19 Aug 2010

News Flash

I was going to publish a review of Spanish beers, but that would have been two reviews in the same week, so I decided to leave it for later. So we'll have to make do with a compilation of news, some of them not so new.

Brewpubing

I've given up all pretense of keeping up with the openings of new brewpubs. How many have there been so far this year, 10? It's amazing. I have tasted the beers of several, though,  and there's a bit of everything, from the ones from Mutějovice, which I found on the wrong side of average, to Černý Orel from Kroměříž, a Baltic Porter-like dark beer, that was really, really good.

The ones I can (barely) keep up with are the brewpubs from Prague.

Finally Jihoměstský Pivovar is living up to its name. Since sometime last month the beers you can drink there are brewed on site and at least the three or four varieties I've tasted make going "do Háje" really worth it.

Closer to the centre, in Nusle, U Banstehu, besides being now 100% non smoking (great!) have already started working with their new and very modern equipment that, I reckon, doubles their capacity. The old pots have made their way to the centre of Prague, to U Dvou Koček, which is already brewing, or should I say "again"? If the claim that this pub has been open since the 17th century is true, then it is very likely that, just like many other šenky in town, they were brewing their own beer until perhaps the late 19th century. I was there like two months ago, when they had just started tapping the first batches. Nothing to write home about, really, perhaps they needed some adjustments in the recipes. However, other people that've been there since have told me they liked those beers a lot, and at 32CZK a pint in the centre, there's not much we can complain about.

"Ejls" and other top fermented goodies

I was in Varnsdorf two weeks ago, visiting Pivovar Kocour to gather material for my next article for Bar&Beer. What I found there was, well, almost a construction site. Besides the some day to be opened restaurant, they were finishing with the installation of some new equipment that will double their current capacity. The star is the set of mashing tun and kettle, literally a museum piece. It looks beautiful, it's over half a century old and it's made of copper. The kettles you see at most Czech brewpubs are actually stainless steel encased in copper, this one is the real deal. One of the owners told me that the plan is to use that additional capacity for the specials and top fermented beers. They want to be able to brew V3, Weizenbock and some of the Ales on a permanent basis and not just whenever the lagers so allow.

Another micro that is brewing some really good top fermented stuff is Pivovar Matuška. To their heavenly Weizen this father and son team have added the wonderful Raptor IPA, the very good California (not to be confused with Bravur's California Pale Ale, that one was nasty) and their newest one, Sahara. A fantastic beer brewed with rice, malted and unmalted barley, Saaz and Cascade hops and packing a lot of flavour despite having only 7ºPlato 2,9%ABV!. A great summer drink, really.

Another great summer drink is Nuselské Bilé (2010 ed.). Just like last year, Zlý Časy commissioned a seasonal brew. Once again, the recipe was Wit inspired, but this time they added a new ingredient, elderflower (they used actual flowers, hand picked in the countryside). The resulting beer is very aromatic, very refreshing and with a lot of drinkability thanks in part to its 11ªplato and 3.8%ABV.

Inspired by Zlý Časy, První Pivní Tranwaj, also decided they would have their own beer, Tranwaj 11%, an Ale based on a recipe by Honza Šuran that includes oats, American hops and Scottish yeasts. Very nice, interesting and well balanced even with a couple of rough edges.

And since we are talking about Yanks. Chirs Baerwaldt, an American home brewer who's been living here for quite some time has started to brew commercially under the name of Pivovar Zhůřák. His beers have already been seen at several hospody in Prague. I've only tasted Total Eclipse Black Ale , which get both thumbs up.

The Vikings have landed!

The other day I sent an e-mail to Mike, owner of Odd Dog, to see how he was doing. Very well, he had just come back from a trip to Norway and Denmark from which he came loaded with news, delicious news: Nøgne-Ø, Mikkeller, Nørrebro and Amager in an impressive range. The beers are available for purchase either on Odd Dog's e-shop or at Pivoteka Zlý Časy.

So many good news!

Na Zdraví!

PS: It's nice to see some brewers using imported hop varieties. I just hope this will not en just in the American ones that they will start using British, German, etc. varieties as well.

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6 comments:

  1. It§s almost a pity, all this new choice.. An excess of choice tends to make people picky, self=obsessed or, in my case, exaggeratedly conservative. Some day, when every pub worth its salt has upwards of ten taps, we§ll think back and remember those heady days when you had to be in the know just to find primator weiss on tap, or when you could still stumble with glee onto a tiny brewery while tramping through the countryside...
    Maybe what really makes me a little sour on the whole thing is the premium prices for all these fancy new brews, setting them aside for only the distinguishing (and suitably well-heeled) customer and (I have a sneaking suspicion) pushing prices up overall as well. I have to wonder long and hard to what extent the higher pricetags are actually a result of using more expensive ingredients and what is just an opportunity to tap into the Premium market... Certainly things like using hops from halfway around the world strike me as kind perverse considering the country we live in.

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  2. I see your point, but I don't know if I agree with you. I think it's great we have so much variety. IMO, the more the better. Anyway, when I go to one of these pubs I usually start with something I know and like and then, if I feel like it and have time, I switch to something new.

    On the other hand, I do agree that so much to choose from can be intimidating to some people.

    And you are also missing the point with the expansion of the "multi-tap" pubs. Though there's still plenty of room for growth, they will always be an exception, most pubs will stay with the model that has worked so well for ages, having just two or three taps because the truth is that most people don't really care too much about what they're drinking as long as it is familiar and relatively well tapped.

    On the prices, though, I don't agree with you at all. I don't think 40-45CZK is that much to pay for a good quality pivo from a (non-brewpub) micro like, say, Matuška, specially when you consider that you'll be hard pressed to find tanková PU for less than 35CZK these days. Shit! Even paying close to 30CZK for Gambáč is not so rare.

    As for the hops. Why not? Yes, Saaz hops are great, no doubt, but I don't see anything wrong with trying to add a different character to beers.

    But the beauty of all this is that if you don't want to pay that much and/or want to stay conservative (and I don't see anything wrong with that) even at places like ZC or U Prince Miroslava you'll have at least a desítká or a jedenátcká for around 30CZK or less, while at the same time making happy those who want to drink something different at least every now and again.

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  3. More of a provocation really - Every coin has two sides, sometimes it's important not to forget about the other one, that's the main point I'm trying to make. For the time being I welcome and applaud it, but at some point it may be time to go from the vanguard of change to the vanguard of the backlash :)

    On the price issue though, I'm genuine - 45 crowns for a beer is fine if I'm going to drink one and go home. But that doesn't happen very often. It is well established that Prazdroj can get away with charging more in the Czech Republic because of its market share and brand loyalty. It's one of the things that pisses me off about Lobkowicz - it's a decent beer but it can't just waltz in and expect to be Pilsner Urquell just because it markets itself as it. There are people who won't drink anything but Plzen, that is the strength of its position. Their price is higher than it has to be because of that and I'm generally only willing to pay it if I'm in a classic tank place where that's all they serve or if the desitka's truly shit. I understand these small breweries wanting to make themselves even more premium, but they haven't earned it, they just want it, and I may never find out if many of them are worth it, because I've had beers at that price that certainly weren't. They were fine, but not CZK 45 fine. For a 18° or something, OK, because I really am only going to have one of those. But let's not forget that not long ago the smaller breweries could boast being better AND less expensive. If the trend means that goes away, I'll be more than a little sad.
    And there are still places in Prague where you can get tanková plzeň for CZK 27. I guess the punk in me doesn't want things priced out of reach because of marketing.

    As for the hops...meh, I guess I really am conservative, but I never missed not having access to different styles here and a main reason for supporting smaller breweries for me is the greater reliance on local ingredients.

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  4. Well, it is quite difficult to brew IPa with Saaz hops. and Tesco makes sales when they usually offer Novic or other smaller brewery brands for about 5kc or les...
    Honza

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  5. Screw the premium shit. Kout na Sumave desitka for 20kc at U Slovanske lipy is as premium as it gets.

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  6. Lets hope Kocour is in transition, their beers have been awful all summer, and that's from a big fan. I personally don't rate Matuska and think they are slightly taking the piss with their prices. The Californian was so average:/
    I agree there's some pretty average stuff being sold for 45kc a pop, which should really be the price for a special, not a lezak. Let's hope Chyne never change.

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