29 Dec 2009

Who is this guy?

I don't know who Alan Brewer is. Never heard of him, never read his opus. I assume he's someone who knows about beer, otherwise the Spanish magazine Bar&Beer wouldn't publish him. And most likely, he knows more than me, that's the least I expect from someone who's been writing on the subject for as long as he claims.

I don't know who Alan Brewer is. I've looked him up on the Internet, but wasn't able to find anyone beer related with that name. I sent emails to two of the most important bloggers from the other side of the Atlantic (Mr Brewer lives in Brooklyn) y they weren't able to give me any solid information. One of them said that he suspected the name was an pseudonym, A. Brewer (geddit?), and the other one said that the name rang a bell, perhaps someone who wrote some time in the past for a magazine.

I don't know who Alan Brewer is, but he has insulted me. Not only me, had that been the case, I wouldn't give a toss. He's someone I don't know and doesn't know me (and likely doesn't even read me). But in his article published in the latest issue of Bar&Beer, titled "Illiterate Bloggers", Alan Brewer insults all those who write about beer on the Internet.

There Alan Brewer voices his disappointment with the magazine for having hired me, saying that they have allowed the fox into the hen-house and closes saying that if the hiring standards of the magazine have fallen so low, he could recommend a homeless man he knows, who is an expert in strong canned beers of less than a dollar. In the middle he rants that the only decent thing about beer on the Internet is BeerAdvocate, that blogs are badly written and full of mistakes, that beer bloggers don't read, etc. (Nobody is going to deny that much of what's written about beer on the Internet leaves a lot to be desired, but the same can be said about what's written on the printed media. Anyway, that's something that has been already discussed by Alan, me and others).

He also tells us about his romantic beginnings as a beer writer. Of how he was one of the people that created self publishing, writing fanzines on second hand computers, which after photocopying, they would distribute in the local brewpubs. It seems to me that Brewer's biggest issue with bloggers is that we have it too easy. Everything is a click or two away, material, contacts to breweries and other people in the beer community from around the world, and what we publish becomes instantly available to anyone with an Internet connection, no matter where they are, and they can also easily contact us and leave comments that in most cases enrich everyone's knowledge.

How do we dare! Don't we understand that beer writing is is the prerogative of just a few chosen ones, who write for printed media of limited reach? The rest had better shut up and accept what these wise men say.

The whole bunch of us, people who dedicate part of our free time to share beer ideas and experiences, in several languages and from different countries, in most cases without any commercial commitments whatsoever, are doing beer nothing but harm.

And all those micro and regional brewers and distributors who contact us, let us know of news, send us samples or invite us to events. How cold they have been so easily fooled by these upstarts? Specially when they can hire the services of marketing, PR and advertising agencies.

What planet does this bloke live? No one can be so pigheaded, so out of touch with reality! He even says blogging is a phenomenon that has already expired. If so, someone should go and tell "real" beer writers like Pete Brown, Stan Hieronymus and Stephen Beaumont that they are wasting their times with their blogs, that with them they are lowering themselves to the level of the uneducated, bourgeois beer rabble.

Perhaps Alan Brewer is a better writer than all of them put together, but until I can find in a Prague newsagent something he has written I will never find out. In the meantime, I'm happy that from the comfort of my home I can have access to what countless other illiterate bloggers write about beer.

I still don't know who Alan Brewer is, but I'm beginning to think that he's a.... Well, I'd rather leave it there.

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27 Dec 2009

St Peter's 12 Apostles (III)

After going having gone through the oddballs and the modern classics that I had received from St. Peter's Brewery, all I had left were samples of the styles that, in the eyes of many, define English brewing: Mild, (Best) Bitter, (Old Style) Porter and (Cream) Stout (I had already tasted the IPA), plus the Winter Ale, which, since seasonal Ales have been brewed for ever, we can also say it's a "traditional" style of some sorts. 

I started with Mild. Not being English, the first time I heard the name of this style I though it was because those Ales were, well, mild (in flavour, ABV, etc.), when actually, it's because thus were called ales that were sold very young, almost without any maturing (if I remember my history well).
I was really looking forward to tasting a representative of the style. Ron Pattison once loosely compared it with tmavé výčepní, an unfortunately underrated Czech style I like quite a lot. I was curious to see how similar they were.

St Peter's Mild's 3.7% ABV is almost the same as tmavé výčepní's, it pours a very similar colour as well. The similarities start to fade from then on. The nose has sweet coffee and molasses. It's unexpectedly full bodied, with an almost oily mouthfeel that coats the palate and fills it with plenty of roast followed by chocolate and licorice. A mild sour touch wraps up a surprisingly tasty ale. I enjoyed every sip, I loved it.
A day later I opened Best Bitter, also with 3.7% ABV. I had already tasted an ale of this style, a bit stronger, but with very similar characteristics to this one from St. Peter's. It pours an orangey amber, a shade or two paler than that one. The nose is mild, with fruit on a dry, almost herbal, base. Light bodied, with autumn fruit and a dry finish with some flowers. Not as flavourful as the Mild, but still, a wonderful session ale. It's a pity that there aren't more micros that want to brew these kinds of ales.

That evening, after dinner, I opened Old Style Porter (5.1% ABV). I had liked a lot the few bottom fermented Porters that I'd had and I was looking forward to seeing what differences that "Old Style" thing was bringing, considering that Poter, as pretty much every other style, had gone through countless changes throughout history.
It pours brown, so my notes say. The bouquet has an attractive mix of caramel, flowers and raisins, mild, but with a lot of personality. It is thinner than I expected, but still brilliant. Nothing much at first, really, quite shy caramel that quickly turns dry with a hint of sourness. When disappointment starts to creep in, the beer shows all it's got, which is plenty, chocolate, coffee, over ripened fruit, leaving a very pleasant feeling and making me wish I had a couple more in the cellar the instant I finish the bottle.
It was time for Cream Stout, with an already respectable 6.5% ABV. Unsurprisingly dark, with some ocher highlights. The nose is ruled by very roasted coffee, with some fruity sourness, it doesn't say much, really. But its taste. WOW! Very bitter chocolate, coffee, cooked fruit, nuts and a subtle smoked touch, everything wrapped in a creamy body that makes every sip almost a gift from heaven. Simply fantastic.

All I had left now was Winter Ale, which couldn't have arrived at a more proper time; it had already started snowing and it was very cold outside.
Funny thing. I liked this Ale and was disappointed by it for the very same reason. I found it too similar to Cream Stout. I was expecting something else, I don't know, perhaps a beefier version of Mild. Don't ask me why. It's a pity I didn't taste it together with the Stout, or at least one right after the other. The biggest difference I noticed was that Winter Ale was a tad sweeter, but I can't be sure. It wasn't what I was expecting, but I can't complain too much, either, I still enjoyed it quite a lot.

The balance is incredibly positive. The only two that were a bit out of tune were Honey Porter and G-Free, at least for me. The rest was great. Perhaps, what I liked the most about them is that they are all simple, but very tasty beers. Innovation and experimentation are all fine and dandy, but sticking so well to what's classic deserves every bit as much praise. Thanks once again to Claire and all the folks there at St. Peter's Brewery for sending me these samples and making my life a bit better.

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26 Dec 2009

Burp!

This have been very special holidays for me. The first as a dad, and the first in who knows how long that I've spent with my parents and my sister (and her BF), who came from Spain to be with us.

For Christmas Eve dinner we had the traditional fried carp with potato salad (that I had prepared a couple of days before) and then we went on to open the presents while stuffing our faces with the wonderful Christmas biscuits my wife had baked (a total of 10 different kinds).

The picture above shows a bit of the aftermath of the Christmas lunch, roasted duck with braised red cabbage and sauerkraut and bread knedlíky. Everything washed down with the outstanding Matuška Tmavé, it's mild roast and hint of sourness held their ground perfectly against the cabbages, while the rich dark chocolate and coffee danced a beautiful choreography with the bird and its juices. One of the best lunches I've had in my life.

I hope all of you've had at least half the great time we are still having and that 2010 will be 2011 times better than 2009.

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21 Dec 2009

I wasn't going to do this, but

I didn't feel like writing a wrap up of this year, but after reading Knut's (who chose me as one of the bloggers of the year!) and The Beer Nut, I liked the format, which actually was thought up by Mark Dredge, so I changed my mind and decided to give it a go. Here you have it (with some adjustments):

Best Czech beer, draught: U Medvídku 1466, specially when Laďa, its creator, taps me a couple straight from the lagering barrel. Honourable mentions: anything from Kout na Šumavě, Tambor 11° and Matuška Weizen.

Best Czech beer, bottled: Bakalář Polotmavý Výčepní, ever since I discovered it I can't have enough of it. Honourable mentions: Svijanský Rytíř and Primátor Weizenbier.

Best Imported beer, draught: Well, we aren't exactly spoilt for choice here, but still, Schlenkerla Märzen.

Best Imported beer, bottled: This was by far the most difficult choice, as this year I've tasted so many wonderful beers. After a lot of consideration the one that came on top was Haadnbryggeriet Norwegian Wood. Honourable mentions: Guineu Montserrat and St Peter's Mild (review to be published soon).

Hospoda of the year: This won't be a surprise to anyone following this blog, Zlý Časy, for everything they've already done and for what they are planning to do as well.

Best beer blog: Among all the blogs I follow through feeds, etc. that I greatly enjoy to two that come top because of their contents are Martyn Cornell's and Ron Pattison's, which should be mandatory reading to anyone remotely interested in beer.

Open Category, personal: Becoming a father. On a more beer related side, being hired by Bar&Beer.

Next year I would like to go: On holidays, anywhere, I really need it...

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18 Dec 2009

St Peter's 12 Apostles (II)

Following my route through the samples the people of St Peter's Brewery sent me, it was time to start getting into the more or less classic stuff.

The three I had in line were Golden Ale, Suffolk Gold y Ruby Red.

Golden Ale is a pretty new style that, according to Martyn Cornell, came out as a kind of response to the rise of lager by the English Real Ale brewers. I had only tried one Golden Ale thus far, Oppigårds Bryggeri's, from Sweden, which I had found pretty pleasant.
St Peter's Golden Ale is similar to its Swedish counterpart in many aspects. It reminded me to a good světlý ležák in looks, aroma, mouth feel and, to a lesser extent, maltiness. Its most distinctive note is given by the hops, that provide a marked, but controlled bitterness that gets stronger in the finish, long and bitter. With 4,7%ABV and very low carbonation, it's extremely easy to drink. Very pleasant, it leaves you wanting another one (and a few more to follow).
Suffolk Gold isn't another Golden Ale as I first thought, and as the name suggested. It's actually a Bitter Ale brewed with locally sourced ingredients (St Peter's Brewery is in the County of Suffolk). It's marginally stronger than Golden Ale, with 4.9%ABV and a shade darker. It's also maltier and fruitier, with a tad of a fuller body. The hops, Suffolk Gold, also have a strong presence, but provide a more moderate bitterness that blends more seamlessly in the maltiness. Another very good beer, very easy and pleasant to drink that also leaves you wishing you had another bottle at hand.
Closing this session I opened Ruby Red, which pours an expected reddish. It's got a nose full of fruit, spiced with a subtle touch of caramel and some burnt herbs. It also packs quite some flavour despite only having 4.3%ABV. There's a nice mix of burnt sugar, fruit and herbs with a mildly spicy touch. While I was tasting it my mind filled with images of barbecues and garden parties (summer nostalgia perhaps, even though I love winter). The thing is Ruby Red is just the perfect beer to wash down some grilled meats.

Come to think of it, each of these three ales are great pairings for stuff cooked on a charcoal or coal fired grill, and while I'm typing this I realise that they are the kind of beers I was thinking of when I asked this question.

Thus far, I'm very satisfied with St Peter's and his apostles. I'm already looking forward to the third installment, where I will get deep down into some real classics.

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16 Dec 2009

Out of Nowhere

Yesterday I got an e-mail that surprised me for two reasons: That someone bothered to send me an e-mail announcing an event, instead of waiting for me to find about it on the web, and the very nature of the event and its organisers.

They call themselves "Pivní archív restaurace U Balbínů", something like Archive Beer Restaurant (coming from "Archivní Víno", wines meant for long aging). I had no references about them, but whoever they are, what they seem to be doing looks really interesting.

This weekend (Dec. 19/20, from 10 to 5) they are organising a presentation of really special beers: Sam Adams Utopias, Bass King's Ale 1902, together with some Belgian Stuff and Vintage Beers of limited editions, among others.

The event will take place in Jungmanová 22, Prague 1 and the entrance is free (or at least the e-mail doesn't mention an admission price).

Because of family reasons I won't be able to attend, but I've already arranged an interview/visit once the holidays are over. I'm really looking forward to knowing what this enterprise is about.

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14 Dec 2009

St Peter's 12 Apostles

OK, it isn't biblically accurate, but it does the job for a silly pun.

The good people of St Peter's Brewery, through Claire, were really cool and sent me a box with 12 samples from their product line, a very varied selection indeed.
Since posting the tasting notes of 12 beers might be quite boring for you to read, and would sure be a lot of work for me to write, I have split them in three installments that will be published in the coming days.

Before getting down to it, I want to take a few lines to praise the presentation of these beers. Those oval shaped bottles are just lovely, so apparently simple, with so much identity. Better writers than me have already emphasised the importance of a good packaging for beers, specially of the "craft" sort, and they are right. Of course, nobody is going to buy something they don't like, no matter how prettily it's wrapped, but you have to know it first, and a nice bottle or label can make a big difference when it comes to a first purchase of a given beer, and as you are very aware, what is crap for you or me, might be wonderful for someone else.

But let's go now to the really important stuff.

I decided to get started with Fruit Beer - Grapefruit, Honey Porter, G-Free and Organic Ale, partly because they were the oddballs, and partly because I didn't thin I would some of them.

First one to be opened was the Grapefruit Beer. I'd only tasted one beer flavoured with this citrus, it was Belgian and called Pink Dog, or something like that. One of the people I was tasting it with said "It smells like toilet cleaner". It didn't taste much better. I was hoping such would not be the case with this one in front of me, but those hopes were not that high. Wasn't I surprised... 
It pours limpid gold, like a good ležák, no radioactive looking tinctures in there, good sign. The nose is malty, with some resin, the grapefruit is really will integrated, it actually doesn't feel like a cheap extract, but reminds of C hops. Medium bodied, firm, malty, with a mild, but assertive grapefruit that comes very well together with the hops and doesn't turn the beer into an alco-pop. I must say that I liked it, I found it to be a great summer drink and thirst-quencher, and really good to wash down some light meal.

Second in line was Honey Porter. For some reason, the characteristics I associate with Porter didn't mix well with those that I associate with honey. I wasn't expecting to like this 4.5% ABV beer.
The colour is as expected, dark. The honey predominates way too much in the bouquet, so much so that closing my eyes I almost felt I had a glass of mead in front of me. I love Medovino, you know I do, but I wanted to drink a beer. I wasn't convinced by how it all came together. I was able to finish it, yes, but without much joy. I'm sure there are people that will like it, not me, though.

Gluten free beers are in a different category. I believe that they should be evaluated more or less in the same way as non-alcoholic beers, or BFSD, as I call them now. They are not something most people would drink by choice and so, they should not be compared with "ordinary" beers. They should be evaluated thinking about whether we would gladly drink them or we would opt for another alternative should the situation arise.

Fortunately, I had already tasted a gluten free beer, a German one, so I had something, rather tenous, to compare St Peter's G-Free with.
It pours limpid very pale gold, little head on top. There's citrus and spliff in the nose. With 4.2% ABV it's got a very thin body that hasn't got enough chops to support the hops, which are way too dry and end up out of tune with the rest. If I had to choose between this and the German, I would go for the latter as it's closer to the beers I'm used to.

To finish the session I chose Organic Ale. To a certain extent, it's a category on itself, but it also serves as a bridge between the other beers above and the rest, which lean towards the more "classic" or, if you want, "traditional" side of English brewing.

Much has been written about organic beers. The latest to publish a not very positive rant about them (at least from the blogs I follow) was The Beer Nut. So far, I'd had only one experience with organic beers, the Swedish Ekolmen Ekologiska Ale, which I had liked a lot, not because it was organic, but because it was very good. I was looking forward to seeing how Suffolk's would compare to that one.
Very rich gold it pours. The nose reminded me a bit to a světlý ležák, but with a bit more tropical fruit. It didn't say much at first, but little by little this beer sheds its shyness and becomes more confident. Nice silky mouthfeel, with a light malt base that provides a good balance to the tasty mix of citrus and tropical fruit that provides character. The finish has a bitterness that walks on a tightrope, but fortunately never looses its balance.

I liked it, perhaps not as much as the Swedish one, but with its 4,5% it's a very nice session beer. The best of all is that there is basically no difference in price with the rest of the product line. Great to keep a good conscience and a healthy wallet.

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11 Dec 2009

Progress Report

Since a few (very few) of you have been great enough to send me a few virtual moneys to help me finance my book, I thought it would be appropriate to write the first progress report, so you can see that your money is at work and that I'm not spending all of my free time doing things like looking after my daughter.

I've already started wandering the streets of Prague gathering material for the book and I've come across many new places that look quite promising. I've already visited a few and have a couple of (I hope interesting) stories to share with you.

In a small, lost street in Letná there is this small, pleasant café/bar/restaurant that stocks Pilsner Urquell, Kozel and Kácov Kvasnicové (though I think is nefiltrované). I went there the other day to have a beer, I don't think I need to tell you which (if any of you thought of PU and Kozel, go away, read another blog).

When the waiter, a relaxed and rather affable bloke, brought my kvasnicové (I insist is nefiltrované, but I'm not 100% sure, either way, it was really nice) I asked him how well it was selling. "It's our best selling beer", he answered with a mild smile and a hint of pride in his voice. That made me really glad and renewed a little my faith in humanity.

It also made my ask myself why there are still idiots that  offer pseudo-imported crap at luxury prices, when there are so many outstanding Czech beers that, not only people will like more, but are also cheaper. (They are idiots, that's why. Good answer).

A few days earlier, after having a pint of Kout in Vršovice at a very rough looking hospoda where I didn't feel unwelcome (it really looks rough, it's in a cellar and you have to ring a bell to be let in) I noticed, on the other side of the street, a small bistro with sings of Klášter and Ježek outside.

I walked there to take note of the address and see what the place looked like, thinking of a future visit. While I was standing in front of the door I heard a voice, surely asking for way. I stepped aside to let its owner go in. He turned out to be a geezer that looked as old as I hope I will at least get to live. When walking through the door he turned round and told me to follow him because "tady mají dobré pivo" (they have good beer here). Since I still had some time and "tady mají dobré pivo" is the best excuse in the world I know to walk into a new place, I did as asked. 

He invited me to his table. We shook hands, introduced each other by first name and he started ranting about the takeaway pizza shop next door. From then on I was hardly able to understand what he talked about. I don't know if it was because he was a bit pissed or because he was missing half his teeth, but his slur made it basically impossible to follow what he was saying. Fortunately, I am a master in the fine, yet under-appreciated art of keeping polite conversation with drunkards, so I was able to nod, shake my head, make approving or disapproving sounds and even make comments like "fakt?", "tý vole!" and "ježižemarie!" at right times. When my new friend made a question I asked him to repeat it hoping to catch enough words to help me get an idea of what he wanted to know. The chat was so pleasant that this gentleman even paid for my beer (Ježek 11°, pretty good).

In short, this research work is bearing fruit and is presenting me with interesting personal experiences. What else can you ask?

Many thanks once again to those generous souls that have contributed to this cause (those who want to follow in their steps can do it by clicking on the "Donate" button below my mugshot)

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8 Dec 2009

Brave

From the first sip Pivovar Chotěboř made a great impression on me. Their Světlý Ležák is a perfect example of the style that made Czech beer famous around the world: solid malt base with a most subtle touch of caramel and the distinctive presence of Saaz hops, and the unfiltered version ranks among the best new stuff that has come out this year.

During the SPP Awards Party I had a brief chat with Mr. Záruba, head brewer at Chotěboř. He told me that his brewery, which opened earlier this year, it's not a brewpub, but a "micro-industrial" (as I like to call them) that combines the latest brewing technology with Czech lager tradition (triple decoction, open fermenters and enough lagering time). Currently their capacity is 10,000 hl/year, which can be expanded to 25,000 hl in the current facilities.
I took home two bottles from the party (světlý výčepní y tmavý ležák) and a branded glass to drink them from.
One evening, while I was getting in the mood to prepare dinner, I opened Originál, thus is the name of their světlý výčepní. Nice golden colour, nice white head, nice absence of bubbles. Thin bodied, but not watery, enough malt to give it substance and the right touch of Saaz to help it do a good job at thirst quenching. With 4.1%ABV, it's an ideal session beer, made to drink půl litr after půl litr without fearing the consequences much. No more, no less. It's a pity that there aren't more micros in the world that brew something like this.
Quite excited, a couple of hours later I couldn't resist the temptation of opening Černý Premium, only to end up somewhat disappointed. It pours a dark enough amber to be considered tmavé/černé, the right head. The nose is full of cola, with barely a hint of fruit and caramel. The taste follows the same lines, the cola ends up boring and made me yearn for the roast, coffee, cocoa or chocolate present in my favourite Czech dark beers. Basically, it is an uninspired beer that left me with the impression of something done with the heart put elsewhere. A pity.

Anyway, the balance is more than positive and I'm already looking forward to tasting their Karamelový Speciál, which should be available already.

I'm really glad about the opening of micro-industrial breweries like this and Pivovar Tambor, which also made its debut this year. Those romantics who leave their day jobs to set up a micro brewery and try to make a living out of what they really love often receive a lot of praise and admiration, and fairly so. But the same should be given to people like those from Chotěboř. Yeah, they are in for the business, they set up a shop to make money out of it, but still, the investment and risk must have been huge, more so in a market as saturated as the Czech.

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6 Dec 2009

Tasty December News

Those who are in Prague during December, either permanently or on a visit, will have plenty of new, special beers to choose from.

Last week Zlý Časy tapped the first barrel and sold the first bottles of their own Christmas Special, a Weizenbock which, just like their previous seasonal specials, was brewed in Chýně (who I'm sure are already pulling pints of their own holiday brew) by Petr Buriánek. I've already tasted it and it's really good.

This week Pivovar U Medvídku will present to the world their 18° Balling dark lager, a very limited edition that will only be available on tap at the brewery.

Not far from there, Pivovarský Dům should already have on tap their Imperial Stout, which has been maturing since February or March.

And though I don't have any concrete information, I'm pretty sure that Pivovar U Bulovky, Pivovar Strahov and U Bansethů will have their respective ad-hoc beers ready to drink in these days.

If all that wasn't enough, Honza Kočka once more is organising a Chirstmas Beer Festival. It will take place on Saturday 12/12 at U Prince Miroslava. Tickets are 80CZK a piece and the event will be divided in two sessions, one from 1 to 5PM, the other one, from 6 to 10PM. You will not only be able to enjoy special beers from Czech micros (the list can be seen here), but there will also be a selection of Bavarian Bocks and Belgian beers. Nice present material all of them, I'm sure.

Yummy, Yummy.

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5 Dec 2009

Hypocrisy?

I was going to leave this post only for the Spanish speaking beer community, but since it wasn't very well received I thought I would share it with my English speaking readers as well, hoping some of you will have the same reaction

Andrés, from the Spanish beer blog Culturilla Cervecera wrote about his visit to Fortiverd SL (Sp), makers of the Bleder beers. There he tells us about the brewery and the chat he had with its owner, Salvador.

There was something in there that left a sour taste in my mouth. When Andrés asks Salvador why he's taking the risk brewing an Imperial Stout instead of a (should we call it Republican?) Stout Salvador says:
"I haven't set up this company for the business, but to brew the beers I like. I'll be fine with earning enough to make a living out of it"
However, a few lines later, we can read that the brewery has a lot of work thanks to making beers for some other brands, and that is about to increase the capacity.

It might be that I take words too seriously sometimes, but I couldn't help but seeing some hypocrisy in Salvador's statement. When I commented on that some people defended the brewer and at the same time, proved that I was right.

I've already made clear my position on brewing on order, I've got nothing against it, quite the opposite, I think it's a great alternative for both brewers and restaurant owners, etc. Nor I have anything against those who want to brew only "unusual beers".

But if you tell me you are not interested in the business and at the same time brew on order, you are taking the piss. Or isn't he aware that those "risky" beers he so much likes are subsidised by those someone is paying him to brew?

The, perhaps wrong, impression I was left was that Salvador believes he's on a higher level than other brewers because he "takes risks". Something that was reinforced later by what Adrés says about the Bleder beers: "they aren't the typical craft brews we are used to, which are brewed in order to reach the most possible people".

Don't know about you, but to me a "brave" brewer doesn't automatically deserve more merit or credit than another who is successful with brewing "only" good beers that aim at a wider market, provided they make their beers with respect for the consumer.

Both are different and perfectly legitimate ways to do business, each with its risks and advantages, neither, all by itself, more noble than the other.

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4 Dec 2009

BFSD

The other day my Spanish friend Delirium published a very interesting post (Sp) on the different processes used to make non-alcoholic beers.

Besides enlightening me on something I didn't know too well, the post made me realise how little we speak about this kind of beers. No surprise, really. After all, we are all pissheads who love to drink and talk about the "realy stuff". And also, there quite a few out there who refuse to consider these products as beers.

I think they are, but since I don't like having arguments over semantics I've decided to make up a name for them: Beer Flavoured Soft Drinks, BFSD's for friends.

Much of the animosity many people have towards BFSD's comes from comparing them with "real" beers, which is, in my opinion, a mistake. Nobody will compare Budvar with, say, Westvleteren (well, some people do, but they don't understand the first thing about beer), they are two different things, with a different purpose. The only thing they have in common as a product is that they are called "beer", and the same applies to non-alcoholic beers. 

The right way to evaluate BFSD's is from the perspective of someone who can't drink alcohol, for whatever reason, and is really glad to have a decent substitute of their favourite drink. Then you start appreciating them differently.

I don't drive, nor I have any health problems that won't allow me to drink alcohol, but I've still have drunk quite a few BFSD's from Germany and the Czech Rep, some of them I liked. (In fact, I should confess that I would more gladly drink many of those than much of the cheap alcoholic swill sold as beer in many supermarkets around the world). And even though they aren't something I would drink voluntarily, they were quite fine drinks. 

The thing is that, in both these countries, many brewers have noticed to business potential of this kind of product, which, in turn, has generated a lot of competition, and that competition isn't only among the BFSD's themselves! In most Czech pubs you will have only two or three beers to choose from, likely from the same brewer/group and that's it. If you can't drink beer, though, the options become a lot more. That's why there are brewers that put and extra bit of effort, they count on their average consumer to be someone who is used to, and expects, certain characteristics and if the substitute beer won't satisfy them, they will end up buying Pepsi, or something like that.

I think we should give a bit more credit to the BFSD's when they are brewed with quality ingredients and processes and, above all, respect for the consumer.

Na Zdraví!

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2 Dec 2009

It's cold!

I really don't understand why so many people are so negative about autumn/winter. I love it! I like the rain (unless it's pissing down and I'm walking home from the bus) and I love cold weather. It's great, come on! At weekends, you can stay at home, watching the rain out the window, knowing that there won't be any work on the garden for a few months. Or you can go for a walk and find a nice, cozy, warm place to sit down and have something tasty while you unwind. Also, winter food kicks some serious summer food ass!

And nothing represents winter better than a bowl of hot, rich, home made soup. We love eating soup at weekends. They are relatively easy and cheap to make, you can improvise with what you have in the fridge or pantry, recipes are usually pretty flexible and you can make as much of it as you want and enjoy it the next day or two. It's true that they can take some time to get ready, specially if you have to prepare some stock from scratch, but since the weather outside is crap, what else is there to do?

One of my favourite soups is Zelňačka or cabbage soup. It's great, tasty and will warm you up and with some slices of good bread, it can be pretty hearty meal.

Zelná Polevka (serves some people):

1.5l of stock, beef, chicken or from whatever bone you have taking space in the freezer.
1 tbs of lard.
1 small onion, finely chopped. 
2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped. 
1 spicy sausage, thinly sliced. I use čabajka, but chorizo could do the job just fine.
3-4 largish potatoes cubed, one of them very finely shredded. 
250g (at least) of sauerkraut (better if it's got some juice).
Salt, pepper, cumin, a few leaves of sage and loads of marjoram. 

Fry the onion and garlic with the sage for a bit then add the sausage and mix. The fat in the sausage will start melting and it will release its spices, once everything is a fiery red add the stock and the the cubed potatoes. When they are starting to get ready, add the shredded potato, it will thicken the soup. Now with the cabbage. It depends on you when you add it. If you want it a bit crunchier, then at the end. I prefer to let it simmer in the soup for a longer time so it all gets more sour.

Once it's ready, serve with a generous dollop of sour cream and enjoy winter. It tastes better after a revitalising walk in the cold.

And the beer in this recipe? What, do you I also have to tell you what to drink while you are cooking? Open the fridge and see what's in there. (Oh! Another advantage of winter, cooling the beers outside)

Na Zdraví a Dobrou Chuť!

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1 Dec 2009

Should we be worried?

A bit more than a month ago AB-InBev made official the sale of Staropramen, together with a bunch of other Eastern European breweries. As I mentioned here, the buyer is CVC Partners, a Private Equity Group of Belgian origins. According to what's been reported, the transaction won't be effective until next January and the new brewing group will be named StarBev.

No surprise, nothing new, not much to talk about. However, reading past the headlines I came across two bits of information that all by themselves don't say much, but when brought together and spiced with a pinch of paranoia might give some reasons to worry.

First bit: The purchase contract has a provision that stipulates that should CVC ever decide to sell any of these breweries AB-InBev retains the right of first offer. Nothing to worry about here. After all, these breweries haven't been sold because they were a bad business, but because the brewing giant was badly needing cash to cover some debts. It's logic then that they will want to reserve the possibility of getting them back if the circumstances so allow.

Second bit: Sooner or later the Czech government is going to privatise Budvar. We can bitch all we want, the Facebook group "Keep Budvar Czech" can have hundreds of thousands of members (not even close), but nothing is going to stop the inevitable, so we'd better come to terms with it and hope for the best outcome.

In one of the reports on the sale of Staropramen, one of the honchos of CVC was quoted saying that his company was very interested in the privatisation of Budvar.

You see where this is going, right?

Perhaps the main reason why Budvar hasn't been sold yet is the legal conflict with AB about the trademark, which spans several countries. Until that is sorted out one way or another few are those who would want to pay the price asked for the brewery. But what if there is a buyer who is willing to take the risk?

If I'm not wrong, it was in 1993 that Budvar was almost sold to Anhauser-Busch, draft contracts were ready and all that. The only thing that stopped that from happening was that it was leaked to the media, outrage followed. Legally speaking, CVC has no connection with AB-InBev, so they would be a politically correct buyer.

So, let's say that CVC does buy Budvar and merges it with StarBev. After a few years they decide to sell the whole package, they are an investment fund, that's what they do, after all. The first in the line to buy it will be none other than AB-InBev. Let me remind you that one of the promises that Carlos Brito made to the shareholders of AB was that it would make the brand Budweiser (the usurper, of course) a household name in Europe. A promise that is pretty hard to fulfill considering the latest ruling of the EU Courts. All that would stop being a problem if both brands are owned by the same person.

I'm not suggesting that this an elaborated scheme by AB-InBev to finally get their filthy hands on Budvar (well, not that much). There must be safer and cheaper ways to do that. But it still gives a lot to think about.

Anyway, let's get off the speculation wagon and have a look at something more concrete. Zbyněk Kovář, Staropramen's GM said about the future of his company: "For the consumers [...] the change in ownership won't change a thing." I just hope he was being diplomatic, otherwise we are looking at a lost opportunity.

Na Zdraví!

PS: For those of you who were expecting to see the back of Stella Artois from January, don't celebrate yet. It will continue to be brewed under license in Smíchov (yeah, that's right you beer morons, Stella is not Belgian is as Czech as Braník, and about that good.)

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27 Nov 2009

From far away

If my chances of visiting my native country and enjoy the local micro brewing boom are at the moment non existent, I would then need some quantum theorist to estimate those of visiting neighbouring Chile, where there also seems to be a micro brewing boom, or at least that is the impression I get from reading Catador's blog.

The magic of the Internet has practically vanished borders and that is how Leonardo, one of my Chilean readers, made it possible for me to get a small taste of what is happening in his country's beer scene. While we were having a very good time, with very good beers at Pivovarský Dům, he gave me the five samples he'd lugged all the way from the Southern Hemisphere, four from Szot and one from Volcanes del Sur.

I decided to start with the bunch from Szot. Seen from here, Szot (which I like to pronounce the Polish way, "Shot") is a pretty successful microbrewery with a rather good reputation among local beer fans. The four samples I got were Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Stout and Vapor, all with 5%ABV (though the web page says they have 6%).
I opened Pale Ale first. I thought, accurately, that it would be the paler of the lot. It pours gold-orange and, at least this bottle, is very cloudy. More than a pale ale it looks like a Blegian Blonde or a Weizen without much head. The bouquet has a lot, way too much, yeast that blankets all the rest. The same notes can be found in the taste, there's a bit of fruit when the sip goes it, but soon its eliminated by the sourness of the yeast. I don't like saying that a beer "isn't true to style", but this one felt like drinking a not very well made Belgian ale.
A couple of hours later I opened Ámbar, which does pour amber, as the Spanish name promises. It's clearer than the previous and also has a nicer head. The nose is mild, mostly caramel, the same yeasts as in the Pale Ale can also be felt, better integrated this time, though. The taste is weak, boring, flat, forgettable, tired. There's some fruit, toffee and spice but they never manage to express themselves as they should. At best, Szot Pale Ale could be an adequate "entry beer". It would never scare a novice away, but a more experienced or demanding palate will be left wanting for more, and not of the same.
It was the turn of Stout. Very dark amber it pours, not getting to black, with too much head. There are some green apples with a background of coffee in the nose, and also the same yeasts as before. The taste surprises with roasted, coffee and cocoa notes, with a mild sourness at the finish. Unfortunately, and partly due to the thin body, once the initial surprise wears out we are left with a beer that doesn't have much to say and ends up being a bore.

I had already lost my faith on this Chilean micro, but I had left Vapor (Steam) for last because it was the one I was most curious about. I had already tasted a couple of German Dampfbiere, which I had liked a lot. Taking a look at the web page I find that this is an hybrid lager, which points more to an American influenced thing. Does this all matter? No. Let's drink and shut up!
Szot Vapor pours orange, topped by a nice, spongy head. A handsome beer. In the bouquet there's a lot of tropical fruit and flowers, which reminded me to some pale ales I've had. To the eyes and the nose, this beer is already a few steps above the others, to the palate, it's like 10 floors above. Silky body that softly coats the palate, there's a lot of fruit with a delicate touch of caramel that brings it up, everything well balanced by flowers and spice. Very, very tasty. This is what an "entry beer" should be like! It's different enough to everything a novice has drunk before, without anything too exotic or aggressive to scare them away, and at the same time, it's interesting enough to keep the more experienced drinkers entertained.
I left for "dessert" Volcanes del Sur al Chocolate, according to them a "Artisan Premium Bock" (or something like that). I'm going to be brief. It's awful! It tastes like a mass produced dark lager with some cheap cocoa powder in it. Ended up in the drain. I sometimes wonder why there are so many micros that make this rubbish (they sell well, you moron! Good reason).

Anyway, the balance. Forgetting for a moment the taste-bud rape that was Volcanes del Sur and focusing only on Szot, it's not good. I don't care what sort of market they are in, a brewery with the experience and reputation of Szot shouldn't be selling such uninspired beers like Pale Ale, Amber Ale and Stout, specially when they show their talent and skill with such a good product like Vapor.

Thanks Leonardo!

Na Zdraví!

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24 Nov 2009

Announcement

Following the steps of better writers than me I've decided to publish a book. It's still in the project stage and it won't be a historical, theoretical or technical essay about beer. For that, I don't have the chops yet. It's something a lot more mundane, but at the same time, a lot more useful to the layman: a Pub, etc. Guide of Prague.

Similar stuff has been already published, so I'm not going to say I'm original or an innovator. The guide I'm putting together, however, has a couple of advantages over others: I live in Prague, so it will be more easily updated, and its scope is far more ambitious than any other, I'm planning to cover the whole of the Czech capital and some of it's outskirts, and try to include at least one nice place to have good beer in every one of its boroughs. Oh! And it will also be published in Spanish.

Some of the material has already been published in this blog, some is already compiled in a notebook or in  my always reliable head, the rest, that is most of it, though, I still have to go and research. For that I will need time and money. In an ideal world a publishing house would offer me a juicy advance for such an interesting book. I don't see that happening, really, so I've decided to look for sponsors to finance this project.

Stop! Wait! All of you breweries and restaurants! Put down those mobile phones, close those e-mail windows. I don't want that kind of sponsorship, I want my book to be fully independent. And that is why I am appealing to you, my readers and followers. All you have to do is click on the Donate button right below my picture and choose an amount in Euro (you don't need to have a Paypal account, credit cards are accepted).

Of course, you won't be left only with the satisfaction of having done a good deed, those of you who send some money will receive a copy of the electronic edition or, depending on you generosity the paper edition, of the book once it's published, which I hope to do in about a year. (The donations will also help to set myself a deadline).

Needless to say, any bit of information about pubs in Prague will be more than welcome.

Thanks a lot for your support financial or otherwise, and Na Zdraví!

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23 Nov 2009

The Debate

It all started with this post in Ron's blog, followed by one from Alan, both saying how tired they were of "innovative beers". Stephen Beaumont responded by posting his defense of innovation. Stan entered the discussion (which was raging in the comment sections) asking if there really was any innovation to begin with, to which Stephen that yes, there is, though not nearly as much as many believe, and that there are also different kinds, and I couldn't agree more.

I don't really think anyone is against innovation or the new, not even Ron in his fiery rant. The problem, in my opinion, is another: those who worship innovation.

Several times I've read people praising how dynamic the American craft beer scene is thanks to all those great innovators (not so much, according to those on the know) compared to the European, a prisoner of those pesky traditions, which have not allowed it to develop anything new in who knows how many decades.

This crowd (many of whom don't really understand beer) imply, and sometimes say it openly, that the "innovative" brewers are better than the "traditionalists". Which is utter bollocks.

Being able to come out with a couple of new beers every year doesn't make you a better brewer, or worse one, than another who for many years has been brewing the same few, old and tired styles with consistent quality. Those are just different approaches to the business.

In their fanaticism for "the new" and for rating and ticking the biggest possible number of beers, these geeks seem to miss an essential thing, a brewery is, first and foremost, a business.

Why then those "Europeans" don't innovate enough? Well, it might be that some breweries operate in a conservative market, with little interest or openness for new flavours. It could also be that the brewers themselves aren't interested in doing anything out of the ordinary. If their beers are not only consistently good, but also sell well enough, who can blame them?

The debate, of course, also dealt with the topic of extreme beers (which have many a beer enthusiast sick to their teeth already). After meditating on the subject I've come to the conclusion that, though I enjoy drinking these kind of beers as much as the next geek, I don't always fancy "tasting". My favourite beers are those that I can pick from the fridge when I get home, that I can drink while I cook, watch a film, write, relax or spend some time with friends. In other words, beers that won't demand too much of my attention, but are interesting enough on their own at the same time.

And that is sort of the point Ron wanted to make from the beginning. I always say that the most, if not the only, important thing is what you've got in the glass. The rest, is at most, interesting. As long as a beer is well made, tasty, etc, I really don't care too much about what the labels or the marketing say.

Na Zdraví!

19 Nov 2009

Flagship

A few months ago I spoke in some detail about K Brewery Trade, for those of you who don't remember and/or can't be arsed with reading this post, I'll make a summary. This Czech company came pretty much out of nowhere and bought several regional breweries. Today they own seven and have quite important stakes in at least two more.

Even though their slogan is "Navrát k tradici" (Back to tradition), many are those who don't trust the real intentions of these people. Some believe they are a proxy of Heineken, which, as you might remember, was neither denied, nor confirmed by the Czech subsidiary of the Dutch concern.

I've got serious doubts that the rumor is true. I really don't see what interest Heineken could have in this bunch of regional breweries, most of which (unfortunately) aren't even very valuable as brands.

Needless to say, KBT (as they are known in the street), has been categorically denying all that to anyone who asks. Still, even if we take them to their word, that they are really interested in beer and brewing, they are and will always be business people. So, if some day in the future someone, be it Heineken, Carlsberg, Diageo or Jack Mehoffer, offers them an interesting enough figure, how much could they be blamed if they accept it?

But let's leave the realm of speculation and come back to the present. Whatever their future plans are, there is no doubt that KBT have decided to take things seriously. Last month, at the Prague Oktoberfest, they presented their flagship beer. It's packaging, a green bottle with long neck wrapped in golden foil, and its price range make very clear where those guns are aiming (Pilsner Urquell and Budvar, for those of you who don't have it so clear). The beer is called Lobkowicz Premium, and it's being marketed with the slogan "Šlechtic mezi pivy" (A noble/aristocrat among beers).

For reasons hard to understand the beer isn't brewwed in Vysoký Chlumec, as the rest of the Lobkowicz beers are, but in Protivín, home of the Platan beers*. Not that you will know that by reading the label. For reasons that are still harder to understand (well, not so, but it sounds nicer this way), the good people of KBT have decided not to divulge that information.

I think I've made myself very clear about the importance of origin when it comes to selling a beer. Hiding that piece of information is to me a pretty big mistake coming from someone who claims to be a champion of tradition.

But let's cut all this bollocks. I always say that the only thing that matters is what you've got in the glass, so let's see what the beer has to say.
I wish it would shut up. Lobkowicz Premium is awful. All that stuff about the ingredients and the tradition and what have you doesn't matter at all, it's awful. It shows it's been brewed in Protivín, it's got all the things I don't like of some of the Platan beers and more. It's very thin, with a totally unbalanced bitterness and not enough malt to put those hops in line. At times it gave me the impression that they wanted to make something hoppier than the rest (which is something any idiot with enough hops could manage) and it also felt as something that is not quite finished yet. It might be that those 35 days the beer is said to be lagered aren't enough (incidentally, other KBT beers are lagered longer and they don't make such a big fuss about it), but even if they left it a month or two longer, I don't think it will be that much better.

Whatever. Given the choice, I would pick Pilsner Urquell, Budvar or even Krušovice instead of Lobkowicz Premium. Having so many good beers in their portfolio (some of which, with a bit of tweakin,g could be great), it's impossible to understand (and now I mean it) why they chose as their flagship a new product that is so flawed.

Na Zdraví!

A curiosity for historians. Pivovar Vysoký Chlumec was for a very long time property of the Lobkowicz family. Pivovar Protivín, on the other hand, was until 1947 or so, property of the Schwarzenberg family. I would love to know what the relationship between this two noble families was and what's their opinion of a beer with the name of one being brewed at the former property of the other.

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17 Nov 2009

20 years is nothing

20 years ago today I was a couple of weeks from finishing High School. Many things were going around in my mind. A big sense of accomplishment from having successfully finished such an important stage in my life; some nervousness from what the future had in stock for me and from knowing that things would never be so easy again and also a bit of sadness from knowing deep down that the twists and turns of life would make me loose touch with many of the people I had shared so many years of my life with.

1989 was also a very hectic year from Argentina. Presidential elections, economic meltdown and violent social unrest. Despite all this, we got and followed the news of the events unfolding in Eastern Europe: Hungary opening its border with Austria, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia.

20 years ago today the Velvet Revolution started. It was a series of peaceful protests that, though not the first of their kind, in a few days managed to bring down the Communist Regime. Back then I didn't pay too much attention to the details, and so it wasn't until I moved here that I knew that the leader of that movement was a playwright, essayist and political dissident called Václav Havel. By the end of that year Mr Havel would be elected President of Czechoslovakia and in 2002 he was in the last months of his second, and last, term as President of the Czech Rep.

With time I would learn more things about this man and today, even though I don't share many of his political views, I have great respect and some admiration for him. That's because he has something that few politicians nowadays have, Integrity. That and massive cojones. Once I read that, when things were getting pretty rough for people like him, he was offered help to emigrate. He chose to stay and fight from the inside, risking, if not his life, for sure his health.
I've seen Václav Havel in person twice, and both times I was very impressed. Neither was at an official event or anything similar, I didn't even hear him speak. I saw him at the supermarket, alone. No bodyguards, no PA's, no extraordinary security measures, just a pensioner doing his shopping like everyone else. Some people approached him to greet him or shake his hand, most went about their business as if nothing was happening (something that impressed me about the Czechs as well). Where I come from, you would never see an ex-president or high profile politician doing something so pedestrian, they have a detachment of minions to take care of that (besides, if they did bother, people wouldn't approach them to shake their hands, but to lynch them, but that's something else).

And what does it all have to do with the topic of this blog? Well, it's well known that Mr. Havel likes his pivo, and he likes it good. I would love to share a few pints with him at a pub. I'm sure conversation would be great and the man must have some really juicy stories to tell.

So today I raise my "půl litr" in honour of Václav Havel and all those brave men and women who withouth shedding any blood were able to end four decades of oppression and lies.

Na vaše Zdraví, Česko!

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16 Nov 2009

A Critic to the Critics

Even though we hardly dine out anymore, I still enjoy reading Prague restaurant reviews. I specially like those where the author has a good grasp of the concept of value for money, even if they aren't paying from their own pockets, and where they tell us about their dining experience in a straightforward, fun to read language.

Unfortunately, I must say I've lost my patience with the whole lot of them. The reason, their ignorance and total lack of interest in beer.

The Czech Republic is home to some of the finest lagers in the world. "Pivo" is a source of national pride and plays an important part in Czech popular and culinary cultures. How is it then that restaurant reviewers don't complain when a restaurant offers bad beer?

No, I'm not just grumpy because it's Monday morning (well, a bit, yes). Many times I've read how reviewers complain, and fairly so, about the authenticity or freshness of some ingredients, the way a dish is prepared or presented, the composition of menus and even the prize and provenance of mineral water. Oh! But a 0.3l glass of Stella Artois at 60CZK? No worries there, mate. They've even praised the stuff!

In this piece in CBW the author, one Milan Ballik, says: "One mug of ice-cold draft Stella Artois beer helped me to regain my spirit..." (I really can't imagine how that popcorn juice could help anyone with half a palate to feel better). Or Laura Baranik in her review of Potrefená Husa claims that the chain serves "quality beer". They might now how to tap it, but Stella and Staropramen are NOT quality beers by Czech standards, far from it (and no, I don't think she meant Leffe and Hoegaarden).

I'm sure there are some of you who are thinking of writing a comment saying something like: "But there are many people who like Stella! So what's the problem?"

Sadly, that is true. But you know what? There are also many people who don't like their spicy food to be too spicy, who prefer their pasta, steaks and burgers to be a tad overcooked and who don't give much of a rat's ass about what sort of rice or cheese is used in their risotto. However, the critics do have a big problem with that.

I don't care if they drink beer or not. Restaurant reviewers should not allow restaurants in the Czech Republic to get away with offering bad beer, no matter how good they might be.

Na Zdraví!

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13 Nov 2009

And the winners are...

Just like I promised yesterday, here you have the list of winners of this year's Sdružení přátel piva awards, plus some comments.


Desítka roku

1. Podskalák, světlé výčepní pivo (Pivovar Rohozec)
2. Moravské Sklepní (Pivovar Černá Hora)
3. Březňák, světlé výčepní (Pivovar Velké Březno)

I must confess that I don't remember ever drinking this beer (which I hope to correct soon). The other two, however, are well placed, yes.

Jedenáctka roku

1. Otakar 11% (Pivovar Polička)
2. Svijanský Máz (Pivovar Svijany)
3. Klášter 11% (Pivovar Klášter)

Otakar is a very good, and not known enough, beer. Máz is my least favourite from the Svijany lot and I would put it well behind Klášter's (which dropped from the first spot for the first time in I don't know how many years).

Dvanáctka roku

1. Svijanský Rytíř (Pivovar Svijany)
2. Březňák, světlý ležák (Pivovar Velké Březno)
3. Bernard, sváteční ležák (Rodinný pivovar Bernard)

This first prize is going to be discussed a lot among Czech beer geeks, some whom, for reasons hard to understand, seem to have something against Svijany. Personally, I think it's well deserved, after all, it's the beer that I always have at home, though if Bernard had won, I wouldn't have any objections, either. Interesting bit, Herold Wheat came in 5th in this category.

Speciál roku

1. Kvasar, 14% (Pivovar Černá Hora)
2. Primátor Exkluziv 16% (Pivovar Náchod)
3. Březňák, světlý ležák speciál 14% (Pivovar Velké Březno)

Kvasar is a beer that has never convinced me. It says it's brewed with honey, but I've never been able to taste anything other than a slightly "overcooked" lager a bit sweeter than others.

Tmavé pivo roku

1. Bernard černé 13% (Rodinný pivovar Bernard)
2. Budweiser Budvar tmavý ležák (Pivovar Budějovický Budvar)
3. Svijanská Kněžna 13% (Pivovar Svijany)

From the start, I don't agree how this category is put together. Gravity isn't taken into account, which I think would make it impossible for any tmavé výčepní to win, no matter how good it can be. That said, Bernard černé is a great beer.

Polotmavé pivo roku

1. Primátor Polotmavý 13% (Pivovar Náchod)
2. Bernard Jantarový ležák (Rodinný pivovar Bernard)
3. Skalák, řezaný ležák (Pivovar Rohozec)

It doesn't matter that what they were tapping the other day was not in good shape, Primátor 13% is a superb beer and, to me, really the best in its lot.

Nealkoholické pivo roku

1. Bernard Free Jantar (Rodinný pivovar Bernard)
2. Bernard Free (Rodinný pivovar Bernard)
3. Radegast Birell (Pivovar Radegast)

I'm not a consumer of Nealko Pivo, but If I was, Bernard would certainly be my beer of choice.

Minipivovar roku

1. Pivovarský Dvůr Chýně
2. Klášterní pivovar Strahov
3. Pivovar Hubertus Kácov

Not to question Chýně's award,but  there's only Prague on the podium (Kácov is well outside of Prague, but their beers can be found regularly at 3 pubs in the capital). I can't help to notice the absence of micros from the rest of the country like, for example, Kout.

Pivovar roku

1. Pivovar Herold
2. Pivovar Svijany
3. Rodinný pivovar Bernard

I was surprised by the choice of Herold as first. They hadn't won anything thus far. How well deserved this prize is or not is very arguable in this category (more so perhaps than in the others). Truth is that not long ago Herold was about to shut down for good when their American owners decided to pack their bags. The new owners have been doing a great job and the brand does have a lot of potential.

A special award was given, something like "New Enterprise of the year", and Pivovar Chotěboř was the winner. The reason, it is the first industrial brewery proper to open in the Czech Republic after more than 30 years. Their beers are of really good quality and the people making and selling them are very enthusiastic. Good luck to them!

The award that closed the ceremony was Sládek roku, brewer of the year. One can have the most cynic attitude towards awards, but things change when one is given to a friend and great bloke. Ladislav Veselý, from U Medvídku, is not just a brewer, he's a Brew Master in all the sense of the term. He's also a personal friend and a fantastic person who also happens to make wonderful beers. Never a prize was more deserved.

Note: Before any of you writes a comment complaining about the absence of this or that beer I'll explain what system the SPP uses to give the prizes. In the first round the members of the association vote for a beer in each category. Those which get the most votes go to a second round where a blind tasting decides the winners. In other words Kout na Šumavě Desítka didn't win anything because it didn't get enough votes.

If you want to change things, become a member and cast your vote next year.

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12 Nov 2009

It's good to be me (2009 edition)

Just like last year, and the year before, the good people of Sdružení Přátel Piva were kind enough to invite me to their annual award ceremony, which, to a certain extent, is actually an excuse to get together for a few beers with friends, colleagues, etc.

This year's edition took place at Pivovar Strahov. It seems thasince there was no need to travel anywhere, more people that usual attended. I arrived at 11 and the downstairs room was already packed.
It wasn't long before a glass of beer almost magically materialised in my hand (Budvar Dark, fine, but way too cold for my taste). It was a rather chilly day, but I was thirsty after the walk from Dejvická. I found Evan Rail and while we exchanged stories about our family lives and greeted a few known faces, the beginning of the award ceremony proper was announced. With a new beer in hand (Chotěboř světlý ležák, really good) I followed the crowd to the room upstairs, which was also wall-to-wall full.
The ceremony was fun and didn't feel too long, partly thanks to the reigning good mood. I'll analyse the awards tomorrow, if I get the list, because I didn't bother to take notes.
Once the formal affair was over, food was served. The line at the buffet table was pretty long, but moved quickly. The food that I had (onion soup, bramboračky, pork ribs, chicken wings and some smoked stuff) was finger licking good (and fingers had to actually be licked since it was easier to eat most of it with the hands).

With a full plate in one hand and a beer in the other we went back upstairs to eat more comfortably. With Evan and his friend Chris (an American brewer living in CZ) we chatted about many topics, mostly beer, though. Later we were joined by Aleš Dočkal and so the beers went by (or the hours, whatever).

Even though there was plenty to choose from, it was very difficult to resist the magnetic attraction of the host beers from Strahov, both great, specially the dark one, and the ones from U Medvídku, in fantastic shape, both. Before leaving, when almost everyone had packed and gone away, I had a glass of Herold Weizen, which I noticed tastier and with more spice than in previous occasions, something that made me really glad.

I had a fantastic time, not only thanks to the very good beer and food, but also because of the people. It was really nice to have a chat, even a short one, with people I hadn't seen for some time, or with new people. It also made me pretty happy to be recognised, and not as the crazy Argentine that comes to drink for free, but as "Pivní Filosof". Several were those who asked me about my daughter, my home-brewing adventures or complimented my blog. One of them, the owner of První Pivní Tramvaj, even asked me for a Czech version of this blog. It would be nice.

Good food, great beers and even better company, can a day get any better?

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9 Nov 2009

Making (at least a bit) of sense of it

Some time ago I wrote a post strongly critisising the Protected Geographical Denomination "České Pivo" (Czech Beer). One of the conditions a beer has to meet in order to be eligible for the DGP is that it must be brewed with a decoction mashing. As if Czech brewing tradition started in 1842, I said then.

Well, I didn't know what I know now.

In the comments of one of the post in the Argentinean beer blog Logia Cervecera I ranted that a proper lager should be brewed using a decoction mashing.

Someone answered saying that that is not true anymore and that most German breweries have stopped using decoction. According to him, thanks to the highly modified malts used today, the process is no longer necessary for soft waters to be able to extract enough sugars from the grain, and that a multi-rest infusion mash (don't know if that's the exact term, but you know what I mean) does the job just fine. He also added that the breweries from Northern Germany never used decoction to begin with.

Since he seemed someone who knew what he was talking about, and I didn't have any data to prove him wrong, I agreed with my silence.

Later, during a conversation with someone else, the information was confirmed. Though the reason I was given was that German breweries had dropped decoction for reasons more related to costs than anything else.

It was then that I started to see some sense in the insistence of "Český Svaz Pivovarů a Sladoven" (Association of Czech Brewers and Maltsters) about this brewing method.

For better or worse, pretty much everything that is brewed in the Czech Republic are bottom fermented lagers and, according to people who know more than I, these kind of beers should be brewed with a decoction mashing.

Of course, there's still all the other conditions, among them the ABV limits (3.8 to 6%). That, I still find stupid.

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8 Nov 2009

A Cholesterol Bomb

Warning: If any of you out there has cholesterol problems, you'd better not read the following recipe. If any of you out there is voluntarily on a diet, leave it! It's not good for you. Get you ass off that chair and do some exercise instead.

Some of the names of classical Czech dishes are rather curious. "Moravský Vrabec", for example. The translation is "Moravian Sparrows", but it's actually made with roasted cubes of marinated pork. It's a favourite pub grub, specially at lunch time.

The other day I thought I would make my version of the recipe. It's ideal for an ugly weekend day, when we have more than enough time, but don't feel like doing much. It doesn't need much work, but it requires quite a bit of time.

Another advantage is that this is a very versatile recipe. Here it's usually served with knedlíky and stewed cabbage, but there's no problem to serve it with potatoes in any form, veggies, rice or salad.

Ingredients: (serves 4)

1.5 kg of pork. Shoulder or any other fatty cut.
Almost a pint of beer. I used a good Czech Pale Lager, but a German Pils or Export or even a Pale Ale would do the job just fine.
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon of Hungarian paprika.
1 tablespoon of cumin or caraway seed
Some sage, thyme and rosemary
Salt and pepper
Approx. 100g of lard.

For the marinade. In a large bowl put all the ingredients except the pork and lard. I do it this way. I first add the spices, salt and herbs, then a bit of the beer and mix well with an eggbeater. Then I add the rest of the beer, the oil and garlic and mix once again until it looks rather uniform.

Cut the meat in cubes of 3 cm by side, sort of, leaving all the fat, no matter how thick, and add it to the marinade. Leave it on the counter for 2 (maybe 3) hours.

Put the meat with the marinade in a deep and not too big roasting pan. Add enough water to cover 3/4 of it, then add the lard cut in small cubes (without it this would be too light, and we don't want that to happen).

Put the pan in an oven preheated to 200°C and roast for 60-70 min. Halfway through have a look to see if there is enough liquid and also mix it a bit. Serve still warm with some of the juice from the pan.

If you've been careful with the liquid, the meat will be really, really tender. Even the fat will melt on your tongue. Truly delicious stuff.

I didn't try, but I reckon the juice left in the pan could be a nice base for a gravy, otherwise, it's great to dip some bread in.

Since the side was a salad, we paired it with a pale lager, Svijanský Rytíř, the same I used as ingredient. Had I served it with something more solid, I think a Polotmavé, Dunkĺes, Bock, Pale Ale or even a good Porter would have gone down really well.

Enjoy, without moderation. Remember that it's not what you eat, drink or even smoke what kills you, it's how you live.

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5 Nov 2009

Changed my mind

Do you remember that I told you I was going to let MB Porter årgång 2008 age a bit? Of course you don't! Well, I did say it, you can read it here, at the bottom of the page. Doesn't matter, I changed my mind, anyway.

As I've already mentioned, I really fancy dark beers this season. The other day in the afternoon I went to the cellar to pick something dark to drink and there she was, MB Porter, calling me, tempting me. I couldn't resist. I'm not the patient kind of guy, I don't think I'll ever be able to let a bottle gather dust in my cellar for a year or so.
MB Porter årgång 2008 pours very dark amber, clear against the light, topped by a spongy beige head. The bouquet has prunes, molasses, chocolate and a little bit of tobacco. The palate is treated with notes of chocolate, roast, some licorice, everything wrapped in an unctuous mouthfeel that is really nice to roll around your mouth for a bit. The finish is dry with a background of dry fruit, long and very tasty. A hint of smokiness lingering throughout the sip makes this beer even more pleasant to drink in a cold autumn afternoon.

I don't have experience with aging beers and, save for this one occasion, I haven't had the chance to compare the same beer with and without aging. However, something tells me that I did well in opening this beer now, a bit more than a year and a half after it was bottled. I can't really tell why, but I feel that it would not have improved with further aging. I guess I'll never know.

Another thing I noticed. When Gnoff gave me the bottle (thanks mate!), I asked him if this was a "Baltic Porter" or just a Porter. He told me it was the latter. I don't know how "true to style" MB Porter is (and frankly, I don't give a toss), but I couldn't help but notice a strong family resemblance with several Baltic Porters I know. Interesting.

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30 Oct 2009

Aren't they missing something?

Just as it happened last year, I had a great time with Knut Albert at at Zlý Časy. While we were enjoying several of the 16 beers they had on tap, we spoke about many things, most of them beer related (I bet you are surprised by that).

There was a topic that stayed in my mind after the evening was finished. It might be something that does not concern some of the more developed markets, but it does apply to those where the micros are just starting to make some sort of impact.

I'm not going to discuss here the advantages of pasteurising/filtering or not, neither of bottle fermenting, because that is not what we talked about with Knut. It was something more cynical, if you want. Picture the scenario:

You love "good beer", you might even consider yourself a "beerevangelist". You also make a point in supporting your local micro-breweries (provided their beers are good, of course). You are organising a BBQ. You see the event as a good opportunity to introduce your friends to what you see as quality beer.

Which beers from your local micros will you offer them?

Before answering thing about this: It's a barbecue, so beer will have to be easy to drink. It can't be too strong or complex. Nobody will be interested in bouquet, mouthfeel or citrus and tropical fruit notes, they will want to have good beer with their steaks (or whatever you'll be grilling), period.

I'm sure some of you already have a list. Before you go shopping, think about this: It's a barbecue. Will you have enough glasses for everyone? And even if you do, will you want to wash them after the party (many people will eat with their hands, they'll be really greasy!)?

You'll have to find something that can be drunk from the bottle.

How many beers have you got on your list now?

Even if the glasses were not an issue, sediments will be. Many people will not like the look and/or the taste of them.

Your only choice then will probably be buying some good industrial beer. I'm sure you'll be able to find some, but your beerevangelist plans were shattered before they even got a start.

What we wondered was if all stuff about not filtering and bottle-fermenting (and to a certain extent, not pasteurising) isn't playing a bit against the ambitions of reaching the most possible people. I'm not saying that these micros will have to change their philosophies, but they should consider brewing something that could be more accessible to the novice or that it can fit into situations like the one described above (which isn't so unreal, either). Perhaps, thanks to that, there will be more people willing to explore a bit further.

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PD: While writing this I couldn't but think how much of this "unfiltered, unpasteurised" is actually product of a philosophy, and how is product of some sort of financial reality.

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