8 May 2017

Musings Over an Afternoon Pint

The other day I stopped for a couple of beers at Krkonošská Hospůdka, a friendly, unpretentious little place I wish I could go to more often. I was the first patron to walk in, just when the doors had opened for the day, but I wasn’t alone for long. A couple, a few older than me, took a table in the opposite end of the room, and more people would soon follow; a mixed crowd that created a great atmosphere.

I ordered Krakonoš 12°, I was thirsty and didn’t want to think about what else was there, besides, I have a bit of a soft spot for that beer, even if consistency is not one of its strongest points, but that afternoon was spot on.

The man at the other end of the room studied the blackboard with the beers on tap and picked President, a 12° Světlý Ležák from Pivovar Ovipistán. I don’t remember having seen any references of this létajicí pivovar or its beers, but this man at the other end of the room was sure liking that dvanáctka, so much that he got another before I was through with my first beer and talked his companion into having one, too, with similar results.

Well, I told myself, this is as good a reference as anyone would need, and I ordered a velké.

It was rubbish, really. Most people describe diacetyl as buttery, to me, cheap margarine melting is a more accurate descriptor (if you are in Czechia, imagine dropping a dollop of Perla on a hot pan), and this beer smelled like plenty of it, and didn’t taste much better. Now, I don’t mind some diacetyl in my Pale Lagers any more than I mind a rock band using synthesisers, but this one was like Van Halen’s “Jump”. I tried to pay as little attention as possible, drinking it in big swigs while focusing on my book so I could get to the next beer.

Bob&Dave Bitter 11° was my next beer. I didn’t order it first because I thought it was a Bitter and not a bitter jedenáctka, and a lovely one at that! It begins almost Helles-like malty, but the grassy-herbal bitterness builds up almost to the point of wrecking the whole thing half-way down the glass, where it settles in its clean, bready cushion. It’s brewed by Robert Franěk, former (?) brewer at Pivovar Hendrych, at the brand new, resurrected brewery in Kamenice nad Lipou, and it’s quite similar to Hendrych 11°, which it seems to have replaced at this pub.

And yet, as much as I was enjoying it, I couldn’t get my mind off of the pint of pomazánkové máslo juice I’d just had. If you follow the comments of the local beer intelligentsia, you might get the impression that diacetyl-ladden beers have become a scourge, to the point that Jiří Kaňa wandered in Pivní.info whether 2016 wasn’t the year of diacetyl. And yet, that man sitting at the table in the opposite end of the room was clearly enjoying President 12°, and was probably in his fourth glass by then.

A beer is good if you like it, and it’s well made if it reflects the intentions of the brewer. Not having at hand the brewer of President 12° to ask him, I will assume, for the sake of the argument, that this beer was well made. Could it be that the problem with diacetyl is ours because we’ve been told it’s an off-flavour by some style guidelines or another? I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that loudly hopped beers were an acquired taste; or the sour beers that geeks like so much these days.

The conclusion of this? Go to Krkonošská Hospůdka and get yourself some of that Bob&Dave Bitter. You won’t regret it.

Na Zdraví!

Krkonošská Hospůdka

50°5'53.776"N, 14°24'23.323"E
Muchova 7 – Prague-Bubeneč
+420 608 566 262 – davidhousa@gmail.com
Mon-Fri: 15-22:30
Metro A, Trams: 1, 2, 8, 18, 20, 25, 26 – Hradčanská

12 Apr 2017

Back to the Roots Reviews: Pivovar Na Lochkově

There’s no better way to kill a few hours in Prague than going on a beer run. That was the case last Thursday when I decided to check out Pivovar Na Lochkově, which had opened about a year ago.

After having taken care of a couple of errands, I went to Na Knížecí to get the 120 to Lochkov. It was a pleasant half hour ride through some parts of Prague I haven’t explored yet (I spotted a couple of interesting pubs, btw).

Lochkov is one of those countless villages that Prague gobbled up sometime last century, and it seems to have been spared the overdevelopment of similar localities. Though very near the SW section of Pražský Okruh, it’s still very surrounded by fields and small patches of forest. Having lived the first three decades of my life in a city where you have to drive for well more than an hour to see anything resembling countryside, going through fields after a few minutes by bus from the centre is something that never ceases to fascinate me.

The brewpub is almost around the corner from the bus stop, opposite an old, abandoned brewery that seems to have been quite big. I arrive shortly after opening time. The waitress is still making photos of the lunch menu to be posted on FB, for sure, and there’s only one other client; though more will be arriving soon.

The place is quite modern and not too big. It has walls with what looks to be fake exposed bricks and there are a lot of straight lines and other details that remind me a little too much to Potrefená Husa or a bar at an airport. The only thing that makes it somewhat welcoming are the large windows that make the front. You can see the brewhouse (5 hl, I reckon, and quite good looking) from them, in one corner, behind the bar, which isn’t very long. To the left of the bar is the kitchen. I take a table opposite the bar. The plush bench along the wall is really soft and when I sit the table ends up being a tad too high.

The service is flawless. My order for food and pivo is taken as soon as I've made myself comfortable. The food, holandský řizek with potatoes and a salad does the job. The portion is generous. I’ve had worse for 120 CZK.

But what's brought me here is the beer. I don’t remember seeing any references to Pivovar Na Lochkově since their opening, at least not in the last few months, so I don't know what to expect. There are three beers on tap: a Světlá 11°, a Polotmavá 13°, and the Ipička. I begin with the Pale Lager, of course.

It wasn’t good. It smelled heavy of honey flavouring and little else. It reminded me to what the owner of another microbrewery said while he was showing us the shop: that they have to add caramelised malts to their Světlý Ležák because Pilsner Urquell has made people expect a darker Pale Lager. Bollocks. Some of the best beers in the style are really pale and nobody seems to mind. If only that had been the only problem with this 11°. It tasted as if diacetyl and phenols were fighting over the mouthfeel while the hops wanked in a corner. It was the food that made it drinkable.

Needless to say, my expectations for the next beer, the Polotmavá 13°, weren’t high. It looked mahogany, almost like a Dunkles, and it was delicious! Bit of wood and nuts, with enough caramel to balance it, and a breath of floral hops in the finish. I really loved it, and decided that this beer alone had made the trip worth it.

I had time for one more before taking the bus, and it would have to be a small one. What the fuck. Let’s get the Ipička. It was crap. A couple of years ago, ČIPEs (Český India Pejl Ejl) were quite yeasty and unfinished. They seem to have evolved to something cleaner that smells like cheap cheese. I’ve noticed this feature in too many of these beers lately, including Bernard’s and last month’s Prazdroj’s (though to a lesser extent). It’s horrible! This one was also had hardly anything to balance the harshness of what I suspect are old, oxidised hops [citation needed]. Why do they bother? Or rather, why do I bother. I should know better by now.

Pivovar Na Lochkově has a few things going on for it. I don’t regret the trip and, if I could get some assurance of consistency, I wouldn’t mind going back just for the Polotmavá 13°.

Na Zdraví!

Pivovar Na Lochkově
50°0'9.733"N, 14°21'17.470"E
Ke Slivenci 36 – Praha-Lochkov
+420 257 212 378 – nalochkove@nalochkove.cz
Bus: 120 to Lochkov
Mon-Sun: 11-22

30 Mar 2017

How About a Rant?

I’d already commented about this on FB, but I finished a project ahead of schedule and I’m in the mood for a bit of ranting. So here it goes.

Two weeks ago was the first Salon Piva in Prague at Průmyslový palác, in Výstaviště, following namesake festivals in Bratislava and other Slovakian towns, organised by the same people.

It was a trendy AF event, with trendy AF breweries presenting trendy AF beers, which I couldn’t be arsed to attend. It was a tasting-only festival, to begin with, with 20 cl samples costing mostly between 25 and 50 CZK, as Pivníci reported (though one of their pictures showed a brewery selling 10 cl samples for 20 and 25 CZK). And to get to those samples, and the glass they were served in (no Teku or buttplug, but a Shaker. I’ll take a trendy point off, I think) you had to pay the 150 CZK admission fee.

Just to put it into perspective, the price of the admission fee buys you: 2 large IPAs at Pivovar Strahov, 2 half-litre portions of Matuška or a similarly priced brand at several pubs in town or 2 litres of the superb Fabián 12° at the lovely taproom Pivovar Hostomice has set up near Nám. Republiky (2,5 l, if you stick to the equally superb 10°). Why the fuck would I want to pay that much only so I can go into a place to buy ridiculously overpriced tasting samples?

But that isn’t my quarrel with this festival. The pricing and the admission fee are legitimate business decisions by people trying to cash in on a hot trend while it lasts. And Who can blame them? There seems to be a market not only willing but happy to pay that sort of money, even in a town like Prague, which isn’t precisely lacking trendy places with trendy beer.

No, there’s another thing that bothered me about this festival, and quite a bit.

The payment system was similar to the one Český Pivní Festival has been using for several years, a chip card that you top up with credits, replacing cash and tokens to purchase beer and food. So far, so good; clever, in fact. The thing is that the system had been set up with a 10% TIP by default whenever you went to top up your card bought a beer. And this where things begin to rub me the wrong way. It is not too different to the “10% Service Charge” some tourist traps in the centre will add to the bill of anyone not speaking Czech. Of course, people topping up their cards could opt out of the tip, every time, but that is not something you should have to opt out of.

“But, Max,” I can hear some of you say, “I’m cool with that. I do believe the owners of the Craft Breweries that came to Salon Piva to promote their Craft Beers deserve that extra bit for pouring those overpriced tasting samples and putting them on the counter, with a smile.”

Fair enough. But if I told you that only half of it went to reward the people serving beverage and food? Yup, you’ve read that right. According to Pivníci, half of that almost mandatory surcharge (only announced at the cash desks) ended up in the pockets HELLOPAY®, the provider of the payment system, who had set up that surcharge. Cute, init? Yeah, and when went to get a refund of your remaining credits when you returned the card before leaving the festival, HELLOPAY® would automatically round down the amount to the nearest ten, giving themselves another tip in the process for the great service they’ve given you. This, according to the comment below, it's not true. I was a twat for not checking up the information, and I apologise for that.

Fuck this bullshit! Fuck HELLOPAY®! And fuck the organisers of Salon Piva, too for being cool with it! This is not cashing in on a fad, this is just ripping people off. Prague’s beer scene doesn’t need cunts like you. Do us a favour and don’t come back next year. I apologise for this, too, BTW.

Na Zdraví!

12 Mar 2017

Just a Shower Thought

It's been happening in the US, the UK, Spain, Italy; even in Argentina, Colombia, and Chile. The big boys are buying small, independent breweries. And it seems that it will go on for the foreseeable future.

Now, given their recent and, with few exceptions, not entirely successful attempts at producing "new" stuff, (even Pradroj has an IPA this month!) I wonder how much longer it will take for Czech big brewers to start buying minipivovary here, and who are the most suitable candidates.

That's it. Carry on doing what you were doing.

Na Zdraví!

3 Jan 2017

A Recap of an Unproductive Year

It’s been pretty quiet around here, hasn’t it?

I thought 2016 would be a lot more productive than the year before. It started quite well, in fact. I was having a lot of fun with the Tram Beer Challenge—both doing it and writing about it—and I had several other things bouncing about in my head. But then work happened, and a lot of it (fortunately), which left me with little time, and even less energy, to sit down and write.

Prices is one of the things I wanted to write about, and for some time. Not only they’ve gone up, but it seems that “expensive” beer has become the norm now. Pivovar U Medvídků is perhaps the best example to illustrate what I mean. Ten years ago, 48 CZK for a half-litre of OldGott was pretty expensive—IIRC you could still find Pilsner Urquell for less than 30 CZK without walking too much. Today’s price-tag of 50 CZK for the same portion of the same beer doesn’t rise any eyebrows—I’d the wager the average price of a pint of PU in Prague is around 40CZK these days. A big part of that inflation can be seen in the increasingly popular Ales and other “foreign styles”, and I have this nagging suspicion I have that a good number of them are overpriced in relation to their production costs when compared to those of Lagers of similar gravity. Unfortunately, I never got around to doing the necessary research to prove or disprove that hypothesis.

Somewhat related to that is my capitulation in my personal (and futile) war against the bloody 40 cl measures, when I saw that even Zlý Časy had adopted them as of last 1 December; which kind of pissed me off, especially because they kept the same nominal prices as previously.

Another thing that I mused about last year was whether it makes any sense to hold a beer festival in Prague, a city that to some extent is itself a year-long beer festival. Why putting up with the inconveniences of such events, which include at least one (usually, several) of the following: lack of toilets, lack of sits, crappy food, beers served in less than ideal conditions, rubbish and loud music, moderators who believe have a comedic talent, queues, and, last but not least, fucking entry fees, when you just pop in whenever you fancy at any of the 30+ microbreweries and countless specialist and not-so-specialist-but-still-with-interesting-beers pubs in town, knowing that you are likely to get table service, clean toilets, better food and beer served in good condition, and without being required to pay an entry fee for the privilege? I’ve still haven’t decided.

But the one thing I regret the most not writing about is my meeting back in June with Lukáš Svoboda, “Master of the Taps” (I coined that) at the Ambiente Restaurant Group. He shared a lot of his knowledge about the proper care of beers and taplines, what goes on inside a keg once it’s been tapped, why the same beer will taste different if it’s poured in one draw or in two or more, the difference between the the type of taps that are in most wide use here and abroad (you know the ones I mean) and those old-fashioned looking ones, first popularised by Pilsner Urquell (yes, this kind, a.k.a. “Nostalgie”)*. My notes look very chaotic now to be able to put together something coherent and engaging, I’m afraid. The one thing I can tell you for sure is that, to properly serve a beer, the glass should be chilled and rinsed in cold water, and not dry and at room temperature, as I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere.

Anyway, I don’t know about my plans for this year, to be honest. I’ve been thinking of starting work on a third edition of the Pisshead’s Pub Guide, but I haven’t quite made up my mind yet. In any case, don’t expect much to happening here, but I'm open to suggestions.

Na Zdraví!

*There are two main differences: the internal diameter of the pipe of each, 7 mm in common taps, 10 mm in the other ones; and the fact that the handle of the regular taps have only 3 positions, while the handle of the “Nostalgie” moves along a 90° arc.

10 Oct 2016

Prague Beer Week Grand Finále - a Review

The first Prague Beer Week was held between 3 and 9 October through a series of events around town with beer (or craft pivo, as they said in their press release, sigh!) as their only, rather flimsy, connection. It culminated at the weekend with the Grand Finále, a tasting festival at Kulturní Sportovna in Smíchov; the only event I attended, on Friday.

(Disclaimer: I had a press pass, which meant that I didn't have to pay the 100 CZK admission fee, was given 5 tokens and the glass without paying the deposit. To be honest, I wouldn't have gone otherwise. I'm not keen on tastings—I much prefer drinking—and, mainly, because I'm against paying a admission fee so I can get into a place to buy beer.)

Kulturní Sportovna is a repurposed old warehouse next to the Na Knížecí bus station that doesn't seem to have been refurbished much beyond what was needed to make it functional. It was the perfect venue for an event of this kind: welcoming, rustic, unpretentious and with a bit of a country-pub vibe; certainly much nicer than a luxury hotel, château or an exhibition hall.

At the left of the entrance was the place's permanent bar and opposite it was installed a mobile bar that prepared beer cocktails. Between them there was basically an empty space. Food was provided by a food truck parked outside, by the entrance. The Czech beers were tapped from a long, U-shaped, bar put behind a column in the middle of the hall, while the foreign ones could be found in the cellar.

Not being the audience of this type of event, I can't evaluate the atmosphere fairly. I didn't like the music much (my problem only), but they played it at a moderate volume and you didn't need to scream to talk to the person next to you.

It all felt very professionally organised. There was plenty of sitting room, with picnic tables around the taps with the Czech beers, and some more seats and tables downstairs. There were also a couple of tanks to rinse the festival-issued glass, a Teku (really ugly, if you ask me, and tasting from it was not better, or worse, than from pretty much any other type of glass; but it's trendy and has a tall stem that makes it automatically fancy). At the entrance you were issued a card listing all the beers on tap, with their styles, Plato and ABV; very useful to help you choose what you'll drink next, instead of walking around the bar.

Everything seemed to be working in good order, at least in the couple of hours I spent of Friday. My only quibble was the lack of water to rinse your palate between samples. Pitchers on the tables or at least a water fountain would've been a fine detail, especially since many of the beers were really packed with flavour.

The range of beers was superb—45 beers from 15 breweries/brands (10 domestic, 5 imported)—with enough diversity to make everyone happy. There were Pale and Dark Lagers, a Weizenbock, PAs and Stouts of various persuasions, even sours.

Since drinking a tasting sample of a session strength beer is a waste of time, and beer, I stuck mostly to the heavier hitters. The Czech beers I had—No Idols DIPA from Clock, Asfalt from Zhůřák, Superfly India Saison from Falkon, Morion Stout from Albrecht, Zichovecký's Weizenbock, Permon's Russian Imperial Stout, and Sibeeria's Sweet Jesus—were all very good to excellent; though perhaps served a bit too cold, especially those Stouts. The only discordant note was High Diver, an IPA brewed by Next Level Brewing, from Germany, which I thought was awful. I ignored the other foreign beers. They cost two tokens; too expensive for stuff I didn't know anything about. Which brings me to the one thing that bothered me:

The price.

The tokens were 35 CZK and each would buy you a tasting sample of a Czech beer. Though the size of the samples appeared to be pretty much up to the tapster, I was mostly served 0.2l. That works out to almost 90 CZK for a pint. Way too much; and ridiculous for some of the beers listed. It's considerably more than what you'd pay for Matuška or Falkon (two of the most expensive brands in the country) at places like BeerGeek or Zlý Časy—which won't charge you 100 CZK to get in. A 25 CZK price tag, though still far from cheap, would have been reasonable. Really, for that kind of money per volume you can get, at not few pubs in town, one litre of some truly great beers (or craft pivo, if they want to call them like that), a couple of which were also served at this festival.

But as I've said, it was a very well put together event, and the organisers deserve praise, prices notwithstanding. Thank you for the invitation.

Na Zdraví!

13 Sep 2016

A Beer Run to Uhřiněves

A couple of days after the beer run in Slaný I decided the weather was nice enough to go have a look at Pivovar Uhřiněves, or rather, Pivovarská, the brewery's restaurant.

Getting there was a piece of cake, a 20 minute ride on a City Elephant train from Hlavní Nádraží that didn't cost me anything extra, as the line is part of Prague's public transport system. From the Uhřiněves station is only a relatively short, though not very pleasant walk, to brewery. (Though it was a bit longer for me. I turned left on Prátelství, the town's main thoroughfare, when I should've turned right—I had last looked at the map two days before, and my memory failed me. And it could've been more pleasant and a bit shorter, if I had noticed the alley just a few meters to the right of the station, that I hadn't noticed on the map, actually).

Based on what little I could find about it, the history of Pivovar Uhřiněves is very similar to Unětický Pivovar's: originally opened in the second decade of the 18th century and closed down in 1949, after being nationalised by the Communist regime, following an attempt to put it back on track after WWII. According to what a friend involved in the project had told me last year, the brewery's resurrection was partly financed by EU funds, and one of the conditions of the grant was that the brewery be up and running, commercially, by November. That deadline was not met (and I wonder how they sorted that out, I will have to ask at some point), and the brewery wouldn't have its official opening until last April.

The first thing that caught my attention when I finally reached the restaurant was its beer garden. Pretty big by Czech standards and a proper garden, with massive chestnut trees and the works; hands down, one of the most beautiful I've seen in this country. Yet, I went to sit inside, because.

Inside was somewhat smaller than I had anticipated. If you come in from the street (and not from the garden, as I did), you are welcome by a fairly spacious taproom. There are two other rooms to the right, and a loft above, closed during lunch time. I grabbed a table in the taproom, near the door, by a window.

The service was flawless and the food, though not memorable, was far from disappointing. I even had spontaneous company at the table: a bloke with his 10 year-old son. He told me he knew the pub before being taken over by Pivovar Uhřiněves (or perhaps, becoming again part of Pivovar Uhřiněves, as it seems to have been originally opened as an outlet of the original brewery), adding thta it was better now. Unfortunately for him, though, he had driven there and had to make do with some nealko pivo, but he was curious about my opinion on the beers, as I believe you are by now.

I started at the lowest echelon of the house's Balling ladder, with Alois 11°; a Světlý Ležák that sits comfortably half way between a Desítka and a Dvanáctka, not only ethylicly but also sensorily. A perfect example of everything that can make a Pale Lager great. I skipped one step of the ladder, to stay in the same chromatic field, and chose Alois 14° as my second course. People who rate and review beers solely on the basis of tasting samples will probably judge this one as bland and boring. However, since most of them don't understand beer all that well, their opinion should be disregarded. It does start a bit bland, yes, but it opens up after a couple of sips and becomes a subtle and fairly complex beauty; almost bi-polar, with a deceiving drinkability contrasted with a sharp edge to remind you what you are dealing with. This is what I imagine a proper Exportbier would have tasted like.

A rung lower in the Balling ladder is Alois 13°, a Polotmavý. Given the bar set by the other two, this one fell a bit short of the expectations. There was nothing technically bad that I could notice, but it lacked the fullness and roundness I enjoy so much in this type of beers. Fortunately, Porter 16° had enough muscle to compensate for its amber sybling's lack thereof. What a beauty this Porter of the Baltic persuasion is! Everything that there is to love about the style, brought to you with panache and skill. It would be perfect if it was available in a full, half-litre portion instead of (only) in 0.4 l; but to be fair, that's not the beer's nor the brewer's fault. Regardless, I sometimes think it is a pity that most Czechs seem to be more willing to drink a dodgy Ejl or ČIPE than an excellent dark lager like this; brewers can hardly be blamed. I guess we have to cherish the few that are around, and support the brewers that make them, instead of running after the latest novelty. Maybe I could start an awareness campaign, with hashtag and all. I even have a name: #BlackLagersMatter or #BLM, for short. Looks catchy.

All in all, coming to Uhřiněves was a good decision. All the good references I had of the brewery—enough to make me break the six month moratorium with new minipivovary—where confirmed. And if you don't feel like making the trip, Pivovar Uhřiněves has a pub in Vinohradská, but I haven't checked that one out yet.

Na Zdraví!

Pivovar Uhřiněves – Pivovarská Restaurace
50°1'46.881"N, 14°36'18.711"E
K sokolovně 38 – Prahe-Uhřiněves
+420 267 711 949 – info@restaurantpivovarska.cz
Mon-Sat: 11-24, Sun: 11-23

PS: I've actually checked out the place they have in Vinohradská. It's quite OK, and the beers are in top form, at a good price.