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!

14 comments:

  1. I am very fond of Strakonice beers and with the town now behind them they are trying to become a classy traditional brewery. If you get the chance to try their 13º and 14º offerings you will think that is definitely the way they should go. Unpasturised but there is a snag, universally in the Czech Republic brewers will try and convince you that the beer should still be filtered within an inch of its life. Strakonice are proud of 2 parts per million in their bottled offerings. As any traditional English brewer knows this is quite unnecessary and is detrimental to retaining complexity in the beer. I was told by the production manager that without the filtering the bottles would explode. Tell that to the bottle that live happily unfiltered in my cellar back in England!

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  2. According to what other brewers have told me, the reason they like to filter is shelf life and stability. Unfiltered lagers are very sensitive to temperature changes and they can easily go off if not kept cold, and you can't expect shops, wholesalers and distributors to keep pallets of beer in refrigerated rooms.

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  3. Above about 5º the reality is that shelf life should be better than a similar filtered and unpasturised beer. You will have witnessed many Belgian examples of this. The biggest problem in Czech Republic these days is the poor standard of stock rotation and cellarage and it is this that need tackling, otherwise the scene will be left to the europop produced by the big boys which is always consistent because it is dead. Strakonice admitted that one of their biggest problem was the poor standard of serving their draft beers in many of their outlets. Some of the smaller breweries are producing fine beers but more often that not at the point of sale it is acidic with too much carbon dioxide or frankly tainted through poor hygiene.

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  4. I agree with you on the poor cellaring conditions here at some pubs. However, I don't think it's right to compare the Central European bottom (and even top) fermented beers with their top fermented peers from Belgium and the UK. They are just two very different things.

    One thing you are not considering is that filtering is not something new, it has always existed. Bottom fermented beers were able to practically wipe-out the ancient beers thanks to industrialisation (by the end of the 19th cent. they had almost ceased to exist). Once good and reliable artificial refrigeration technologies were developed the number of breweries started to decline very rapidly here, that was because many of we today would call micros were closing and the reason was that they couldn't keep up with the competition of the new industrial lager brewers. Not only lagers proved to be great for mass production, but they were also more stable and easier to drink, which meant people would drink more of them at a time, which in turn meant more revenue for the pubs.

    Now, come to think of it, all these brewpubs and not few regionals with their unfiltered lagers are actually rather subversive...

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  5. I know that filtering has always existed and is a concomitant to bottom fermenting, but it is the degree to which this can now be done. and the assumption that this amount of filtration is a necessity. Without pasteurisation the shelf life is less but that is not a problem when for most of the smaller breweries their sales are relatively local, and much of that is via whole crates, so neither should there be problems with a lighter filtration and the livelier beers that would ensue. As has been the case in the UK the smaller breweries will survive and thrive when they separate their practices as far as possible form the conglomerate producers.

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  6. Hmmm... All this has made me think. What if the bottles are the culprits here?

    Bottled beer has always existed, but as a marginal product. By far, most beer was consumed draught and there was no conditioning, the beer went from the lagering cellar, to the kegs, from there to the pubs' cellars and from there to the mugs or pitchers, and it all was a very regional affair.

    At some point (don't know when or why and it doesn't matter) bottles started to become good business, but there was a problem, sediment. The other day at my local someone was talking just about how in the past people would turn bottles upside down before buying to see how much sediment they had, picking only those that didn't have any or had the least (which finally explained me why the geezers drinking bottled beer in the street throw the dregs before opening another one). This, of course, was not good for the business, not only because of a potential loss of sales, but because of the stability of the product. Breweries could count on pubs having proper cellars, but they couldn't do the same with shops. And so it was that they started filtering their beers more finely. It also worked for the kegs, too, once the breweries started distributing further afield and stopped being so selective about whom they sold their beers.

    But this is just speculation.

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  7. i did not want to comment until I had checked on my facts but Moravka Kvasnicové (Unfiltered, Unpasturised Pilsner) 5.0%
 straight from the lagering tanks. This Kvasnicové is slightly cloudy, as you'd expect, the yeast altering the aroma considerably and producing a more complex palate. I have drank this in our local in Huddersfield and it excelled most beers I have tried in Czech Republic, that is excepting the beers I have drank straight from the lagering tank. Moravska beers have a wide distribution and have suffered no problems whatsoever. So I chose not to believe the Czech brewing experts.

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  8. Since Moravká is a micro, then it should be compared with micros, all of which here sell their beers unfiltered, pretty much right from the lagering tanks. Some like Tambor, Kout and Kácov also sell filtered versions. Why would they do that? Well, simply because there is still a lot of people out there who don't like unfiltered beers.

    But if it's industrial brewers what we are talking about. You can see that there are many of them that will sell at least one of their beers unfiltered, but only kegs (and no matter how fresh they are, they just don't taste the same as right from the lagering tanks). They refuse to bottle their unfiltered beers, the reason, ask anyone out there and you'll get the same answer, stability of the product. Now, you can choose to believe them or not, but when all of them, and I've spoken to a lot of people in the brewing industry/community, say the same thing, there must be at least some truth in it.

    Are those beers "over filtered", yeah, perhaps you are right there, but blaming a brewer for looking after their business isn't fair.

    Don't get me wrong. When given the choice, I usually choose unfiltered, but there are times that I prefer a cleaner, crisper taste, or I don't want to suffer the consequences of drinking too much unfiltered beer (those yeast give me some really nasty hangovers).

    And BTW, Kvasnicové and Unfiltered are two different things that many times get confused.

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  9. It's particularly confusing in the Czech context because so many of the Czech beers popping up now billed as "Kvasnicove" don't taste that different from a normal beer and don't have a strong yeast taste at all. Rychtar's Natur comes to mind. I was puzzled by it for a while, but my theory is that they are not made with wheat which accounts for the difference in taste. Even so the not very yeasty taste is surprising for a "yeast beer" and I've begun wondering whether breweries aren't just calling unfiltered beers "kvasnicove".

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  10. It's a bit more complicated than that, actually.

    On the one hand, even people working in the brewing industry confuse one with another, and it's an honest mistake (if I remember well, on the website Natur is put as "nefiltrované"). And then you have the pubs, and here is a bit like Pilsner Urquell 12%, the beer is actually a 11º, but of course, the brewery doesn't mind the confusion (even though, they don't sell it as such)

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  11. Hm, is that because the degree rankings are no longer official? Because lots of places still bill it as a 12, one is almost tempted to file a complaint with the Ceska obchodni inspekce, except that I don't really want my pubs to start listing beers as "vycepni" and "lezak".. bad enough you can't ask for "light" cigarettes anymore.

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  12. also - http://www.rychtar.cz/nase-piva/natur-kvasnicovy/

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  13. Mike,

    The Plato degrees are still very much official. This means that if a brewery is selling you a 11% beer, it means that the beer was fermented at somewhere between 11 and 11.99º Plato. What has happened is that the gravities have been grouped into several legal categories, and those are the ones which a valid for tax purposes. Now, neither PU, nor Budvar or Staropramen say that their ležák is 12º, that is up to the pubs, and as you say, there is no point in making any trouble about that.

    I will also have to ask about that Natur and the legal frame of the Kvasnicové term.

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  14. You are right about the muddle. I found on one website (USA) where Urquel Kvasnicové gets star billing over all other lagers, when what they are talking about is drinking the unfiltered lager from the tank on the brewery tour. I can think of many breweries that would yield a finer experience

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