29 Jul 2008

Ignoring the giant, well, almost (II)

First part.

When I got to the end of the tree lined street I could see the trolleybus leaving. I would have to wait. Not for too long and, fortunately, it had stopped raining, at least for the time being.

I got off in the centre, at the stop Muzeum. I had to take the tram 4 to get to my next destination. For that I would have to walk a few hundred metres across Smetavý Sady. A walk I would have sure enjoyed a lot more had it not started raining again.

By the time I got to the tram stop, in front of the imposing Synagogue of Pilsen, the Sun had come out, again. The tram arrived very quickly and it less than ten minutes left me at the stop Sokolovská. I was only a few metres from U Rytíře Lochoty.
It's far from Purkmistr, not only distancewise but conceptwise as well. While the hotel and brewery opened last year boasts the fact that beer is made in the premises, Lochoty, opened in 2001, but looking older, is more a neighbourhood hospoda where they happen to brew beer. Actually, when walking through the door one could have the impression of being in the wrong place, since Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus signs are the first things noticed, instead of the almost mandatory bronze kettles.
This doesn't mean that Lochoty is an unpleasant place, quite the contrary. The rooms are spacious, with nicely decorated walls and the tables aren't packed together, but have enough space between them.

The waiters are also a bit of the old fashioned school. Few words, less smiles, but nonetheless efficient and attentive.

I ordered a 11° and a nakladaný hermelín, I suddenly had a massive crave for the marinated cheese. Neither took too long to be brought to my table.

U Rytíře Lochoty's jedenactká es of really rich cold colour, almost orange. It's got a very pleasant nose, where pears, herbs and syrup come together seamlessly. The first thing I felt when drinking it was fruit in syrup followed by mandarin notes. It was too carbonated for my taste and that made it a bit heavy. The finish does not improve things, starts bitter, with a lot of potential, but the aftertaste it leaves is sugary and not at all nice. Now, at 20CZK for a pint, it's not bad, but it could be better.
I finished my hermelín, which was really delicious and waiter for the 14°. I must admit that my expectations were not very high now. Fortunately, I was wrong. The 14° is all that the 11° wants to be, and still more. Almost identical in looks and with a similar nose, with a bit more intense notes maybe. The change, and improvement, can be better noticed when drinking it. A more unctuous mouthfeel. The syrup notes are more assertive, but still there is an important amount of fruit dancing in the mouth. The finish is dry, herbal and slightly acid. Delicious and, curiously, easier to drink than the lighter version. All for the sweet price of 24Kc a pint, what a bargain!
Again I had to resist temptation, this time of ordering another 14°. Although it does not fit the usual model of a brewpub, I liked U Rytíře Lochoty a lot. It seemed to me a great place to meet for a beer with friends. Well worth the trip.
But my mission was not fulfilled yet. I had one more stop to make. I had to go back to the centre, LOTR awaited me...

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25 Jul 2008

Ignoring the giant, well, almost (I)

I had the rest of the day free. Some of my clients are on holidays. I considered my options, going home after having lunch somewhere to read stuff on the Internet, maybe watch a DVD I could rent on the way or going to Pilsen and visit the three brewpubs working there.

Guess what I chose.

Actually, I almost didn't go, the day was miserable and it didn't seem it was going to get better. But the maps I had printed from the Internet, the camera, the notes I had taken about public transportation and the book I had to read during the trip were heavy in my bag, so I zipped up my jacket and went to Smíchovské Nádr. to take the 10:24 train.

I could have taken the Student Agency bus from Zlíčin, but I wasn't sure about the schedule, nor the price (cheaper than the train) and I didn't want to go all the way there only to be told that the bus was full and I would have to wait for the next one. Also, I knew the train would leave me closer to the centre and one of the trolleybuses I had to take to go to one of my destinations stopped at the station.

90 minutes later the train was arriving in Pilsen. After leaving the main train station I got my bearings and headed to the trolleybus stop. On the way there that perverse side we all have woke up and asked "Why don't we stop by at Pilsner Urquell?" (it would have been easy to get there walking). I slapped him on the back of the head and told him to shut up. I had already been at the brewery and I didn't think I would find anything new. Besides, my goal was another, exploring.

It might have been that short argument with my perverse self what distracted me and made me take trolleybus 13 in the wrong direction. Fortunately, I realised a couple of stops later, got off and went to take the right one, direction Černice. I had bought the 40Kc ticket, valid for the whole day, so I didn't have to bother with getting another ticket. Very practical, very cheap.

After almost half an hour I got off at the stop Gen. Lišky. Walked a few metres towards a tree lined street branching off diagonally. A couple of hundred metres later, at the end of the road, I had arrived to my first stopover, located in a small, very quiet square.

Hotel a Pivovar Purkmistr. I crossed the big patio at the entrance, walking past empty tables because of the rain and went into the restaurant.
What a nice place. Tastefully decorated, but without fancy o kitch, domintated by the almost required kettles. Something was being cooked in them, and the room had that characteristic and delicious smell of beer in its infancy. The waiter came immediately. I asked what were they tapping and ordered a Ležák, the flagship of most breweries, regardless of the size.
What came to my table was a půl litr full of a beer of very intense golden colour, almost orange, with a thick head. If I hadn't ordered it myself I would have never identified this beer as a Bohemian Golden Lager (though, given that I was in Pilsen, I could call it a Pilsner Lager without lieing). Unlike what I'm used to (fruit, malt, flowers, citrus), the nose of this beer is dominated by yeasts, almost like a Belgian Blonde abbey, with not so intense yet very present pomegranate notes. The flavour is a struggle between fruits and citrus with vanilla notes failing to keep them off of each other. The finish is long, very bitter and very refreshing. I would have loved to sip this beer in the patio, in the sun.
The food arrived, a pork steak with mushroom sauce and coarsely mashed potatoes. Nothing out of this world, but for 69CZK, it did a fairly good job. The waiter noticed that I was writing in my little notepad and asked if I was evaluating the beers and how I liked them. Pretty well, I said and ordered a Písař, the wheat beer of the house.

Typical colour and looks it had. With a lot of ripe banana on the nose and almost nothing else. The banana still dominates the taste, some acidity shows up by the end, but shortly, almost like an obligation, and the banana comes back. I liked it at the beginning, but half way down the glass I was already getting bored, and I was tired of it by end.
Remembering that I still had quite a lot of drinking to do that day I ordered a small glass of Tmavý Ležák. Fermented at 12° balling, like the previous two. It is a really black beer, with some garnet gleams when against the light. It has a recomforting baked apples bouquet with some chocolate notes. It is on the sweet side. I tasted cocoa, sweet coffe and fruit, and it has a short finish. No big deal, but pretty drinkable, and I'm sure it would be a ladies' favourite.
There were still two, the flavoured beers of the day. The servings got smaller. I opted for the sampling glasses of 0.1l. Cannabis and Borůvka (blueberry) was the offer. The former, of light golden colour and with an interesting nose of peach, canabis and citrus. Sweet citrus are the most assertive taste and the weed just up only at the end and without much of a fuss. The latter was darker, the nose was full of fruits with the aforementioned berry taking the lead. When I drank it I felt coffee, caramel and, of course, blueberries. It had a surprisingly dry and very well balanced finish. Refreshing.
I asked for the bill. Resisting the temptation of ordering another ležák. I woulnd't have minded staying a bit longer. It is a nice place, it was quiet and the service had been perfect. Not to mention the price of 28CZK for a pint, just a couple of coins, really. But I had a mission.

Went back up the tree lined street to the trolleybus stop. U Rytíře Lochoty was awaiting me in the other end of town...

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18 Jul 2008

Subtle beauty

Pivovar Kout na Šumavě en Domažlice is a true rara avis. Originally established in 1736, closed down in 1969 to resurrect in 2006. Not as one of the many brewpubs that have opened recently but as a proper industrial bottler. And with quite some success it seems. Their distribution has slowly been expanding in Plzeňský Kraj, and their beers have got many fans among beer geeks, so much so, that their 12° is already considered to be one of the best, if not the best, Pilsner Lager in the world.

Unfortunately you can't find it in Prague. There isn't any pub that stocks it nor there is anyone who distributes it. So, to be able to taste it I had to wait until a few weeks ago when Zlý Časy included it in the lineup of their minifestival of beers from the Pilsner Region. It's simply a brilliant beer, as I've mentioned before.

The other day, while having a pint with a couple of friends at one of my favourite spots, a bottle bearing the label of Kout na Šumavě materialised in my hands as if it had fallen from heaven (thanks Honza for the gift). After asking I learned that what the bottled contained was nothing less than Kvasnicová 12°.

Needless to say, my expectations were up in the clouds, which can sometimes make me a bit afraid and demands a lot of concentration. I always to ignore these subjective expectations. Sometimes it's hard.

I was going to pour this beer in the usual glass I use for tasting (you can see it in most pictures), but I changed my mind in the last moment, choosing my favourite půl litr instead. It turned out to be a very good decision. I poured carefully to have the right head. At first it looked like a very handsome Bohemian Golden Lager. Rich gold, no visible carbonation, compact head of angelic white. I let it settle a bit and, after shaking the bottom of the bottle a little, poured the rest. The yeasts that had sedimented fell into the glass and started to expand slowly like a cloud, until they turned a crystal like pilsner into a proper kvasnicové, cloudy and almost orange golden. The process was indeed beautiful to watch.
With my mouth watering I set to taste this eye candy. The nose was a perfect balance between ripe fruit and the characteristic citrus-flowery notes of Saaz hops. All delicate, but with character, and supported by the aromas of a barley field in summer (this is not an over the top metaphor, there is a barley field behind my house, and it smells just like that when the sun goes down).

The taste starts fruity, yet never becoming sweet, simply right. Slowly the hops start to show up, growing in intensity. In the finish the Saaz seem about the explode and blow our heads, but they never get to do that and leave the same way they came. They are like a stripper that never finishes taking off her clothes, and for that turns us on more.

I was fascinated by Kout Kvasnicové 12°. When I finished it, I automatically wanted to go and open another bottle, that was not there. It's so well made. It's the opposite of an extreme beer. It doesn't need to shout to be listened to, it just speaks clearly and with a melodic voice. Self confident, like a really attractive woman that doesn't need make up or fancy clothes, but still will turn the heads of those who know how to appreciate real beauty.

Na Zdraví!

16 Jul 2008

BP (Before Pivo)

Before they started brewing some of the finest beers in the world Czechs mostly drank "medovina", which literally means honey wine, but in English is better known as mead.

It's one of the oldest known alcoholic beverages and has a more than dignified history, at least from the mythical point of view. It's believed that it was the Nectar drank by the Olympic gods or the soma, the sacred drink of the Persians. It was also the favourite swill of the Nordic gods. It appears in the legends of Beowulf (at least in the film version:) and in some old Czech legends such as Bivoj and the Boar.

It has since lost its place of honour to beer and wine. However, it has never disappeared, it has always been there, specially at Christmas, when it is very popular to drink it warm.

Despite its Czech name, it's not a wine. It is made in a way similar to beer, though, instead of fermenting an infusion of cereals, an infusion of honey is fermented. At some time in the process different flavouring or colouring ingredients are added, such as fruit, berries, nuts, herbs, spices, caramel, etc. It can be either sweet or bitter. Basically, there is something for all tastes.
I've wanted to write an entry about medovina for quite some time. I like it a lot. We always have some at home. We usually drink it after dinner or in the afternoon with some coffee. But we always have only one bottle of any given kind that lasts quite long because we don't drink it in large quantities.

Fortune wanted us to attend a Celtic festival that took place the other day at a small town not far from where we live. It was in the gardens of the local castle, there was good music, nice food, not so good beer, very nice atmosphere and an incredibly massive choice of medovina. After having sampled several kinds we brought a few bottles home. The choice was as varied as I could think of and as much as we could carry with us to the car.
I had never done a parallel tasting of so many kinds of mead. I was really curious and started to open the bottles as soon as we got home.
The first one was Zlatá Medovina (18%ABV). This is a bottle we already had. It has a predominantly vanilla aroma, which also commands the taste. The finish is of roasted herbs and has a very silky body.

From the castle loot, I started with Eliška, it is a household name, and it's the one commonly served warm at Christmas markets. I brought Hořka (bitter) (12%ABV) with me. Its nose reminds me of some honey and mint candy I used to like a lot when I was a kid in Argentina. When drinking, the first thing that can be felt is ephemeral sweetness of honey, followed by a more intense bitterness with mint and licorice notes. A very fine drink.

I followed with the Elíxir Mladý (11%ABV), or elixir of youth. Its lighter colour tells us that caramel was not used, since such is the natural colour of mead after fermenting. It has a very mild nose, barely a hint of herbs. Its taste is also mild, velvety with subtle herbal notes.

Leaving the elixir behind, I went for Benatecká Bylinná (11%), herbal. And it has a strong herbal and spice nose. The flavour is medicine like, yet not unpleasant, which might make it a very nice digestif.

Kávový (coffee) (13%ABV) is a bit on the modern side. It is the darkest mead of all, with coffee dominating the nose. In the mouth, however, it is joined by honey and herbs in a very good balance.

I left the strangest of the lot to the end. Medovinový Likér (11%ABV), made with water, milk, honey, herbs and almonds. What an incredibly interesting drink this is. Very thick, almost like a pudding. It has a very complex nose where fruit, sour milk and honey are given equal space. It starts sour, almost agressive, but not quite so, when drinking it. Here the almonds can be felt, together with honey and herbs that close the drink joined by fermented milk. An ideal drink to pair with cakes and pastries.

Česká Medovina is a drink that unfortunately few foreigners seem to know. Partly because it's not that easy to find. The supermarket chains hardly ever carry it, and there aren't many restaurants that include it in their menu. But believe me, its subtle and silky characteristics make it a very good option to finish a meal, or as a night cap. Not to mention what a fine present a bottle can be.

Na Zdraví!

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12 Jul 2008

Good and bad

The good first:

It seems that the other great Czech brewer is beginning to realise what year we are living in. After having come out last year with the awful Pardal, following a market trend that had died a couple of years before, now, a bit late but better than never, they have become the fourth brewer to roll out the tanks. The other day, walking in Štěpanska I noticed, on the door of U Šumavy, a sticker announcing nepasterované tankové pivo. Later I heard that Budvar tankový can also be found at U Medvídku, and probably a couple more places around Prague. I didn't notice a big difference between the "new" unpasteurised beer and the good old one; perhaps a bit of a fuller body and more fruit. I must say that Urquell tanková, at the right place, is still better.

But that's not all from Budvar. The consumption of non alcoholic beers has increased considerably in the last few years, something most breweries haven't failed to notice and some of them have even started offering their nealko on tap. The first one to do so was Pilsner Urquell with their Radegast Birrel, with Starobrno and Bernard following suit. Budvar is the newest to have jumped on the wagon. They have recently started to offer their very good Budvar Nealko fresh from barrels. Nice to see the, thus far, state owned brewery catching a market trend when it's just beginning.

Now the bad:

After several months, I went back to Sousedský Pivovar Bašta, a brewpub that received much praise, mine included, after opening in Nusle at the beginning of the year.

I can't say it was a happy reunion. To begin with, the priced had been increased, a pint now goes for 30Kc instead of 25Kc. It still cheap and I'm sure the owners had ther valid reasons for it. In fact, the inflation would be a problem if it didn't come in hand with a serious drop on the quality of the beers.

I had all three beers being tapped that day. Polotmavé 12° (used to be 13°), Světlé 12° and Světlé 15°. The only one to keep some dignity was the first one. It was good, but not as good as I remember it. The other two, very defficient, specially the 15°, which I'm tempted to move to awfuland. Flavours not fully finished and terribly integrated alcohol that punches you in the palate and leaves a rather unpleasant aftertaste. For what I've heard in some corridors, the problem of this brewery is space and capacity. The beers don't have enough lagering time and that can be noticed. I believe they have potential, but they are not given enough time to develop.

I truly hope they can find a way to solve this very serious problem. Many already seem to have turned their backs to Bašta and it would be a big shame if the story has a sad end.

Na Zdraví!

10 Jul 2008

Visiting Relatives

The other day we went to visit some of my better half's relatives in Strakonice, a city at about 160km south of Prague. The excuse, a family celebration. The weather was ideal to sit in the garden, grill something and drink plenty of beer (well, actually, any weather is good for that). The beer of choice was, of course, from the local brewery, Pivovar Strakonice, mostly their Švanda, a new member of the team that seems to have replaced the locally popular "10". As its predecessor, this is a pretty good session beer, light bitterness, but with plenty of body and malty flavour for its 3.8%ABV. But there was one thing that caught my attention on the label.

During and after the presentation that Pivovar Strakonice gave last November at Pivovarský Klub, Evan Rail and I nagged about some bits of the company's marketing. Among them we ranted that, although being so, it wasn't mentioned anywhere that the beers were unpasteurised. When I asked the brewmaster why they were failing to mention something that many beer lovers see as an important added value, his honest answer was that he would bring it up to the marketing director. And so it seems, if you look at the picture below, you'll notice on the lower part of the label a word that does not need translation
"Nepasterované". When I read it, I couldn't help but smile and point it to my wife, while my chest was swelling a little. It made me feel good to see that our rantings had been paid attention to and that they've had some influence in the beer world, at least in the shape of one word. Yet it seems that it wasn't the only thing the people of Strakonice paid attention to. They have come out with Klostermann, an amber lager with 5.1%ABV. I agree with Evan on his review of this beer, it is very good. In the same category as Primátor Polotmavé 13° and Herold Granát, though maybe not as good. Still, I would put it a step above Master 13°. I really liked its contrasts of caramel notes with a refreshingly herbal bitter finish. So far, it can only be found at the brewery, but let's hope they will start distributing it in the rest of the country. It also seems that Dudák has become the flagship brand of the brewery, Nektar and 10 have already left the building.
Back to the family angle with which we started, the following day we went for a walk by the Otava. There isn't much to see in Strakonice. Except for the castle and a couple of buildings in the centre, the rest is a showcase of Communist good taste. However, the walk by the river is lovely. Full of trees and green, and with playgrounds for children every few hundred metres. It also goes by the brewery, which unfortunately was closed that Sunday; still we could feel the, for me, lovely smell of fermenting beer coming out of it. We found a beer garden that had just opened to sit down and refresh ourselves with some pivo. On the way back we noticed that the small beer garden next to the brewery had opened. I would have walked right past it hadn't it been for a sign the announced Kvasnicové 12°. Being a fan of this kind of beers, I followed my feet and quickly walked to the bar, regardless of my wife's reproaches. Unfortunately, sitting down to enjoy this beer in a proper glass was out of the question and I had to compromise and take it in a plastic cup. It was a pity because if it looked as well as it smelled and tasted, it would have been a beautiful thing. Perhaps, and due to the recent high temperatures, the beer as already going off, yet it was still delicious. Yeasts ruled the nose, reminding me of some German Wiessbiers, behind them, there were maltyness, grain and flowers. The taste was hugely refreshing, again with the yeast governing, here more Belgian like, the rest was tropical fruit and some herbs. I enjoyed every drop of it and prayed that some day someone will bring this beer to Prague. Maybe I should talk to my friends in Pivovarský Klub or Zlý Časy....
Na Zdraví!

7 Jul 2008

Viking landing

A couple of weeks ago I had a very pleasant visit, Knut Albert, a fellow beer blogger from Norway. He was in Prague on a business trip and, as it is his custom everywhere he has to go, he decided to spend an extra day in order to explore the local beer scene.

He arrived on a very warm Sunday. I went to pick him up at his hotel and we both went straight to Zlý Časy to enjoy the brewing wonders of Plzeňský Kraj, from there we went to Pivovarský Klub to have a couple more pints and pick a few bottles to take back to Norway.

It was an ideal afternoon to drink excellent Bohemian Golden Lager, chat about beers and life in general, and have a very good time. It's really remarkable the effect that our beer passion has. Two total strangers, different ages, from different cultures who had never seen each other before can have a great and extended afternoon with nothing more, nor less, than beer as the excuse.

I wont go into the details of the meeting, if you are interested, you can read about it in Knut's blog, here and here.

Knut didn't come empty handed, though, he brought five samples of Scandinavian beers, for from his country and one from Denmark.

Like most people, my knowledge of Scandinavian brewing was pretty much limited to Carlsberg, Tuborg (I'm I repeating myself) and other stars. Of course that, by no means, I thought of them as good examples of what you can drink in the Northern lands. My curiosity, thus, was pretty high, I didn't know what to expect. But I trusted Knut's choice, I was sure he hadn't brought the first stuff he could find at the nearest supermarket in Oslo. Still I didn't have any bar with which to measure this beers coming from a region with a long brewing tradition, but with a strongly eurolagered recent history.

Before beginning to taste this beer I realised how good it is not to have any expectations when you are going to drink something for the first time, other than, of course, the factual information found on the labels. It helps to make a more objective evaluation, although it still depends a lot on personal tastes.
I started with the oddball of the group. Humle Fryd, brewed by the Danish craft brewery Bryggeriet Skands. As far as I can gather from the label in Danish, this beer was inspired by Pilsner Lager, and was brewed with Saaz Hops. It came in a 25cl bottle (there is a reason for that, you'll see). Just after pouring this pale golden beer into the glass you realise that the label wasn't lying. The flowery scent of the Saaz hops is simply everywhere, leaving just a little room for some sweet fruit notes. The fruit are almost nowhere to be felt when drinking it, though. It is very dry and almost the only thing that can be tasted is the hops. I really like very hoppy beers, but this one in particular I found out of balance, and with a body suspiciously light for its 5.5%ABV. I wasn't a fan. Now, this little bottle came from a plane leaving Copenhaguen. Humle Fryd might not be among the craft beers I've liked the most, but it is sure a massive step forward compared to the canned eurolagers most commonly served on board of planes.
The next one was Aass Bock. Aass is, if memory doesn't fail me, one of the most important bottlers in Norway. As expected for a Bock, this beer pours down a dark amber and it's topped by a compact slightly tanned head. I felt sweet notes that reminded me of vanilla and fruit. However, when drinking it, I felt a pleasant balance between coffee and ripe fruit. Nice beer to drink with smoked meats.
It was the turn of the craft beers from Norway. The first one I chose was the one that intrigued me the most when reading the label. Romjul, from Haandbryggeriet, which for what can be seen on their web page, must be a pretty interesting micro brewery. Contrary to what is common in most country, this Christmas beer, brewed with wheat and Munich malts has only 4.5%ABV, which could make it a session beer. And a very good session beer it would be! It's dark amber, cloudy and with a tanned head. It's not filtered, nor pasteurised and it's bottle fermented and has natural carbonation and the right amount of sediments. The nose is mostly fruity acidity that tries to hide roasted notes of a rougher character. I found it simply delicious. The more subtle flavours of the wheath malt are a perfect contrast to the dry roasted ones of the Munich malts. All while licorice and sour cherries in syrup round up and give more character to this brilliant beer.
It was followed by Bøyla, from Ægir Bryggeri. Knut told me that the brewery is located in the Fjords, at the end of a trail very popular with tourists, and they exploit the viking theme, as it can be seen on the label. This blonde ale with 4.5% is rich gold and slightly cloudy. I felt tropical fruit and quite a lot of yeast on the nose, which gave it a character similar to some Weizen. It is drier than expected when drinking it, citrus fruits is what predominates and it has a very refreshing light body. It wouldn't make me go all the way to fjords to get it, but I would sure be very happy if I found it after a long walk.
I closed this round of Nordic beers from the strongest of the lot. Ø Imperial Stout, from Nøgne Ø Bryggeri. According to the comprehensive information found on the label, this beer has 9%ABV, 75IBU and it's fermented at 23°plato. A powerful beer, at least on paper. And it is so in reality, as well as very robust. It's brewed using Maris Otter, Munich, roasted barley, oat, black, and chocolate malt; Columbus and Crystal hops; English ale yeast, and the local Grimstad water. Quite a stew! And what a black beer this is! When pouring down it looks like too strong and thick coffee. The head is creamy and almost brown. The nose was a bit acid, with some molasses and coffee notes. It tastes like very strong and bitter coffee, not espresso, but drip. The alcohol can be felt a little, but it's still very well integrated, it does not disturb, it's actually a bit like a well placed "drink with moderation" warning on a billboard. The finish starts with some caramel, but it is again the coffee what we are left with, for quite some time. A very interesting beer, great for a winter afternoon by the fire. I really liked it.
Thanks Knut for sharing this very good and interesting bunch with me. But most of all, thanks for the visit and for the opportunity of meeting and sharing our passion. I hope you are enjoying the beers you took with you from Prague.

Na Zdraví!

4 Jul 2008

And we are both happy

So, my male reader. Let's picture this situation. It's a lazy afternoon, you are walking around Vinohrady with your wife, girlfriend, lover, date or one of your many ladyfriends when the munchies strike. As pretty much every other red blooded man would do, you suggest going to a pub.

She's having none of it, she wants to go to a nicer place, maybe have a cup of good tea or a glass of good wine to wash down something sweet or something more appealing to the female taste than the usual beer snack. You, on the other hand, are really craving for a good pint, and you know such thing at places like, say, Louvre are pretty much unheard of (nothing personal, in fact, I love Louvre for cakes and hot chocolate, but their beer is rubbish).

There are a couple of choices that would do the job. Dobrá Trafika is a few blocks away, but you know it will be full and you want something more spacious than their small café. Literarní Kávarna Řetězová could be fine, too, but you really can't be bothered with going to the Old Town. Where to go, then?

Medúza is the answer. And a very good answer at that. Located in a quiet street, less than 200m from Nám. Míru, it became one of my favourites (and my wife's) pretty much the moment I walked through the door. It is one of those places that invite you to sit and stay longer than you planned.

Inside it's simply beautiful. The furniture seems to have been bought at flea market, all the tables are different, all in dark hardwood, and all with unmatching chairs, armchairs and sofas. The colourful walls are covered with photos and illustrations from the golden years of the First Republic. Everything matches perfectly with the Art Nouveau style chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The cherry on the pie are the porcelain sugar pots on each table, also antique shop chic, and all different. At times it makes you feel you are sitting in the living room of a rather bourgeoise grandmother.
The service adds to the atmosphere. It's rather informal, efficient and attentive. You will never be rushed to order, nor will you be given the bad eye if you decide to keep on reading well after you finished whatever you were drinking or eating.

The food menu will be just perfect for your needs in an afternoon like this. There is plenty to choose from, pancakes and crepes, toasted open sandwiches, very original salads, beer snacks (including one of best nakladaný hermelín I've ever had), some cakes and the soup of the day. Add to that a wide choice of cocktails, teas and other hot and cold drinks, including an excellent hot ginger, lemon and honey drink, and your female companion will be delighted.

And what about you and your thirst? How about Svijanský Řytíř or, if you are in the mood for it, its dark sister, Svijanská Kněžná?

Somehow Medúza manages to mix the best of many places. The good beer and snacks of a corner pub, the atmosphere of a really bohemian café and the mood of a student's bar. Take your lady there, you'll score quite a few points and the best is that she will want to go back.

Na Zdraví!

Belgická 17
Praha 2 - Vinohrady

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2 Jul 2008

High temperatures

Except for a couple of rainy days, June was a fantastic month to drink those wonderful summer beers like golden lagers or wheat. And of the latter, there were several and all excellent. Starting, of course, with the every day better and more popular Primátor Weizen. Both bottled and draught it's a beer that has nothing to envy its German counterparts. On a more crafty side, I tasted the superb Pšeníčné from Pivovar Strahov. Mild, but unctuous body, very refreshing banana and cinnamon notes with a deliciously sour finish with a touch of cream. At 59Kc for a half litre (yeah, when they want, they can serve half litre glasses) it's not cheap, but worth it. Also down my gullet went the almost tropical Weizen from Ječmínek Prostějov. A beer almost ideal to pair with a rather spicy lunch.

Ah! But that's not it. During the minifestival at Zlý Časy there were, not one, but two wheat beers. Purmistr Weissbier, from the brand new brewpub of Pilsen, and Duchmaus Weissbier from Stříbro, this one actually a bit of an oddball, since it was bottom fermented. Anyway, they were both lovely. And if all that wasn't enough, Pivovarský Dum premiered their Dunkles Weizen, its taste, ripe bananas with a burnt sugar finish. Nice beer for dessert.

Not everything was wheat, of course. Kocour Vandorf's Stout almost blows my brain with its bitter Belgian chocolate taste. Simply outstanding, more so if we consider that its creator is actually a young girl fresh out of secondary school. How about that?

I stopped by at Chýně, where I hadn't been too long for my own good. Apart from awarding my senses with that unmatchable desítka, I delighted myself with their Vienna Lager 14°, a beer a body nicer than a Czech supermodel, silky texture and balanced flavours that danced between caramel and dry herbs. Oh! And I was almost forgetting about it. At Chýně I also bought a bottle of their Pšeníčné. As with every other one brewed by this magic brewpub, this wheat beer was simply wonderful, even after a couple of days in the fridge in its PET bottle.

Among the golden lagers it is worth mentioning (apart from Richter Ležák, that was in top shape this month, as was Štěpán) the deliciously hoppy Moritz Ležák, or Stříbro Argent, a perfect lager for a hot day, flowery nose, dry with a texture typical of an unfiltered beer. I must not forget either, Purkmistr Ležák with a delicate balance between caramel and herbal notes and Kout na Šumavě. This Pilsner style lager, which was debuting in Prague, has become a bit of a legend in a very short time. The expectations fell short for this remarkably excellent beer. Fruit notes struggling with the most flowery Saaz in each sip. At the end, it is the hops that win, conquering our palate and our hearts.

Honestly, I don't know whom to give the award to. All the above mentioned deserve it. So, as it was the case last month, there are multiple winners, with maybe a special nudge to the wheat beers. It's their season.

Na Zdraví!!

PS: During June I tasted 28 different beers, 20 of which were absolutely new to me. What a great month! The total for the year, 196.