30 Dec 2010

And it's gone

What a year this has been! Quite fun around here.

Writing for the magazine Bar&Beer has been very interesting and seeing my name in print is still a great feeling. I don't know how much the magazine's readers have enjoyed my articles, but I did enjoy writing them and also researching for them. Thanks to that, I had perhaps the greatest beer experience of my life. I already have a few topics in my mind for next year that I believe will be quite interesting. But Bar&Beer won't be the only magazine I'll be writing for next year. The other day I submitted my first piece for Pivo-Bier-Ale, a new specialized magazine that should hit the stands some time next month and for which I will write reviews of imported beers.

The presence of Pivní Filosof in the media during 2010 was not limited only to paper, it was extended to TV. The reactions to my appearance in Clase Turista were amazing, 3000 visits on one day (1000 after the re-run), loads of messages and comments on the blog, on Facebook and by e-mail and the offer to have an even bigger (and this time, paid) role in another TV show, which I've been told will air in March or April (we had a lot of fun that day, and some people at Zlý Časy are still talking about it).

Not related with those above, but more related to the blog was the work I did with Viamedius during that hectic four day trip back in November. Another fantastic experience, and I'm looking forward to see the final result on the website in a couple of weeks.

Regarding the blog itself, I'm happy with what I've written this year. Yes, some of the post are better than others, but overall, I'm satisfied with my job and hope to keep on improving next year. However, the best of all has been the people that I had the chance to meet thanks to the blog, some of whom have become great friends whom I hope to see again soon.

After some brooding, I've decided that next year I will write less. I want to dedicate more time to some other projects I have, the most important of which is my book, which I want to have finished by the Spring.

And since I'm around, here's my version of "The Golden Pint Awards":

Imported Bottled Beer of 2010
I had a lot of truly fantastic beers this year. If it was limited only to those that I reviewed here, the choice would be really difficult, maybe even impossible if we are talking about beauties like Aquavita Porter, Don Toto or Fuller's Vintage Ale, just to mention a couple. Fortunately, there were many more beers that went down my throat without getting any reviews or tasting notes, and it is one of them that takes the prize: Brauerei Weber Landbier Rauch, a drop of heaven that I hope Hanz will bring again soon.

Imported Draught Beer of 2010
A much easier decision, the offer hasn't been that wide. It was great to be able to drink on tap Hardcore IPA and 5AM Saint (which pleasantly surprised me), but the prize also goes to Germany: Schlenkerla Urbock (though, that Gose that showed up in summer wasn't that far).

Czech Bottled Beer of 2010
Another easy decision, Eggenberg Nakouření Švihák, it might not be my favourite smoked beer, but because is a very good product from an industrial brewer that tends to go unnoticed and it has become a usual dweller of my cellar.

Czech Draught Beer of 2010
It was harder to choose here. I could have picked some of the seasonals that showed up throughout the year, or some of the non-lager stuff from Matuška, Kocour or Třebonice. I could have picked something from Kout or Tambor. I also thought about the Černý at the brewpub in Kladno, among the many wonders brewed my Czech micros, but I chose one that I like more and more every time I drink it, and which I can drink quite early if so I choose, Tmavá 10º de Polička, as tapped at that small café in Žižkov.

Beer Blog of 2010
In Spanish: 2D2dspuma, por favor. It is interesting to see things from the other side of the counter, without that automatically meaning that they want to sell you something, and better stil when it is done with a great dose of irony and sense of humour (not to mention the sometimes funny debates some of the posts generated).

In English: Pete Brown's, specially for his series in response to the neo-prohibitionists and his comments on marketing bollocks. Honorable mention for Martyn Cornell and his experiment with an IPA.

Beer News of 2010
Easy. On the one hand, the amazing number of new micro breweries that have opened (does anyone know how many have there been this year?), on the other, the "crisis" at the multinationals and the success that some regionals are having, which has generated some curious responses by Plzeňský Prazdroj. The best of all is that it seems the trend will continue during 2011.

So, what do you say? What are you beer highlights of the year? What are your beer plans for 2011?. Whether you want to share your thoughts or not, I just want to wish all of you nothing but success in the coming year. I hope it'll be at least a bit better than this one.

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23 Dec 2010

Big Dogs

There's something that I've been wanting to say here, but until today I never had the excuse: I'm bored of BrewDog's marketing gimmicks. That "strongest beer in the world" stuff was just childish and the dead squirrel stunt was downright silly. And I also don't buy all that "Punk" bollocks. James Watts and his associates are no more punk than me or my daughter. They are very smart business people who know very well how to sell their brand, which is no minor thing.

Of course, all this is of very little, in any, relevance. What interests me the most as a consumer is what I have in the glass and it should be said that, marketing bollocks or not, this Scots really know how to make beer. I've drunk many of the products of BrewDog and there hasn't been a single one that I disliked, from the simple stuff like Zeitgeist, to the more complex like the Paradox series. (though, based on some some comments I've heard and read, Tactical Nuclear Pinguin could have been the exception).

And since I've brought up the topic of complex beers. Not long ago, James was kind enough to send me a box with samples of three of their newest products, both versions of Bashah Reserve and two bottles of AB:04.

I really liked the original Bashah, I drank several after I reviewed it and my opinion of it did not change. Back when they announced it in their blog, BrewDog mentioned that they had set a few hl aside to mature for a year in whisky barrels in two versions, one with tayberries and the other with rasperries.
I randomly opened the former (the other one will age for some time) not really knowing what to expect as I had no idea about what those berries would bring to the beer, and what a curious beast I found!. My good friend Velký Al said the other day that balance is one of the elements that makes a beer good, and I couldn't agree more. If there is something that Bashah Tayberry Rererve lacks is balance. There is red wine with a lot of tannins, fruit, chocolate, coffee, spice, tartness, liqueur and wood, everything without much order. I didn't like the first two sips very much, really, but after the third I started seeing the method to this madness and somehow, and please, don't ask me to explain how, the beer ends up working out very well. Even my wife, not a friend of very weird beers, liked it. It is something to sip quietly, preferably, without anything that will distract you. I really enjoyed this monster a lot.

AB:04 is the latest release of the Abstrakt family, a parallel line from BrewDog that consists of one-off, limited edition beers that are said not to fit into any category. The previous three releases of Abstrakt are available in Prague, but I must confess that I never thought of buying any of them. My current financial situation forces me to be very selective in my shopping and to try to get as much from my money as possible, so I prefer to distribute a given amount on several beers, instead of only one. But I was curious about them and, even though AB:04 is very different from the rest, I hoped it would give me at least at little idea of what I was missing.

Somewhere I had read something about this beer, but by the time I had the bottle in front of me I had forgotten about the details, I usually don't pay too much attention to what is said about beers I don't think I will drink (fortunately, with this one in particular, my forecast was wrong). The only thing I was sure was that I was about to drink a very black beer with a whopping 15% ABV. (It turned out to be an Imperial Stout brewed with coffee, cocoa and chilli)
AB:04's nose has notes that reminded me of Amontillado Sherry (or was it Oloroso? I've forgotten already what the different types are like) with some roasted nuts. As expected, this is a very complex beer and, fortunately this time, very well balanced. Burnt wood, spice, dried fruit, a touch of wine, Sherry and a mild spiciness by the end the associated more with black pepper than chilly. Just one it seems that it all ends there, leaving you with a slightly sour aftertaste, the real finish walks in and it almost blew my mind. Intense, but smooth, coffee liqueur, which does not so much explodes as it blooms in the mouth and lingers for quite some while. It's wonderful. AB:04 is an outstanding dessert beer, great to share in winter evening.

Thanks once again to James for sending me these beers and the two bottles of Hardcore IPA that escorted them. And since I'm here, I would like to wish everyone at BrewDog and all my readers and friends a very happy Christmas, which I hope can be spent with loved ones and good beer.

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22 Dec 2010

Christmas crawl

I'm pretty busy and very tired these days and actually, I can't be arsed very much with Christmas this year. I would like to go to sleep and not wake up until Jan. 2 or 3. This, of course, doesn't mean that I'm not in the mood to taste some of the stuff that's been specially brewed for the season.

For a couple of weeks already, Pivovar U Medvídku has been offering Kaštanové Pivo, a beer brewed with an adjunct of chestnut flour. Very nice, the chestnuts are very subtle, yet they give a nice twist to the beer, resulting in something completely different to the other beers from U Medvídku. Brew Master Laďa Veselý told me he would have liked the beer to be more "chestnutty", but it was the first time he was working with the ingredient and he preferred to err on the side of caution (which, by the way, was a good decision because the flour was a bit of a nightmare to work with).

U Klokočníka, that lovely dive in the backstreets of Nusle is already tapping the Tmavá 13º from Pivovar Kácov. It's a shame that they serve it so bloody cold! I had to leave it for some time by the radiator that was next to my table to be able to pick some flavours. Quite similar to Eliška, though more on the roast side of the tracks.

Just nearby there, at Pivovar U Bansethů, I was able to taste the house's Christmas special. A Světlý Speciál with 15º Plato flavoured with vanilla and clove. I wasn't expecting too much from it, really, but I must say that I did like it. Both spices are very well blended together and with the rest of the beer. However, I would have liked to order a small glass, by the end of the půl litr I wasn't enjoying it so much anymore.

I don't know if it is still available anywhere, but the Christmas Ale from Pivovar Kocour that I drank last week was incredibly good. It reminded me to Fuller's 1845, though a bit darker and not as smooth. A great winter beer, one of those that will warm your soul.

As expected, this year, Pivovar Matuška also brewed their Vanoční Dopplebock 19º. I had a glass at Zlý Časy yesterday and at the beginning I was wishing it had more hops. I ended up liking it more by the end. It's got nice biscuit notes, a touch of spice and some dried fruits. A sipper that I reckon can be enjoyed better if served at 12-15ºC.

However, from all this, the one that I've liked the most so far is Zkouřenej Nuselák, elaborada en Chýně para Zlý Časy with 90% of smoked malts in the grist. Fantastic, simply fantastic. Thanks to the low attenuation typical of the beers from Chýně, this rauch has a firm and solid base full of sweetness, caramel and fruit that perfectly balances to bacon from the rauchmaltz. I have a couple of bottles in the garage that will sure pair perfectly with the Christmas duck.

Leaving the seasonal thing aside for a bit, but staying with the smoked beers. Yesterday, while I was making dinner, I opened a bottle of Schlenkerla Eiche. A new Dopplebock from the famous Bamberg brewery made with malts smoked with oak.
I don't want to lie my face off saying that I am able to tell what sort of wood was used to smoke the malts, but whichever it is, Schlenkerla Eiche is heavenly. Rasins, prunes, roasted autum fruit and sponge cake all wrapped in the highest quality smoked ham. And I don't care what the bottle says, I don't believe this beauty has 8%ABV. When I finished the bottle I went to open another one (this time enjoyed with some top of the range Chorizo Ibérico) and if it hadn't been that my hands were busy with the food, I would have knocked that first one down in three or four swigs.

So, if you are in Prague, you still have time to buy a couple more things for the Christmas table.

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13 Dec 2010

Killing time in Žižkov

The other day, as I was almost arriving at my client's office in Churchillovo Nám., my mobile rang. It was my client saying that she was just leaving the Parliament, where she'd had a meeting that had extended for longer than expected.

I got off the tram at Husinecká counting that I would have to kill around 20 minutes and what is the best way to kill time in Prague? Got for a quick pint, of course.

I quickly scanned my mental database of watering holes in the area, looking for a suitable one to stop by. I chose that small pizza place with a Ježek sign outside, almost opposite the square. It had been closed for some time, but it had recently reopened.

I got in and, even before taking a seat at the bar, I ordered a jedenáctká (for 22CZK). I'm a big fan of the multi rotating tap pubs, but sometimes I just prefer to go to a place and just order a "pivo" without having to ponder about it.

The first pint went down as if it hadn't existed and the second one didn't take long to come. As I was sipping it, the barman asked me how I was liking it. I said that I was liking plenty, thank you. (Really, the desítka and jedenáctká from Pivovar Jihlava are simple, but still solid daily drinkers). I also asked him how he liked the beer and he said he was surprised by it. When he took over the restaurant, the contract with the beer supplier was included. At first he was wary, but after tasting Ježek he ended up liking it a lot. But the most surprising thing for him, though, is that who go to his restaurant because of that beer.

Say what you want about K Brewery, but the fact is that they've done a really good job with some of their breweries. Besides, just the fact there are in Žižkov people who will choose a pub because it stocks the stuff from Jihlava deserves at least some praise.

The next day, at around 10AM, I was again in Žižkov. This time in the vicinity of Palác Flora. Once again, I had some time to kill and I decided to go to one of my usual places for such ends, Kaaba, the Lucemburská branch. It's a nice, quiet, small coffee shop where the owner usually plays music I like and where I can drink one of my favourite dark lagers, Polička Tmavé Výčepní.

I took a seat by the window and the owner asked if I wanted a tmavé, warning me that it wouldn't be the usual stuff, but Eliška, a 13º Tmavé Speciál brewed for the Chistmas season.

What a lovely beer! A perfect and subtle blend of chocolate and coffee, seasoned with a pinch of herbs and a touch of licorice. A wonder of balance, which shouldn't be surprising since the beer was lagered for 150 days. Tasty, warming, it shows that a winter beer doesn't need to be strong to do its job well.

Later a friend told me he had it at Hrom do Police. So, if you are around, the detour might be well worth the bother.

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10 Dec 2010

What? More work?

On Monday I told you how busy I've been these days. Well, it turns out that now I've got more to do!

A new Czech magazine has asked me to review imported beers and my first assignment are these three samples from De Molen
It crossed my mind to find someone to do it for me, but that wouldn't be ethical, so I guess I will have to do it myself. Bugger!

I must leave now. Duty calls.

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8 Dec 2010

Long Overdue

With so many interesting topics to write about (besides, plenty of work of the kind that pays), I've been delaying these reviews of English Ales for a few months already.

I got them from Mark and Sarah, an English couple and readers of my blog. We met for lunch back in August and as usual in this kind of meetings, we had a great time. It's really incredible how the mutual interest, if not passion, in beer makes it possible for people from different countries, ages and walks of life to feel almost like old mates once they meet personally; and this is, by far, the best this blog has given me and, no doubt, one of the things motivates me to keep on writing it.

But let's talk about the beers. Mark and Sarah brought me samples of three breweries of their region, plus one from a London micro they picked on their way to the airport, all of them bottle conditioned. Their presentations are fantastic, as I'm almost used already with English beers and, except the Londoner, all are below the 5% ABV, session fodder.

The first one that I tasted was Dorothy Goodbody's Wholesome Stout from Wye Valley Brewery. The reason I chose it to open this "session" despite being the darker and stronger of the three regionals was the illustration on the label. On the back we are told that Dorothy Goodbody's is a real character, if that's true I would love to meet that bird (but don't tell my wife).
But well, the girl on the label looks very nice, but what about the beer? It's a Stout, so it's not pale. What surprised me a bit, though, was how much capuccino-like forth it poured with. Otherwise, this is beer of the kind that is best enjoyed in large gulps. It doesn't say much when sipping it, but drink it with thirst and you'll get its full expression. Bitter cocoa, roasted fruit and a finish that starts out dry, but leaves a mild, sweet coffee aftertaste. Pretty nice to knock down a few during a chat with friends.
A couple of days later (I didn't drink all the beers in one seat) I opened This de Teme Valley Brewery. Besides liking its name a lot (the brewery also sells a beer called That and another one called Wotever Next, This was perhaps the one I most wanted to taste. England has a well deserved reputation of tasty, yet relatively low in alcohol beers. Unfortunately, the 3,7% ABV of This don't live up to the fame. It's not that there was anything wrong with it, it does down well and, technically speaking, I didn't notice any flaws. What it lacks, though, is what for me is most important, flavour and personality. Despite being a bottled Real Ale I didn't find it much different than an average Czech desítka.
Fortunately, Town Crier, from Hobsons Brewery comes with a bit more flavour. However, this Golden Ale with 4.5%ABV, isn't the "Beer with a big voice" that the back label announces. It tastes fresh with notes of creal, white bread and a mild bitterness in the finish. Refreshing, summery, thirst quenching, good to liven up the conversation around a grill, but beers of that sort are plenty around here and they don't need to be Real Ales for that.
And interesting thing on the bottle is the label on one of the sides that shows the tasting notes according to the Cyclops method. Favoured by my friend Velký Al, I must say that although I don't use them, I believe it is really easy to understand.
To close this session I left the Pale Ale from The Kernel Brewery in London, the strongest of the lot with 5,7%. It pours paler than I expected (for some reason, I still get suprised by such pale Pale Ales). The nose is mostly juicy tropical fruit, which mixes really well with the grapefruit that appears on the palate. Both are very well held together by a malty base that brings a very nice balance. Very pleasant. Unlike the previous three, this Pale Ale can be enjoyed in short sips. I can't even imagine what it must be like right at the brewery.

I wasn't too happy with the three regionals as a whole. I did like the Stout, yes, but, if compared, the one from Titanic Brewery is a few steps above Dorothy. The other two, on the other hand, aren't any better than what I can find here pretty much anywhere, which perhaps adds to the, for me irrelevant, debate about whether a Real Ale is automatically better than a CO2 injected beer.

Thanks again Mark and Sarah for these beers. The bottles are now making my library a bit better looking.

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6 Dec 2010

Busy

I have a couple things to write about, but I've had a bit too much work these days, not with my book, unfortunately, but with some really long and boring translations (I must confess that it is rather frustrating to translate something I doubt many people will ever read) that I need to finish by Wednesday.

Anyway, it's Monday today. It's quite cold outside, not as much as a few days ago, but the temperature is still lovely enough. It's also snowing a bit (not as much as last Wednesday, that was insane!). I got up early and had my mandatory strong, black coffee (without it, my brain won't start up) while I got to work with that translation. After doing a few pages I got a bit hungry so I went downstairs to get a proper breakfast:
Rye bread spread with domácí škvarkové sadlo (home made pork lard with drippings) and smoked beer. Breakfast of champions.

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PS: I didn't need to wear a jacket while I cleared the snow from the entrance to the house and garage.

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28 Nov 2010

Crisis, my ass!

The Czech beer portal Pivni.info published today an excellent post signed by Jindra Dumek that does away with the myth that the Czech brewing industry is in crisis, as it's been reported in the Austrian press and according to what some newspapers' headlines would like us to believe.

It's true that this year the drop in production is expected to be much higher than last year's, more than 10% is estimated. It is also true that the annual consumption per cápita is not 160l any more. However, if you start digging into the statistics you will see that all this is something that, mostly, is affecting the local branches of the multinational giants.

In his post, Dumek, mentions a series of factors that illustrate very well his argument that instead of a crisis, what we are going through here is actually a renaissance:

  • K-Brewery y LIF (owners of Svijany, Rohozec and Primátor), among others, are expecting record growth this year, and this with very little of their production leaving the Czech borders, which proves that last year's results were indeed part of a trend.

  • Pivovar Chotěboř, the first proper industrial brewery to have opened in this country in several decades, has had a spectacular first year in every sense. Commercial success, great praise from the public and a few awards.

  • The number of microbreweries that have opened recently (How many has it been this year? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that more than ten) and how well they are all doing in general. Some have even invested to expand their capacities (or are thinking of doing so) so they can satisfy the growing demand.

  • The increasing popularity of top fermented beers. Ales, Stouts, Wheat beers are part of the portfolio of more and more breweries and now they even have a separate category in a couple of local competitions.

  • The expansion of the "čtvrtá pípa" model, lead by the people of Aliance PIV. A couple of years ago, finding a pub with rotating taps, or even one that offered more than two or three beers from the same company was rare, nowadays it is something that you expect in almost every neighbourhood.

  • There are more people everyday who are becoming interested in beer as a drink and look for and demand alternatives to the best known brands, and those alternatives are becoming easier to find by the day.

What the article doesn't mention, though, is another segment that has grown a lot this year, imported beers. Unfortunately, I'm not talking here about stuff that the likes of Zlý Časy or Odddog are bringing (who might not be doing too bad, but their impact on the market is still insignificant), but the kind of stuff that is brought by the supermarket chains, mostly (which are making a bit of noise): rubbish from Poland, Germany, Romania or Hungary, which are imported for the sole reason that they are cheaper than the cheapest domestic beers (what else can be expected from the supermarket chains? The last thing they care about is quality). These canned urines are slowly eating away bits of the market, but the portion of the pie they are swallowing is, and I'm almost certain of this, that of the usual drinker of Braník and other similar brands, in other words, people who, like the supermarkets, care about price and not quality.

In other words, this is far from being a crisis. But of course, here I speak as a consumer and not as one of the accountants that run the multinationals.

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24 Nov 2010

Heard in Pilsen


On Thursday 11, Nov. at around 6.30PM.
"Ja už Gambáč nepiju. Je hnusnej"
(I don't drink Gambrinus anymore. It's awful.)
This wasn't said by any local beer geek we met at Klub Malých Pivovarů (what a great place!). I was said by the taxi driver that was taking us from the hotel to the centre of town during the almost inevitable conversation that follows the question of what my favourite beer is. It should me mentioned that this man's favourite pivo is still Pilsner Urquell.
That's right, even a Pilsner taxi driver in the city of Pilsen will tell you Gambrinus is crap. No wonder the folks at Prazdroj are a bit nervous these days.

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23 Nov 2010

Just what I needed

Monday evening. I'm tired. Had a long day after a night of not enough sleep. I'm preparing dinner, but my heart is not into it.

I'm thirsty. I go to the "cellar" and find a half litre bottle of:
Happiness.

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19 Nov 2010

More style nonsense

Correct me if I'm wrong, but couldn't this be a summarised history of pretty much every beer style ever?

Someone puts on the market a new beer that was brewed using a new method/ingredients, combining known ones in a new way or simply after giving it a new twist to an already known style(*). Such is the commercial success of this new product that other breweries soon start copying it. This starts a local, regional, national or even international expansion. Time and geography eventually result in this style mutating in order to adapt to changes in tastes, fashions, availability of ingredients, technologies, legislations, etc. in such way that a modern sample may have very little to do with those that gave origin to it. Due to this, and other factors, the popularity of the style also fluctuates.

Whatever the details specific to each style might be, all this is an organic process and not the product of the guidelines of any association or institution. To give an example. In 1842 Josef Groll didn't go to Pilsen to create a new style. He went there because he'd been hired by the town's burghers to brew something new. Groll employed the brewing methods he was familiar with, brought with him a strain of yeast from his native Bavaria and used ingredients that were available locally. The Pilsner Lager was a success, it crossed the border to what today is Germany and from there spread to the world to become the most (and perhaps worst) copied style today. But all that wasn't planned, it just happened because, partly, the beer had arrived at the right time in the right place.

All this is very clear, but it seems that some "Brew Masters" don't quite get it. Let me give you an example. Íber Ale. A Spanish "style". How long has it existed? A few years, at best. How many breweries are there that brew an Íber Ale? Only one, Companya Cervecera del Montseny, with its +Lupulus.

In other words, there is only one product in the whole world that calls itself Íber Ale, and we are already talking about a style? What is the argument of its creator for such grandiose classification? According to the web page:
"With this top-fermented beer we rediscover the traditional beers of our Iberian ancestors (Archaeological sites: The village of Geno (Lleida) dates to 1,000 BC Bronze Age; Can Sadurni Begues (Barcelona) dates to 3000 BC Neolithic Age)."
Let's forget for a moment that the only thing that +Lupulus and those ancient brews have in common is water. Because even if that wasn't the case, if Íber Ale was brewed with the same ingredients as those beers, could we really say the product is, at the very least, similar to them?

Lately there's been a bit of talk about the beers of yesteryear that are brewed based on archaeological findings, among which is Zythos, the beer brewed according to those remains found in Sadurní. That's very fine and dandy, but we actually know very little about them, just a list of ingredients a few tools and that's pretty much it. We don't know in what proportions and how those ingredients were mixed or any details about the process, how many steps it had, what temperatures and times were used, etc.

Of course, we could apply here what I mention above, that styles change with time, but here we don't even have a proper recipe!

But we could forget about all that as well, because regardless of what recipe or process are used to brew +Lupulus, the truth is that it is the only Íber Ale in the world. I don't think that even the most dogmatic member of the Brewer's Association or the BJCP would even consider accepting that as a style.

Mind you, I haven't got anything against these "Pseudohistoric Beers", I think they are interesting products. I haven't got anything agains +Lupulus, either. I liked the three or four bottles I've drunk of it. This is not a criticism of these beers. I just think that Pablo Vijande, the brewer in question, should focus more on improving (or maintaining, depending on whom you ask) the quality of his beers instead of going on with all this marketing bollocks, feeding his ego and writing articles of dubious quality (SP).

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(*) Applying here what we understand today as "Beer Style", which is a relatively new concept.

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15 Nov 2010

The trip, days for and five and wrap-up

What a great time we had in Český Krumlov! The weather couldn't have been any better. It was so nice that we ended up sitting on a terrace by the river drinking coffee under the sun. In mid-November. Incredible.

Like in Karlový Vary, we were very lucky with the Guide that Czech Tourism had arranged for us. A really cool woman who knew very well all the corners of the town and their history, but also seemed to be friends with pretty much everyone there. She introduced us to several very interesting people and left us with the impression that if we ever decide to go back there (something I hope to do soon) we already have some friends to welcome us. Oh yes! And Krumlov almost devoid of tourists is magic.

After saying good-bye to our new friend we went for lunch at a the place that was in our program, a traditional looking pub, cozy and welcoming, with a clientèle that was half Czech half foreigner, located right next to the Egon Schiele Museum. It happened to be the same (and we sat at the same table) as the one we went with my wife when we visited the town shortly after our wedding. The food was fine, though nothing to write home about (except the potato soup, it was awesome). I had Eggenberg dark and I loved it.

When we finished we went back to the hotel to pick our stuff  and get on our way to Prague. A long trip it was, but without any trouble, until we got into the centre.

Our accommodation had been arranged  (and paid) by the Czech Tourist Authority in Spain, who also arranged the rental car. It seems they didn't take this last thing into account when choosing Hotel Adria in Wenceslas Sq. I think that, by foot, I would be able to get to Václavák even blindfolded, but I had never gone there by car and it took us a couple of tries to find the way to get in.

The hotel was nice, much nicer than I had expected, I must say. Without getting to the level of luxury of the room in Pilsen, this one was pretty comfortable and the bed was perhaps the best of the whole trip. Everything was fine, maybe even recommendable, if it wasn't for one detail. The internet connection.

The other three hotels we had stopped at were also four star and at all of them the use of the internet was free of charge. At most, we had to go to the lobby to connect with the Wi-Fi, but that was it. Here in Prague, no such luck, the price was 400CZK per day. Daylight robbery! Even in the centre there are scores of places where you can order a pint or a cup of something and connect without any problems. Why then a hotel that charges 250EU for a night wants you to pay something extra to check your e-mails, or whatever, in the comfort of your room is beyond me.

Since we couldn't kill the time surfing the web, we took the healthy decision of going to Kavovárna to knock down a couple of pints of Kout. From there, we walked to U Malého Glena, where a table had been arranged for us to have dinner and listen to some live jazz.

The band wasn't bad, but they played the kind of jazz that I prefer to listen at home while reading a book. On the other hand, the cheeseburger I had was lovely, it hit all the right spots (and for what I remember, it was expensive at all). I washed it down with Lobkowicz Premium, or so said the blackboard by the bar, I think it was something from Jihlava. Not that I minded, actually.

We didn't stay to see the whole concert. We still had something to do, finish the evening at Zlý Časy. There we did have a good time. But we didn't stay very long, either. We were tired, it was a bit late and we had to start early on Sunday.

Too early for a bed that was too comfortable, but we didn't have much of a choice. We wanted to hit the centre before the crowds. We also had to go to Vyšehrad to shoot something to wrap up the whole thing and to Pivovarský Dům for lunch and to shoot an introduction to the beer chapter of the video. (We ate well, drank much better). Once those things were taken care of, it was time to say our goodbyes and go home, for me, to the airport, for my colleagues.

Of all the places we visited the only one I wouldn't go again is Karlový Vary. The city is nice and it's an OK choice for a one day trip, but unless you are rich there isn't much to do in there.

It's remarkable the contrast between Karlový Vary and Krumlov. Both are perhaps the most visited Czech cities after Prague, but they couldn't be any more different. In Vary's old town there is no life, all you see is luxury hotels and tourist traps. In fact, our guide there said that the locals never visit that part of town, and you can see that.

Krumlov's old town, on the other hand, is full of life. There are normal, every day people struggling to get by just like you and me who live there. And those who don't have a home in the centre go there for drinks, food, fun, meeting friends, sorting things out at the public offices or just hang out, and that is something you can see in the atmosphere (and the prices).

In other words, Krumlov's centre welcomes the visitor to be part of it, regardless of who or what they are, while Vary's is as if it looked at what brand of shoes and clothes you are wearing before deciding if it will let you touch anything.

Another big contrast were the visits to Pilsner Urquell and Budvar. I confess enjoyed the former. I tried to see it through the eyes of my two mates, people who didn't know anything about beer. The multimedia attraction, because that is what it is, is very well put together and didactic. Our guide was really cool and knew her stuff pretty well, but she was just that, a professional guide. Visiting the old cellars is also pretty cool and the beer tapped from the oak barrel is heavenly, but everything is part of a museum, there's no life, just history.

At Budvar, on the other hand, we were received by the PR Managar (thanks Petr, BTW) and our guide was the former Quality Control Manager, a bloke that knows the brewing process left, right and centre and can explain it to the smallest detail without ever becoming boring. But the best was that we visited the actual brewery. They let us into the room where they mash and boil the wort and they even let us taste of the stuff that was being lautered (something tourists don't get to do). The visit ended in one of the lagering cellars where we drank beer that would later be bottled and sold in the shops. We stayed there for quite some time, drinking beer and chatting like old friends. I felt that had we wanted, we could have stayed there for the whole weekend and my two colleagues ended up amazed at what they saw and learnt.

To be fair, though, the visit to Urquell had been arranged by Czech Tourism from Spain, while I had arranged the one to Budvar with Petr Samec by phone, but I somehow doubt that they would have turned out much different regardless of who had organised them.

I must say this was a great experience. I loved being in front of the camera for so much time besides, of course, having the chance to visit several places I had never been to and others I wanted to go again and to meet there some pretty cool people. However, and regardless of all that, by the end we were all very tired and couldn't wait to get back home. Everything had been very intense and long. I'm not complaining, it was a great gig and I would love to do something similar again, but being back home with my wife and daughter is really priceless.

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13 Nov 2010

The trip, day three

After so much unfiltered beer the previous night in Pilsen, I got up yesterday morning with some really nasty farts that would accompany me for the rest of the day. While we were filming in Hluboka I felt tempted the let a couple go just to see the reaction of the guide, a nice bloke who was really nervous in front of the camera.

From there we went to Budějovice. We stopped for lunch at Masný Kramy. Nice hospoda, great food, though I must say that Budvar Kroužkované wan't very nicely tapped. After lunch and spending more than half an hour in the awful traffic of the city centre we reached our main destination of the day, Budvar. They were great with us. It was a nice contrast with the circus we say at Urquell, here we went around the real brewery, not just a tourist attraction. Of course, the visit finished at the lagering cellar, drinking beer tapped straight from the tanks. Tough job this one is.

Now we are in Krumlov, accommodated in a pretty nice hotel that happens to be right next to the brewery. Guess where we went to kill some time before dinner. We ended up making friends with the tapmaster, he bought us a round of slivovice.

After dinner and walking around a little in this magic town at night (something I'd wanted to do for a long time), we went back to Eggenberg and ended up at the concert of a Czech heavy metal band. Very good! But I'm knackered today and we have a long day ahead of us.

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12 Nov 2010

The trip, day two

Breakfast at Karlový Vary. Fine, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Loket: Magic.

Marianské Lázně: Picturesque

Pilsen


The hotel, far from the centre, nasty from outside, but the rooms are almost luxury like.

Pivovar Purkmistr: St. Martin's Goose. Aaaaaahhhhhh. Dark Beer, etc. Aaaaaaahhhhh.

Plzeňský Prazdroj, the historical, Disney like part. Awesome.

Pivovar Groll. Dinner. The house beer. Lovely. Lovely. Lovelier.

Klub Malych Pivovaru. More beer. Really cool.

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PS: Were you expecting something else? I'm in Pilsen, man. Give me a break....

10 Nov 2010

The trip, day one

I’m writing this from a four star hotel in Karlový Vary. Quite nice, though the room is pretty small and rather standarised. OK for one night, I guess, but I wouldn’t like to stay here for much longer.

We got here straight from the airport in a rental car. A Škoda Superb. Lovely, I’ve never been so comfortable in a car. The two Spaniards from Viamedius are really cool, too.
The city is quite nice as well, much less tacky than I had expected, but just as expensive. Good that I am not paying for any of this. We also had a guide today, a really fun girl. She did a good job.

The best of the day, though, was the Spa. The program said we had to visit one the poshiest in town and that I had to test a couple of the procedures. Hard job, I know, but someone had to do it and it felt really GOOD. Yeah , I’m getting paid for this, wonderful, init?

Beerwise, Karlový Vary in a Crap to Awesome scale, with Crap being crap and Awesome being awesome: Crap. I had and off Krušovice Černé a badly tapped and tourist trap expensive Pilsner Urquell from Keg and a decent Kozel Černý, fortunately I didn’t pay for any of them. To be fair, the food at both restaurants (Charleston and Chebský Dvůr – a German themed temple of kitch) was surprisingly good, though the knedlíky at the latter were rubbish.

Tomorrow, Pilsen, I’m sure beers will be better there...

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On a trip

Believe it or not, I will be in front of the cameras again. This time it won't be for the TV, but still it will be something a bit more serious. Viamedius a Spanish travel portal have hired me to host a video to promote the Czech Republic in Spain. The video is produced in partnership with the Spanish branch of the Czech Tourist Authority.

In a few hours I have to meet the people of Viamedius at the airport. From there we will go straight to Karlový Vary to start an almost Japanese style five day trip that will visit several towns and places in the country. Among others, we will also stop in Pilsen, Budějovice and Krumlov, besides Prague, of course.

I've already arranged visits to a couple of breweries, we will also visit several restaurants, a palace or two, we will walk around the cities and sleep at hotels that, at least in their webpages, look quite good. I've borrowed a notebook from a friend so, provided I can get internet access, I will be posting short comments about my experiences in every place, so, stay tuned.

In the meantime, I am a tiny bit nervous because in a way, I will be the face of my adoptive country, very excited because this gig is almost like a paid holiday and I also have a bit of a strange feeling because this will be the first time that I will be away from my family for so long (I just hope Nela will be nice to my wife).

Well, I have to start packing, etc. Just one question before I leave, should I be getting an agent already?

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8 Nov 2010

Bollocks alert!

The other day a magazine from Argentina published an article about the Beer Tasting Courses that will be given at the Escuela Argentina de Sommeliers (the same one whose director doesn't seem to know too much about beer).

The article not only reads like a plug, but is so full of bollocks that it is almost funny. According to the people who will be in charge of the courses, a Sommelier and the Head Brewer of Quilmes (AB-InBev's branch in Argentina), beers can be divided into two categories: "Refreshingment" (loose translation of a stupid made up word in Spanish), i.e. pale beers, and "for delight" (another loose translation), i.e. dark beers. They also tell us that the head affects the "refreshingment" of the beer and that, therefore, dark beers don't have head, etc.

But the best line comes from the mind of Raúl Falcón, the head brewer of Quilmes, who says that the consumer should be "gourmetised" and that beer should be "uncommoditized". Let's forget for a second that this comes from the person in charge of producing the most commoditised beer in Argentina and focus on that "gourmetise" bollocks. WTF is that? Convincing people that they should pay top money for mass produced imported products that are, at best, mediocre if not downright crap, methinks. One of the photos in the article shows several beers, which I assume will be course material, among which are Corona, Negra Modelo and Birra Moretti. I would love to see anyone being gourmetised while drinking those beauties at 7-8ºC.

I'm all for things that aim to open the minds of people towards beer, even if they are part of the PR strategy of a macro brewer, but sometimes I wonder if some of them aren't doing more harm than good. This one in particular seems as something put together in a hurry just because "Gourmet Beers" are the latest market fad and they want to profit from it.

One the other hand, do you think beer tasting courses are really necessary?

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5 Nov 2010

Rolling out the tanks

I'm sure that a lot of you are wondering why I don't publish reviews of pubs anymore and are too shy to ask me. The answer is easy, I'm saving them for my book! But I wanted to make an exception today with a place I found just by chance, Restaurace Kopyto.
I came across it on Monday, on my way between two clients. It's located at one end of the infamous Bořivojova, in Žižkov, near Riegrový Sady. It is said that there are around 30 pubs in this street, but what caught my attention about this one was the slogan above the door "První Lobkowiczká Tankovna". That's right, the people from K Brewery have started to sell tankové pivo.

I was in a hurry that day, but I only had to wait until Wednesday to make my first visit to Kopyto. I took a seat in the small room by the chamber that houses the tanks. The place is pretty big, divided in several spacious rooms, with simple, but rather welcoming decoration. There wasn't much of an atmosphere, it was shortly past lunch time and also everything felt and looked brand new, and it was; one of the waitresses told me they had opened the Friday before.
I didn't have anything to eat, I had already stopped for lunch at the excellent Kralovství, which I hadn't visited for ages. The lunch menu seemed quite interesting, though, and the food I saw passing by didn't look too shabby, either. The service was flawless. Both waitresses were very attentive, friendly and professional. Yes, there weren't many people in, but many times it happens that the promptness of the service is inversely proportional to the number of patrons at a given time.

But what really interested me about this pub was Lobkowicz Premium tanková. Although I find it improved compared to the first time I drank it, I still don't like this beer. I still think it's unbalanced and the Protivín yeasts used to brew it still bother me. (I'm sure that the people of KBG find all this very amusing, the beer is doing really well). Its tanková version didn't win my heart, either. It's got a bit of a fuller taste, but all those things that I mind in it haven't gone anywhere.

But that was not the only piece of beer news I found during my visit to Kopyto. Among the offer of draught beers, which includes Vévoda and Velen, there was Merlín, the brand new product of the group. According to its press release, this black lager has been inspired by Stouts and that's why roasted barley is listed among the ingredients.

I was looking forward to this beer. Kelt, another Stout inspired black lager was a pretty decent brew from Pivovary Staropramen, which unfortunately, In-Bev decided to discontinue, and I wanted to see how they wold compare.

Disappointing, that's the best way to describe it. I don't remember if roasted barley was used for Kelt, but I do remember that it had a more intense roasted edge than Merlín, which in the end tasted like a bog standard dark lager, with very short and boring caramel and those unfitting Protivín yeasts. Perhaps it's better in bottles, but after having tasted in on tap I don't think I'm willing to pay the 20+CZK they want for a 0.33l measure, for that money I'd much rather buy Master 18º.

Anyway, despite this, I still want KBG to do well with the tanks. Who knows, perhaps if they are successful they might start tanking up the other pale lagers of their portfolio, some of which are much better than the flagship brew. I also wish success to Kopyto, I was left with the impression that the owners are people who want to do things well and besides, Lobko does have a good number of adepts who I'm sure will appreciate the possibility to drink this beer at its best.

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Restaurace Kopyto
Bořivojova 116
Praha 3 — Žižkov
+420 774 666 604
info@kopyto.cz
50°4'56.391"N, 14°26'42.656"E

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4 Nov 2010

An old memory

The other day, while I was talking to a good friend, I suddenly remembered a great beer experience I had more than eight years ago.

It was September 2002, barely a month after the terrible floods that had affected Prague and many other towns along the Vltava. I had an appointment at the Czech consulate in Dresden to pick my working visa, but for reasons that are not worth mentioning now, I couldn't make it there and instead I got stuck in Ustí nad Labem, which is far from being the nicest Czech town.

It was somewhere between eight and nine in the morning and I was in a really awful mood. I hadn't slept the night before (my fault) and it had just been made clear to me that I was not going to be able to make it to my destination and that to get back to Prague I would have to wait a couple of hours for the next train. The whole day had been wasted for fuck all.

I remember the weather was miserable, grey and too cold for that time of the year. I didn't feel like exploring the city, but I needed a place to kill some time. The train station was being renovated so I went in search of a coffee shop, or something that would be open.

What I found near the station was a pub that already at that time was open. "Cool," I told myself. "A beer won't do me any harm".

The place was pretty big and it was packed, wall to wall. Half of the patrons were pissed and the other half were working hard to catch up. I found a spot by the bar and, with a tiny bit of fear, I sat and ordered a beer. Zlatopramen, I think it was, and it tasted lovely!(*). Once I had the glass half empty (who said that this means being a pessimist?) I started to get the atmosphere and realised that everyone there was having a good time. The air wasn't full of tension, there was no threatening vibe in it, there was laughter and people speaking loudly and enjoying that time and their beers.

Some of you might say that they were all a bunch of pathetic drunkards who were already shitfaced before 9AM. To me, in that moment, they all seemed like blokes who had just finished their night shifts and were with their mates winding down and forgetting about their problems, at least for a while. Either way, my mood considerably improved (and it wasn't because of the alcohol), the day didn't seem so fucked up any more. On the other hand, that sensation lasted until I got on the train and realised that it was one of those that stops at every bloody station, no matter how insignificant and that because of that, it would take me almost half the rest of the day to get back to Prague, but that's another story.

And there are still morons who will want people to believe that alcohol is worse than heroin and crack (please, do read Pete Brown's excellent take on that).

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(*)I've recently come to the conclusion that the best beer in the world does exist, it's the first one you have each day.

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1 Nov 2010

Perspective

Last week I spent a day shooting an episode of a new show that will air on the Argentine TV. The producers had seen my stellar appearance in Clase Turista and thought it would be great to have the Beer Philosopher in their own show. My job was to take two actors to several local hospody and have a (few) beer(s) at each (yeah, it was a job, I got paid for that. Isn't it great?). We had a great time, the producers were very happy with my acting and I'm already dying to see the end results.

But that's not what I wanted to tell you about.

Among the (many) beers that went down our gullets were Pilsner Urquell and Budvar Světlý Ležák in their tankové versions. Both blew the minds of the actors and the two blokes that were behind the cameras (their minds would be blown a few more times during the rest of the day).

Their reaction brought to my mind the comment that Josetxo left in the Spanish version of the post about Gambrinus XCLNT
"That this (Gambrinus) is the most drunk beer in Prague is a DRAMA.
That this is better than any caña in my town is a TRAGEDY
I don't like Gambáč, I tolerate it when I'm visiting someone or if there's no better alternative and I'm thirsty, but I prefer to avoid it. Pilsner Urquell tanková I can still enjoy at the right place, but it isn't something that will make me go out of my way; and I could say the same about Budvar. In other words, they are just average.

I hope I'm not giving the impression that I feel I'm in a higher plane of existence than those Argentines whose eyes looked a bit like out of a Tom & Jerry cartoon after having their first sip of tanková, or than those Spaniards that rave about Gambáč and Kozel Černý. I just want to point out to how fortunate I feel as a beer lover to be living here in Prague.

We can bitch all we want about the quality and ubiquity of the Gambrinus-Pilsner Urquell combo, but we rarely realise what a luxury that is, because, if we compared those brands with their equivalents from other countries we would see them in a different way.

A bit of perspective can help you to better appreciate what you have.

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29 Oct 2010

Lazy

According to my imaginary schedule, today I was supposed to write the reviews of 4 English Ales, but I can't be arsed. I didn't sleep well and I'm just too tired for that. Instead, I want to share with you some photos I've taken recently. Some of them will make it to My Book (which is coming along really well). I hope you like them.

U Slovanské Lípy
Jihoměstský Pivovar
U Černého Vola
U Černého Vola
U Dvou Koček
Kaaba
Krušovická Pivnice
U Medvídku
Pivovar U Bansethů
Zlý Časy
U Hrocha

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25 Oct 2010

Top fermenting in Lagerland

As a beer lover I feel really fortunate to be living in the Czech Republic, where without having to walk or pay too much I can drink some of the finest lagers in the world, in all their colours and strengths.

I drink bottom fermented beers every day, literally. I haven't got tired of them and never will. However, I also appreciate variety and that's why I'm glad to see that more and more breweries are venturing into the world of top fermented beers and also, that there are distributors who are having some success importing this kind of beers.

And it seems that there are plenty of people out there who think like me, because this Saturday, Oct. 30, Pivovar Kocour is organising in Varnsdorff the Ale Festivale 2010, dedicated exclusively to top fermented beers (yeah, I know that not all of them are ales, but the name of the festival is kind of cool as it is).
There will be several Czech micros as well as distributors taking part of the event. The offer will include some new and pretty interesting looking stuff like the Stout and the Bitter Ale from Zvíkov and the Grodziskie from Pivovarský Dům, plus a couple of surprises from the organisers.

I really wish I could go, but I won't be able to due to family matters. I envy those fortunate souls that will be there. Have one on me.

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21 Oct 2010

Bloody styles

I like discussing styles. It's a very rich topic and it usually generates heated debate. Pete Brown the other day started the latest discussion when he published the first and, a day later, the last of the two posts he said he will ever write on the subject. He was followed by other bloggers like Mark Dredge, Velký Al, Stan Hieronymus and a few more that I haven't read yet. All, together with some of the people who commented in their posts, present more than interesting arguments.

As for me. Well, I consider myself a style anarchist, but at the same time, I think knowing your styles well is important for two kinds of people:
  • beginner brewers because it can help them know what to do with the ingredients and what the resulting beer should be like (something like a cookery book for those who are just starting)
  • judges and organisers of competitions, because style guidelines will help evaluations to be more objective and based on more concrete parameters. (of course, to me, competitions and their result are absolutely irrelevant, but that's another thing)
As for us, the consumers. Each person can have their own point of view. Personally, I care very, very little about styles. My purchases are based on more concrete factors like colour and ABV %. Of course, if indicated, the style on the label will help me know that Beer A, a Barley Wine, will be different than Beer B, a Doppelbock, even though both are strong dark beers. But that is based on personal experience, in the same way that I will know that a Cabernet Sauvignon won't be the same as a Pinot Noir.

And since I've mentioned wines...

In his second post, Pete Brown mentions "wine styles" with the purpose of illustrating his point about beer styles. This is something I've seen many times, drawing a parallel between types of wine and beer in order to prove in a straightforward way that our favourite drink also offers a wide range of possibilities.

And yet, the more I think about this comparison, the more flawed I find it. The main problem is that a varietal is not the same as a "style". Let me explain:

Let's say I have a few vines of Malbec in my backyard and that last year I made wine with their grapes. What I have now in my cellar is a Malbec 2009. Quite likely a very shitty Malbec 2009, but nobody, absolutely nobody can argue that this is not a wine made from Malbec grapes picked in 2009. And if I had also made wine from those grapes this year, I would be about to have a Malbec 2010, and so on until I get tired of it.

Now, imagine I have a few sacks of malt (say Pilsen, Munich and Chocolate) a bag with Saaz or Hellertau hops and a flask with a certain kind of lager yeast. Can anyone tell me what sort of beer I will have as a result? No, I still don't know it myself; and I won't until I have put together or chosen a recipe. And even then, I could say that my beer is a Dunkles and someone else, after an analysis, will say it's a Märzen, just like it happened to Gerardo Fiorotto with his wonderful Don Toto Barley Wine, which for a judge was actually an Old Ale.

Wine has it a lot easier, really. Anyone can understand that a Tempranillo 2007 will be different than a Shiraz 2009, they won't even need to drink them. Now, what is the difference between a Pale Ale and an India Pale Ale?

If we want to draw a good parallel between beer and wine (something quite difficult to begin with), then we should not do it by saying that something like Chardonnay is a style. If we keep on doing this we might fall in the same trap as this dude:
I'm one of those that believes that beer offers a wider range of possibilities to match with food than wine. But at the same time, I find the discussion about whether one is better than the other rather tiring and with very little sense, and the table you can see above is perhaps the worst argument in favour of any one of both drinks.

But back to beer styles. I know about them a lot more now than I did a couple of years ago, yet I don't think I enjoy my beer more now than I did back then.

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18 Oct 2010

Oh God

If there's anyone out there who still doubts that Gambrinus is going through a crisis, I think the new product of the best selling brand in the country will make things clear.

After, what in my opinion was, the pilot test of the unfiltered version of světlý, Gambrinus has now presented something almost revolutionary and very innovative, XCLNT. A new product specifically created for young people (I didn't know youngsters spoke all in capital letters and without vowels).

And what kind of young person is the target consumer of XCLNT? Fortunately, we have the answer right in the first paragraph of the press release announcing the launch:
They are 20 y.o. They live for each moment and friends mean everything to them. A bit dreamers, a bit rebels. They don't want to settle. They are independent and crazy. At parties, they are able to let loose and have fun until the morning. Clubs and bars are their second home. They like being the centre of attention, they wear designer shoes and fashion clothes and at the parties you can recognise them by the fluorescent bottles
I've got no idea how much Prazdroj is paying their marketing research agency, but after reading this I can't help but believe they are paying them way too much. Not only they've put in one paragraph all the clichés you can imagine about people in their twenties, but the new product they have for them is just something they can already buy, but in a new bottle, a fluorescent one. Behold.

Let me put this in other words. The most distinctive characteristic of Gambrinus XCLNT is that it comes in a 0.33l bottle with a fluorescent label on the neck. That's it. BRLLNT, isn't it?

Is this the best that the biggest brewer in the country can do to slow down the loss of sales? Do they really believe this product will work when they are taking their target consumers for a bunch of superficial morons?

Wait! I've got absolutely no doubt that there will be many clubs that will sell it. Prazdroj's sales teams have the resources and the muscle to convince many owners. And I can even imagine hostesses in mini-skirts opening bottles. But what will happen once out of the disco? I don't think this example of marketing laziness will be very effective when it comes to reinforce loyalty to the Gambrinus brand.

Fine, I'm already far from my 20's and I can't remember when was the last time I was at a disco. But I still remember how things were back in those days and, if you don't consider the changes in music and fashions, I don't believe they've  changed much. Dancing, jumping, moving and, with some luck, other more interesting activities will make you thirsty. At the bar there will be plenty to choose from: cocktails, pre-mixed drinks, juices, alcopops, energy drinks, water and beer. If you fancy a beer, you'll get what they give you, drink it and don't think about it anymore. What you want is to refresh yourself and, in that context, any beer will do. The fluorescent label will be a novelty, yes, and maybe even fun for some time, but all that will last as long as a fart in the wind. Your evening won't be any more or less memorable because of XCLNT, or any other beer. The next day o on Monday, you won't go around telling your mates how cool that bottle was. Nobody is going to pick one disco over another because they have this "new" beer. Nobody is going to run to the shop to unsuccessfully look for it only to settle with a boring bottle of Excelent.

I might be wrong. Perhaps next week I will run into a kid in his twenties who won't stop talking about how awesome this fluorescent bottle was. But for the time being, more than XCLNT, this product seems to me quite STPD.

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15 Oct 2010

Just a little detail is missing

After having written about it, I really wanted to taste Svatovaclavské Doppelbock. The other day, while I was in the centre killing some time, I started to think where I could find it and I suddenly remembered Krušovická Pivnice.

I hadn't been there for ages. Actually, I never liked the place too much, but I really wanted to see what that beer was like and I couldn't think of any other alternative. Besides, I was also considering whether this pub should be included in one of the crawls in my book. So, after a quick stop at U Medvídku to say hello to my friend Laďa Veselý, there I went, thinking that even if I didn't like the place, a quick beer wouldn't do me any harm.

I ended up staying for more than one.

Already before walking through the door I noticed some changes. Gone were the writings on the windows and the beer list had slightly changed. Krušovice Imperial tanková and Mušketýr Nefiltrovaný, as well as the expected Dopplebock. And the prices! 25CZK for half a litre of the first two! I doubt you can find something cheaper around there. Once inside, the whole place felt different, really. The decoration was pretty much the same as I remembered it, but I didn't feel like being in a tourist trap anymore, and also the service was great. It was almost like being in an alternative universe, one which I didn't quite want to leave.

And the beers? What about the beers? Oh, yes. That was the weak point, and a pretty important one at that. Imperial was too "green", Mušketýr too watery and murky at the same time and Doppelbock could have been great with bit of a lower attenuation and better integrated alcohol, but still, I was in a way glad to be proven wrong. This season special had absolutely nothing to do with that Dopple-Dopple Bock, it turned out to be something brewed expressly for the occasion.

The conclusion. It might be that the beers were a bit weak, but I still left the place feeling really good, so much that the pub already has a spot reserved in my book. If you are around, give it a go and let me know what you think.

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Krušovická Pivnice
Národní třída 7 - Prague 1
+420 224 237 212
Mon-Sun 11-24

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11 Oct 2010

Good Vintage

Last summer I had the pleasure to meet Edgar, a friend from Barcelona, who was here on a visit with his girlfriend and one of his mates. We had agreed I would pick them up at their hotel to take them to Nusle for some lunch. Needless to say, we had a great time.

Besides been a big beer enthusiast, Edgar is a sommelier at a very well regarded restaurant in Barcelona. But he's not your usual sommelier, he is in charge of the restaurant's beer list. During the meal (and the several beers we had for dessert) we spoke a lot about his job. Edgar told me the beer list is quite successful and that there are more and more people who are beginning to realise what many of us have known for some time, beers usually offer better value for money than wines.

While he was telling me about all that, I couldn't help but think how many restaurants in the whole of the Czech Rep. offer something similar. Only one, that I know of. It might be hard to believe, but at the same time, hardly surprising when you consider that the domestic food gurus will choose something like Stella Artois as the headline beer of their annual event. But well, let's leave that for another time, today I want to talk about something far more pleasant.

Edgar didn't come empty handed. He brought me three different beers: Guineu Coaner, which was every bit as good as the first time I drunk it, though a bit gassier; one from Ales Agullos that is still waiting for its moment and Fuller's Vintage Ale 2009.

If you'd asked people here, most would tell you that the weather we had in September was on the wrong side of rubbish, grey, wet and too cold for the season. To me, on the other hand, it was great. The perfect weather to start drinking certain kinds of beer. Those that are more filling, warmer, with less hops and more malt, more comforting than refreshing. On paper, Fuller's Vintage Ale looked like a perfect example of all that.
And it is spectacular. Simply excellent. I enjoyed every sip, every drop. One of the things I liked the most about it is that the reaction was more "Hmmmmmm!" than "WOW!". Everything in it is comforting and relaxing. Its nose that reminded me of cherries soaked in rum, backed by some caramel notes; its silky body that massages your mouth; its complex flavours that start syrupy and when they are just about to become sickly, turn burnt sugar-like dry with a touch of spice, only to become more like those cherries in rum of the nose, everything sprinkled with touches of dried or baked fruit. It left me with a very pleasant and warm feeling, partly because of the 8.5%ABV. Yes, it does demand a lot of your attention, but it knows how to reward it. A very elegantly bottled treat. I had only one problem with it, though, that was my only bottle.

Thanks, Edgar. Thanks very much for this beauty.

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8 Oct 2010

Progress report

It's been more than half a year since I published a Progress Report about my book. The reason is that, well, there hasn't been much progress since then.

Yeah, I did write many entries and found several new places, but one day I hit a wall. Partly it was because of being too busy or tired, but mostly it was because it came to a point that I didn't know how to continue anymore. Writing one review after another of hospody, etc. from all the corners of Prague had become tedious and, what was still worse, I was afraid that it would also be tedious to read. And I didn't want that.

I had to find an alternative, perhaps I could include some more articles about local beer culture. But that was not enough. I really didn't know what to do. But one night, after going to bed and unsuccessfully trying to fall asleep, I had a revelation. The book would change, and rather radically.

And that is how what was going to be a list of places ordered geographically, became a "Pub Crawl" guide. Now the pubs are going to be grouped by articles that will include at least four or five of them, together with directions, comments about the city and some anecdotes. There will also be lists, but more conceptual, "early boozers", "cafés with good beer", etc.

I sent the first draft of the first crawl to a couple of friends who happen to be top beer writers. The feedback I got from them was very positive and constructive. They gave suggestions, pointed to what could be improved, but the best was that they liked the idea and the style. You can't imagine how thrilled I was by that.

The only inconvenient, though, is that this new format means that I will have to start again almost from scratch. I know my original plan was to have the book ready to publish by the end of this year. This will not happen, obviously. But I'm not discouraged, I believe I will have a better, more original book that will also be more fun to read, and that, to me, is far more important.

To those generous souls who have sent donations, in the following days I will e-mail a polished version of that first crawl. I also want to know your opinions and get your feedback. (If any of you out there want to help finance this project and have a copy of the book once it's ready, just click on the "Donate" button right below my pic).

In the meantime, I'm still wandering around the streets of Prague, always looking for new places that could be included in the book. One day, while walking in Vršovice, I noticed a Bernard sign in a side street. Since I feel I still don't have enough places that offer those fine beers from Humpolec, I went to see what it was about. Finské Centrum, or something like that, it was called, and it was a sauna club. Interesting idea, I thought. It could be nice to have a good, crisp Bernard Světlý Ležák after having stewed in a sauna. The place was closed, so I went to the notice board next to the door to see what the opening times were. What I found was this photo:
Finské Centrum, or whatever its name is, won't be included in the book. No way. If I wanted to, it would mean I would have to visit it, and I don't think I want to do that. I get goosebumps just from thinking about it.

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