Showing posts with label travels. Show all posts
Showing posts with label travels. 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.

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