Showing posts with label prague. Show all posts
Showing posts with label prague. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Prague - The New

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

Monday, November 4, 2019

Prague - The Old

So much seems to have happened in Prague's brewing scene in the ten years since I left that I had a dilemma given my limited time in the city recently, whether to visit my old haunts or try some of the new places I had heard so much about?

Some decisions, like going to Pivovarsky klub, were so ridiculously simple as to be barely worth thinking about. Almost as easy a decision was revisiting U Slovanské lipy, at one time my second choice to PK as my favourite place in the city to drink, back when they were basically the only place in Prague that sold Kout na ?umavě's range of magnificent lagers.

U Slovanské lipy is no longer the dingy boozer it once was, though it does maintain the feel of a proper Czech pub rather than some craft beer emporium. It has a rotating selection of beers, has been renovated in a more Art Deco style, and is now part of a group of businesses including ?ernokostelecky pivovár.

In an effort to see as many folks as possible while I was in the city, I arranged a get together at U Slovanské lipy, and naturally got there a little early to check things out for myself, and perhaps revel in a little nostalgia...


In many ways despite the renovation and changes, it was still the U Slovanské lipy I had loved in the noughties, no airs and graces, no pointless fripperies, and the majority of patrons were locals rather than tourists, perfect. The big thing that had changed though was the prices. Where I had been used to paying only 20k? for a half litre of Kout's magisterial 10° pale lager, the nearest equivalent available, Albrecht 10° from Zámecky pivovar Frydlant, was about double that. Yeah, it was odd having sticker shock in a Czech pub, but a quick conversion in my brain telling me the beer was $2 a pop for superb lager soon put that into context.


Albrecht 10° has an ABV of 4% and is simply a dream of a beer. I didn't take any notes as that really wasn't the point of the evening, but I think I drank at least 8 or 9 half litres of the stuff, it was lovely, in many ways the perfect session beer. Admittedly I initially chose the beer not for it's sessionability but for the name, Albrecht being one of the many nicknames I give my younger son, Albert.

As I sat waiting for my friends, I delighted in some people watching and was reminded of one of the things I love about beer culture in Central Europe, it's inclusiveness. Beer, and going to the pub, is simply intrinsic to life, and so there was a group of women at one table, all drinking Albrecht, and having a grand old time, because that is what Czechs do, drink beer.

We had a great night, and after U Slovanské lipy my friend, and amazing barmaid, Klara took me to another couple of places on the other side of the tunnel, in Karlín, and we finished up drinking some kind almond spirit thing. Contented I wandered back to my hotel, glad for not having to bother with a car and the attendant considerations that brings, and looking forward to some new things in that most wonderful city.

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

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Session 140 - Of Swans and Bulldogs


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Session 135: Sepia Tones

As the host of this month's Session, I feel a tad embarrassed that having stepped in at the last minute it has taken me a few days to get my own post written and posted. Life with twins.

As I said in the initial announcement, I wanted us all to engage in a little beery nostalgia for those lost pubs and beers that were part of our formative years as beer drinkers. Melancholy and its attendant nostalgia comes easily to those of us with Highland roots, booze often just brings it into a sharper focus.

Let me tell you a story. When I was 19 I left the safety of life on the Isle of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides for the bright lights of Birmingham. It was the first weekend in October if memory serves, and I started college, studying  for a degree in theology at the Birmingham Bible Institute with a view to becoming a minister of religion. Moving from an island with a population comfortably south of 1500 to the second largest city in the UK cramming about a million people into little more than 100 square miles was, erm, interesting to say the least.

On that first Sunday in Brum all the single students went for a walk around the Edgbaston area to get our bearings, wandering from Pakenham Road, where we lived, to Calthorpe Park and back. Making our way toward the Bristol Road we passed a McDonalds, next to which stood a  fairly nondescript box of a building on which hung a sign that said 'The Trees'. I took a mental note to return when I had a moment and see what delights lay within.

A couple of afternoons later I snuck off for a pint. My memory of The Trees is that it was a run of the mill residential area boozer, and that they had Caffrey's on tap, and I loved Caffrey's at the time. A couple of afternoon pints at The Trees became my routine, I guess I should have known even then that the fact I just wanted to have a couple of jars away from people at college was a pointer that I would never really realise the aim of being a minister. Maybe then I could have gone elsewhere for my degree, and studied something that deep down I wanted to, history or German for example. In a weird twist of fate I later learnt that my older brother's then girlfriend had once been a barmaid at The Trees.

The Trees is gone know, demolished, the land awaiting redevelopment, though the McDonalds remains. A sign of the times perhaps.

Let me tell you another story. When I was 23 I again left Benbecula for a major city. This time I went to Prague, reasonably freshly minted BA (hons) in Theology in hand, recently broken up with my then fiancee, and with my parents encouragement not to get stuck in the relatively empty north west of Scotland. I was off to train as a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language, with a plan to spend a year in Prague and then go off to different countries every year, before heading home to become a minister, I still clung to the vaguest notion of faith then. However, now I didn't worry about heading to the pub for a bevvy, the long moralistic arm of the Free Church minister's disapproving righteous scowl couldn't make it to central Europe (I wasn't Free Church but the church I went to, while independent, had lots of connections in the Free Church on North Uist).


That first Sunday afternoon in Prague, having arrived that morning on the 24 hour bus from London (I hate flying), I sat in a pub/pizzeria in ?erny Most with a 4 cheese pizza on my plate and a half litre of Velkopopovicky Kozel in my glass. Kozel was still independent back then, before merging with Pilsner Urquell in 2002, and the beer was like nothing I had drunk before. A lager that was packed with hop flavour, finishing with a clean bite, and so moreish it would have been remiss not to have at least one more, no wonder the first phrases I mastered in Czech were 'pivo prosím' and 'je?tě jedno'. While most of my friends stuck to the ubiquitous Gambrinus, I hunted out Kozel wherever I could, and happily one of the main expat brunch hangouts, Jama, had it on tap.

Kozel was the genesis of our theme for this Session, as this week they announced they are getting rid of the Kozel Premium, the 12° lager in their range, and sepia toned memories of those first years in the Mother of Cities came flooding back. Much like the beer, it was bittersweet.

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 24, 2012

Notions Challenged

I am perfectly happy to admit that I am somewhat opinionated, one thing I do hope though is that when someone or something contradicts my opinion then I am open to listen and change my viewpoint.  On Saturday, whilst working in the Starr Hill tasting room, I had two of my preconceived notions given a good battering.

If you have followed Fuggled for more than a few posts, you will know that I have a problem with the whole "black" IPA thing - originally on the basis that the concepts of 'black' and 'pale ale' are mutually exclusive, but mainly because several versions of the 'style' I have tried have overwhelmingly been dreck. In general, my experience of beers where dark malts have been added to a traditionally pale beer have been negative, but given that hope springs eternal I will try most things when I have the opportunity. On Saturday such an opportunity presented itself.

One of the delights of this part of Virginia is that it is an alcoholics paradise, vineyards, cideries, distilleries and of course for the beer lovers there is the Brew Ridge Trail, which consists of 6 local breweries, , Wild Wolf, Blue Mountain, Blue Mountain Barrel House, Starr Hill and South Street. Every now and again the brewers get together to make a collaboration beer and the latest iteration of said brew was on tap at the tasting room on Saturday, it was a 'black' tripel. It really had the potential to be the perfect shit storm of things I am not a fan off (say it quietly, but I don't really dig tripel as a regular tipple, unless it actually comes from Belgium, or Canada for that matter). Dutifully I poured myself a sample so I would be able to explain the beer to visitors, and low and behold I liked it. The dark malt lends the beer a light roastiness which roughens up the sugary sweetness that you expect from tripels and judicious use of Saaz hops gives it slightly spicy edge. It is a very nice beer, though quite how it differs from a Belgian Dark Strong Ale is beyond me. If you are at any of the breweries on the Brew Ridge Trail and they have it on tap, then look it out and give it a bash, it's good.

About half way through a somewhat quiet shift, it was also the Top of the Hops beer festival on Saturday, one of my other notions was thoroughly debased. A little back story first, in 2006 I worked as the Tour Manager for a stag party organising company in Prague for a few months. One thing that always filled me with dread was when we would have a hen party, that's 'bachelorette' party for my American readers. My experience of large groups of girls together is that they were uniformly louder, more drunken and more of a nuisance than a similar sized group of men, I am not entirely sure why. We didn't have a hen party come into the tasting room on Saturday, we had a bunch of girls from a sorority at Longwood University - about 20 or so in total, with 12 doing the tasting. The tasters ended up on my side of the bar, and were good fun, with plenty of laughs and frivolity all round - and I stand by my comment to one of them that the Soviet Union would have won World War 2 eventually without the Normandy invasions. I also enjoyed the ego stroke of most of them thinking I was in my late 20s, early 30s (I am 36, nearly 37).

So there we go, one shift, two preconceived notions thoroughly challenged and by the time I got home, to the blaring tunes of The Jam, The Clash and The Doors it was time to hang with friends on the deck and booze the evening away. A pleasing prospect that pleased immensely.

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Local - Guest Blog

Ah, Prague, city of a thousand spires, the golden city, the place I still think of as being "home" (in some loose, woolly sense of course). A city of writers, thinkers and drinkers, Kafka, Havel and Hrabal. A city with pubs on most street corners and some in between corners in case you need refreshment from one corner to the next. Enough with the misty eyed reminiscences, this week's guest blogger is often known as Max, though perhaps more often known as Pivní Filosof. I have shared many a pint with Max, not to mention beer spirits at festivals in Plzeň, so it is my pleasure to hand Fuggled over to him for a few hundred words.


Other than the pub in the village I lived at the time (a great place where we had our wedding reception and we still visit every year on that day's anniversary), my first local in Prague was U Pětníka, a small pub near the Dejvická metro station.


I was introduced to it by a friend and it was love at first pint. The place is rather small, welcoming, with solid food and great atmosphere. They also had very good Staropramen 10o tanková. I spent many a great evening there, until InBev decided to turn the Smíchov brand into the Czech version of Brahma, which made me go in search of greener pastures.


By that time my beer horizons were expanding and one day I came across Pivovarsky Klub, which became my local after the first sip of I don't remember now which beer. At the time, this place was something unheard of, six taps! and all with stuff from small and micro breweries. I would go every week just to see what was new. I made friends there, got in "ahoj" terms with some of the staff and sometimes could spend hours chatting with them or the owner. What a great place, to this day, and it would still be my local if in April 2008 I hadn't found Zly ?asy.


Today this pub in Nusle is almost an international celebrity. It was ranked by RateBeer among the Top 40 pubs in the world and it came out in first place in a recent survey carried out by a Czech newspaper. Things were very different three and a half years ago. The pub had just come out of its contract with Staropramen and Pilsner Urquell and were just getting into the "?tvrtá pípa" thing. They had Kácov and a couple more things, but not only I felt this was just the beginning of something good, but the atmosphere of this cellar reminded me a lot of U Pětníka's and made me realise how much I was missing a place like that. It didn't take much for Zly ?asy to become my new local.


With time I've met many of the regulars and I know that whenever I drop by for a pint I will find someone to chat with. I also have to honour of always having a place at the ?tamgasty table and also to be counted among Hanz's friends. He's Zly ?asy's owner, a great guy who knows a thing or two about beer and loves and loves what he does, but above all, who wants to do things the best possible way. I've talked to him countless times about his plans, his ideas, I've even helped him find suppliers for some of the imported beers, always sitting in that deep cellar, beer in hand.


Since that first visit I've seen Zly ?asy grow to become what it is today, one of the finest pubs in the world, but at heart, it is still that same neighbourhood dive I fell in love with back then.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

To The Dearly Departed

Pubs are about more than just beer, they are about people and memories. I am firmly convinced that a pub doesn't need to sell the trendiest beer, they can sell the most generic of generic pale lagers and still be a good pub. A couple of years ago I wrote a few posts about my favourite watering holes in Prague, among them was Zlatá Hvezda, the sports bar where my mates and I would watch the football.


The first time I darkened the door of Zlatá was the very first weekend I was in Prague, in September 1999, when Liverpool lost 3-2 to Manchester United, with a couple of gift goals from Jamie Carragher. The place was packed, the atmosphere raucous and the beer was Velkopopovicky Kozel. Kozel back then was a lovely, lovely beer, back before SABMiller took over and it became somewhat bland, though the Premium Kozel is still nice enough. A few weeks later, I watched Liverpool lose to Everton, with Stevie Gerrard sent off, and Sander Westerveld getting the red card for punching Franny Jeffers and Steve Staunton replacing him in goal and pulling off a couple of decent saves. Zlatá showed practically every Liverpool match, and I went to watch practically every match for the next 10 seasons.


Zlatá was my local, very much so for the last 3 years of my time in Prague as it was a 5 minute walk from my flat. For all it's failings, the grim toilets, the spectacularly variable food and by the end of my 10 years, the Gambrinus that I was never quite sure whether it had been watered down, or the water had been beered up, I loved Zlatá. I learnt this week that last Saturday Zlatá served its last customers and that my old local is to be turned into yet another "cabaret", which is basically Prague speak for a whorehouse.


I am sure there are many who won't lament its passing into history, but I am not one of them. Many of the best nights of my decade in the Czech Republic were spent in Zlatá: Gary McAllister's last minute winner against Everton, the 2001 UEFA Cup Final, the 2005 Champions League Final. All great games that led to great nights out on the lash, especially the Champions League final.

I am fairly sure that most people connected to Zlatá don't read this blog, but anyway, I want to thank Sasha and all the staff over the 10 years that I went there for making Zlatá what it was, a dive with sometimes dire beer but always a great atmosphere and, in my experience at least, excellent service, simply a great pub. Thanks guys, it was golden!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Prague's Old Spring

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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beer After Prague - A Response

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


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


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


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


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


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

Monday, August 22, 2011

Lazy Marketing

Mrs Velkyal and I spent the weekend in South Carolina, again visiting friends, going white water rafting and just generally having a blast before the end of the summer holidays - Mrs V is back at work today.

On Saturday afternoon we went off to the shops to get in supplies for a little soiree we had planned for that evening - basically drinking and playing board games with friends. I have to admit that while I take a great interest in food, both the preparation and eating thereof, I really do not enjoy bimbling around the shops. My approach to shopping is simple, get in, get done, get out. What I tend to do is wander off to the booze section and see what is available.

The shop we went to was Greenville's branch of Trader Joe's, and I had heard good things about their Bohemian Lager. Although I knew I wouldn't be buying anything that day, I had bought a case of homebrew and a growler of Devils Backbone Barclay's London Dark Lager, I went to have a look at the selection purely out of curiosity, and general interest. Trader Joe's has a range of own label, Central European style beers, namely:
  • Bohemian Lager
  • Vienna Lager
  • Dunkelweizen
  • Bavarian Hefeweizen
  • Hofbrau Bock
At only $5.99 for a six pack, I know that when the planned Charlottesville branch opens, I will spend some money and try the beers. However, it was the packaging that I found particularly interesting, some of which you can see here.

Each of the labels features a picture of what most people would expect a Central European urban scene to look like, and to the untrained eye the interest level would no doubt stop there. But look a little closer at the label for the Vienna Lager, the building is the Old Town Hall in Prague. The ragged edge of the red building is where the Nazis set it on fire and parts collapsed as a result.

Now take a quick look at the Bavarian Hefeweizen label, and unless I am mistaken, that is a picture again of the Old Town Square in Prague. Look at the Hofbrau Bock label and that skyscape is from the Old Town side of the Vltava, looking across the Charles Bridge toward St Nicholas' Church in Mala Strana.

While I am entirely biased and would say that there is no more beautiful city in Europe than Prague, though Budapest and Lublijana both come close, it feels like lazy marketing to rely on the consumer's lack of knowledge or interest in your labeling. It also feels something of a slight on Vienna and the cities of Bavaria that beers historically and intrinsically bound to those locales should have pictures of Prague on the labels.

Just a simple search of one of the many online stock photography services pulls up plenty of pictures for iconic places and scenes, such as Vienna's Hofburg, Munich's Frauenkirche, Schloss Neuschwanstein or the Wieskirchen.

This kind of lazy marketing really does my head in. I know it is just a picture and that the important thing is the beer in the bottle, but the cynic within wonders if they can't be bothered to get the artwork right, did they bother enough with the beer itself. I guess I will find out when Trader Joe's opens its doors in Charlottesville.

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?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Microbrew is Meaningless

I read an article yesterday about some university professor who stated a preference for Coors over and above many a craft ale. As you can imagine, the ire of the craft beer legionnaires was duly raised - I mean, how dare someone state a preference? The professor then went on to say that when he was in Prague, the pale lagers he drank were "uniformly terrific", and of course in the minds of the craft beer legionnaires this was proof positive that he had been drinking the very microbrewed beers that he had been putting down in his article.


Now believe it or not, I don't enjoy ranting that much, unless of course we are in beer's natural environment, the pub for those unsure of where that would be, and I am with friends generally putting the world to rights. However, when I see ridiculous statements along the lines of Pilsner Urquell being a microbrew then I am sure you can appreciate my annoyance.


Pilsner Urquell is not, never has been, never will a microbrew. That's not to say that I think Pilsner Urquell is a bad beer. When you get it from a good pub, using a tankove system, and thus unpasteurised, it is still one of the truly great beers of the world - one of which is mentioned in my Pocket Pub Guide to Prague. I don't care if it turns up at festivals purporting to be about craft beer, it simply does not fit the given criteria of a craft beer according to the Brewer's Association. Production is about 8.5 million US barrels a year, and the company is an entirely owned subsidiary of SABMiller. To put their production volume in context, 8.5 million barrels, or about 10 million hectolitres for the metric among us, is almost 1 hectrolitre produced for every man, woman and child in the Czech Republic. That's 100 litres, or 200 large beers in the pub - in American measurements that is 3381 ounces of beer, or 211 16oz pints of beer. If you were to scale those numbers up for the population of the USA, Pilsner Urquell would need to produce nearly 300 million barrels a year. In it's proper context then, Pilsner Urquell is a macro-brewery plain and simple.


The comments thread that followed the initial article showed quite clearly the perils of attempting to jelly mould any given concept outside that concept's original context. Hence, the division between "craft" beer and industrial beer is largely irrelevant outside the American context. Without the lunacy, and inherent hypocrisy, of Prohibition, the idea that good beer was invented in the 1970s holds no liquor. Given that, it makes the claim that Pilsner Urquell started out as a microbrew just as spurious and irrelevant as claiming "Guinness is a lager" (yes, that was in the comments as well!).

You cannot take modern concepts and force them into history, you must allow history to speak for itself. If, in 1839, you had sat down with the good burghers of Pilsen and tasted whatever it was they were about to dump, you wouldn't have been saying "let's start a microbrewery"! You would have been saying something along the lines of, "we need to invest in the latest technology and make ourselves a more consistent, better beer". Along with the other burghers of the city, you would then spend vast sums of money building a state of the art brewery, hiring a Bavarian brewer - because, let's face it, Bavarian brewers tend to be the best at what they do. Hey presto, Pilsner Urquell is tapped on November 11th 1842 and becomes a phenomenal success. If you have ever been to the brewery in Plzeň, one thing is plainly clear, this brewery was built for volume. It was never built as a little operation that became popular and had to scale up. You have to remember that at the time, every pub in Plzeň would have served a locally brewed beer and so you had to be prepared to supply hundreds of pubs almost instantly.

Coming back to the professor's claim that the beers he enjoyed in Prague were "uniformly terrific" and subsequent claims that he was drinking microbrew, again I doubt that would stand up to reality. Admittedly here I am surmising, but if the professor was there as a tourist, without the benefit of insiders to point him in the right direction, then most of the pubs he went to would have been in Staré Město, Nové Město or Malá Strana. Most of the pubs in question would have been serving Pilsner Urquell, Budvar, Staropramen or Gambrinus, none of which are microbrew in a Czech context. Budvar though is right up there in terms of being a great beer, but again I would say that within the Czech context it would be spurious to label it "microbrew". However, and I think this is the best light from which to see the professor's article, even bilge water like Staropramen is a damned sight better than Coors or Miller, so it is no surprise that he was blown away by "uniformly terrific" Czech pale lager. Speaking from more than a decade's worth of living in Prague, given a choice between a god awful Gambrinus and an equally god awful lager in the UK (Foster's springs to mind) or the US, I would take the Gamba? every time. When it comes to craft pale lagers, there are few that I would take over a Budvar, but that's a different post.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Guides, Calendars and Giveaways

It started with a simple enough request. Would I show a friend and relative newcomer to Prague some of the city's best pubs? Well of course I would. The original plan was to meet up on the nights when my friend's wife and Mrs Velkyal would have their knitting, crocheting and general craftiness nights. My friend, of course, was Mark Stewart, who had been our wedding photographer and then became a firm friend and drinking buddy.

As I pondered on the places to take Mark, I decided that I would write a pub guide to Prague, although the original working title was Prague Pubs - A User's Guide. Given that Mark is a talented photographer, I asked if he would be interested in making it a collaborative work, which thankfully he agreed to. The upshot of all this was that for the last couple of months in Prague, we spent many hours in various pubs, drinking, taking photos and taking notes.

In the process of actually creating the final document there were technical issues, mainly to do with creating a PDF file from OpenOffice, changes in the names of one of the pubs in the guide and various other little things that needed addressing. Finally everything worked out last week when I created the Pocket Pub Guide - Prague, an e-book which is available from Lulu.com.

A quick overview then of the book, information and pictures of 40 pubs in Prague and 10 guided pub tours of the city. Simple really. However, nothing is ever really all that simple. How do you choose the 40 pubs to go into the guide? The name of the book itself helps, the guide is about pubs rather than beer - I am a firm believer that a good beer selection does not necessarily make a good pub, and vice versa, some of my favourite pubs in Prague have shocking beer. Hence there are some well known and historic pubs which are not in the book, simply because I don't like them as pubs - perhaps the service was awful, perhaps the atmosphere was crap. Whatever the reason, I didn't like them so they didn't make the cut.

I am sure some will look at the pubs that are in the guide and wonder why I am advertising places that sell Staropramen or Kozel? Firstly let me assure you that the only money that passed hands during the creation of the guide was from my pocket to the pubs in the guide, I haven't taken a penny from anyone to make this. The answer then is simple, sure Staropramen is not a beer I would choose to drink on a regular basis, but Potrefena Husa pubs are nice places to drink, and they often have Leffe Bruin on tap, which while not great is a decent beer.

If I remember rightly Evan commented in his seminal Good Beer Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic that "capricious whimsy" played a major part in the pub section. So it is with the Pocket Pub Guide - Prague.

So, if you are planning a trip to Prague, the e-book is just $4.99 from Lulu.com - either click here, or on the blue icon in the sidebar under Pocket Pub Guide - Prague. If you are looking for gifts for your beer drinking buddies, then have a look at the 2011 Fuggled Calendar, again featuring the photography of Mark Stewart.

That's the guides and calendars part of the title dealt with, now for the giveaway. I am in the process of creating a range of Fuggled merchandise, beyond the calendars and guide, which I plan to launch in the new year. However, I have decided to give away a Fuggled t-shirt like the one shown below.


To win this shameless advertising for my blog, and in the process stroke my ego, simply email the answer to the following question to velkyal@fuggled.net with the subject line as "competition answer":
  • which was the first pub in Prague to serve Pilsner Urquell?
Only email entries will be accepted, posting the answer as a comment will result in the comment being deleted.

The winner will be chosen from a hat by the ever glamorous Mrs Velkyal on December 5th.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pocket Pub Guide - Prague

Back in June, having just been made redundant, I spent an ordinate amount of time in some of Prague's most blogged about and generally well-regarded, for whatever reason, pubs. Many an afternoon you would find me trawling around the city with my friend Mark - who did the pictures for the Fuggled calendars which are advertised to the left of this post. I bought one just to make sure that the quality was good, and I have to say I am deeply impressed and anyone with fond memories of drinking in Prague really should buy one, better, buy the pair.

The purpose of all this travelling, drinking and photography was not simply to make a couple of calendars for Fuggled, but rather to write a guide to 40 of Prague's pubs. I hesitate to use the word "best" because it is such a subjective thing. Rather I chose 40 of the pubs in the city which I think are good pubs, and that doesn't necessarily mean that they have a wide choice of beer, or obscure micro-brew from the Bohemian villages, in fact a few of them are Staropramen pubs, not great beer but there are some good pubs selling Staropramen in Prague.

Recently I got the complete set of photography produced by Mark - and people, if you need any photographic needs in, or about, Prague then talk to Mark, so skilled it is frightening at times and a top bloke to boot - so I have been going through the pictures deciding which ones to use and where. In order to at least get the book available, I have decided to first release an e-book version before I go for the printable version through Lulu.com.

The plan is to have it available within a week to ten days, so blogging might be a bit slow next week while I set the pictures and make this the best project I can.

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!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lamentations for the Dearly Departed

I have spent quite a bit of my time lately wandering around the centre of Prague, pretty much to keep myself vaguely busy and in an attempt to stave off unemployment lethargy. Whilst wandering about this morning, I was reminded of some of the pubs I used to frequent back in 1999 - 2001 which are no longer in existence. Two in particular came to mind, the Marquis de Sade and a place called Radegast, both of which were once on Jakubska in the heart of the centre.

I have mentioned the Marquis de Sade before, but still it grieves me to think of this place being the trendy wine bar it is today. The Marquis was one of those great pubs where it didn't matter the time of day you went in, the atmosphere was always very relaxed. In some ways it reminded me of the Harry Lauder, the north London pub in Nick Hornby's High Fidelty - including the fug of cigarette (and various other substances) smoke a couple of feet above people's heads. You could always rely on the Marquis to have a crowd of American exchange students looking lost and bewildered, and of course simply in need of meeting the certain people masquarading as a member of the British nobility, complete with retinue.

This is what the place looked like, sadly passed into the mists of Prague expat folklore:


Marquis De Sade in Prague

The old Radegast beer hall was simply that - a proper old time central European beer hall, which sold at the time Radegast beer back in its pre-SABMiller incarnation. The pub though was great, always lively and loud, but not with annoying music but rather the sound of chatter and the world being put to rights - a proper pub. Sadly I couldn't find any pictures of this wonderful drinking hole, but I figure most of you guys can figure out what a Czech beer hall would look like.

True enough the beer was never all that great in either place, but one think that has come to mind time and again lately is that great beer is not a necessity for a great pub. Prague is a poorer place for these once fabulous boozers now being wine bars.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Not Much To Celebrate

Friday afternoon saw the grand opening of the Czech Beer Festival here in Prague, an event which is scheduled to last until this Sunday - as Pivní Filosof has already mentioned on his blog, himself, Evan and I, along with Mrs V, went up for the beginning of an event which bills itself as "the largest gastronomic event in the Czech Republic", and we were not unduly impressed by what we saw:
  • 5 tents out of 6 with no beer (is it a coincidence that the "media tent" had beer?)
  • a general unavailability of the festival's currency, the tolar
  • a general lack of organisation

These things eventually got sorted out, but we waited nearly an hour and a half for our first beers. However, I think there are bigger problems with the festival than just poor organisation.

Firstly, the event lacks a back story - why does it exist? Why at this time of the year? It seems that somebody had the bright idea of putting a few big tents up in a field (a very wet field on Friday) and selling beer, and that's the extent of its raison d'être. I am sure that this comparison is not entirely fair, but from the get go Oktoberfest has had a clearly defined reason, to celebrate the marriage of the then Crown Prince Ludwig in 1810.

Also as part of the back story, it would be interesting, at least for geeks like me, to have the tolar explained - why that particular name? For those who have never seen the Connections TV series, a tolar, or "

Possibly though I biggest gripe about the event is the sheer dullness of the beer selection. Don't get me wrong, it is great to see the likes of Kout na ?umavě, Primátor and Rampu?ák at the event, but other than Primátor's Stout, Weizen and English Pale Ale, what was really on offer? Large amounts of pale golden lager, and not much else. Yes, Kout and Rampu?ák are good beers, but come on guys do something different and encourage me to part with my tolar, especially galling when just round the corner I can get Kout for 20k?! Perhaps the organisers of the event could include a condition for participation that each brewer has to make a special festival beer, with a different style selected every year? In 2010, along with all the golden lager, how about getting everyone to brew a bock for example, thus encouraging brewers to innovate, and consumers to experiment.

An event like the Czech Beer Festival could be so much more than it currently is, unfortunately it is nothing special and not something I would recommend people to bother with - rather I would give them a list of pubs with the same beers at reasonable prices to go to. If I compare it to an event like Slunce ve Skle, then it really has a long way to go before it matches up.

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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