Showing posts with label tmave. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tmave. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Coming Darkness

One of the many things I love about lager is its sheer variety. Now, if you are the kind of poor, misguided soul that thinks lager is some wan, piss coloured, fizzy liquid then you need to give your head a wobble and do some learning.

In recent years in particular I have been thrilled to see a steadily increasing range of lager styles available to the discerning drinker on this side of the Pond. Naturally I am most thrilled by the number of Czech style lagers that are being brewed.

While I have been known to grumble (what? me?) about the fact that many allegedly Czech style pale lagers tend more toward světly speciál rather than světly le?ák, I am just happy to have some Czech-ish to drink. More recently it has been the dark Czech lagers that are becoming more common, and having designed what I believe to be the first authentic tmavé to be brewed in Virginia, it is a trend I keep a thoroughly interested eye on.

It was with this interested eye that I liked a picture on Instagram from Jeff Alworth of a tmavé called Tmavá Sova, which translates as "Black Owl". Naturally I approve mightily of getting the grammar right, so of course I went to take a look at the website of the makers, Matchless Brewing from Washington State and I think they make the kind of beers I like. My only beef, and thus the genesis of the this post, was the description for Tmavá Sova, which defines tmavé as being:

"a re-emerging style from the Czech Republic".

Forgive me if I am being a little touchy here, but there is no way on Odin's green Midgard that tmavé is a "re-emerging style" for the simple reason it never really went away. That's not to say that the style makes a huge proportion of beer sales in Czechia, but as far back as I can remember most breweries have at least one dark lager in their range.

When I first moved to Prague, back in the 20th century, I was a dedicated Guinness drinker and gravitated quite naturally to dark lagers such as Herold Bohemian Black Lager, a beer well regarded by Michael Jackson. Of course there is the legendary U Flek? 13° dark lager with roots back to the 19th century, when dark beers in Bohemia were still top fermented.

While it is true that there are exceedingly few Czech dark lagers actually from Czechia that make it to this side of the pond, I can think of all of 1 that is easy-ish to find, Budvar's lovely version of the style, that should not be taken as a sign of a style dying in its heartland. Pretty much every regional and local brewery in Czechia has at least one dark lager offering. Often that beer is a 14° plato beer, the type that was the inspiration behind Morana, though as is common with all Czech beers, gravities for different colours can be all over the map, Kozel ?erny is a desítka for example.

Now, I know this will come as a shock to some, but there is more to beer than craft breweries making styles of beer which are little known in a brewery's sitz im leben. If I remember rightly tmavé represents about 5% of Czech beer production, which in 2018 was about 18.1 million barrels. As such somewhere just slightly north of 900,000 barrels of tmavé was brewed that year, just shy of the total production of New Belgium Brewing.

So, where am I going with all this? Simply put, just because something is new to you doesn't mean it is new, or re-discovered, or re-emerging. Tmavé is not like Grodziskie, Broyhan, or even Kulmbacher that needs to be resurrected, it is alive, well, and even evolving in its heartland.

On a less snarky note, I would love to try Tmavá Sova, and I applaud any brewery that takes a gamble on a less well-known style of beer, especially if it happens to be a lager style from central Europe. As I said at the beginning, lager is not some just wan, piss-coloured, fizzy drink for the masses, but rather a noble family of beers that have their roots in central Europe and make up some of the best beers you will ever drink, so explore, go find a brewery that is making the same kind of decisions as Matchless, and discover what real lager can be.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Because We Can

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Morana Unleashed

Last night I met up with Jason from Devils Backbone for a pint, or two, of his new rye Maibock that was being released at Kardinal Hall, a very nice beer it is as well. Naturally we discussed many things beer, including ideas for forthcoming brewing projects together, and I also learnt that Friday is the release date for the current batch of Morana, which I posted about on Monday.

I realise this is of more interest for Stateside folks than for my friends in Europe, but if you're in the vicinity of the Devils Backbone Basecamp sometime in the next few weeks drop in and give Morana a try.


If you've never had a Czech style dark lager before, called "tmavé" or "?erné" in Czech (assuming that the following word is 'pivo' that is - ah the joys of Czech grammar), then this would be a great opportunity to type of beer not well known on these shores. I tend to tell people that it kind of a middle ground between a Munich Dunkel and a Schwarzbier, though as with any analogy that's not a perfect rule.


As I mentioned in my last post, Morana is very much inspired by the 14° tmavé speciální from Kout na ?umavě, and I would go as far to say that if Evan Rail, Max Bahnson, or even the guys from Kout itself had the opportunity to try it, they would approve heartily.

So...Friday is coming, and the beer will be flowing. No doubt I'll get down there at some point to fill a growler or two for another afternoon on the chez Velkyal front porch.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Of Mountains, Meadows, and Morana

With only a handful of weekends left until Mrs V and I fly to Scotland, via Reykjavik, the weekly training hikes are getting progressively longer. Having woken up at the crack of dawn to finish making baking morning rolls, and yet again grateful for having had the option of good session beer the night before, we eschewed our regular hiking haunt in the Shenandoah National Park to head for the Blue Ridge Parkway. The next 6 hours were spent hiking along a rocky part of the Appalachian Trail to record a 10.5 mile hike and by the time we got back to the car a well stoked thirst for a pint.


Now, I have to admit there was an ulterior motive for hiking this particular part of the AT. Just a couple of miles from where we parked the car is Devils Backbone, and it had been an age since we had been there of a Saturday afternoon. The main reason for swinging by was to pick up a growler of Morana, but we don't really need much of a reason to grab a seat and stay for a couple of hours. When the beer menu came, it was an easy choice. Morana is not on tap yet, the growler having been filled from the conditioning tanks, but there was a pilsner that I liked the look of, Meadow Bier.


As you can see from the picture, it was everything you would expect to see from a German style pilsner. Weighing in at 5%abv, and with 38 IBUs of Slovenian Celeia hops it was an absolute drinking delight - I had 6 and asked Mrs V if she would be so gracious as to drive us home. The highest praise I can give Meadow Bier is that if it were on tap at Kardinal Hall alongside the Rothaus Pils from Germany I would drink Meadow Bier instead. Yes, it really is that good of a beer. I am not sure how long it will be on at Basecamp, but I hope it will become a regular part of the lineup. If I hadn't been taking a growler of Morana home I would likely have filled up with it.

On then to the Morana, the 4th (I think) time that Devils Backbone have brewed the tmavé I designed for them back in 2010, and after polishing off the growler last night while Mrs V played the fiddle on our front porch - it was a rather idyllic afternoon at chez Velkyal yesterday - I am in full agreement with Jason that this is the best batch yet.


The beer is a deep inky darkness, the body voluptuous, and the mouthfeel almost silken as it goes down. There is plenty of clean Saaz bitterness to stop it from tipping over into being overly sweet, and damn is it drinkable. I might even go as far as to say that it comes even closer to the Kout na ?umavě 14° tmavé on which it was modelled.


 With Morana going on tap soon, I have a feeling that we'll be hiking that part of the AT a bit more often in the coming weeks...

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Darkness Rising?

I have mentioned many times before that living in Virginia means that the lagerboy within me has plenty of good locally brewed options for satisfying the urge for clean, crisp beers. Whether it's Three Notch'd Of.By.For Pilsner (a beer that challenges all of my prejudices about what a pilsner is and I love all the same), South Street My Personal Helles, or Port City's simply divine Downright Pilsner, I never have to look too hard for a great pale lager.


Over the last year or so there seems to be a general popping up of dark lagers in the area, and I am wondering if this is part of a broader trend or whether it is serving a very localised taste. For as long as I have lived in Virginia, Devils Backbone have produced a schwarzbier, called Schwartzbier, which has found a regular place in my fridge. They also brewed Morana, a Czech style tmavé based on the magisterial Kout na ?umavě 14° tmavé, as well as Barclay's London dark Lager from a historic recipe for an English dark lager. From what Jason would tell me, dark lagers would also sell very well.


Recently I have noticed more dark lagers cropping up in the repertoires of local breweries. Last year South Street brought out Back to Bavaria, a Munich Dunkel that I drank almost exclusively for a couple of months and mentioned honorably in my review of 2015 - if Mitch at South Street is reading this, please bring it back, I loved it.

Speaking of Dunkels, just last weekend Mrs V and I met up with some friends for dinner at Blue Mountain and behold they too had one on tap, Blauerburg Dunkel, and I enjoyed several pints of it whilst half wishing it had been available at Edelweiss for Valentines Day. I am sure there is some level of crossover between the Back to Bavaria and Blauerburg given that the owners of Blue Mountain also own South Street, either way both were lovely beers.

This got me to thinking, is central Virginia something of an oasis for the dark lager arts, as it is in many ways for me with regards to pale lagers? Is it possible that after years of IPA domination, people are re-discovering the delights of lagers like dunkel, schwarzbier, and tmavé?

I for one certainly hope so.

UPDATE

I just got a message from Jason at Devils Backbone, and Morana is being brewed again this Friday. Keep your eyes peeled for a notice for when it will be released.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Into the Woods

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


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In Mysterium

If you happen to be in Nelson County in the coming days, and happen to have a sudden craving for good food and beer to warm and cheer the heart, be sure to stop by Devils Backbone.



Of course, dropping by Devils Backbone for good food and fine beer is an excellent idea at any time of the year when in the Nelson County area, when then do I mention the next few days?

Last night I got an email from Jason telling me that the last keg of the batch of Morana we brewed back in the winter is now on the mystery tap.



Unfortunately I won't be getting out that way in the next little while, and due to some medical stuff I can't drink for 10 days. But what I can do is to encourage you, dear reader to venture forth and enjoy.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Czech It Out!

Think rare beers.

Think legendary beers.

Think Budvar.


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

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

Nope, Budvar, sorry Czechvar, from a keg.

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Old Dark Prague

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


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


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

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

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

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Again She Rises!

It gets dark reasonably early these days, I say 'reasonably' because as a child growing up in the Outer Hebrides the sun would set at about half past three in the depths of winter. I am a big fan of winter, I love the cold, the dark and the opportunity to wear my lambswool sweaters and tweed cap every day, I also love, as if you needed telling, the dark beers that seem to be required drinking at this time of the year.

A couple of years ago I went to Devils Backbone for a day to brew a tmavy, or dark lager, which we named for an old Slavic goddess called Morana.

Morana, just one of several spellings, is the goddess of death and and winter in the pre-Christian Slavic traditions, though traces of her cult linger on in modern day Czech Republic through the annual tradition of ?arodějnice, or Witch Burning Night. Each spring, on April 30th, effigies of witches are burnt in the Czech Republic to symbolise the defeat of winter, prior to the coming of Christianity with Saints Cyril and Methodius, those effigies were of Morana.

In Poland the effigy of Morana, known there as Marzanna, is burnt and then drowned, there the effigy is:
a large figure of a woman made from various rags and bits of clothing which is thrown into a river on the first day of the spring calendar. Along the way, she is dipped into every puddle and pond ... Very often she is burned along with herbs before being drowned and a twin custom is to decorate a pine tree with flowers and colored baubles to be carried through the village by the girls. There are of course many superstitions associated with the ceremony: you can't touch Marzanna once she's in the water, you can't look back at her, and if you fall on your way home you're in big trouble. One, or a combination of any of these can bring the usual dose of sickness and plague.
—Tom Galvin, "Drowning Your Sorrows in Spring", Warsaw Voice 13.544, March 28, 1999
Yesterday I was down at Devils Backbone again, to perform the ancient rite of brewing in order to resurrect Morana, she should be back in time for the Winter Solstice, get your growlers ready!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Oh FFS!!!

Here I was having a happily non-spleen venting Friday when my good friend Max, aka Pivní Filosof, sends me this link.

Hoping that I was about to read that another brewery in the US has seen the light about brewing great Czech style beers I read this sentence, attributed to the president of Susquehanna Brewing Company, Fred Maier:
“It’s an innovative black pilsner”
Oh please no! Not again! How many times will we have to bang this drum? Let me say this one more time, and forgive the caps lock and bold, but it seems clear that some of the trendy kids at the back of the classroom are simply not listening:

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BLACK PILSNER!

Now, that's not to say there isn't a tradition of dark lagers in the Czech lands, there is, they are called tmavé or sometimes ?erné, but tmavé is the legal term.

As for being innovative, well done "craft" brewers for joining 19th Century Bohemia in brewing dark lagers which don't have the roastiness of a schwarzbier and enjoy a healthy respect for Saaz hops.

Spleen vented, carry on.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Double the Darkness

It was only after I discovered the delights of beer from small breweries in the Czech Republic that I started to develop a taste for dark lager, called either Tmavé or ?erné depending on the whim of the brewery. Kozel's ?erné is more of a dark amber while Kout na ?umavě's Tmavé absorbs light like a black hole, yet one is "black" and the other "dark respectively.

When I finally decided to make my own lagers, during a particularly cold snap in January, the style I chose first was tmavé, simply because I knew it would be more forgiving of any mess ups along the way than would be a pilsner. I wrote about the recipe and inspiration for the beer back at the beginning of the year. Having enjoyed most of my stash of ?erny Lev, I learnt that Schell's Brewing Company up in Minnesota had done a limited batch of tmavé, calling it Stag 5 and so I wanted to do a side by side tasting of the two beers.


First up was Schell's, which is 5.7% and has 30 IBU of Saaz, if the info on Ratebeer is to be believed. Although this picture makes the beer look almost pitch black, it is in fact a dark brown which becomes a rich crimson when held up to the light. The head is light tan and lingers for the duration. It most certainly looked the part.


In terms of aroma there was caramel, like toffee really, a hint of roasted coffee, though it wasn't harsh and in your face about it, and the gentle, soothing spiciness of Saaz hops in the background. I wasn't expecting the smooth flavours of bitter sweet chocolate to be at the fore in the taste department, but it was and it worked well, that roasty edge was there, like toast that is between done and burnt, and the bitterness of the hops kicks in at the end. I found myself sucking this beer down, well assembled, easy to drink and medium bodied, yes I liked it. Where I would put it in the spectrum of tmavé that I have drunk in the Czech Republic? Well ahead of the likes of Kozel and Staropramen, that's for sure, so on a par with Bernard I would say (for the unitiated, that means pretty damned good).


Now for my ?erny Lev, which is "Black Lion" in English, which ended up with 5.6% abv and 24 IBU, so in a similar ballpark to the Schell's. This time the picture doesn't hide anything, the beer is a very dark brown, bordering on black and edged with crimson in the light. The head is light tan and voluminous, when eventually it died down a bit, it stuck at about a centimetre for the time it took me to drink the beer. With the head duly receded, it again looked the part.


The aromas bouncing around in the glass for this were treacle, roasted coffee, with hints of spice and I thought a trace of lemony hay. In the taste department the coffee really came to the fore, coupled with sweet malty juiciness and a firm bitter bite which may have slightly unbalanced the beer. The body on my beer was fuller than the Schell's and there was a trace of something solventy about the beer, which I think may have come from underpitching the yeast and having it at slightly higher temperatures than recommended. I like my beer, always a good thing, but it isn't as well integrated and put together as Schell's. Mrs V expressed a clear preference for the Schell's, saying that my beer had too much roastiness in it for her tastes.

I think I might do this kind of comparative tasting a bit more often, as a way to gauge where my homebrew is going right and going wrong. Certainly a worthwhile experiment, I think the next one will be my German Pilsner next to Scrimshaw.

I just wanted to quickly thank Josh up in Minnesota for procuring and sending the beer down to fellow CAMRA homebrewer and occasional blogger, Jamey - have a read of his blog, Barlow Brewing.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Some Advice for MolsonCoors

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Bottling beer at half six in the morning is a challenge, especially when you have to get out to your penultimate day of your current job by quarter to eight. Thankfully though, I now have 19 bottles of 5.6% abv ?erny Lev (that's "Black Lion" for the non-Czech speakers among you) happily conditioning. My normal batch yields a case of 24 bottles, but I only had 19 caps (note to self: check these things first) so I used a mixture of 22oz bottles and the 12oz ones to make sure I only lost about half a bottle's worth of beer.


A quick reminder, ?erny Lev is a 14o Czech style dark lager, or tmavé. I based the recipe on the one I designed for the Morana Dark Lager brewed at Devils Backbone last year, which was itself the product of months of research in Czech, Slovak and German, talking to various brewers and using the malts at hand in the US to create something which I thought was very close to my ideal tmavé, the 14o Tmavé Speciální from Kout na ?umavě.


Having brewed the beer back in January, it spent 35 days in my somewhat less than technically magnificent lagering tank, basically a two and half gallon water bottle, sanitised and slotted into the back of the fridge to sit at near freezing point. Now it will sit at room temperature for at least a week to carbonate before being put in the cellar for at least another 5 weeks - I really don't want to rush this one, even though when I tasted the sample I liked what was there...

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Lion's Roar

The decision was taken on a whim, the cellar was sitting at about 55o and I thought to myself "what the heck, let's just give it a whirl". Some mild indecision followed, I knew the hops had to be Saaz, the base malt Bohemian Pilsner, but should I brew a pale or a dark beer? Dark beers tend to be more forgiving and so I took the plunge and brewed my first lager, a tmavé.

If you've read Fuggled for a while you will know that in 2010 I designed and brewed a tmavé with Devils Backbone, and my plan was to create something very much in that beer's ballpark. Given the short notice of my decision I was well aware that I would have to use pretty much whatever malts were available at our local Fifth Season, and so I ended up with a grist of:
  • 74% Bohemian Pilsner
  • 11% Munich Malt
  • 11% Caramunich I
  • 4% Carafa III Dehusked
From that little collection of grains I got a starting gravity of 1.058, about 14.5o Plato, putting the beer firmly in the realms of a "Speciální Le?ák". Into the wort I chucked in 25 IBUs worth of Saaz hops and then had a mild panic. I had a packet of Saflager S-23 yeast that I was planning to use, but a few online conversations later I decided to change tack and head off to Fifth Season to check out their lager yeast range. A range, that day, of 2, one of which was Wyeast's Staro Prague yeast, sourced from Staropramen back in Smíchov. With the yeast suitably pitched I went about the rest of my day, and when night came the temperature in the cellar plummeted to 35o and in the carboy, no life stirred.

In an attempt to insulate the carboy from the chill of the cellar, I wrapped a old lambswool sweater around it, and yet the carboy remained still. I read forums, realised I had pitched too little yeast and hoped that everything would sort itself out, while in the carboy the dark liquid sat. A day passed and on the advice of Kristen England, and to be fair Mrs V, I bought the carboy in from the cellar and sat it next to the double doors that lead to our "patio". There it remained, at 54o, for a couple of days. By last Thursday I was ready to make a starter with the Saflager S-23 and repitch.

Getting ready for work that morning, listening to the BBC World Service, seeing to our dog and getting my breakfast, I had put my dark problem to the back of my mind. It was only when I went to get my coat that I noticed the tiniest smudge of foam in the carboy. Was it an illusion, a trick of the light, a mirage, the fevered imaginings of a homebrewer so keen to have his first lager not be a wild flop? Sure enough, on closer inspection, it was the merest hint of the beginning of life, and a bubble forced its way from the blowoff tube. I went to work with hope renewed. 8 hours later my hope was assured, as krausen sat on top of the wort and the blowoff bubbled regularly, and the temperature was 56o, just outside the optimal range of 45o to 55o for the Staro Prague yeast but nothing I am planning to worry about. As I say, dark beers tend to be more forgiving.

This morning the krausen has sunk back and the bubbles are fewer. I will let it sit for another few days before I move it outside again to start the gradual lowering of temperature before preparing my lagering tank in the back of our fridge. The beer will sit there for 45 days, for no reason other than that's what I want to do, if I were to be really traditional it would sit there for 14 weeks, 1 for each degree of Plato.


Originally I was going to call the beer Marzenna, in honour of the Morana tmavé from Devils Backbone, Marzenna being a variant name of the goddess Morana. I changed my mind though as I was looking through some pitures of Prague and was reminded of the old brewery on Karlovo náměstí, just a few steps from where Mrs V and I tied the knot, and so the beer became ?erny Lev, or Black Lion.

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