28 Nov 2008

La Ronda #6: Women, Seduction and Beers

La Ronda is the Spanish beer blogging community project very much inspired by (if not a rip off of) The Sessions. Every month a member of the community proposes a topic about which the other bloggers are supposed to write. This month La Ronda was invited by Catador, a beer blogger from Chile, who proposes a very interesting and fun topic that goes like this:

"You have met a girl who somehow, after learning about your passion for beer, asks you to invite her to a private tasting. Not being of the shy or silly kind, you invite her to your place. Which beers would you give her to sample? And for what purpose?

I am happily married and even suggesting something like that might get me in trouble. I couldn't do it with my wife because, since she is fortunate enough to be living with me, she already knows all the beers I know. So I decided to give the thing a twist and face it in another way, as if I was helping a friend that is in that very situation. This is how I see it:

I am sitting by the fireplace with my wife. We are listening to music, eating some home made red currant pie and driking Pardubický Porter at room temperature. The bell rings just as I am about to prepare my pipe. My wife goes to the door and comes back with my young friend Svatopluk, whom, like a mentor, I've been iniciating in the world of real beer. After the mandatory greetings Svatopluk says, with a worried tone, "I need your help. I am courting a girl whom I am crazy for. We have dated a few times and things are going well. The problem is that she wants to come to my place so I can show her some of the wonderful beers I've been telling her about and have aroused her curiosity so much. What can I do? I am afraid of ruining it.
"And you like this girl a lot." I saw lighting up my pipe. My friend nods, takes the glass that my wife offered him and pours himself some of the Porter.
I stroke my beard, take a few seconds to think and say: "I've got it. Take notes, my friend."
Svatopluk produces a notepad and a pen and sets to listen to my advice with the utmost attention.
"You will greet her with a glass of Černá Hora Modrá Luna. I know, I know." I saw, anticipating his objection. "I know you don't like it so much, but She will, more so if you offer it together with a plate of mild cheese, grapes and almonds."
Svatopluk takes notes with eagerness and I ask him:
"What is the name of this girl?"
"Markéta, and she is beautiful, an angel!" He says with dreamy eyes.
"I wouldn't expect any less from you, my friend. And tell, Markéta, does she like seafood?"
"Yes, very much"
"Ah! Good!" I say, glad seeing that my plan would not have any complications. "Then, for first course, you will prepare prawns stir fried in butter and olive oil, with garlic, a little ginger and fresh mint. On the side, you will serve a green salad dressed with a sause made of white yougurt, chopped anchovies, olive oil, oregano and chives."
"Oh! That sounds delicious!" Svatopluk. But then doubt invades his features. "But, what can I serve this with?"
"With Primátor Weizen, of course!"
"Right!" Svatopluk almost shouts. "Girls like it a lot, it is easy to drink and not as sour as others, and its taste and characteristics will pair perfectly with the food."
"That's right it. You have learnt, young friend of mine." I say, with satisfaction.
Almost shyly, but at the same time with confidence, Svatopluk asks: "Can I suggest the main course?"
"But, sure!" His enthusiasm is contagious and, deep inside of me, I know his idea will be the right one.
"What if I prepare your recipe of pork with beer marmelade?"
You surprise me! That is exactly what I was thinking! I recommend you serve it with fried or roasted polenta"
"Yes! Yes! And I could pair it with Bernard Jantár."
"Good idea. Alternatively, you could also consider Strakonice Klostermann or Herold Granát. They are a little stronger." I add, winking, only to meet the disapproving stare of my wife. I smile at her, indictating that it is just an innocent joke, and carry on.
"Of course you will have to serve some dessert."
"Oh yes! I haven't thought about it. I hardly ever eat dessert, but this is a special occasion. What do you recommend?" His expression didn't show fear, but true will to learn something new.
"Flan. I think I've got a recipe somewhere. It takes some time to prepare, but it isn't too difficult. You will have to choose a sweetish dark beer for this. Perhaps Chodovar Černá Desítka or Polička Hradební Tmavé or, if you prefer something stronger, Svijanská Kněžna. Their caramel notes will be a perfect pairing with the flan."
"Thanks!" Exclaims Svatopluk, almost jumping from his seat. "I am running to buy everything right now."
"Wait, wait, little grasshopper. Don't rush, the evening does not need to finish yet."
Svatopluk goes back to his seat, his face invaded by curiousity.
"How important is this Markéta to you?"
"You can't even imagine." He answers with a sigh.
"Then hold on a minute." I tell him and go to the cellar, from where I come back with two bottles of X33.
After giving them to Svatopluk, I tell him. "You must not forget the final touch. You will serve this beer together with a selection of fine chocolates while you listen to music and continue with your seduction."
Svatopluk embraces the bottles, holding them tight on his chest and smiles like a little boy.
"If after this feast Markéta's knickers don't loosen up, she is not the right one for you." Both the reproach on my wife's face and the fear on Svatopluk's make me burst in laughter.
"Fear not my young friend. I am sure that the date will end in passion, to continue in romance the morning after."
The smile returns to Svatopluk's face, who can't hold his enthusiasm any longer. "Your advice is so wise! This will be an evening that Markéta will never in her life forget. How can I show you my gratitude for this invaluable help?"
I suck my pipe and softly pat him on the back. "There is nothing to be grateful for, friend. I was also young and I know how important it is to find a good woman." I saw smiling, while I gently squeeze my princess's hand. "Go. I wish you luck. And give my regards to this surely wonderful damsel."
When Svatopluk leaves, talking to himself about where he will have to go to buy all the ingredients and beers, a turn to my woman, kiss her lips and aks. "Lásko muj*. Aren't you hungry? What if we prepared something to eat?"

Na Zdraví!

(*)Love of mine, in Czech.

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25 Nov 2008

Apologies

Among the many good things blogging has is that there is no censorship or editing. I am free to write whatever I want, however I want it and if people don't like it, it is actually more their problem than mine.

The other day, when reviewing this year's SPP awards I wanted to be bit of a badass and I took issue with their decision to give Budvar the second place, and wrote the following:
"Budvar as second, not a chance, they haven't innovated, they haven't grown, they haven't done anything new worth mentioning. Primátor should be in their place (if not first)"
I don't have any animosity towards Budvar (as I do have with other big brewers). I might not be a fan of their beers, but I like most of them, in fact, I prefer Budvar beers over pretty much any other from the big breweries.

There was, of course, some reaction. First there was a comment from Velký Al, who saw things differently. Then I got an email from Petr Samec, who obviously wasn't too happy with my opinion, and said...
"I have only one important comment to your text - the cathegory of breweries:
[...]
You are mistaking little bit:
In fact, we have grown (+ 9% beer otput in 2007 in comparison with 2006) and we have launched quite new brand Pardal (in March 2007) on local market in South Bohemia. It was important innovation. In South Bohemia, we have sold 76 000 hectolitres of Pardal in 2007. That is why we have decided to extend the Pardal distribution acrosss the whole Czech Republic since January 2008. Pardal is very succesfull - our sales forecast for 2008 is 150 000 hectolitres (this sold volume is similar to the total production of Bernard brewery and the growt of Pardal will be almost 100% year to year).
Of course we did not innovated our traditional beer brands - i.e. Budvar - but this NO INNOVATION of Budvar brand is our basic and stategic mission. We are proud not to innovate/change this product (with the exception of packaging)."
After reading this I started thinking about the words I'd written, and finally, came to the conclusion that I'd been unfair (and also wrong about the growth bit).

I could have easily dismissed the thing, continued my life as if nothing happened. But that's not my style, I like critising hard those who deserve it (and believe me, I have fun with that), but I don't think Budvar deserved such hard words.

I still don't think they should have been second place. But the truth is that, at a time when many industrial breweries are cheaping down their beers, budvar at least still lagers them as long as it takes, and still uses hops flowers, and not extracts or other subsitutes. Their beers are still of good quality. Maybe not comparable with many of my favourite beer's, but they brew more than a million hl a year! 

The only serious criticism I have towards them is Pardál. I still don't think it is a good beer. I don't know why Budvar came out with it, being that they already had a very good výčepní.  I also believe that is something that came into the market a couple of years too late, but then, I don't work in the brewery, and, according to what Petr tells me, it is successful. Anyway, I really hope Budvar will come out next year with a product that will compete with Master, the premium brand Pilsner Urquell presented last year. I believe they have the chops for that.

In the meantime, I stand corrected, and apoligise, first to the people in Budvar, but foremost, to my readers.

Na Zdraví!

If it wasn't for the beers

And if it wasn't for Iain and Ian, whom I ran into the other day at Zlý Časy, I would have never known about U Slovanské Lípy. I rarely go to that corner of Žížkov. So, when they told me that there was a hospoda there that stocked the beers from Kout na Šumavě, I made a mental note to visit them as soon as I could.

The place is located right by the entrance of the tunnel that connects the famous Prague 3 neighbourhood to Karlín. I go there for a late lunch. There was hardly anyone in, only two tables were taken, one of which would empty soon.

Despite having opened only a couple of weeks ago, the pub doesn't seem to have changed much since the days of the Soviet occupation following Prague's Spring. Everything looks tired, even the light that comes in from the windows.

Fortunately, that doesn't apply to the service. As soon as I found a table the waitress came to take my order. I started with Kout 12% (25CZK/0.5l), a beer that I hadn't drunk since the Slunce ve Skle festival two months ago. Although it was not very well tapped (too much top pressure?) I still found it a superb ležák, mild caramel, some fruit and a wonderful finish that is all Saaz. It is the kind of beer that I'm sure Václav Berka wishes he was still able to brew, but that, unfortunately for us all, he isn't allowed anymore; which makes me appreciate beers like Kout Světlý Ležák even more.
My Smažený Sýr with krokety arrived. I accepted the suggestion of the waitress and ordered another pint. Nothing out of this world the food was. The cheese was fine, but the croquettes didn't taste all that fresh, they had that typical flavour of something that has been fried in oil that has been used a couple of times too many. The veggies that were in the plate looked as tired as the rest of the place.

I didn't feel very much like staying, but I still wanted to taste something else; something I had never tasted before. Kout 18%, which to my surprise costs a whopping 60CZK/0.5l and 36CZK/0.3l. I chose the smaller measure, it turned out to be a very good idea. No, no, no; not because the beer was bad, quite the opposite, but because is incredible powerful. Dark amber with some ocre, not much of a head, but what it is, is very compact. Intense nose with a mix of berry jam, marmalade, cinnamon, nuts, coffee and caramel. The flavour reminded me to maraschino cherries, together with winter spices, coffee and fruit in syrup. The finish is dry and I found it somewhat similar to Fernet or Jägermeister. Here I felt the alcohol to be a bit out of tune, but a attribute it more to the tap and not to what comes out of it. This beer is a slow drinker. Closing my eyes I could almost picture myself sitting next to a fireplace and not in the anatmospheric pub that I was. I thought it was the ideal winter beer. At that price, I don't think they will sell much of it, but to me it is certainly worth it.
I can't see U Slovanské Lípi becoming one of my favourite pubs, but with these beers (besides the above mentioned, they also tap 10% at 18CZK/0.5l and tmavá 14% at 26/CZK, no kvasnicové unfortunately) it will be very hard to resist. There are no other pubs in Prague that stock this brewery regularly (wish that would change soon). In the meantime, I will have to take what is already being offered and close my eyes a little while I enjoy.

Na Zdraví!

U Slovanské Lípy
Tachovské Nám. y Koněvova
Praha 3 - Žížkov

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21 Nov 2008

And the winners are...

I chose to publish the list of winners separated from the previous post because I want to speak about about the awards. Analyse them, if you wish.

I don't care too much about awards and medals of any kind, but these ones are for me of some importance because they are given by the association that represents consumers. I'm not sure how Sdružení přátel piva choose the winners, nor what criteria is used for some of the awards, and though many are questionable, I have no doubt of the honesty of the people of SPP.

So, here they are.

Desítka 2008:
Fist: Moravské Sklepní nefiltrované from Černá Hora
Second: Pardál světlé výčepní pivo from Budvar
Third: Budweiser Budvar světlé výčepní pivo
I couldn't agree more. Moravksé Sklepní is a very special beer and no doubt unique in its category. Now, the second place. Pardál better than Budvar světlé výčepní (and many others)?

Jedenáctka 2008
First: Ležák 11° from Pivovar Klášter
Second: Otakar ležák from Polička
Third: Svijanský Maz from Svijany
I might like Otakar a bit more, but I think Klášter is a fair winner, after all it is the fourth time in a row that they take the prize.

Dvanáctka 2008:
First: Sváteční ležák from Bernard
Second: Pilsner Urquell
Third: Opat from Pivovar Broumov
Another worthy winner, another beer that is different. Pilsner Urquell as second, hmmm...

Speciál 2008
First: Primátor Exklusiv 16° from Pivovar Náchod
Second: Kvasar from Černá Hora
Third: Démon from Lobkowicz
This is a difficult category, Speciály are those with at least 13°balling, so the range is huge. It is enough to have a look at the list above to get an idea. Exklusiv (well deserved) is a pale strong lager, Kvasar is also a pale with 14°balling and with honey and Démon is a 13° polotmavé.

Tmavé pivo 2008:
First: Budweiser Budvar tmavý ležák
Second: Speciální černé pivo from Bernard
Third: Svijanská Kněžna from Svijany
Here I don't agree at all. Budvar tmavé is a fine beer, but it's not even close to the one from Bernard or Herold, that wasn't even mentioned. Besides, this is a category that should be broken down since it scopes all dark beers regardless of their gravity.

Polotmavé 2008:
First: Skalák from Rohozec
Second: Primátor Pale Ale from Pivovar Náchod
Third: Primátor polotmavé 13° from Pivovar Náchod
Another winner I don't agree about. Skalák wins it for a second year in a row and I don't think it deserves it. It is, for me, the weakest product from Rohozec, whose beers I like a lot. Both samples from Primátor are far superior.

Nealko 2008:
First: Bernard Free Jantar (amber)
Second: Bernard Free (pale)
Third: Svijanská Vozka from Svijany
Nothing to add here.

Minipivovar 2008:
First: Prague’s Klášterní Pivovar Strahov
Second: Pivovarský dvůr Chýně
Third: Malostranský pivovar in Velké Meziříčí
Another that wins back to back awards. The beers from Strahov have improved considerable in the last couple of years. However, I think Chýně brews more interesting and daring beers.

Pivovar 2008:
First: Svijany
Second: Budweiser Budvar
Third: Pivovar Náchod (Primátor)
This is one of the categories for which I don't know what criteria was used. Does Svijany deserve the award? Stricktly beerwise, they haven't done anything new recently, on the other hand, they have grown a lot. More and more people know and appreciate their beers every day. I think that, to a certain extent, they have taken Bernard's place as an alternative brewery in the mind of many consumers. Budvar as second, not a chance, they haven't innovated, they haven't grown, they haven't done anything new worth mentioning. Primátor should be in their place (if not first)

Sládek (brewmaster) 2008:
Ing. Josef Tolar from Budweiser Budvar
There is no doubt that he is someone who does his job very well. The question I have is wether he would still be able to brew Budvar the same way if the company was privatised.

I don't know what you think.

Na Zdraví!

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It's good to be me

Well, at least sometimes.

Like last year, I was invited to the annual award ceremony of Sdružení přátel piva, or SPP. I'd had a lot of fun last time, so you can imagine how much I was looking forward to this one.

The meeting point was once again Hotel Beránek, near I.P. Pavlova. I got there a few minutes after 10, greeted the familiar faces and went to the table where some snacks and drinks had been served, and then to the fridge to pick a bottle of Pivo Hotel Beránek, actually Chodovar Zámecký Ležák with another label, which was not at all bad. There were some bottles of the superb Chýně Dvorní Ležák, which also got my attention.

The rest of the guests arrived, ate and drank and a bit after 11 our bus was leaving to České Budějovice, where the event was going to take place. It was a very long trip due to the traffic. We used the time to chat and gossip (I could have some material for a post from that). When we finally arrived we were all thirsty and hungry.

Tomáš Erlich, SPP chairman, was waiting for us at the door of Buějovický Budvar's administration building. Everything was ready. In the hall there were stands from Bernard, Svijany, Rohozec, Strahov, Klášter and Polička, and also the beers from the host, that were available in the taproom. Last year's lineup was probably better, but, hey, who am I to complain.
We immediately focused on quenching our thirst. I raided Polička's stand to have a glass of their delicious Otakar 11. From there, to Strahov's, that were tapping, together with their wheat beer, their Autumn special, a 16°balling dark beer that I found considerably better than last year. A lot hoppier, but still with enough caramel and chocolote notes to make it very well balanced and incredibly delicious. No doubt, the beer of the day, well, almost.
The award ceremony started soon and without much of a fuss. It took place at the taproom, which was full of guests and several celebrities of the Czech beer world. Once the awards had been handed (of which I will talk later), food was served. It was very good. The buffed included different kinds of salads, utopenec, tlačenka, guláš (a bit bland for my taste) and the star, Prague ham carved from the bone and served with mustard and fresh horseraddish, simply wonderful (unfortunately, it disappeared quickly). For those with a sweet tooth, there were koláčky (little pies) that were also very tasty.
Perhaps the most interesting bit of the day was the tour to the bowels of the brewery with the head Master Brewer as a guide. Giving for granted that everyone there knew how beer was made, and about the brewery itself, Master Josef Tolar focused on technical aspects of his trade. There were a couple of things that caught my attention, first, Budvar must be one of the few breweries of its size in the world that still uses 100% Saaz hops flowers, no pellets or extracts, for all their beers (except Pardál that uses Angus, also in flowers). Their Ležák must be one of the few industrial lagers in the world that is still spends up to 90 days in the lagering tanks. It was also interesting seeing the newest of those tanks, they have a capacity of 3500hl, and it is said that you can fit a bus in them.
The best, hands down, bar none, was being able to drink Budvar directly from one of the lagering tanks. The date on them was 15/9, so it was a beer that had been lagering for already more than two months. Still unfiltered and unpasteurised, fresher than that impossible, a body and taste that were incredibly full. It was almost like drinking malt and fresh hops salad. I don't think it is possible to drink too much of a beer like that, but it fascinated me anyway, and being able to tap myself a glass straight from the tank was almost a mystical experience.
The tour ended T the bottling line. It is there where you finally fully realise that you are in a big industrial brewery. The noise, the smell of machine oil, the hectic and incessant activity couldn't be any more contrasting to the silence and the cold we had seen before. Anyway, it is impossible to be somewhat amazed, it is something hypnotic.

We went back to the party, we went back to beer drinking and fun having. I could chat a little with the young brew master of Bašta, who was very glad to know how much I had liked his beers last month. He was also very candid when I mentioned the low quality of those beers during summer. The problem, he said, capacity, or the lack thereof, something that haunts many a brewpub in the Czech Republic.

I also had an interesting conversation with Petr Samec, PR Manager od Budvar, a very friendly and very professional bloke. I asked him if they were planning to come out with some new product. The answer was affirmative, but we could not tell me what it was about. I didn't want to push any further, I understand his position. However, when I mentioned Master I noticed an interesting reaction, and after a silence that was a second too long, he smiled at me and went on with his "no comment" line, all while looking a little like a kid that got caught in a lie. Could it be then that they are preparing some high gravity beers, be it under a new brand or under a refreshed Budvar Strong? If that happens to be the case, you know where you've read it first.

We started the way back. For those who stayed, the party went on at a very famous restaurant in Budějovice, I wanted to go back home and cuddle with my wife. During most of the trip to Prague I had the most interesting conversation with Tomáš Mikulica, Chýně's brewmaster. He told me a few of his secrets, about which I will talk after the visit I promised to pay him soon.

I had a great time, it was a fantastic day. Many thanks to Tomáš Erlich and the good people of SPP for having me invited.

Na Zdraví!

PS: The llist of awards will be published in a separate post. It would have made this one too long, and I have a few words about the winners, too.

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19 Nov 2008

Something's missing

Most Czech craft breweries seem to be satisfied with the brewpub business model. Which means that if someone wants to taste their beers they will have to go to their source or, if they are lucky enough to live in Prague, wait till someone brings them over. Many bottle their beers in PET containers, more as something to take back home as a souvenir and drink soon than something that you would want to store and sit down to savour at ease. The material of the bottles will not allow for very long storing. Only very few will offer their products in proper glass bottles, that will still be only available at the brewery.

That is why when I saw a few bottles of Harrach at Pivovarský Klub, I didn't think twice to take one back home despite of the pretty high price (I will get back to that later)

The beer pours down light amber, almost gold, foggy. In the nose there is caramel, fruit and lots of citrus, very pleasant and fresh. There is still caramel on the palate that looks like is going to be overwhelmed by an intense citrus and herbal bitterness, which never happens. The finish is a well balanced mix of all the above. I liked it, it is a very pleasant beer to drink in the afternoon.
I don't know if you've noticed that I didn't mention any technical data of the beer. It isn't because I forgot to write it down, it's because I have no way of knowing it. The bottle has absolutely no factual information about the beer. When I bought it I didn't know if I was taking a pale, amber or dark beer (the last one was discarded once I put the bottle against the light). And I'm still not sure what kind of beer I drunk. A lager, almost certainly; barley mal and hops, most likely; 14°Balling probably (no, my palate is not that refined, but they were tapping a beer like that when I bough this one), but they are all educated guesses.

I can understand that costs are too high to print sticky labels, or it might simply be that they don't want to put them due to esthetical reasons, but they could at least tie a piece of paper that will give us some information about the brewery and their products, specially the one that we have just bought, more so if you had to pay 93CZK for it.

Yes, 93CZK for a bottle of Czech craft beer. If the beer is worth that much, I will leave you to decide. If you asked me, though, I'd say no. Not because of the quality itself, but because, apart from the lack of information issue, it could have easily been cheaper. Pivovarský Klub is not the cheapest place to buy bottled beer, yes, but I had to believe them (and why would they lie to me?) when they told me that the brewery had sold them those bottles at retail price. And it's not the first time I heard something like that, and about other breweries. What are they thinking? I would really like to know.

Sometimes I think Evan Rail is a bit too hard on Czech craft brewers and their lack of marketing skills, but cases like this make me see that he is indeed onto something.

Na Zdraví!

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17 Nov 2008

The more the merrier

I think it was Pivovarský Klub the first hospoda to offer rotating taps, meaning that, unlike the rest, the offer of tapped beer changes constantly. Or maybe it was První Pivní Tramvaj, which actually has only one rotating tap. It doesn't matter, what's important is that the model seems to be successful, specially in PK's case. There've been others that followed the example. One of them was Zlý Časy, which quickly became one of my top favourites and, at about the same time, U Radnice.

I already knew this pub back when it was called Podkovaňská Restaurace U Radnice. After the demise of Pivovar Podkovaň it was replaced by the duo Rohozec - Svijany. For whatever reason, that didn't last for long, the Svijany sign outside was changed by that of Krakonoš, which could have happened at the same time the let's hope final change took place. I don't know, but after a few months of not going there I find that U Radnice now also offered rotating taps.

My first visit in this new phase wasn't a very happy one. It wasn't due to the choice of beers, I remember that day they had two from Pivovar Zvíkov together with Pardubický Porter and Krakonoš kvasnicové (which seems to be the štamgast beer). It was the attitude of the waiter. He seemed more interested in my leaving than in taking my order. It's because of him that it has taken me so long to post about this place, I simply didn't feel like going back.

When I finally changed my mind, instead of the above mentioned idiot, there was a friendly lady waiting the tables. There was nothing to write home about that day on the beer list (as you can see in the photo below), though being able to drink Strakonice Klostermann on tap, something unseen in Prague, was nice, more so when the price was only 25CZK, something unseen in Prague for a 13°Balling beer. I had a couple of those and went my way, promising myself that I would go back soon.

I didn't have to wait too long for an excuse. Iain, one of the most frequent commenters here, tipped me that they were tapping Primátor Stout and Černá Hora Modrá Luna. A couple of days and phone calls later I was sitting in front of a pint of the blueberry beer (I liked it a lot more bottled) while I waited for Velký Al, Evan and Rob to have a few pints of the excellent new beer from Pivovar Náchod. We had a great time, not only because we drank what was left in the barrel, 8l I think, but also because the waitress was great with us, all while we talked about beer and life in general. Unfortunately, I couldn't stay as long as I would have liked. I paid my bill (the waitress had had the presence of mind to keep separate tabs for us) of 142CZK (yeah, 142CZK for six pints) and left to take care of my other appointments.

On the way I started to ponder wether U Radnice would ever become one of my favourites. I haven't been able to answer that question yet. It is missing something that the others have. Both at Zlý Časy and at Pivovarský Klub I can sit and have a chat about beer with either owners or staff, who are mostly people who know what they are selling you. That doesn't seem to be the case at U Radnice, for example, that day, Primátor Stout was listed as Primátor Kávove (coffee). It might seem a minor detail to many, but not to me. I think it would help a lot if there was someone who could answer patrons questions about this or that beer.

Anyway, it is already very positive that there is another place where I can go and drink something different than the same four or five names, and the best is that I've heard there are more pubs of this kind. I promise to look for them.

Na Zdraví!

U Radnice
Havlíčkovo nám. 670/7
30 00 Praha-Žižkov
+420 222 782 713

PS: Unfortunately, it seems that I have lost the pictures I have taken of this place. If I find them, I promise to post them.

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14 Nov 2008

Beta testing

It seems that our review of Punk IPA did not fall into deaf ears, or actually, blind eyes. After we published our posts about it, Velký Al contacted the people of Brew Dog to, firstly, let them know what we had written, and secondly, to ask how much it would cost to ship some samples to Prague. To his surprise, some James, from brewery, told him not to worry about it, that he would send samples of the three prototype beers they are testing prior to their launch next year. In return, they wanted us to blog about them and to give them some feedback.

To be honest, we were all surprised and, at least my case, sillily honoured that my opinion about this beer could be taken into account by the peolpe who brew them.

The samples we got are: Bad Pixie, a wheat beer, 4.7%ABV, brewed with lemon peel and juniper berries; Zeit Geist, a black lager, 5.1%ABV, inspired Czech tmavé piva (something I know pretty well) and Chaos Theory a very, very hoppy (according to the website) IPA with 7.1%ABV. The bottles till haven't got labels on, and the only way to identify them was by the colour of the caps.
As usual, I started by the lighter one. Bad Pixie, funny name for a beer. Ingredients apart, this is not a wheat beer as most people are used. Other than kristal weizen, most beers of this kind tend to be cloudy. Bad Pixie is perfectly crystalline, not looking very different to many an industrial lager. When I poured it there was a bit too much carbonation, though that could have been because I didn't let it settle long enough after having spent most of the afternoon bouncing about in my backpack. It's very mild in the nose, pretty much the only think I was able to feel was grapefruit, not at all unpleasant. There were no surprises when I started drinking, it was as dry as I expected. It's light bodied, which together with the excessive carbonation somewhat reminded me of an extra brut sparkling wine. I felt some subtle sweetish notes in the back that balance very well the predominant grapefruit. Nice summer beer, to drink it as an aperitif while waiting for dinner in the garden. I would have liked it a lot more if the flavours were more defined, not to the point of being aggressive or extreme, that wouldn't make any sense for a beer like this, but they do need to be pumped up a bit.
Getting more alcoholic, it was time for Zeit Geist. It would be interesting to know which tmavé ležáký Brew Dog took inspiration from to create this beer. Only among the industrials there is a lot, and very different, to choose from. It is not a black lager actually, but then, the use of tmavé (dark) y černé (black) is rather liberal among Czech brewers, so why couldn't it also be for Brew Dog? Anyway, it looks just the same as a Czech dark lager, dark amber with an ocre hue and a slightly tanned head topping it. Things start to change with the aromas, dry with herbs and flowers mostly. When drinking, hops rule (what kind? Saaz maybe?) with very mild caramel and chocolate notes that get almost lost in the pleasant bitterness. It reminded me to some of the beers from Pivovar Strahov. It isn't the same as Czech dark lagers as I am used, which tend to have more caramel o chocolate flavours and, sometimes, coffee and roasted notes. But I don't think Zeit Geist wants to actually recreate the style, unless I'm wrong. Whatever it is, I liked it, it was a very pleasant beer.
The strongest for last. Chaos Theory. Another IPA, and it couldn't be any more different than Punk IPA. Darker, of copper colour. A lot more aromatic than the other one. Flowers, orange peel and mild tropical fruit float around the glass reminding me of the summer that already seems so long gone. It goes in with mild syrup, followed by citrus and orange peel, the finish is deliciously herbal, bitter and long. It has everything that Punk IPA was missing, it is a much more interesting beer than that one. If you want my advice, don't change anything from it (well, yes, one thing, a permanent supply at home would bring it closer to perfection). Brilliant beer.
Many thanks to the people of Brew Dog for letting my taste these three beers. I hope my digression will be useful to fine tune these beers before putting them out on the market. I still have Paradox, but I'm saving it for another occasion.

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10 Nov 2008

Three nice surprises

Most of us will associate Switzerland with chocolate, expensive watches and secret bank accounts belonging to shady characters from all over the world. Few of us would associate the Alpine country with beer. Come on, without thinking much (and not using the internet), how many brands of Swiss beer can you name? In my case, none. So it was a very pleasant surprise when friends who had been there brought me three samples of Brasserie Trois Dames, about which, of course, I hadn't heard anything. For what I could figure out in the French version of their website, the brewery was established in 2003, but started to work commercially this year, after its owner returned from Canada, where he worked in several brewpubs to get some experience in the trade.
But enough with the blahblah, and let's talk about the beers. Three very different ones I had: Ale Extra Special Bitter, Ale Rousse Rivale and La Semeuse Espresso Stout. Two of them with prettily designed lables, the other with something that looked to have been put together with MS Word in 15 minutes.
And that is the one I started with. Ale Extra Special Bitter. The information on the label is very scarce, which can also be said about the other two. Only the ingredients (no surprise here) and it's ABV, 5.2% in this case. You can find a bit more if you go to the webpage of the beer. This Ale is really aromatic. Opening the bottle sets free scents of pinapple and sweet citrus, very summery, very pleasant. It's of amber orange colour, and looks quite attractive. I liked it even more when I tasted it. I loved it. I couldn't help but compare it to Brewdog's Punk IPA. Without any of the fuss, I found this Ale ESB to be a more interesting brew. I felt it was as bitter as the Scottish one, if not more, but with the fruitiness that one was lacking. I enjoyed it a lot.
I opened the Ale Rousse Rivale a day later. Reddish amber, a bit cloudy. Mild nose, some fruit, caramel, maybe some nuts and a bit of yeast. It dissapointed me a bit at first impression. I had made the mistake of expecting something similar to the ESB. It took me a couple of sips to understand this one and realise it wants to be something entirely different. It is, in fact, a session beer, and a good one at that. 4.4%ABV, sweeter, with caramel and nuts notes, and a mildly bitter finish that gains strength as the glass goes down, without becoming agressive. It could be really nice to have several well drafted pints of this beer. I would also say that it fits very well they concept that many have of what a beer for the ladies should be.
I left the strongest, and with the prettiest label, one for last. Espresso Stout. 7.5%ABV and coffee listed as an ingredient. It pours down really black and thick, just as I like my coffee in the morning. You wouldn't need to read the label to know that this Stout has been brewed with coffee, it is enough to place the nose by the glass. Many stouts, porters and not few Czech dark lagers have notes of my favourite morning drink in their bouquets, but they are actually something that reminds you of it, this is the real thing. It made me remember a drink that we make quite often at home with my wife: hot, very thick cocoa with very strong espresso in equal parts. It gets more interesting when drinking. Again coffee (sorry I am repeating this word too much, but I can't find any synonyms or metaphores), but unlike, say, Primátor Stout, the ingredient plays very nicely with the beer's caramel notes, acheiving a pretty interesting taste, almost like a cup of coffee slightly sweetened with honey. That is followed by brief fruity notes with some sourness that create a pause and open the door to the roasted finish that disipates slowly. What a nice beer to drink in these days that are slowly becoming colder and darker. Very nice as a dessert beer. Delicious.

I really liked these three nice and very different Swiss beers. It would be great to be able to taste the rest of the Bière Trois Dames. If any of you is planning a trip to Switzerland look for them.

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7 Nov 2008

Worse beer = Better business?

Yeah, it sounds like an oximoron, but you might see it differently after you read this little story one of my clients told me the other day.

Radek is from a small town in Vysočina, where the options for going out for dinner or drinks are limited to a couple of hospody with unbreathable atmosphere and where even the newspapers are sticky, or a much more modern place that is more attractive to the younger crowd living there. That is the place Radek like to go.

Some months ago the onwer, a friend of my client, decided to change his beer supplier, leaving Pilsner Urquell for Stella Artois and Staropramen. He didn't have any issue with PU, but Pivovary Praha, the local minion of InBev, offered him to put new taps, a lit sign at the door and other marketing goodies (it might be that they also offered to pay for new lights for the bar, but I can't remember for sure). It was hard to resist.

Since the change, business has improved considerably. Not because more people are coming, nor because patrons are drinking more beer than before. Actually, it is quite the opposite, they are drinking much less, they don't like the new offer (what a surprise!) and instead they are drinking more cocktails, sprirts and wine, which are more profitable than pints. The owner couldn't be happier.

This has made me wonder if that isn't the reason why so many places in Prague, where people don't go for the beer (i.e. poshmodern cafés, pizzerias, ethnic restaurants, etc), stock Stella Artois (or Heineken, who seem to have adopted the same distribution strategy that worked so well for Stella a few years back). It can also be that most of the owners of this kind of places know very little about beer and many care even less.

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PS: I hope the above has not given anyone any funny ideas...

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5 Nov 2008

Blue Moon

There were two things to take into account before tasting Modrá Luna. One, the brewery that makes it, the other, that it is a Czech fruit flavoured beer, blueberries in this case.

The first one gives this beer some credit. Černá Hora is a pretty smart brewery. They have good marketing and they exploit very well the touristic potential of their facilities. They have a fairly big restaurant, that expands to a terrace in the warm months. You can play bowling. They run a hotel. They even offer the possibility of brewing your own beer at their microbrewery and they are also planning to open a beer spa, similar to the one at Chodovar. On top of all that, they know how to make beer, and some of the stuff they brew is quite interesting, like their nefiltrovaná desítka, the strong lager 1530 and the beer aperitif Black Hill. I was expecting a certain quality standard.

However, Czech brewers still have not mastered the art of fruit flavoured beers. So far I hadn't tasted any memorable one, actually, I had, and were horrible. The problems are usually two, either they don't have enough fruit, or the beer ends up being artificially sweet, more like a cheap fizzy drink than a quality alcoholic beverage. The use of extracts is part of the problem. But it should also be considered that using real fruit would make the costs prohibitive and the beer way too expensive for a market used to cheap beers of good quality.

I was somewhat wary, not expecting much.
The wariness started to disipate when I opened the bottle. Instead of sweet, almost medicinal scents, what I felt was a refreshing fruity dry aroma, berries. I was glad to see that the beer hand't been brewed with a base of dark lager. I would say they used Páter 11% Světlé. The beer is dull reddish, crowned by a lasting and thick, pinkish head. In fact, it doesn't look too different from some Belgian fruit beers that I've seen around. The berry parfume is still there when pouring, and once in the glass is balanced by mild caramel notes in the back. I was surprised by the taste, dry and slightly acid, pretty natural, I would say. The finish is herbal with a bit of caramel that, once again, gives some balance. Its rather low 4.4%ABV help make this beer very easy to drink. I really loved that it wasn't sweet, because blueberries aren't. Yes, extracts are used, but, as with every other product, there are different qualities of them. At least those used by this Moravian brewery have a distinctive sour berry flavour. It is a pretty nice beer to drink on a summer afternoon, or after a light dinner.

It isn't perfect, but Černá Hora-Modrá Luna is a step in the right direction. Let's see how this new product does on the market and if it opens the door to other similar ones.

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4 Nov 2008

It was to be expected

October was a very interesting month regarding quality and variety of styles. I tasted more imported beers than usual, fortunately not only the Ukranians, but some better ones that I will be talking about soon, and several more of domestic production.

Among them it's worth mentioning the delicious Imperial Stout from Pivovar Anteňaka. A very black beer, with a coffee and molases nose, and predominantly roasted taste with coffee that slowly turns into chocolate by the end, and the really interesting Old Ale from Pivovar Kanec. Brown, with notes of caramel, licorice and apple in the nose and an interesting mix of caramel and dry bitter notes when drinking.

Kozlíček, that very interesting microbrewery, that if it wasn't for the good people of Zlý Časy, who bother to order a couple of barrels every now and again, we would probably never see in Prague, delighted us with their tmavé special. A beer that does not try to be either exotic, nor extreme, it simply wants to be a good specimen of Czech dark lagers, mild roasted and caramel form a very well balanced flavour with a dry floral finish, revealing a generous presence of Saaz hops, that leaves a light brown sugary aftertaste, that invites another sip.

Of course that among the best stuff that went down my throat in October I should mention those two beauties from Pivovar Bašta, that were the centre of my happy reunion with the brewpub from Nusle. If it hadn't been for that one that showed up by the end of the month, either the kouřované o the pseničné could have easily been a winner.

And the prize goes to none other than Primátor Stout, which I've been drinking a lot the last few days, and I like it more and more with every sip. It makes me really happy to see a industrial brewery that is thinking a little outside the box, and makes beers that are not only different, but also of very good quality.

Congratulations again to the people of Náchod

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During October I was able to taste 33 different beers, not bad. The total, then, goes up to 310.

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