17 Aug 2008

Spreading the gospel

A few months ago we discussed Beerevangelism. Which is what many of us beer bloggers usually do.

Thanks to my offices many of the people I know have discovered that Czech beer is not only Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus, and that there is a lot more and better to be discovered and drunk. And they weren't only foreigners, but also quite a few Czechs, among them some of my clients.

A typical case of someone who has seen the light was that of one of our new neighbours. He and his girlfriend moved in a few weeks ago, and with my wife we paid them a visit to see how they were doing in their new house. They were tired, but happy. They had just finished working for the day. The offered us beer. "What do you have?", I asked. "Staropramen Ležák", he said. Before I could say anything my wife started laughing and told him that I didn't like that beer. Our neighbour said that it was very good, and that he liked it a lot and insisted that we take a bottle. Without any joy and with a bit of curiosity (I hadn't drunk that beer for a long time) I accepted the offer and we went to sit outside.

God! What an awful beer that is! It is horrendous, worse than I remembered it! At some point the conversation turned towards Stella Artois and Heineken (Am I repeating myself?) y our neighbour told us, full of enthusiasm, how much he liked them. The disgust that was now showing on my face was not only due to what I was drinking, my wife again took the words out of my mouth to insist on how bad those two beers are. Our neighbour would not agree. With a lot of effort I finished that swill from Smíchov (or is it brewed in Ostrava?) and invited our hosts to our place, promising that there would be pravé pivo (real beer).

Once there I went on to open a couple of bottles of Svijany. Milan's (that's our neighbour's name) reaction said it all. He simply could not believe how good that beer was. He finished his first pint, and asked for another, and then another. He drank them all slowly because we wanted to enjoy them. I felt really good.

However, once he had left I started thinking. Yes, he did like Svijany a lot, but when he goes to do the shopping at whichever outlet of whichever supermarket chain he usually goes, it is unlikely that he will find it, or anything similar and he will sure end up buying his usual Staropramen (though he might not like it so much anymore). In fact, it will be easier for him to get Heineken or Stella than most of the very good regional Czech beers. And that is simply sad.

Things seem to be slowly changing, though. One of my clients told me that he buys Svijany at the Billa (a local supermarket chain) in Prósek (a neighbourhood in Prague. Others have told me that you can find Klášter at Hypernova Chodov or that many of the special beers from Primátor can be found at other supermarkets. Yet they all seem to be isolated cases, one of the dozens of branches of one of the several local supermarket chains carries a regional beer. Could it be that they are pilot tests? Is it possible that someday the beer shelves at supermarkets will offer as much variety as wine shelves? I think I'm daydreaming.

Na Zdraví!

12 comments:

  1. I don't have a car and rarely shop by bicycle so I buy whatever beers my local Vietnamese shop has available.

    What are your thoughts on Kozel Černý?

    Or Braník? No, just kidding :)

    C.

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  2. My wife has a car, but we have a policy of not going to supermarkets if it can be avoided. I buy my beers at a small shop in dejvice that stocks a much more interesting variety than the usual (Platan, Svijany, Rohozec and even Polička), but I'm lucky in that sense, and I see your point. It is almost impossible to find anything other than the stuff from the big 3 at smaller shops, too.
    Kozel Černý, I think it's fine, I guess. Haven't drunk it for quite some time, but It has never been my favourite. In fact, I'm not a big fan of tmavé výčepní beers, they just don't make it.
    Haha! Braník, I think I would still choose that one over Stella

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  3. Thanks a lot for a great blog with exciting and interesting information about beer.

    When I read this post, I thought it was like an elitist's view of beers. I feel you mean that some beers are crap, and others (preferably the ones more or less unavailable) are supreme.

    First of all: I like lager beer. There are few lager beers that I have not liked.

    Carlsberg, Tuborg and Heineken are brands I drink and actually like. A warm summer day in Copenhagen and a cold bottle of Tuborg is great. American beers are not among my favourites, but I have a very fond memory of an afternoon in Florida drinking icecold Budweiser with temperatures outside around 40 centigrades.

    I have been to the Czech Republic, and this summer I spent two weeks in Prague. I used U Sadu in Zizkov as my main hospoda and enjoyed both Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus there. The Urquell is great, and here at home I try to get hold of it as often as I can in cans. It can be difficult at times, but I like the taste very much. But the best Urquell I have tasted was from tap at U Sadu. That was a wonderful experience.

    I never tried Svijani. From what you write, I should. I did taste some other brews while in Prague. Staropramen is good, but Radegast is better. I also liked Starobrno and the lager version of Kozell.

    My conclusion is that lager beer tastes good. Some beers are better than others, but the negativity against some brands is unneccessary elitism. What I like now may not be what I like tomorrow, but today I like lager beer - both Staropramen, Urquell, Radegast and international brands like Carlsberg, Tuborg, Heineken and Lapin Kulta. Please respect my view as it is today.

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  4. Anonymous,
    Thanks for writing. I'm sorry you felt the post was elitist, that wasn't my intention.
    I don't think a beer is supreme only because is hard to find. Availability and quality are two separate things.
    Svijany (which brews only lagers), for example. It's becoming more and more available at pubs and restaurants in Prague and a few shops around the city carry the brand. The brewery is an industrial bottler that pops out 300 thousand hl a year. What makes it better than, say, Gambrinus is that is brewed with more care and not so cheaply, open fermenters are used and the beers are sold umpasteurised. And also, the price I pay for a bottle of Svijany is less than what I would pay for a bottle of Starorpamen, Gambrinus, Budvar, etc of the same category. So, actually I'm a bit of a tightwad.
    Many people I know are very surprised by it (or others I have around at home, all bought at a small shop in Dejvice, not a specialist in obscure beers) because, as was my neighbour's, they can feel the malts, the hops, it leaves a more pleasant aftertaste, it's less fizzy, in sum, it's a better beer.
    I also like having a pint of Pilsner Urquell tanková every now and again, same with Budvar. I still think they are very good beers. I used lto like Gambrinus and even Staropramen at the beginning, now I don't, specially the latter. My taste has evolved, but not so much, I think. I believe it is more due to a serious drop in the quality of the beers. I also like Starobrno, it was the beer they had at the pub of the village I used to live, so I drank it very often and in relatively large quantities sometimes.
    Now, I do believe that some beers are rubbish, Heineken, Carlsberg, American Budweiser and Stella among them, sorry. Why I believe they are rubbish. They are cheaply made, you can't tell one from the next, they are a brand more than a drink and, to me, they simply taste horrible, I would pick them in a blind tasting (as I've done a couple of times with Stella).
    But there is also a moral issue here. All the above mentioned brands, together with several others belong to massive multinationals that don't care at all about the beer, they only care about profit, if the quality has to suffer, if we have to kill a local brand in order to sell our international one, if they have to shut down a brewery, not because it doesn't make any profit, but because it doesn't make enough to satisfy their shareholders, so be it. And that's why I will always support the smaller guy. They do care about the product they make and they deserve every crown we can give them.
    But I have no problem at all with you, or anyone, liking them. If my neighbour wants to drink Staropramen till the end of his days, that's his thing. I'm just happy he could see that there are better beers out there. As I am when thanks to blogs like this people get interested in trying something new, and better.

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  5. A few weeks ago I had a pint of Stella at my local pizza place and it was incredible. I couldn't believe that it really was Stella. Maybe they ran out and had to use a keg of something else?

    Due to my heritage I also have to ask your opinion of Australian beers. Even with all these yummy Czech beers I still miss Coopers Pale ale, XXXX Bitter, and even VB :)

    I see a lot of Australian wine around the place but never beer. I guess it doesn't make financial sense to ship bottles of beer to the other side of the planet.

    C.

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  6. Ch,
    I was in Australia 9 years ago, spent over two months there and drank loads of different beers. Of course, the ones I drank the most were VB and XXXX Bitter. Honestly, I don't remember much of them. I didn't dislike them, but I was happy to drink something else if it was available.
    I remember Toohey's Old, that one I liked. There was another one with a Tasmanian Tiger on the bottle, that one was really good. And I think I had the Stout from Coopers, or was it the Pale Ale, or maybe both, I wasn't such a beer hunter back then, I can't remember. But I do remember that I liked it.
    Now all this is relative, it was quite long ago, my tastes were different. There are so many beers beers I liked in the past that I would like to try now, to see if I still like them.
    Hey, you can buy Foster's here. hahaha!!!
    PS: I avoid Stella like the plague. I've decided I will not go to any restaurant/cafe/pub that taps it.

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  7. Your comments on Staropramen are quite funny - especially as in my opinion it is one of the few mass produced lagers in the Czech Republic to actually get better in recent years. When I first landed in Prague in 1999 it truly was swill. Unlike, at the time, Kozel, Gambac and even Prazdroj (although I must admit that I have never been its biggest fan). Part of problem is, as pointed out, the paucity of opportunity for the smaller brewers to break out of their local market, even if their product is markedly superior. Thank goodness for places like Pivovarsky Klub (practically my local bar!) where you can find all sorts of stuff.

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  8. Isn't that the beauty of it all. I actually think the opposite of you. When I moved here in 2002 I drank a lot of Staropramen, a couple of my favourite pubs had it, never my favourite, but really nice at the right place. Now, I would avoid it at all costs.
    Gambrinus is following the same path, I must say.
    About places to find "alternative" beers. Pivovarský Klub and Pivní Galerie, together with others like Zlý Časy (if you haven't been there, what are you waiting?) are great. I'm also putting together an entry about places where to buy that kind of beers, I appreciate all help on that!

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  9. Discovered the delights of Zly Casy a couple of weeks ago - and I agree with a post you made about Prague 4 being the centre of micro-brew in Prague. Interesting things are happening.

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  10. Forgot to mention that yes, that is part of the beauty of beer and the fact that everything we say is purely subjective. For example, I am not a fan of Klaster - and after my first Orval last night I am not sure I a fan of that either - although I will have to try my other bottle to see what I think.

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  11. I must admit that I didn't like Klášter too much when I had it for the first time, much less in bottles. It must be that weird minty flavour that it's got, but now I love it. I think it grows on you. Try it at that corner pub in Letná, if you don't like it there, you'll never do.

    I think one thing is to pass judgement on a beer, and another on the people who drink it, just because they happen to drink that. I certainly do the former, but never the latter. I might not understand why someone would want to drink Gambrinus at a brewpub, when the house 11° is A LOT better and for the same price, but it's their choice.

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  12. On the Klaster front (sorry my keyboard doesn't have diacritics for some strange reason) - I have tried it in Mnichovo Hradiste straight from the brewery and I just didn't like it. Admittedly I have only tried the dvanactka, so I will have to try the rest of the range - purely in the interests of research of course! :-)

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