31 Aug 2009

Well, what a suprise!

Before I get to the point, let me remind you of the products that Primátor put on the market in the last few years:

2003: Weizenbier. One of my favourite beers. To my taste, better than most Bavarian wheat beers I have drunk.

2005: Poltomavé 13%. To me, the best in its category.

2006: English Pale Ale. Regardless of how "true to style" it might be, it's wonderful that a Czech industrial brewer is making a pretty decent Ale in Lagerland.

2008: Stout. A fantastic beer. Recent winner of Best of the World in the Oatmeal Stout category.

So, as you might imagine, when word on the street was that Primátor was going to announce a new product, many got quite excited and wondered what the "Specialist in Specials" had ready for us.

Well, it turned out to be a simple Jedenáctká, a pale lager brewed at 11 degrees Balling. Nothing special with that, really.

Some "blamed" the new owners, LIF (also owners of Svijany and Rohozec), for this change in philosphy. The brewery says that the new product is based on the recipe of the first beer brewed when the brewery was established, back in 1871.

I see it as one of those incredibly talented actors who every now and then takes a role in a silly Hollywood blockbuster, in order to be able to finance projects that are closer to his/her heart.

Needless to say, I really wanted to taste this beer. After all, Hollywood blockbusters might not be very deep, but can be fun sometimes. I didn't want to taste it alone, though. I wanted to compare it with the other two jedenáctký that have showed up recently, Gambrinus Excelent and Pardál Echt (Pardál is another brand of Budějovický Budvar).

That's right. In less than a year, two of the biggest brewers in the Czech Rep. presented a 11° Balling pale lager. Many have wondered why.

The reason is not the financial crisis, as The Prague Post reported some time ago. If people really wanted to save money on beer without sacrificing too much flavour, then regional brews would have a much bigger market share as they are invariably cheaper (and usually more flavourful).

This category, or style if you want, is nothing new. The first pale lagers had that gravity, actually. If we look at the more recent history, Zlatopramen have had some success with their "11", and so have Krušovice with their Mušketýr. And even the group Plzeňský Prazdroj, also owners of Gambrinus, have been selling a jedenáctká for a few years, Kozel Medium. And actually, both of the best known Czech beers are jedenáctký, but that's not something they want many people to know.

To me, the reason is the slow but constant growth of the regional breweries. If you ask them, many will tell you that the 11° Balling pale lager is their best selling product.

I've also read that one of the reasons behind Excelent is that Gambrinus wanted to revitalise the brand. Is Echt a response to Exclent? Could be, after all, the Pardál brand was created as a direct competitor to Gambrinus. On the other hand, I had already heard that Budvar had a new product in the pipline last year.

But all this is irrelevant, really. As I always say, the most important thing is what you have in the glass, so the best we can do is to let the beers do the talking.

I don't have much love for either Gambrinus or Pardál, and I do have a soft spot for Primátor. Since I wanted to be as impratial as possible, I decided to do a blind tasting. I got the help of my beloved wife, who welcomed the chance of doing something else than feeding the baby, and armed with a slice of bread, my notepad and my well honed senses I sat to taste.
All three samples look exactly the same. Not much of a head in these glasses, but later, when we were finishing the bottles, they all had a nice, compact, lasting head.

Sample A: Caramel background, dry herbs, a touch of mint. Later a some ripe fruit shows up to make it more interesting.
Sample B: Mild, some caramel, resin. Not very well put together.
Sample C: WOW! Fresh hops, summer, grass, flowers. Mild caramel in the back to give it balance. Lovely.

Sample A: Starts fruity, malty. Dry finish. Nice, refreshing, very sessionable.
Sample B: Not very well balanced, caramel, pine. Almost artiticial.
Sample C: Everything the aroma promised and more. Fresh, young, lovely mouthfeel. Long hoppy finish. Delicious. To drink a lot of it.
Gambrinus Excelent was the only one I had already drunk, and I was able to recongnise it as Sample B. It's not bad, considering where it comes from, but it's far behind the other two.

I was really surprised when I was revealed the identities of samples A and C, Primátor 11% and Pardál Echt, respectively. I'd never liked the original Pardál the few times that I'd drunk it, so I wasn't expecting much from this one, and that's why I had tipped Primátor as Sample C, it was the one I had liked best, so it had to be it. I was wrong.

Perhaps, someone who doesn't like much hop profile in their beers would like Primátor 11% better. But even if you are one of them, you have to love Echt's wonderful bouquet, and that's why Pardál Echt is the winner.
I guess I will have to give Pardál Výčpení another chance.

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25 Aug 2009

Much room for improvement

Although Barcelona and its surroudings are leading the Spanish craft beer movement, the rest of the country doesn't seem to want to be left behind. Many microbreweries have opened recently and, slowly, they are getting the attention of consumers.

I received four samples from two micros from Asturias (thanks Raquel!), about which I had absolutely no references. That's great!

The first two that fell in the line of duty came from Cervecería La Xana (couldn't find a webpage). The samples were Toastada and Negra, both Ales, both with 6.2%ABV.
How I would love to speak extensively about this beers! You know, write those poetic tasting notes all of you have come to love. Unfortunately, that won't be possible. Both beers were off.
I know how much Asturians like their cider, I believe it's their national drink. But I don't think they love it so much as to flavour beer with apple wine, because that was the way both beers tasted. The difference was that Tostada tasted as if someone had added a dollop of caramel in a glass of cider, and Negra (actually, only a bit darker than the other one), tasted as if someone had added too much cheap sugar to that same glass. Unlike those beers from El Boslón that had the same problem, these ones were well within their sell by date.

I know that that cider taste comes from some infection, but I can't remember which and can't be arsed with looking for it, so if someone will be kind enough to refresh my memory, I'll be really grateful.

Before getting into the other two samples, L'esbardu and Belenos, let me propose the following hypothesis:

Imagine you are at a beer shop and fancy buying something new. There is a lot to choose from, so you start picking up bottles to see what sort of information the brewers have chosen to give share about their product. The basic stuff, at least. Who brews it, a list of ingredients (doesn't need to be too comprehensive), what sort of beer it is (Ale or Lager at the very least), ABV %. Something like an OG, or similar, and serving temperature would be more than welcome as well.

So you take a bottle of L'esbardu because your attention has been caught by the frase in Spanish "Brewed with Somiedo honey". You turn the bottle around and the only info you get is that the beer is brewed with the best pale malts, the finest hops and the aforementioned honey. The ABV is written on the front, in very small letters. Want to know anything else? Good luck.

And you'll be worse off with Belenos. What is it made of? How was it fermented? Who the hell made it? Your guess is as good as mine. The company mentioned in the back, Exclusivas Toma SL is only the distributor, and the webpage doesn't mention the brewer. This lack of information is not label-space related. The back label tells us with flair the origin of the beer's name. As if anyone cared!

So, would you buy any of these beers? I know I wouldn't. Would that be a mistake? Fortunately, both beers were a pesent, so I can find out.

I started with L'esbardu, only because, with 8.4%ABV, it was the weaker one. Pours gold, slightly cloudy (due to the sediments, another thing the bottle fails to mention and should), topped by a loose head. Fine carbonation, a lot of it. Interesting nose. My wife is a big consumer of home made honey and that is what I mostly felt, the sweet flowery smell of good quality home made honey, backed by sweet orange notes and plenty of alcohol. In fact, the alcohol is very poorly integrated. The beer's pretty thin and too fizzy. However, behind all that there is a beer with quite a bit of personality, with plenty of ripe summer fruit and a bit of well balanced yeasty acidity, plus a mild spicy touch to finish it off. Perhaps with a bit of aging L'esbardu could solve the etilic problem, though its thinness makes me doubt it. I guess I'll never find out.
A bit stronger, with 9%ABV, Belenos Súper pours pale and very clear gold, similar to a decent industrial lager (it might as well have been pink, not even the colour is mentioned on the label). What an utter bore! Hardly any aroma, thin watery body (too much atenuation perhaps?), flat without a hint of character. Pfff! Pilsner Urquell tanková packs thrice the flavour with half the ABV! The ony thing it's got going for it are the yeasty notes, which reminded me of an (obvoiusly overrated) strong Belgian Blonde that I didn't like too much. Oh yeah! And the perfectly integrated alcohol.
Technically speaking, Belenos is better made: well integrated alcohol, just the right amount of carbonation and no infection as far as I can tell (which is not all that far), but like many other technically flawless things, it's got no soul. With all its shortcomings, I prefer L'esbardu by quite a few streets.

To put it in other terms. Belenos is a young woman with perfect hair and make-up, clothes, shoes and accessories from the best brands and latest fashion trends, an ideal of style and beauty right out of the pages of a fashion magazine, but empty inside. L'esbardu is a bit rough around the edges, could loose a kilo or two and perhaps speaks a bit too loud, but isn't she a lot more fun to hang out with!

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24 Aug 2009

Tie in Žižkov

There is no doubt in my mind that Žižkov is the beer capital of Prague, and maybe even of the whole of the Czech Republic. I don't know of any other neighbourhood with so many hospody, restaurants and cafés that offer such a wide range of beers.

There were two spots that I'd been wanting to visit for quite some time. Both open in the afternoon and the other day, thanks to a last minute cancellation, I was able to visit them at last.

I started with the one that opens earlier, Žižkovská Pivogalerie. I had read in Svět Piva that this hospoda had adopted the "rotating tap" system and that they ussually stocked beers from Rebel and Poutník, two brands rarely seen in Prague.
I was expecting a much bigger place. By the entrance there is a pretty small room, with just a couple of tables and the bar. There is another one in the back, but it looked closed, it was still early. Besides the bartender, there were only two patrons, both sure regulars.

I asked what was on tap. Svijanský Máz, not bad, but not a very difficult beer to find, and not what I had come here for. I finished my glass (it wasn't very well tapped, I must add) and left, feeling a bit disappointed. Perhaps I should have come later, a few hours later. Slowly, I walked to my second destination.

Merenda is right next to Hotel Viktor. It's divided in two areas, a diner with not much of an atmosphere at street level, and a pub with a lot more vybe in the cellar. Each has four taps and each has a separate offer of four beers. Interesting idea.
I went straight to the basement. There wasn't anyone. It was 4:30 and they had just opened. The room is long, not too big and has vaulted ceilings, something I like. It reminded me of Fraktal, a pub in Letná where, in another life, I used to go a bit too often. That feeling was made stronger when at some point someone rolled up a spliff and passed it around among the few that were there, in that other life I would have accepted it, not now, though.

I sat at the bar. None of the four beers were very exciting, something that occasionally happens at places like this. I had bad luck, usually they have more interesting stuff. I went for Lobokowicz Démon, which I hadn't drunk for quite some time. The bartender didn't understand me well and tapped me a glass of Permon Višňové (sour cherry). Why do so many Czech micros keep on making these beers flavoured with crappy extracts? (They sell well, good reason). The worst of them are, no doubt, the sour cherry flavoured ones. Sour cherries are, as the name well implies, sour. However, these beers are always sickly sweet, something I simply can't understand. I got my Démon later, and it was pretty good!
The bartender turned out to be a pretty friendly bloke. He asked me what I thought about my Permon, which started a nice chat about beers. It's nice to come accross a server that knows about beer. Not as an expert, but as an informed and curious consumer, which is more than good enough.

I really liked Merenda, much more than Pivogalerie. I though that the idea of two places in one, each with a different beer offer, is pretty clever, and the cellar is a really nice place to get together with a bunch of friends.

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Žižkovská Pivogalerie
Jagellonská 26
Prague 3
Mon-Sat from 2PM, Sun from 4PM

Husitská 74
Prague 3
Mon-Fri from 4PM, closed Sundays

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20 Aug 2009

From another perspective

I've been following the debate about professional vs amateur beer writers in Alan's and Knut Albert's blogs. Understandably, the discussion goes around what is written and published in English.

Being an Argentine that lives in Prague, who also happens to write about beer in Spanish, I thought I could give my two cents, but from a different perspective.

The brewing industry is very important in the Czech Rep., so beer is mentioned quite often in the printed media. There are reports and articles about price increases, the hop harvest, closings, openings and mergers of breweries, new products, etc, and the brewpub boon has not gone unnoticed, either. However, most of that appears in the business of financial sections of newspapares and magazines. There is very little that's written from a critical point of view. It is as if the printed media didn't want to antagonise the big breweries, who are an important source of advertising revenues. And for the moment, there isn't any specialised publication.

Things are even worse in the Spanish speaking press. What little is written about beer is either press releases, shill or downright awful. It's as if the atittude was "We must write something about beer. Nobody knows anything about it here. It'll be enough to put a few technical terms and exotic names to give the impression of some knowledge". Otherwise, how can you explain the phrase "Lager is a kind of pale beer of moderate taste very common in the US", published in a major Colombian newspaper? Or that idiosincratic list of the "Best Beers in the World", put together with the help of an imaginary panel of experts,  that included a beer that is not produced anymore?

All this is to say that if it wasn't for the blogs, it would be very difficult for enthusiasts living in these countries to discover and learn more about the fascinating world of beer.

In Spanish, there aren't that many beer blogs, but their number is growing. Some of them are doing a great job covering the happenings of their respective markets, much better than anyone from the "traditional" media would ever bother to do, which sometimes gets close to becoming activism. Their "mission" isn't only to speak about their personal experiences, but also to enrich the local beer cultures by sharing their knowledge and opinions.

And this is the thing where blogs, in any language, have an advantage over the traditional media. The free sharing of knowledge and ideas. Almost every blog will link to other similar ones, which creates a chain and, in some cases, bona-fide communities of beer lovers. It's thanks to this that I've found many of the blogs that are today among my favourites. That's because, I believe, most of us don't consider other bloggers as competitors, but as people with whom we share a common interests or even a philosophy.

Of course, there is a bit of everything. There are great blogs out there, and there are horrendous ones. There are authors who express their honest opinion and there are others who don't seem to be all that honest. But, come on! You can find the same among professional journalists. The only difference is quantity.

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18 Aug 2009

Sometimes less is better

U Radnice is a hospoda that has gone through many changes in the last two years or so. When I first went there, they were still tapping beers from the now defunct Pivovar Podkovaň. After circumstances forced them to seek a new supplier, they started with Svijany and Rohozec, only to switch to Krakonoš after some time, which in turn was briefly replaced by Kout na Šumavě. Now it seems that they have settled for Konrad as their supplier. It seems that even the name has changed, according to their webpage (another new thing), the restaurant is now called U Šuvinky, something that isn't all that clear because nobody has bothered to remove the signs with the old(?) name.

I hadn't visited this Žižkov pub for quite some time, and if it hadn't been by an email from Derrick, one of my readers in England, I wouldn't have known about the minifestival of Moravian micros they were holding. Since I wasn't very familiar with some of the breweries listed, I went as soon as I had the chance.

Nowadays U Radnice has nine taps. On the day of my visit most of them seemed to be taken by those Moravian craft beers. I would love to be able to speak more at length about them. I had three, two that I had never drunk before, Třinec Kvasnicvá 12° y Qásek Hobbit, and one that I knew quite well, Hukvaldy Polotm. 14°. Not a single one of them was in good shape. The first two were turning sour already and the third tasted "tired".

I left rather unhappy, and if it hadn't been for other things that were in the pipeline, I would have posted about this before going back to U Radnice.

I hadn't planned it, but I was in the neighbourhood and had plenty of time in my hands, so I though I would just drop by and see what they were tapping. I ordered two beers, both of them known, Kopřivnice Uhlo and Pegas Světlý Ležák, once again, both were in bad shape. Actually, the only beer I had in both visits that tasted fresh was Sv. Florian, from Loket, and only because I was lucky to be at the moment they were tapping the keg.

What is the point of having so many craft brews if one third of them, at least, will not be in good conditions?

Don't get me wrong. I really welcome pubs that expand their offer, more so when that involves craft beers. But that is something that should be done with sense.

For better or worse, pretty much all Czech craft beers from micros have no conditioning whatsoever. Kegs and bottles are filled pretty much straight from the lagering tanks. They are quite delicate, don't have a very long life and once the keg is tapped, you'd better sell it as quickly as possible. Some people might blame the brewers for this, but the fact is that these beers are created to be drunk as fresh as possible, better if it is at their source. Anyone who knows a bit about beer is aware of this and takes the appropriate measures.

Another thing that could improve at U Radnice is the service. During my second visit, one of the patrons fancied buying two bottles of Veklý Rybník, and took them from the bar. At a place with good service, the bartender would have offered bottles from the fridge, explaining that they are fresher and will likely taste better. Not here. The bartender took the client's money and waited until he had left to take two bottles from the fridge and put them on the bar. In what shape those beers were, I'd rather not know.

All this doesn't do anyone any good. Starting with the restaurant itself. Prague is a small town and word gets around really fast, specially among beer geeks. Maybe they should reduce the offer for some time in order to assure a higher turnover of kegs, oh! And they should train the staff a bit better as well.

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17 Aug 2009

Four more vikings

After White Dog I still had four bottles left in the box that Gunnar had sent me. All from the same brewery, Haandbryggeriet.

I had tasted one of their beers, Rumjol, a Christmas brew that I had liked a lot, packed with flavour despite having only 4.5%ABV.

I was really looking forward to tasting these four samples, all very different to one another. There was a Belgian style brew, a smoked beer with juniper, a Douple IPA and a pretty strong dark Ale. It's not that Gunnar picked the four oddballs of the brewery's portfolio, if you go to their webpage, you'll see that the whole product line is pretty interesting.
I decided to start with Ardenne Blond, which for some reason I thought it would be similar to White Dog, and I wanted to compare them. I was so wrong. Ardenne Blond is a completely different beer. It's stronger to begin with, 7.5%ABV. It pours deep gold, almost orange. The head doesn't last too long and there is a bit too much visible carbonation. The nose is very dry, with plenty of lemon peel and some grain. The taste offers a big contrast from the bouquet, something I really like in beers. There is a lot of tropical fruit, specially pinapple, with a syrupy background. Ardenne Blond's webpage says it is a "sparkling beer", fair enough, but to be honest, the excessive carbonation quickly became a nuisanse. I wasn't a big fan of this beer, half down the first serving it had already become a bit boring and heavy. An interesting thing about it is that it is fermented with house "wild style hose yeast".
It was followed by Norwegian Wood. It's already well known what a sucker I am for smoked beers, and I really wanted to drink this one. According to its webpage, the beer is inspired by traditional Norwegian recipes, it is spiced with juniper berries and twigs grown in the brewery's backyard. And fortunately, it didn't disappoint. This 6.5%ABV brew pours ocre and doesn't say much to the nose, it seems everything is saved for the palate. There was bitter chocolate, wood, nuts, and a moderate smokiness that oscilated between a Bamberger Rauchbier and Nils Oksar Rökporter, all backed by some mild sourness from the juniper, I guess. Rich, interesting, to sit down and sip slowly. Ideal, for sure, to pair a platter with smoked meats and Jamón Ibérico. I loved it!
It was time now for Dobbel Dose, a double IPA.  I was expecting something in the American style, a C-hop bomb that will obliterate my taste buds. I wasn't all that eager to go through half a litre of something like that, to be honest. Fortunately, I was very wrong. Dobbel Dose pours rich amber, darker that other IPA's I've drunk. According to its webpage, it's brewed with European hops (that's all they say). So, instead of intense grapefruit or piney notes, here there are loads of flowers and herbs that make a nice contrast with the fruit in syrup undertones. And it is so tasty! The sip goes in fruity, then becomes dry and herbal only for the fruit to come back. The finish leaves a dry and mild aftertaste that forces another sip. At the beginning this beer tastes so refreshing that it tempts you to neck it down as if it was a session brew. It's a temptation you are adviced to resist, little by little the 9%ABV marks its presence, adding warmth to the beer and a touch of dry sherry by the end. If this wasn't enough, the yeast in the bottle bring in a different sort of character with a mild sourness that adds even more complexity to this delicious beer. I think this is my favourte IPA so far and it left me wanting more.
I left the strongest one for last, Odin's Tipple, with 11%ABV. At first I thought this was no more than a gimmicky beer, partly because it's label doesn't follow the esthetics of the rest, wich is a pity, because I like it. I shared it with my wife after a nice dinner, we were listening to good music, the baby was sleeping and we were in a good, relaxed mood. Odin's Tipple is black, very black, even the head is dark, brown. When I brough the glass to the nose there was something familiar there that I couldn't put my finger on. Sour cherries in rum! Said my wife with a big smile. And it was exactly that, together with wood and tobacco. The mouthfeel is viscous, but not heavy, and it is very complex. It's fermented with only one strain of wild yeast that gives it a sourness similar to the Brettanomyces found in Orval. The result is as if someone had dropped those run pickled sour cherries in a barrel of Impreial Stout. It's not very easy to drink and, in fact, it's a beer to share and enjoy in small doses after a meal. But I really liked its complexity and quirkyness.

It's a shame that beers like these aren't available in the Czech Rep. (at least not for now). But wherever you are, if you happen to spot them, given them a try, they are really worth it. Thankgs a lot to Gunnar for giving the chance to taste this very interesting drinks.

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14 Aug 2009

Real Potential

While some breweries are working hard at reducing or dumbing down their product line, there are others that, fortunately, are doing the exact opossite.

A couple of months ago Herold brought back from the dead their pseničné pivo, which, though not as good as Primátor Weizen, is a very decent product that can be easily compared with the better known Bavarian brands.

But it seems they haven't had enough. Pivovar Březnice "announced" (meaning that I was told by someone with no connection to the brewery) a Dunklesweizen a couple of weeks ago. Actually, it's not an entirely new product, either, they used to brew it in the nineties, according to what I've heard. I haven't been able to taste it yet, it is only available in kegs and I haven't been lucky enough to get it anywhere, but just the fact that it is out there is reason enough to celebrate in my books.

And they aren't the only ones taking the wheat road. Word on the street is that Pivovar Černá Hora is preparing a weizen of their own that might be launched together with the Gluten Free beer they have set for this Autumn.

Wheat beers are becoming more and more popular among the micros as well. That's not surprising, many of those breweries are working at the limit of their capacities and the increase in demand during the summer months always threatens to compromise the quality of their products. Wheat beers have turned out to be a blessing for them. They are ready in just two weeks, while their lagers need at least five. By offering their patrons a suitable alternative to quench their thirsts, the demand for ležaký decreases a bit, which gives them a bit more time to properly mature.

And people do like them. While enjoying Nuselské Bilé the other day, Hanz, the owner of Zlý Časy was telling me how well wheat beers in general are selling at his pub. But you don't need to go to a beer geeks' spot to see that for yourself. Just drop by at U Sadu during a sunny afternoon and check out how many glasses of Primátor Weizen can be seen on the tables.

What surprises me a bit is that it is women and other people who don't drink too much beer who seem to like pšenky the most. The other day I have my mother in law a bit to try, and she absolutely loved it.

In a nutshell, wheat beers do have a lot of potential. What they need is more exposure. For example, other than Dobrá Trafika in Karmelitská, I can't think of any other place in the centre that offers a Czech Wheat Beer, and I don't understand why? Anyway, once these beers get the exposure they deserve, they will be a huge success, perhaps reaching, if not surpassing, the numbers of dark beers.

Might we see in a near future the resurrection of Gambrinus Bilé?

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10 Aug 2009

Tail Wagger

As I told you the other day, my friend Gunnar sent me a box with five Norwegian craft beers together with a bottle of Westvleteren 12.

The first of those that I opened was White Dog, from Lervig Aktiebryggeri, which has a rather nice story. Gunnar told me that in his town there used to be a brewery that made the favourite tipple of those who lived there. At some point that brewery was bought by a bigger one, which eventually closed it, resulting in the "local beers" being shipped from Oslo (sounds familiar?). Fortunatelly a few years ago Lervig opened and once again the town had a trully local beer. White Dog is their first attempt at something non-lager.

When I first looked at the label I read "Based on medieval Norwegian traditions". Then I looked at the ingredients and noticed they were very similar to those of a Witbier. I was already preparing a very funny witticism about that when I read the label a bit more carefully. It turned out that it said Belgian traditions. Sorry, your loss...
Regardless of what White Dog is based or not, it pours a very pale yellow, slightly cloudy, topped by a generous and very white head. The nose is very mild, some herbs and citrus with a background of cereal. The first sip starts with a rather dull note, there isn't much going on in there. I was already thinking that I would end up drinking something refreshing but uninteresting, but then... What was that? Lemon sorbet? (in the style they are made in Buenos Aires or Mendoza, something I really, really miss). Yeah, that's it, lemon sorbet, which quickly disappears leaving the stage to herbs and spices, only to come back again a sip later. I liked this beer more and more as I drunk it, and I ended up loving it. Very tasty, very summery, refreshing and relaxing. My only gripe with it is the bottle size, 330ml is way not enough for a beer like this (more so if you share it with the missus), at least half litre (in several doses) is what a beer of this kind requires.

White Dog is proof that a beer doesn't have to be strong (it's got only 4.7%ABV) or extreme to pack taste, be interesting and have some complexity, and on top of that, being very easy to drink. Of course, its nuances are not the kind that assault your tonsils like many of monters that top the rankings, but it doesn't mean that you can't find them if your senses are well enough tuned.

Sometimes I feel sorry for those people who don't seem to be able to enjoy anything that doesn't have "Imperial", "Double (or more)", "Oak Aged", etc. in a name or description.

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5 Aug 2009

An example to follow (II)

Zabiják z Nusli, the custom brewed beer commissioned by Zlý Časy last spring was a big success, so Nusle's beer temple once again joined forces with renown homebrewer Petr Buriánek and Tomáš Mikulica, brewmaster at Pivovarský Dvůr Chýně, to create Nuselské Bilé, a Czech style Witbier.

With 11,2° Balling, this beer was brewed with wheat and barley malts, unmalted wheat, hops, coriander and orange and curaçao peel. Its colour is a couple of tones darker than that of a witbier as we are used to. In the nose there is spice, fruit and sweet oranges, all with grainy base. Although a bit more fruit would have been nice, it still a well balanced beer, and it shows they didn't cut corners with the special ingredients, each one of them can be felt aplenty making the beer all too very easy to drink. And people are drinking it and liking it, a lot. They are selling about a 50l keg a day. So if you want to taste it, better hurry up.

But perhaps the most interesting thing was the conversation I had with Hanz, the owner of Zlý Časy, while I enjoyed this summer beauty. I asked him about the costs of having a custom brewed beer and he told me that they are just a little bit higher than buying a ready made craft beer, with the advantage that his heer is something unique, which nobody else will have. He admitted that he does get it a bit cheaper thanks to his close friendship with Mikulice, but even without that advantage, the difference would still be small.

It's a pity that there aren't many more restaurant owners with Hanz's vision. It would be great if instead of being so many places that insult our intelligence offering rubbish like Stella Artois, some of them believing they have something different, Belgian, there aren't more that will have their own beers brewed. Of course, for that we would need people that are open-minded and that know at least a little about beer, something really, really hard to find among Czech restaurant owners.

Na Zdraví!

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3 Aug 2009

Been there, done that

I've already spoken about my philosphy when tasting a new beer. Basically, it's about concentrating only on what I have in the glass, ingoring everything that has been written or said about the beer in question. Of course, it's easier said than done with many beers, and with some, it's downright impossible.

A couple of weeks ago Gunnar sent me from Norway a box with six beers, one of them without label. I recognised the bottle as Westmalle's, but I thought it was a home brew. When I had a better look at the cap I noticed that it was none other than Westvleteren 12, yeah, the same that got stuck with the stupid tag of "The Best Beer in the World".
How was I going to taste something like this? (I'm not going to tell you the story around the brewery, most of you already know it, and those who don't, look it up! The internet is a wonderful tool for that). This beer's got the kind of hype that is impossible to ingore and, whether you want it or not, the expectations are really high. In the end, I decided that I would deal with it as I would with any other Trappist, after all, that's what it is.

Westvleteren 12 pours dark amber, topped by a spongy lightly tanned head. The nose is rather mild, I noticed caramel, dried fruit, fresh rye bread and some sour notes that contrasted with the rest. The sip starts dry, but soon contrasting notes of toffee, coffee, dried fruit appear only to give way once more to the dryness, now with some spice, at the finish. The 10.2%ABV is there, it can be felt, but it's very well integrated and gives character to the beer, just like a well used spice.
Leaving this one aside, isn't Westvleteren 12 the best beer you've ever had? Someone might ask. No, it isn't. It's not even the best Trappist I've ever had (if by best we mean "the one I've liked the most"). I would put it well behind Westmalle Tripple or Orval.

But it can be that the beer didn't travel well! Someone complains. I didn't feel anything "offy", but it's a possiblity. On the other hand, the first Westmalle I drank came from Spain and the most recent was bought at a supermarket in Prague and I still like it better.

But it was missing the suprirse factor! Someone else adds. Truth is that many of the beers that have impressed me the most did so thanks to the element of suprise, I didn't know what to expect from them. That's not the case with Westvleteren 12, but neither it was with Orval and I still like it better.

Westvleteren 12 is a very, very good beer, a great beer if you want. However, would it still be considered as the "best in the world" if it was as easy to get as the rest of the Trappists? I don't think so. I believe that much of its charm resides on the fact that it is relatively hard to come by, and we already know that people tend to overrate this kind of products.

I would still love to drink it again, so if anyone wants to send me a bottle, you'll be more than welcome. It's not going to be my favourite Trappist, but it's pretty much the only one I can't get in Prague.

Na Zdraví!

PD: If the stories are true (and I think they are), I'm sure the good monks at the St. Sixtus Abbey aren't all that happy with that "Best Beer in the World" bollocks. Can it be that my bottle was from a "self sabotaged" batch they brewed so beer geeks with leave them a bit alone?

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