29 Jul 2014

Comfortably bland

Today I was in one of those rare good moods where I fancied trying something I don't remember hearing anything about, a světlá 11° from Pivovar Sedlčanský Krčín, and the best way I can describe it is, paraphrasing Pink Floyd,
Is there any flavour in there?
Just nod if you can hear me,
are there any malt or hops?
The pint was very well tapped, and there was nothing in the beer that could be considered really bad, or really good. It was halfway between everything, almost like political correctness in a pint; a non-denominational beer.

It had me wondering whether that isn't intended; as if the brewer believed that people are bound to repeat what they have forgotten.

And then I realised that there must be more than a few other, equally bland and joyless beers whose names I have forgotten.

Na Zdraví!

25 Jul 2014

On Rich and Successful People Wanting Free Money

You must've read already about Stone's crowdfunding campaign to raise cash to help them (or not?) with their expansion plans in the East Coast of the US and in Europe, and their response to the negative feedback they received, which reminded me of a high-profile professional athlete being forced by his PR to apologise for something stupid he said.

I won't comment too much on the almost arrogant, rich cunt, holier-than-thou style of the press releases and the video (and the “we are going to save German beer culture” bollocks I've seen everywhere on the internet) because I understand that it's part of Stone's marketing discourse. And because it is not what really bothers me about this

Reading the press release again (and suffering the video) I don't think Stone are being honest here.

In the best case scenario, they are (ab)using the crowd funding platform for marketing (and attention whoring) purposes. They aren't the first, and certainly not the last to do that. But it is still unethical, at least in the way it's being done.

Look at this other brewery, Freetail, who are also promoting themselves in IndieGogo. Not only they are doing it with a very clever satire, but likely is that they will not keep the money, as their campaign is set as “fixed funding”--the donations get refunded if the target is not met—while Stone's is “flexible funding”–they get to keep the money one way or another.

But that aside. Stone say that the projects will be carried out with or without the million dollars, which leads to me to believe that they already have secured the funding or are very much on the way to secure it. So why do they need that money for? To make beer? Really? I thought they were making beer already.

Neither of those breweries exist yet (they haven't even decided on a location for one of them!). It could take years until they start producing anything. And besides, what will those beers be like? Other than a bunch of marketing buzzwords, that is.

I'm not convinced. As far as I'm concerned, that million USD (4% or not, is still a fuckton of money for most mortals, and probably enough to get a fairly well equipped microbrewery going in quite a few countries) could be the cash they need to take one of those breweries to a new level, or to buy Greg a pad in Berlin, I don't know, and it doesn't matter. I feel there is something important Stone is not telling us. I feel that all Stone wants is free money from their fans, which they'll pay back, at some yet to be determined point in the future, with expensive beers that may or may not be good, because nobody knows anything about them yet, which the lenders will be expected to pick up themselves so they can get discounted merchandise or whatever. Doesn't sound like a very good deal to me.

But this is not of my concern, really. I am under no obligation to take part in this campaign anymore than I will be to buy their German made beers.

That being said, I'm sure that at least some of you are seriously considering throwing a coin in Stone's cap before they have started playing. Before you press “Donate”, answer this question: Aren't there any small breweries near where you live (or not) that are already making great beer and perhaps need your 50USD a lot more than Koch and co.?

Na Zdraví!

23 Jul 2014

Some Musings and a Short Book Review

I liked this post by Boak and Bailey on their state of their relationship with beer, and Alan's own take on the topic, mainly because I agree with pretty much everything they say, even when translating it to my own beer ecosystem.

Like them, I've come to prefer well known, reliable beers and breweries over the uncertainty of the new. And when it comes to new breweries (and to some extent, new products from breweries I know), I rarely buy stuff I have no (good) references of. I can understand why so many people give preference to new beers, it can be fun, it was for me at some point, but not any more. I want to get the most value out of my money and “will be good”, or at least “should be good”, gives me better value than “might be good”.

This brings me to price. I've all but given up on expensive beers. My limit for a (large) bottle is 8-10€, and only on very exceptional occasions and with beers I've already drunk. Really, when I can get something as good as Schneider TAP 5 for about 2€ (not to mention many excellent Czech beers, for less), I find it hard to convince myself to spend several times more on another beer.

Which brings me to this other point. Maybe it's because I'm already in my 40s, or because I have less time, money and energy than in the past, or because my priorities in life have changed, or, most likely, a mixture of all of that, but I feel that my relationship with beer has come full circle, or sort of.

Beer is again “just beer”. All beers. It's something I drink while doing something more stimulating than paying attention to the lies my senses of taste and smell might be telling me. I've also got bored of taking beer seriously; partly because I have nothing to gain from it, and partly because I've realised that there's nothing special about beer. Let me say that again, beer isn't special. It's booze that, like wine, cured bacon, music, books, and other consumer products, wants to get a share of my disposable income and time. It might get a bigger share than all those things, and it's still fun to write about it, but that doesn't make it in itself special.

The people behind the beer. That's another thing. I find their stories more interesting than the beverage itself. But I mean the real stories, not the tales that've been filtered and pasteurised by PR or marketing.

And that is why I liked so much Evan Rail's new e-book The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest. It tells the story of the author near obsession with Kout na Šumavě, in particular, with an old brewing log the current owner claims to have found hidden somewhere in the building. Evan wants to see that book and visits the brewery several times. In the process you get a glimpse of his family life, and also get to know a lot about the Kout's current owner, his relationship with the brewery, his views, struggles and plans, or at least what he chooses to tell Evan.

Would Evan have written this book if he didn't like Kout so much? Most probably, not. But that's not something that should concern the reader, because it's the story and not the beer what matters.

This is the first book in a series called Beer Trails that will include works from the likes of Stan Hieronymus, Joe Stange and Adrian Tierney-Jones. I'm already looking forward to those stories.

In the meantime, I'm off for a beer.

Na Zdraví!

PS: Evan's a good friend of mine. He sent me a free copy of the book, but you can buy it here in Amazon.

11 Jul 2014

Well, look what we've got here

I suddenly remembered about that bottle of Fuller's Vintage Ale 2011 I still had in my cellar, and I felt like drinking it while listening to some good music.

One part of me, however, wanted, you know, to age it, to keep it for a truly special moment. The other part punched him in the mouth with a sock full of 50CZK coins and proceeded to open the bottle and serve the beer.

Well done, other part. Well done. You do understand beer. YUM!

Na Zdraví!

26 Jun 2014

So, here's the deal...

I've just had an idea, partly inspired by Ron Pattinson and his call to publishers, I've got several stories going around in my head:
  • cider in the Czech Republic, 
  • a critical view of České Ejly, 
  • resurrected breweries. There must be about two dozen of them right now. It's a phenomenon you don't see in many other countries with a potential for series of interesting stories, maybe even a book,
  • a series of in depth and very personal interviews with old Czech Master Brewers,
  • Brno, which according to some voices, might be an even more interesting beer destination than Prague itself. 
I know I can write all those stories, and that I can write them well. The thing is, though, that I don't want to do it for free. These will not be the sort of piss taking I've been mostly doing lately, they will be serious journalism (or as serious as beer writing can get). Some of them at least will require traveling, meeting and talking to some people at length, plus quite a lot of time to put them together, and I would like all that work to be paid.

So, if you know of someone who might be interested in these stories, let me know, or tell them to contact me. Otherwise, I guess they will have to remain unwritten for the time being.

Na Zdraví!

18 Jun 2014

Back to the roots reviews: Jihoměstský Pivovar and Pivovar Hostivař

When I found out that there is one bus line, 183, that goes between Jihoměstský Pivovar and Pivovar Hostivař I decided that I would visit both brewpubs in one go.

The original plan was to go first to Hostivař, as it is a lot less hassle to go back to the centre from Háje. But I was in I.P. Pavlova at around lunch time, starving and my stomach was in no mood for what could easily be a half hour trip. Metro to Háje and lunch at Jihoměstský was the new plan. In retrospective, that may have been the first mistake. Had I stuck to my original plan, things wouldn't have turned out the way they did. But I had no way of knowing it at the time.

Anyway, I got to Jihoměstský pivovar feeling I could eat a horse. I really like walking into that brewpub; you go through a long, dimly lit, corridor that takes you to an almost cavernous space with the brewhouse on one end and the bar on the other, and between them, mostly long tables with benches, and I love long tables with benches.

It was quite busy at lunch time, but finding a free table with a good view to the bar wasn't a problem. I ordered one of the lunch specials and the house's flagship beer, Jihoměšťan 11°. This polotmávý has never been much of a glamorous vessel, more similar to a cargo ship than something a navy would proudly show off, actually, but it always got the job done. Not this time, though. That beer wasn't good, it was like waking up in the middle of an unpleasant dream, without being quite able to remember why it was so unpleasant. Fortunately, it wasn't the first beer of the day—few things are more frustrating than the first pint of the day, the only you look forward to the most, being not good.

I choose the Tmavý speciál 14º next. That has always been my go-to beer at this brewpub. Full, rich, with all those bits and pieces I love in black lagers.

What the fuck is this!? I almost scream when I took a sip. That was not the beer loved and looked forward to drinking. This beer was Robert DeNiro in most of the films he's done in the last 10-15 years. It's even worse in fact. At least with DeNiro, you can show someone who's just finished watching, say, Hide and Seek one the films the guy did when he still gave at least a semblance of a fuck to show them what a great actor he can be. With Tmavý speciál 14º, they will have to take your word for it, and I wouldn't blame them if they didn't believe you.

At least the food was good, very good, and big. I was stuffed and thought that it'd be a good idea to walk a bit before the next brewpub.

On the way from the metro station I had noticed one of those yellow signs of the cycling routes indicating that Hostivař was a mere 3.5km away. When I came out of the Jihoměstský pivovar I thought I'd follow it, it'd be a 30-40 minute walk. Ideal to get me ready for the next beers.

And that, my friends, was a mistake.

The rain started a kilometre or so later. It was only a few drops at first, the sort of drizzle that can make a walk more pleasant, if you are in the right mood, an I was, I love taking walks in uncharted territories.

By the time I got to an underpass that crosses the road that effectively separates Jižní Město from Hostivař, the rain had intensified to the point it was getting a bit uncomfortable to be walking (I should add that I wasn't wearing a jacket, nor carrying an umbrella, because I'm stupid badass).

Things started to go really wrong when I came out of the underpass. The yellow sign I was expecting to find wasn't there and the road forked. On the right, the path led to a what appeared to be a park, on the left, to an alley with houses on side and a small patch of forest on the other, which in turn led to what a appeared to be a residential area. That's where I went, foolishly believing I was really close to Pivovar Hostivař. I couldn't have been more wrong.

It was already pissing when I realised I was lost. It wouldn't have been a problem to get back home, or to the centre, had I wanted, it would have only been a matter of finding a bus stop, which I did, but none of the buses listed there went my way. The problem was that I had no clue where I was in relation to the place I actually wanted to go, and none of the buses listed at the stop I was standing took me there. So I kept on walking, under the pouring rain, getting soaked to the bone. I was not going to give up, even if, when I got to another bus stop only to find the same as at the one before.

Eventually, I got into a little square dominated by a church. I reckon it was the oldest part of Hostivař, the centre of town before it got swallowed by the urban amoeba that is Prague. I spotted a information board in front of the church, there was a map on it that indicated other points of interest around. It took me a bit to figure it out, the glass was very wet—did I tell you it was pissing?—but when I finally did, I saw a name recognised, Hornoměcholupská, the street that runs along one of the sides of Pivovar Hostivař. Excellent! At last I had a clue.

I got my bearings and headed there. That's when I realised how far I still was, like a tram stop and several bus stops far. I turned on Hornoměcholupská and saw a stop for one of the lines that takes you to the brewpub. My spirits improved, until I saw the time table. Of course, the bus had just passed, and there wouldn't be another for at least another 15-20 minutes (I was starting to feel a bit like the hero of this story). The stop didn't have a shelter, and there was no way I would wait that long under the rain—did I tell you it was pissing?—so I resumed my walk. At least now I knew where I was.

After a couple of blocks I walked past a pub that had Kácov on tap. I love Kácov, and one part of me wanted to go into that pub. “Just for one quick pint”, he said. It was tempting, but I resisted. I knew that sitting in a dry place—did I tell you it was pissing?—would be the end of it—I would stay there and would never make it where I wanted to go. I carried on walking.

By the time I reached Pivovar Hostivař, the rain had reverted to that gentle drizzle I had enjoyed several kilometres before. I was feeling quite miserable, I must have looked like a towel taken out of a washing machine before the spin cycle. In a way, I was glad that the waitress didn't make any comments when she came to take my order. I don't think I was in the mood for that.

The first beer I ordered was the house's 11º. The first half of the pint disappeared down my throat, so my evaluation will be mostly based on the second half of the pint, the part that I paid attention to.

I should have knocked down the whole půl litr without giving two shits. The beer wasn't bad, it just only a child who's sent to do the job of a grown man. You know what I mean, you've seen it in countless films. How this child overcomes adversity, finding strength in his apparent weakness, and comes out victorious in the end. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case here. Reality ended up beating the ever loving shit out of this child and he never manages to recover. Poor thing, he shouldn't have accepted the challenge before being ready.

It was followed by the 12º. I could make the same, silly, overwrought analogy you've just read above to describe this one, too. And I remember I loved it last year when when I reviewed Pivovar Hostivař. It was so frustrating! All of the four beers I'd had so far had been sub-par. Beerwise, the day could have hardly turned any worse. I was wishing I had stopped at that Kácov pub, maybe there was still time to drop by there.

But I wasn't ready to leave yet. I was still too wet to be arsed. So ordered the H-Ale, expecting another half litre of disappointment. Fortunately, I was wrong. This beer was like Han Solo coming back to help the rebels when they're being blown away one by one while attacking the Death Star; it was like Gandalf showing up with Riders or Rohan to save the day when all hope had been lost in Helm's Deep. It almost (and I stress the almost) made the whole ordeal worth it. I was drinking the first good beer since I got on the metro, and I was feeling much better. So much that I stayed for another one, I was still very wet (in fact, I don't think I fully dried until the next morning or so) and didn't feel like going anywhere. That Kácov would have to wait.

So, that's the story of that day. The only good beer I had was an Ale, go figure.

Na Zdraví!

Jihoměstský pivovar
50°1'53.287"N, 14°31'11.094"E
Podjavorinské 11 – Prague-Chodov
+420 222 352 242 - jihomestskypivovar@seznam.cz
Mon-Thu: 11-23, Fri: 11-24, Sat: 12-24, Dom: 12-22:30
Metro C: Háje, and any of the many buses that go there.

Pivovar Hostivař
50°2'46.970"N, 14°32'57.688"E
Lochotínská 656 – Prague-Horní Měcholupy
+420 702 202 903 - info@pivovar-hostivar.cz
Mon-Sun: 11-23
Bus: 125, 175, 183 – Řepčická

13 Jun 2014

Just a story, no more than that

I was 9 the summer that my mother had to be taken to hospital. She hadn't been feeling well pretty much since the end of the school year, but she refused to go to the doctor, saying that all she needed was a bit of rest, and that she'll be better after our holidays. She was wrong.

The doctors didn't know how long they'd have to keep her there. It all depended on how well she recovered from the surgery, they said. That didn't seem to worry my mum as much as about who would be looking after me while she was gone. My dad had just begun an important project at work and wasn't able to take any days off, My mother's parents were abroad, visiting my uncle, and they wouldn't be back for another week or so. (Later I learned that my dad didn't even give them the news. The doctors had assured him it was a routine procedure, and that she'd be fine, and my dad didn't want to worry his in-laws unnecessarily during their time with their son). Sending me to a summer camp was out of the question. It'd be almost impossible to find one in such short notice, and I doubt we would've been able to afford it anyway. Our only alternative, then, were my dad's parents.

We didn't visit them very often, not only because they lived in a small town quite far, back when distances were longer, but also because my dad didn't get along too well with his. But, as I've said, we were out of choices.

Dad managed to talk his bosses into giving him at least a couple of days off, and we left to my grandparents' after visiting mum in hospital the day after she was admitted. She was in good spirits, glad that someone would be looking after me (and maybe relieved that my dad wouldn't be feeding me—he was an awful cook).

We didn't arrive to my grandparents' until the early evening and my dad left the morning after, as early as politely possible. I still remember the tension when he was saying good-bye to his father. It was as if the older man wanted to say something comforting, but wasn't quite able to find the words my dad was waiting for, but hoped wouldn't arrive.

It wasn't until I saw him drive away that I became fully aware of the situation. Mum seriously ill in hospital and I would have to spend a yet unknown number of days these two people whom I didn't know much better than my street's baker. I was suddenly overwhelmed by a mixed bag of emotions—a pinch of sadness, a cup of fear and a dash of excitement, too, as I had never been away from my parents for so long.

After my grandfather retired to his workshop, my grandmother put one hand on my shoulder and said the usual stuff: that everything will be fine, that I shouldn't worry, that I would have a lot of fun with them, and would sure make some new friends... Maybe she was reciting it to make herself feel better, rather than me.

She was a nice woman, my grandmother—your archetypal small-town elderly lady, good-natured, but easily outraged; she would hardly ever venture out of the confines of her small world, and seemed happy with looking after the house and the garden, gossiping with her neighbours and gently nagging her husband at every chance.

That must have been the reason why, when at home, my grandfather, himself very archetypal, too, spent so many hours a day pretending to work in his workshop, while listening to the radio or reading the newspaper. And most of the time he wasn't there, or walking the moody backstreet terrier they had, he would spend at the taproom of the local brewery.

He had worked all his life as a cooper there, just like his father before him, and his father before that (and likely, a few more generations, too). Perhaps that was the reason of his uneasy relationship with his son, who instead of carrying on the family tradition, chose to follow his own path. It's not that he resented my dad, I don't think so, I believe it was because my dad's decision made him realise that his was a dying breed—no man takes that well.

He was a very different person at that pub. Whereas at home he was economical with his words, there he spoke a lot, and laughed a lot, too. He had a contagious laughter that sounded as if it came from the bottom of one of those large barrels he used to work on.

I loved going with him there. There weren't other kids to play with, but my granddad’s friends were very nice to me and I enjoyed listening to their stories (and their dirty jokes, which they always made me promise not to repeat, but I that still tried to memorise so I could share them my friends, even if at the time, I didn't quite understand what most of them were about), and my grandfather would always let me take a few sips of his beer. I loved the taste, even more, perhaps, than the taste of the soda the tapster gave me, always on the house.

I ended up staying more than two weeks with them, and I did have a lot of fun, and even made a couple friends. My mum's surgery turned out fine. She was released a week after it, but my dad decided she'd give her a few more days to recover under the care of her mother.

The day before I was to leave, my grandfather asked me if I would like to see the brewery. I said I would, but more because of the excitement on his face than my own interest on the thing, and also because he was quite a lot of fun to be around. I was quite impressed in the end, everything looked so large and ancient, even though the brewhouse was only a few decades old at the time.

We were shown around by one of my granddad’s mates, who turned out to be the brew master. The tour stopped in the cellars, where the brew master produced a tankard almost as big as my head. He filled it with beer from one of the few remaining wooden barrels and took a long draw, he wiped the froth with the back of his hand and, without uttering word, passed the tankard to my grandfather, who proceeded in exactly the same fashion. To me, it was like observing a ritual or a ceremony, and I almost burst in excitement when the tankard was given to me. Just like the two men before me, I took a long draw, careful not to spill anything on myself for fear it would ruin the initiation rite I felt I was being part of. The brew master congratulated me, and my grandfather, on how well I had handled the tankard and asked how had I liked the beer. I had loved it! It tasted very different from the one at taproom, it was as if something trembled in my mouth.

The two men went on to talk about things and people in the brewery and I kept on drinking. I must have downed at least one full pint before their attention went back to me. That was the first time I got drunk. It was a strange, but not unpleasant, feeling, as if reality had lost some of its synchronisation—sounds, which felt like coming from behind a door, were a bit faster than sights—and I felt I was walking on a hard mattress.

My grandfather must have figured out what was going with me, and, after getting me some soda, took me back home. He laughed most of the way, and said that we shouldn't tell anything to his wife about it—or my parents. I don't remember much of the rest of the day. When got back to the house, my dad was already there. I fell asleep in the sofa and didn't wake up until the morning after, in my bed.

My dad had got up before me. He was in the kitchen having breakfast and talking to his parents, or rather, to his mother. When they saw me walking into the kitchen rubbing my eyes my grandfather came back from whatever his was thinking and started telling my father what a great boy I'd been, and the sort of things that can make a child that age feel both proud and embarrassed at the same time; he also made me promise I would come again to stay a few days with them.

And I did. From then on, and for the following five year or so, I would go there every summer to spend at least a week. And every time, on the last day of my visit, I would go with my grandfather to the brewery and repeat the ceremony, with pretty much the same results.

The brewery shut down a few years ago, or rather, was closed down by its multinational owners because they sought to improve the positive effect of synergies, or some other stupid corporate excuse like that (I'm glad in some way that my grandfather didn't live to see that); the brand, however, is still being brewed—brands, after all, are more synergistic than brick, mortar, equipment and people.

I still drink it, though, and to this day it's one of my favourites, much to the dismay of my beer knowledgeable friends. They are always telling me I don't get it, about the beer not being brewed in the place that gave it its name, about the ingredients, processes and what not, as if I didn't know all that already.

It's them who don't get. Beer isn't about that—at least not this beer, and least not to me—it's more than the result of the sum of all that data. To me, that beer still tastes like that summer, the conflicting emotions, the afternoons at the taproom and my granddad’s baritone laughter, and like the first time I got drunk. I'm yet to find a beer that tastes remotely like that, and I don't think I ever will—or at least not until my infant son gets old enough to be too young to get drunk.