19 Aug 2016

Five Years of Únětický Pivovar

It's an early Friday evening in mid-August and, in spite of the iffy weather, I'm sitting in the courtyard of Únětický Pivovar, waiting in the company of a Desítka for the owners, Lucie and Štěpán Tkadlec.

They arrive a few minutes later, riding their scooters, just when my půl litr is dangerously close to being empty. I'm here to interview them on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the brewery's resurrection (which was celebrated in May).

My hopes to have a serious Q&A session with them start looking more uncertain than the weather when Lucka insist we drink something stiffer than beer. But I don't know what I was expecting; I'm sharing a table with friends who happen to run a brewery, and who also like having a tipple every bit as much as I do, if not more.

After the three beers and the three glasses of Single Malt Scotch arrive, and after the “Na Zdraví!”, I somehow manage to get the interview started with some background questions.

They both began working at Pivovary Staropramen in 1998, but in different parts of the company. Lucie was in the financial section, doing internal audits. Štěpán was in the labs, and later would be in charge of the bottling line and then of technology investments. They wouldn't meet until Lucka was tasked with the implementation of SAP.

Lucie would leave the company after their first daughter was born, Štěpán, a couple of years later; he needed a change. He would set up an event management company, but still felt they needed to “do something”.

By then, they were living in neighbouring Roztoky and would frequent the wine cellar that still operates within the old brewery complex. It was during one their wine runs that they got the idea to restore that building to its original purpose.

They were lucky. Firstly, because the building was in a pretty good shape—at the time it was used to store dairy products. Secondly, because the owner wanted to part ways with the company that operated the storage facilities. In 2010, contracts were signed and hands were shaken. The total investment to get the brewery up and running would be 40 million CZK (about 1.6 million EUR then). Unlike not few new breweries, the financing didn't come from a crowdfunding campaign or government or EU grants. Part came from bank loans, the rest, from two investors—friends of theirs, who remain part owners.

The drizzle has become a nuisance with no intention of going anywhere. We grab the glasses and move inside the brewery's pub, which has been set-up in the old floor maltings, built in 1711, the oldest part of the complex.

When we sit at their favourite table, Štěpán and Lucka excuse themselves, they must sort something out with the manager of the pub—the Chef is leaving and they need to talk about who will be replacing him. The pub, by the way, is also run by the Tkadlec. As Lucie explains, they have it under a subsidiary company to get a clearer view of the accounting. It barely breaks even, she adds; it does fantastically well at weekends, especially in Spring and Summer, but not many people come during the week—something I can attest. They wouldn't think of closing it, though. For them, it is an important part of the brewery, and not only as a showroom for their beers. Every year, they sell 1,000 hl at the taproom, half of which in PET bottles, but places like Vzorkovna, the bar at the National Technical Libray, Pražán (in Výstaviště Praha Holešovice) and Kavárna Liberál sell even more.

From the very beginning, Štěpán and Lucka wanted the brewery to be more than just a company that made and sold beer. Their intention was to make it integral part of the community, the village of Únětice, They found a fan in the mayor, Vladimír Vytiska, who gave them his full support once he was acquainted with all four owners and what they had in mind.

Almost as if he had been waiting for his cue—he's a musician and member of the troupe of Divádlo Sklep—Mr Vytiska, joins our table for a couple of beers. Pint in hand, he tells me he loved the idea of restoring the brewery; in fact, it's something he had thought about already in the 1990s, but it didn't go anywhere. The brewery building was one of the assets the state put up for sale in the Big Privatisation that followed the fall the Communist regime, and towns were not allowed to bid for them; though he also admits that perhaps it was not the right time to set up a brewery like this.

The role Únětický Pivovar plays in the community can be clearly seen at Posvicení, the local parish fair that will be taking place tomorrow in the brewery's courtyard and repurposed stable, which I will attend, as I do every year; and not only because of the Rye Lager they brew specially for the occasion, but for the atmosphere (and also to see the mayor play the ukulele).

One of the things that really surprised me was how quickly they had the brewery going. They had taken over the building in November 2010, and the following May they already brewing the beer that would be tapped at the official opening in June.

It was almost a matter of life or death, they explain. Knowing they didn't have any further source of financing, they had to catch the summer season from the beginning to at least be able to keep their heads above water that first year. It was hard, it was mad, they tell me, but when they saw the crowd gathering in the courtyard for opening day, they felt it might had been all worth it, after all.
And they were right. That first year, they managed to brew about 2,500 hl, and it would take them only three years to reach the 10,000 hl/y that mark the legal limit for a brewery to be a minipivovar. A great part of it was thanks to hard sales work—going out and offering the product and the brewery—but there were times that the beer was able to put up a convincing argument all by itself. When I asked how they managed so relatively quickly to get their beers into old-school pubs like U Pětníka, they told me they had tried several times to speak to the owner—who also owns Na Urale and Na Slamníku—only to be stonewalled by the staff. They had pretty much given up hope until one day the man was cycling past the brewery, stopped for a quick one at the taproom and decided his pubs had to serve those beers.

Presently, Únětický Pivovar employs almost 30 people (including the pub's staff), most of them locals or from nearby villages. Last year they brewed about 12,000 hl and expect to make 12.5-13 thousand this year. Although Lucka drops a 20,000 hl figure for the not too distant future, they don't seem to see growth as an end itself, but rather, as a result. That being said, the brewhouse is already bursting at the seams, and sooner rather than later they will have to decide what to do with it: either add one or two more vessels, or replace it by a 50 hl one (the current is a 25 hl kit). One thing is certain, though, they have no intention of changing their approach to beer: 10° and 12° will be the only beers they will produce year-round, complemented by a few seasonal specials.

It wouldn't be possible to finish this interview without talking about Vladimír Černohorský, the brewery's first Brew Master, who passed away about a year ago. The first meeting of Lucie and Štěpán with this great (and much missed) personality of the Czech beer community was a classic: Černohorský, greeted them saying he admired people who would buy a brewery instead of a Lamborghini; and it got better from there. Ivan Chramosíl, who has recently retired after more than four decades at U Fleku, has joined the team, trying to fill the void left by Vladimír. He designed the recipe for the excellent Anniversary Desítka served last May. The day-to-day production, however, is in charge of Jan Lumbert, a really cool guy who's no rookie. Before coming to Únětice (where actually lives), he had worked 13 years as a brewer in Staropramen.

By the time we begin exchanging anecdotes about our late friend Černohorský, other people have joined the table and the interview has fully become just another session at a pub, with the conversation drifting here and there and friendships being reinforced and established, while Štěpán fills in the lagering cellar a copper Mazák with Posvícenský Speciál, the 11.5° Rye Lager that will be tapped tomorrow; and it goes on until past closing time. (Fortunately for me, one of the waitresses offers to give me a ride, otherwise, getting back home would've been a bit of a problem.)
I won't pretend anything resembling objectivity. I have a special relationship with Únětický Pivovar, one that goes well beyond their beers. I know how hard Lucka and Štěpán have worked to get to where they are now, and I believe the same can be said about everyone working there. Their success is very well deserved.

Na Zdraví!

10 Jul 2016

Shouldn't We Ban Booze First?

The other day, the people of Cerveza Artesana called their followers, both in Facebook y de su their web page to sign a petition to, basically, have the European Union ban glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in the world, IIRC.

The argument is that it is a carcinogenic substance, according to its categorisation by the International Agency for Research on Cancer – IARC, who include it in Category 2A – Probable Carcinogens, together with red meats, drinking maté at more than 65°C and being a hairdresser, among other things.

What's funny is that that same list includes in Category 1 – Known Carcinogens, together with smoking, carpentry, plutonium and exhaust from diesel engines the product that Cerveza Artesana actively promotes from their very name: alcoholic beverages.

It is not my intention to accuse these people of being hypocrites, I don't think they are, but they are ignorants. They have basically copypasted the same old arguments of the fear mongers, without questioning them, let along checking up the information. Otherwise, I doubt they would have referred to the IARC list, not only because it indicates that they are encouraging the consumption of something “more dangerous” than what they would like to have banned, but also because they would have been aware that the WHO and FAO have issued a joint statement saying that that glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.

The problem here is that the meaning or purpose of the IARC list is either not taken into account or thoroughly ignored, mainly be media's thirst for bombastic headlines and clickbait. However, and as this video clearly explains, what those categories indicate is mostly a hypothetical risks: under certain conditions (exposure level, dose, etc.) this product/substance/activity is known to be carcinogen, probably or possibly is carcinogen, it has not been determined it is carcinogen, is unlikely to be so. To put a clear example: a couple of pints after work or a fag after a shag do not pose a cancer risk, just like eating bread made with flour from wheat sprayed with Roundup.

But sensationalism does not give a fuck about logic. A few months ago, the world was shaken upon learning that that traces of glyphosate had been found in the most popular German beers. The HORROR!

Though, if you go a bit beyond the apocalyptic headlines, or go around looking for more information, you'll come to a very different reality. Kevin Folta offers a sober take on the issue: the concentrations of glyphosate found in the beers are between 0.46 and 29.74 ppb. In other words, there are people who expect us to shit our pants because of some negligible doses of a “probably carcinogen” found in a product that has 50,000,000 ppb of a “known carcinogen”

Honestly, it's about time we cut that shit. If regardless of all the deaths caused by alcohol, we have no problem accepting the fact that it does not pose a serious health risk when consumed in moderation, why are we still afraid of a substance that has been proven to be effective and safe when used as indicated?

Na Zdraví!

PS: I sometimes wonder whether this campaign against glyphosate (which is patent free) is not orchestrated and financed by a producer or patent holder of an organic pesticide. (You see how easy is to come up with a conspiracy theory?)

31 May 2016

On Abstinence, Ritual and Apathy

I felt I'd been drinking a bit too much in the previous weeks—more than what I usually drink, which might be already too much. I was thinking of taking a few days, perhaps a week, off the booze after Vysmolení (where, by the way, I had great time! Thanks everyone at Černoskotelecký Pivovár for letting me crash at the brewery, like every year—and this one in particular, for carrying me to bed). The Jurassic hangover I woke up with the next day made the decision very easy.

To be honest, I don't know what I was expecting of this attempt, but it wasn't hard; at all. Yes, there were times when I fancied a beer, especially while preparing dinner, but they were fleeting moments; as if I suddenly realised that something was missing from the alchemical ritual of transmuting produce and other ingredients into something greater than the sum of their parts, only to see that it's not that important; its absence wouldn't affect the outcome.

By the third day, I think, what I was feeling wasn't thirst or cravings or withdrawal; it was apathy. My interest in beer was no greater than that of any other topic I like reading about. Maybe it was a defence mechanism—you can't crave something you aren't interested in (it also helped that I had a pretty busy week that didn't leave time to hit the pubs. Though I did walk past a couple of old favourites, without feeling tempted to walk in). In any case, I wasn't counting the hours or days that I'd spent without a drop/until I would taste beer again.

I didn't complete the week, however. We had a trip to Ríp planned for last Saturday with the families of some of my daughter's classmates. It was a fine day, despite being around way too many children (anything more than one—my own—is way too many, actually).

After walking a couple of kilometres between fields from the Ctiněves train station, we climbed that legendary hill from the steepest side. I was the first to make the summit (that sounds grandiose; it's only a bit over 450m high). At the top, there's a wasted opportunity that passes for a watering hole; a place run by professional notgivingashitters who know that the people who make it all that way up will eat and drink whatever crap they are sold (to give them credit, though, the prices are at least reasonable). As approached it, I told myself Fuck it! I'd proven that I can go days without booze and suffer no consequences, and went to get a beer. It'd be a sin not to—some rituals must be observed to their fullest.

The beer they have is Bakalář (perhaps because they get it cheaper than others, or it's the only company willing to deliver there), served in plastic cups, of course. After patiently queueing, I got my velká 11° and found a place to sit under a tree and enjoy my reward.

It was crap. You can't see the taps from the window, but judging from the looks of the head, my pint was not served in one pour, and I'd wager that a no small part of it was the drips from previous pours, as the beer was likely foaming too much; all dispensed from taps that I doubt are cleaned as often as they should.

I finished it, I was really thirsty and needed to drink something more than mineral water, but I didn't feel like having a second one, I had an ice-cream instead. Yeah, that's how crap it was: after almost a week of not even sniffing a beer, and having walked several kilometres and climbed a hill in the middle of a warm, humid day, I didn't feel like having a second pint.

But the day didn't end there.

After a rather funny situation with the train back to Vraňany, where we had left our cars (the train that we were waiting Vraždov had broken down, but the machinist came to pick us up with a bus and took us to another station, where he would get another engine running so we could go to our destination), the day went on at the house of one of the families of the group. When the rain stopped, we made a fire in the garden to roast špekáčky, while the kids played. The host went to the local pub to fetch some beer with a couple of empty plastic bottles. I was offered some, which I gladly accepted; more out of politeness than crave—again, the ritual. It was Svijany Fanda this time, and was OK, but after finishing the small glass I'd been given, having another one didn't even cross my mind—apathy had once more taken over.

Since then (Saturday evening) and now (Monday late afternoon), I've only drunk one of the bottles UzenejŽitnýVideňák (a.k.a. Mad Max, the beer that Pivovarský Dům brewed on my recipe, or idea) that had been lingering in the fridge for 10 days, while watching a film last night; almost ritually.

What did I get from all this? I don't know, really. Not drinking for a few days is fine—and I'm sure my liver appreciated it—but not something to be proud of. Perhaps what I've realised is that, at least for me, beer is more than anything else, a part of a ritual: cooking, having dinner, a reward, an accessory in a social meeting. Come to think of it, that's nothing new.

Na Zdraví!

13 May 2016

A Reminder for Next Saturday, 21/5

This Staruday, 21/5, Černokostelecký Pivovár is hosting the 5th edition of Vysmolení, one of the two local beer festivals I can be bothered with going (the other being its sibling event, Vykulení, in Septermber). It just has pretty much everything I believe a good beer festival should:
  • Free entry—paying an admission fee to buy beer? Fuck that!
  • A fairly limited but well chosen range of beers, several drawn from wooden barrels.
  • All the beers are available in proper, half litre portions—to drink in earnest.
  • Plastic cups for those who can't be arsed with the inconvenience of a glass, while those who don't mind it, can either buy a glass on site or bring their own (provided is marked).
  • It's not too crowded and the venue is great, and outdoors.
  • The music doesn't start until later in the afternoon, by which time you are probably quite pissed and don't mind it.

In addition, you get to see master coopers practising their craft and visit the brewery proper, which is in the last stages of its reconstruction.

As every year, I'm very much looking forward. Spending a whole day drinking good beer among friends is always a great pleasure. See you there.

Na Zdraví!

How to get there? Buses 381-387 leaving every hour from Háje to Kostelec n.Č.l.,nám

6 May 2016

Pilsner Urquell is Looking for a New Owner

I can't have been the only one who last year exclaimed “Well, fuck!” upon learning that the same people who fucked Staropramen—and other brands in several countries—were going to own Czech Republic's flagship beer.

Fear no more!

As, I reckon, most of you must are already aware, in order to placate those pesky EU anti-trust regulators, ABIB has undertaken to divest a bunch assets in Eastern Europe, among which is Plzeňský Prazdroj—apparently, getting rid of Grolsch, Peroni and Meantime was not enough.

What I find most interesting is that this is basically the same thing ABIB did back in late 2009, when they sold to an investment fund a bunch of breweries in Eastern Europe that included Staropramen—which happened about a year after the merger with AB and, if I recall correctly, at about the same time that rumours about their interest in SAB-Miller were beginning to go around. That can't be a coincidence.

This shouldn't surprise anyone, really. The ageing Central and Eastern European markets are stagnant at best, and, save a couple of exceptions, there aren't brands with any value outside their respective backyards—'I really fancy a glass of that famous, generic Hungarian Lager,' said no one ever. It's the developing countries the Brazilians are after, which still have massive potential for growth.

The question is who will buy the package. The other big boys—MC, Heineken and Carlsberg—are out of the question; unless they're themselves willing to divest in the same region, which I doubt. The money seems to be either on Asahi, who've already committed to buy Peroni et al, or an investment fund, like in 2009.

When the news of the mega-merger came out, some people—myself included—speculated whether the new conglomerate would shut down one of the four breweries that Prazdroj operates, with Kozel being the most likely candidate. We had no basis for that, other than it being what corporations of that ilk tend to do—ask Heineken, for instance. Will that be the case with these yet-to-be-known new owners?

If I had to choose, I'd pick Asahi. They are more likely to be in for the long run (and they are already in the business of beer), whereas an investment fund will probably restructure the package in order to sell it for a profit a few years later, just like CVC did.

Brace yourselves, interesting times are coming.

Na Zdraví!

PS: It's really amusing to see the mental contortions of those crafotphiles who really, really hate it when Craft breweries are sold to macros, but see no problem with they loose their “Indie” status to a investment funds.

19 Apr 2016

A Couple of Beers at Easter

We spent part of the last Easter Holidays in Strakonice, with my wife's relatives. On Sunday we headed to Sušice, a town about 30 km away. The weather was gorgeous and the ride was very enjoyable, as expected in the secondary roads of South Bohemia.

Sušice is a pretty cute town, with with a well-preserved historical centre and a lovely park next to it, on an island on the the river Otava. Unfortunately, it was still too early in the season for the beer garden to be open, otherwise it would've been perfect (it's a proper beer garden, mind you, under large trees and not a bunch of tables on a parking lot).

After walking around and let the dog run unleashed for a bit, we headed to the centre to get some food. We picked a random restaurant in the square, Restaurace Gloria. Quite unremarkable, it was, set in a vaulted cellar. It looked like a place that once may have had ambitions, which were never quite materialised. The food was just OK, and they had Svijany on tap.

Back when I started with this beer writing thing, almost a decade ago, seeing a sign of Svijany was enough to get me excited. A lot has changed since then? the brewery has, I think, doubled its size, and not without some growing pains. It is said they started using HGB to make up for the lack of capacity, while they physically expanded. In any case, I lost interest in their beers and, from drinking them almost on a daily basis—at least their 12°—I now only choose them w hen there's nothing better at hand—as was the case in this restaurant.

The waiter cocked up the order for my first pint and brought me Kněžna, Svijany's dark beer. I don't remember when was the last time I'd had it, but even when Svijany was my favourite brewery, it wasn't a fan—too sweet. Wasn't I surprised! It was totally different to what I remembered. More chocolate and roast and less caramel. I wondered if they've stopped using saccharine to make it (I haven't checked, BTW). It was followed by 450, a beer they launched a couple of years ago to celebrate the (alleged) 450th anniversary of the brewery, brewed with hops Saaz from their own hop yards. I'd had it only once, and I thought it was mediocre. Not this time. It was lovely, a textbook Světlý Ležák: crisp, clean, fresh, with the right mouthfeel and enough character to draw some of your attention. Maybe its time to revisit Svijany, I thought as we left the restaurant.

After a relatively quick stopover at a café, also in the square, we crossed the river, heading to (?), a hill offering a fantastic view to the town and the surrounding countryside.

A few metres after leaving the bridge behind, I spotted a sign pointing to a “minipivovar a restaurace”, one I'd never heard of.

Back when I started with this beer writing thing, almost a decade ago, if seeing a sign of Svijany was enough to get me excited, coming across a brewpub I didn't know about would've sent me in an almost ecstatic frenzy. Now that I think of it, though, I don't know how likely coming across a brewpub I didn't know about would have been then. Microbreweries were relatively few and far between, and I would've surely done some research before heading anywhere—and I would've done my best to try to steer the trip in the direction of a brewery. But things have changed greatly. I stopped following the news on new openings a few years ago; not only because it's almost impossible to keep up—a new brewery seems to pop up literally every week—but also because at some point I became disenchanted.

All that being said, there is something left of the ticker in me and I wasn't going to walk past a brewery without having at least one, and maybe put some bottles in my rucksack.

Pivovar U Švelchů opened in 2014. The pub looks very nice, with plenty of wood, exposed masonry, and an overall style that, though modern, won't look outdated in a year or two. It was also a lot more lively than the restaurant we had been to, and it made me wish I had done some homework; lunch here would've been more fun, I thought, until I had their Světlý Ležák. It was crap: way too carbonated, sweet where it should've been bitter and bitter where it should've been sweet, empty in the middle and with a pinch of burnt cable to add some complexity. They had three more beers on tap, including an IPA (of course), plus a few bottled; I didn’t bother with them. If they aren't able, or willing, to put together a decent Světlý Ležák, the rest can be fucked for all I care.

To be honest, though, it's entirely possible that I was unlucky. Had I dropped by a week earlier or later, I could've found a good, or even fantastic beer. It's the microbrewery lottery, and many owners seem to be happy with it; as long as people keep on coming, they've no reason to worry, or improve things, for that matter.

Minipivovary like this are the ones that make you appreciate regional brands a lot more, especially when they have become so commonplace. They aren't fancy, envelope-pushing, řemeslné and they are struggling to keep up with the trends—if they bother at all—but by the most part they remain reliable and well-priced, a safe haven from europivo, lottery ležák and overpriced IČE alike. We should be grateful for them.

Na Zdraví!

Restaurace Gloria
49°13'54.089"N, 13°31'11.310"E
Nám. Svobody 6 – Sušice
+420 608 246 869 – info@voky.cz
Mon-Sun: 10-22

Pivovar U Švelchů
49°13'44.886"N, 13°31'27.045"E
Nuželická 25 – Sušice
+420 725 840 119 – info@pivovarsusice.cz
Mon-Thu: 10-22, Fri-Sat: 10-23, Sun: 10-21

21 Mar 2016

Back to the roots reviews: Pivovar Narodní & Pivovar U Dobřenských

As a personal policy, and unless I'm given a good reason to do otherwise, I wait at six months before I decide to give a new brewery my money. My days as a novelty chaser and ticker gone, and I want to have some degree of certainty when I buy a beer; there's plenty of very good stuff on the market to waste time financing crap.

That time has passed (a month or two ago, actually) and, not having any reason to do otherwise, I decided to finally pay visit to Pivovar Narodní and Pivovar U Dobřenských; both, brewpubs making beer happen in Prague's Old Town since last summer.

Pivovar Narodní actually opened its doors in spring, basically next door to the National Theatre, but it would take them another couple of months to fire up the mash tun. They weren't particularly open about that fact, and the beers they sold were from Kácov; whether it was something contract-made or relabelled is not clear. The brewing gear, by the way, is originally from the now closed brewpub in Průhonice, and I think the package also included the brewmaster.

But here I am, early afternoon on a rainy, late-winter Tuesday. The interiors have been heavily influenced by the Potrefená Husa school of interior design, but it kind of works, even with the display of souvenirs by the entrance. Maybe it's the large, wood (or coal?) fired grill on one side. The bar is also at the entrance, but has no room to perch. The only place for a quick beer on the go is a repurposed barrel standing under the stairs leading to the loft. There's another, rather nondescript, room further in and a beautiful beer garden in the back—closed, of course.

There's quite a bit of people for this time on a weekday—many are locals—and most aren't drinking beer (there are five German speaking kids 20 or so, who've all ordered Coke!). It takes me a bit too long to order my first pint as there's only one waiter on duty and it seems everyone has arrived pretty much at once.

There are three beers on tap, or rather, two and a half: a Světlá 11°, both filtered and unfiltered, and a Polotmavá 13°; the only beers they make, and all sold in bloody 0.4l portions.

I order the filtered 11° first, wondering why would a brewpub bother with filtering and which of the two versions sells better. In any case, what I'm brought is not what I could call a good beer. It is served way too cold, to the point that it almost numbs the tip of my tongue, and I start to suspect it is not an accident: there is a mild, but persistent note reminiscing of a cheap beer out of a PET bottle unfamiliar with the inside of a fridge, bought at a small Vietnamese Večerka in a summer afternoon. I don't want to know what it tastes like once it catches some temperature.

The rawer version follows. To be honest, I don't notice much of a difference in the looks, but it tastes better, and it's been served a bit warmer. However, there's something not entirely right. I feel I'm listening to a symphonic orchestra with a flute player missing out his part; unlike Dr. Lecter, I can't figure out which. Whether it's the off note of the previous beer still clinging to my palate, I can't say.

I close the session with the Polotmavá 13°. Unlike the other two, I don't find anything wrong with this beer. Nor anything particularly right. It's the beer equivalent of a veteran bank clerk who has long run out of fucks to give and now does the bare minimum to keep his job.

Overall, it was an unsatisfying experience. I'm sure Pivovar Narodní will do fine as a business: the food I saw looked nice, the service was good in the end, the prices are reasonable and they have a prime location. But I find it redundant. For this kind of beers, I'd much rather go to the relatively nearby Vinohradský Pivovar or Bašta, where I will get a full portion of better beer at a better price, or even the neighbouring U Medvídku.

Let's hope U Dobřenských turns out better. It has to, it's considerably more expensive.

Pivovar U Dobřenských is located in the premises formerly occupied by a similarly named, but short-lived pub that served Kout na Šumavě, in the namesake street that, for some reason, I always seem to have trouble to find. Like Narodní, it'll take them a month or two after opening to get the brewery to work. Unlike Narodní, you could be 100% you would be drinking their beers and not somebody else's with a different jacket.

What sets this brewery apart is their use of unconventional ingredients in all their beers, but not in the Opat fashion—an otherwise finished product flavoured with extracts and syrups—but they actually brew with those ingredients: tribulus terrestris, sage and sea-buckthorn. Their price is another thing that sets it apart: depending on the beer, 65 and 72 CZK bloody for 0.4l portions—about 80 and 90 for a half litre. It thought it was the most expensive, until I saw Strahov's updated price list.

The pub itself it's more my type; it's gorgeous in fact. Vaulted ceilings, exposed masonry, wrought iron, the brewing gear and the tanks and the custom-made taps, and the fireplace create a beautiful ambiance to sit, at least in the taproom. The other room, with more tables, though still very nice, is bland in comparison.

The only people when I arrive are a waiter/tapster and a group of four, of whom two seem to be either the owners or associates of the owners, talking business—Matuška and Hendrych are mentioned in relation to a pub or café, but I can't bring myself to follow the conversation too closely, the excellent Jazz they're playing keeps on grabbing my attention. The one thing that really surprises me is that smoking is allowed in the taproom.

I begin the session with the sea-buckthorn beer, the first in the list. I'm brought a glass with a liquid so murky that it would be considered Proper Craft Beer in some places. The menu has explanations of the botanicals used. They might include tasting notes, but I choose not to read them; I prefer to go in blind, trusting my senses and not somebody else's. There is mild tart note, which I assume comes from the berries. It's well balanced, but I'm not too happy with this beer overall. It needs some polishing; though it's possible I'm drinking the bottom of a keg or tank. In any case, for this price I was expecting something that wouldn't tastes like a homebrew.

Moving a notch down the list is Tribulus, the most expensive of the bunch and the house's flagship. It looks considerably better than the previous: about the same colour, but almost clear. I've no idea what this herb is supposed to taste like, but if the beer was given to me blind, I'd probably believe it is a Pale Ale of some denomination brewed with a hop cultivar I'm not familiar with. In other words, it doesn't taste like spiked iced-tea but like beer, and a superb one at that. It's gorgeous, it prances around with joy, delighted to make your acquaintance and be at your service.

That leaves me with the Stout with sage. Stout is not the most aromatic style, and I'm very familiar with herb (we grow it in our garden and I use it a lot for cooking), so I can easily pick it when I get my nose close to the glass, it's a fairly intense, but at the same time, restrained aroma. In the mouth, fortunately, everything has a perfect balance, even if a bit more precarious. I won't bore with tasting notes, to get an idea what this beer is like, get a good Stout, rub the leaves of fresh sage on your fingers and imagine what those two would be like together, only better. It's muscular, manly, a blacksmith of a beer. I could drink it all day and never get tired of it.

Like Tribulus, Salvia Stout looks and tastes like the product of a Brew Master who knows what he's doing and it's not afraid to show it.

Although I'd heard good comments about the beers, their prices (and their portions) put me off coming before, but I must say that in the end it was money very well spent (at least in two out of three), which is a lot more than I can say about Narodní. I will come back to Pivovar U Dobřenských, and you should go, too.

Na Zdraví!

Pivovar Narodní
50°4'53.031"N, 14°24'56.807"E
Narodní 8 – Praha-Nové Město
+420 222 544 932 – pivovar@pivovarnarodni.cz
Mon-Sun: 11-23:30
Trams: 6, 9, 17, 18, 22 – Narodní Dívadlo

Pivovar U Dobřenských
50°5'2.632"N, 14°24'56.012"E
U Dobřenských 3 – Praha-Staré Město
+420 222 222 141 – info@pivovarudobrenskych.cz
Mon-Sun: 14-24
Trams: 6, 9, 17, 18, 22 – Narodní Dívadlo

PS: Apologies for the lack of photos. I left the camera at home. You'll find some at the brewpubs' webpages.