30 Oct 2008

Since I have the pictures

Being considered "the guy who knows about beer" has its advantages. Sometimes, when friends go on a trip they bring me something new for me to taste. This is how I got these Ukranian beers.

I could probably write a long post with something about the country and it's beer industry, but these five samples took away all my will and inspiration to do so.

(notice: the names are transliterations of the brands on the labels, according to what little Russian my wife still remembers from school)
The first one I drank was Slavutich svjetle. Basically a fourth rate desítka. Something like an eurolager drunk from a glass that was left for some time in the rain.
It was followed by Chernigivskje Premium. Of the lot, the only drinkable one. It wants to be an Eurolager of a higher standard.
The third one was Afanasij Premium Gold. I would say that not even the name was Premium. Awful and with pride. The label isn't too shabby, though. Maybe I could have brewed tea with it, it might have tasted better.
The fourth, Afanasij Svetloje 14%. Finally a strong beer. Though the strong thing is actually the sugary (cheap sweetener?) taste of this beer that tires on the second sip.
I had left Chernigivskje nefiltrovane Bile for last. A white beer, maybe wheat or at least with wheat. It was going to be different from the rest. I had hopes. Those hopes sank a little when I noticed the logotype of InBev (pardon my French) carved on the bottle. Though to be fair, the one I had liked the most (or disliked the least, everything is relative) so far, had been from the same brewery. How to discribe this beer. It does look like a pretty decen weizen. The rest, on the other hand, is more similar to watered down Fanta Organce than beer. Horrible.

I'm sure there are many much better beers than these five in Ukraine, but I don't think they are the easiest to find. Michal, the friend who brough them to me, goes to Ukraine on business very often. He doesn't have much time to explore and so picked what he was able to find at a supermarket. I've complained a lot about how poor the choice is at supermarkets and shops in Prague. This has helped me see things with a different perspective and feel lucky of living here.

Na Zdraví!

PS: If any of you knows Russian and wants to correct the transliterations, you are welcome to do so.

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28 Oct 2008

Hats off

Those of you who regularly follow this blog might already know that I'm a big fan of Pivovar Náchod, Primátor, for friends. Despite being, at least for now, a state company, actually a municipal company (its sole owner is, at least for the time being, the city of Náchod), it is the most innovative brewery in the Czech Republic. They call themselves specialist in specials, which is a big truth, their line of strong lagers is pretty interesting and appreciated by many of those who know about beer. They are the first industrial brewery, and still the only, to brew top fermented beers. Their brilliant Weissbier has nothing to envy its German industrial pairs; and their English Pale Ale, though misunderstood by some, is an interesting beer, very daring for the conservative Czech market, which seems to be having relative success and which I like a lot.

Imagine my joy when I was told that they were about to come out with a new product. Imagine my curiosity when the product in question turned out to be a Stout. So far there had been only one stout-like beer made in Czech, Kelt, a bottom fermented beer that is actually a pretty decent recreation, in fact, I would say that it's the only decent product of InBev (pardon my French) in this country. Primátor's aims to be a something more. Top fermented, brewed with four kinds of malt: Czech, Bavarian, smoked and colouring, together with roasted barley, unmalted oats and English hops. The people of Náchod do take things seriously.

So, when I heard that Pivovarský Klub was already tapping it, I went there as soon as I could. My anticipation was huge, though I must admit that I was a little afraid. This year I'd had several Czech craft stouts and loved all of them, would Primátor be at their level?

I ordered my first glass and was given a very dark beer, there were only soft ocre gleams when put against the light. The head is creamy, slightly tanned and almost inmortal. The bouquet is all autumn, baked apples, espresso coffee and some hints of herbs and smoke. It goes in with caramel and chocolate notes that soon give way to an intense taste of very strong coffee, everything wrapped in a soft and creamy body. The finish is long, dry, roasted and delicious. The beer itself is delicious, there is no other way to evaluate it. It is so well made. If hadn't had to leave, I would have stayed there to drink the rest of the keg.
So good it is that, according to what I was told at Pivovarský Klub, at the weekend, some Irish visitors decided to give it a go and could not believe that it was a Czech beer. According to my sources, their verdict was that it's better than Guinness.

My most sincere congratulations to the people of Primátor for such a good product. I hope the bottled version is available soon at supermarkets and specialised shops. And I also hope that other brewers start taking notice or even rip off some ideas. It would be great, and I think the time is right. In the meantime, go to Pivovarský Klub and see for yourselves.
Na Zdraví!

PS: I agree with my good friend Velký Al, Pivovarský Klub could sell this beer in pints, 0.3l is not enough. And since I'm in a request mood, together with their sister restaurant, Pivovarský Dům, they could also start thinking about procuring glasses that are more appropriate for ales and other top fermented beers.

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27 Oct 2008

What was its name?

In the six and a half years that I've been living in Prague I must have walked past the door of U Benedicta thousands of times, and not only once I must have thought of going in. There is no clear reason for that. Yeah, it is one of the many restaurants in Prague that won't catch your attention, but I've been to many others that will catch it even less. It isn't very attractive, but I've been to many others that looked even worse. So it wasn't until someone in one of the travellers forums I contribute asked about it that I took notice of its existence. Even then, it took me several months to remember to go.

U Benedikta is located in an rather dark alley metres from Revoluční, pretty much behind Kotva Stores. There isn't much foot traffic, or traffic of any kind actually. The decoration is gloomy. It wants to be traditional or rustic, but actually looks tired, as if nobody has bothered to refresh it for the last 15 years or so.

I was lucky on the day that I finally remembered to go. Zvěřinové Hody, anounced a sign on the door. I love game meat (zvěřina) and the hody (feast) menu had enough of it to quench any apetite. There was stuff from venison, boar and pheasant.

I chose a table in a corner, by the window. A pretty friendly bloke, who looked like the owner, brought me the menu and asked me what I was going to drink. Bernard 14°. It was brought by a waitress that looked as if she hadn't slept well or enough the night before. She also took my order for lunch.
My venison guláš was on my table very fast. I must say it was very, very good. The sauce had the right thickness, it was very rich and slightly spicy. The meat was very tender and had been stewed really well, the typical taste of venison could still be very well felt behind the sauce. The špekové knedlíky (basically, bread knedlíky with added bacon in the mix), despite not being home made, were also good, and proved to be of invaluable help to clean the plate of the very last drop of sauce.
What was out of tune was the beer, though. I don't remember having ever drunk Bernard 14°, at least not in the last couple of years. Used to the personality and character of all the beers from Pivovar Humpolec, this one was a disappointment. Everything in it was flat, it tasted as something put together in a rush. This could be blamed on something else. Czech beer wisdom says that the quality of a beer depends 50% of who brews it and 50% on who taps it. I don't think this 14° is the most tapped beer at U Benedikta, a place where I don't think much beer is tapped to begin with. It could have been that the barrel had been tapped already too many days ago and the beer had lost much of its "energy", as it happens many times. Maybe I should have ordered the Černé. Anyway, I would like to drink it again, be it bottled or tapped somewhere were is treated with some more care.

It is hard to evaluate this restaurant. I liked the food very much, one of the best venison guláš I'd ever had, but the atmosphere of the place (and the poor beer) didn't convice me much. Still, compared to many other nearby alternatives, it is not a bad choice for a quick lunch at a good price. When I left I got the impression that, if I was a few years older I could could have enjoyed it more. Maybe I will go back some day, if I remember, because I already have some trouble remembering the name.

Na Zdraví!

Restaurant U Benedikta
Benediktská 722/11
Prague 1

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24 Oct 2008

Threesome

The idea came from the same person whom I must thank for this beer. Velky Al, from Fuggled, came back from his visit to the Old Country, Scotland, with three samples of BrewDog Punk IPA, one for me, one for Evan Rail, from Beer Culture, and the third one for himself, with the idea that each of us would taste it and then publish our tasting notes in our respective blogs on the same day. From the beginning I thought it was brilliant, and I am really looking forward to read what my friends thought of this beer.

I didn't know what to expect from it. Which is something I actually like a lot. Not having any idea of what I am about to drink makes it easier to evaluate and, if you want, be more objective.

Rergarding the brewery, I had heard and read some good comments. It is Scottish and has a reputation of innovation and top quality products.

Regarding the style. Well, those who know me are aware of what I think about styles. I don't care much about them. If I like a beer, it is absolutely irrelevant to me how true it is to the style written on the label. However, I must admit that styles are somewhat useful when it comes to get a bit of an idea about what I am going to drink. My only experiences with IPA were in the form of two Czech beers, one from Pivovarský Dům and the other from Kocour Vandorf, both outsanding. Of course, I was very aware that, for several reasons, Punk IPA wasn't going to have much in common with those Czech recreations.

Reading the label before drinking I find that it is made using water, hops and barley. I thought it was curious that barley MALT isn't mentioned. Can it be that it is brewed with the unmalted cereal? Things were getting interesting. On the other side there is a rant about how extreme and sophisticated this beer is, which must always be taken with a pinch of salt.
It was time to open the beer.

I was surprised to see it poured almost pale gold, not very different to a Czech kvasničák světlý. I was expecting something darker, as those Czech IPA's had been. Not much of a head, that didn't stay too long and some carbonation completed the picture. I wasn't able to notice much in the nose. Only straining my sense of smell and already halfway down the glass I could feel what could have been honey and/or fruit. It is a pretty bitter beer, of rather light body for its 6%ABV. There are dry herbal notes that turn at times become a little peppery spicy. The finish is long with some sage notes.
I liked it but.... I didn't find it agressive at all, more bitter than the average, yes, but I've tasted many that are even more. To my taste, there was also something missing. Maybe if that fruit that is fleetingly felt at the beginning were more corporeal it would make of Punk IPA a more interesting and complex beer, as is announced on the label. Unfortunately, it is are quickly overwhelmed by the bitterness, which never gets to be as intense as I was expecting.

Still, I see it as a very nice beer for a summer afternoon. It very drinkable and refreshing. Recommended if you can find it (wouldn't go out of my way for it), specially if you don't pay attention to tirade on the label.

But have a look at Fuggled and Beer Culture to see the opinion the other two in this beer threesome.

Na Zdraví!

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22 Oct 2008

Struggler

After having missed the previous two, I was really glad to be able to attend again the monthly beer tasting at Pivovarský Klub. This month it was the turn of Pivovar Broumov, Opat for friends.

In its many encarnations Pivovar Broumov has been brewing since 1348. And actually, it belonged to the Church for 600 years, until it was confiscated by the Communist regime in 1948, and then collectivised with several others into what would become Východočeské Pivovary, which would later evolve into Pivovary Hrádec Králove, until 1997, when it was privatised. Since then it will go through several hands until it landed in those of its current owners, in 2006.

Despite the energy and dedication that these new owners have been putting on their enterprise, the brewery is not having a very good time. Like most small regional breweries, it is having a hard time fighting the megamonsters and their less than fair play tactics. More so when even the restaurant owned by the town hall prefers to stock Gambrinus, rather than the local beer made be local people. How about loyalty.

Back to the beer. Opat is an old acquaintance of mine. Despite their occasional problems with consistency, specially with their tapped beers, I have always had a soft spot for them. Since the new owners took charge, the brewery has been coming out with some interesting products, at least in concept. Starting with their spectacular Christmas beer, 17° polotmavé and then a couple of flavoured beers that, though have never managed to win me over, are still worth mentioned.

There were six samples, starting with desítka, which surprisingly, isn't the best selling producto of the brewery, that honour goes to jedenactká, wich surprisingly, didn't make it for the evening. It pours a very pale gold, grass and grain in the nose, a rather sweeter taste than others in its category that is supported by some grain notes. The bitterness, like the taste in general is very mild.

It was followed by one of the new products in this new phase of the life of the brewery. I remember the first time I drank Opat Bitter, that was summer last year. It blew my mind, amazingly intense bitterness, unlike any other. It doesn't surprise me so much anymore, but I still think it is a very tasty beer, with a lot of character despite its meagre 4%ABV.

Opat 12 came third. I wasn't convinced. In the past (and I'm not speaking about long ago, but 2007) it was a more interesting beer, with more citrus notes. The one we got here seemed a more mature version of desítka. The aroma and taste was more round, but still too similar. It did improve when its nefiltrované kvasnicové variant was presented, from a PET bottle. The beer became more robust and the fruit notes richer, I still missed a bit more bitterness, but it was pretty fine just the same.

The star of the evening was the fith to come, Pepřové, pepper flavoured beer. I had tasted it a few months ago, draught, and I complained that it was more like aromatised with pepper than flavoured. Which is actually an almost constant complaint I have with Opat (and other brewers). They show the initiative to come out with flavoured beers in this so conservative Czech market, but they always fall short and you end up drinking an odinary beer that has some strange taste somewhere in the back that sometimes is hard to identify. I must say that the bottled version of Pepřové made me shut up. Everything that was missing from the draught version was there and there was plenty of it. The pepper, black I would say, is a lot more intense in the nose and fills the palate when drinking it. I don't think this is a beer for every taste (and why should it be?), but still it is very well made, the pepper never manages to overwhelm the rest of the drink, and its dry spicy notes are the last to be felt in the finish. Delicious. A pity that it is only sold in PET bottles, which are also almost impossible to find in Prague. The costs of putting it in glass bottles that are appropriate for an unfiltered kvasnicové beer are at the moment prohibitive for the brewery. I hope the situation changes.

And so it was that my expectations towards what I thought would be the cherry on the pie were pretty high. Coriander it was called. Another flavoured beer. Unfortunately it was only an illusion I had. It was draught and it almost made me forget the good time I'd just had with Pepřové to remind me of those constant complaints I have about flavoured beers. Again a pale lager, slightly cloudy and with an all too mild, let's say, exotic taste that is almost impossible to define, even if I had it clearly written on a sign right in front of me. A pity.

Between samples, the main partner and brew master of Pivovar Broumov told us about the above mentioned problems, but also about the success they are having accross the border. Broumov is very close to Poland, and it seems that the people in some villages near the border have adopted Opat as their own local brew. He also mentioned the plans the have of opening a beer museum next spring that will exhibit all the old machinery that is still hanging around at the brewery.

There were also two pieces of good news. The fist was that there are already two hospody that stock Opat on a permanent basis, one in Karlín, very near the Klub, and the other in Smíchov, not far from Andél, which I will visit as soon as I can. The second was that the new product for next year will be 14°Březňák that will try to recreate the namesake beer that won a gold medal in Paris in 1905.

I hope Pivovar Broumov can weather all their problems and that the enthusiasm and passion of people like Brew Master Jaroslav Nosek will turn into the success that the beer deserves.

There was another piece of good news, this one related to Primátor, but I promised not to say anything. I'm sure you will be able to read about it in Beer Culture that fortunately, is back online.

Na Zdraví!

19 Oct 2008

Redeemed

A couple of months ago I lamented the massive drop in the quality of the beers of Pivovar Bašta. It seems now that it was just a hiccup. Shortly afterwards friends started telling me that they had been there and the beers were really good. That 15° the people from the Nusle brewpub presented at Slunce ve Skle somehow confirmed the good news. Yet I still had to go there and see by myself how general the improvement was.

And there I went. I was glad to see they were tapping to beers I hadn't tasted before, a pšeničné and a nakouřované. I started with the former, the wheat beer, that unfortunately only comes in 0,3l glasses. The first one vanished in an instant. It was lovely! A bit darker and less cloudy than others, in the nose I noticed mild cinnamon and clove, yeasts, herbs and some banana, everything very subtle, like a good parfume. The flavour was a game between banana and peach, both spiced by clove. The finish starts up sour, but not agressive, and ends in a more ležáky note. Fantastic.

I couldn't wait to have a go at that nakouřované, the smoked beer, which Iain, one of my readers, had commented that it was very good. He wasn't wrong. It looks just the same as the poltomavé. In fact, to me it is basically the polotmavé, only a tad stronger and seasoned with smoked malts. In the nose the smoked notes are rather shy, sharing, or rather leaving, the stage with subtle wood, caramel and herbs. The smokiness is still mild on the palate, like a well used spice, bringing up the subtle caramel notes that I like so much in this kind of beers. The finish is intense and pretty bitter, a fine contrast. It paired wonderfully with the grundle (depp fried small fresh water fish).

I left very happy, those problems Bašta had had in summer had been solved, perhaps partly thanks to less demand. Whatever the reason is, it was very good to see that the exception weren't those very good beers in the early days, but the not so good ones in june-july.

Na Zdraví!

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16 Oct 2008

Nothing special

Steak Restaurant Hradčanská is potentially well located, just opposite the metro station and tram stops of the same name. However, there isn't much foot traffic on that side of the street, and people that can see it while waiting for their trams can't cross, but have to go all the way to the underground pass, which must discourage most.

Those few that bother will find a small place with just a handful of tables and very little atmosphere. Actually, it looks more like a bar by a train or bus station than a restaurant, meaning that it does not make you stay, but just get something quick to kill a little time. All this is enhanced by the soundtrack. A Mcradio, one of those that, except for a few concessions to local interpreters, plays the same prefabricated music the world over. Ok, the music thing is a matter of tastes, but what really irritates me is the agressive advertising and the silly blond voice of the host that seem to attack you every five minutes or so.
I got there a bit after midday and only one table was taken. It might have been because of the dodgy location or the fact that they don't do lunch menus. In the face of this, I wasn't expecting much. It was still a place I had wanted to visit. The reason will be obvious for most of you, the beer they stock, Lobkowicz, from Pivovar Vysoký Chlumec, very rarely seen in Prague.

I took a table in the back and the waiter was there in a second. Of course, some of you might say, the place was empty, but you'd be surprised to know how usual it is that the emptier the place, the longer you must wait for the service. I ordered a beer and opened the menu. When the waiter came back with my pivo I hadn't chosen yet. In many places that would elicit the question "Máte vybráno" (have you chosen?) with an impatient tone. If the answer is "not yet", the patron will probably have to wait a long time before being able to speak to the service again. Not here, though. Without asking anything, the waiter retired to the bar only to come back as soon as I had put the menu down (a sign here that you are ready to order) a minute or so later. I also liked the small detail of the complimentary glass of plum wine.  

I ordered a trukey breast steak (125CZK). What took me so much time to decide was the sauce. There are many to choose from, separated in two groups. The first are sauces, or atually toppings, made with ingredients such as fruit, cheese, vegetables, etc (my attention was caught by one with honey and almonds), they cost 35CZK extra, and the other with actual sauces that cost 25CZK. I went for one of the latter, a curry sauce.

While I waited I tasted the Lobkobicz Vévoda that I had in front of me. This 11° of a classic golden colour and very low carbonation is a more than adecuate session beer. Mostly fruity both in the nose and taste, ending in a short herbal bitter finish, won't amaze, but is very drinkable.
The food really surprised me. The turkey was cooked to perfection, it was tender, not at all dry and very well seasoned. The curry sauce was mild, but very tasty and seemed home made and not something out of a packet. The chips I had orderd on the side weren't home made, but they were still pretty good. I really liked it a lot.
With the food I drank a Lobokowicz Démon. A polotmavé speciál with a concept similar to Primátor Polotmavé 13% and Bernard Jantár. And it wants to be like those two, but with the volume turned way down and the equalizer disabled. In fact, it was completelly overwhelmed by the steak and the sauce. I remembered that the Bernard Jantár, a lighter beer, had absolutely no problem with pairing with that pork in beer and marmalade sauce, of richer taste than what I was eating today.

It could be said that the beers from Lobkowicz are a good analogy for Steak Restaurant Hradčanská. They aren't bad, but they are missing something, more spirit perhaps. The restaurant has good service, good food (I want to go back and try that honey and almonds sauce) at decent prices, but no atmosphere. As with the beer, it is forgettable, you wouldn't recommend it, but wouldn't give bad references of it if someone asks.

Na Zdraví!

Steak Restaurant Hradčanská
Milady Horakové, opposite the tram stops.
Prague 6

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13 Oct 2008

Bitter Reunion

There was almost nothing very interesting on tap the other day when I went on my weekly visit to Pivovaský Klub. I ordered only a pint of the brilliant Regent Tmavé, and while I was drinking it I pondered what I would drink next. The shelves were full to burst and they had on them some beers that I hadn't drank for some time.

I went for the magnificent Vyškov Jubiler 16,80°. It was a delicious reuning, after several months. It is a beer that I like more and more each time I drink it. Between sips, scanning the shelves I noticed something I hadn't drunk for many years, and wanted to taste again.

During the few months that I lived in Stuttgart I tasted a lot of different beers. Only two stayed in my memory as something special, Jever Pils and Paulaner Salvator. I remember the first time I drank the latter, it blew my mind. I thought it was something from another planet. So I was pretty excited when I was brought the bottle.

The excitement lasted until the first sip. It wasn't bad, but nothing special either. Halfway down the glass I had already got bored of it, two thirds down and I was almost regretting having ordered it. I found it so flat and monotonous. I wasn't expecting to like it as much as nine years ago, my taste has evolved and it was likely that the beer would have changed (and not for the better), but nor that it would disappoint me so much.

While I endured it I started thinking which of those beers that impressed me in the past, and I haven't drunk since, I would still like today. Can it be that is better to just stay with the memories? Have you had any similar experiences?

Na Zdraví!

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11 Oct 2008

Facing reality

Consumption of non alcoholic beers in the Czech Republic has increased dramatically in the last couple of years. I don't have any figures (as an investigative journalist, I'm quite lazy), but you can believe me.

There are various reasons for this. New traffic laws, although drinking and driving has been illegal here for many years controls nowadays are more strict and fines (or bribes) a lot more expensive. A slow, yet constant, change in lifestyle, there are more and more people, specially among the young, that are watching their diets and have lowered their intake of alcohol. A change in the corporate culture of many companies, together with the relocation of their offices to metal and glass boxes in the outskirts of town; having a beer or two with lunch is not an option anymore for many, be it because their employer forbids it or because the canteen of their (at least) eight hours a day prison does not sell booze.

All this, of course, has not escapted the attention of breweries. There is more demand and potential market, thus the offer has increased; many are the breweries that have come out with their nealko. This has also generated competition. Today, nealko are not such a marginal member of the product line anymore, they are being promoted more agressively.

I think that a big part of this phenomenon is due to a considerable increase in quality, partly generated by the competition. Many are those who before would drink soft drinks, juices or mineral water and now choose a nealko.

I remember my first experience with a non alcoholic beer in Prague. I was with a friend at the old Slavia winter stadium watching a hockey game when we started to feel a bit hungry. We went to the concession stand and ordered a sausage and a beer. The beer smelled a bit funny to me, and tasted even worse. I asked my mate if he noticed something werid with his as well and he told me that we might have been given nealko. Which was confirmed by the sign on the stand's window.

It took me quite some time until I was able to bring myself to taste another non alcoholic beer. It was, if I'm not wrong, until one of the tastings at Pivovarský Klub that I did it. I was then surprised to find a more than drinkable product, completely different to that one that ended up in a dustbin at the hockey game. Other breweries presented their nealko at their respective tastings, some I liked better than others, but none disgusted me. So it was that I decided to explore a bit and taste a few.

I started with Budvar Nealko, which has been on the market for a long time. You can appreciate there many of the typical characteristics of these kind of beers, more carbonation, lighter in colour, a nose where raw cereal predominates and very light body. Its taste, however, is surprisingly bitter and refreshing. Very drinkable.
Then I tasted the nealko from the other brewery from České Budějovice, Budweiser Burgerbäu Pito. This one is more old school, and by that I mean awful. Tremendously chemical flavour that leaves a very unpleasant aftertaste, I was not able to finish the glass.
It was the turn of Bernard Free, which I boldly included in the tasting of La Ronda #3. Its colour is almost like a desítka's, it has a lasting head. The nose is also cereal, but now joined by some cannabis and flower notes. Cannabis can also be felt on the taste and the finish is even more bitter than Budvar's. I liked it a lot. I would dare say that this nealko could very well cheat a not knowledgable palate. Bernard also brews a Jantár version of its Free, a non alcoholic amber that is, of course, more caramelly than the pale. I didn't like it as much, but it is still drinkable and completely different to the rest. Both are sold unpasteurised.
Last, but not least, was Radegast Birrel, brewed by the biggest domestic brewery it is, thus, the most popular and easiest to find. It was the first to be sold on tap, and that is the version I tasted this time. I don't like it bottled or canned, but tapped is a lot more drinkable. Less carbnation, silkier mouthfeel and not so artificial taste.

The future looks good for nealko piva. There are more and more breweries that offer theirs on tap and there is at least one craft take on it. I tasted it at the Slunce ve Skle festival in Pilsen and was very impressed, very dark and flavoured with coffee, a tasty and interesting drink.

Although I must say I liked some (specially Bernard Free, which I would gladly drink before Stella Artois and the likes) none could replace the real thing. As a friend of mine says, non alcoholic beers are something people drink because they have to, not because they want. It is really good to know that those who can't drink a beer have options that are tastier, healthier and even more refreshing than sodas, mineral water or pre packed juices.

In the meantime, I will get myself a bottle of Svijany.

Na Zdraví!

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7 Oct 2008

Vintage 2008

I almost forget to post this!

This year, in the garden of our new house, we planted many things (all legal), aromatic herbs, tonnes of flowers and bushes, tomatoes, zuccini and even a tree, and we still have to plant a few fruit trees before winter. Of all that, what excited me the most were two specimens of a vine that I found one day at the garden centre where we usually buy things for our garden.

This is a beer and food blog! Many of you might be complaining already. Patience my friends, because the plant in question couldn't be any more related to the main topic of this blog.
I'm sure many of you have recognised it. It is no other than our good old friend Humulus lupulus. I don't know what variety it is. The label that the vines had said that they are humulus lupulos aureus, and that they seem to come from Poland. We planted them more as a decorative thing, we were not expecting to get anything from them this year. I was really surprised when buds started to appear that later turned into blossoms, which I picked the last weekend of august.
I will start home brewing soon. I will only make 5l batches at the beginning. I know it is not much, but I want to start slowly, try out a couple of recipes that I have in my mind. If they come out well I will buy some more proper equipment that will allow me to brew at least 20l batches. Of course, I want to use my hops in these first batches. And one of my plans for next year is to get some Saaz hops rhizomes to plant in my garden...

PD: If any of you wants to give me some advice on home brewing you are more than welcome.

Na Zdraví!

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5 Oct 2008

On some marketing bollocks and a new converts

The other day I had a, not quite, surprise visit from Spain. My almost brother in law and our great friend Fernando (owner of La Barraca, a proper beer pub in Ávila, Spain), came togehter with the Spanish representative for the Pilsner Urquell Bartender of the year competition as guests of the brewery.

They were all accommodated in a posh hotel in the centre of Prague. They were taken on a tour to the world famous and legendary brewery, were fed and given drink until it came out of their ears; in sum, they were very well treated. And, acording to what they told me, the organisation of the whole thing was flawless, as it would be expected from a company like Plzeňský Prazdroj, experts when it comes to marketing and PR.

As they are in the fine art of marketing bollocks. The hotel lobby was dressed in the colours of the brewery. I was waiting for them there while they went to fetch their luggage and check out, when I noticed, written on poster on one of the walls, the claim that Pilner Urquell is still brewed using the same methods as in 1842. Massive lie. Back then CK fermenters didn't exist and open fermenters were used, as they still are by many Czech breweries. Also in 1842 beer was not pasteurised, as the process woudn't be invented for another couple of decades. We can call that progress or evolution, aberration if you ask me, but whatever it is, is not the same as 166 years ago.

But that was not the biggest bull. Fernando told me that, during one of the talks they had with the people of PU, someone asked if the unpasteurised beer tasted different than the pasteurised. The speaker (I don't remember who it was) had the nerve to say that both tasted exactly the same. Can you believe that? They must believe that people are stupid. Anyone who has ever tried a pint of Pilsner Urquell nepasterovaná would have noticed, after the first sip, the humungous dimensions of this lie. When a product, no matter what, goes through pasteurisation its taste will be affected, is inevitable, beer is not an exception. Of course, the people from SAB-Miller don't want to tell their foreign clients that the product they get is not as good as the one that can be enjoyed at many hospody around the Czech Republic, and thus, have no choice but to lie in such a childish way.

Changing the topic and the mood. The other day is stopped by at U Sadu. I hadn't been there for quite some time. That day I had a strong craving for Primátor Weizen and, being nearby, I made a detour to that fine hospoda. Big, and pleasant, was my surprise when I saw that they are now also tapping Svijany, their 11° Máz. I still ordered that Primátor that had brought me there, and sat to read the book I was carrying (a really dodgy Dan Brown rip-off that a client had lent me). A few minutes later two men in their fifties took a table near mine. One of them ordered a nealko and the other, almost automatically, ordered a pint of Pilsner Urquell. However, when the waiter had just turned round, he asked "Co to je to Svijanský Máz?" (what is this Svijany?). The waiter explained that it was a pale lager, unpasteurised, etc, and the patron said he would give it a go. When he got his půl litr and drank the first, pretty long, sip his reaction was instantaneous: "To je dobrý človeče!" (Man, this is good!). And when his mate asked him how he liked his beer, he insisted "je to fakt dobrý!" (it is really good!). The second pint didn't take long to come.

It's worth noticing that U Sady sells Svijanský Máz for 30CZK, more expensive than Gambrinus (25CZK) and the same price as PU. This is another proof that, when given equal opportunities and same conditions, besides being properly promoted (there were posters announcing the news), the regional brewers can give the macros a really good run for their money.

Later that day I stopped at Zlý Časy. They still had the minifestival of Eastern Bohemia and among the beers on tap was Imperial Stout from Anteňaka, Hradec Králove. Very black, with a coffee and molasses nose, tasting like roasted coffee that turns into mild chocolate and leaving a very pleasant roasted aftertaste when finishing the drink. Delicious.

There was as small group of lads in their early 20's, if a day, tasting the different lagers that were being tapped. One of them, when finishing his glass, asked what they could taste now. Honza, the owner, suggested they try the Imperial Stout, telling them that it was something completely different, but still very good. They went for it and I was really glad to see that they liked that beer, partly because it was something new and totally different to everything they had previously drank. And that, in itself, is very important.

I left everybody very satisfied. I had the strong hope that the new beers that the middle aged man at U Sadu and the young kids at Zlý Časy tasted had helped each open their beer horizons. Maybe the will now start looking for more, maybe if they now see something they don't know at a supermarket, they will buy it. Maybe we are not so alone in our beerevangelism mission...

Na Zdraví!

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3 Oct 2008

Experimenting

I haven't posted a recipe for a long time. This one was inspired by my better half.

When we went to the Slunce ve Skle festival we didn't go back home empty handed. We brought with us some bottles and a couple of treats, a jar of škvarková pomazánka (a spread made with pork drippings, mustard and spice) that was simply delicious and great for breakfast, and a jar of dark lager marmelade.

The latter would become the magic ingredient in the following recipe.
Ingredients (for two):

3 por steaks tenderised (just in case soneone wants to have seconds)
250cl of pale bitter lager
Curry powder
2 or 3 rosemary springs
some sage leaves
some fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons of dark lager marmelade
salt, pepper, sunflower oil.
Finely chop herbs and put them in a bowl with the curry and the pepper. Add about half of the beer and mix. Put previously salted steaks in the marinade and let them stay for 60 to 90 minutes at room temperature.
In a very hot pan with some oil put steaks and fry them until golden. In the meantime add the rest of the beer to the marinade and mix. Lower heat to medium/low and add marinade.

Cover the pan and let everything cook for 20 to 30 minutes, flipping the steaks somewhere in the middle.

Uncover the pan, take out steaks and put heat to maximum. Let the sauce reduce for about five minutes, add marmelade and mix.Put the steaks back in, cook for a minute, turn heat off, cover and let stay for a couple of minutes before serving.We ate the steaks with roasted potatoes (in duck lard). I thought about frying apple slices in butter and paprika, but I was too lazy to do it. It could have been nice, though.

Everything was washed down with Bernard Jantár. I chose it because this amber lager has mild, but firm, taste. Starts with caramel notes and ends in a pretty bitter finish that isn't too long. It left the whole stage for this dish of such contransting flavours. I think an EPA, or something similar, would have worked just fine, too.
PS: I don't think you can find dark lager marmelade (I would love to know how to make it, I should look for a recipe), so I thought about some substitutes. I believe that some quince por plum jelly, or even a real orange marmelade, could achive, if not similar, pretty interesting results, provided they aren't too sugary.

Na Zdraví a Dobrou Chuť!!!

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1 Oct 2008

Autumn is here

Warm weather is over, it was just like that, no smooth transition. One day it was warm, the next, it was autumn. My finances have improved, thoughnot that drastically. Not enough to allow me to go back exploring, but I still managed to attend two wonderful beer festivals.

How many wonderful beers I had at those festivals! And the several more that went down during last month.

I had chosen a winner pretty much at the beginning of September. Not only because of the quality of the beer, but more for the sake of being subversive and a bit controversial. It was Kukuřiční Ležák from Chýně. Yes, a maize beer. It was partly inspired by this post in "A Good Beer Blog". I had tasted and liked the top fermented version last year, this year, it was bottom fermented and I liked it even more. Together with those fruity notes that are almost a signature of the beers from Chýně, the corn could be felt almost like popcorn. The beer never tries to hide its cursed ingredient, quite the contrary, it shouts it on your face. But not in the silly marketing gimmicky way of Stella Artois, who does it in order to hide the fact that they use it as a cheap adjunct. This is a beer proud of being what it is.

But choosing Kukuřiční Ležák wouldn't have been fair, not matter how much I liked it. A few days later I attended the festival in Prague 11 and ended up fascinated by several of the beers I tasted there. From the superb teabeer, to the powerful Weizen Dopplebock 19%, together with Bilinné, tapped from the oak barrel where it had been lagered, and the almost cult Jihoměsťasnká 11°, which more than lived up to its reputation.

To make things harder, a week later I went to Slunce ve Skle Festival in Pilsen, which was actually a great orgy of craft beers. Twelve brewers from all over the country presented around 40 beers for all tastes. It was impressive the variety and quality of the line-up. Several of the beers I had that day were brilliant and could have been fair winners this month.

It wouldn't be fair, either, if I forgot two beers that I had already tasted before and reappeared during the last few weeks. The first of them was Janáček Comenius 14°. I had drunk it for the first time last year and was really unimpressed, then I had it again at Pivní Festival Praha and didn't find it too memorable, but when I drank it on tap at Pivovarský Klub the other day it was like having a different beer, as if it had found its identity, both in the bouquet (where citrus peel predominates) and the taste (that starts with some caramel and fruit only to quickly become really really dry). I really liked it a lot.

The other one was the good old Křižikova 17°, which also had quite some change. Not that there was anything wrong with the last couple of batches. The change was such that several of us wondered if we were actually drinking the same beer. It was darker, more caramel, richer, better.

So after a lot of consideration and meditation on the issue, I decided to give the award to someone who had got really close to it the last couple of months, Kocour Vandorf. They just keep on coming out with one great beer after another. Which of the beers that fascinated me last month should take the prize? Should it be their IPA, or the EPA, or the Stout, or the V3 rauch. Hard to say, though I would say V3. On the one side, because it is not a style beer proper (which I always prefer), and on the other, because of the wonderful concept behind it. Yes, it is true that as a rauch, I liked the one from Purkmistr a bit more, but as an idea, V3 has no match.

Na Zdraví!

Oh! I had forgotten. In September I had the pleasure of drinking 33 beers that I had not tasted so far this year, many of them completely new for me, and also excellent. The total so far goes up to 277.

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