my beers for just $0.75 more than cost then I am making a little cash out of my hobby, and hopefully giving people something reasonably priced and good to drink. Now imagine you could get a license to sell your beer on draught from your kegerator, in your garage or basement, suddenly we are seeing a return of the public house.

Perhaps, and this is just romantic surmising I am sure, the future of the pub is a return of beer as a cottage industry?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Breaching the Cellar

I mentioned on Wednesday that Mrs Velkyal and I are heading down the road to Williamsburg today for the weekend, but didn't tell you why we are getting away for a couple of days.Quite simply it is because yesterday marked 5 years since we met in Pivovarsky klub back in Prague.

You could say then that good beer (part of me is tiring of the whole "craft beer" appellation - a beer is either good or it isn't) has been part of our relationship from day one. Unfortunately this wouldn't really be true because the very next time we went out we were boozing up on Gambrinus or some such other junk. Eventually though we turned PK into our regular haunt, not just because we met there but because it was convenient to our flat and we liked the atmosphere.

I am not generally the soppy romantic sort, or at least not in the buying flowers way of thinking about it. Tonight though, I will be breaching the hallowed sanctum of my beer cellar for some beers to celebrate both our meeting and some of the momentous events that have followed. With that in mind, I will first polish off my bottle of J.W. Lees 2005 Harvest Ale for the year we met. That will be followed by a bottle of the 2008 for the year we got married, and lastly the 2009 Vintage for the year we moved to the States.

While being utterly sentimental, this is the song that sticks most in both our minds from the night we met and went on from PK to the meat market which is Lucerna, it also came on the radio just as Mrs V's limo pulled up to Prague's New Town Hall for our wedding.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ultimate Drinking Experience?

On my way home from work yesterday, admittedly via a slightly circuitous route, I popped into the local Barnes and Noble to see if they had the latest editions of the various beer and brewing magazines that I like to read. There was a new edition of Brew Your Own, which is fast becoming my favourite beer related magazine, and as I already had the current edition of All About Beer, I picked up their special edition Beer Traveler. Having driven the rest of the way home with Rammstein in the CD player, I was looking forward to reading about the places where "serious beer lovers" should go in order to get oneupmanship points on the rest of the world.

Naturally I wanted to see what they had to say about the Czech Republic and there was some stuff about Plzeň, for some inexplicable reason it was spelt "Pilzn" on the map Stan Hieronymous' was using (name and address of the cartographers please, so I can send vicious email claiming ignorance!), and about the Eggenberg brewery in ?esky Krumlov, a place where I saw this most interesting of signs:

Of the rest of the special, I was most interested in the 150 Perfect Places to Have A Beer, a list of which purports to tell the dedicated beer traveler where to find the finest beer drinking experiences. Now, I am not sure how they compiled this list, though I somewhat doubt it was as thorough as the Good Beer Guide, but a couple of things intrigued me, other than why their software couldn't handle some of the diacritics in the Czech pub names.

Speaking of the Czech venues on the list, they were ranked as follows:
  1. U Flek? (Prague) - 14th in the overall list
  2. Kr?ma (?esky Krumlov) - 44th
  3. Czech Beer Festival (Prague) - 54th
  4. Pivovarsky klub (Prague) - 75th
  5. Zly ?asy (Prague) - 83rd
Really? Are you kidding me? The Czech Beer Festival is a better place to get a pint than Zly ?asy or Pivovarsky klub? Let me get this completely straight, in the mind of All About Beer, an over-priced beer fest swimming in mass produced swill is better than two reasonably priced pubs with an ever changing selection of quality beers? Apparently the Flying Saucer, of which there is one that I enjoy going to in Columbia, South Carolina, is ranked higher than all the Czech pubs, bar U Flek?. On what basis? Now don't get me wrong here, I like the Flying Saucer in Columbia, and have raved about it many times on here, but better than Pivovarsky klub? You're having a laugh surely?

What about other pubs and places I know and have enjoyed pints in? Well, Dublin's venerable Bull and Castle ranks 18th, while the Porterhouse in Temple Bar is 42nd (only 2 places above Kr?ma? WTF!) and that's it for Ireland, other than the Gravity Bar at St James's Gate.

As for the UK, I don't think I have been to any of the places on the list, but I am not expecting a case of existential angst over the matter any time soon, but if the list is to be believed, the best place to get a beer in the UK is.....the Great British Beer Festival. It would appear that great places to get a pint in the UK are limited to London, Sheffield and Stonehaven. Sorry Burton upon Trent, you have nothing to offer. Sorry Oxford, the Inklings clearly knew nothing about a good place or two to have a pint. Sorry Manchester and area, Tandleman is clearly ignorant of the lack of good watering holes in your neck of the woods. Sorry Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen (home to the BrewDog pub), Newcastle, Carlisle, Birmingham, Cambridge, Norwich, and so and so on.

Of course one man's pivní perfection is another man's hoppy hell, so list's like this must be taken with a large pinch of salt, and I allowed myself a wry smile at the many pubs I love and miss in Prague which didn't make the list. However, forgive me if I am overly cyncial, but surely the best place to get a beer in the world would be the only place you can buy Westvleteren with the blessing of the monks? Where does In De Vrede come on the list?

It doesn't.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Better in the Bottle

A few weeks before Mrs Velkyal and I got on the plane to Atlanta, I was sat in PK with Evan, drinking the Primátor Weizen, commenting that it was one of the beers I knew I would miss - really it is that good! Evan mentioned that an esteemed beer blogger/writer (can't remember who it was though) wasn't unduly impressed with it when he had it on draft. Evan then said something along the lines of wheat beer generally being better from the bottle, which of course goes against the grain of so much received wisdom when it comes to beer, but I have to agree.

Most of you probably know that I work at weekends for the Starr Hill brewery, where I serve samples of the brewery's range to visitors, just little 2oz servings of each. When I went to meet the guys there about the job they treated me to a sample of all the beers available in the tasting room, including their wheat beer pictured above. The Love is a perfectly respectable wheat beer, clean, refreshing and enough to make me long for proper bratwurst from an imbissbude on the streets of Dresden (just outside Hauptbahnhof there is a fantastic little snack stand that does a sublime currywurst). I say proper bratwurst because the "brats" I have bought in the shops over here are nothing like the bratwurst I grew up on as a kid in Celle and have an ongoing love affair with (yes, yes I am a Germanophile).

Every time I am working, I have to explain exactly what a wheat beer is, usually followed by the question "what is in the other beers then?", and tell visitors that the bananas and cloves they are experiencing are perfectly normal, and that the slight bubblegum touch is also ok, often much to their wonderment.

Perhaps it is the comfort of drinking at home, although I much prefer being in the pub, even if I am not paying "Tesco prices" to use Cooking Lager's oft mentioned phrase, but I am convinced that The Love is a better beer from the bottle than from the tap. The banana and clove are as present as on tap, but there is just something more lively, slightly more in your face when you pour it from the bottle, and perhaps a touch more body, which fills out the beer perfectly.

The Love very much embodies what Evan and I were discussing that afternoon in PK, and is a very welcome part of my little cellar of treats. Popping open the bottle you see in the pictures last night just brought that whole conversation back, and made me a little nostalgic for the many sessions I had with Evan, Rob and Pivní Filosof in various bars in Prague.

If you haven't already, have a look at the Fuggled calendars(the Lulu links in the corner) and buy one - great photography and a good present for your beer loving mates!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On Reflection

As I have mentioned before, I was disappointed by the Czech Beer Festival, even though Mrs Velkyal and I stayed for about 8 hours on the day we were there. The experience of the festival and the parallel event held at Zly ?asy got me to thinking about my expectations of a beer festival, and how that differs from going to a pub with a wide range of beers available.

As I said in my post about the Czech Beer Festival, one of the things I would like to have seen would have been special beers made exclusively for the festival. As it was, not one of the breweries at the event felt the need to stand out from the crowd by doing something outside their usual line up, so thank goodness for the ales from Primátor. Perhaps this then is something that the guys at Zly ?asy can bear in mind should they do a similar event again next year – and if none of the breweries will make unique beers, then use their event as the launch for another version of their Zabiják z Nusly beer.

Probably the biggest problem with this year’s Czech Beer Festival was the choice of venue. The problem though wasn’t the actual location – after all the show grounds at Letňany are right next to the metro station, which is only about 15 minutes from the centre of the city. The problem was that when it rained, which it did almost every day of the event, the field very quickly became waterlogged. Admittedly Prague isn’t blessed with a plethora of venues for these kind of events – however I think an alternative really needs to be found for next year’s event. Personally I think Letna Park would be better, especially on its clay pitches, assuming of course that the tunnel being built is finished.

I realize that this is the beer geek in me speaking, but I would have liked to have the possibility of sampling a lot more beers at the Czech Beer Festival. It woud have been nice to be able to have the option of a 100ml sample rather than having to take the half litre or 300ml on offer. I wonder how many people were put off trying something new because if they didn’t like it then they had wasted 40k?, and so stuck to those beers they knew? Of course the Czech Beer Festival isn’t really pitched at beer geeks, although the welcome presence of micros does make it more likely that we would wander up at least once, but then as I have said before if I really want a grilled sausage and pint of something decent then I will take a stroll to my local, rather than go to a festival.

In reality the Czech Beer Festival is little more than an overpriced 10 day beer garden with a few fairground rides lobbed in for good measure (one of which was called “Staro?esky Loch Ness”, which translates as “Old Czech Loch Ness” – funny that, I don’t remember Loch Ness having anything to do with the Czech lands, whether old, new or faintly middle aged). In the same vein, I would think of the event Zly ?asy more of a “pivní akce”, the nearest I can get to in English there is “beer action”, than a beer festival – especially given that they have a wide range of Czech micros on their taps all year round anyway.

Of the two events, I much preferred Zly ?asy’s – but given that it is one of my favourite pubs anyway I have to take that into account, but it has certainly been a very encouraging start, and perhaps one that can become a regular event, perhaps one in winter showcasing dark beers would be a good idea? It is good that Prague has places like Zly ?asy, and Pivovarsky klub swimming against the tide and bringing a wider range of beers to beer lovers in the city, long may it continue.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Pilsner and Primátor

I popped into PK last night and proceeded to horrify the staff by ordering a mineral water - I was out on Wednesday night and really didn't feel like more beer. Interesting news though for fans of Pilsner Urquell is that PK currently has the unfiltered version available, and to quote my friend who was drinking it "that is a completely different beer!". They also have the Purkmistr dark on tap as well, so well worth getting along to try them.

Next week however, U Radnice in ?i?kov is having a special week of beers from Primátor and according to the board outside the pub they will have the following:

There were possibly some others but I can't remember them off the top of my head. Definitely not a bad start to my minimum two months of leisure as a victim of the credit crunch.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Where Everybody Knows My Name

There are two seemingly equal and opposite things that I simply do not believe in; fate and coincidence. Things happen, and it is up to us to make the best of whatever comes our way, to believe in either is to resign the ability to take credit or blame for anything. Pivovarsky klub is the pub in Prague where some of the best events in my life so far have taken place, and as such will always hold a special place in my world.

My first ever visit to PK was in October of 2005, when at the time I was living in a town about 50km from Prague, called Mladá Boleslav – home of ?koda Auto. I was in Prague because a friend had invited me to join him and and his colleagues at a company booze up. Being a Friday, I had been paid, finally had enough cash to replace my glasses broken while celebrating Liverpool’s unlikely Champions League victory, and had a fresh haircut – all in all, I was feeling pretty damned good, especially as I could see properly again, and we went to the wrong pub.

At this time I only knew about Pivovarsky d?m, so we naturally went there, to find no reservation and no recognizable faces. A phone call and taxi ride later and we were in Pivovarsky klub, drinking ?těpán, their very good 12° lager and chatting with the rest of my friend’s colleagues, mostly American language teachers, banging on about what schools they went to and that they graduated “cum laude”, the American system of grading honours being rather sexier than saying I got a 2:1 and missed a first by a fraction – but studying was never something I bothered to do much of.

At some point, the Korean American bloke sat next to me tottered off to the loo. While he was away, a latecomer came down the stairs, and not wanting to listen to this guy driveling on about how German girls really “digged him”, I insisted that she sit next to me and we hit it off immediately. Thus it was that I met Mrs Velkyal, and many Friday nights for the first 6 months of our relationship started out at Pivovarsky klub. The fact that it was the place we met was the deciding factor when we organized having our wedding reception there last year, and they did a magnificent job with the food and of course the beers were fabulous.

PK has a great selection of beers, though I fear that I have drunk pretty much every available Czech lager they offer. Again the staff are a key element of what makes PK a pub I love to visit, they let me know what is new, whether they think something is worth trying and of course they all know my name – and importantly, they spell it correctly when I make a reservation. When Mrs Velkyal turns up, they know what she drinks and have it ready by the time her coat is off. I also love the décor, if you can call it that, wood and bare brick, with a brass tap arrangement, simple yet elegant.

Pivovarsky klub is my Cheers.

The last couple of pictures on this post were taken at our wedding reception by our photographer on the day, Mark Stewart. I recommend you take a look at his Flickr site and if you need excellent, unobstrusive, photography then contact this guy and work something out.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Welcome Break

I gave myself an extended weekend, took last Thursday and Friday off. I wasn't planning to get out of Prague or do anything special, I just decided to take a couple of days off and enjoy laying in my bed longer than normal.

The laying in bed plan was partly because on Wednesday night I had arranged to meet with the brewer of Everards in the UK, who was over in Prague for a few days with his wife. So Mrs Velkyal and I spent the evening at Pivovarsky klub enjoying their company and various rather nice beers - my personal favourite was the American IPA made by Pivovarsky d?m.

During Wednesday night we arranged to meet up on the Thursday for a guided tour of some of Prague's brewpubs, which actually turned out to be just Pivovarsky dv?r Chyně and U Medvídk?, where we went up to the brewery part of the pub and sat dranking their excellent Oldgott Barrique, whilst watching a fresh batch being made - that was certainly fun! I also learnt that it is actually possible to talk for 9 hours straight about beer, and after we had gone our seperate ways I went to U Slovanské Lípy for some Kout na ?umavě lagers - as you can imagine, Friday was spent generally recovering at a very slow pace.

Drinking with a professional brewer is definitely something I would recommend, especially when you have heard people raving about a particular beer and then the professional highlights a couple of problems with the beer, and their possible causes, as happened in Chyně. Plus with Everard's being one of the larger regional breweries in the UK it was interesting to get a different view on the tie than I have heard from most people, a subject I have been mulling over and will no doubt come back to.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rev ale ation

Seeing as though last night was Mrs Velkyal's school Christmas soiree, I nipped along to Pivovarsky klub to try a couple of interesting beers on tap. Luckily when I arrived there was a space at the bar, the downstairs area being used for one of PK's club nights.

I had checked PK's website in the afternoon, and saw that they had an American IPA but it wasn't stated who made it and I remember Pivovarsky d?m once made a Double IPA which I hadn't really enjoyed that much. When I heard that it was from Kocour, there was no question that I was going to get along and have a couple. And what a lovely beer it is, a huge nose of citrus, flowers and grass and a big refreshing kick of bitterness which I imagine would cut through the stogiest of foods with consummate ease, all of this backed up with a gentle sweetness and a long dry finish. Fabulous, simply fabulous.

I thought though it my duty to try the other specials they had on tap, other than the Delirium Christmas, which I couldn't justify spending silly money on. So next up came the Opat 17° Christmas Special from Pivovar Broumov, which looked like one of those peel-less marmalades (an abomination in my opinion - the marmalade, not the colour of the beer). The nose reminded me of various Christmasy type things, the sweetness of honey and a light spiciness of gingerbread, with just a subtle hint of vanilla. It was quite sweet, and a little syrupy, and I felt it could have done with a touch more bitterness. As the drink wore on, I am convinced I got a whiff of glue - not sure what was going on with that, but certainly it was there.

I decided to leave the light beers behind and go to the dark side to try the Rambousek 16° Christmas Special. Watching it being poured, I was thinking - "looks like a stout, head like a stout, hurrah, more stout!". Boy was I wrong. The nose was simply not what I expected, instead of the heavy coffee and chocolate smells I was expecting, there was a very nice floralness about the nose, although eventually some coffee and treacle made it through. And what a fantastic taste this stuff has, a rich sweet maltiness, like burnt toffee, all cut through with a gentle bitterness. Another wonderful beer - which I may have to pop round with a plastic bottle to get filled up and take home to Mrs Velkyal, to my mind it was possibly the best Christmas beer I have had.

I guess whatever I drank next would have had a hard act to follow, but having chatted for a bit with Pivní Filosof I opted for the Holba ?erák, a 14o amber lager which to be perfectly honest left me cold. It wasn't bad, but it could have been so much more. Perhaps I am comparing it too much with the magnificent Hukvaldy I had last month, but this just wasn't up there for me.

I do have a minor gripe though, and I have made this gripe before I think, but three of the beers I had only come in measures of 0.3l for 35k?, the equivalent would be about 60k?/£2.00/€2.40/$3.00 a half litre. For very strong beers I can understand selling a smaller measure, but for the American IPA then what possible justification is there for not selling the full half litre? It was the same situation with Primátor's magnificent stout, which was sold just up the road at U Radnice for 22k? for the full half litre.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Sometimes the mood simply isn’t there. The pub is full, there is a good well-made beer in front of you (one likes to assume these things), but something is missing. Perhaps it is the deflation that comes from meeting your deadlines a week in advance, perhaps it is simply being there by yourself, but something is missing. Yes its great to see your favourite bar staff in your favourite pub, but even they notice that something is missing. Perhaps that missing something is the elusive craic, the Gemütlichkeit, the spirit of Gambrinus has upped and left. That pretty much describes last night for me.

Chatting with Ambroz “the barman” on Facebook the other day, he mentioned that they hadn’t seen me in PK for a while, which was true. Mrs Velkyal was having a night of being crafty at her , for the best part of the last year she has been hand sewing a quilt of which she is rightly proud, so I decided I would pop along and prop up the bar for a while. I arrived to discover that the entire downstairs area was reserved for a function of one kind or another – PK is excellent for functions of about 50 – 70 people, it was where Mrs Velkyal and I had our reception – and the upstairs was pretty full too, but I pulled up a chair at a table and ordered a beer, I think the staff may have been shocked that I only had small ones last night.

The first beer I had was from the small town of Strakonice in southern Bohemia,
Velkop?evor Svetly Speciál, a 14° lager. It can be quite difficult finding Strakonice beers in Prague, which is a shame really as I would like to firm up my positive view of their 10° lager, Nektár, without having to bother going to Strakonice itself, as there is very little there unless you are going at the same time as the International Bagpipe Festival. The beer in front of me was a dark golden colour, bordering on amber with a white head, which disappeared quite quickly. It has a nice floral nose, with grassy and herbal elements chucked into the mix, at one point I thought I noticed the merest hint of banana. I found it difficult to really nail down a flavour, other than the fact that it is quite bitter and alcoholic, and although there are sweet undertones, they are not enough to really balance out the beer. It almost reminded me of Tesco Value marmalade, bitter oranges with sugar chucked on top. Overall it was a disappointing, simply a stronger version of their 12° Dudák, which is nothing special.

It took me a while to decide what to try next, and eventually I plumped for the 13° polotmavé 7 Kuli from Pivovar Bene?ov, home of the Ferdinand ranges of beers. I have heard many good things about this beer from various people, when it arrived on the table I was encouraged, a beautiful ruby colour with a distinctly creamy head. Sticking my nose in the glass and there were traces of liquorice, pepper and even a touch of basil – three of my favourite smells on the planet. Thus it was with expectation that I took my first mouthful, and sure enough it was malty and quite sweet. However, I found the sweetness to be rather syrupy, and the beer in general to be uninspiring, perhaps I was unconsciously comparing it with the Purkmistr polotmavé which I thoroughly enjoyed.

At this point I decided that the best course of action was to bail out. I had arranged to meet a friend, so rather than subject him to me in a bit of a grump I cancelled and wandered off home to a bottle of Hobgoblin and a mix on my computer of Wolfstone, Cahornega, Anuna, The Chieftains and Carlos Nú?ez. So the night turned out to be rather mellow in the end.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Little of Wheat You Fancy

Wandering around my local Billa supermarket last night trying to decide what to cook for dinner – if anyone is interested we ended up having macaroni cheese, with chunks of smoked bacon through it – I thought it would be interesting to do a taste tasting of the wheat beers they had available. Thus I got home with all the ingredients necessary for a tri-nations wheat beer face off.

In the Czech corner was Primátor Weizenbier, representing the mighty Germany was Erdinger and squaring up against these behemoths of the brewing scene was Austria’s Edelweiss, all three of which are hefeweizens and ranged in price from $1 to $1.50 at current exchange rates.

First up was the Primátor Weizenbier, which I have had a few times at Pivovarsky Klub where it is practically the house wheat beer. I have to admit that every time I have had it at PK I have been left decidedly underwhelmed, however one of my friends told me that it is far better from the bottle. My word was she right, from the bottle this is a far superior beer. It pours a wonderful marmalade orange with a slightly ivory head which disappeared rather quickly – a fact I am putting down to not owning a proper wheat beer glass and so drinking it from my Purkmistr glass. Being a hefewiezen it is naturally cloudy, which is actually something I like in a beer, being a fan of kvasnicové beers. The beer smells like oranges as well, ripe Seville oranges promising a burst of bitterness followed by a delicate sweetness, with floral hints from the Saaz hops. In the mouth this beer is an absolute delight, tart, refreshing, with crisp bitterness, which doesn’t overwhelm the palate, and again the motif of a thick cut orange marmalade. There is a nice balance of medium sweetness with medium bitterness.

Next up came the German contender, Erdinger. I must admit to having a soft spot for Erdinger products, recently Pivovarsky Klub had their Dunkelweizen on tap and I relished every drop of the several pints I had. The hefeweizen though is a lighter beer than the Primátor, despite being slightly stronger in terms of ABV, 5.3% to 5%. It pours a pale orange, and like the Primátor there is a touch of ivory in the head, which once again disappeared very quickly, there were also a lot of bubbles in the beer. The nose of the Erdinger was decidedly earthy, with slight spicy notes. I found that the extra alcohol content was evident in the Erdinger and it left a bitter aftertaste in the back of the throat. To my mind has about the same amount of bitterness as the Primátor but just a notch less sweetness.

Many times when I have wandered through Billa I have looked at the bottles of Edelweiss Weissbier and thought of my dad, he underwent Alpine mountain training back in the 1960s when stationed in West Germany and earned an Edelweiss, the insignia of German alpine troops. I really had no idea what to expect from this beer – I know very little about Austrian beers and despite their proximity to the Czech Republic very few Austrian products make it up the E65/50 from Vienna to Prague. I really didn’t hold out much hope for this beer when it poured a similar pale orange to the Erdinger, but at least the head held better and was whiter than the other two. Then I stuck my nose into the glass. My head near exploded with the complexity of smells in the glass, the first thing that hits is spiced oranges with hints of freshly mown grass in the background, but there was something there which took me an age to identify. Touches of pepper and even lemon came to the fore, but still that smell eluded me, so I tasted the beer, and the complexity of the nose is reflected in a very complex taste sensation. Eventually I hit on the predominant smell and flavour and almost jumped for joy, it was ginger, lots of ginger – but this was like freshly cut root ginger, rather than the sweetened powder. The sweetness of the bitter was rather low, but it was not bitter at all, making it a very refreshing beer for sipping, I don’t think the complexity of flavours would allow it to be a session beer.

Of the three beers I think the Primátor is the one I would buy most often to sit with and enjoy whilst watching DVDs, however the Edelweiss is I think the best tasting of the three, and most certainly the most enjoyable to deconstruct and identify all the smells and tastes.

There was once a time when I wouldn’t drink wheat beers at all, but a friend of mine opened my eyes by insisting that I try a Sch?fferhofer. Of the wheat beers that I have tried and liked they have tended to be in the mould of Bavarian Weizens, for some reason I find the Belgian wheats very difficult to appreciate, but given that only 18 months ago I would never have touched wheat beer at all, progress is being made.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Black Beered Pork

On Sunday I bought a joint of pork with the intention of marinading it overnight and roasting it on the Monday, my original intention had been to buy ribs and glaze them with honey, a dark lager and mustard - however, I couldn't find ribs so a roast joint was the replacement. I had already decided on the beer to be used while I was in Pivovarsky Klub on Friday night, having bought a bottle of Chodovar Tmavé Le?ák in anticipation. As a side note I should say that I really like the Chodovar range of beers, and when PK had the Skální Polotmavé on tap a few months ago I was in heaven.

Anyway, back to the cooking. Thus it was that I made my marinade:

Nice and simple:
  1. Mix together honey, mustard, a slug of the beer and chutney
  2. Score the meat and rub in the mixture
  3. Put in a tupperware container, fill with remaining beer
  4. Cover and put in the fridge overnight

Cooking - based on a 1kg piece of meat:

  1. Preheat oven to 220°C or the equivalent.
  2. Place meat and marinade in roasting tray, cover with foil and roast for 1 hour.
  3. Feel free to chuck in a bulb of garlic to roast as well.
  4. After an hour, remove the foil and continue roasting for 30 minutes.

I was hoping for a nice thick sauce to go with the meat, but I had to remove the juices in the pan and reduce them - I think sauce making is something I will have to look into more.

Mrs Velkyal and I had this served with just plain rice and she commented that I need to be more assertive with spices, although she liked the beery flavour of the sauce and the fact it had penetrated the meat. So definitely something I will be trying again, although I am certain it could be much better.

As for the drop of Chodovar I didn't use in the marinade, it tasted lovely and the bottle will be used in upcoming homebrew projects.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Entering the Cloister

As a result of an entry on Evan Rail's Beer Culture blog, as I have previously referred to, I tottered off to a local cheese shop recently in order to buy beer. I literally tottered as it was just round the corner from Pivovarsky Klub so I had stopped in for a quick pint, with became a rather chatty 4 pints and a meal. I had decided it was time to finally try some of the Trappist ales from Belgium.

On my first foray to the cheese shop I bought myself an Orval and a Rochefort 6, there was a second excursion a couple of days later because Mrs Velkyal had eaten most of the farmhouse cheddar I bought the first time and so we needed supplies, and I bought another Orval as well as a Rochefort 8 and 10.

Wanting to get as much as possible from these beers, I didn't open them that evening, I decided to do some background reading. Thus it was on Tuesday evening I decided to pop open the Orval, and this is what I got from the bottle.

For the sake of not repeating myself, I have decided to include the review I put for Orval on Beer Advocate:

"I fear I am about to commit beer heresy by admitting to not really enjoying this one all that much. The beer was bottled on the 31 May 2007 and as such was 14 months old when I drank it.It poured a very nice copper colour, and was of course cloudy - as a personal opinion this is a good thing, as I like beer unfiltered and unpastuerised. There was a fluffy head which dissipated slowly, and was gone within five minutes. On the nose were distinctly citrus notes. The first taste was a shock to be honest. This will sound odd, but it tasted fizzy, rather tart and almost like popping candy on the tongue.It wasn't awful, just not what I was expecting - so I will of course have another one to further hone my opinion." As of yet the second bottle hasn't been opened.

Last night after having had dinner and several very nice V3 Smoked Malt Special lagers at PK, and an Erdinger Dunkelweissen, I got home, popped Doctor Who into the DVD player and decided I would try the Rochefort 6, which poured like this:

I love that colour! It reminded me of the peat back at home in the Outer Hebrides, and I am sure there was a slight tinge of peat on the nose as well. After the fizz bang of Orval I was unsure of what to expect. The first taste of this was wonderfully smooth with a sweetness which reminded me of caramel. Eventually this gave way to dark chocolate, without wanting to sound like Jilly Goolden, it actually put me in mind of the organic dark chocolate from Marks and Spencer. As I say it is a nice smooth ale, with just enough zing to avoid it being cloying in the mouth, and the more I drank the more the chocolate was replaced by cocoa. Overall I really enjoyed this one, and am looking forward to trying the more potent 8 and 10.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Not quite home brewing....

But home cooking.

Mrs Velkyal and I are both avid foodies - there is a reason for the "velky" in Velkyal, it is the Czech word for "big", and at 6'4" and 240lbs, I am certainly never going to audition well for the role of Tinkerbell.

In the past few weeks we have been playing around with all manner of recipes and dishes; being from the South of the US, Mrs Velkyal loves making southern foods, in particular biscuits. Last weekend I made my first foray in the world of goulash - a nice spicy beef stew which we polished off even though I had sworn blind I was going to take the remains for my lunch the next day. Also recent additions to the Velkyal household larder, also known as the windowsill, have been various chutneys, quite a few cakes and lots of plans.

Not wanting to be outdone by the ever graceful and talented Mrs Velkyal I put my thinking hat on and decided it was time to find out what I can do with Czech beers in food. Most of plans involve using the beers from Primator, but I will be keeping an eye on the taps at Pivovarsky Klub and pondering what options they give me. One thing I will be doing this week is a variation on Beef Guinness using instead the wonderful 19° porter from the Perstejn brewery in Pardubice, also on the drawing board will be a steak and ale pie using - assuming Mrs Velkyal hasn't drunk the entire national reserve.

Of course the scope for using beer in food is limited only to your imagination and how well you can match the flavours of the food with the flavours in the beer, for example I have just discovered a recipe for an ale chutney, for which I will bring a bottle or two of ale back from the UK when I am there in October.

Friday, August 29, 2008

In praise of staff

It may seen as though I am stating the obvious here, but a pub needs more than just good beer and good food - I have never quite understood the point of a "wet lead" pub to use the industry parlance for a pub with little or no food. Food is an eseential part of drinking, an Irish chef friend of mine once told me that in the first pub he worked in their top selling food was spicy potato wedges, which of course stoked the drinkers' thirst and so they drank more beer. Essential though for a pub in my opinion is good staff, but that in itself is difficult to define.

There are a few bars in Prague I go to regularly and each of them has decent staff for varying reasons. For example Zlata Hvezda, where Mrs Velkyal, myself and my mates watch Liverpool perform the footballing version of the cruciatus curse, has good efficient staff. Perhaps because Zlata has been our "home" pub for 9 years now, we always get good service. But despite this, I would be reticent to suggest that their bar staff can be classified as "good", not that they are bad, but they don't for me get beyond decent.

When I say good staff, I mean the kind of barman or barmanka (I love that word, better than barmaid) who understands the customer and builds a relationship with them. Of the pubs I frequent in Prague, the staff I like the best are at Pivovarsky Klub - honestly I am not on a stipend from these guys, I just happen to love the place. Some would say that it helps that I am there a couple of time most weeks, but that would be the same for Zlata - depending on how far in the Champions League Liverpool go.

Take last night. Most Thursdays the guys I work with go for a drinking session - and being the dictator I am it is usually to a place like PK, Pivovar U Bulovky or recently Pivovar Basta - last night we went to PK. One of the guys is leaving Prague to go back to the UK, so of course a leaving bash was required. I was particularly looking forward to going to PK because I knew Ambrose was working. Ambrose for me is the barman supreme, friendly, knowledgable about the beers and having built a friendship with him, he knows what kind of beers I will enjoy and what to avoid. Also in that league is Klara, possibly the only barmanka I know who when she come to the table and asks what I want I can say "I don't know, what do I want?" and she'll pick just the right beer for me. Last night I had polished off a Bakalar from Rakovnik, followed by a Herold Blonde Lager and just wasn't enjoying the beers as usual, so I asked Klara to just bring me something. The result was a Comenius 14 degree lager from the Janacek brewery in Uhersky Brod which hit the spot perfectly.

In many ways, Pivovarsky Klub is like my Cheers, because everybody knows my name and they always look glad I came, always a sign of a great pub in my book.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

To the monastery

I was joking with Mrs Velkyal the other day that I should do a Masters degree in theology, which is strangely enough what my Bachelors degree is in. She asked what my thesis would be, and I thought how about "Monasticism and the development of Beer"? Thus I could combine two of my favourite things - theology is endlessly fascinating, as long as you remember that religion is more the study of humanity than the study of God. So it was with this thought in mind that I decided to pop down to Pivovarsky Klub for my dinner (Mrs Velkyal being at her school's, beginning of year curry bash).

After a rather nice goulash I decided that it would be a good idea to re-visit a beer I used to think was muck - so bad I would rather drink water than bother with it - Klaster. I first had Klaster at an open air rock festival near the little Czech town of Mnichovo Hradiste, and couldn't stand it. Admittedly this was before I really started to enjoy beer from smaller breweries, which explains why I tried again last night, give it a second chance, turn the other cheek you might say. The name Klaster means "monastery" and the beer is made in a former monastery brewery - given the fact that the building hasn't been a monastery for nearly 600 years, the name is rather tenuous.

I have learnt to trust my first opinions on many things, and my opinion of Klaster won't be changing any time soon - for me it leaves too bitter a taste in the back of my throat, one that by the time I am half way down the pint makes me regret I ever bought the stuff. I am really not a fan.

So in order to wash away the taste I reached for one of my favourites - Gottschalk, a proper monastery beer, brewed by real monks in a monastery! Sometimes it is difficult to believe that in such a non-religious country as the Czech Republic that monks are still operating here and making greating beer, I realise that is not their calling in life but it is one hell of a sideline. Gottschalk is smooth, slightly sweet and just a wonderfully pleasant drink, even if every time I pour it the head is non-existant.

On my way home I decided to follow up a lead from Evan Rail. In his articles for the Prague Daily Monitor he mentioned that a small chain of cheese shops in the Czech Republic also stocked Belgian ales, in particular the Trappist ales and for half the price of other places. Conveniently, there is an outlet near Pivovarsky Klub so I nipped round in the hope they were still open - they were! Low and behold there they were, so I bought an Orval which is already 16 months old, and a Rochefort 6. The problem, if it can be called such, is that this is a cheese shop and they sell quality cheeses and I love cheese. Having gone in to buy two bottles of beer, I came out with two bottles of beer and several wedges of fine cheese, including a farmhouse cheddar!

In the coming days Mrs Velkyal and I will be having various cheese eating sessions and I hope to be reveling in the delights of Belgian Trappist beers.

Beyond January

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