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High expectations

Žatec, a town about 90km from Prague whose German name, Saaz, carries a lot of meaning for lovers of good beer.

If the city was better taken care of, it could be a nice place to visit, specially during the summer months when the endless hops plantations are heavy with those magic blossoms. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

There is also a brewery in Žatec, as expected. However, visitors would be excused to fail to notice that since, even in the centre of town, the local beers are not easy to find.

Some years ago I used to go to Žatec every week for work. I was able to taste the beers then, but I didn't remember much. So I decided to buy a couple of bottles and see what they were about. Considering their origin, the expectations were rather high. The three I bought were Premium, Baronka and Xantho.

Premium (4.9%ABV) was the first to go down. It's of intense gold with a small head that disappears way too quickly, not a good sign. The nose is mild and malty with a bit of fruity notes in the back and very little character. I was actually expecting the flowery bouquet of the Saaz hops. Things don't get much better when drinking it. I didn't feel any distinctive flavours, the finish is almost not there. Feels more a vyčepní than a premium. On a thirsty hot day, I wouldn't turn it down, it's better than water, but not much more than that.

Baronka has a rather interesting history. On the label is the portrait of Baroness Ulrika von Lewetzow, from Třebívlice, a town not far from Žatec. This girl has some historical notoriety as, according to her memoirs, having been a lover of J.W. Goethe. According to her, the ralationship started when she was still very young and Mr. Goethe was already an elderly man.

There was a beer under this name. Brewed by Pivovar Litoměřice, until it closed down. Pivovar Žatec bought the registered trademark and started brewing it again a couple of years ago.

History aside and back to the present, Baronka (5.3%) looks certainly much better than its sister beer, and I don't mean the label. The colour is similar, but this time is capped by a compact and lasting head so white that it looks as if from a washing powder ad. The nose is more intense, with tropical fruit and mild herbal notes in the back. The same notes can be felt when drinking it. The taste is more intense than Premium's, but that is not much to say. It is a correct beer, fine when you are thirsty, though it seems to me that it wants to be more than just that. I had it a few days ago on tap, and I didn't notice much difference. An interesting silliness. Baronka must have one of the most beautiful caps I've seen. Instead of a logo, there is the portrait of the Baroness.

The name Xantho seems like something out of a voodoo ceremony. Actually it comes from xanthohumol, a chemical compound found hops. The brewery says that this beer has a high concentration of it and of isoxanthohumol, both having interesting medical properties.

It comes in a nice bottle that has a label that has some sort of holographic colors that sparkle in the light. Fermented at 14°balling and with 5.7%ABV, it is a very good looking beer. Dark amber and with an incredibly thick and lasting tanned head. The nose is ruled by coffee notes, with some caramel back there. Unfortunately, the flavours are not as intense as I was expecting and would have liked. There is some cocoa and coffee, but neither of them wants to step up and express himself as they should.

I still have two or three more beers from Pivovar Žatec left to taste. So far, the balance has not been good. I had expectations, and this beers have not delivered. Being from where they are from, I was expecting something with a lot more Saaz, their lack is almost unforgivable.