30 Nov 2015

Four pints watching the telly in Kladno

TVs at pubs. I'm not their biggest fan. I can tolerate them when when they're set in mute—you can ignore images a lot better than sounds, and most the sounds coming out of the telly, at least the stuff they put on at pubs, is the acoustic equivalent of the effect food poisoning has has on your bowels—but only barely. And yet, there are times when a TV on, even with sound, can be a force for good.

The last place a visited for the second edition of Prague: A Pisshead's Pub Guide was Starokladenský Pivovar. It was a chilly, rainy afternoon in early October; I hadn't been there for at least four years, nor had I seen their beers in Prague, at least not at the pubs I frequent, or that I had been to while doing the fieldwork for the book, and I was curious.

The place hadn't changed much, or at least not significantly. There were few patrons at that time, and most were drinking Gambrinus, I think. I sat at the bar and ordered the house's desítka, fantastic! Absolutely delicious, the first and the second pint.

The TV was on Discovery Channel, or something like that. A bloke took a stool next to me and ordered Gambáč, just when a programme was starting—some extreme racing stuff where three or four teams of four manly-men must go through extremely difficult terrain. It was the sort of stuff that makes you stop flipping channels on a boring Sunday afternoon, at least for awhile.

I and the bloke sitting next to me were watching it, and he turns around with a wide smile, saying: “ty jsou magoři”. I wholeheartedly agreed. That got the chat started—a bit about those magoři and a bit about... stuff.

It was one one of those short, casual conversations that take place at pubs everywhere, and that can make beer taste better, nothing more, nothing less.

And by the way, the three beers that I tasted drank there—desítka, polotmavé and tmavé—were top-of-the-range and laughably cheap; really, the four pints plus the bus tickets there and back were cheaper than having four pints at not few pubs in Prague.

Na Zdraví!

4 Nov 2015

Why it is OK to say "Their Beer Sucks"...

… If that is what you think.

The way I see it, when you bought that beer, you also earned the right to express your honest opinion about it in any way, with any words and through any channels you see fit; whatever that opinion might be.

There are people, though, who disagree, like this bloke here. Fortunately, he doesn't nearly as ludicrous as to believe that beer is a privilege and not a birthright, but still.

He gives several reasons why you should never say 'Their Beer Sucks', let's see what they are:

It's biased

I don't quite get where he's going with this. It seems to come from the objectivity delusion most reviewers suffer from. And shouldn't that apply also to "Their Beer is Great", or that opinion is never biased? Whatever. He explains it saying that Even though you may think that a beer isn’t good, there are most likely others out there that do like that particular beer. So? They are free to disagree with my assessment, as free as they are to say that my favourite beer sucks. Believe me, I've no problem with that, my preferences and tastes don't need the approval of anyone.

It's disrespectful and It's hurtful

Both are the same, and refer to the people who worked very hard to make that beer—the poor things! Gimme a bloody break! They are adults working in an industry. Nobody likes seeing their work slagged by someone on the internet, I know, but for better or worse, it's part of the rules of the game. They should either grow a thicker skin or find a job where they will get a medal for participating. (On the other hand, making beer that doesn't suck would be a good way to substantially reduce the risk).

It’s flippant

I partly agree here. If you're saying that a beer sucks, it's proper to say why. But, as someone said in this thread on my FB page, sometimes you can't be arsed with writing an essay. The beer just sucks; if the brewers or their fanboys want to know why, they can always ask.

It’s (potentially) damaging

Not just to the brewery in question, but to the whole craft beer world as a whole. In this day and age of quick tweets, instagrams, snapchats and one-liners... This is just stupid (sorry, mate, nothing personal, we all say stupid things every now and again).

There's no way a “Their Beer Sucks” review or two can have any impact in the industry whatsoever; especially with all the circlejerk around the Craft Beer brand. I don't even think it can affect the fortunes of an individual brewery! I've never heard of a brewery going out of business because a blogger twitted in untappd that their beer sucked.

He then goes on to start making a good point; it's a pity that he does it in such an obtuse manner, almost. I'm not against anyone taking a sensory analysis course or reading books or guidelines, but I don't think it is something anyone should do to make their opinion more legitimate.

Now, if you want to make your opinion more valid, it's better to be informed before even getting your hands on a beer. If you don't like sour flavours, perhaps you should avoid Lambics; if you can only appreciate complexity and intensity, perhaps you should avoid desítky. If you do choose to drink those beers, however, don't complain about their intrinsic characteristics, it's your problem, not the beers'. (This assumes that you've been given the tools to make an informed decision, which often is not the case)

Unfortunately, though, there's plenty of crap beer out there—and I'm not speaking about stuff I don't quite enjoy, but stuff that shouldn't have left the brewery, or even been brewed to begin with. It's beer that wastes shelf-space and time; and even the best informed among us will inevitably buy some of it with a disposable income most have worked very hard to earn. There's absolutely nothing wrong with calling those beers out, without pulling any punches. If that hurts the feelings of the hard-working brewers that made them, so be it. I'm not sorry.

Na Zdraví!

PS: The one thing I'm against is getting personal. The slagging should be limited only to the product. Unless you have a good reason to also slag the brewer, that is, like serving you rotten beer at their own brewpub.

23 Oct 2015

REJOICE! REJOICE! For the Day has Come!


The second edition of Prague: A Pisshead's Pub Guide is out, and you can already order your copy or dowload the e-book version here here in Lulu.com.

It took longer and was more work than I thought it'd be, but it was worth it; I'm happy with the result. I believe this edition is better than the previous one—though you'll be the judge of that. It is bigger, that's for sure. It has 17 pub crawls and one separate section that cover over 130 pubs, cafés, restaurants and brewpubs of all shapes, sizes and colours.
The hand-drawn maps are back, of course. This time, though, I wanted to make them more functional and made them available on-line. They don't look as pretty but, if you have a Google account, you can do stuff with them here. If you don't have a Google account, you can still see and print them.

This is not a comprehensive, let alone a “Best of...” sort of guide. It's totally subjective and the reasons pubs were chosen are most diverse. The guide is also 100% independent. I didn't have any sponsors, and all the beers drunk—and they were a lot—were paid from my own pocket.

Unlike the previous edition, I will try to keep this one updated, putting out updates, hopefully, twice a year. What those updates will look like, I'm yet to decide.

But let's cut it will the bollocks. I'm wasting your time, and I'm sure you can't wait any longer to get your hands in this fantastic book. Go, buy!

Na Zdraví!

PS: If you want to sell copies of this book in your shop, pub, hotel or the back of your lorry, send me an e-mail and we can arrange the details.

10 Sep 2015

Major Update

I can happily announce that I have completed the biggest, hardest but most fun part of the project “Prague: A Pisshead's Pub Guide - 2nd edition”: writing the blessed thing. It has 16 pub crawls and a few sections, and in total it covers over 130 pubs, cafés and restaurants from all over the city and beyond.

Granted, a few days behind schedule—partly because I decided that the last chapter would an epic 11-pub crawl written in0 a sort of short story style—and there are still a few lines that need to be written. But I can now get started with the more tedious part of editing and putting everything together, including the pictures, and turn a bunch of text files into a book.

I don't know how long it'll take me to complete that. It'll depend on work, you know, the one that pays the bills (and the beer); that always takes top priority; unless there's someone willing to buy a few hundred copies in advance, so I can dedicate myself full-time to the task.

Anyway, just that. Carry on drinking what you were drinking.

Na Zdraví!

4 Sep 2015

A Measure Rant

Beers served in 0.4 l portions aren't anything new. Flekovský, Sv. Norbert, Staropramen Granát, Velvet and Kelt (when it was around), and Ferdinand Sedm Kulí have always been available on that size, only. But it seems that recently, this plague has multiplied. None of the three newest brewpubs in Old Town, U Tří růží, Národní and U Dobřenských, serve any of their beers in a full, adult portion of half litre. There are also pubs like Pivo a Párek and Pivní Rozmanitost that are now selling some beers in 0.4l sizes, and even bigger companies like Plzeňský Prazdroj and Pivovary Lobkowicz have got on the game.

I don't like it, at all.

When I think of točené (or, to speak correctly, čepované) pivo, I picture a half-litre glass or mug (or a 0.3 l one, for those rare occasions that I want a malé pivo), so a 0.4l serving gives me the sensation that I'm being short-changed.

I know it’s only a sensation, it's not true (though if you can buy at Vojanův dvůr a half-litre of a beer from U Tří růží at the same price as a 0.4 at the brewery, or if a 0.4 l of Bernard Černý costs the same as 0.5 l used to, at the same pub, because of a gimmick, I'm not that sure). The way I see it, this portion size is a psychological trick similar to pricing a product at 99.90 instead of 100, as it's used mostly for the more expensive beers.

That makes it a bit silly. For better or worse, there's a growing a number of people, at least in Prague, who've got used to, and are OK with paying top money for beer they believe is worth it. Price has stopped being a default barrier for the success of a microbrewery, ask Matuška, if you don't believe me. So, if a pub is charging me 56 CZK for 0.4 l, why can't they charge 70 CZK for a full portion? I don't get it. (The case of Národní is even harder to understand, 35 CZK for a 0.4 l? What's the problem with 45 CZK for a half litre?)

To be fair, though, you could say this is a pet peeve of mine. After all, by volume, I'm still paying the same, glass size notwithstanding (with the exception of Bernard Černá Lavina, that is a rip-off). The 75 cl glass bottles, however...

I used to buy Antoš Tlustý Netopýr quite often. It wasn't cheap—110-120 CZK for a 1 l PET bottle—but I thought it was worth it. Lately, though, I've seen it only available in a very pretty 75 cl bottle FOR THE SAME FUCKING PRICE! Likewise with the beers from Frýdlant, and a few others I can't remember now.

Am I the only one who believes this isn't right, having to pay a 25% surcharge for no equivalent value in return?

We can thank the glass-bottle snobs for this; the people who believe and will tell anyone who wants to listen, and those who don't want, too, that PET bottles are not a worthy container for a precious liquid like good beer, and should only be reserved for crap like Braník, or whatever. They are, of course, unaware the the same was being said about glass bottles a century ago or so.

It is true that PET isn't an ideal material, I agree with that. But neither is glass*; I've bought my fair share of glass bottles (brown ones) with beer that was oxidised, light-struck, or even worse. I try to be more careful now, and the problem has all but gone, same with PET. It's not that hard, really.

So, what I've decided to do is to boycott all Czech beers with an ABV lower than 8% in 75 cl bottles (and their even more awful siblings, the 33cl bottles). I'm not buying them anymore, to drink at home; to take to a dinner-party, or as a present, even the most overpriced ones are still better value than a wine for the same money.

Na Zdraví!

* Unless we're speaking about bottle or cask conditioned, anything other than drinking a beer straight from the conditioning tank is a compromise on quality.

11 Aug 2015

Vladimír Černohorský, an Obituary.

I'll never forget how I first met Vladimír Černohorský. Pavel Borowiec, Chief Editor of Pivo, Bier & Ale had asked me to meet him at Pivovar U Valšů.

The brewpub had recently changed owners and had hired Černohorský to put their brewing shit together.

I arrived at about the agreed time, and went downstairs. There I was greeted by two geezers sitting at a table next to the brerwhouse. The older one defiantly asked me what I was doing there. After I told him, he stood up, pulled a pocked knife and said something threatening.

It didn't scare me, but amused me, and this old man responded with a huge, honest smile. He told me to take a sit, and get a beer, while I waited for my colleague, who should be arriving any time.

We met again some days later on a trip to the Annafest. There I learnt who Vladimír Černohorský was, one of the most respected and admired Brew Masters in the Czech Republic; and that he'd been in the field for over half a century.

That was enough to impress me, but when I heard him that he still felt he could learn a few things, I began to admire him—someone not only knows a lot and still loves what he does, but also to know more, that's a true master!

On the second evening of that trip we were sharing a table, talking, and at one point he looked at me in the eye and declared that we should be friends. I felt honoured.

We did become friends. He was the head brewer at Únětický Pivovar, and we met on countless occasions. I would jokingly call him Děda (Gramps), and I could sit hours listening to his stories—he had tonnes of them, one better than next.

Earlier today I was told he'd died.

I've lost a friend. But the Czech beer community has lost a lot more than that. It has lost a true Master, a Gentleman and an all around Great Bloke, and with him all his stories worth telling

People come and go, stories worth telling should remain. I wish I had taken the time to record Vlaďa's.

But I don't want to feel too sad. He wouldn't like it. Let's do like Švejk, and go to our local to get a Tmavé Pivo, it's a day of mourning.

Na Zdraví!
Photo: Únětický Pivovar

3 Aug 2015

Beer Hike

My wife and daughter are on holidays in Greece. They left on Monday last week, and I've been alone since; I couldn't join them because of passport issues.

I worked most of the time until Thursday (field-work for the book and writing two chapters, and some translations) and I took Friday off. I wanted to do something I'd been thinking of for a while, a hike from Únětice to Stromovka, stopping at every place that sold beer along the way.

Here you have the day's diary, and a lot of photos.

I take the 10:18 bus to Černý Vůl. The hike starts there, with a walk, mostly in the woods, to Únětice
The hike starts here
It's not 11 yet when arrive at the brewery. The pub's still closed. I go around to make a couple of pics. The building with the renovated façade looks fantastic.
They've done a good job restoring the facade
I break my fast with a house's 10º. It's followed by a 12º and lunch, pork in a creamy mushroom sauce, with knedlíky. Carbs and protein, that should work.
(Distance travelled till the first beer, 2 km)
Úňa 10°. A great way to start
I get on my way to Roztoky. I walk past the Municipal House. What have they done with? I get to U Lasíků. It doesn't open until 3. I don't mind. Lunch was big enough, and I would hate having to pass on one of their home-made pies. 
U Lasíků closed, as expected
I leave the last houses behind and get excited. I walked Tyché údolí four years ago, and I've been wanting to do it again ever since.
Tíché údolí awaits me
It's as beautiful as I remember it. Hardly any sounds other than my feet crushing the gravel and the creek flowing on my left. And I have it all to myself.
It's easy to get lost in your thoughts here. I take photos almost automatically, I wonder how many will be of any use.
Colourful 'shrooms by the creek
I see more people as I get closer to Roztoky. And some parts are more landscaped. It's still so pretty. So incredible for me that a place like this can be literally a few minutes away from the centre of a European capital.
A guy fishing in the forest
A couple of ruins tell me I'm in Roztoky already, and I soon reach Hospůdka Zvířátka, which is also closed. I expected some places wouldn't have opened so early on a weekday, but I wanted to avoid the weekend crowds and the cyclists—some of them can be as wankers as the worst BMW driver—and so far it has worked well; there'll be other places to drink.
Zvířátka, also closed
The houses here are indeed gorgeous. Even those that are in dire need of renovations have a touch of grandeur and dignity that I doubt many modern, comparable mansions can ever achieve.
One of those gorgeous houses
Abandoned books
Another gorgeous house, and garden
I see a restaurant with a nice looking garden, and the logo of Stella Artois. I have an irrational hate for that brand, and seeing it is enough to make me want to go somewhere else. I also know there's another place around the corner, next door.
Looks nice, but Stella? I pass
I wasn't wrong, and they have Rychtář, a much better beer. The place is totally empty, though. That's never a good sign.
Rychtář is next door
The beer looks good in the glass, but it doesn't taste so. It must be that hated trubkáč. It gets better by the end, but the damage's been done.
(Distance travelled between beers, 4.5 Km)
Looks much better than it tasted
The scenery on the way to ferry to Klecany isn't so inspiring any more, in fact, a part of it is really ugly. But it isn't too long, and when I reach the riverbank all is good again.
Another closed place by the ferry
I don't have to wait too long for the ferry. I'm lucky, it crosses the river every thirty minutes and I arrived a few minutes before 1.
The ferry arrives
Plenty of people. A whole family, two 11-12 y.o. boys, all with bikes, a bloke with a box full of cucumbers, and a lady with a scooter. It don't mind. I love crossing the river this way. It's almost a subversion of the modern rat race.  
And the Captain
There's a bar just by the “harbour”. Czechs are civilised. Plenty of people, too, but enough place to sit, even in the shade—it's getting warm already.
First watering station on the right bank
I order Gambáč. It takes forever. The barwoman is complaining the she's tapping only foam. That is never a good sign. The beer is awful, flat and with a weird taste, chemical. Almost undrinkable. I was expecting to get some dodgy beers on the way, but not this bad. But I get drawn into a conversation with a chatty, old geezer and a middle-aged couple of cyclists. We talk about the homeless, rat-sized dogs, tomatoes, and cats. I'm having such a good time that I drink without noticing. As the saying goes “better crap beer in good company, than good beer in crap company”.
(Distance travelled between beers, 1 km, not counting the ferry ride)
I say farewell to my new, ephemeral friends and continue my way. A bunch of cyclists and some roller skaters pass me by. It must be hell here at weekends. Doing it on a Friday was a good idea. The walk is still nice, I'm enjoying it. It suddenly doesn't feel so warm any more.  
It was much busier here
A photo of a pussy (sorry, couldn't help it)
I'm already in Zdiby, and I soon spot another bar. With Svijany. It used to be my favourite brand, but it has gone down recently. And the have Máz, the 11º, here. I never liked it, even with the brewery was at the top of its game.
Second watering station, now with Svijany
Turns out to be much better than I expected, especially considering the place, which looks a bit like a health hazard waiting to happen. It grows on me in the end, though.
(Distance travelled between beers, 1 km, roughly).
Better than expected
The scenery gets quite interesting, and I'm in a very good mood. I've no idea how long I'll have to walk till the next beer and I don't care. I don't even get too discouraged when I pass a very good looking, but closed bar by the ferry to Sedlec. I've had 5 pints already and I need to pace myself. Good that I've brought some water with me.
The road ahead
An abandoned factory
A closed watering station. Pity, it looked nice
Beautiful ironwork on this gate
I reach U Sluníčka. It's a partly roofed terrace above the path, overlooking the river. It feels almost like in the Mediterranean. There's only one other client, a bloke drinking tea or coffee and reading the newspaper. I'm greeted by an old man, economical with his smiles, but who knows what he's doing the taps. He takes a glass from a sink with cold water and then does something I don't remember ever having seen before: he pours the first few ml in a small glass he had below the tap, and without closing the tap, he does the beer in one pour.
A pub at last
What a beauty! The glass says Podkovaň, the blackboard says Gambrinus. But here names are unimportant, what I have in my hand is a masterpiece. I resist the temptation to get another. I know it'll lead to several more.
(Distance travelled between beers, 3 km)
Not too shabby for a pint, init?
I grudgingly leave. I'm even relieved to see that Modrá Kotva is closed. I saw several signs advertising it along the way. But the place does not look good, at all.
Closed place. No worries, looked kinda crap
I get to another bar with Svijany. I looks fine, even if the view isn't so nice any more (with the exception of the hot girls rollerblading, of course). They have the 12º. I haven't drunk that in ages, and it used to be my go-to beer at home.
Another watering station with Svijany
It's far from that epiphanic beer I first drunk 10 years ago at that now disappeared pub in Letná, but not to the point of ruining the memory. It does the job.
(Distance travelled between beers: 1.2 km)
12º this time. Not bad, but not as good as back in the day
For all those with a foot fetish
I put the shoes back on and don't have to walk long to get to the next bar, and a very nice one, actually.
Nice looking watering station with Únětice and Regent
They won't have Únětická 12° as good as at the brewery, so I order Regent 10º, tapped by a little girl about my daughter's age. Not a bad pint. Clean, fresh.
(Distance travelled between beers: 0.2 km)
And the most adorable tapster ever
I start the last leg of the hike that takes me along the zoo and Troja Palace, and the bridge to my destination.
Château Troja and garden
At the feet of the footbridge I see a bar with Staropramen. There's nobody, only the server wanking a smartphone. I don't want to cheat and order a beer, just when my camera runs out of battery. ¡I'm a moron, I should've charged before leaving! I guess readers will have to make do with my mobile's potato quality.
Staropramen place by the bridge
Someone less rational than me would have taken that as a bad omen and would've carried on walking. The beer isn't good. Not as bad as that Gambrinus in Klecany, but a tad worse than the Rychtář in Roztoky. I manage to finish it because I'm quite thirsty.
(Distance travelled between beers: 1.9 km)
Barely drinkable
I cross the bridge and I realise that I am not in Stromovka yet, there's still another bridge. I'm in Císařský Ostrov. Too bad, I will have to drink more beer, and I'm getting closer to the riding hall with the bar that serves Konrad.
Konrad at a riding hall
For the love of Krishna! What the fuck is this! This beer's SHIT! (I should've ordered after coming back from the loo). The pint in Klecany could be blamed on technical problems with a pinch of notgivingafuckery. But this one. It takes determination to do something like this. This beer was fucked up with malice aforethought. Even if I had someone to chat with here, I'm not sure I would be able to drink it. And I don't I get up and leave it there. I don't think that even the wasps will bother with it. Fuck those people!
(Distance travelled between beers: 0.4 km)
Worst shit ever!
Fortunately, almost opposite is the riding school with the bar that sells Ferdinand, which I hope will be able to take away the taste.
Ferdinand at a riding school
I order a desítka and taste it as soon as I get it—I don't want any more surprises—it's good, pretty good. I take a seat at the only table in the shade that has a place. I share it with two, pretty cute young girls. One is German, the other from England, and have come by bike from Mělník. They tell me they noticed me walking before, which feels nice to my ego. They ask me if I know of any hostel not far and how to say a few things in Czech. I answer their questions and try to help them. But it's weird they don't write anything down. They have good memory, I guess. Whatever. The chat soon goes into other topics, and it reminds of many similar chats I had and many hostels in several countries when I travelled alone in my younger years; it does bring a little nostalgia. The girls leave, I wish them luck, finish my beer and now, at last, head towards Stromovka.
(Distance travelled between beers: 0,1 km)
This is much better
I cross the last bridge, and the underpass, and I'm in the park. Not as tired as I expected. For a moment I think of going straight to Dejvice, but I remember it'll be mostly uphill. I might not be as tired, but I won't be fucking around, either. I go to the left, to Výstaviště. I'll take the tram there, fuck it! But before I get there I come across a place I didn't know, Grill Park Výstaviště. I guess I'll have to see what is about.
This place is new, I think
The bloke in the food truck tells me I'll have to wait because he has to tap a new keg of Kozel. That's good news. The beer tastes good, and the bávorská klobása, heavenly (shit, I didn't know I was so hungry). I like this place, but I also remember there's another one in Výstaviště that I want to visit. There I go, for a last pint.
(Distance travelled between beers: 0.9 km)
Kozel from a freshly tapped keg and some lovely klobása
U Primasů opened a couple of months ago, I think, in one of the original buildings of the complex, which was empty for several years, but that from the beginning was a restaurant. It's very pretty, and the waitress is very friendly. I order a desítka from Lobeč and a fried cheese with potatoes.
The entrance to U Primasů
Zdeněk Polreich can go fuck himself on a pogo stick. Smažák is great pub grub when well done, and this one is fantastically done. Crunchy, dark gold crust, without a single drop of oil, and a chewy interior. Proper cheese, properly fried. And the beer is lovely, too. Every single drop of it.
(Distance travelled between beers: 0.4 km)
Lobeč 10°. A great cap
I would love to stay for another one. But I can't drink any more, I'm quite pissed already. I'm going home and will have a bath. Sod the world. Shit, what a day!

Na Zdraví!