22 Oct 2009

The Tap Race: A New Leader

When I first spoke about "The Tap Race", U Prince Miroslava, in Prague 5, was the leader with 13. Not anymore.

The other day, when they inaugurated their new rack of 12 taps, which together with other four make a total of 16, Zlý Časy became the new leader.

I wasn't surprised. Hanz, the owner, had told me about his plans over a year ago. Still, when I heard the news I was at first glad, then I started having some doubts. Firstly, the diversity of the beers. What's the point of having 16 taps if 14 of them will pour pale lagers? I'm sure there are plenty of people who wouldn't mind that, but still, that's not the idea of having such a wide offer. Secondly, the freshness of the beers. Knowing Hanz as I know him, I was sure he would try to have as many beers from micros as he could get, and Czech micros don't filter. Czech unfiltered lagers are wonderful, but they are not known for their long life, a keg has to be sold in two days, maximum; in fact, even filtered and pasteurised Czech beers don't keep fresh for too long once the keg's been tapped. I was a bit afraid of finding something similar to what I found at U Radnice the last time I was there.

The visit of fellow beer blogger and friend Knut Albert was the perfect excuse (as if I needed any) to pay a visit to Nusle's beer temple and see how those 16 taps were working.

The 12 tap rack is almost as wide as the bar. It looks a bit too industrial for this hospoda (you can see a picture of it at the bottom of this page) and the beers are listed in crude handwritten sheets of paper nailed to the wooden beam above the bar.

The beers offered were as follows: Two desítky světlé (one unfiltered), six ležáky světlé (two with 11° Balling, the rest wit 12°, in total, four unfiltered), a 14° Balling pale lager, a Polotmavé with the same graduation, two Czech wheat beers (one with ginger), a Czech smoked lager, a Czech Scotch Ale and two German brews (an Oktoberfest and a Rauch). The absence of at least one dark lager was a pretty big minus, still, the variety was not too bad for the Czech market.

It was time to check the freshness of the beers. We started the session with excellent Tambor 11°, a světlý ležák as it should be, fresh, crisp Saaz hops over a solid malt base. It was followed by another světlý ležák, from Chotěboř, one of the new "micro-industrial" breweries that have opened this year. This one was very different from Tambor's, one Balling degree denser and unfiltered. It had more fruit and notes of fresh white bread, very nice, too.

Knut picked the next round. He chose Harrach Kouřované (smoked). Basically, a hoppy pale lager where perhaps some of the Caramel malt was replaced by rauchmaltz. Very, very good.

We fancied a wheat beer now. Just when we were finishing our pints of Harrach we saw how the keg of Zvíkov Rarášek (a lovely wheat beer with ginger) sold out. We would have to make do with the Weizen from Pivovar Matouška. The horror! This pšenka is not Knut's cup of tea, but I love it, specially that finish full of spice.

We switched then to something more exotic, Ken, the Scotch Ale from Pivovar Kocour. It didn't quite make it. It was served way too cold and the hops seemed to want to go somewhere else. Drinkable, but missing some balance.

We finished the evening going back to basics with another světlý ležák nefiltrovaný. This one coming from the not so consistent Pivovar Kozlíček, Horní Dubenky. Fortunately, the beer was every bit as good as the first time I drank it over a year ago. Maybe we were lucky, maybe (and hopefully) the owner and brewer Milan Kozlíček has finally been able to adjust things after the expansion of his microbrewery.

Personal tastes and stylistic diversity aside, I was really glad that each and every one of the beers we drank were in tip-top shape, they all tasted fresh. Of course I didn't taste all sixteen of them (I wouldn't be writing this if I had) and it might be that we were lucky, but with such a representative sample, I have reasons be happy.

Other things that were nice to see:

It was Tuesday evening and the place was full, everyone was drinking beer. The prices per half litre went from 22CZK from desítky, to 55CZK for the Germans. The most expensive Czech beer was Kocour's at 45CZK. We were sitting right in front of the bar and I could see that it wasn't the cheapest beers what most were drinking. It was very nice to see people trying different stuff.

The fridges also had good news. I found several bottles from Czech micros, and not just PET as usual, but proper glass bottles. The nicest ones were Matouška's, very fine looking 75cl (I think) glass bottles with crown cap. Knut took a nice assortment with himself and we saw several people also buying bottles to take home.

All this is very encouraging and I'm really happy for Hanz and the rest of the people working at Zlý Časy. When I first went there about a year and a half ago, they only had four taps and they were just starting with the rotating beer model. Today they've become the top beer destination in Prague. Hats off to them and hope the success will continue.

Na Zdraví!

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11 comments:

  1. Is Ken a Scottish or a Scotch ale? Also don't forget that all Scottish ale styles are generally speaking more lightly hopped than their English counterparts (that is something of a generalisation I know), and thus should be sweeter and more malty than many ales.

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  2. Now that you mention it, I can't say for sure, I wasn't taking notes. But since I didn't like the beer, does it matter? Not to me.

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  3. The ken is brewed by a Scottish bloke called Ken, thats all i know. I thought it was top notch at Kulovy Blesk( and cheaper ). The Kozlicek i had was pretty bad,while the Harrach had hardly any smoke in it, but the Tambor and Chotebor were excellent.

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  4. I was wondering if it was the same beer that Evan and I tried at the Kocour tasting in the cellar of Piv Dum last year - if so it was fairly bland, my notes said that it smelt like a pub carpet. However, a Scotch ale is usually stronger, with lots of malty flavour and a good alcoholic glow.

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  5. IAN,
    I have a review of Kulový Blesk in the pipeline. Nice place overall.

    Al,
    Don't remember having the one you mention at PK, so I don't know if it was the same. This one just didn't do the job for me.

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  6. Too bad the bottle with the nice crown cap and no labvel did not survive the flight home. there was a sizeable puddle underneath my suitcase in the arrival hall...

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  7. Over here in the UK, lots of taps tends to equate to lots of slightly tired beer, in my experience. Four or five taps is about right.

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  8. One thing I forgot to mention in the post. Zlý Časy now has a cold chamber. If I'm not wrong, barrels are stored and tapped there as opposed from under the bar as is the case in many places. That should guarantee a longer life for the beers.

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  9. nice post. I'll try to check this place out, next time I'm in Prague. Thank you.
    A lot of bars in Japan now are adding more taps - thankfully craft beers, not industrial lagers.
    Things are improving for the good beer drinker over here. Actually things are very, very good, except for prices (soooo expensive!).
    The most famous bar in Japan, Popeye's, has over 70 beers on tap. Almost all of them craft or microbrewery beers.
    http://www.lares.dti.ne.jp/~ppy/index2.htm
    English descriptions of what's on tap in Popeye's (and 74 other good bars in Tokyo) are here:
    http://boozelist.blogspot.com/

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  10. Chuwy,

    I've heard about those pubs in Japan. 70 taps, that's just mad! How do you choose what to drink? I can't imagine.

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  11. I think you can only do masses of taps if you have keg beer which has the CO2 forced into solution, rather than a cask conditioned product. As I wrote about a while back, I agree pretty much with Bailey, about 6 is quite enough and the back it up with an extensive bottled range, a la Pivovarsky klub.

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