30 Oct 2009

Aren't they missing something?

Just as it happened last year, I had a great time with Knut Albert at at Zlý Časy. While we were enjoying several of the 16 beers they had on tap, we spoke about many things, most of them beer related (I bet you are surprised by that).

There was a topic that stayed in my mind after the evening was finished. It might be something that does not concern some of the more developed markets, but it does apply to those where the micros are just starting to make some sort of impact.

I'm not going to discuss here the advantages of pasteurising/filtering or not, neither of bottle fermenting, because that is not what we talked about with Knut. It was something more cynical, if you want. Picture the scenario:

You love "good beer", you might even consider yourself a "beerevangelist". You also make a point in supporting your local micro-breweries (provided their beers are good, of course). You are organising a BBQ. You see the event as a good opportunity to introduce your friends to what you see as quality beer.

Which beers from your local micros will you offer them?

Before answering thing about this: It's a barbecue, so beer will have to be easy to drink. It can't be too strong or complex. Nobody will be interested in bouquet, mouthfeel or citrus and tropical fruit notes, they will want to have good beer with their steaks (or whatever you'll be grilling), period.

I'm sure some of you already have a list. Before you go shopping, think about this: It's a barbecue. Will you have enough glasses for everyone? And even if you do, will you want to wash them after the party (many people will eat with their hands, they'll be really greasy!)?

You'll have to find something that can be drunk from the bottle.

How many beers have you got on your list now?

Even if the glasses were not an issue, sediments will be. Many people will not like the look and/or the taste of them.

Your only choice then will probably be buying some good industrial beer. I'm sure you'll be able to find some, but your beerevangelist plans were shattered before they even got a start.

What we wondered was if all stuff about not filtering and bottle-fermenting (and to a certain extent, not pasteurising) isn't playing a bit against the ambitions of reaching the most possible people. I'm not saying that these micros will have to change their philosophies, but they should consider brewing something that could be more accessible to the novice or that it can fit into situations like the one described above (which isn't so unreal, either). Perhaps, thanks to that, there will be more people willing to explore a bit further.

Na Zdraví!

PD: While writing this I couldn't but think how much of this "unfiltered, unpasteurised" is actually product of a philosophy, and how is product of some sort of financial reality.

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28 Oct 2009

What a find!

It might be because the weather chilled so incredibly fast, (really, one day, at the beginning of the month we all were wearing shorts, sandals and t-shirt, less than a week later, it was snowing!) but I had never felt such an intense crave for darker beers.

Fortunately, I have plenty to choose from, I live in the Czech Republic, the country where the widest range (gravity-wise) of amber and dark lagers are brewed. So I have plenty to choose from. That is something that, despite living here already more than seven years, I had always overlooked and didn't realise until I saw it written in Decotion, a book written by Ron Pattison.

Another thing I had more or less always overlooked is Pivovar Rakovník, a.k.a. Bakalář. The reason is that, to be honest, they don't make anything that stands out. The only exception, perhaps, is their 18° Balling Jubilejní Speciál. The rest are your typical Czech lager. Not that there is anything wrong with that, quite the opposite, but I don't buy them because they aren't as easy to find as, say,  Svijany or Bernard (or actually, because the place where I buy beers by the case doesn't stock it and I can't be arsed with going anywhere).

The other day I had to go to the Dejvice branch of the supermarket chain Billa (had to buy something for the baby) and I came accross Bakalář Polotmavé Výčepní. I took a couple of bottles. It wasn't only that I had never drunk this beer from Rakovník, I didn't even remember having a beer of that style at all! I wasn't expecting anything special, really, but It's always good to have something new.

And what a surprise I got!

With 4.5%ABV Bakalář Polotmavé Výčepní must be in the upper limit of its category (Výčepní are beers brewed at a range of 8 to 10.99 degrees Balling). It pours a glass-like dark amber with a hue between ocher and brown. Even when pouring carefully it forms a generous spongy head with a pretty long life. A very handsome beer indeed. There isn't much in the aroma, caramel, mostly, with some roasted notes there in the back, but you'll have to stretch your nose a bit to catch them. It's light bodied, as expected, but with a surprising pack of flavours. Caramel base, almost toffee, with a healthy touch of licorice and roasted notes in great balance, which vanish in a mild dry herbal finish. Wonderfully easy to drink, perfectly sessionable. It is very difficult to resist the temptation of opening another bottle (and why should you?) and it must be impossible to drink only one at a place where they have it well tapped (which I hope to find soon).
It's also nice to wash down some foods, in the picture it is together with a piece of roasted smoked meat, potato salad and rye bread. A simple, but tasty lunch, with a simple, but tasty beer.

Na Zdraví!

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26 Oct 2009

A Pro

... Well, sort of.

It's been already more than two and a half years that this blog is online (the Spanish version at least). I started writing it because I felt I had something to say and share with the rest of the world. There have been many changes, yes, and very likely there will be still more. The reason is that what I have to say and share has also changed or actually, evolved. I don't write hoping to make anyone happy. Of course, the more people that agree with me, the better, but I will not loose any sleep over it. Anyone who doesn't like the contents is free to say so in the comments (which I never moderate) or simply leave the page and never come back. I have no problem with that.

Never, ever I've written a single word hoping to catch the attention of someone working in the media and get a job offer. I'd be lying my ass off if I said I never dreamt or fantasised about the possibility. But it was something like the dream or fantasy many men have of spending the night with a super model. We know it'll never come true, but stranger things have happened and dreaming is for free, anyway (in my case, I hope it never comes true, I don't think my wife would be too amused be it).

Well, believe it or not, that fantasy has come true (not the supermodel one! the one about writing, you pervs!). Not long ago I was contacted by Alberto Benavídez, Chief Editor of Bar&Beer, as far as I know, the only specialised magazine written in Spanish. Alberto had been following my blog for quite some time (what I said the other day about my reputation in Spain is true) and, seeing that his magazine doesn't give Czech beer the coverage it deserves, decided to hire me.
So, starting from the next issue, the readers of Bar&Beer will have (I hope) the pleasure to read my regular articles about Czech beer. I've written the first already, still needs some polishing, but I'm happy with it and I'm very happy that the people of Bar&Beer have given me this opportunity.

Na Zdraví!

PS: Now that I'm a pro, is it my duty to start bitching about all them amateurs that blog about beer?

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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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19 Oct 2009

Doggy tricks

Pete Brown wrote the other day a very interesting piece on beer marketing. Though he mostly speaks about labels and bottles, Pete also mentions the internet as field where every brewery can play in the same conditions regardless of their size. To this I would add marketing tricks.

Yeah, yeah. I know that in the past I have critisised some marketing tricks, from a "new" way to sell a beer so you won't be able to taste it, to an attempt to add a layer of glamour and uniqueness to something that is, at the very best, average. The problem here is that the marketing trick or gimmick isn't backed by a product of quality or actually new, and ends up being only something vacuous and superficial. This doesn't mean, however, that well used, a marketing trick can't be an effective and legitimate tool to promote a brand or a product, or to create hype about it.

The Scottish brewery BrewDog, who have been using very well all these low cost tools to sell their beers, have been kind enough to send me samples of three of their new products. Interesting is that for each of them a different "marketing trick" has been used to generate  buzz. The question is, are they only empty tricks or do the beers have something to say all by themselves?

First trick: Make a noisy minority angry and thanks to that, be mentioned on the media, for free.

Binge drinking is a topic that gets a lot of space in the British press and is used by politicians, media and other opportunists and populists to get some attention. When BrewDog announced that their new Tokio*, with 18.2%ABV was the beer that would end with binge drinking, what followed was expected. Some idiots at the Scottish Parliament demanded the product be banned. The media picked the story and Tokio* got a lot of space without paying a penny for it.

Many have critisised the idea as childish, and perhaps they are right. But it is still very effective. And because apparently BrewDog likes showing the two fingers to those idiots, they've recently came out with Nanny State, a beer with only 1.1%ABV that got some coverage by the BBC, among other news outlets.
And the beer?

It's good, very good. Very dark amber it pours and it has a surprisingly lasting head for something so strong. The nose isn't very nice, there's way too much alcohol, which almost does away with the notes of wood and Port that would have been nicer to feel. Its mouthfeel also surprises, its really unctuous, almost like really good extra virgin olive oil. The palate can feel coffee, tobacco, wood, brandy, a touch of fruit. That you are drinking something very strong can't be ingored, still, the huge ABV is very well integrated and makes you drink slow. The 33cl bottle is actually for sharing. I liked the original Tokio better, but this beefed up version is still great as a nightcap.

My only gripe with Tokio*, and many other super strong beers, is the presentation. Its ABV is equivalent to that of fortified wines like Port or Sherry, and I think it should be sold in likewise bottles: 75cl, resealable, with a cork cap, to encourage drinking it in smaller doses over a longer period and not to finish the bottle once it's been opened.

Second trick: Partner with a bigger and/or better known brewery in a given market and do something together.

Whether it was intended as a marketing trick or not, is open to discussion, but there's no doubt that it generated hype. In this case, BrewDog joined forces with the very famous Stone Brewing Co., from the US, with whom they share much of their brewing philosophy. Thus was born Bashah a Black Belgian Double IPA, shouldn't it be called IBA? (making up, or distorting styles could also be considered a marketing gimmick). The restult, fans of both breweries, and beer geeks in general, loved the idea and generated a lot of hype for this new brew.
And the beer?

Also very good. I had already tasted a "Belgian IPA" from Stone, their Cali-Belgique, a beer that proves, once and for all, that yeasts are an ingredient. I had liked it a lot and was really looking forward to this one.

It's very dark, the nose has an interesting, and rather weird, mix of wood, roast, a lot of tropical fruit, spices and chocolate. The taste follows the same lines. Fruit, coffee, wood, chocolate, spice. Everything playing in perfect harmony on a vinous body that caresses the palate. The finish is equally complex and lovely. I got a bottle without the official label, so when I drank it I didn't know how strong it was. I was a bit surprised when I saw it has 8.6%ABV because it's wonderfully integrated. Fantastic beer.

BrewDog also announced that they've put some hl of Bashah to age on blackberries in whisky casks. The beer will be available next year (another marketing trick, perhaps?)

Third trick: To do something mad that nobody has done before, or at least, not recently.

According to BrewDog's blog this Altantic IPA was brewed following an old recipe and then left to mature a couple of months on a fishing ship, on the North Sea. The idea was to recreate the maturing the original IPA's got on their way to India. I don't think I need to mention the hype this very limited edition generated in the beer world.
And the beer?

I was expecting "just another IPA", a good one, yes, but nothing new. Actually, it is bloody brilliant! It pours orange, like home made marmalade, topped by a creamy, slightly tanned head. The nose doesn't promise much, really. There is pine, cannabis, some sourness, a bit of syrup and spice. When drinking, Altantic IPA is a beer that should leave everyone happy. You like your beers strong? I think the beautifully integrated 8.5%ABV will do the job. You like your beers really hoppy? There's enough of that to keep you entertained: flowers, pine, citrus, spice, you name it. You like your beers to be something more than cold hop tea? Don't worry, there's plenty for you as well: generous doses of caramel, roast, fruit and even some nuts. Everything, absolutely everything in its proper measure ending up in a long finish with the right intensity that leaves wonderful memories on the palate even long after the beer is finished. Absolutely delicious!

Whether it's worth the price they ask for it or not, that's a personal thing. I do agree, with Stan Hieronymus, though, they should have brewed a batch without the maritime treatment to appreciate the difference.

As you can see, marketing tricks can also have noble ends.

Na Zdraví!

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15 Oct 2009

Belgium in Prague

The good people of Pivo-Pivo carry on with their mission to open minds and palates of český pivaří and the general public.

This time is a festival of Belgian beers. Like the previous ones (the one at Christmas, and last Summer's Wheat beer fest) the event will take place in the classy halls of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Over 70 different beers will be presented, many of which, I'm sure, have rarely, if ever, been seen in Prague. A great opportunity for those who are already familiarised with the now relatively easy to find Trappist, etc. , and fancy exploring what else has made Belgium such a highly regarded beer country.
Once again, the event will be divided in sessions limited to 250 visitors each. The sessions are: Friday 3–5 p.m. and 6–9 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.–1 p.m., 2–5 p.m. and 6–9 p.m.; Sunday 2–5 p.m. and 6–9 p.m.

Tickets cost 150CZK and can be booked here or can be bought at Zlý Časy, Pivovarský Klub or at the hotel.

If the weather continues like this, or not, this festival is a great option for doing something different. You can even take your lady. Fancy place, top-notch food prepared by the hotel's restaurant and I don't think there are many women out there who can resist a proper Belgian fruit beer.

Go, don't miss it!

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12 Oct 2009

More taste from Barcelona

It seems that, at least in Spain, I have acquired a reputation, and a good one at that! Thanks to it, the good people of Companyia Cervesera del Montseny thought it would be a good idea to send me some of their beers so I could review them here. Now, together with those I reviewed recently, I have a  small overview of what is happening in Barcelona.

CCM, as they like to be called, is one of the many micros that have opened in Catalunya in recent years. They started brewing about two years ago and now make six different beers, including one that is aged in French oak for no less than a year.

The three samples I got were +Lupulus, +Malta and +Negra. I loved those names! So simple, yet they can say so much about the beers and what you can expect from them. Pity they aren't given more space on the labels. But instead of talking about something as irrelevant as Graphic Design, I should get to what I do well, tasting beers.

I started with +Lupulus, a so called Iber Ale. Before building up any sort of expectations, it should be taken into account that this is not an American beer, it's Spanish. Most Spaniards don't seem to like their beer to taste very much like beer, and the macros do their best to oblige, brewing the blandest pale lagers they can pass as beer. That said, feeling any sort of hops in +Lupulus (the "+" sign should be read as "more"), and I don't mean just bitterness, but actual hops, could be considered an accomplishment.
+Lupulus is palish gold, with generous and lasting white, fluffy head. To be expected for a beer brewed with Pilsen malts, as said on the back label (the web page also mentions wheat and caramel malts). The nose is full of fresh hops, very floral, very English (and it does have Cascade, Fuggles, Nugget, Target and Styrian Goldigs. I'm getting good at this!) with a malty base that gives the needed anchoring. Simple, but well balanced. The beer itself, fortunately, offers no surprise. Middle to light body. Flowers and tropical fruit set the pace well backed by the malts. The beer has some sediment that, when poured, work as a well used spice, bringing up aromas and flavours and giving them a bit more depth.

I really liked +Lupulus. It was just what I was expecting and a bit more. It didn't knock my socks off, but I found it very drinkable and see it as a great summer beer.

Second in line was +Malta, I was expecting something, well, maltier. Fuller body, less hop presence and, why not, some caramel, nuts and a roasty note or two.
For some reason, I thought it would be darker. It poured almost orange, though. The back label says it is a Pale Ale brewed according to the traditional English style (whatever that might be). Still, and maybe because of the colour of the label, I expected something "browner". Colours aside, I didn't like +Malta, at all. Drinkable, it is. It's not offensive and I was able to finish my glass without any suffering. Its problem is that it doesn't meet any of the expectations set by the name. There's hardly any malt in the aromas and flavours (in fact, +Lupulus is maltier). It also has a very thin body with the hops carrying way too much of the tune and is not all that well balanced. Disappointing.

Last, but not least, was +Negra. With a name like that it isn't too hard to meet the expectations. Get the colour right and Bobs's your uncle. The back label says it's a Stout Ale (sic) brewed in the Irish style with three cereals, barley, wheat and oats. The web page gives a lot more information about grist: Pale malt, roasted barley, chocolate, coffee, crystal, caramel and black malts and flakes of barley, wheat and oats. The hops: Hallertau Hersbrucker (that doesn't sound too Irish), Northen Brewer y Styrian Goldigs. Quite a stew!
+Negra honours its name being very black, the kind that absorbs light. The same hops as before (with a minty twist) stand forward in the nose. Now the base is of sweet green apples and roasted notes. The flavour is an interesting, yet not all very well integrated, mix. There's fruit, herbs, sweet coffee, roast and the finish is rather sugary. I wasn't a fan of it at the beginning, but then, when out of nowhere came some chocolate and spice notes in the finish, +Negra slowly won my heart. It's far from perfect, but is a beer with a lot of potential. Perhaps turning down the IBU a notch or two and giving it more muscle could make it a truly fantastic brew.

I will put the overall balance in the black. I didn't like +Malta at all, but I did like +Lupulos quite a lot and +Negra, even though it's not quite there yet, managed to convince me. Now that I think of it, maybe is the latter the one they should age.

Na Zdraví!

Disclosure: CCM sent me two bottles of each beer, a 330ml and a 500ml (the big one from +Negra didn't survive the trip, pity). The reviews are based only on the tastings of the small bottles. And before anyone says it, yes, it was unfair for +Malta. Why didn't I open the other bottle I had before writing the review? Why should I? I'm not a professional reviewer, I'm a consumer and the judgment I pass on a beer is, with perhaps a bit more in depth knowledge, the same as any other consumer's. How many of you would buy again a beer you didn't like?

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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?

Na Zdraví!

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7 Oct 2009

Two Questions

1) Why do some people critisise beers or breweries for being "Commercial"? What is wrong in being commercial? All breweries are commercial! After all, they make beers that at least enough people will want to drink/buy and then try to sell them for a profit (if they want to prosper, that is). Or is it that we should honour those who brew (perhaps even brilliant) beers that nobody is interested in drinking above those who are successful thanks to brewing "just" good beers?

2) Who was the dimwit, creatively handicapped who came out with the term "Gourmet Beer"? Is there anything more hollow than "Gourmet" to describe a beer? (Other than "Super Premium", that is). What is it that makes a beer a "Gourmet Beer"?

I'm not expecting any answers, but if you want to have a go at them, you'll be more than welcome.

Na Zdraví!

PS: I've come to the conclusion that I'm also getting tired of the term "Craft Beer" and I'm seriously thinking about stop using it when describing a beer. It has become rather vague and actually, it's no guarantee of quality; some of the worst beers I've had in my life were sold as "Craft Beer". I think that, from now on, a beer will be for me just "Beer", at most I will use words like regional, micro, small, independent, etc to describe a brewery. After all, if the beer is good, does it really matter how or how much of it was made?

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5 Oct 2009

Another Family Trip

Okoř has always been one of our favourite places. When we lived in Velké Přílepy we used to go there quite often. It was a very nice and relaxed 4-5km walk, even in Winter.

The main attraction of this small village is its castle, or actually, the ruins of a Gothic castle. I'll never get tired of its view, it's got an almost mystic vibe. In fact, all the surrounding area is full of history, magic and legends.
We also liked going for a treat to Dělová Bašta, the hospoda at the foot of the castle. It's architecture makes it seem like part of it. It's a very nice place that also has a very special atmosphere, be it outside on the patio or in the Gothic looking room inside.

At the beginning there used to be good service, so-so food and well drafted beer (back in the days when Staropramen was decent). At some point there was a change either in management or ownership, which brought better beer (Budvar), worse food and abominable service. This made us start going to the restaurant of Hotel Okoř, which, although isn't half bad, it just didn't quite make it for us, it was just not the same (besides, the beer there was never very good)

With all the mess of moving to a new house, I don't remember going to Okoř last year. We did go in May to the annual Medieval festival that takes place at the castle. It was then that I noticed that Dělová Bašta had switched from Budvar to Krušovice, another change for the worse, I thought at the time.

The other day we took my parents to Okoř. The day was a bit cloudy, but it promised to improve, and the temperature was great to go for a long walk, even to dine outdoors. We arrived at around lunch time and, almost automatically, we headed to the castle after we parked the car. When we got to the door of Dělová Bašta I saw a sign announcing Dožínkové Pivo, the new wheat beer from Heineken.CZ, brewed in Austria by three Czech head brewers. I thought that the risk of not too good food and lousy service was a small price to pay in order to taste a new beer.

It turned out that the changes were not limited to just a new beer supplier. Gone were the useless hominids that pretended to be servers, now there were actual people who really served the tables promptly and efficiently. The menu had improved as well, at least on paper. Now the offer was mostly grilled stuff and salads. We found a table on the patio, in a corner where we could park the pram without bothering anyone. The gods were smiling upon us.

My wife ordered a salad with Feta cheese and olives that had real Feta cheese and not the cheaper and not so tasty "balkanský sýr", as it happens at many places. The salad was 135CZK, was quite big and my wife liked it a lot.
My dad ordered a grilled tuna steak that came with a whole potato with Parmesan cheese. A good deal for 195CZK and my old man loved it.
The winner, no doubt was my mum. She ordered a salad with grilled tuna and Parma ham that she said was delicious and a real bargain for 155CZK. Both tuna steaks would likely not have been to the taste of those who prefer them rare, but my parents were really happy with them, and that is what counts.
I went for a pork tenderloin skewer (165CZK) with Šťouchané brambory (something like crumbled potatoes, 35CZK). It was a pretty big portion, with two well sized skewers. I liked that instead of just the typical onion and peppers, the skewers had bits of zucchini and aubergine between the generous and very well grilled chunks of pig. I would have added bacon, but it was still very nice.
Oh! The beer! That's what you come here for and not food reviews, there's people out there that do that better than me (well, actually, there's people out there that write about beer better than me, but I guess I do it well enough). Dožínkové Pivo. I didn't take notes (I don't like very much taking notes when I'm among un-beer people), but I remember that it was pretty good. Rather dry, with strong presence of spice and a sour bite that wrapped things up nicely. My only gripe, it only came in 0.33l Heineken glasses. Why they didn't serve it in adult's portions, I don't know.
Anyway, feeling really happy thanks to our jolly bellies, we went for a walk in the woods that surround Okoř.

The trail snakes between cottages that are mostly weekend and summer homes. There are also a few bigger and very nice houses that seem to be inhabited on a full year basis. We walked all the way to Nový Mlýn, a house in the middle of the forest with one of the most beautiful gardens I've ever seen. Wouldn't it be great to set up a brewery in a place like that?
Before going back home we stopped at the restaurant of Hotel Okoř to have something sweet. We sat on the patio in front of the building. We didn't enjoy ourselves so much this time. It wasn't because of anything wrong with the service or food, both were good, neither because of the place, very nice. It was because of the swarm of flies that infested the spot, which basically chased us away as soon as we had finish our sweets. Pity.

It was a great day. We all had a fantastic time, even my little daughter. Okoř is really a place worth visiting.

Hradní restaurace Dělová Bašta
Okoř 36
+420 777 265 672
delovabasta-okor@seznam.cz
Back to Dožínkové Pivo. I had it again a few days later at Špejchar, the country pub that was my second home while I lived in Velké Přílepy. This time it came as it should be, in a half litre ad-hoc glass. I found it quite different, there was more banana, dancing a beautiful dance with the clove, and the sourness was much more subdued. I liked it more, it tasted a bit similar to Primátor Weizenbier. It can be that the one I had in Okoř wasn't so fresh anymore.

Anyway, I tip my hat to Heineken.CZ. Even though the have closed down a couple of breweries (and will likely do the same to another one soon), they seem to be caring about the quality of the beers they still make. (perhaps they should care a bit more about the quality of Starobrno Černý, I had it the other day and it tasted like regular Starobrno, not bad, with food colouring, very bad).

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