30 Mar 2008

From sunny Andalucía

Before going into the tasting notes, it is worth telling the story of how a couple of samples of Alhambra Reserva 1925 got to my hands.

I've said it many times, one of the nicest things about blogging is the possibility of exchanging ideas, things, experiences. Francisco and Bea, from Granada, Spain, are readers of my Spanish blog who had found it thanks to the forum Los Viajeros. They contacted me to make me a very surprising offer.

Due to a health problem of the people that were going come to Prague with them, they were left with two tickets to the Opera that could not be refunded, so they decided to give them good use and invite me and my wife to go with them.

Philistine as I am, I had never been to the Opera (despite having lived here for six years), but I was curious. So I didn't hesitate to accept the invitation.

To make it short, we had a great time. We had dinner at the Klub the evening before and we both found Francisco and Bea very nice and fun to be with. The Opera we saw was La Traviata, and I must say that I liked it. Yes, there were a couple of moments when I thought I would fall asleep, but it was still a very interesting experience and I would love to go back some day.

After the show, when we were saying our goodbyes, Francisco and Bea gave us two bottles of Alhambra 1925.

I remembered having read a review of this beer in Logia Cervecera (Sp), but not what was their impression about it. I decided not to read it again because I didn't want my expectations to be affected by the judgment of the Logia (which I respect deeply).

Regarding expectations. It is interesting, my experience with Spanish beer is limited to a handful of samples that didn't have a good impression on me. Is inevitable that such thing would affect one's expectations by lowering them. The same effect has the fact that Spain is a country with only an incipient beer culture. On the other hand, the name of the beer Alhambra Reserva 1925 and its bottle (one of the most beautiful I have seen) make you expect a bit more, at least than the Spanish average.

As I've said, the bottle is beautiful, like something you can see in an antique shop or a flea market. Makes you want to keep it as a collectible. It can be read on it that the beer has 6.4%ABV and that corn is among its ingredients. Here is where some doubts started to pop up. This cereal was not part of the original recipe, so I don't think it was added in order to give the beer some special character, but to cut some costs. Which is almost unforgivable considering that this beer wants to be something special. Trying to put that behind, I went on to taste it.

When pouring it we see deep golden almost amber colour, with cava-like bubbles. In the nose I felt honey notes with some touches of whipped cream and a bit of alcohol. It has a nice mouthfeel, though the body is a bit lighter than I expected (can it be the corn?). The predominating flavour is mild caramel, almost like mixed with milk. The finish is short and dry. Halfway down the glass I started to feel the alcohol as if trying to catch up with the rest.

All in all, Alhambra 1925 met my expectations, but just barely, a few "points" were lost due to the presence of corn. If I was in Spain, I would gladly drink it. It is well above the industrial average. However, I didn't make me a fan.

Anyway, together with my better half, I want to thank Francisco and Bea for bringing this beer al the way here and, more than anything, for inviting us to the Opera and having such a good time together. Best to both of you!!!

Na Zdraví!!

28 Mar 2008

Not so high expectations anymore

When I posted my tasting notes from three of the beers from Pivovar Pivovar Žatec I made clear that I was not too crazy about them, in fact, that they had disappointed me. I still had two left to taste and I wanted to give them a chance.

They turned out to be three, Export and Lučan were joined by Velikonoční 15°, an Easter beer.

It was this seasonal brew the first one I tasted, not bottled, but on tap. They had it at Pivní Galerie when I went to buy the bottles. It's kvasnicové of deep golden colour and a nice spongy head. The nose is dominated by ripe fruit, supported by honey and mild citrus notes, quite pleasant. It was the honey what I first felt when drinking it, followed by sugary fruit and a short pleasant citrus finish. So far, so good. I made a little mistake by ordering a pul litr, instead of a smaller dose (0.3l). However, contrary to what is common when drinking bigger doses of strong beers, this one didn't saturate my sense. Halfway down the glass it seemed as if the beer had ran out of batteries. The flavours dwindled to the point of making this beer boring as a bad comedy.
The Export follows the line of its sisters. They are all from the same stock. It is a lager of pale golden, with little carbonation (as good lagers should be). Apples predominate on the nose, supported by cereal and some all too mild herbal notes. To give it credit, the mouthfeel is very nice, silky and almost sensual. The taste, however, tries to be interesting. It feels like a baby learning how to walk, making its first steps and when it seems it has managed it, falls and gives up, preferring to crawl instead. Better than the Premium, no doubt, but just that.
When everything seemed lost and the Žatec family would become like a boring neighbour or colleague, those that always tell the same boring anecdote, came Lučan.

This beer's name refers to a mythical character in early Czech history. He was the leader of a tribe enemy to the ancient Czechs that came from the Žatec area to battle the Přemislid forces. According to the legend, 20.000 soldiers took part in the bloody battle that was fought on the fields right behind my house. The Czechs were victorious, but at a big cost, since their hero Čestmír fell in the struggle.

Legends aside, I'm glad I left Lučan for last. This deep amber beer, not too different in looks to Xantho (nice head included), has and intense cocoa nose that almost becomes chocolate with very interesting citrusy notes making contrast. Evan Rail says in his book that drinking it is almost like biting on a piece of Sacher cake. I wouldn't go that far, but I do agree that it is intense and interesting. Caramel followed by strong roasted notes that, again, threaten to evolve into chocolate. The finish is short, tasting almost like cola, and leaves a mild citrus aftertaste that goes away slowly. It is a very well accomplished beer, almost everything that can be expected from a brewery located in Saaz, the heart of Czech brewing art. Unfortunately, it is only the exception in a line that doesn't say much. It's worth seeking it, ignoring the rest.


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27 Mar 2008

Tax time!

Normally nobody would go with a smile to the tax office to leave their tax return. I'm not an exception. Taxes got me in a bad time, my finances still more than a bit shaken after moving. Fortunately, not far from my tax office there is a place that I had wanted to visit for some time, U Klokočnika. If beer prices at U Rokytky date from 2002-3, those at U Klokočnika are still older.

But it's not just any beer they tap there. I wouldn't go to such a remote place just for a Gambáč, no matter how cheap it can be (well, after having a look at my bank balance, I might consider it). What you can find there are the beers of Pivovar Kácov.

Pivovar Kácov is something between a brewpub and a small industrial brewery. Some of its capacity is used by Pivovarský Klub to brew Štěpán, and by the former brew master of Ferdinand to brew his brand Bohemia Gold. According to the brewery's web page (it's only in Czech, but if you still want to have a look at it, go to www.pivovarkacov.cz), they were established in 1457 and, as many others, went through many hands before ending up with their current owners.

U Klokočnika, a prototypical corner pub, is the only place where you can find Kácov every day. There are few concessions to modernity, the daily menu is handwritten and photocopied. The patrons are mostly workers from the nearby workshops, during lunch, and the local drunkards the rest of the day. The food is solid hospoda. But what I've have eaten, though didn't make me moan in pleasure, wasn't half bad. In fact, the chips are among the best I've had in Prague. I'm not certain, but they looked and tasted home made.

Kácov brews four beers on a regular basis, all available at this hospoda. Desítka and Dvanactká both čisté (clean, as the waiter calls them) or kvasnicové.

I've tasted all of four. I haven't got much to say about 12° čisté, it was just your average golden lager, nothing memorable, nothing bad either. The kvasnicové is a tad more interestng. Deep gold, with the almost expected cloudiness of these kind of beers (thought it must be added that it is unfiltered). The nose is really dry, with grapefruit, mint and cannabis notes. The taste is mild, also on the dry side, with herbs predominating, though I was able to feel some subtle honey touch in the back.

Curiously, the ones I liked the best were the two cheaper beers, the desítky. The "clean" has an aroma that reminded me of citrus and green apples. It also tastes dry, with an intense herbal finish, that leaves a lingering citrusy aftertaste. One of those beers that are great on a hot summer day. It's kvasnicové was my favourite of the lot. It's almost undistinguishable to the eye from it's big sister. We start feeling the difference with the nose. I felt pears and herbs (mostly mint) and the taste is deliciously fruity at first with a surprise bitter charge on the finish, very pleasant. This is a beer that I would love to have in summer on tap on my terrace. Delicious.

Barring the last one, I found all the beers too carbonated, to the point of being a little annoying on the 12°čisté. Also, barring the last one, none shook my world, and still then I prefer Chýně's. Now if we consider the prices I paid for these four beers at this pub, the value for money balance is more than positive. Oh! The prices? Just have a look at the photo below. I don't think you can find anything cheaper in Prague.
I will certainly go back to U Klokočnika, I liked the atmosphere. In summer it must be a very pleasant place to have a few piva with friends sitting at the tables under those for sure leafy trees in front of the pub.

Might seem hard to reach at first sight, but it isn't so. Just take tram 18 to the second to last stop, Na Veselí, and then keep walking 200m until you see it. Can't miss it!

Restaurace U Klokočníka
Na Veselí 702/48
140 00 Praha-Nusle

22 Mar 2008

Cuts

The other day reading a post in Buena Cerveza (Sp) about the world famous Newcastle Brown Ale, I noticed one of the comments mentioning how this beer is made, basically mixing a brown ale that isn't sold and amber ale that is marketed separately.

Czechs have a name for this: řezané pivo, or cut beer.

It isn't a beer style, but some sort of beer cocktail that is drunk quite often at hospody all over the country.

Many are the Czech dark beers that have more or less intense caramel or toffee flavours and, in some cases, roasted coffee or cocoa. Mixing them with a typical Czech Golden Lager, those with a lot of Saaz, full of fruity, citrusy and herbal flavours, you can get a drink with more than interesting, and sometimes pretty complex notes. If both beers used are of good quality, they will contrast and empower each other, it will also be possible to feel the characteristics of each while some new flavour entity forms in our mouths.

In the hands of a good výčep (the person tapping the beers) the diffence in density of each beer can be easily seen, with the dark beer remaining on the top. Then they will slowly mix as they are drunk.

It's half gone, but you can get the idea.

There are some breweries that bottle řezané pivo, calling it řežák. One of them, Řezák 11° from Pivovar Malý Rohozec, actually was chosen Poltomavé 2007 by SPP.

Personally, I prefer them to be mixed at the pub, or making it myself at home, rather than having it already prepacked.

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21 Mar 2008

Smoky feelings

More than a style Rauchbier is a whole family of beers. Typical of the German city of Bamberg, they are rather unknown and, for many, an acquired taste. For something more detailed about this fascinating beers, read the the very good post that Evan Rail wrote for his blog.

A couple of weeks ago some bottles from Bamberg appeared on the shelves of Pivovarsky Klub. I've been told that someone who goes to Germany and brings a few cases is the person we should thank for being able to taste these most interesting beers (which tend to dissappear very quickly).

I had my first contact with them about a year ago when someone gave me to taste a glass. I was impressed. Since then I was only able to drink kouřové pivo, from Chýně, not the same, but still very good. This time, when I saw the bottles, I didn't hesitate and picked a Rauchweizen and a Märzen Rauchbier. I wanted to taste them with a more critical eye than that first time.

I started with Rauchweizen because it was the one I wasn't acquainted with. I didn't know what to expect and I was very curious. When pouring it we have a dark amber beer, cloudy, topped by a very white, spongy head. The nose reminds of smoked meats without salt, supported by notes more typical of a weizenbier. For someone who has never tried these kind of beers, the characteristics will be intriguing and will require more than a bit of an open mind. I liked it a lot when I drank it. I found it quite complex. The taste is sweetish, with some banana and spice notes. The smoked element is felt only before the finish, which is long, but not very intense, and leaves a pleasant acidic aftertaste that reminded me that of green apples or some wild berries. The smoked flavours never get to dominate the palate, in fact, they are mild, which makes this a very good option for those who want have never tasted beers of this family. Going for more extreme ones could generate rejection, and that would be a shame.

The Märzen was the one that had impressed me so much a year ago. Apart from looking more "filtered", there is very little difference with the Rauchweizen. The difference can start to be felt on the nose. What rules here is the scent of very good quality smoked fish (maybe marinated with herbs) that leaves very little room for anything else. Smoked fish might not sound very appealing when describing the nose of a beer, but believe me, words don't make justice to the sensation. Once in the mouth, the smoked malt is not as intense as expected. I felt slightly caramelised sweet fruit with an intense bitter finish. The smoked flavours are always there, hanging in the back as if wanting to take over the palate, but never managing to do so. Actually, the smoked taste was milder than I remembered from last year (maybe it's due to what Stan Hieronymus, from Appellation Beer, comments on Evan's post, about the variations that these beers experiment through the year).

There are some more extreme Rauchbier. I would love to taste them some day. These two are among the most acceptable for the average drinker, though they still demand some flexibility of tastes. I would definitively not recommend them to those who only drink Eurolagers served at artic temperatures.

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19 Mar 2008

Close to the heart

It's sometimes difficult to remain objective. Those who know me are aware of my warm feelings towards Pivovar Svijany. It was then with joy that attended their presentation at Pivovarský Klub.

I had some illusions that they would be presenting something new and surprising, but I wasn't expecting much, actually. Still, I was looking forward to sampling three of their products for the first time.

The event was mostly hosted by Svijany's brewmaster, Mr Petr Menšík. I liked him. Other brewmasters I've seen at these events tend to be very serious, almost like a lecturer at university. He just sat there talking as if we were his mates at the pub, and at times being rather combative (the shots aimed at the big brewers). All while he talked about the history of Svijany. In 1997 Pivovary Praha (now Staropramen, then owned by Bass & Co.) had signed the brewery's death sentence. Svijany would have suffered the fate of several others, had it not been by their current owners that bought it and saved its life. In 1998 the output was 30,000hl, today it's almost 300,000hl, it is the leader in the market in the Liberec Region, and its presence in Prague and other parts of the country is growing day by day. All while doing everything possible to keep the quality of their products.

The most interesting thing that Mr. Menšík told us, however, was a very little known bit in the brewery's recent history. Four years ago Svijany bought Pivovar Malý Rohozec, which was almost bankrupt then. The idea (at the beginning opposed by Menšík) was to take advantage of the proximity of this brewery to shift some of the production to their facilities because those at Svijany were becoming too small. They had thought of terminating the brand, but an attack of conscience made them change their plans. They didn't want to be like others and kill yet another Czech pivovar. In the end the facilities were modernised and the people of Rohozec were given free hand to make their beers the way their felt like, which is appreciated by all, since those beers are really good.

The tasting started as always with the lower end of the alcoholic spectrum, and those were the three I had never tried.

Svijanksá Vozovká, the nealko, didn't impress me the least. It is jointly brewed with Platán and I don't think it's too good. I've had several others that were better.

Svijany Fitness is a product that, on the one side tries to bring back the lehké pivo (light beer), those fermented bellow 8°balling and with a low ABV; and on the other, to attract people with "healthier" lifestyles. Lehké pivo were in the past something like "table beers" and they seem to be having some sort of comeback. A funny thing about this beer is that by calling it Fitness, Svijany was forced to print a nutritional chart on the back label, describing the contents in vitamins, minerals, etc of the beer (brewed at Rohozec), which are basically present at pretty much every properly made beer. I don't think this beer will make me change my ways, I didn't like it too much, saccharine is listed as one of the ingredients, and certainly does not give it a good taste. I was expecting more.

Now, Svijanská Desítka was a very nice surprise. I'm not able to tell why I had never drunk this beer before, but I sure regret it now. I would say that it's the ideal session beer, tasty, but not too much, nice mouthfeel and character for a desítka, and it's one of those that goes down so easily, almost like water. Very nice and refreshing. I should try getting drunk with it.

The rest, Svijanský Máz 11°, Svijanský Rytíř 11.5° (though it can be more), Svijanský Kníže 13°, Svijanská Kněžna 13° (the dark one, which I wish didn't have artificial sweetener), Baron 15° y Kvasničák are beers that I drink more or less regularly, either at home or at a couple of places. One of the most remarkable things about these beers are how different they are, and I don't mean from others or from each other (which they are in both cases), but how they change each time I drink them. The bottled Rytíř that I sampled at the event was completely different to the one I drink at home. Some people will say that beer should be always the same, I don't agree. I believe that, as long as the beer is good, it doesn't matter that each batch is different (within a certain range of course). If wines change with each vintage, why can't beers do the same? Or is it that we have become so used to eurolager uniformity that we can't accept something that isn't always the same.

However, to me, the most important question is what kind of future awaits Svijany. Will it become a victim of its own success? Due to their current volume Svijany is now legally considered a big brewery, and so, they must pay 100% of the beer tax rate (the system is that the smaller the brewery the lower the rate levied on their beers), will that make them raise their prices? Will they be able to somehow keep their quality? (everybody knows that once the volume goes beyond a certain level, problems start to appear). Or, will their success open the doors to other regional breweries and shake market a bit for the big players? Whatever the answers are, I just hope they will be able to keep on making good beers.

Unfortunately, this time I didn't have time to talk to the people from the brewery, which I would have really liked, but other commitments made me leave the evening shortly after it had finished.

14 Mar 2008

Those good old days!

The year is 2002, Euro and USD over 30CZK. New in my Prague life. Adapting, meeting new people. Drinking a lot of beer, 6-8 pints the average on a weekday, who knows how much at the weekend. In those crazy days going to a hospoda and having lunch for less than 100CZK was par for the course, and it wasn't at all hard to find places where the price for half litre of dvanactká was 20CZK.

Now, in 2008, Euro at 25CZK and the Greenback at 16CZK. Almost six years in Prague. Adapting to my new home and getting to know the new nieghbours. I still drink beer, but much, much less than back then. Occasionally things get a bit out of control and I have 8 pints in one afternoon. Nowadays having lunch for 100CZK is a nice remembrance, and I can consider myself lucky if find a place where to have a pint of dvanacká at 30CZK. Or no...

Libeň, for reasons that are evident to those who live here, is not on the must-see list for visitors. The area around Palmovka metro station is no exception, despite the attractive baroque Libeňský Zámeček, the interesting Art Nouveau structure of the local Sokol and the surprising church of Sv. Vojtěch, built in wood.

At about 200m from the chateau, in Nam. Dr. V Holého is Restaurace U Rokytky, a real neighbourhood place if there was ever any.

The casual visitor will be forgiven to walk past it without a second look, but they will be making a mistake. It is true that the chances of anyone speaking a language other than Czech are less than those of finding life in Mercury, but that doesn't mean that it isn't worth to wake up the adventurer in us and walk in.

What will welcome you won't be very encouraging. A bar with some tables in front, very smoky and with patrons who seem to live in beer and cheap liquor. The main room, however, has an atmosphere more akin to a family friendly place than to a corner hospoda. It is spacious, luminous thanks to three very big windows, and very clean.

The prices of the lunch menu are almost relics. It's mostly classics of neighbourhood cuisine, but of pretty good quality for those who like this kind of cooking. I've had some very good guláš and svíčkova and once some really tasty plňené bramborové knedlíky (potato knedlíky stuffed with smoked meat). The choice on the menu is relatively big. There is the possibility of choosing individual meals or any of the three daily specials of soup, main course and dessert (which you actually won't want to try) for 70 or 75CZK.

The price for beer is also almost a relic. 20CZK for a pint of very well drafted Svijanský Rytíř, while a pint of Gambrinus 10° next door will cost you 25CZK, and guess which is the better brew. They stock the whole line from my household brewery, and the most you will pay is 25CZK for half litre of Baron 15°.

Having a good, typical, three course Czech lunch (soup, main and pivo) for less than 100CZK is not an utopia from the past anymore.

People who have been to U Rokytky out of the lunch hours have told me that it is a pretty pleasant and quite place, at least in the afternoon; very nice to sit and enjoy any of the very good beers that Svijany brews.

The service is efficient, prompt and professional. But don't expect any smiles or effusive welcomes. The tab, as it is traditional, is kept on a slip of paper on your table. At the end of your meal or evening, don't bother to get the attention of the waiters to pay, just get up and pay to the cashier by the door.

It isn't difficult to reach. Just take tram 24 from the centre, or 10 or 25 from other places in Prague. Get off at Palmovka and walk following the tram to Nám. Dr. V. Holého. There turn right and go towards the smokestack. Right opposite, you will find this nice culinary skanzen.

Restaurace U Rokytky
Nám. Dr. V Holého 7
Praga 8 - Libeň

13 Mar 2008

Sheer beauty!

"Be glad we didn't buy our house in Chýně", I once told my wife.
"Why?", she asked.
"You wouldn't see much of me, I would live at the brewpub!"
Because it is that good and more.

Located 10 minutes by bus 347 from that abomination that is Zlíčin, Pivovarský Dvůr Chýně u Prahy is a treasure, and it's one of my favourite places in the world.
Among the average consumer, their beers are virtually unknown, but ask some real beer lover and their eyes will roll while they utter sort of compliments.

I try to go there as much as I can. When I have a long break between clients and the bus schedule works on my favour, I go for lunch. But not the restaurant, I go next door to the pivovarská krčma. There are a couple of reasons. First, the restaurant has the atmosphere of a waiting room, other than the kettles that dominate the room, it is cold and impersonal. Second, the price of the beer, 40CZK for a pint. The krčma, on the other hand, is small and cozy. The menu is written on blackboards hung next to the door. The benches have sheepskins to sit on and there is a fireplace with a rocking chair in front. Oh! And the beer, the same one as at the restaurant, goes for 20CZK a pint. During the week they offer a lunch menu for 60CZK. It consists on a big bowl of soup a generous main course that always tastes really home made (they have their own smokehouse) and a piece of homemade cake or pastry. Basically, you can get stuffed for 100CZK.

I've also tried a couple of things on the regular menu, like the homemade lamb sausage (jechněčí klobása) and all is of rather surprising quality.

On my last visit a couple of weeks ago I got a bit scared when I saw on the blackboard outside that there was no electricity. Thinking that I would have to turn around and go back to Prague, I still pushed the door, which to my relief and happiness opened. It was a planned outage and they cook was prepared for it.

The small room was eerily quiet, there were candles everywhere and the only window barely let some light in. The cook came put a massive bowl of soup in front me and apologised by saying that only guláš was available that day. Not minding at all, I concentrated on my soup. It was cibulačká (onion) that had a tad too much salt, but still did the job quite well. The guláš, though, was simply perfect. A very big portion, with some slices of potato and cubes of smoked bacon. The beef almost melted in my mouth, but still had some chewiness in it. And the sauce! Oh! That sauce! Perfect thickness, started on the sweet side, then the spiciness would build up, enough to make my eyelids sweat, but not to obliterate my tasting buds. Aided by three thick slices of fresh chleba (rye bread), I left the plate sparkling clean.

As usual, the first beer I ordered that day was their výčepní. Brewed at 10°balling and finishing at a modest 3%ABV, I was afraid that this unfiltered golden lager would be rendered useless by the guláš. Far from the truth. What an amazing beer this is. Most desítky I know, and not few stronger ones, too, would balk at the task of pairing with that stew. Not the one from Chýně. Not only did it accept the challenge with gusto, but put up quite a fight, to the point of threatening to dominate my sense of taste. Its short and refreshing finished cleaned my palate, readying it for another spoonful from the plate. It was beautiful.

And it is truly an amazing beer. As my good friend Evan Rail told me once "It jumps from the glass". It's got a thick almost "guiness-like" creamy head. Very fruity aroma with mild vanilla notes and some hints of butter. Almost without carbonation, it has an unctuous mouth feel, that at the same time isn't thick. The flavours have notes of peach and pears, and very subtle mint notes. Despite its low alcohol it's got a character that many much stronger and fancier beers would kill to have. It's one of my favourite beers in the whole world. It is great as a thirst quencher or session beer, I would die happy if it was the only beer I could drink for the rest of my life; pairs very well with many foods and you can even sit down and enjoy it sip by sip.

The rest is not far behind either. When I when there last, they were tapping poltomavá dvanactká and tmavá čterenactká. The former is a dark amber fermented at 12°balling has a herbal nose and a nicely complex taste, with bitter herbs balanced by pleasant caramel and honey notes. The latter is a thick dark beer that almost absorbs the light. With lovely sweet coffee and roasted cocoa nose. When drinking it, coffee is what dominates at the beginning, giving way to caramel. The finish is almost like a strong espresso. Simply gorgeous!

They have more, like the beautiful jedenatcká, brewed with a wheat adjunct and other specialities such as kukuřičné pivo (corn beer), zázvorové pivo (ginger beer) and kouřové pivo (smoked beer). I've been particularly impressed by the ginger beer and, to a certain extent, by the smoked one, specially draught.

All beers are available in 1.5l PET bottles at the restaurant, the price 45CZK. Not too bad for something delicious to drink with dinner.

Unlike Beroun, Chýně will not make it for a day trip. There is nothing to see. But, believe me, you will not want to go anywhere else once you start drinking their beers.

Pivovarský dvůr Chýně
Hlavní 28
253 01 Chýně u Prahy

10 Mar 2008

Pilsner vs. Urquell


Can a product compete with itself? Everybody knows that canned beer is different than bottled, which in turn is different than draught but can draught be different from draught?.

Pilsner Urquell, along with Budvar, is the most famous Czech beer and the most legendary. Bottled or from a keg it is far from being my favourite beer. The same can be said of the other brands of SAB-Miller in the Czech Republic, Gambrinus, Velkopopovický Kozel and Radegast. It lacks character and, apart from its distinctive bitterness, it's got nothing that makes it interesting for me. It is a one dimensional beer, and the other brands are even worse.

But if what we are thinking about is tanková, then we are talking about something else here. In this version, Pilsner Urquell is still a great beer. Everything that the other presentations lack, this one has. More compact head, nicer mouth feel and a very distinctive flavour, with more fruit and more complex, but still with the classic bitterness from the Saaz hops. Again, the same can be said of the other brands.

But what is the difference? First of all, tankový are all unpasteurized beers, which means a lot and accomplishes even more.

It is a simple system. Instead of putting it in barrels it is put in 10hl or 5hl stainless steel tanks, within which there are sterilised polypropylene bags. The beer is in them. This material protects the beer from the contact with air, which allows it to be stored for longer time. Compressed air injected in the tanks squeezes the bag making the beer go to the taps. All the system is located in a room refrigerated at 8°C. This means that there's no need for a top pressure with any gas to dispense the, which results in a fuller, fresher taste, creamier head and lower carbonation.
This wonder was introduced in the mid-90's by Pivovar Kozel from Velké Popovice. The first restaurant equipped with it was Letenský Zameček. When Plzeňský Prazdroj took over the brewery they adopted and improved the system by introducing the polypropylene bags.

To distribute the beers Plzeňský Prazdroj uses a fleet of specially conditioned lorries. They look a bit like a small version of those used to transport petrol. They park in front of a hospoda and pump their precious cargo with a hose. I got an idea of how much beer can be drunk here the first time I saw one.

Nowadays tankovký, so are called pubs that have this system, have become favourites among the lovers of Pilsner Urquell, and beer in general. The company will not allow just anyone to have a tankovna. The pub has to meet a series of requirements, a minimum volume of beers sold per week, space enough for the refrigerated room and do proper maintenance and cleaning of the pipes and the taps (which is jealously monitored by the company).
Staropramen also has some tankovký, but they don't seem to promote them too much, and Krušovice has recently started to roll out a few of their own, as well, and they seem to be slowly growing in numbers. Will Budvar ever follow their steps? Maybe in a few more years.

In the last couple of years there have been a mushrooming of tankovký in Prague. The most famous are U Zlatého Tygra, U Rudolfina; in Staré Město; Anděl, en Smíchov for Pilsner Urquell, U Černého Vola in Hradčany for Kozel, and U Pomníku, in Nové Město for Gambrinus. The rest can be recognised by a round sticker at the door announcing the gospel of the tank. Any beer lover who comes to Prague should go to at least one of these places. You will really see the difference.
Na Zdraví!!

8 Mar 2008

Elevating the spirit

The other day with my better half, we celebrated our fifth anniversary together. Every year we go for dinner to a different place, somewhere fancier than usual. this time we chose Klášterní Šenk.


This restaurant is located in the area of the Břevnov monastery, in the neighbourhood of the same name, not too far from Prague's Castle. Nowadays the place is open to the public and you can walk around its beautiful gardens and admire the imposing baroque church of St. Adalbert and St. Margaret.

Atheist as I am, my spiritual calling was good food and good beer. Fortunately, both can be found at Klášterní Šenk.

I knew this restaurant already. I had been there several times and had always liked their food. Not only because it tastes really good, but also because it's great value for money. It also has a very nice atmosphere, and if that wasn't all, everything can be washed down with excellent Klášter beers, but gold and dark.

The restaurant is in a building that before must have been stables or granary. The main room is big and spacious. The stuff used for decorations seems to have been found in the building while it was being done up to accommodate a restaurant. Using old agricultural tools and kitchen utensils is nothing very original for Czech restaurants, specially those at villages. Many times the sheer quantity of them make the decoration something way too kitsch. Fortunately, the people from šenk had some Benedictine austerity when hanging things from the walls and ceiling. The room is dominated by a big open fireplace and the furniture are hardwood with a nice rustic look. It all gives a country atmosphere, almost like a shelter from our noisy modernity. Even the menus match. They are bound in old tin trays, written is sort of Gothic typeface and with funny and informal language used to list the offer.
We had a table in the small nonsmoking room, very well separated from the rest. I had wanted one by the fireplace, but they were all reserved. It turned out lucky, when they lit it up, it was really very hot to be around.

We were given the menus as they showed us to our table. The drinks came promptly, Klášter světlé for me and tmavé for my darling. They were followed by the loaf of rye bread of the day that is always complimentary. It come with a garlic spread and pork drippings, great to open your appetite. For starters we shared břevnovksá šunka, slices of lovely smoked ham (no supermarket rubbish here) that comes together with pickles, honey mustard and horseradish. Quite light and very tasty.

For main course my wife ordered potatoe gnocci with spinach and cream sauce (Klášterní bašta z nočků se špenátem a smetanou míšená). They could have use some more salt, but they were nicely al dente, and the spinach used was fresh and very tasty. For 129CZK, that was almost luxury.

I went for roasted breast of duck with two kinds of kisané zelí and two kinds of knedlíky, potatoe and špekové (with bacon) Prsa z kačice, co na rybníku pod klášterem plula, s obé zelím i knedlíků). Not cheap at 259CZK, but quite a big portion that left my satisfied. The white cabbage was way overcooked for my taste, it was almost a puree, but I know there are people who like it just like that; the red one better. Both tasted very well, with their distinctive flavours and a right balance of sweet and sour that I liked a lot. To my surprised the duck was deboned. The meat was a bit dry, but when dipping in the gravy that was almost hidden under all that food, it almost became a delicacy. The potatoe knedlíky didn't impress me. They needed salt and they didn't have too much of a taste. Now, those špekové blew my mind. They had a great texture and an amazing smoked flavour. I left them for the end and I could have eaten another dozen despite being quite full.

Very good food and very good beer. It is a pity that the products of Pivovar de Hradiště nad Jizerou aren't better known in Prague. They are all very good quality beers. It makes me happy to see a restaurant like this resisting the temptation of stocking the usual stuff. Good for them!

Klášterní Šenk is a very nice place, be it for a romantic dinner or a business one. Despite being far from the centre, it is easy to reach. Trams 15, 22 and 25 will leave your right opposite the monastery. We will sure go back because we both wanted to try more from their menu.

Klášterní Šenk
Monasterio de Břevnov
Břevnov - Praha 6

7 Mar 2008

Not much to say

February was a terribly busy and stressful month for me. All the preparations for the moving took much of my time and energy, leaving me without much chance or energies to go around the beer world as much as I would have liked.

Nothing impressed me too much from the few new things that I was able to taste. The ones that I liked the most this time were old, or not so old, Friends like polotmavé from Bašta o tmavá 14° from Richter, where I was pleasantly surprised by their ležák 12°. It is a very fine beer, but not the best that comes out of Mr. Richter's kitchen. In one of my two visits there, however, I liked it so much that I had to order two pints with my lunch. All the usual things were there, but this time, it was like an orchestra playing at an auditorium with perfect acoustics.

The price, though, goes to a very old and very dear friend. A beer that I've known for a long long time, that I've always liked, but hadn't drunk for quite some time. It happens many times that we prefer to try new things, taking for granted the quality of the old and known and leaving it aside because we think it can't surprise us anymore. One afternoon I stopped by Pivovarský Dum to see what the special of the month was. It was limetkové (lime flavoured), which I had already drunk and thought more appropriate for a summer day. So I decided to go for their good old Světlý Ležák. It blew my mind! Its intense Saaz taste perfectly in sync with fruits and flowers simply left with only two words ješté jedno (one more). It made me quite happy to realise that a beer that I've known for almost six years can still surprise me like the first time. Hats off to the people of Pivovarský Dum. Thank you!
Na Zdraví
PS: The count for different beers tasted in February was 27. Total so far for 2008, 79

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3 Mar 2008

Innaugurating

Champagne (kava or sekt, depending on where it comes from) is the chosen drink to celebrate important events. Few events are more important for a person than moving to their first own house. It means so much, expectations, stress, relief, tiredness and a sense of accomplishment.

The problem is that I am a beer lover and I wanted to toast with a special brew, but at the same time, keep the custom. So I decided to drink beer and champagne at the same time. No, no, no! Don't worry, I didn't make any strange cocktail.

A few months ago, while having lunch with a friend at Pivovarský Klub, Robert cam and in a low voice offered me something very special at a reduced price. Deus, Brut de Fladres, una Bière de Champagne.

The name is no marketing gimmick. This Belgian Ale is brewed by Bosteels Brewery (the same people that make Kwak). After a rather normal brewing process, the beer is shipped to the French region of Champagne where it is bottled and champagne yeasts are added. Then it goes through the world famous process used to make those world famous sparkling wines.

With such a special (and quite expensive) beer, expectations were hight. Its elegant bottle is indistinguishable from that of a good champagne. When opening this cuvée prestige 2006 we can hear the POP! that means celebration in all languages.

Of intense golden colour, when pouring it forms a champagne like head that looks as if it wants to dissipate quickly, yet there it stays. Its carbonation is that of a sparkling wine. When getting the glass near to the nose I felt very ripe peaches with interesting mint and spice notes. Seeing the word brut on the label made me expect something dry, but in fact, this beer is very fruity, without being too sweet. When drinking it sweet apple rule the palate joined by grapes and herbal notes (mostly mild mint). The finish is long but delicate and leaves a very pleasant and mild pineapple aftertaste that invites another sip or glass. The only thing that casts a shadow over this very interesting beer is the alcohol that can be felt too much when exhaling after a sip, and also in the nose. I think, however, that with a bit more time in the bottle it would be better integrated.

Deus, Brut de Fladres is an outstanding beer, that regardless of its 11.6%ABV (and the little integration problem) drinks really well. It is like an experienced lover, subtle and delicate, but at the same time full of character and knows how to do things.

Brilliant with the cheese and smoked meats pie that was our dinner, brilliant to sit down and taste it, and brilliant to drink together with someone special.

Na Zdraví!



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2 Mar 2008

I will really miss it!

We have finally settled in our new house. It was a week with a lot of work, putting lights, cleaning, packing and preparing everything for yesterday's moving. Fortunately, we didn't move far from where we lived, so it wasn't much of a problem to make several trips by car to bring all the stuff that we had accumulated.

For me, it was almost six years of living in Velké Přílepy, a village near Prague that was my Czech home from the first day. Several are the things I will miss. The veiw from my terrace and the terrace itself, a perfect place to sit and have something to eat or drink during the warm days, while enjoying the view. And, of course, Špejchar, the local restaurant.

And speaking about Špejchar. I think that what I will miss the most will be to be able to go there with my džbán when I fancied some točené pivo (draught beer).
The džbán is something that every proper Czech household must have. It's a very old tradition, coming from the Middle Ages, when bottled beer didn't exist yet. If the family wanted to drink beer at home, the would send one of the kids to the local hospoda to have their džbán filled up. Still today, in small town and villages, is common to send the children to the nearest pub to bring beer.

The džbán is a earthenware pitcher. According to Evan Rail's book, its shape is not fanciful design. The bulbous bottom holds most of the liquid, while the head forms on the narrow top, protecting the beer from contact with oxigen. I also has a low centre of gravity, which makes it easier to carry. Not to mention that the very material helps to keep the temperature of the beer. There are some that are very decorated, almost pieces of art. Mine is simple, and it was the first present my love gave me already five years ago. She was the one who introduced me to this lovely tradition, which, of course, I eagerly and quickly adopted.
There is a hospoda in my new village, but it is quite far and, worse, they stock Staropramen 10°, hardly something that will make me leave the whouse, let alone, walk a kilometre.

Now my džbán has become part of the decoration in the Kitchen. If it had eyes I'm sure a big tear would be rolling down from one of them, while remembering those good old days that we went together Špejchar, and he was filled up as I had one for the road.

Meanwhile, the bottles of Svijany that I have in the pantry will have to do.
The first drink at home