30 Apr 2008

Mamma Mia!

To many the phrase "Quality Italian Beer" might be an oxymoron. The very small Italian beer market (30l/person/year) is dominated by mass produced eurolagers. However, at least in the regions of Piemonte and Lombardia, of eternal wine tradition, there seems to be a craft brewing revolution.

Evan rail was there not long ago and wrote a couple of post in his blog about it (check it here and here). He also brought me a couple of samples, for which I thank him from the bottom of my belly.

We tasted the first one together when he and his wife came to see our new house. Demon Hunter is called, brewed by Birrificio Montegiocco. It comes in a 750ml bottle, wrapped in elegant green paper. The presentation is flawless. According to what was written on the wrapping, the beer wants to be a Belgian style ale. Bottle fermented, brewed with water, barley and wheat malts, sugar and hops, and has a more than respectable 8.5%ABV.

In the glass we have a rich amber beer, almost brown actually, very cloudy and that doesn't make much of a head. Still, it looks pretty nice. In the nose I felt mostly syrup, fruit (peach?) and yeasts that provide some acidic notes. It starts very well when drinking it, there are some mellowy notes very well combined with the fruit, the finish is mostly acidic, almost expected from a beer that in my opinion aims at being a secular abbey beer. These not at all unpleasant acidic notes gain in intensity as the bottled is emptied and the sediments fall into the glass. The discordant note is given by a not very well integrated alcohol.

I didn't dislike Demon Hunter, but I wasn't crazy about it either. It's a nice attempt, but the expectations generated by the presentation and the high price are not quite met by the beer itself.

The second one, which I shared with my beloved, was Chocarrubica, from Birrificio Grado Plato (funny that no Plato graduation isn't seen anywhere). The label says that it is a dark ale brewed with carob and cocoa seeds, and that's pretty much it. It is also bottle fermented and has an ABV of 7%. When pouring it down we have a seriously black beer of very thick aspect, crowned by a very tanned spongy head. I was fascinated by its nose. There was some fruit that I could not identify, followed by roasted cocoa and nuts. You can feel perfectly each of those aromas. I really liked it a lot. And I liked it even more when drinking. Bitter cocoa is what predominates, followed by some tropical fruit and nuts, all supported by mild sweetness. The finish is long and dry, leaving a very interesting spicy aftertaste. A wonderful beer, among the most interesting I've ever tasted.

Like the Demon Hunter, comes in a 750ml bottle, and has a very stylish presentation. On both labels you can see the recommended temperatures for serving, 11°/13°C for Chocarrubica, 6°/8° for Demon Hunter (the latter also has recommended temperatures from keeping, 4°/6°C, something I had never seen on a beer before).

Both beers are perfect examples of the trends in Italian craft brewing. They aim at a gourmet market. According to what Evan told me, all beers come only in 750ml bottles. Many are sold at luxury restaurants as well as at specialist or deli shops. All beers are made with ingredients of the highest quality, and their goal is to compete with wines. Pretty ambitious.

Italian craft brewers have turned a disadvantage, the lack of beer tradition in their country, into and advantage, they haven't got any traditions to follow and respect, and they are coming out with very creative products. They are playing with ingredients (flowers instead of hops) and processes (oxidising) that few others would dare to use. And they seem to be doing quite well. Is maybe this the path craft brewers from Spain or Latin America should follow? At least in Argentina, most craft breweries seem happy to make beers according to well established styles. But recently a "yerba mate" beer has come out in Brazil, and two have Grape Beers have been announced in Argentina. If they become successful, will this be the signal needed by the very talented craft brewers from these countries in order to start expressing their creativity to the maximum?

Evan, thanks again for the beers. I hope you've enjoyed the bottle of Švestkové I gave you. Not the same, but didn't have anything else at hand....

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29 Apr 2008

Short news

I've got little time, but I still wanted to post something before the month is over.

As I had promised myself I would do, I stopped by Zlý Časy. And, as it had been anticipated, they were tapping those three beauties from Zvíkov. While I was enjoying every drop of my pint of Rarášek (which was followed by a gorgeous pint of Tmavé 13°), the owner told me that, taking advantage of the national holiday on Thursday and the de facto holiday on Friday, he will go to Karlovarksý Kraj on a tour of brewpubs, with the intention of bringing a few samples to tap at his hospoda. The excuse, the official opening of their patio on Saturday.

There will be beers from Sokolov, Chýše, Velký Ribník, Forman and maybe more, at least one sample from each. Most of these beers have never seen the light in Prague, and that is a very good excuse to make your way to Nusle this Saturday afternoon. Those who miss it, might not have a second chance, at least not anytime soon, since they want to sell everything that day. Unfortunately, I am going to be one of those who won't make it there, which makes me a bit sad. But things aren't so bad. For next week they have in the pipeline three beers from Herold (Golden Lager, Granát and Tmavé). And that is not too shabby.

So my friends, if you are in Prague on Saturday and fancy doing and drinking something different, take trams 11, 18 or 24 to Nám. Batrří Symku. The party begins at 2PM

Zlý Časy
Čestmírova 390/5
140 00 Praha-Nusle

24 Apr 2008

Good times

A Pilsner Urquell sign is not likely to make me walk in, a Staropramen sign is enough to make me walk away. What I'm I doing then in Nusle, metres from Nám. Bratří Synků walking into a dive with both signs at the door? What I'm doing going down the dark stairway even after having seen a flag of Beck's, the German version of Stella Artois? The answer is easy. Zlý Časy (Evil Times) doesn't stock Staropramen anymore, they stopped doing it because they were tired of the pressure of InBev's local minion, and because they got tired of selling the subpar beers from Smíchov.
That is in itself good news, but not good enough to make me walk in. Now the phrase "Bohatý výběr piv" (wide assortment of beers) is. You will be excused to take the wide assortment bit with a pinch of salt, but in the Czech Republic there aren't many places where you will find more than two or three beers, usually from the same brewery or group. Here we have five to choose from, two or three of which rotating just like at Pivovarský Klub.

But before talking anymore about the beers, let me tell you about the place.

It is located in a dark cellar. The hall is rather small, no more than 10 tables. The decoration is like at many other neighbourhood hospody. Old advertising posters, bric-a-brac of all sorts (old radios and tellys, etc). Dark wood tables and chairs and benches on the walls. The atmosphere reminded me of "U Pětníka" (a pub in Prague 6 where I used to go too often for my own good at the times that Staropramen was still a decent beer). That made me feel very comfortable from the beginning. It brought (rather foggy) memories of the many good times I spent at that pub with friends.

The food is also typical hospoda. I've been there twice for lunch. On my first visit I ordered Svíčkova na smetaně, one of my favourites of česká klásika. This time, however, it was nothing to write home about. The roasted meat was dry and stringy and the cream and root vegetable sauce didn't have enough of those sweet and sour flavours that I so much like. On the second visit I ordered the guláš of the day. Here things improved. For starters, it was not served with the usual bread knedlíky, but with very tasty and house made bramboráčky. The meat was really tender and the sauce was spicy enough. Very good, really.

Of course both lunches were washed down with beer(s). On the first visit, apart from the regulars, Kácov 10° & 12°, they were tapping Opat Pepřové (pepper beer) and Vandorf Kocour Rauchweizen. The former, another attempt of Pivovar Broumov to come out with something new and original, but, just as with last month's medové, it fell short. It actually felt more pepper scented than flavoured. Fine to drink with the Svíčkova, but not so to have another pint. The latter, the Rauchweizen, was really good, on the sweet side and with a lot of banana notes. The smoked element was like some background music in the flavours and aromas. I liked it a lot. As far as I know, this beer was making its debut in Prague. Pivovar Vandorf Kocour is a new enterprise of Honza Kočka, the person responsible for the web page Svět Piva, the Beer Christmas Market and my finding this pretty cool hospoda. Honza also writes Pražské Pivnice (Prague's Beerhalls), a weekly column in the free daily 24.
On my second visit they were tapping Kácov 12° Kvasnicové, which I had already tasted at U Klokočníka. And actually, at Zlý Časy they tap it much better.

I mentioned that to the owner, who is also one of the waiters and a pretty friendly bloke, and he was glad to hear it. It was he who told me the reasons why they had stopped stocking Staropramen. He also told me that after they are done with the last few kegs of Pilsner Urquell they still have, he won't buy it anymore. He supports regional or micro breweries, and he wants to sell those beers only. In fact, on Monday (28/4) he will be receiving a delivery of three beers from Zvíkov: Zlatá Labuť 12°, Zlatá Labuť 13° Černé and Zvíkovský Rarášek, the last two were among my favourites of last year. Of course I will stop by there to enjoy them.

It made me really happy to see that there are people who support real Czech beer, and that want to offer their clients something different and, probably also, more risky. With Pivovar Bašta a couple of blocks from there and U Klokočníka y První Pivní Tramvaj (I promise a post about this one soon) a few tram stops away, Prague 4 is starting to become a nice beer destination in the Czech capital. I really hope more hospody will follow soon.

Are the times changing?

Zlý Časy
Čestmírova 390/5
140 00 Praha-Nusle

21 Apr 2008

Good for the spirit...

...At least, because it might not be so for your cholesterol. Though, appearances can deceive.

Pečené vepřové koleno, roasted pork's knee or joint. Just mentioning it will make the mouth of most Czech men (and expats, together with not a few women) water. A glory of hospoda cuisine.

I remember the first time I ate a whole one. I hadn't been in Prague for too long, and I was with a friend at our then favourite hospoda. We were lucky, in a good mood and our plan was a beer session as we used to back then. Koleno was what we both fancied. While ordering I naively asked the waiter to bring some roasted potatoes, too. With an ironic smile and a this-guy-doesn't-know-what-he's-doing face, he said "bread is better". I shrugged and decided to follow his qualified advice. And well I did. What we were brought a few pints later looked like two brontosaurus knees. The people with whom we were sharing the table stopped talking, actually, I think the whole place stopped talking just to look at our faces.

What a beauty that was! We ate like cavemen, we didn't leave a fiber of meat on that bone, which we would have loved to gnaw at like dogs. Since then I've had this delicacy countless times, and I love more and more each time.

Fortunately, it isn't too difficult to make at home. You'll only need a handful of ingredients and a lot of time.

There are two kinds of koleno that you can find at Czech shops. Přední, also called kolinko, from the foreleg, and zadní from the hind legs, this one being bigger, and one can sometimes be enough for two people.

Besides the obvious piece of pork, the ingredients that you will need are the following:

(for one 1.75-2kg koleno, or two kolinka of about 1kg each)
0.5l of strong black beer (I use Primátor Double). Paprika, cayenne peppercorns, different colour peppercorns, plenty of bay leaf, rosemary, salt and any other things you can find around and will go together with these ingredients.

Mix everything. Place koleno in a big enough pot and marinade with mix overnight (if needed water can be added to cover the piece completely). Cook it in the marinade on a moderate fire in a covered pot for about 2 hours (kolinko), 2.5 hours (koleno). Make sure that the joints are covered with liquid, if not, turn them every now and again. When ready, take koleno out, put it in a roasting pan and roast in preheated oven (160-180°C) for about 90 minutes, turning them over at half time. While roasting you can baste the joint with the broth from the pot. Take out from oven when the skin is golden enough and serve immediately.

As garnish use mustard, freshly grated horseraddish, pickles and rye bread. You can also put on the side sliced peppers, cucumbers and spring onions. Oh! and of course, beer. A nice amber, as for example Primátor Poltomavé 13°, will go very well.

For those who are afraid that, after eating a Pečené koleno, their cholesterol level might shoot down a spy satellite, don't worry. All the fat is under the skin that, if the knee is well done, will come off easily leaving only tasty and pretty lean meat.

PS: Don't throw away the broth from the pot, it can be used to make gravy or a base for soup. The bone can be given to the dog or keep it in the freezer to make more broth.

18 Apr 2008

Mediocrity

I had hesitated to attend this month's beer tasting. I went mostly because of the people and the atmosphere that they generate at Pivovarsky Klub the third Tuesday of every month. It was because this month's guests was Pivovar Žatec. I had already tasted most of their beers and, except for Lučan, I hadn't been the least impressed. So my expectations were pretty much at floor level.

I wasn't disappointed. This must have been the worst presentation that I've attended. For several reasons:

- Pivovar Žatec brews five beers on a regular basis. As you can see in the picture below, there are six bottles. That's because one of them, Premium, has two presentations, the classic 0.5l bottle for the domestic market and a 0.355l long neck bottle for export. They forgot to mention that, and If it hadn't been for Aleš Dočkal's very appropriate question (and it wasn't the only one of the day), we might have not known about it. The question that we all forgot to ask is, why then they have a beer called Export.

- They didn't bring Lučan, to my taste, their best beer. Personal opinions aside, their lineup is already pretty limited, so it is almost unforgivable that they didn't present it complete. Regardless of the apologies from the Klub for not letting them know they didn't have enough stock, it is the breweries fault for not asking about it.

- The general attitude of the brew master. If I compare it with other brew masters that talked at the other presentations, Mr. Bařtipán looked like the father of the worst student in the class at a parents school meeting. Of course he stood up for his beers, but it sounded more like obligation than conviction. Several times he mentioned that his beers were pitelné, which means drinkable in Czech. It might be that my Czech knowledge of semantics is not very sharp, but at least in English, saying that a beer is drinkable is not a big compliment.

- The general quality of the beers. Only světlé, almost a desítka (9.3°balling 4.1%ABV) stuck above the, low, average. It had a nice mouthfeel and a pleasant taste dominated by tropical fruit, mostly pineapple. The rest, as one dimensional as I found them before. Though I noticed Xantho a bit improved, but it might also be because it was the only one that had something resembling a distinctive flavour.

The brew master emphasised that they don't make cheap beer, that they don't use cheap ingredients, that their hops are supplied by the Žatec Hops Institute. When Aleš asked him why the beers from Saaz haven't got a character more according to what is expected from their origin, the answer was evasive and unsatisfactory.

The Žatec area has one of the oldest brewing traditions in the world. Registries show that beer was brewed commercially already in the 13th century, and the Saaz hops are known and appreciated all over the beer world. I think that the problem is on the ownership. The brewery was bought in 2001 by Englishman that wanted to have his own beer. He doesn't seem to care much about how it is made, though.

I would love to see Pivovar Žatec brewing beers that will honour tradition and origin. I don't see that happening in the near future. The brewery reflect the reality of the city. It could be beautiful, but it looks neglected, and its authorities don't seem to have much interest in improving it.

The best of the evening was, without doubt, the welcome drink. desítka de Pivovarský Dum. It was brewed to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the famous brewpub of Nové Město. A brilliant beer, something like a little sister of their wonderful Ležák. Maybe they still have it at the Klub, don't miss it.

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14 Apr 2008

Beerevangelism

This entry in Boak & Bailey has generated an interesting debate and gave me some food for thought.
I agree with what Bailey says, for those who are interested in beer it is not enough to sit and enjoy it, but we also feel the need of share our passion with the rest of the world and trying to rescue lost souls.

In a comment Boak seems to give the term Beerevangelism some negative meaning. Which in a way is understandable.

Evangelism, evangelists, evangelise are words that have acquired an almost nefarious meaning. We associate them with some characters of dubious reputation who preach intolerance on cable channels while lining their pockets with the money of their audience, or with the forceful conversion of the native peoples of America. However, the word comes from the Greek and means good news, and evangelists were those who spread them.

Regardless of what each of us might think of the Christian gospels, I am proud of being a Beerevangelist. I don't see anything wrong in spreading the gospel of good beer.

But we should not become beerfundamentalists while doing that. Which is, I think, what Boak was actually meaning. A beerfundamentalist is that who believes that whatever wasn't brewed by naked monks chanting Gregorian psalms backwards under a full moon, or something akin, is not worth drinking and damn anyone who thinks the opposite.

Come on! We can, rightly so, bitch a lot about InBev, Heineken or SAB-Miller. But you can't deny that Hoegaarden, Paulaner Hefeweissen or Pilsner Urquell aren't pretty drinkable beers.

However, the big brewing groups don't need our money (they have enough), nor our support (they don't care). That is why we mostly support and promote those craft or industrial brewers who still make beer with passion and love. They are the ones who deserve are support and money. Without them, the big multinationals wouldn't have any motivation to keep on brewing the good beers they can still make, and we would all be doomed to a hell of mass produced mediocre brews.

In my own Beerevangelising campaign I have set myself a number of, very loose, rules.

- Is not an idiot that who likes, for example, Gambrinus 10°. First of all, because it's about personal tastes, I know perfectly reasonable people who like Celine Dion and would love to go to one of her concerts; I've got nothing against it, as long as they don't try to impose their tastes. Secondly, most cases are people who are victims of marketing, and haven't had the chance to taste anything better. I will always try to change, or open, their minds, to motivate them to try something new. These people are like most of us, we also started by drinking what it was available in our area, in my case, Quilmes. Each time I manage to have someone change their Staropramen for some real Czech beer, is a victory. There are of course people who refuse to see the light. They are lost souls and it is their problem. They are simply not worth my time because there are lots more whose beer souls are willing to be saved.

- The most important thing is what is in the glass. Ingredients (noble ones), styles, processes, type of fermentation might all be very interesting information, but they can also be overwhelming for those who are just starting to explore the world of good beer. In fact, I don't really thing they are necessary in order to be able to discern whether we are drinking a good beer or not.

- Purity laws or provenance don't guarantee quality. A beer won't be good just because is craft, Czech, Belgian or German, as it won't be bad just because it's industrial, Argentine, American or Brazilian. They are so because they were well or badly brewed, that's it.

- The best beer in the world does not exist. Some say that is the beer we drink with friends, others that it is the next beer I'm going to drink. Nice figures of speech, but in itself, there is no such thing as THE best beer in the world. And I don't care what experts or awards say. This doesn't mean, however, that I must stop looking for it.

I really like this idea of Beerevangelism. Here I promise to keep on spreading the gospel of good beer. I hope I'll be joined by more of you.

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11 Apr 2008

Uncertain evaluation

Every expat and immigrant who's been here for a few years had to go there at some point. At the courthouses near the metro station Pražkého Povstaní is where we had to go to get our police record certificate. It many might have been there around noon and felt hungry. Some might have noticed Táborka on the opposite side of the tramway tunnel. Few are those who actually ventured in.

I'm one of those. I think I went there after that first time I was in the neighbourhood. It was a down at heel hospoda that during lunch time was teeming with workers from the area. They had cheap, tasty and more decent food, washed down by good Nymburk beers.

During those first months I would go rather often because I had a student nearby. I hadn't been there since then, and I had actually almost forgotten about it. I noticed it again when I went to deliver my tax return and decided that I had to go back. The excuses, a bit of nostalgia and being able to sample Postrižinské Pivo at one of the few places that stock it in Prague.

It was shortly after twelve and I was surprised (not pleasantly) to see the place almost empty. The only patrons were three Ukrainians that had sure been at courthouses. I took a table in the back and noticed that there had been some changes. Some of the tables had been replaced by a dodgy looking billiard table and a couple of fruit machines. The only decoration on the walls were pictures from the film Postrižini(*). All this, together with the cheap furniture, gave the place a strange atmosphere.

But I was already there and I decided to stay. Soon a very nice and friendly waitress came bringing the lunch menu. I ordered a jedenatcká světlé (11°balling gold lager) and the guláš, without having many hopes.

My mood changed with the first surprise, the beer. I had been expecting something lot of carbonation and little taste. What I got was the complete opposite. For Czechs, tapping beer is almost an art form. This pul litr of Nymburk 11° was a great example of that. No visible carbonation, a thick microfoam that was still there when I emptied the glass and left almost a Belgian lace. A velvety mouthfeel that would caress my palate. Perfect temperature, I drank it in two or three swigs. Regarding flavour and aroma, nothing special here. The nose had some apples and cereal backed by very subtle sage notes, all very mild. I could say the same about the taste. Everything mild but very well balanced, very refreshing.

I ordered another glass when the guláš was brought. And that was the second surprise. I had been expecting a watery sauce with ghostly flavours, with hard stringy meat. What was on the plate was a wonder of hospoda cuisine. A perfect balance between sour, sweet and spicy, the sauce had almost the perfect thickness. The meat was tender and tasty. I think it took me half a minute to clean the plate. It wasn't as gorgeous as that one I had in Chýně, but it was not that far either. I should have probably ordered a dark beer to go with it, but, to be honest, it didn't give me much time to drink.

The prices, for the kind of place Táborka, are a bit high. 23CZK for a pint, when at Bašta, about 300m away, their home brewed beer costs 25CZK; or at the also nearby Klokočníka a pint of Kácov will go for 15CZK. The same could be said of the guláš, very good, but at 73CZK too pricey for the place.

I can't decide whether I liked Táborka or not. The food and the beer were very good, but I never felt comfortable there. I certainly won't go in the evenings. I could go back for lunch, but only if that guláš is there again, and I might stop for a quick pint if I'm around.

Táborka
Táborská 787/3
140 00 Praha-Nusle
Tel.: +420 261 222 292

(*)Postřižiny (Cutting it Short), is a comedy directed by Jiří Menzel, based on Bohumil Hrabal's writings. It takes place in a small town during the First Republic (1918-1938). The main characters are the quality inspector of the local pivovar and his wife, supported by a colorful gallery of locals. It is a beautifully funny film that also shows a very interesting side of Czech beer culture. Oh! And that man who sees it and doesn't fall in love with Maryška, the main character, is either made of stone or should start to question his sexuality.

10 Apr 2008

From the land of the giant

Krakonoš is a character of Czech and Polish folk tales. He is a gentle giant that lives in Krkonoše, the mountain range in the north of the Czech Rep. It is said that he looks after the forests that cover the mountains and might help people in distress who deserve it. He is shown as middle age man with a long thick beard, always smoking one of those typical Czech pipes; he wears a broad rimmed hat and a thick cape, both dark green, and uses a long walking stick.

Trutnov is a town at the feet of the Krkonoše hills, and the local pivovar is called after this jolly giant, who appears on the label of all their beers.

As many others, Krakonoš brews an Easter beer, and this is the one I'm going to tell you about.

I really like the design of the labels from Pivovar Trutnov. This one in particular is a bit funny because it shows the giant wearing a more summer outfit (he almost looks as Charlon Heston in the 10 Commandments)

I had tasted this beer, fermented at 14°balling, a couple of years ago. I didn't think too much of it then, so I was curious to see how, or if, it had changed.

After pouring it we can see a beer of an intense golden colour, almost orange, with no visible carbonation. Just by looking at it we know we are not in front of your usual golden lager. I felt sweet apples and pears on the nose (autumn fruit rather than spring) with some, almost burnt, caramel notes and mint. When drinking, it is the apple that takes the lead while the caramel notes gain in intensity as the beer rolls down my mouth. The finish is long, very dry and herbal. The aftertaste is surprisingly fruity, a very nice contrast. A very nice beer, much better than I remembered. Pretty good to sit down and enjoy it slowly, maybe while having a relaxed chat with friends.
Krakonoš seems to be one of those regional breweries that have improved their game in recent years. I hope they keep it on, and that it will help them survive.

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4 Apr 2008

If only...

If someone had asked me a few months ago about Klášterní pivovar Strahov I would have advise them to avoid it.

It's got a great location, within the walls of the Strahov Monastery. I've known it for for a long time, but it's a place I've never visited often. The restaurant never had much of an atmosphere going on. The beers brewed in the house were good, but not worth the 59CZK for 0.4l glass.

I must put emphasis on this. I've never disliked the beers, but I've always known that for less you could get better pivo at other brewpubs in Prague. They lacked character and personality, their flavours not intense or interesting enough. Every now and again I would drop by just to check things out. My opinion was always the same. And apparently not mine only, several more people would say that those beers are not worth that much money.

Things started to change one day. I was with friends and Pivovarský Klub and they were tapping one of the beers from Strahov. I thought I would give it a chance and I was pleasantly surprised. Its flavours had gained intensity and character. I had it again a bit later, at the SPP's award ceremony, and I loved it. So much so, that I chose it as beer of the month in my Spanish blog.

I had to go back and see if the beers had actually improved or if those I had drunk elsewhere, had been happy accidents. It was near Christmas time, and having their season special for the first time was a very good excuse to get myself there.

I wasn't disappointed. Svatý Norbert Jantár was still very good. It still had that intense nose full of grapefruit and herbs. I could still feel my mouth being invaded by citrus followed by caramel, almost honey, notes. A much improved piece of work.

The Svatý Norbert Vanoční special was a revelation, though. This dopplebock fermented at 19°balling, 7.7%ABV, is a dark amber with a think head and almost no visible carbonation. That day the alcohol was a little unbalanced in the nose. It was the first thing I felt, and it almost overwhelmed the citrus and tropical fruit notes that I think should dominate. I got myself ready for a terrible disappointment. I couldn't have been wronger. The alcohol was still there at first, though it could have been attributed to a lingering feeling in the nose. Then, almost in a velvety fashion, I started to feel fruit in syrup and some caramel. I wasn't prepared to what followed next, an explosion of hops that demolishes everything that was before. The bitterness intensifies after swallowing. It almost made me close my eyes. It might not be to everyone's taste, but so much bitterness blew my mind. I wanted to have another sip, but the hops hurricane that I still had in my mouth hadn't abated. I don't think this beer can be drunk fast, it will not allow you. It wants, it demands, you to enjoy it. Well worth the 69CZK charged for it back then.

Besides their two regular beers, the above mentioned, and very good, Jantár, the Tmavé special (14°balling, 5,5%ABV), a dark beer not as good as its lighter sister, and the Christmas special, Svatý Norbert also brews three more seasonal beers. Speciální světlé pivo (13°balling, 5,3%ABV), a golden lager that is tapped starting a week before Good Friday; pšeničné pivo (13°balling, 5,3%ABV), a top fermented wheat beer, tapped from 6th june, and an autumn speciální tmavé pivo (16°balling, 6,3%ABV), tapped from St. Wenceslas Day, 28/9.

I've tasted the bottled version of the autumn beer. I liked it, but I thought there was something missing for a beer of its kind. I look forward to drinking it draught this year.

And this year, in my latest visit to the brewpub, I've had their Velikonoční Pivo, also called Speciální světlé pivo. I liked it, I liked it a lot. Deep gold, unfiltered, looks beautiful. Smells better, a lot of Saaz this beer has, feels almost like fresh grapefruit together with flowers. Lovely. Continues on the same tune when drinking it. The Saaz is there, dominating, but at the same time well balanced with fruit notes. It leaves a long, strong, bitter and beautiful aftertaste. I found it too fizzy, as I found the Jantár I also drank. But I've decided to attribute that to some dodgy tapping.

The issue I still have with these beers is the price. As good as that golden lager was, I didn't find it much better than that at Pivovarský Dům. In Strahov, I had to dole out 59CZK for a 0.4l glass (why that size, when Czech beer is mostly drank in 0.5 or 0.3l doses), while in Dům a pint will cost me 35CZK. As good as Jantár is, it's no better than Oldgott Barique, that at the brewery is tapped for 48CZK a pint.

Can location justify the prices? To some extent. You can certainly do a lot worse in Hradčany, and I mean paying 60CZK for 0.4l of Krušovice Černé (hardly a craft beer). But U Medvídku's location is almost every bit as good and their amber 13° is considerably cheaper.

The lame atmosphere and the less than satisfactory service don't help their cause very much either. To their credit, the food does look good and the prices are pretty reasonable for the area.

If you asked me about Klášterní pivovar Strahov now, I would indeed recommend it, but with some reservations.

If only their beer was cheaper and in the right size....

Klášterní pivovar Strahov
Strahovské nádvoří 301
118 00 Prague 1
klasterni-pivovar@iol.cz

3 Apr 2008

Shaken up March

With my life (and at least for the moment my finances) a bit more settled, I was able, in March, to (as much as the wallet allowed) go around beer hunting.
One of my goals was to go to Beroun and taste their Easter beer. I did go to Beroun, but the beer was missing. The brewery was closed for some technical reason and the restaurant had ran out of their beers. Of course that I was very disappointed. Fortunately, they were not tapping any rubbish, Chodovar Sklepní Ležák and Tmavé and Klášter 10°. Nothing out of this world, but it could have been a lot worse.

My next stop was at Pivovar Sv. Norbert, in Stráhov (more on them soon) to taste their Easter brew. This time the beer hadn't gone AWOL. The Jarní Ležák is a golden lager fermented at 13°balling, with 5.3ABV. I found it simply delicious, fantastically hoppy, with finish that tasted almost like grapefruit. It could have been the beer of the month, if it wasn't that they charge 59CZK/0.4l for something that is not much better than a good batch of golden lager at Pivovarský Dům, which goes for 35CZK/0.5l.

I also stopped at Richter, where among others, I drank their Ale. I liked it a lot. I didn't take any tasting notes because I was with friends, but I remember it as very good, too easy to drink and with a very good mouthfeel.

There were other Easter specialities: Krkonoše, which will have its post soon, and Medové Pivo, from Opat. I had tasted this one last year and I was terribly disappointed. This year I found it very improved in almost every aspect, more rounded flavour, less carbonation, nicer body, what was still missing was a real honey taste. There is something sweet there in the back, but if you don't know you are drinking a honey beer, you probably wouldn't identify it as something added to it.

The "award" this month must go, again, to Pivovarský Dům. This time for their Märzen. An amber with thick head, a nose full of fruit supported by cream, honey and citrus (this last, almost a signature of Dům for their non flavoured beers). When drinking it I could feel lovely honey notes followed by peach, the finish is mild and long, with a lot of herb, some citrus and caramel. Very interesting. I simply couldn't have enough of it.

One that almost made it was desítká kvasnicové from Kácov. Why? I simply liked Märzen better.

Regarding my count, in March I tasted 33 different beers, that adds up, so far in 2008, 112.

Choose your preferred Prague hotels and get free transport.

2 Apr 2008

Literally

It's one of those places I found by chance while wandering about alleys of Staré Město. Near the square and Charle's Bridge, around the corner from the legendary Týgra, but at the same time, light years away from all the rat race. Literární Kávarna (Literary Cafe) Řetězová is just as I like them. Old fashioned furniture, real wood, looking pretty worn out, it invites you to stay, maybe reading a good book or smoking a cigar.

The walls are full of black and white photos, mostly from heroes of Czech contemporary Literature. The ceilings are vaulted and there are persian rugs on the floor.

But the thing I liked the most from the beginning, and actually, what made me walk into this kavárna is their choice of beers. Bernard, no less, they tap desítka, světlá dvanactká kvansicové and the gorgeus tmavé speciál 13°.

When I go I usually start by dvanactká kvansicové. I let myself be carried by its fruity flavours, while soaking up the atmosphere and letting my thoughts go for a walk. Then I go for its darker sister. Its intense roasted flavours almost force me to drink it slowly and relax. Sometimes, I don't even bother to read the book I might have.
At midday they offer a lunch menu, soup and a main course. I've never had it, but they do look fine. The rest of the offer is the expected from a Prague's coffee house, no surprises there. Literární Kávarna Řetězová is a lovely place to sit down to rest your feet or to shelter from the crowds and the madness of the centre. Highly recommended in a rainy afternoon.

Literární Kávarna Řetězová
Řetězová 10
Staré Město, Prague 1


If you find it full and don't want to wait who knows how long for a table to get free, just walk about 100m towards the river, where Řetězová becomes Anenská. There you will find Konírna, a small but cozy café-bistro. There you can choose the salad bar or some of the snacks to go with the Bernard beer the tap, in this case desítka, polotmavé 11° dvanactká.

1 Apr 2008

The countdown has started

Just a short and quick one.
If you haven't already, just check this post in Beer Culture. Something big is going to happen in Prague. If it is a success this year, it could become one of the most important beer events in the world.

Pivní Festival Praha
23/5 - 1/6/2008