29 Jun 2009

The missing piece

I had really liked most of the craft beers I'd had so far from Denmark and Norway and I still wanted to know the ones from the other Scandivanian Kingdom, Sweden.

The only Swedish beers I had seen in my life were the ones sold at Ikea. But since everytime I go to that prison looking furniture megastore I end up in a bad mood and wanting to leave as fast as possible, I never bothered to stop and buy one (which might not be that bad, actually).

Now, thanks to Gnoff, a fellow beer enthusiast from Sweden, this "problem" has been solved. He brought me nine samples from his native land. He was also kind enough not to tell me much about the beers. He said I could find all the necessary information in Rate Beer. You already know my position when it comes to looking for information on the internet before tasting a beer I don't know, and since all the labels were in Swedish, it was almost like a blind tasting. Fantastic!

I started with the only "industrial" beer he brought. Guld Källan brewed by Tomp Beer & Spirits, or at least that is what I thought util I went to their webpage and realised that the company is actually a distributor of alcoholic beverages from different countries. So, I don't now who brewed it (if anyone does, please, let me know)
Anyway, I wasn't expecting much from the seemingly mass produced pale lager. It pours a watery gold, with an abundant head that doesn't last long and not much of a nose to speak of. There is some taste, though, and not bad. A bit malty with some bitterness, everything very well brought together. Not a beer that I would eagerly seek, but if I were in Sweden, thirsty and I found it at a shop, I would pick it without any problem. A funny detail, the word "starköl" means, if Google Translate doesn't lie, "strong beer" in Swedish. Quite a relative thing, the beer has only 4.8%ABV. As far as I know (and correct me if I'm wrong), Swedish beers tend to be a lot lighter than the ones we are used to. Silly laws.
The lightest of all the samples was Hantverks Bryggeriet Bonden Svensk Folilig Ale (try saying that three times in a row) with only 3.5%ABV (could that be the standard ABV for Swedish beers?). It pours intense gold, somewhat cloudy, with a small, yet compact head. Although it isn't very strong, the nose reminds of summer fruit, sweet organges and some mint. The taste is predominantly fruity, but very well contrasted by a yeasty acidity. Ideal to drink while grilling in summer or when getting back home after a hot day.
A high step up in the alcohol contents is Ekolmen Ekologiska Ale, with 4.7%ABV and brewed by Nynäshamns Ångbryggeri. As you can very well figure out, it is an organic beer. Both the malts (pale ale, cara munich and crystal) and the hops (challenger, fuggles and hellertau) come from organic farms. Environmental credentials notwithsanding, this is a very tasty beer. Reddish amber, crowned by a thick and spongy head. The nose is almost a mix of pale and weizen, maybe thanks to the hop mix. It's got a silky mouthfeel that fills the palate with fruit, spice and just the right bitterness. Even though I had it a bit colder than recommended on the label (11-13°), I enjoyed every single drop. A delicious beer to savour slowly or even for a session. I see it as a great pairing for something exotic, but not too spicy, or pasta with a tomato sauce with a lot of garlic and herbs.
If someone had given me Oppigårds Golden Ale de Oppigårds Bryggeri blind, I would have probably thought that this beer was an attempt at recreating a Czech ležák, but using C-hops intead of Saaz. It looks just like a good Czech pale lager and the maltiness both in aroma and taste follow the same pattern, the same could be said about the mouthfeel. Nothing surprising once you read the ingredients of this 5.2%ABV beer. It's brewed with pilsen and caramel malts, a very usual mix in Czech světlý. The difference, as I mentioned before, is in the hop mix (yeah and the fermentation, etc, I know), a salad of pacific gem for bitterness, EK Goldings for taste and EK Goldings and Cascade for aroma. The finish is full of all these hops and makes a nice contrast. A refreshing beer, very drinkable.
I started then with the beers from Nils Oskar, a renown and successful Swedish craft brewer with a rather large product line. It pours a crystaline ocre. The nose is mostly caramel with fruit, mineral and licorice notes (not as interesting as it sounds, believe me). It tastes mostly dry, not much of an identity or body, and the finish is all too short. Could go well with some smoked meats, otherwise it's kind of boring. As with the previous beer, this one also felt like a lager, it reminded me to your average Czech polotmavé. This one did turn out to be a lager, though. When I finished drinking it I had a look at the back label. My Swedish leaves a lot to be desired, but I don't think you need to be a linguist to figure out what "inspirerat av Märzen" means. In fact, "Kalasöl" means "beer fest" in Swedish. Perhaps if they had used only one kind of hops, instead of the four they did, this beer would have had a bit more of an identity. The feeling it left me was of a beer made because they had to, rather than because they wanted to.
It was followed by India Ale (5,2%ABV). No mystery here with which style inspired this beer. I've had quite a few IPA's lately and I've come to the conclusion that it is the "fruitier" ones that I like better. I find them more interesting than the very hoppy ones. Unfortunately, Nils Oskar's is neither one, nor the other. Pours amber, with a mild bouquet where caramel rules. The taste is missing something, it teases but never gets there and leaves you wanting more, and not in a good sense. Only at the end it seems to gather the courage to say something, but it doesn't quite satisfy.
I decided to give good old Nils a break and chose Arboga Majbock (7%ABV), brewed by Three Towns Independent Brewery. It pours a clear intense gold, with hardly any visible carbonation and a generous head. The nose is dry herbal, sage perhaps, with a caramel and apples background. So far so good. Then comes the first sip and my palate is punched by an etilic fist that leaves an aftertaste akin to cheap vodka. As the glass empties the alcohol integrates better, but the damage is done. I wonder if I didn't have this beer too young. The 2009 written on the label seems to imply so.
I still had one from Nils Oskar, Rökporter. This was the only beer I had references about. Evan Rail had reviewed it in his blog. Unfortunately, the post is lost, but I do remember he liked it. Regardless of the references, I really wanted to drink this beer. I am a big fan of smoked beers. Rökporter is very dark. You can already feel the smokiness in the bouquet, though it is a bit less "hammy" than your average Rauchbier from Bamberg. The taste is a wonder of balance. One of the things I've always liked about old reggae bands is they way that, despite the technological limitations of their record studios, they managaed to make every instrument heard on the records. That is exactly what happens with this beer. It's dry, there is chocolate and there is the smokiness that now tastes more "woody", everything is felt at the same time, but not on top of each other. The finish is mild, with sweet coffee and some sourness to make it even more interesting. A delicious beer, the kind that you regret finishing if you don't have another one at hand.
I still have one left, MB Porter årgång 2008 (vintage 2008), from Mariestads Bryggeri, a brand that belongs to the Spendrups group. I've decided I won't open it now. I want to age it, unless someone tells me it's not worth it.

The overall impression is a bit mixed, there were a couple beers that I liked a lot, and others that I didn't like at all. If I had to, unfairly, compare them with their Danish and Norwegian pairs, the Swedish ones are a step or two behind. Anyway, thanks again to Gnoff for giving me the possibility of tasting beers that otherwise I would never have.

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24 Jun 2009

That's it, I've had enough.

Last year, when I tasted the then relatively new Estrella Damm Inèdit I gave it a possitive review. Although I didn't think the beer was anything to write home about, I liked it, and I liked the idea behind it even more.

My heart started changing when the idiocies of Ferrán Adriá started. But I still had a soft spot for this beer and I even kind of stood up for it when The Beer Nut trashed it in his blog.

Today that is something I regret doing.

A few days ago, in the unfortunately very inactive discussion forum of Cerveceros Digitales, someone opened a new thread titled Estrella Damm Inèdit.

The message contains the same old and tired bollocks about how unique this beer is, how Ferrán Adriá and his Sommeliers (cool name for a pop band) created it because they felt a beer that could pair with the best gastronomy with the utmost respect was needed. Something that really irritates me. We all already know that all beers that are properly made can be a perfect and very respectful pairing for any kind of food, regardless of how cheap or expensive, simple or sophisticated it might happen to be, and they don't need the blessing of any celebrity chef.

At first I thought monix37, the person who left the message, was a shill from the brewery. It wouldn't be the first, nor the last time something like that happens. So I replied in a proper manner. But it turns out I was wrong. In the user's profile I found a link to an e-shop that sells gourmet products, Inèdit among them. And that's when the last straw dropped.

Until then I had paid no attention to the price of this beer. The bottle I tasted had been sent to me by my friend Delirium and since I can't buy it in Prague, the price was something of little relevance to me. But when I saw it...

€6.95!!! for a 750ml bottle.

I don't think I need to tell you that I've got no problem with paying that and more for beer as long as it's worth it. Inèdit isn't, not even by chance.

It isn't bad, and stripped of its marketing it could still be considered a valid attempt by a major Spanish industrial brewer at offering something different and, if you want, more interesting than their competitors. But €7 for it, is way, way too much.

A same size bottle of Westmalle Triple costs about €6 in specialised shops in Spain, and this beer's 9.5%ABV gives it a lot more chops to pair with food than Inedit's 4.8%. Not to mention that, differences in quality apart (and they are big), Westmalle is a lot more expensive to brew.

On the other hand, this beer could be a bit too much to handle for many. No problem then, they can buy Hoegaarden that not only is it very easy to find, but also costs €1.5, or less, for a 330ml bottle and is, in my opinion, a better drink.

You see now what they've just made me do? I am recommending a product from InBev. Damm you, Ferrán Adriá! Damm your beer and your Sommeliers! I hope you'll all burn in hell!

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22 Jun 2009

News, truths and bollocks from Heineken

Those of you who know Czech and want to know a bit more about Czech beer should certainly visit Pivovary.info. Not only thre is an updated list of all the breweries in the Czech Republic regardless of size, but also, on their home page, you will find the section "Monitoring pivních zpráv" (monitoring beer news).

It is here where they other day I came across an interview with Jiří Daněk, one of the managers of Heineken.CZ.

Mr Daněk says that Heineken won't buy Staropramen (at least not for now). Currently the company is restructuring. They want to finish with the consolitadion of all their breweries under one company, Krušovice.  

When asked what effect is that going to have in the plans of the Dutch brewing concern to become #2 in the Czech market, Daněk admits that, although buying a brewing group would have been easier and faster, there is also the possibility of increasing the market share of the brands they now have.

I must agree with this. When Heineken bought Drinks Union last year their market share increased considerably, and was then only two percentage points below that of Staropramen's. Krušovice, the group's flagship brand, has been sort of revitalised with a redesing of the logo and a new advertising strategy. Investment in marketing also seems to have increased for both Starobrno and Zlatopramen. It is also left to be seen what effect the inminent withdrawal of AB-InBev will have on the Staropramen group marketwise.

The interviewer follows up with a very good question: "What other acquisition, besides Pivovary Staropramen, would be interesting for you? What would you say if K Brewing offered you their breweries? Many believe that K Brewing has been buying breweries on Heineken's behalf."

The answer is short and a tad worrying: Basically "No comments". We all know what this answer often means. Of course, it's still left to be seen what good can do a giant like Heineken buying six smallish regional breweries with a combined volume of less than 700 thousand hl a year.

The interesting thing here is that at no time they mention the group PMS (Pivovary Moravsko a Slezsko), the onwers of Litovel, Holba and Zubr (hardly the finest in Czech brewing) that has an interesting market share of, if I remember well, around 6%, or the still state owned Budvar, that has 13%.

The other day it was announced on the press the closing of two breweries belonging to Heineken, Kutná Hora and Hostan (Pivovar Znojmo). This didn't surprised anyone, really. Hostan had been already for quite some time on "life support", and Kutná Hora was the smallest brewery that belonged to the Drinks Union group. Daněk's explanation for this is as sincere as it is heartless, "it is clear that the profitability of a brewery that makes millions of hectolitres a year is different than that of one that makes 60 thousand". That's it, the decision of closing down two breweries with hundreds of years of history came from some accountant. The brands, promised Daněk, will keep on being brewed elsewhere, but, why bother?. It also seems that the future of Pivovar Louny isn't all that clear; Heineken hasn't decided yet what they will do with it.

Of course, being that this is an interview with a manager of a big multinational company, corporate bollocks are almost mandatory:

"Heineken nevaří žádná europiva" (Heineken doesn't brew any europivo) - Jiří Daněk, June, 2009.

Yeah, right, and I'm a Trappist monk.

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PS: If you want to read the full interview, you can find it here

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21 Jun 2009

Notice

Some months ago I got my own domain and the URL of this blog changed from pivni-filosof.blogspot.com to www.pivni-filosof.com.

Back then I didn't consider this worth mentioning because Blogger would automatically redirect traffic to the new address without any intermediate step. However, I noticed that since a few days ago whenever someone clicks on or tipes the old address they are met by a kind of warning screen that could scare a few people before they accept going to the new address.

That's why I would like to ask those of you who've been kind enough to link my blog from your websites to update the address. And also, if there is anyone who subscribed to the feeds before March this year, you will probably need to do it again if you haven't received any updates.

Thanks and Na Zdraví!

17 Jun 2009

And we could all win

A couple of months ago I wrote Evan Rail to see if he was free to have a bite. His answer was something like: "What if I buy you lunch at a nice place where you can have an unusual beer?". Since turning down such offer would have been impolite, I just asked him when and where we should meet.

The moment he told me to meet him by Tančicí Dům (The Dancing House), one of my favourite buildings in Prague, I knew we would be going to Céleste, the restaurant that had just opened on the building's top floor.
Evan was researching for an article he would write for the New York Times and a visit to this upscale restaurant was part of the assignment. After having a couple of beers at the bar that Céleste runs on the ground floor, we were told that we could go upstairs to the dining room. There we were greeted by the restaurant's Manager, who knew Evan and recognised me from the blog. We picked a table by one of the windows (this restaurant must have the best views in Prague) and we set to enjoy our lunch, which we paired with more beer.
Céleste has already been reviewed here and here and much better than I could do, so I won't go into much detail about the food. I will only tell you that it was great, pretty expensive, but worth every Koruna paid by the NYT. The place is also gorgeous, I must add.

Not surprisingly, though, that unusual beer Evan had promised wasn't mentioned in any of the reviews. Professional restaurant reviewers rarely mention beer and when they do, it's not much more than an afterthought. So, I thought I will fill the information gap they left.

The brew in question is none other than Kout na Šumavě 12°, possibly the best pale lager in this country if not the world. Although it isn't all that unusual from the stylistic point of view, back then, Céleste was only the second regular outlet in Prague for this beer.
While we were sipping Kouts before going upstaris to eat, we had a very interesting chat with Edvard, the bar manager.

When they were finishing putting the restaurant and bar together, Edvard realised that he didn't want to offer the same old stuff beerwise. He contacted Evan, who recommended Kout. Edvard then went to U Slovanské Lipy to see what the beer was like. He liked it, a lot, and reached an agreement with Lipy's owner, who also happens to be the brewery's distributor for Prague.

We already have two winners in this transaction. The small regional brewery that gets more exposure in Prague for their excellent beers, and the client that can drink something of better quality.

The restaurant also wins, of course, and big time.

The wholesale price for Pilsner Urquell in kegs is 20CZK/0.5l; Kout's is 15CZK (or 14CZK, whatever). Since legally speaking they are both in the same category, the restaurant can charge for Kout the same they would charge for Pilsner Urquell and keep a clean concience. This gives them a 25% (or 30%) increase in the profit margin for the beer.

Oh! But things don't end there. Edvard told us how happy he was with that beer. He likes it a lot and the clients seem to like it a lot, too because they are selling three times more than they had forcast before opening!

If this hasn't sunk in, let me illustrate with some figures:

The beer is sold only in 0.3l glasses at 45CZK at the bar and 65CZK at the restaurant. Yeah, it is expensive, but this is a posh place, so you won't have a session (and I've also seen more outrageous prices at lesser places).

For that measure the wholesale price of Pilsner Urquell is 12CZK and Kout's is 9CZK. The profit for each glass (not counting other costs) would be 33CZK for PU and 36 for Kout (53CZK/56CZK at the restaurant).

Let's say that the people of Céleste forcast they would sell 100 glasses of beer over a given period. If they were working with PU the profit would be 3,300CZK. But they are working with Kout, which is selling three times more than planned. The profit for the same period is then 10,800CZK. Get it? That's right. That is what selling good quality beer can do to your balance.

How come then that a beer like Kout na Šumavě 12° at a place like Céleste is something so out of the ordinary? Why do most restaurants and cafés still offer the same old three or four brands or, worse, rubbish like Stella Artois or Heineken?

It's because that is what people want!. Screams a restauranteur.

Though a bit relative, it can still be considered a valid point if we leave out the imported brands. However, it can only be applied to hospody that live off selling beer. What beer is stocked isn't a decision factor when it comes to choosing a mid range or ethnic restaurant, pizzeria or café. At those places the people who want beer will usually drink whatever is offered. Working with a regional beer will not necessarily mean fewer clients; in fact, it could even mean that more people will end up going, I mean beer enthusiasts.

It's the bribes! Whispers someone out there.

It's well known that the big breweries pay sometimes generous bribes in order to get a pub to switch to their brands. But once again we are talking about places that shift beer in large volumes. Breweries will not pay hundreds of thousands of Crowns (I've heard about two million in one case) to a restaurant that will sell only a couple of kegs a week.

Well, but what about the freebies: glasses, the taps, sign at the door, etc?. Says another restauranteur with a bit of an attitude.

If we are speaking about a top of the range restaurant, where I will pay about 1000CZK or more for a meal (drinks not included), where the mark-up for a bottle of wine is 500-600% over the retail price, and the owner doesn't want to invest a few thousands in taps, then that isn't a place I would like to go.

If it's the other places what we mean, that's another thing, then. Fortunately, the regional breweries (at least some of them) have wised up and, if asked nicely, they would be more than willing to lend some taps and even put a lit sign. And why having only beer on tap to begin with? There are many beers out there that are great in bottle. And the bottles allow for more flexibility when it comes to putting together a beer list, and they can also be stored longer than the barrels.

So, all of you restaurant managers and owners that read this blog. You are out of excuses. Open your minds a little, think outside the box. It might be that you don't care about the breweries, beer or even the quality you offer your clients, for that matter, but you must care about your profits...

If you need consulting on this feel free to contact me. I'll be more than happy to help you, for no cost (well, perhaps a lunch).

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Céleste - Restaurant & Bar
Dancing House - Tančicí Dům
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15 Jun 2009

Staropramen's future

Well, in the end it seems that Heineken won't be Pivovary Staropramen a.s.'s new onwer, so forget everything I said here (actually, I think you have forgotten already, but just in case).

According to news reports, AB-InBev has put up for sale (or at least is very seriously considering doing so) their business units in Central Europe, the Czech one included, because they don't consider them strategically important and they need as much cash as possible to pay debt incurred when buying AB.

It looks like 11 breweries in 6 countries will be sold as one package and, though there isn't anything official yet, the private equity firm CVC Partners are the ones who have shown the biggest interest.

If this goes through, what will be the future of Staropramen? Several people have told me about how well the beer is being exported, it is rather well positioned in England, for example. That is, I'm sure, thanks to belonging to the biggest brewing group in the world. With them out of the picture, will the brand from Smíchov be able to keep that presence in those markets?

And what will mean for the brand domestically speaking? I've got no figures to back this claim, but I am of the idea that Staropramen has lost market. The reasons are several, the huge drop in quality (it is undrinkable now), the growth of the regional breweries and of the several spread in the country that belong to Heineken.cz. Staropramen does have a strong position in Prague, there is no doubt about it, out of the Capital, though, things change considerably. And when was the last time you saw a hospoda selling Ostravar out of the Ostrava area? If it wasn't that Braník is the second best selling bottled beer in the country, I don't know what would be of the company.

Anyway, the likely new owners seem to be an even more fundamentalist strain of accountants than the current ones, so an improvement in quality is something we should not hope for. However, the possibility of the insulting Stella Artois leaving this market is, by itself, a small reason to celebrate.

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11 Jun 2009

A bit of madness

Yesterday I bottled the beer I brewed in honour of the birth of my daughter, which should happen in about a week. When I asked for help to design the recipe quite a few people wrote with some ideas. In the end, I didn't go for any of the suggestions, though I must say that it was Velky Al's that in some way inspired the recipe of "Porteña - Literally Red Weizen", as I've decided to call this wheat beer with mint and strawberries.

I had absolutely no clue about how I would brew that, and if it hadn't been for Jake, from Nothern Table, I would have sure made quite a few mistakes (more than the ones I'm sure I made, but well...). Thanks Jake!

I wanted to brew something light, I used 1.5kg of 60% wheat and 40% pilsen malts for 7l of water.
The mashing was the typical you would do for a weizen (or at least I think so). Things changed a bit at the boling. I used 10g of Saaz hops in pellets (50% less than what I normally use) and added 12g of fresh mint. I added the hops with this schedule: 20% at the beginning, 40% at 30 minutes and the rest by the end. I added all the mint at once with the second hopping. The hydrometre marked 8.5 in the balling scale, quite light, a bit more than I would have liked, actually.The yeasts I used are the same Pivovarský Dům and Primátor use for their respective wheat beers. Fermentation started really quickly and didn't have any problem.
When fermentation was finished it was time to add the strawberries. They are in season now and I found a stand by a metro station with very tasty Czech strawberries. I pureed them and put them in the secondary fermenter. Very carefully, and trying to leave as much sediment behind as possible, I poured the young beer on top of it.
A couple of hours later, what I first thought were the solids from the strawberries floating on top of the liquour turned out to be the froth of the yeasts doing their job. I let them working for almost two weeks, always wathching out for anything funny growing on the surface, where there were some solids.
Before bottling I very carefully took as many as the solids as possible and trasferred the beer to another container so I could work with less sediment.

I tasted a bit of the beer and found it quite interesting. A bit sour, I was expecting that, and a surprising spiciness that tickled my tongue and that I hope will remain. I will have to wait a couple more weeks for it to be ready. By then, the baby should be already at home and I will wet her head with the beer.

The possibilities are two, that it will turn out fantastically good, or that it will turn out fantastically repulsive. Either way, I had a lot of fun making it and I am already preparing the next recipe, which I'll brew with all the grain I have left. It'll be a rauch with honey, pepperming and rosemary.

As soon as I open the first bottle, I will let you know.

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8 Jun 2009

What we learnt at Klášter

A couple of weeks ago Bohemian Beer Tours organised a very successful visit to Pivovar Klášter. When I wrote my post about it I promised I would tell you some of the things we learnt at the brewery, so here it goes...

Pivovar Klášter was established in 1570 by Jiří Labounský on the grounds formerly occupied by a Cistercian monastery that was destroyed during the Hussite Wars. The brewery is pretty much on the same spot now, it was only moved next door in 1830 when the owner was Kristián z Valdštejn.
According to what we were told, they use the same recipe of 1570, something I have my doubts about. Back then, most beers were top fermented wheat. However, there are historical records that show that bottom fermented barley beers, though not as common as today, weren't unkown in these lands. I guess we will have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

What is indeed certain is that they still use the same water. It comes from their own underground sources and it has been certified as appropriate to be consumed by new born babies. Isn't it wonderful to live in a country where high quality mineral water is used to make beer instead of just bottling it and give it to babies?

As expected, Klášter beers are brewed using a triple decoction mashing. This process, together with the boiling takes eight hours. Saaz hops in pellets and blossoms are used. Each batch is of 210hl and, after the boling and cooling, it goes to the fermenters.
Pivovar Klášter is located on the top of a hill in which there are 12km of underground tunnels and corridors. Most of them date from the 12th century and were dug by the monks that lived in the monastery. The rest are from the 17th century and were dug for the brewery. The oldest one is today used for the restaurant Skála. It was dug to accommodate the monks while they built the monastery, which took 38 years and it has a kind of gothic church feel to it. 

We went down to the underground tunnels to see the fermenting room. Despite the low temperatures I could smell the yeasts doing their job as we got close. Man, I love that smell! It is the parfume of life, the culminating point of the alchemy that the brewing process is. As it is traditional, open fermenters are used, each with a capacity of 210hl. Most lagers I know, at least the quality ones, ferment for 7 days. Not Klášter's, they ferment for as many days as they have balling degrees, 10 to 12.
Done with this, the young beer goes even deeper into the guts of the hill to the lagering cellars. This is a very important part of the process. One of the reasons many of the macro lagers are so bad is that they don't spend enough time lagering. It seems that most of them don't spend more than two weeks, actually. Why? Ask the accountants that run those breweries.

Fortunately, that's not Klášter's case. The beers lager for from 40 days for desítka (that's five more days than Pilsner Urquell) to up to 60 days for dvanactká. Yeah, 210hl of cash flow doing nothing productive for up to two months, or at least that is the way an accountant would see it.

We close this part of the visit by drinking Klášter 11°, the brewery's best selling product, tapped straight from the lagering tank. I think that every true beer lover should, at least once in their life, drink a good lager tapped straight from the tanks. It is something so full of energy, it's almost like drinking a living organism. Needless to say, the beer blew the minds of quite a few and it wasn't very easy to make everyone go back to the surface.
Beers are sold unpasteurised. Before bottling they go through a double microfiltering process that, unlike pasteurisation, it doesn't completely "kill" the beer, but puts it "in a coma".

The second part of the visit, the meeting the group from Boston University Executive MBA Program wanted to have with someone from the brewery's management, was held at the beautiful Skála restaurant. Fortunately, Mr Kábrt, the Business Director, was kind enough to change his schedule so he could be with us. The meeting was very interesting.

As of 1st January 2009, Pivovar Klášter has new owners, K Brewery Trade. This company with Czech capital came pretty much out of nowhere a couple of years ago and started to either buy or invest in several regional breweries. Now they own six and are co-owners in another four. Their slogan is "Navrát k tradici" (Back to Tradition).

One of the first changes the new owners made at Klášter was to start a moratorium on exports. These represented 40% of the sales of the brewery, but K Brewing want to focus on the domestic market, which, according to them, is more lucrative.

The interview left me with the impression that the people from the brewery are quite happy with their new "bosses". It seems that K Brewing gives their breweries pretty much free hand to brew what and how they like it.

This doesn't mean that they are absentee owners, as is the case with several regional breweries owned by foreign companies. K Brewing has consolidated the purchasing system. This is a very important detail. The combined volume for 2008 of the six breweries the company owns was 812 thousand hl, if we add to that the 664 thousand hl of the four breweries they co-own we reach a total of almost 1,5 million hl, 200 thousand more than Budvar. Three words, Economies of Scale, for ten regional breweries.

And it seems they are taking things seriously. K Brewing already has a distribution centre in Prague and the other day I read that Pivovar Jihlava, one of their breweries, will start selling their beers the tanková way. Is this perhaps a "pilot test" that if successful will be extended to the rest of the breweries? Might we see someday a K Brewing hospoda in Prague?

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7 Jun 2009

Recommendation

For those, few, of you that still refuse to believe that beer can be perfectly compared with wine in terms of sophisticaton and, to a certain extent, mystique, I recommend you read this post in Ron Pattison's blog titled Barrel Aged Russian Stout. If you still haven't clicked on the link then, let me tell you that it is about Imperial Stouts that used to be brew on a one batch a year basis, matured in casked and then aged at least a year in bottles. There is a part mentions how weather conditions affect the cuality of eatch of the batches, just as it happens with wines. What are you waiting for? I am not going to reproduce the whole article!

Actually, Pattison's blog should be a mandatory read for all beer lovers out there. Believe me, it is fascinating.

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4 Jun 2009

Welcome back

After a two year absence Pivovar Herold has started brewing a wheat beer again.

In August last year the brewery changed owners. For almost a decade Pivovar Březnice had been owned by a company of American origin that focused mostly on the export market, giving little if any attention to the domestic one. The sharp fall in the value of the US Dollar against the Czech Koruna resulted in prices becoming uncompetitive and the yanks decided to pack their bags. Now the new owners are trying to recover the market that Herold lost. The return of Herold Pseničné was possible thanks to the head brewer who was able to talk his new bosses into allowing him to brew it again.

I had tasted the beer just before it was discontinued, it was only once, I think, and I don't remember much about it, so I was really looking forward to drinking it again. Instead of reviewing it alone, I decided to do a comparative tasating with the other industrially produced domestic wheat beer, Primátor Weizen. Both bottled, both while sitting on my terrace.
I started with Náchod's, with which I am very familiar and is know one of my favourite beers. It is brewed with a single decoction mashing, which makes it a bit of a rarity. According to Czech beer guru Honza Šuran, the only two beers of this kind that are brewed using this mashing method are Primátor's and Pivovarský Dům's.
What else can I say about Primátor Weizenbier, only that it tastes better every day. It has a perfect balance of sweetness, bitterness and sourness that makes it very refreshing and tasty.

When Evan Rail published his review of Herold Wheat, Javier left a comment saying that he thought Primátor Weizen was better than German wheat beers. His opinion only managed to garner the incredulity of another reader, Elf. Well, I agree with Javier. I think Primátor Weizenbier is a better beer than the famous Bavarian ones (Schneider, Paulaner, Erdinger, etc) and it's on the same level, if not a bit higher, that most of the ones coming from smaller breweries that I've tasted. But this isn't adoptive nationalism on my part. Two German beer enthusiast with whom I spent an afternoon the other day agreed with this view. But of course, at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal tastes.

With Primátor having vanished from the glass, it was Herold's turn. It pours a bit paler and it's less aromatic, it isn't as rich, either. The flavours are milder and it lacks much of the spice and citrus notes that are so present in its competitor. At the same time, I found the malt a bit too dominant. It's not bad at all, I didn't dislike it. It is very easy to drink and it could be a great option for those who want to start discovering the world of wheat beers. And actually, qualitatively speaking, it could compete on equal footing with many of the Bavarian weizen, and even come on top of several of them. But as is the case with those from the neighbouring country, Herold Wheat is no match for Primátor Weizen.
Tastes aside, I think it's great that we can now choose between two industrial Czech wheat beers. There is no doubt that the popularity of this style is growing. Primátor Weizen sells really well at those places that serve it. There also seem to be more micros that offer wheat beer (many of them wonderful), which are really popular in the summer months. Will we ever see the day when any of the best known names in Czech beer has a go at brewing a weizen?

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2 Jun 2009

What? You didn't have enough?

If you either missed both of the beer orgies that took place last week, or for some reason you were left wanting more, don't worry, two more beer events are coming, both very closely related. Their scale is a lot smaller than those that have just finished, but that doesn't make them any less interesting.

The first one is on Tuesday, June 9 at 5PM at Pivovarský Klub. It isn't a festival proper, but a session of beer and cheese pairings. The beer, of course, will be provided by the temple in Karlín, the cheese, but Cheesy a chain of really good shops specialised in, what else, cheese.

Reservations only by phone at:

+420 222 315 777
Pivovarský Klub
Křižíkova 17°, Praha 8 - Karlín

The second event will take place a few days later at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and its called "Objevte svět piva – pšeničná piva" (Discover the beer world - Wheat beers). It is organised by the beer portal Svět Piva, the same people that put together last year's Christmas Beer Festival.

The festival starts on Friday, June 12 and goes through the 14th. Just like last year's one, it will be divided in several sessions with a maximum capacity of 200 attendants. The sessions are as follows:

- Friday 12/6: 6-10PM
- Saturday 13/6: 1-5 and 6-10PM
- Sunday 14/6: 1-5PM

Admission price is 150CZK and includes, among other things, a beer sample. Tickets can be reserved here or bought at the places listed here.

As the title suggests, the beers will all be wheat and there will bee samples of domestic "pšenky", together with Belgian and German ones, including oddballs like Berliner Weisse or Gose, which people will be able to pair with a cheese selection and food prepared by Essensia Restaurant

Hotel Mandarin Oriental
Nebovidská 459/1
Praha 1
(entrance by Hellichova)

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1 Jun 2009

Czech Beer Festival 2009, a balance

The Czech Beer Festival 2009 finished yesterday. I only went once after all, the first day. I had planned to go during the weekend, but the was way too crappy to go all the way to Letňany. So these conclusions are based mostly on comments and e-mails I received and the conversations I had with people that were at the event.

As in eveything there were posstive things and negative things, let's see:

The possitive:

- The beer list, much larger than last year, it was impressive.
- Including micros. It showed that this year the organisers worked with people who know about beer.
- The food offer. Also larger than last year. I liked the idea of each tent having their own menus. Quality, though, wasn't all that uniform and prices... well, I will get to them later.
- The service. Once it did start working after the embarrasing first 90 minutes it was very good, though, as someone commented, it would have been nice to see how they coped with a full tent.

The negative:

- The venue. Horrible. No atmosphere, far from the centre, ugly. I'm sure the organisers had very good reasons to choose it (price?), but I do believe they should consider holding the festival at a nicer place next year.
- The price of much of the food. 80CZK for a bowl of soup?!? That is a rip off.
- The weather during much of the festival. The organisers aren't to blame here, but the rain didn't help and the mud and the puddles made the venue still uglier.

The question:

Why doesn't the festival have official sponsorship?

Prague Food Festival has among many of its sponsors the City of Prague and Czech Tourism. Fancy food can have official support, but beer can't. I would really like to know if this is due to a fault from the organisers or some snobbery on the part of the authorities. Otherwise, I can't understand it. Beer is the national drink and is deeply rooted in Czech culture. A beer festival might not have the culinary sophisticaton of the high end restaurants that took part in the Prague Food Festival, but which do you think is more likely to bring in foreign tourist?

I would also like to know how many people attended this year. The festival was better promoted this time, entrance was free and quite a bit of expectation had built up. I would bet that a lot more than the 25 thousand of last year, but then again, I was only once.

The balance for the second edition of Czech Beer Festival is, I think, possitive. I only have one small piece of advice to give the organisers. Stop comparing your festival with Oktoberfest, find your own identity. Stricktly beerwise, the Czech festival is far superior than the Bavarian; the atmosphere, well, that's another thing. The one in Munich has almost 200 years of history and is a major event in the Europena tourist calendar. This one in Prague isn't yet, though, with a few teaks here and there, it could certainly become so.

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