9 Oct 2009

Mo' Wheat!

Who would have said at the beginning of the year that we would see five new industrial wheat beers in the Czech market?

First were the ones from Herold, a pale and a dark. Actually, they aren't anything new, but a return after a few years of absence. I reviewed Herold Pšeničný Ležák Světlý here, but I haven't been able to get my hands on the dark one yet. If anyone knows where I can find it, please, let me know!

Then the first surprise, the seasonal Dožínkové Pivo, which Heineken.CZ presented about a month ago. OK, Czech to the bone, it isn't, it was brewed by "Czech hands" in Austria, but Heineken promised it will be brewed here next year in one of their breweries.

The other two came out almost at the same time. One of them, Černá Hora Velen, had been announced about two months ago, but the other, Svijany Weizenbier was a total surprise for me. I've first heard about it thanks to a comment left on Evan Rail's blog. I really wanted to taste both.

The other day I went to U Rokytky, the Svijany tied hospoda near Palmovka metro station, to see if they still had the Weizenbier. A leaflet on the table told me I was at the right place.

It pours the almost mandatory straw yellow (sorry, no pics, didn't have the camera with me, hard to take it out of the house now with the baby), it's also very cloudy. The nose reminds of bananas mixed with whipped cream, with a shy hint of fresh herbs in the back. Medium to light body, low carbonation, nice mouthfeel. There is plenty of wheat. Banana rules the flavours. At the beginning the spices are more a suggestion than a reality (it could have also been because of the Kvasničák I had before), but they get stronger as the glass empties, and it's actually what gently coats the palate in the finish. By the second glass they've gained plenty of confidence, yet they always know how to keep their place.

Svijany Weizenbier felt suspiciously similar to the namesake Primátor. That's not surprising, LIF, the owners of Pivovar Svijany, took over Pivovar Náchod at the beginning of the year. Could it be that both have the same recipe?

I had a short phone interview with Roman Havlík, the brewery's director. He confirmed me that their weizenbier is brewed with decoction mashing, just like Náchod's. According to Jan Šuran, the recipe's "designer", Primátor's and Pivovarský Dům's wheat beers were, as far as he knew, the only two top fermented wheat beers with decoction mashing. Now, there's three.

I also asked Havlík if Weizenbier was just seasonal or they were planning to brew it on a regular basis. He said it all depended on the people's interest; if it sells well, they'll keep on brewing it.

And there seems to be quite some interests, at least at U Rokytky. The waitress told me that the beer was selling quite well, something I could confirm at plain sight. There were about 20 people at the pub that afternoon and four or five were drinking Weizenbier, one of them was even recommending it to anyone willing to listen.
Photo: Pivovar Černá Hora

A day later I went to Kralovství to see if they had Velen. They did, though only bottled and if I hadn't asked, I wouldn't have known (so I don't think it is selling so well there).

Černá Hora Velen is paler than Svijany Weizenbier and not so cloudy. It looked similar to Herold's, actually. The nose is very mild, there's banana and a generous dose of malt. It also tasted a bit like Herold's Weizen. Light bodied, low carbonation, malty, with the spices not showing up but until the end and not very willing to catch too much attention. I liked it less than Svijany/Primátor, but it's highly drinkable and excellent as a thirst quencher.

Unlike Svijany, Černá Hora are far more committed to their wheat beer, and it seems that, at least for the time being, the idea is to have it as a permanent member of their product line. And very well they do!

Personal tastes and preferences notwithstanding (and not considering the still untasted Herold Wheat Dark), I think that all these industrial wheat beers, including Primátor's, are pretty good. If we also take into account the many new pšenky now brewed by micros all over the country, we can perhaps say that there is a "trend" in  that some industrial brewers want to get on. However, none of these beers gave me the impression of something put together in a rush just in order to follow a now lucrative fad. That is very positive indeed.

As I've said before, there is room and a lot of potential for wheat beers in the Czech market. What they need is just more exposition. Are we perhaps close to the day when it'll be at least just as easy to find a Czech wheat beer as it is to come across pseudo-imported rubbish like Stella Artois or Heineken?

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5 comments:

  1. I look forward to trying these in a few weeks!

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  2. It seems that similar trends can be observed also elsewhere in the Eastern Europe. I saw some new wheat beers in Poland; in Latvia and Lithuania two large breweries (both Carlsberg group) revived their wheat beers and I suspect others could follow soon. Although I would never drink their normal pale lagers, wheat beers seem to be rather palatable.

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  3. Knut,

    I'll try to remember to bring a bottle of Velen with me when we meet.

    dzerualu,

    Welcome! Last year I tasted a Ukranian wheat beer (I think it was wheat) brewed by the Ukranian subsidiary of InBev. It was awful, but it was.

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  4. My general experience when talking to friends is that I'm in the minority, but I love wheat beer any time of year. I'll order it over a pilsner quite often, but bored with Hoegaarden. Glad I have a place that serves Primator Weizenbier near my home. Looking forward to more options.

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  5. Wheat beers will never outsell pale lagers. At most, they might get to similar numbers as dark beers.

    I have also noticed that these beers tend to be more successful with people who don't drink or don't like světlý ležák too much.

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