30 Sep 2009

A matter of origin

I was going to rant about something else, but the comment that one Manrique left on the Spanish version of my review of Asturian (or wannabe Asturian) beers made me change my mind (don't worry, that rant will be published soon).

The comment says, in quite dodgy Spanish: "with all respect, I don't agree at all with your views about Belenos and L'esbardu: I think they are very tasty beers and your comment about the labels is typical of a beer amateur that likes give his opinion about everything, but sometimes in excess. As for the rest, I think they are both very interesting beers with a lot of character"

Manrique's opinion about the beers, provided it's honest, is as valid as mine, so I'm not going to argue that.

Neither I'm going to argue the overopinionated beer amateur thing, because he's not that far off the mark.

I will argue the reason he calls me an amateur, though, the labels thing. In my review I complained about the almost total lack of information on the labels of both Belenos and L'esbardu. You can't even find where or by whom the beers were brewed. Exclusivas Torma, the company mentioned on the labels, are actually only the people who commissioned and distribute the beers. And it turns out that neither of them are brewed in Asturias, they aren't even brewed in Spain! They are Belgian (which shows that, even for an amateur, I'm not that bad at this. I mention in the review that Belenos has a "Belgian character").

It was thanks to fivixx's comment that I learnt about this (yeah, I know, I could have dived a bit further in the depths of the Interweb, but you already know how I am with that). In fact, Raquel, the person who gave me these beers, picked them thinking they were Asturian. And who can blame her? The beers have Asturian names and images and, even though nowhere it is mentioned that they are brewed in Asturias, the phrase "Belenos Súper, the beer of the Asturians" doesn't leave room for much discussion. Oh! And if I remember well, in the website of Eclusivas Torma (not accessible anymore) Belenos was listed as a Spanish beer.

I am not sure how nationalistic Asturians are (quite a bit, I guess), but I find it very unlikely that they will take as "theirs" a product that isn't made in the Principality, whatever it might be.

My conclusion is that Exclusivas Torma is cheating the consumer. It'd be interesting to know what the reason for that is. Simpleminded nationalistic demagoguery, perhaps. It could also be that the motives are not so noble. By not putting the name of the brewer, if the relationship with them ever finishes, nothing will stop Exclusivas to hire another brewery, who could even change the recipe, and still sell it as Belenos. As long as the ABV is kept the same, nobody will realise anything until after having opened the bottle (and many won't realise it even after finishing the beer). But that is getting a bit paranoid, isn't it?

I want to make clear that I am not against "on order brewing". Quite the contrary, I think it's a great alternative for those who would like to have their "own beer", but can't or don't want to set up a brewery, and for the breweries to expand their business with little or no risk involved. But still, the people should be told what the origin of the beer is.

And that is exactly the point I want to make with all this useless ranting. The importance of the "origin" of a beer, which might be even bigger if we speak about "craft" brews.

The big brands have made an excellent job at devaluing the concept of "origin". That is how Guinness can get away with all the Irish bollocks, or Stella Artois with using the slogan "Belgium's Original Beer" regardless of where they are brewed, or, for that matter, Pilsner Urquell with using the name Pilsner Urquell even when it's brewed in Poland or Russia. But the origin is important, and very much so. There are regional differences in beers of the same style, travel around Germany if you don't believe it.

And to those of you who still don't get it, let me ask you this question: Would you buy a bottle of wine without knowing where it comes from? Why asking less from beer, then?

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If you happen to be around

I heard about this just by chance (thanks Kristian), starting on Friday, 2/10 through Sunday 11/10 those of you who happen to be in Prague will be able to attend a reduced version of Český Pivní Festival, called "Octoberfest at Pankrác or Podzimní Ochutnávka (Autumn tasting), depending on whom you ask.

The event will take place at Panorama Hotel Prague, right by the Pankrác Metro station (Line C). The system will be the same as at the big Spring romp: free entrance, payment in "tolars", etc.
The beer list, which you can see here, has been reduced to 14 samples, all from K-Brewing Trade breweries.

It's just a good alternative for those who will fancy doing something different while visiting Prague, and also a good opportunity to taste some beers that you are very unlikely to come accross in the centre.

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24 Sep 2009

A Project to Support

The number of hospody that have adopted the "Čvrtá pípa“ model is growing ("Čvrtá pípa“, fourth tap in Czech, means the tap, or taps, with rotating beers). Honza from Svět Piva said in a comment on Evan Rail's blog that he's putting together a list of this kind of places, and that he count was already 40 spread all over the country. Great news for those of us who love good beer.

And the good news doesn't end there. Jirka Bejček, owner of První Pivní Tramvaj (a great place everyone should visit), one of the pioneers of the fourth tap, now wants to bring together all these places in what he calls Aliance P.I.V..
At the moment, there are five members of the Alliance of Beersmart Taprooms, the above mentioned Tramvaj, Zlý Časy, Merenda, U Prince Miroslava and Obžerství (a hospoda in Petrovice that I haven't visited yet). The organisers say that the group is open to every hospoda that has at least one rotating tap.

This project isn't only about a list of pubs, restaurants, etc on a web page (still in prototype stage), it aims higher. Each beer tapped at each place will be included in the section "Pivní list" (beer list) with technical details (ingredients, EBU, colour, style, etc) and the names of the brewers. The card of each beer will be available to download in PDF and printed, and the hospody will be able to either put them in a menu or display them on their walls. The goal is to educate both consumer and seller, so that the former will know more about what they are drinking and the latter about what they are offering.

They also plan to organise events, print brochures with a list of members, etc. I think it's a brilliant idea and I hope that soon many more hospody will join the alliance. The more there will be, the better for us, lovers of the divine drink.

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21 Sep 2009

A family visit

For the first time since our wedding my parents came to visit us (well, actually, they came to visit our daughter, their first grandchild) and the other day we went with them and my parents in law on a not very beery trip to Mělník.

Despite not living to far from it, I had never visited Mělník. It's located 37km North of Prague and its skyline is dominated by the local chateau and the tower of the church of St. Peter and Paul. When we went there were repairing many of the streets of the historical centre, but I felt the town was really nice just the same and its air of decadence gave it a pleasant atmosphere.
The chateau  overlooks the confluence of the two largest rivers in the Czech Rep., Vltava and Labe, and the view from up there is great. On the steep slopes below the building there are vineyards. This is also a wine making region, much smaller and less famous than South Moravia, but, according to those on the know, some of the wines coming from there are just as good.

And, just as in every wine region in this country, this dates are burčák season. We enjoyed some of the red variety before lunch. (burčák is basically fermenting grape squash, and I say fermenting because that is what this delicious drink will keep on doing in your body, so it's not something you want to drink too much of).

We had arrived at around lunch time, so we were all pretty hungry. There were two things we had to consider before choosing a place. First, we didn't have much time, we wanted to catch a scenic boat trip that was leaving at 2. Second, the pram (with the baby inside), which considerably limits your choices when it comes to dining.

Fortunately, we came accross the restaurant of Hotel U Rytířů, with a pleasant patio right at the foot of the Church's tower, which had enough room to accommodate all of us, pram included.

The service at the restaurant, though a bit on the slow side at first, was very professional and efficient. The beer Budvar pretty well tapped. The food, fantastic. I oredered a vepřo-kndelo-zelo (roasted pork, bread knedlíky and stewed, in this case red, cabbage) that must rank among the best I've had in a restaurant. A big serving (justifying the slightly high price for lunch) with tender and tasty meat and the cabbage stewed to that point when it is still just a bit crunchy, but not too much. Lovely.

After having one more glass of burčák for desert we hurried to the boat. We had to go all the way down to the river and then walk a bit more until we found the pier. We made it with plenty of time.
The scenic trip was very nice. The boat starts from almost below the castle and its postcard like view. The day was perfect to be sitting on the deck, enjoying the fresh air. Once the boat left the town behind the human presence thins out to disappear from the river banks, save the odd angler and cyclist. The only sound breaking the silence are the soft purr of the boat's engine (and the not so soft cries of my daughter) and the feeling is of total relax (more total once the baby stops crying). A what better pairing for that than a good pint?
Yeah, on a boat in the middle of the Czech Rep. I was able to get a good pint, Březňák 10°. It'd been a long, long time since I last had it and I was very surprised at how good it tasted! Light bodied, with a hop profile similar to Pilsner Urquell's and with enough malty base to give it a good balance. The ideal beer for a moment like this, which I greatly enjoyed (more so, once my daughter fell asleep). Perfect trip in my books (crying baby notwithstanding).

After the boat we went back to the centre of Mělník to do a bit more sightseeing and drink a bit more burčák. We walked into the chateau's courtyard. It's beautiful, in a Renaissance style . There is a café with the interiors that look right out of a Viennese palace. It was hard to resist the temptation to collapse in one of those baroque chairs and stuff myself with cakes and pastries. The restaurant of the chateau is also gorgeous, it's got huge windows facing the river and a very special atmosphere. With my wife we promised each other that someday we would go there for a meal.
I was pleasantly surprised by Mělník. We had a great time with the family. It might not be a great beer destination, but it is a very good alternative for a day trip from Prague, and it's definitively a town we will visit again.

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PS: Sorry for not including pictures of beer or food, but I left my camera at home and it was hard to make my parents make pictures of anything other than their granddaughter.

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15 Sep 2009

From Barcelona with taste

I've already mentioned this somewhere, Catalunya/Barcelona seems to be the most dynamic centre of craft brewing in Spain. In the last few years several new breweries have started offering their beers to the public, though, just as it happens everywhere, there is a bit of everything when it comes to quality.

So far I'd had only one experience with Catalan craft beers (those from Moritz don't count as they are not brewed in the province), two lagers that where mediocre at best and a very interesting ale brewed with honey and herbs. Now, thanks to María and Susana I can expand my horizons a bit. They brought me three samples, from different breweries and styles.

I started with Runa Brown Ale (5%ABV) from Ales Agullons. The other day I read an interesting article about this brewer. Among other things, it speaks about how jealous Mr. Agullons is with the quality of his beers. If a batch is not up to the quality standards he wants, he sells it cheaper, in unlabeled bottles as "cooking beer". Being that this bottle did have a label, I think it was safe to assume that its contents did conform to the brewer's standards, whichever they might be.
The bottle made a very loud POP! when I opened it, making me fear that there would be some serious gushing. Fortunately for our dining table, that didn't happen. However, when I poured all what came out was froth, a thick, spongy one that took ages to go down enough to let me pour some liquid. Runa turned out to be an ale of brownish colour. In the nose there's mostly flowers with a touch of mint and there, all the way to the back, trying to get some of the attention are caramel and roasted notes. That's partly because the beer was already showing the first symptoms of loosing its shape, something that could also be tasted. Still, behind that, a mild roasty taste can be felt, together with sweet caramel glazed by a pleasant bitterness that almost reminds of ripe citrus. Not great, really, but quite nice just the same. Until the finish. There is something in the finish that is not good, not good at all. The best I can come up with to describe it is "biting a burnt lemon pip". It's intense, short and very unpleasant, it does away with everything the beer was trying to do until then. I don't know what it can be, I'd never felt something like that before, but I do know it shouldn't be there. 

I will give Runa the benefit of the doubt. Some beers don't travel well, and this one traveled in far from ideal conditions.

A couple of days later I went to the cellar and picked the bottle of Guineu Montserrat. I was a bit afraid that all the beers had suffered from the trip, but this one showed it was better prepared for it.
Based on the malts listed on the label (munich, pale, chocolate and caramel) I expected a dark beer, and very dark it turned out to be. It actually looked very nice, partly thanks to its compact and long living head. From then on, things got even better. I found the bouquet to be lovely, autumn fruit (sweet pears and apples), flowers, spice on coffee and chocolate, everything very well held together. And it was very interesting to drink, too. Firm, yet light mouthfeel, contrasting flavours of weak coffee, nuts, flowers, chocolate, licorice to end in a short and dry finish, quite stouty actually. I loved this beer, my favorite Spanish brew so far. It's one of those beers that, despite its 6.7%ABV, can be drunk quickly, but that you actually want to take your time to do it and enjoy everything it has to offer. I would love to have a permanent supply of it in my cellar!

I left for last Bleder For de Drac, not because it had the ugliest label, but because it had the most interesting list of ingredients, oats and dates, together with the usual stuff.
Bleder For de Drac is another pretty handsome beer, nice almost orange colour and compact head with long life. The bouquet has the same flowers as the other two (they use the same hops, I guess), now garnished by dry herbs on a background of mild honey. It's on the thin side of the track and the taste, though not really strong, is quite interesting, there is honey, roast, fruit and some sourness, all in the right measure. The finish is dry, herbal and short. Its 7%ABV can't be felt at all, really. I must say that I was expecting something a bit different, something sweeter and thicker perhaps, but I still liked it, not as much as Guineu, but I wouldn't mind having a few more bottles in my cellar, either.

The overall impression is, no doubt, much more positive than with the previous experience. Both Guineu and Bleder give the impression of very self confident beers, brewed by people who know very well what they are doing. What I liked the most was they both avoid the "extreme" gimmick to concentrate of being tasty and interesting beers.

There'll be more craft beers from Catalunya soon. I received the other day some samples a micro brewery had sent me, which I'll be tasting in the next few days.

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14 Sep 2009

An interesting experience

Regardless of what some people would like us to believe, it is clear now that there are some beers that are meant to be drunk only after months, if not years, of maturing in a bottle. It's not that you can't drink them "fresh and young", but that's not what their brewers had in mind and likely is they won't be enjoyed to their fullest.

There are also many beers that you can perfectly enjoy "fresh and young", but that at the same time, can be aged, after which they will have evolved and in some cases even improved. Many ales that fit this description could be mentioned, but how many lagers? Well, the other day I came across one, and the best of all was that it was a beer that I know very well, X33.

In one of my visits to U Medvídku I had a chat with Laďa, the brew master, about vintage beers and he, just like that, said that he had some samples of X33 that were a couple of years old aging in a fridge. Then he asked me if I didn't want to come back some day to taste it together.

I don't think I need to tell you what my answer was.

When I arrived there the other day Laďa was very busy and not in his best mood, there were some technical problems with the kettles and the batch he was cooking was likely ruined. Still he offered me a pint of 1466 (the house's new pale lager) to warm up.

That half litre of this 14.66° Balling beer, tapped straight from one of the lagering barrels, went down quite fast. It was so tasty and full of life. A delight. When I was done with the pint Laďa went to get a bottle of X33 Vintage 2007.
Curiously, he had never tasted the aged version of his beer and he was as surprised by the changes as me. It looked clearer and had a thinner body, but that was nothing compared with the way the flavours and aromas had evolved during those two years. Most of that jammy fruitiness had vanished, leaving behind nuts, tobacco, wood and licorice. Halfway down the sip a nice dose of caramel shows up to balance the ensemble before a finish with yet more dry notes. In the background there is a hint of sourness to wrap everything in a very pleasant package.

I can't say that X33 is better or worse than fresh after aging for two years. It's just too different to make this sort of comparison. It drinks slower than the fresh one and it reminded me a bit to a semi-sweet Sherry or Malaga wine. I really liked it a lot.

Actually, if it was up to me I would save at least half a barrel of X33, bottle it with some proper conditioning (if that was at all necessary) in 750ml bottles and would let it age for two years. Then I would sell it for a nice price. I'm sure it would be a hit. In the meantime, though, I can only make do with having friends at the right places, which is no small thing.

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PS: One thing I didn't realise until I finished my glass, that bottle was from the same batch as that first X33 I ever drunk.

11 Sep 2009

Vintage 2009

We've had a great summer in our kitchen garden. Like last year, we planted tomatoes and courgettes. We weren't very successful with the latter last year, I think we could only pick three. This year, though, it was impressive, we've got tired of eating courgettes in any way you can imagine, and we still have several kilos of tomatoes waiting to be picked. We also planted onions, carrots and strawberries. All was great, fantastic yields. We even managed to taste some of the raspberries and currants we had planted in spring.

The hops were not an exception. They grew bigger and leafier, and there were a lot of blossoms. Last weekend was harvest time. I was, I think, two hours picking those blossoms.The quality of last year's harvest wasn't that good, but I wasn't expecting that, actually. The hops had no aroma at all. Harvest 2009, though, not only was a lot more plentiful, but the blossoms are very aromatic, with strong piney notes. I have them in a bowl on the bar and when I'm not cooking their autumnly aroma can be felt all over the kitchen.
If everything goes fine, I'll be brewing this weekend and I'll be using those hops (together with a couple more things growing in the garden). I'm looking forward to it.
The bowl on the right is the same I used last year.
The bowl on the left is, I think, twice as big, and it wasn't enough for this year's harvest


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PS: I also planted some saplings I got from Žatec. They didn't grow too much, but if they survive the winter I might have some fresh Saaz hops to use in my beer next year...

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10 Sep 2009

Two events in September

Slunce ve Skle was perhaps the best beer event I attended last year (well, at least what I remember of it). Fortunately, this festival of microbreweries will have a second edition next weekend.

Just like last year, it will take place in the courtyard of Purkmistr, in Pilsen, next Saturday Sept. 19, and it will be bigger this time. The official webpage of the festival lists 35 breweries that are not only from the whole of the Czech Rep., but there will also representatives from Austria, Germany and Slovakia.

Not to be missed by good beer lover that happens to be in the area.

Slunce ve Skle
Sat. 19 Sept.
Pivovarský Dvůr Plzeň (Purkmistr)
Selská náves 2
326 00 Plzeň – Černice
Reservations for the hotel-restaurant:
Tel. + 420 377 994 311
E-mail: recepce@purkmistr.cz
To know how to get there using public transport go to this post I wrote last year.

That very same Saturday, in Prague, Pivovarský Kĺub kicks off their "Minioktoberfest". There will be three Festbier from Munich served in 1 litre Steins (those who won't want to drink so much at once can order pints) and some German specialities on the menu.

It might even be a better alternative to the original festival, fewer people, cheaper and more to choose from beerwise.

Minioktoberfest
Starts 19/9 and goes until the Festbier is sold out.
Pivovarský Klub
Křižíkova 17°, Praha 8 - Karlín
Reservations (recommended)
Tel.: +420 222 315 777

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Update: It seemed strange to me that they wouldn't do it this year, after all, last year the Pivní festival s Jihoměšťanem was really good (partly thanks to that day's fantastic weather. Well, it turns out that it will take place, tomorrow, right by Metro station Opatov, starting at 3PM. (Sorry I didn't put it in the original post, but I've just got the news)

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8 Sep 2009

God Save the (Real) Ale

Look at me, all this time ranting about beer and not once I've reviewed English Ales. Well, thanks to my friend John, this has been now corrected.

I know I've mentioned it several times already, but I'll never get tired of saying it. The best about this beer blogging thing is the possibility I've had of meeting new people and making new friends. It's really gratifying being able to sit for a chat and a few beers with someone who shares my passion, or who simply wants to meet me because they appreciate what I do in this space, to all that, we have the chance that many have given me of tasting beers that otherwise I might have never been able to experience. What else can you ask?

Back to the topic in question. John brought me three samples, all from different styles and breweries. A nice palette that shows different aspects of contemporary English Ales.

As usual, I started by the lightest. T.E.A. (Traditional English Ale) from Hogs Back Brewery, an independent brewer from Surrey. It's a Best Bitter. Bitter is one of the most popular styles in England to this day and it's something I have never drunk (well, yes, many years ago I drunk a lot of Bitters during my stays in Australia and New Zealand, but I wasn't expecting anything similar to those).
T.E.A: pours an orangey amber, with little but lasting head and no visible carbonation. He who expects complexity in aromas and flavours, better look elsewhere. This Best Bitter, with 4,2%ABV is a session beer, which, as Lew Bryson very well puts in in his Session Beer Project, doesn't mean that it's boring or tasteless. Dried and tropical fruit can be found in the bouquet, garnished by subtle flower notes. As expected from the name of the style, the beer is bitter, though of the dry sort. There is a touch of syrup to balance it. The unctuous mouthfeel and the short finish with earthy notes make it even easier to drink. No doubt, it is a lovely session beer. It might not say much all by itself, but that's not its goal, it's made to be part of good time with friends at the pub, and it does that very well, indeed.

It was followed by St Peter's Brewery India Pale Ale, another independent brewery, this time from Suffolk. I had drunk several IPA's, from different countries, but not a single one yet from the country that gave birth to the style, England. I was very curious. Nowadays we take for granted that an IPA will be a quite to insanely hoppy beer, but I've always wondered how those beers that were exported to India in the 19th century tasted. Did they taste so hoppy after four months on a ship around the African continent? If the historical revisionism of Martyn Cornell and others is to be believed, the first IPA's were actually Stock Ales sold young to the captains of the Indiamen. The Stock Ales had relatively high gravity and were very hopped, they were matured for up to several years, after that, the taste of the hops had attenuated plenty.
Whatever, let's allow the beer to say it's bit. St Peter's IPA (5.5% ABV, less than most, if not all, IPA's I'd tasted so far) pours a light browny amber, some fine bubble can be seen. The nose reminds of syrup, citrus peel and pine, something that identify with C-hops, actually. The sip goes in with plenty of caramel that quickly becomes dry and with a lot of pine. The finish is also dry, but with a more herbal character. I'm not going to pretend I'm able to identify with certainty the different kinds of hops, but I do have an idea and I must say that I found a rather "American" thing in this IPA. It wasn't perhaps what I was expecting, but I still liked it. The caramel at the beginning does a great job "cutting" the dry bitterness of the previous sip, making this beer easier and more pleasant to drink.

To close this session of English classics I was left with Fuller's 1845. Fuller's is one of the biggest breweries in the UK (I think) and despite of that, it still keeps a very good reputation among many beer enthusiasts. 1845, matured for 100 days, was brewed for the first time in 1995 to celebrate the jubilee of the brewery. Thanks to the success it had then, they still brew it to this day.
Fuller's 1845 pours ocher, topped by a spongy, lasting and lightly tanned head. In the nose there are flowers and notes reminiscing of ripe citrus, all on top of a base of fruit conserve. The mouthfeel is silky, full. It starts with burnt sugar that soon becomes home made sponge cake filled with sweet fruit, all covered by lovely notes of English hops that add some spice to the whole. A delicious beer, to sip slowly. Better if you drink it alone, listening to some good music or reading a good book in an Autumn afternoon.

Very good beers all three of them, each with their own, all with very nice presentations (I love those bottles) and all feel like they were brewed and conditioned with care (will we ever see a Czech craft beer with the phrase "bottle conditioned" printed on the bottle?). Thanks a lot John for these lovely Ales.

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4 Sep 2009

Shades of grey

If there is something most good beer lovers will agree is that nothing good usually comes out of foreign ownership. Examples that prove that are plentiful, AB-InBev with Staropramen just to mention one that is closer to me.

But is it always so bad?

Much can be said about the changes for the worse that have taken place at Pilsner Urquell since it was privatised last decade. But I remember what a friend once told me: "The best that could have happened to PU was being bought by SAB-Miller". He points out that if it had been bought by some other multinational, Pilsner Urquell would have become a "provincial" brand. SAB-Miller, though, turned it into their premium brand at a global level. Yes, it's true that the beer isn't what it used to be, but how many doors have been opened to "Czech Beer" thanks to the mighty marketing power of this brewing giant?

I think that a more clear example is Heineken. Starobrno, the first brewery they bought in the Czech Republic didn't have much of a good reputation, people would call it "Staroblato" (blato is Czech for mud). Now, though they are nothing to write home about, the beers from Starobrno are quite decent. Also, recently Evan Rail wrote about the considerable improvements he noticed in Krušovice Černé (Heineken bought the brewery in 2007).

Last year, the Dutch based multinational bought Drinks Union, a Czech company that owned, among other things, four breweries. From the very moment the transaction was announced people started to speculate on which of the breweries would be shut down. The odds were not favourable for both Kutná Hora and Veklé Březno (Březňák). The former because it was the smallest and the facilities didn't even belong to Drinks Union, but to the city (DU owned the brand and rented the facilities to brew it). And the latter because it's basically next door to the better known and bigger Zlatopramen, so shifting production wouldn't be such a problem (in fact, even the meaning of the brand's name wouldn't suffer much since Zlatopramen is located in Krasné Březno).

Everyone was spot on with Kutná Hora. Heineken shut it down a couple of months ago because it was not profitable enough, something that garnered the ire of many beer lovers. However, it all seems that we all were wrong about Březňák. Not only Heineken don't have any plans to shut it down, but they have also announced investments for a total of 25 mill CZK (about 1 mill. EU) to be made between this and next year. The money will be used to modernise the bottling line (some of the work has already been done) and the boilers, and to expand the fermenters and lagering tanks. Veklé Březno is one of the breweries that still use open fermenters and still give their beers the necessary time for lagering. The report doesn't mention whether the expansion of the fermenters means bringing in the much unloved Cilindroconical tanks, though. It doesn't look like that. According to the head brewer Petr Hauskrecht, one of the goals is to put together a "classical brewery", with would mean that the open fermenters are here to stay.

So here we have a huge multinational like Heineken that, as expected, closes down a brewery, Kutná Hora (and sooner or later will also close down Louny). but at the same time improves the quality of some of their products and puts quite a bit of money to modernise another brewery while at the same time keeping it traditional.

Quite a few shades of grey there.

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3 Sep 2009

From Barcelona, well, sort of

If I remember well what I was told, Moritz is a historical beer brand from Barcelona. At some point the brewery that made it had to close down and it wasn't until the beginning of this year that the descendants of the former owner were able to resurrect it.

At the moment the beers aren't brewed in Barcelona, but under contract at La Zaragozana. However, I've heard that the owners are about to open a brewpub in their hometown.

I apologise for the vagueness of the information on the brewery. I didn't take notes when I was told the story and the web page is mess of Flash animations that make its navigation a nightmare.

I received samples of the only two beers Moritz seems to be currently brewing.

The fist one I opened was, as it's my custom, the weaker one (5.4%ABV), which is called just Moritz. What sort of beer it is, what is it made of, etc, that's information you will have to seek elsewhere, because you won't find it on the labels (and, unless you are very patient, it won't be easy to find it on the web page, either). Fortunately, the beer had been reviewed in Culturilla Cervecera, where I was able to learn, long after the tasting, that this beer wants to be a Pils, and that is brewed with pale malts and Saaz hops.
It pours palish gold (something expected if you already know what sort of beer it is) with almost no visible carbonation and topped by a nice, white, spongy head. The looks of a well made lager. There's not much the nose can catch, a hint of a malty base and the ghost of a hops blossom. It's light bodied, mild flavoured, with some maltiness and a subtle citrus touch, that's it. Once it gains a bit of temperature, it starts loosing some of its balance and by the end it reminded me of a cheap demi-sec sparkling wine. Not very pleasant, but since most Spaniards prefer to drink their beer tooth-shattering cold, I don't think it will be noticed by many.

A couple of days later I, rather reluctantly, opened the bottle of Moritz Epidor. My experience with pairs of Spanish beers of the same brand had so far been that if I didn't like the paler one, I would like the darker one even less. I wasn't expecting much from this one. How did I know that the beer was darker, if the information on the label is as abundant as for the other beer? Well, the label is darker, so the beer must be as well.
Moritz Epidor pours amber with a nice orange hue, it's topped with a creamy head and plenty of fine bubbles can be seen. The aroma is mild, notes of caramel and fruit and some spice that I wasn't able to identify. It goes in with plenty of burnt sugar and some licorice, which are later joined by some herbs and a touch of tobacco for good measure. The mild caramel finish is short and a nice contrast to the rest. The 7.2%ABV is beautifully integrated, though the bubbles bothered me a little. Epidor was a pretty pleasant surprise, much nicer than its sister. It also reminded me of La Zaragozana Export. Maybe it was because it's made at the same brewery, but I could swear there was a family resemblance.

Putting things in perspective, the balance is positive. I didn't like the pale lager too much, but compared to most pale lagers you can find in Spain, it is a better drink. Epidor, on the other hand, I would put at the same level as other strong Spanish amber lagers like Voll-Damm or the already mentioned Export.

Thanks María and Susana for these beers. Soon I'll be posting about the other ones you brought.

Na Zdraví!

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