31 Jan 2008

More anniversaries

The other day I spoke to you about the very good Jubiler 16.80% from Vyškov. Well, they weren't the only Moravians who decided to make a beer in honour to the year of the establishment of their pivovar.

Because it was established in 1530, Černá Hora's beer is a bit less strong. It is fermented at 15.30°balling and ending at 6.3%ABV. The ideas might be similar, but the beers are incredibly different.

When pouring the 1530 we see a beer with a very intense golden colour, almost orange; crowned with an almost ephimerous head, which might make some feel a bit uneasy. All fears dissappear when we get the glass closer to us. The nose is full of syrup and fresh fruit, with mild citrus notes; very summery aromas. The flavours are somehow expected, almost silky syrup, now joined by intense herbal notes. The finish is again syrup and fruit and leaves a pleasantly acid aftertaste that makes us drink more. In a way, it reminded me of Březňák's amazing Dopple-Dopple Bock, but not so intense, of course. Whereas the Bock explodes in your mouth, the 1530 grows slowly. It is, together with the unfiltered 10°, the beer I like the most from this very good brewery near Brno.

It is a pity that, just as it happens with Jubiler, 1530 is not so easy to find in Prague. You will actually have to go to the same places if you want to buy it. It would be so nice if another place like Pivovarsky Klub opened in Prague. I would love to be able to choose from a long beer list. But for now, you will have to go and find it, and it will be worth the trouble. I do recommend it.
Na Zdraví!

29 Jan 2008

The bear learns new tricks

Right before Christmas I stopped at U Medvídku to say hello to my friends there and to have a pint or two, of course. I was told then that they were lagering a new beer, a dark 16° that would be ready right after New Year's day. I asked Mr. Veselý about it and I would say that for an answer I got a bit of an early present.

He went to the lagering room, brought a bottle and told the waiter to bring two small glasses. He wanted me to try an experiment he had done with this new beer. He wouldn't tell me what it was, but wanted to see if I could taste anything different in that beer. What I could taste was a beer that had similar characteristics to the OldGott but hoppier. It was not ready yet then, but it was possible to feel how good and interesting it would be. However, I could not feel anything particularly different. It turned out that Mr. Veselý had filled a few bottles with this beer after having put some prune in them. Once he told me so, I was able to put my finger on a fruity flavour I had felt, but had thought it was part of the beer proper. Anyway, that afternoon I left the place really glad, and a bit drunk....

Things changed with the coming of the new year. The beer was not available yet. The reason, they had decided to put prunes in the end, and it was let to lager for one more week.

I happened to stop by to have my fix of OldGott and noticed that they were already tapping novoročné švestkové pivo (New Year's Plum Beer). Which of course became my second glass.

Just when this beer was being brought to me I see Mr. Veselý coming in. He was of course eager to know how I liked his new child. I got the glass closer to my considerable nose and the difference could already be felt. The aroma reminded me of prunes in syrup, and it's so intense that it is hard to distinguish anything else, yet it feels fresh and natural. It is when drinking it that this baby show its game. The first thing I felt when taking a long sip of this dark amber was, of course, the fruit, but then the whole thing changes. Unlike what happens at the nose, in the mouth the prunes are wonderfully well balanced with caramel and citrus notes, leaving the best for the finish, that is long and deliciously hoppy. Simply brilliant. I would love to drink this beer without the prunes, but I certainly can't complain.

What I can complain about is the price, though. 48CZK for a 0.2l glass is a tad too much, specially if we consider that you will pay the same for a half litre of the gorgeous OldGott Barique (that fortunately seems to be returning to its level after a bit of overselling during the Holidays). It's not that I'm cheap, as I've said before, I've got no problem paying 111CZK for 0.3l of X33 (68CZK/0.2l).

It seems I'm not alone. This wonderful beer is not selling as well as it should, and that is affecting its quality. I went back a few days later and when I ordered a glass of the plum beer, the waiter told me that I shouldn't because there were the last 10l in the barrel and it was going sour. When I tasted a bit, I had to agree with him. I think that if they sold it at the same price, but in a bigger measure, let's say 0.3l, people will order it more, and that would benefit both clients and brewery.

For what I've heard, the problem seems to be the owners of the place, who are not all that wise when taking marketing decisions.

The best of that first day wasn't actually being able to enjoy such beautiful beer, but being able to sit down for a chat with Mr. Veselý. I let him know what I thought of the beer and he told me about a few experiments they'd been doing with OldGott.

The owners want to do something new with their beers and this švestkové might be the first of more to come. Other flavourings were tried, some of them quite radical like coconut, orange and clove. The total was 19, and of the 16 Veselý had tasted, only plum and fig did the job.

There were three samples left, olive, turmeric and coffee, and when Veselý asked me if I wanted to taste them with him, guess what my answer was... He then went to the fermenting room and brought three small bottles and six glasses. We started with the olive beer. We were not expecting something good, and it didn't dissapoint. In fact, it was almost undrinkable, as many of you might have guessed. It was followed by the turmeric beer. Here things improved. We both liked the first sip, but when we took the second, it already felt like drinking cough syrup. The problem, too much of the spice, a bit less of it, and it could be a pretty interesting beer.

Fortunately, we had left the best for last. Pivovarský Dum has been making coffee beer for quite a few years now, and I like it a lot, but I liked this one better. We both agreed that it would be nice to brew it. Instead of brewing it with OldGott as base, the brew master thought it would be better to do it with the 16°, and I do believe he is right. He said he would start seeing how this beer can be done, and when I suggested that it would be a good idea if coffee beans could be added to the wort while cooking it, he said he would check it out.

It was a really nice afternoon. It made me feel really good to hear someone with the experience and craft of Mr. Veselý thanking me for my opinion and for my help. But now, if that coffee beer ever gets done, you now know who you owe it to....;)

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28 Jan 2008

Bear Magic

U Medvídku is a historic hospoda in the centre of Prague. It is one of those places very popular among Czechs as much as tourists. It has good prices for OK food and good service and very good Budvar on tap. It is a nice spot for session drinking. But that is not actually the best of the it. That is on the first floor.

After walking through the massive rooms of the beer hall you come to a stairway that will lead you to a microbrewery, an a very special one at that. I like going there in the afternoons. Usually then there aren't too many people, and sometimes I am all alone. Something I like a lot, specially when Laďa, one of the waiters is there, he plays very good music instead of the usual Eurotrash radio that you can hear pretty much everywhere else, and we always have a good chat.

They brew two beers regularly (maybe they will be three, more on that later), OldGott Barique and X33. And you can see while they are making them because the tables are right at the brewery proper.

OldGott is an extraordinary beer. It is fermented and lagered in oak barrels, which you can actually see while you are sipping it. Amber in color with a light tanned very compact head. The nose is full of fruit and very interesting citrus notes. I remember when I took the first sip of it, I had to close my eyes and let myself be delighted by that wonder and its flavours, sweet and bitter at the same time, neither stepping over the other, instead the complement each other perfectly like a couple that has been dancing together for a long time. Together with that is the wood, that can barely be felt, but that it is there and gives this beer a very special character. It is brewed at 13°balling (5.5%ABV), and it's very difficult not to have another glass, despite its rather steep price (48CZK/0.5l). But believe me, this beer is worth them. You won't find anything like it in Prague.

The other one, the X33 is something even more special. It's name is not some fanciful marketing gimmick, but the balling graduation at which it is brewed. And it is simply wonderful, mind-blowing.

X33 is dark amber in colour and crowned with a compact tanned head. Whenever I drink it I take my time to feel its perfume, full of syrup, citrus, herbs and wood. It makes my mouth water. The first time I drank it I thought I was touching the skies with my palate. The flavours always remind me of home-made marmalade made with sweet oranges, together with leather and wood, it has a long yet mild syrupy finish followed by a lovely bitter aftertaste. It is a beer that begs us, actually commands us to drink it slowly, enjoying every drop of it. It is just heavenly. When finishing the glass, this beer will tempt us to order another one, which should be carefully considered, since its 12,6%ABV are something to take with respect.

But it isn't cheap. A glass of 0,3l will go for 111CZK, but I think they are worth it, this is a very special drink. At times it feels like drinking some good Port or sweet Sherry.

Like its little sister, Oldgott, it is also fermented and lagered in oak barrels, but it takes a bit longer. X33 is made with caramel and Munich malts with as much density as possible. It ferments for two weeks and then lagered for 14 weeks. After this 14 weeks a new strain of yeasts is added to reactivate fermentation and the beer is then let to lager for further 14 weeks. And with each batch this beer improves, thanks to the barrels getting older and giving the beer more flavours and character.

These two wonders are the children of the brew master Ladislav Veselý, who is a very nice person. Whenever I go he is happy to answer my questions about the beers he makes and sometimes, when he is not too busy, he sits down with me to chat about beers or even gives me to try new batches, and lately some of the experiments they've been doing lately at the brewery.

If you are in the centre with not much to do in the afternoon, stop there for a beer and let yourself be delighted.

U Medvídku
Na Perštýně 7
100 01 Praha 1
Česká Republika

24 Jan 2008

What a team!!

It has already become a habit for the third Tuesday of every month, attending a beer tasting in the cellar of Pivovarský Klub. This time, the beers that were presented were those from Náchod.

I arrived a bit early to be able to secure my favorite place at the bar, and reserve one for Evan, who was on his way.

I said hello to the people from the klub, took a seat and was offered the welcome drink. This time, instead of the usual bottled lager, it was a brand new beer that had arrived in Prague for the first time, Pikard tmavý, from the new brewpub Zamecký Minipivovar Ostrava. This microbrewery is located at the Zábřeh chateau and was opened in september last year. This dark, unfiltered beer was brewed with three kinds of malt and some of the hops were replaced by calamus. The result is a pretty interesting beer, with a sweet coffee and tropical fruit nose. We still feel the coffee when drinking it, now joined by mild caramel and herbal notes, the finish is short, but leaves nicely acid aftertaste.

The two glasses I drank helped me to warm up and be well ready when Primátor team came out to the pitch.

Goalkeeper: Nealko, good at his job, but don't hask him to do anything else.
The defense: Diamant, the weakest player in the team. Dia beers are brewed by several pivovary, they have low carbohydrate levels and aim at those who, due to health reasons, can't drink normal beer. Quite bad in most cases, Diamant is not the exception. The rest of the defense are Světlý (10°balling), a typical player that will shine but knows his job; Premium (12°balling), a full back that can surprise the opposite team when crossing the midfield and closer to the midfield, Premium Dark (12°), the captain of the team.
In the midfield: Rytířský 21% and Double 24%, with respectively 9 and 10%ABV, this two strong defensive midfielders demand respect and they also know how to work the ball. In front of them is the most skilled player of the team, Polotmavé 13%, one of Primátor's young rising starts and an amazingly interesting and talented player. He is supported by the more experienced Exclusiv 16%, very smooth with the ball, but with a strong 7%ABV. He is in charge of shooting penalties and set pieces near the penalty box.
The strikers are the other two rising stars of the team. Weizen and English Pale Ale. Both young, skilled, smooth and fast, they are slowly getting more experienced and their style is receiving more attention from both specialist and fans.
It might not be a team full of stars as others are, but Primátor, if given the opportunity, can play as equal against the big ones, while offering fans a good looking and creative game for all tastes.

During the evening, between beer and beer, Aleš Dočkal talked about his seminars with chefs and managers of luxury hotels, which aim to finally introduce beer to upmarket gastronomy, both as an ingredient and as a drink to pair with food.

The first beer auction also took place. The auctioned items were the last two bottles of the marvelous Florenc 14:14 that were sold at 210 and 250Kc. Aleš Dočkal promised there will be more auctions of this kind.

The excuse of the event, as if it needed one, was not to present a new product, but to introduce the new labels of Primátor. With them, the brewery wants to make their beers more visible on the supermarket shelves, and I must say, they aren't bad looking a tall.

In a way it was good that more people than was expected showed up for the event. The samples had to be rationed among more, otherwise it would have been more difficult than it was to follow all the interesting information that Mr. Kořínek gave about the beers.

I want to recommend you to read Evan Rail's excellent report on the tasting. There he mentions that Primátor is planning to announce a new product some time this year. He hopes it will be a lehké pivo (beer fermented at a maximum 7°balling, and in the past, quite popular as "table beer"). When I read that I associated it with two words that by chance I heard Mr. Kořínek say to someone, pseničné tmavé (dark wheat beer).

If I had to bet, I would put my money on pseničné tmavé. It is true that some breweries have recently come out, or are planning to come out, with some lehká piva. However, Primátor's slogan is "specialist in specials", and I can't think of anything more special than a dark wheat beer, it is something that simply does not exist in the Czech market. Whichever the case, the new product will sure be welcome by all beer lovers. Personally, though, I would like to see pseničné tmavé rahter than lehké.

I have mentioned it before, but I'll never get tired of saying it, Primátor is the most innovative and interesting brewery in the Czech market. It is also a model to be followed, not only for breweries, but for state companies the world over, since the sole owner of the brewery is the City of Náchod.

18 Jan 2008

Some serious beer hunting in Prague

Most people come to Prague to wander in those magic little streets and to see the many historical monuments that make this a very special city. There are others, however, that make it here to drink the world famous Czech beer right at its source. There are thousands of pubs, restaurants and cafés, some better than others, but all seem to offer the same three or four brands.

I want to help you discover a bit more about Czech beer with a guide that will take you around much of the town, and will make you have some unforgettable beer experiences. Or so I hope.

I have divided this guide in five days. Those of you not lucky enough to be able to stay in Prague that long, will sure find a way to taste as much as possible in the time you have.

Day 1: Starting with the basics.
Yes, they are known all over the world, but you will never be able to enjoy Pilsner Urquell or Budvar as here in the Czech Republic. So, before going too deep into the fascinating world of České Pivo, you should start with them while checking the sights of the Old Town.
You will have plenty to choose from, but I'd recommend U Medvídku for a Budvar and U Rudolfina or, if you feel brave, U Zlatého Týgra for some unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell.
If you feel like having some Staropramen, take tram 14 to Na Knížeci, and go to Na Verandách, the restaurant that works at the Smíchov brewery. There you will find it as good as it can get (which is actually not much to say).
For Krušovice, there is no better place than Krušovická Pivnice, opposite the National Theatre.
Other alternatives for Budvar and Pilsner are U Šumavy and Bredovský Dvůr, respectively. The former, a down at heel typically Prague affair, the latter, something more modern and oriented to a younger clientele.

Day 2: Malá Strana and the Casle.
OK, you have to do them. But that doesn't mean that you can't have a good pint. Fortunately, there is also plenty to choose from here, and you will also have the chance to start getting to know a couple of the other breweries, as well as a brewpub.
You can have lunch either at Malostranská Pivnice, if unpasteurised Pilsner is what you want, or Malostranská Restaurace if you fancy Budvar. You could also stop at U Kocoura in Nerudova for a pint of the excellent Bernard Kvasnicové.
Once up the hill avoid pretty much every hospoda or restaurant and head towards U Černého Vola, where you can have unpasteurized Velkopopivický Kozel for 1EU, together with any of the very good snacks served there. If you want, you can also go to Pivovar Stráhov to taste the very improved beers that they make.

For dinner, something special. Take tram 22 to Břevnovský Klášter and go towards the church you will see when you get off. Once in the lovely gardens of the monastery, you will find Klašterní Šenk, a very nice restaurant with a very special atmosphere and really good food, that can be washed down with excellent Klášter beer, either light or dark.

Day 3: Regional Breweries.
There are about 50 bottlers of all sizes in the Czech Republic. Many of them with products that are more interesting and better than the better known ones. They deserve our support.
You will start early today with breakfast at Ferdinanda, with which you will drink any of the very good brews from Benešov. (come on, you are in Prague, nobody knows you here)
From there, and after a bit of walking about, take metro A to Hradčanská and there switch to trams 1, 8, 15, 25, or 26 to Letenské Nám. Right around the block, you will find Svijanský Rytíř. There, besides pretty good food, you can enjoy most of the line of Pivovar Svijany, all of them unpasteurised beers and all of them very good.
When you finish, you might want to go to the Letná park and blow your minds with the amazing view of the Old Town you have there. Then you can walk down straight to the centre to wander about a bit.
If you feel like having something to drink, you can stop at Literarní Kavarna Řetězová, right around the corner from Tygra, to have a cup of coffee or, better still, Bernard dark or light, both kvasnicové.

But if is a weekday, better go back to Letenské Nám. and take trams 1, 15 or 25 to Dělnická, to go to Pivní Galerie. There you will find beers from pretty much all of the regional brewers, as well as t-shirts, glasses, etc, all while sipping one of the two regional beers they will have on tap that day.

For dinner, a bit of luxury. U Peterské věže is an elegant restaurant almost unknown to tourists, where you will be able to eat very well while enjoying some great Rohozec beer.

Day 4: Brewpubs.
You will have to travel a bit today, so better buy a day pass for the metro.
From the centre, take trams 10 or 24 to Bulovka for a lazy late lunch at Richter Brewery. Be sure to drink all of the great beers on tap that day, you will not regret it.
After getting your fill, go back to Karlovo Nám. with trams 10 or 24 and there switch to tram 18. Get off at Nuselská Radnice to go to Pivovar Bašta (U Bansethu), so far, the newest brewpub in Prague (watch out, it opens at 3PM).

Today's dinner is at Pivovarský Dum. There you must taste whatever happens to be the beer of the month, together with Kavové (coffee flavoured), Kopřivové (nettle) and Pseničné (wheat), not to mention Štěpán, maybe the best golden lager you can have in Prague.

Day 5: The cherry on the pie
You can't leave Prague without going to Pivovar U Medvídku. I recommended the hospoda on the ground floor for the first day. Today, go all the way to the back of this massive place and take the stairs up to the first floor. There, just sit down and enjoy those masterpieces that are Oldgott Barrique and X33, while looking at the oak barrels where those beauties ferment and lager.
For dinner, or for the rest of the day, Pivovarský Klub. Order any of the 6 beer on tap (or why not, all of them), since it is very possible that you will not have seen them anywhere else in Prague. If that is not enough, you can explore the shelves or the menu to order some of the 200+ bottled beers on the list.

This guide does not intend to be authoritative. I just want to give you the possibility to discover as many places and beers as possible during your visit to Prague. If you want something more detailed and extensive, you can buy the excellent "The Good Beer Guide - Prague & The Czech Republic", by Evan Rail.

Before closing, I have to recommend you make reservations at those restaurants you choose for dinner. The ones I listed are linked to a web page where you can find their phone numbers, email addressed, location on the map and, if the have it, their web pages.

I hope you will enjoy your visit. If you have any questions or, better still, suggestions, this is your space.

Na Zdraví!

15 Jan 2008

Those lucky Germans

Versión en español

Pivovar Velké Březno
and the region where it is located, Ustecký Kraj, have an interesting and troubled history. This region in the northwest of the Czech Republic used to be also called Sudenteland. The alleged persecution that the German ethnic majority suffered from the Czechs where used as an excuse for Nazi Germany to annex Czeckoslovaquia (not without the cowardly permission from France and the UK). During the brutal German occupation things didn't change much for the brewery, it was owned by Germans. In fact, they went pretty well, since it supplied beer to the Afrika Korps.

Once the war was over and the German population deported, the brewery became state property. And would remain so until the fall of the Communist regime.

Nowadays the brewery is part of the Drinks Union group, that also owns three more breweries (Zlatopramen, Louny and Kutná Hora) as well as a couple of brands of spirits.

In the last few years some of the beers of the group have enjoyed a relative success, specially Zlatopramen 11°. This has caught the attention of Heineken, who have expressed their interest to buy the group of Czech capitals.

History aside, I was given a bottle of a true rarity in the Czech market (for which I must thank Evan Rail, who will sure wite his review on his excellent blog), Březňák Dopple-dopple bock, brewed only for the German market.

This powerful beer with 10%ABV and brewed at 21°balling is of of a deep amber colour, almost orange, and has barely any carbonation. It starts well. Continues better. Its nose reminded me of a fruit salad made with very ripe fruit and lots of sweet orange, with subtle herbal notes in the back. And it ends even better. The fruits in the aromas now take a more tropical turn, the flavours are intense and lasting, filling our mouth and inviting us to drink it slowly, and then enjoy its long bittersweet finish. A truly remarkable beer, ideal for desert and with the alcohol so well integrated that it is not felt at any moment.

I really hope Pivovar Velké Březno will decide to sell this excellent beer in the Czech Republic. I believe the market conditions are ripe, and that it will sure be a hit among those who like and appreciate strong lagers of good quality. However, if Heineken finally buys Drinks Union, things might not turn out for the best. I'd like to be optimistic, though, Krušovice seems to have improved a bit since Heineken bought it last year, and I can't complain about Starobrno, the other brewery owned by the Dutch group here.
Na Zdraví!!!

Choose your preferred Prague hotels and get free transport.

13 Jan 2008

Almost in paradise....

Versión en español

After a long three month wait the day of our visit to Chodová Plána finally arrived. The reason for going to such a boring corner of the Czech Republic was the beer spa run by Chodovar, the local brewery.

After two hours by car, we made it to the hotel U Sladka. A nice building that looks recently renovated. Wanting to make the weekend a bit more special, my love and I had booked the romantic package called Pivní lázně z lásky (beer spa with love) that included accommodation for two nights with breakfast, beer spa, massage, brewery tour and a bottle of sekt with chocolates waiting for us in the room.

We liked what we saw when we got to the room. It was spacious with big windows to the courtyard and clean and modern looking furniture, which fortunately was not in the "Breznev Chic" style so common in many Czech hotels. On the double bed there were rose petals (artificial, but still a nice touch) and on a little table, chocolates and candles. The bathroom had a bath big enough to accomodate both of us and it was nicely decorated. There was also a minibar, there, instead of miniature bottles at giant prices, were four 0.5l bottles of Chodovar, four 0.5l bottles of soft drinks (all at a regular price) and the promised bottle of bubbly. The only thing missing was a radio to play music.

We had got there quite early, so we went to have a bite at Ve Skále, the brewery's restaurant. This massive hospoda is located deep into what used to be a granite mine that also holds the lagering cellars of the brewery. To get to the restaurant you have to walk a 30m long corridor that ends at a reception - gift shop, and then another 10m to the restaurant proper. We liked the atmosphere of the place from the very beginning, it is really special. After having a quick lunch we went to the neighbouring Mariánské Lázně.

Mariánské Lázně is a famous spa town that is somewhat eclipsed by Karlovy Vary. It was founded in 1808 and looks as if made of marzipan. It is very pretty. We were lucky, it had been snowing recently and its main park, Skalínovy Sady, was covered in white. We went at the beginning of December '07 and the Christmas decoration could already be seen, which gave the town an even nicer atmosphere.

For dinner we went again to Ve Skále, which was almost full. The closeness to Mariánské Lázně makes this a very popular spot for tour groups staying in the Spa town. Fortunately, they have their own, almost separate room, so the atmosphere remains pretty much intact. We were lucky to find a table to share.

To open the evening, I opted for a Černá desítka. Not so good. Too much caramel and almost no roasted coffee or similar notes, a bit weak actually. But my wife liked it, she said it is her style of beer.

nice looking but didn't make it for me
The food arrived, pečené vepřové koleno (roasted pork's knee) for me, and Svíčková na smetaně, for my dear, both really good and very well made. The meat on the knee simply fell off the bone and the skin, which many times has the consistence of rubber, almost melted in the mouth. The sauce of the Svíčková was darker than what we are used to, but it was very rich and had the right thickness, and the knedlíky were not too shabby either.

For my second beer I chose Zámecký ležák Speciál, a 13° balling golden lager that I had already drunk bottled. I had liked it then, but I wasn't mad about it. My opinion didn't change here, so for my third (and fourth) pul litr I went for the Kvasnicový Skalní ležák, an unfiltered lager tapped straight from the lagering cellars. Very tasty and fresh, fruity, it had really impressed me when I had it with lunch. For dessert we had each a panák of Pivovice, a beer destilate that was not half bad, but I like good slivovice better. We went straight to bed from there, we had a day of hedonism ahead of us the following day.

Now, this one did
But before telling you about such sublime experience I have to give my compliments to Chodovar. Their beers are of good quality, the water comes from its own undergroud sources (and it is also sold as mineral water), they keep their own maltings and they still use open fermenters. However, they are no big deal, in fact, they are a bit boring. Their marketing on the other hand, is brilliant, despite not spending astronomical amounts on advertising. They have two gift shops, the one at the restaurant, and another one right next to the hotel. There you can buy all the beers and soft drinks produced by the brewery, as well as clothing, their original koupelové pivo (bathing beer), beer shampoo and bath lather (which became very appreciated Christmas presents) and many more things. The hotel is also very nice and clean, and full of lovely details such as the custom made paintings that hang in the dining room and rooms. But what tops all of that is, of course, the spa.

I'm sure that to set up something like the investment was massive. But they are really successful. We had originally planned in August last year to go in September, but we were told that they were fully booked at weekends until the end of November.

Back to our story....
We got up rather early because we wanted to have time for lunch. We had a feast, there were scrambled eggs, different kinds of ham, salami and cheese, pastries, different kinds of bread, honey, juice, coffee and home made blueberry and beer jam (delicious!). With a jolly belly, we went to what we had come and waited so long for, the Beer Spa.

I want to make something clear before continuing. This pivní lázně is not a marketing gimmick to attract drunkards. The people of Chodover have put together something serious and very professional. They consulted with balneologists from Karlovy Vary and Marianské Lázně. They wanted to bring together two of the most well regarded Czech traditions, beer and therapeutic baths.

The spa is located in the vaulted cellars of the hotel. Exposed bricks and the lovely smell of fresh beer already tune you up with what is waiting for you. One of the nurses told us to remove our clothes at the dressing room and gave us a crisp white sheet to cover ourselves. Once dressed as Roman senators, we were shown to our bathtub, which was being prepared. The bath consists of half specially brewed dark beer, half mineral water and herbs.

Just when going into it you are invaded by a delicious feeling that not only comes from the 34°C of the bath, but of the vapours emanating from it, lovely scents of malts and hops. The complimentary glass of lager you are given must have been one of the best I drank in my life, not so much for the beer itself, but for the effect of drinking it in that lovely and special warm bath. A couple of minutes, it is all it takes for your extremities to fully relax and start floating, while you feel that all your system has slowed down a couple of gears. It is an experience hard to describe, but just recalling it makes me feel better.

Oh! But that's not it. Just when we are beginning to slide into sleep, we are announced that the bath is over and that the next phase of the treatment is awaiting us.

Wrapped in our sheets we are shown to a very dimly lit room. We are told to lie on beds and we are promptly wrapped in a big towel, just like babies. All the lovely scents that we felt in the bath start to come back out from our skin. The feeling is like being in a sauna, but without the heat and humidity. The only thing that kept us awake during those 20 minutes was the second glass of beer that we slowly drank as we felt we were almost levitating.

After all that, we felt like new. We gladly followed the instruction of not showering for at least 4 hours (in fact, we didn't shower until the evening). And it was lovely to still feel the aroma of beer on our skins for the rest of the day.

Still ahead of us were a nice massage, lunch and the brewery tour, which with the exception of one really cool touch, doesn't give any surprise to those who have already visited a brewery.

Some pics of the brewery tour

Every Czech brewer's motto.

May God give us luck (or happiness)

The first step of the malting

Just a silly photo

The coolest tap in the world

My friends, start saving, pawn your dog, and with enough time ahead, book a weekend at Chodovar. After a pivní lázně treatment, your life will never be the same.

Meanwhile, I leave you with pics to increase your envy....

Choose your preferred Prague hotels and get free transport.


Versión en español

Ferdinanda is located about a 100m Vaclavák, yet it is more for locals than four tourists (though they are more than welcome). Until recently, even going to the loo would test your knowledge of Czech. Instead of having the usual and internationally understood icons, they just had an I for the boys room and a Y for the girls room; Ferdinandi being the male plural and Ferdinandy being the female. That presented most foreigners (and not few Czechs after a few beers) with a bit of a problem. Unfortunately, that has been corrected, the usual icons are on the doors and the fun is gone.
The place has two floors with a pretty big non smoking room upstairs. It is in a turn of the century building, so the ceilings are high and the windows big. The furniture is of light colour hardwood, almost rustic. What catches your attention, however, are the accessories, metal buckets and funnels for lamps, rakes for coat hangers, small metal dustpans for ashtrays and hammers with a thick wooden base that hold the salt and pepper shakers and the toothpicks.

The service is among the best I have experienced at a pub here. Very attentive waiters, who are also very professional and quite friendly in a genuine way. The usually make you feel welcome no matter how many people are packing the premises.
The food is its weakest point. It isn't bad, it just does the job (though their guláš is pretty good). And if you work in the centre, it is quite good for a quick lunch, with a limited but interesting midday menu. You can also have breakfast there, since Ferdinanda opens at 8. Until 11 you can have haminex, toasted sandwiches and a beer.

And what beers they have there. Only Ferdinand, the very good beers from Pivovar Benešov. You can there find the jedenactká světlé, the tmavý ležák with its rich roasted notes and the světlý ležák, a nice silky pilsner style lager. But the star is Sedm Kulí, a polotmavé speciál (13°) mildly flavoured with herbs, with almost no carbonation, simply delicious on tap. Its name is a "homage" to the seven bullets (that's what it means in Czech) that in Sarajevo killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a long time resident of Benešov and founder of the brewery, or so they claim.
Ferdinanda is a place that invites you to stay and come back. It is nice to go with friends or alone for a quick drink. It's got a very lively and relaxed atmosphere and, being that it is pretty near Hlavní Nádraží is a very good alternative for that last beer before taking the train.

Politických vězňů 1597/19
110 00 Praha-Nové Město

11 Jan 2008

A reason to celebrate

Versión es español

I will never forget the first time I drank Jubiler. I was having lunch with a friend and we decided to go to Pivní Galerie. It was a few days before Christmas and he needed to buy a couple of beer presents.

When we arrived there we went straight to the back to see which two beers they had on tap that day. Jubiler was one of them. I didn't know it, so I had to see what it was about. It blew my mind, and my friend's as well. We had a couple more and we started to feel the effects. When asking what its Balling graduation was, we were very surprised when told that it was 17!

Actually, it is a bit less, 16.80. Which is not by chance, 1680 is the year when Pivovar Vyškov was established and the beer was brewed in 2005 to celebrate the breweries 425th anniversary. According to what I heard, Jubiler was only going to be brewed for the occasion, but such was its success among beer fans that, thanks to all the gods, the brewery decided to add it to their regular lineup.

It is not easy to find Jubiler in Prague. Occasionally they have it on tap at Pivovarksý Klub and Pivní Galerie, where you can also buy the bottles, which can also be found at the beer museum in U Medvídku.

When poured from its 355cl bottle we see a deep gold beer crowned by a spongy white head. The nose is a perfect combination of honey, herb and tropical fruit notes, almost like a finely tuned orchestra. Its flavour is intense and very hoppy, though you can still feel fruit and honey notes supporting such virtuous soloist. The finish is exclusively for hops, they leave a very pleasant sensation that slowly dissappears. The 7.5%ABV is so well integrated that makes this a bit dangerous, as it happened to us that first time, you might not realise you are drinking such a strong lager. Fortunately, its intense flavours almost force you to drink it and enjoying it slowly. It is a great beer.

Richter Brewery Pub

Versión en español

Richter Brewery Pub or Pivovar u Bulovky is not a place that you will find by chance while having a leisurely stroll. It is rahter far from the centre. The easiest and fastest way to get there is taking Metro B to Palmovka and from there another few more minutes by tram (10, 24, 25) to the stop Bulovka, then you will still have to walk another 100m or so.

A friend who had been there at a concert recommended it. I had never been in the area (and, honestly, was not missing much), so I had to do a bit of research on the internet to find it (my friend didn't remember the exact location). I finally decided to go one day and, actually, I walked past without noticing it. This hospoda does not announce itself with much fuss, so if you are a bit distracted you could be standing right at the door and still wonder where it is.

It's not a very big place that in a way feels more like a German bierstübe than a classic Czech hospoda. The walls and the bar are paneled with dark wood that matches the heavy furniture, and the windows don't let in too much light. All is dominated by the kettles where the house beers are brewed. It is one of those places where you don't notice the hours passing.

The food is really good. Prepared with a lot of care and attention to the presentation and, at the same time, using simple ingredients and methods. The portions are big enough and the prices more than reasonable. At midday they have a lunch menu with a soup and two choices of main course for 75Kc.

But what makes me go all the way there is the beers.
There are always two or three on tap, Richter Ležák being the one available every day, the rest will depend a lot on what Mr Richter felt like cooking. Most beers are not the usual stuff you can find at most places in Prague. There are a lot of top fermented kinds like Porter, Alt, Stout or Weizenbock together with different lagers, and even once an hybrid, all of them very good, sometimes simply great.

The only weak spot is the service, that can sometimes be slow and a bit erratic, making you wait longer than you would like to order or pay.

In a nutshell, Pivovar u Bulovky is a place where your really must fancy going, but bothering to do so is really worth it. You can be sure to find good food, great beer in a nice atmosphere and completely safe from tourist groups.

But be aware, Richter Brewery is very popular with people from the neighbourhood, it fills very quickly and it gets very noisy, specially on Friday evenings when usually there are concerts. So if you think of making your way there, be sure to have a reservation.

Richter Brewery
Pivovar u Bulovky
Bulovka 17
180 00 Praha 8 – Libeň