9 Dec 2014

Noteless: Jaws Beer Tomahawk.lgr

I've got these two beers from my Russian friend Jegor (it's funny how we met, at the Svijany Pivní Slavnosti in 2007, where we exchanged a few words, and now we get together for a couple of pints whenever he comes to Prague). They are from Jaws, a micro-brewery from Ekaterimburg, the best in the area, according to him.

The other day, I opened the one on the right, Tomahawk, mainly because, other than the ABV % and, I assume, the Plato, there was no other information on the label—or rather, nothing I could understand, as it was all written in Russian—and I think drinking a beer you have hardly any information about can be a lot of fun.

Yeah, I know. I could have looked it up on the internet. But really, why bother? I didn't want to generate any unnecessary expectations, I had the beer in my hand already, it had been a present and I was going to drink it one way or another, so I thought it'd be better to do it unburdened by data.

I took a glass out of the cupboard, but then I said “sod it”, and picked my favourite earthenware mug—as far as I'm concerned, the best vessel for pretty much any kind of beer, and don't try to argue, because you're wrong.

I'd expected the beer to be dark—why would they've used a black label otherwise—and it was, and pretty much so, if the latte-coloured head is any indication.

At first, almost mindlessly... No, that's not the word. Instinctively, that's it, I tried to fit a style into the beer, which can also be quite fun—is it...? No, that's not true to the beer. Is it perhaps...? Not quite, but we could give it a silver medal, or whatever. But that lasted, what, two, three sips, max. Once I'd determined it was a very well-made and so far pretty good beer, it was ready to get into the more pleasant business of drinking—raise, tilt, sip, enjoy, repeat—while my mind got busy doing other, more important things. And yet, my attention would be grabbed a couple more times before the mug had emptied, as if the beer wanted to point at how awfully wrong Randy Mosher was the other day.

There's so much more fun, pleasure and joy in being a discerning drinker than a taster.

Na Zdraví!

PS: “The Art of Tasting”? Really? You've gotta be fucking joking...

3 Dec 2014

3 Brief Reviews of 3 New Places

(Well, one of them isn't that new, actually)

I've been to three places that many people have been talking about. Last week I was at BeerGeek and Dno Pytle, a week earlier, to Vinohradský Pivovar

BeerGeek, a spin-off of what many consider to be the best Pivotéka in Prague, opened in mid October, I think, and became an instant hit among the local beer intelligentsia. In many ways, it's what Zubatý Pes was 3 years ago (and still is), only that BeerGeek has the advantage of arriving in a far more mature market, at a far better address and with much nicer premises. I liked the place a lot more than photos I had seen had made me think I would (even if I still think those LCDs for the beer list are objectively ugly), and I felt quite comfortable right away—the bar looks great, as does the window to the cool-box with kegs and bottles. I'm not sure whether 30 taps aren't a few too many for a place that is not particularly big, but all the beers I had* were in good condition (if a bit too gassy in a couple of cases), and the people behind this pub clearly know what they are doing, and they also want to do it well, and for that they deserve success. Let's hope they can get the kitchen up and running soon, at least with some basic snacks.

Dno Pytle opened at the beginning of the year, and I wanted to visit it ever since I learnt they were specialised in gravity dispensed beers from Germany, and I'm a sucker for gravity dispensed beers from Germany, or anywhere else for that matter. After several frustrated plans drop by, I finally made it there on a “fuck-it-why-not” whim, while still at BeerGeek. It is very probable that I was a tiny bit pissed when I got to Dno Pytle, and I only saw the upstairs, and I still loved it! I was having a pint, talking to the owner on duty—they are two—about their “concept”, their plans—so far they've been tapping gravity dispensed beers only a couple of times a week, now, with new storage facilities, they want to do it every day— and other beery things, when he agreed to tap a barrel of something that must have been a Dopplebock, it tasted great, but nearly floored me (it was my 10th pint of the day, with an almost empty stomach), but I don't regret any of it. Like at BeerGeek, the people behind this pub know what they are doing and are determined to do it well; they also deserve success.

I wish I could give as much praise to Vinohradský Pivovar. Although it opened in October, it would take another month or so for their own beer to be ready. I went there for a quick lunch a few days after they tapped the first batch of Vinohradsky Ležák. Normally, I would wait at least a month before even thinking of going to a new brewpub or buying something from a new micro, but this one has pedigree—Franta Richter is the head brewer. Let's start with the good. The place, though not my style, looks really good, and the view to the 25hl copper brewhouse is gorgeous, service and food were both very good, the beer, on the other hand, wasn't. A fine blend of clove and burnt cable, that's how I can describe the not very intense, but still very unpleasant note of that beer, and there've been other people who felt the same. On their FB page, Vinohradský Pivovar explained that it was from their test batch, which doesn't make me any happier. Let's hope that whatever cock-up happened there will be sorted out for the next batches.

That's it, no more to say. Drink on.

Na Zdraví!

BeerGeek Bar
50.0770831N, 14.4500106E
Vinohradská 62 – Praha-Vinohrady
+420 775 260 871
Mon-Sun: 15-02
Metro A, Tram: 11, 13 – Jiřího z Poděbrad

Dno Pytle
50.0729339N, 14.4234533E
Kateřinská 10 – Praha 2-Nové Město
+420 773 028 326
Mon-Fri: 14-23, Sat-Sun: 17-00
Tram: 4, 10, 16, 22 – Štěpánská; Bus: 291 – Větrov

Vinohradský Pivovar
50.0752981N, 14.4576075E
Korunní 106 – Praha-Vinohrady
+420 222 760 080 – rezervace@vinohradskypivovar.cz
Mon-Sun: 11-24
Tram: 10, 16; Bus: 136, 175 – Orionka

*I didn't pay for my beers at BeerGeek, I drank them during an interview with Munchies

17 Nov 2014

Just a quick question

Let's see if any brewers out can give me an answer to this.

At equal capacity in hl, will the geometry of the brewing equipment affect the water and energy efficiency of the brew in any significant way?

This just popped into my mind for no particular reason. I'd say it will, but I'd like to be sure.

Thanks in advance.

Na Zdraví!

16 Nov 2014

Here you have a bit of Sunday bollocks from Spain

A specialised store form Catalonia has been kind enough to explain to us the reason why craft beer isn't so cheap (in Spanish) with four, very simple arguments that will surely end the heated debate about prices. The following is the first of them (translation mine):
Limited production. This kind of beer can't be bought in another city or region, unless it is an on-line store, specialised in craft beer like Beer Delux. The range of craft microbreweries is no more than 100 km. It is a quality product that could be altered if exposed to inadequate temperatures. The production is limited and sells-out more easily. It is an exclusive product (emphasis in the original) and clients are aware that if they don't buy it at that moment, they might not be able to buy it until a year later.

Bugger me! And all this time I thought it was because of the economies of scale, the margins set by distributors, retailers, restaurants and bars, and the acceptance of a certain part of the market. What a fool I've been!

No, really, mate. You must be joking!

I could go on with the thing about the indigenous raw materials, the innovation, and other gems that can be found in this box of bollocks, but I believe the quoted paragraph says more than enough.

It is hard to believe that in this day and age there are still people who take us for such idiots.

Na Zdraví!

PS: Personal preferences aside, I don't subscribe to the argument that good beer must be an everyman's drink, nor that it must a drink for the privileged. It can be both, and every company is free to target any kind of consumer they want, but they should do it without insulting our intelligence.

13 Nov 2014

I'll be fair with B:CRYO

The comment I posted this morning on my FB page about B:CRYO, the new product of Budějovický Budvar came out a bit negative, and perhaps not very fair.

B:CRYO is, basically, an Eisbock. According to the video you can see in the above linked website, it was created by an accident (where have I heard that one before?) that resulted in one of Budvar's regular beers being cryoconcentrated (I like that much better than “cold-distilled”, it's a lot more accurate) to 21% ABV (which makes it hard alcohol, legally speaking)

The product, which took two years to develop, will be of very limited availability—only at a few selected pubs—and is served in a rather strange fashion (you have to look at the video to understand it, and yes, that bottle is plastic).

As a consumer, this is not the kind of thing I can find interesting. Firstly because of the price—Pivní.info mentions 300-400CZK for 0.3l, which is a lot more than I'm willing to pay for, basically, a glass of booze at the moment, octanes notwithstanding. Secondly because of its limited availability—I don't want to go to a specific pub just for a novelty product. And thirdly, because they way it's served is way too gimmicky for my taste (I wonder how much of the price goes into that “ritual”), and I don't like attracting that sort of attention at a pub.

As a keen observer of the local beer market, on the other hand, B:CRYO is pretty interesting. It's the first beer of its kind in this country, and it's not the product of one of the progressive micro-breweries that have appeared in recent years, but it comes from one of the biggest, and perhaps most conservative, breweries in the country, that also happens to be state owned.

Whether this Eisbock turns out to be a good thing or not, I leave others to decide. I can't evaluate it one way or another until I've drunk it, and chances are that I won't. But if you happen to come across it, with a few hundred Crowns to spare, let me know it went.

Na Zdraví!

8 Nov 2014

It's just good business

In the years since Evan Rail's The Good Beer Guide—Prague & The Czech Republic was published, the number of microbreweries in this country has grown almost fivefold (Prague alone has 23 right now, from 6 in 2007, and there is at least one more planned).

Regardless of what some people believe, or expect us to believe, this has nothing to do with a revolution, let alone a movement, but with money. I said the other day
We have a microbrewing boom in the Czech Republic not because in the last few years almost 200 romantic, beer enthusiasts decided to realise their life-long dreams, but mostly because business people see microbreweries as a sensible investment—provided you have the space, having your own brewery up and running it's not too expensive...
And I have the figures to prove it. I've spoken to some people who know that part of the industry really well, and what they told me it's quite interesting.

Not counting any construction works that you may have to do to accommodate all the equipment, you can have a brewery with a 5hl brewhouse for less than 3 million CZK, or a bit over 4 million, if you want to have a 10hl kit—in both cases, more than enough for a brewpub with decent capacity.

Once the thing is ready to go, and all the paperwork and permits have been sorted out, you can make a Světlý Ležák for as little as 14-15 CZK/l (about the same as the wholesale price for a pint of keg Gambáč), including, energy and labour costs, and taxes. A Světlý Ležák that not only you can sell it for 30-35CZK/0.5l without anyone complaining, but it'll probably also help you to bring people through the door. No wonder then that everyone an their aunt want to have a go at this business; and I doubt it'll stop any time soon. I believe the market has as much room as there are towns and neighbourhoods that can support at least one big enough pub or restaurant.

Unfortunately, as it usually happens when an industry attracts everyone and their aunt, the average quality ends up suffering, and microbreweries are no exception.

On paper, however, it shouldn't be like that. It is true that there is a massive shortage of skilled brewers in this country, a situation that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. (On a side note, Brewing is a regulated trade in the Czech Republic, for companies, this means that they must employ a certified brewer, if only to put their signature in the brewing logs—the law doesn't require them to actually do the work, but only to the person responsible for the production). The equipment available today can be highly automated. It works not too differently than those automatic bread making machines: put the ingredients in the right quantities, choose the appropriate program and the computer will take care of most of the work. Just like with the bread, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to make decent, or even very good, beer with that. But beer is no bread.

According to what people have told me, there are two things that happen that often result in dodgy beers: The owners start pissing about with the machine. They believe that after a few successful batches, they can put together their own recipes, without too much of a clue about what they're doing. That's not that serious an issue, anyone should be wary of new breweries with too many different beers. The other thing, however, is far worse, and you won't notice it until it's too late; it's also related to the lack of skilled brewers on the market. Some owners tend to disregard things that are a matter of course for someone with a minimum of professional training, the TL;DR of it would be “the brewing process doesn't finish at the brewhouse”. Add to this the corner cutting and a the general notgivingafuckness not uncommon in people who expect to make a quick buck out of a hot fad and it's no wonder you get poorly made, or even stale, beer at some brewpubs.

Which is the reason why I've stopped getting excited about new breweries just because they are new, and I'm not alone. My philosophy now is to by and large ignore them until I get some sort of good references. It's prejudiced, I know, but there's nothing wrong with being a prejudiced consumer. My time and money are limited and I rather spend it on beers that will make both worth it. Fortunately for me, there isn't a shortage of them around here.

Na Zdraví!

PS: If anyone can provide different, perhaps more accurate figures, they'll be welcome

19 Oct 2014

It was all a well crafted lie

By now you must've heard about the shitstorm raised by Dan Paquette. If you haven't yet, go here, here or here to get a good picture.

Of all the people who've so far commented on the issue (or at least, of the ones I follow), I think it is Zak Avery the one who's seen it most clearly when speaks about the “sexy” and the “dull” bits of the beer business, and how the latter has been largely ignored.

All this often unconditional praise for a branch of the brewing industry, which in some cases reaches almost religious fervour, seems to have many people believe that setting up their own micro-breweries is only a few bits short of guaranteed success. It is not much more than a matter of slapping those two words on the label, having the right attitude, speaking—perhaps preaching—about your passion, and your awesome masterpieces will sell by themselves. Everybody loves craft beer, right? It's so huge that the evil, monolithic, multinational macro breweries are afraid of it. Why would they come out with their “crafty” beers, otherwise?

Marketing? Pfff! Who needs marketing when you're part of a Movement! Marketing is the bullshit the industrial breweries use to sell their swill. Craft beer is not commercial, it doesn't need any of that. If you make friends with some of the influential bloggers and writers, and other Craft Beer Evangelists, who will love you from day one, they will tell the world how awesome your masterpieces are, and then the orders will pour down. Aren't beer bars and stores also part of the movement, after all? It's where the revolution is taking place!

Consistency? Pfff! Consistency is sooo overrated! Creativity! That's the thing everyone wants, no matter the price. Be creative, and passionate (don't forget your passion, never forget your passion) and people will buy tickets to buy your beer. Spread the gospel of your awesome, creative masterpieces, everyone will love it, mate! You'll be like a rock star! Those who criticise you? Don't listen to them, they are only penny-pinchers who want to hurt the Movement...

You've been fed so much bullshit! And by us, the bloggers, the writers, the magazine editors. We've all bought that and then sold it to you at some point or another, and some still do.

That thing about the movement, the revolution? Bollocks, all of it. They're marketing buzzwords at best. What you are part of is an industry, a market, with the same rules as every industry and market. And this industry and market, just like any other, can be unfair, very unfair.

It doesn't matter how great your beers (or rather, how great you think they) are, you'll still have to go out and sell them. Bloggers, writers, magazines and reviews will help you only to some extent. You will still need to get the attention of bar and shop owners. It is incredible how many brewers don't understand that it is not me whom they have to convince to buy their beer, but the owners of the pubs and shops where I go (I might love you beer, but if I can't find it at my favourite pub or shop, I will buy another beer that I love)

And you know what? The owners of pubs and shops don't care how good your beer is. Well, they do, but not nearly as much as how good it can be for their business. They might wish you well, they might love your stuff as drinkers, but few will not hesitate to drop it to make room for some other thing they believe it'll be better for their bottom lines.

I know, I know, that sucks. And some of those pub and shop owners will even expect you to send them a keg or a case or two for free. You hate that, don't you? Them cunts! It's awful... But wait a second! Didn't you send a case to a blogger the other day (or was it a magazine editor?) or had a couple of them over at the brewery? How many cases or kegs did you sell after they posted their glowing reviews?

Once again, I apologise if we've made you believe it was easy, even if you were a fool for believing it in the first place. It's not. It may've been a few years ago, when we were happy to get at least some diversity, but we've got plenty of diversity now, and not enough money to buy it all.

Now, stop whining and go and sell your beer already. Accept reality as it is, because you I doubt you'll be able to change it.

Na Zdraví!

PS: About the bribe thing. It is another aspect of business reality, and a very ugly one that will not be eradicated, however good the justice system may or may not work, as the lines are often blurred—where does a legitimate business incentive end and a bribe start? All you can do is ask yourself how wise it is to do business with someone who asks you for baksheesh.