23 Jul 2015

The Proper Glass

There are still fools out there who insist that each beer style has its proper glass. They're liars! All of them, without exception.

The proper glass to properly taste any beer is this
Anything else is a compromise.

Na Zdraví!

15 Jul 2015

A Beer Run in Příbram

My wife is from Příbram, she goes often to visit her dad and some chores for him—he's old and not in the best health. I don't. I don't like that town at all, and I limit my visits to two a year, which is two more than I would like. Last Saturday was one of those visits. We went to celebrate my father-in-law's birthday together with the rest of my family-in-law.

This time, though, I had a plan. After a so-so lunch at a restaurant with a waiter who committed unspeakable acts against beer, and eating the cake, I told my wife I'd go for a walk—to Pivovar Podlesí, just outside town, and about 3.5 km from the old man's house.

It was a fairly warm day, but the walk, though far from pretty, wasn't hard, and I was standing in front of the brewpub half an hour later.

Pivovar Podlesí opened in late 2013. I'd only had one of their beers, an IPA, that had been surprisingly good, especially for a new brewery, but I hadn't heard much about the rest of what they brew (and the IPA wasn't on duty that day). It could be said that I didn't quite know what to expect. But there I was, glad to have escaped the family meeting, at least for a while, and thirsty as fuck.
The lively garden in the front looked nice, and tempting, but I want to have a good view to the bar whenever I go to a new pub, so I sat inside.

The brewhouse is next to the entrance to the pub, on the left, behind a partition with a window overlooking the taproom, diagonal to the bar proper. There's another, bigger, room in the back that didn't look bad, but was totally empty. I had to take a table there; in the taproom one of the tables was reserved for the štamgasty and there was notebook open on the other, and the bar didn't have stools. It didn't matter, from where I was sitting I could still see what the tapster was doing.
As appropriate, I opened the session with the house's desítka, Brdonoš. Lovely piece of work that was! Granted, after walking 3,5 km in a warm afternoon pretty much anything called pivo would have tasted good, and the first third of my pint almost vanished down my throat. But I can still tell you that it was perfect, without a hint of caramelised malts—just like a proper desítka should be, if you ask me.
With that beer alone, Pivovar Podlesí had already earned my respect. I wouldn't have minded sticking to it for the rest of the afternoon, but I wanted to see what the other three on tap were like.

Climbing the Plato ladder was Podlesní Ležák. It looked the same as the one before; if I hadn't been looking at the tapster I would've believed that they'd screwed my order. It did have a bit of a fuller mouth feel, though, and it was dull, at first. It took the beer a few sips to feel comfortable in my company, and by the second half of the půl litr I was really lovin' it! (another example of why I don't believe tasting samples are enough to properly appreciate a beer, any beer). It had the same features as its smaller sibling, but two degrees more assertive. A fantastic beer! (an impression that was reinforced by the PET bottle I took home).
Mikeš, a Tmavá 13º was the next in line, and the one I liked the least. The way it managed to walk a fine line between sweet and roasty was interesting and fun, but I prefer my dark beer with more flesh on their bones and this one was too much on the thin side for me. Very well made, to be fair, but not entirely to my taste.
The last beer on the list was Summer Fresh, a 10º Ale. I hesitated a little. Czech Ejly are a mixed, often disappointing, bunch, and I only had time for one more pint. Then I remembered that IPA, perhaps I could order a small glass? Oh fuck it! I told myself. With beers like this, anything less than half litre is a waste of time. And if it turns out not to be good, tough luck.

Fortunately for me and everyone involved, my fears turned out to be in vain. The beer was marvellous; a proper, and very delicious Ale, with the hops (Citra perhaps?) speaking in a perfectly clear voice (no need to shout when you have something interesting to say), politely leaving some room to the malts to say their bit. And at 32CZK a half litre!
Overall, I was massively impressed by Pivovar Podlesí, and did the walk back in a very good mood (having 2l of beer under my belt may have helped). I won't say I'm looking forward to my next visit to Příbram, but it's good to know that this brewpub is there when that happens, and I will definitely be in the lookout for their beers here in Prague.

Na Zdraví!

Pivovar Podlesí
49.6898747N, 13.9820456E
Podlesí 139 – Příbram
info@pivovarpodlesi.cz - +420 604 254 574
Mon-Thu, Sun: 10:30-22, Fri-Sat: 10:30-24

3 Jun 2015

How Gambrinus took the piss out of everyone

Gambrinus seems to have picked the ball right where the Budweiser Superbowl ad left it, and ran with it, full speed, head down; subtlety be fucked. What they've done with Pivovar Patron is, in a way, amazing (and quite insane).

For those out of the loop, this is how the story goes:

A month or so ago, the beers from a new microbrewery, Pivovar Patron, a jedenáctka and a desítka, started to show up at pubs and some events, already with branded glasses, coasters and other marketing trinkets pretty well put together, according to reports. The brewery claimed to be from Čepice, a small village in South-West Bohemia. But it seemed that the facilities weren't ready yet and Richard Chodora at Pivni.info wondered where the beer was actually brewed.

So far, nothing strange. Microbreweries that claim to be from a specific place that has no brewery, at least not yet, aren't new; Pivovar Malešov is a good example, and there's one, Pivo Starosta, that's from a town that doesn't even exist!

Pivovar Patron never existed, either. It was Gambrinus all along, with a different label. This wasn't revealed by a shrewd investigative reporter with privileged access to anonymous sources, but by the company itself in its own webpage.

TL:DR: Pivovar Patron was an elaborated PR stunt by Gambrinus, and very cheeky one at that.

Its goal was to prove that (many) Gambáč haters are speaking out of their asses. Either they haven't drunk the beer for a long time, or they are simply repeating what they consider the cool thing of the day.

It must be said that they were quite successful. No, no, I'm not speaking about the video on the above linked webpage. That's bullshit; staged and scripted like the Coke Zero ad or your average reality show. But it can still be seen as a dramatisation of real events, because the beer (at least the unfiltered 11º) was pretty well received, getting good comments in more than one beer page.

But what's Prazdroj's endgame with this campaign?

Pissing off snobs and pseudo-connoisseurs may be fun (actually, it is fun), but it can hardly be considered a sensible long-term marketing strategy. Nobody likes being called a poser and a snob, even if they are; especially if they are so, and it's not likely that those people will start happily drinking the brand that has taken them for fools. Nor I believe this is solely for the free media coverage they will get thanks to this.

Like the Budweiser ad I mention above, I believe this campaign is actually directed mostly at the loyal Gambrinus drinker. It reassures them that the beer they like is good and that the haters don't really know what they're are talking about (which, to some extent, is true).

There's more to it than that, though.

I've seen some comments saying that Plzeňský Prazdroj must be desperate to resort to a stunt like this. I give them more credit than that.

It's true that the last 7-8 years haven't been very good for the biggest Czech brewing company. Output fell from more than 10 million hl/year to less than 8, in a matter of a couple of years. But I'm pretty sure that they've had come to terms with that, and with the fact that they'll never get back to pre-crisis figures; it's simply not going to happen, Czech will never go back to drinking 160l/year per capita, and no export will be able to compensate for that.

What I believe we're witnessing is a company coming to terms with an already impossible to ignore image problem their best selling brand has (which, by the way, is nothing new), and taking the bull by the horns in a very rough, no-nonsense, controversial manner. Time will tell whether it'll pay off or massively backfire.

Na Zdraví!

PS: Getting to the ethics of all this. There are reasons why some people don't want to drink Gambrinus that have little, if anything to do with the beer itself, which are very legitimate, and those people've been mislead into buying something they thought was from a small, independent company. I understand why they're pissed off. I wonder how legal that is.

2 Jun 2015

A birthday day-trip

For her thirty-tenth birthday, my wife had decided that having a party at home was a lot more hassle than she could be arsed with. Instead, she said she wanted to go on a day-trip, just the three of us (plus the dog). The place had to be somewhere close enough, where we hadn't been before—at least not with our daughter—and where we could do something other than sitting all day at a pub (much to my chagrin).

Prachovské Skály checked all the boxes. This national park in Český Ráj, near Jičín, is a bit over an hour and a half away by car from where we live; we had been there once, but almost 10 years ago, with my parents in law (not what I would call a basketful of fun), and it had a few other interesting spots nearby.

It was raining when I got up early in the morning, and the forecast for the rest of the day wasn't encouraging. However, by the time the rest of the family had woken up, the sun was politely telling the clouds to bugger-off, and the weather ended up being almost perfect for what we were set to do.

It was a nice drive, that got nice the closer we got to Český Ráj—the Czech countryside is gorgeous, especially this time of the year. We left the car near one of the entrances to the Prachovské Skály National Park, it was about 11.

It might have been because of the weather in the morning, but there weren't many people, and we had some of the most impressive parts of the park all to ourselves—it was amazing, almost magic.
We ended the first leg at Turistická Chata, where we were greeted by one of the features that bothers me the most about this country (though I'm sure is not an endemic one): a place that could be turned into a fantastic Franconian-style beer garden, a destination on its own, but what you get instead, thanks to the symptomatic notgivingafuckness of the operators, is a tourist trap selling over-priced, prefabricated junk food and dodgy beer in plastic cups. I've found the same crap at Křivoklát, the summit of Říp, and a number of other attractions.
To be fair, though, Turistická Chata turned out to be a little better than looked at first. There was of course the smažák and chips, and other similar stuff most likely sourced from the frozen aisle of the nearest Lidl, but my wife was very happy with what she got at the new pancake bar that had recently opened, and the beer was a lot better than it's the norm: Březňák 10º, in plastic cup, but fairly well tapped and in top condition—I had two to make sure.
The same can't be said about the beer garden near the other entrance, where we had left the car. The beer, Nová Paka (note to self: I need to drink Nová Paka again), was served in a glass mug, but that was the only good thing it had going for it—it wasn't well tapped and the operator of the place doesn't seem to believe the importance of cleaning the dispensing lines. I swear to you, I didn't mind not having time for a second one.
It was still early, we had planned to go somewhere for tea, but stopping at couple of other places was a more appealing option for the missus, and since she was the birthday girl, I was happy to oblige.

Humprecht, in Sobotka, was the nearest spot. It's a small château with a very unusual round shape, that was used a hunting lodge by some rich people in the distant past. Really nice. We didn't go in though, but we unleashed the dog for the first time that day—she was really happy—and walked around the pretty forested area that surrounds the building. We didn't stay long, there was no restaurant or beer garden in sight (or was there? Staroprmen sign, nevermind).

On the way the car my wife remembered that Kost was very near, a handful of kilometres away. We could go have a look, she said. Good idea!

Kost is an impressive castle that has retained most of its original Gothic design. Unlike most other castles, it's not located on a hill, but in a valley, and yet, it is said that it was never vanquished.
We left the car almost at the foot of the castle, next to a fairly nice looking beer garden with Rohozec on tap (that's another beer I haven't drunk in a long time!). I instinctively gravitated towards the beer garden, but my girls were having none of it. Perhaps I could squeeze a quick one once the sightseeing was over, I told myself. I would forget all about thanks to what we found within the walls of Castle Kost.

With the castle tours closed for the day, there didn't seem to be any activity, but the gates were still open and we walked in.

On the left side of the gate there is a building that houses the gift shop and box office. I spotted a few tables at the far end that looked nicer than what usually find at places like this. Naturally, I headed straight there, while my wife and daughter looked around the courtyard.

Those tables were in front of large door above which was a sign announcing Restaurace U Draka, which seemed to be closed. But I walked on because the tables continued around the building (which used to house the castle's brewery) to form a large, but narrow patio facing a pond. Part of it was roofed, the rest was made of massive, long wooden tables, each with its own wooden sculpture. They were sort of surrounded by more wooden sculptures and games by the wall of the old brewery. The far end was taken by a grill with stools around it. It was quite a sight.
And they served food! Real food, not the usual freshly unfrozen stuff. Unfortunately, though, the kitchen had closed for the day, but we could drink something, if we wanted—of course we did.

I had a desítka of Kostecké Pivo, a beer, they claim, is brewed specially for the restaurant at some anonymous according to their original own recipe from Olympus knows when, which I find very hard to believe, and not only because the story of the beer is likely the most egregious bollocks about beer I've read in my life (really, if you're going to make shit up, at least get someone with a basic understanding of the topic to do it). But the really important thing is what's in the glass (or, in the case, the plastic cup), and this beer was pretty fine, if a bit too heavy on the caramelised malts for my taste. So, bollocks and maybe even lies notwithstanding, Kostecký Pivo is much better than other stuff you find at most castles and palaces, and, at 25 CZK a half litre, it was also good value.
The same can be said about the food, at least the grilled salmon we had (minus the bollocks). The grill was still open and they were happy to put together something for us. I'm not a big fan of salmon, but this one tasted good, it was fairly large and with a generous side of cabbage salad and bread. It was also great value at 150 CZK!

It was a great way to end a great day. We loved Restarurace U Draka, it's nearly everything I wish places like Turistická Chata were—a destination on themselves—and we promised ourselves we'll be back to see what the rest of the food is like.

Great way to celebrate a birthday, methinks.

Na Zdraví!

15 May 2015

On being self-published and some short news

There is one massive disadvantage about being a self-published author, you're limited to writing in your free time. It doesn't matter how passionate you're about your project, it will eventually have to take second place to the stuff that pays the bills (and, if you have a family and/or anything resembling a social life, to that as well). It's true that you don't have any contractual deadlines to meet, but you still want to get that thing out, perhaps because you want to start working on another project—as it is my case—or simply because of pride and ego (which is also my case).

When I started work on the 2nd edition of “The Pisshead's Pub Guide”, I set myself a 2nd half of May deadline. The first part—the introductory sections—went really well, but I hit a bit of a wall when I was set to start with the crawls; first, with finding time to do the research, and then to actually writing the bloody things—the new ones and the updates to all the rest, because they all need to be updated. Basically, it was hard to feel again the enthusiasm I had when writing the first edition. But I overcame that, eventually, and set a work schedule that I believed would help me reach that self-imposed deadline. But just when I had found my groove back and was picking up steam, I got sent a lot of work, really demanding stuff that would take most of my waking time and would leave me exhausted every day. I'm not complaining, it's well paid, and welcome in its own way.

I finished with all that at the beginning of the month, but getting back to writing has been proven harder than expected—it might be because I need to rewire my brain from translating technical documentation of a bunch of things (some of it awfully written) to creating contents that are supposed to be fun to read. The thing is that I'm not going to make the deadline, and I'm not sure when I will be able to finish the book, which, given the news, might not be such a bad thing, after all.

At the beginning of the month, Dno Pytle announced on their FB page that they were moving to a bigger place. I knew they were looking for new facilities, and I had hoped that they would find something close to their current (well, ex) location, so I would keep it in the same crawl. It didn't turn out like that. Their new address is in Vinohradská, and should open before the month is over. I will need to re-write one of the crawls I had already finished, but I'm happy for them, they deserve their success.

This month should also see the reopening of U Klokočníka. A few days after the pub closed, it was announced that an agreement had been reached with the Municipal Authority of Prague 4 (the owners of the premises) and the pub should reopen in May, after renovations.

I looked for news on the reopening, and ended up back in the place where it had first head of it, this excellent obituary by Pivní Partyzán. If two of the most recent comments can be given any credit, things don't look very good. One of them was posted last week by one Ondra, who says he had been around and saw that there hadn't been any changes and that the place was still empty. The other, posted by an Anonymous a month earlier, claims to have heard from a former staff that is very unlikely that Kácov will be the beer on tap once the pub reopens. I guess I will have to go have a look for myself and ask around to confirm.

The one pub that is sure to reopen very soon is U Šumavy, in Štěpánská. The Budvar tankovná closed last autumn for renovations following a change in ownership. The new owner is Vodouch, the same of U Vodoucha, U Slovanské Lípy and Černokostelecký Pivovar. For what I've heard, the place will follow a similar, if not the same, template of the others. I will have to see once it opens.

That's pretty much it. As for the book. It will have 16 crawls, maybe 17. In total, it will cover well over 100 pubs. Stay tuned.

Na Zdraví!

29 Apr 2015

On the latest unfortunate corporate choice of words

I swear to you, I've looked everywhere, I've even asked my neighbours! But I couldn't find a single fuck to give about the latest sexism in beer brouhaha that had some people almost frothing at their virtual mouths a few days ago.

Is not that I don't believe there is sexism in the brewing industry. There is, and there is racism, xenophobia and homophobia, and abuse of power, and greed, and hypocrisy, and cuntness. Just like there is everywhere in our societies, unfortunately.

The thing is that I can't be arsed with this culture of outrage. The way I see it, many, if not most, controversies these days are hashtag driven, blown out of proportion—if not fabricated—by political correctness (that enemy of free speech), the 24-hour news cycle, the internet, and by people who, I suspect, get a kick about being offended. Or not, I don't care. I've got other more important and urgent things to gripe about than the imagery breweries use for their marketing, or what their managers do during a corporate outing. I'm an adult, intelligent enough; and if a company does something I don't approve of, I vote with my wallet.

But that's me, a private person. I can make sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, racist, and worse, jokes with my mates at the pub, or on FB, without fearing any real backlash. Companies, on the other hand, can't afford that luxury.

Companies like ABIB, for example.

I would really, really love speak to the person who thought «The perfect beer for removing “no” from your vocabulary for the night» was a good idea for a slogan and ask him what the fuck was he thinking!

Yeah, yeah. I know they didn't mean it “that way”. That they are very, terribly sorry, and everyone in the organisation is hanging their heads in shame, and all that... But really, what the fuck were they thinking?

Fortunately, this will be all but forgotten as soon our attention is drawn by the outrage caused by the next PR cock-up and poor corporate judgment. Or does anyone remember Mouth Raper?

Na Zdraví!

27 Apr 2015

The King of Gimmicks

Gimmicks. They are a staple of (not only) the brewing industry, at all levels. Macro brewers have their special edition labels/cans, usually in sets, celebrating an event or tied to something they happen to be sponsoring. But it's the smaller breweries who have elevated the gimmick to almost an art form.

They come in all shapes and sizes: there was this beer that tried to profit from an event the brewers opposed; beers that claim to be brewed according to some ancient recipe, even if said recipe isn't much more than a list of ingredients that were probably used to make beer and lot conjecture; beers made with animal parts or with a product that's passed through the digestive tract of an animal—excrement, by another name—and a bunch of other weird ingredients. There are also the collaborations, the manufactured scarcity, the brown paper bag events and anything that claims to be the -est, among others, too numerous to list.

We have also beers that are gimmicks to cosmic levels of stupidity: there've been a couple made with gold flakes, one made with moon dust and another made with yeast that'd been sent to space for reasons that can be best described as attention whoring.

To some extent, you can't really blame the breweries. Gimmicks, after all, have proven to be an effective way to get the name of a brewery “out there”, mentioned by lazy bloggers and writers (and some that should actually know better by now), who celebrate them as if they were the best thing since the invention of malts; or by the media, in pretty much the same fashion as a sex-tape or manufactured controversy of a D-list celebrity do.

Quite often, however, they result in inflated prices without equivalent value in return—other than being able to claim in social media that you've just come from the brown paper bag event with your three-figure IBU, double-figure ABV collaboration brewed with shit that was sent to the moon from a nuclear submarine, that is.

But let's be fair. Like taste, value is the palate of the beholder, and some people will swear that those beers are well worth the price, and hassle, because they can drink them, unlike...

Let me introduce to Mefisto, the king of gimmicks. A beer so special that, according to its maker, you aren't supposed to drink.

Mefisto, by the same people that brought you Faust Gold, is made with colloidal silver, something that quacks like Dr. oz will sell recommend to people afraid of very long words—they must have been invented by Big Pharma and Montsanto—as a cure for everything, including easily preventable diseases.

It's just brilliant! You brew the worst, cheapest sort of crap, add a few drops of what that magic water and sell it for 450CZK. And if it ends up tasting like shit, “We told you not to drink it, didn't we?”.

As I said before, though, value is a matter of perception and there must be people out there who are convinced that Mefisto's beautiful bottle is well worth the price.

Na Zdraví!