31 Mar 2010

Welcome changes

For 16 years now Jáma has been a favourite among Prague's English speaking expat community. However, for several reasons, this pub has never been in my regular rotation. Not that there was anything wrong with it, I ended up satisfied the few times I visited it, but I still didn't feel like going back, not my cup of tea. Regardless of that, when its owner, Max Munson, sent me an email inviting me to a press conference I didn't hesitate to answer I'd be there.

And no, It wasn't (just) because of the promise of free food and drink. Jáma had recently decided to put an end to a decade long business relationship with Plzeňský Prazdroj. Their new beer supplier was going to be from now on K-Brewery Group.

I had heard something about it, but at the time I thought Jáma would only stock Lobkowicz Premium (a beer I still don't like, and understand even less) and perhaps a couple more. Well, I was wrong. Besides changing suppliers, Max had decided to adopt the "čtvrtá pípa" model, or rotating beers. He had 12 taps installed, 9 reserved for the beers from KBG (6 fixed, the rest rotating), one with what is left of Pilsner Urquell and the other two for "guest" beers, at the moment from Kocour and Matuška, with others to show up in the future.
Of course the press conference hadn't been called just to announce the new beer list, but to introduce some of the people in charge of K Brewery, and that was what made me go.

Because of work (the one that pays the bills, that is) I couldn't get there on time. When I arrived the conference was well on its way, so I took the seat that had been reserved for me and got to eat and drink while listening and taking some notes. I heard a couple of interesting things. KBG is preparing a "dark companion" for Lobkowicz Premium, which they will start selling once they figure out which of their seven breweries will make it (Černá Hora seems most likely). They've also hired a couple of specialist to negotiate with the bags of shit that the supermarket chains are to secure a wider distribution for their portfolio.
Of course I wasn't just there to eat and drink for free, I'm a journalist! I had questions that needed to be answered! I asked first about maltings. They said that a couple of their breweries have maltings, but that they aren't enough to supply all of them and so they are planning to either buy some malting facilities or set up their own in the Haná valley. My second question was actually meant more to give the impression that I know about beer. KBG's slogan is "Navrát k Tradíci" (Back to Tradicion) and I asked if they were thinking of going back to the pre-1842 traditions of top fermented beers. Great was my surprise when Jiří Faměra, the Technical Director, said they were actually considering it, and that now that they've taken over Černá Hora, which has the facilities to make this kind of beers, it's something they will start thinking more seriously about.
When the conference was over I had the chance to have a chat with Mr. Faměra (who graduated from SPŠPT) and his girlfriend, a beer microbiologist, both really friendly and a lot of fun to be with. We talked, of course, about beer. I asked him if they were planning to promote Velen, the wheat beer Černá Hora had put on the market last year, before they were fully taken over by KBG. He said they were, which made me really glad, I had it the other day on tap and found it very, very good.
When we were already quite relaxed and chatting away like old mates, I decided it was time to get serious and ask the question I'd been long wanting to ask. Many in the local beer community believe that KBG is no more than a proxy of Heineken, or another multinational, something I never believed myself. I asked Faměra what he thought made people believe that. He said that at the beginning they made the mistake of being secretive, which at a time when Heineken was on a shopping spree, generated all these rumors. They are trying to change that now. The truth is that several of the company's honchos are former people of Prazdroj, Faměra included, who after leaving the giant got together with other moneyed people to set up KBG.

After the conference, the chat and having shaken hands and seen the faces of some of the people in charge of KBG, I must say I was left with a good impression. I don't think they are saints, but I do believe they are committed to good beer and I have no doubt they aren't under the orders of any multinational. Which, of course, doesn't necessarily mean that if tomorrow one of those multinationals came with a good enough offer they would refuse to sell.

Since I didn't have the chance to speak to Jáma's owner and know his view on these things I arranged an interview with him a few days later. I still had several questions to make.

The fist was about the results of the change so far. Very positive, Max is very satisfied with the support from KBG, he likes the beers a lot and they are selling really well. He told me he had compared figures from the last two weeks before the change with those from the first two weeks after it, and noticed that they are selling considerably more beer than before. He also noticed that most people will not just stay with one beer for the whole evening, but will go through several from the list.

Another thing that concerned me was the rotation and condition of the beers. Nothing to worry about here, fortunately. Kegs are kept and tapped from a room with a constant temperature of 11ºC. And regarding the rotation, they started with 15l kegs for all the beers, but for a couple of them they are now ordering 50l ones. I must add that all the beers I had were in very good shape, as far as I can tell, though a bit too cold for my taste.

My next question was about the staff. How well informed are they about the beers they are selling? Before, with Urquell and Gambáč nobody was going to ask anything. Now, on the other hand, with all these "exotic" names, thinks could be different. Two of the waiters already knew quite a bit about beer and the rest know the basic stuff, which should be enough to answer most of the questions the average patrons are likely to ask, and they are eager to learn more. Before start selling their beers, KBG took the whole staff of Jáma on a visit to Pivovar Platan, where Lobkowicz Premium is brewed. For many, it was the first time they had been to a brewery and the experience generated a lot of enthusiasm for the new beers.
During the press conference Max mentioned that he was planning to put more emphasis on beer and food pairings (he's got quite a rich experience with wines) and add a pairing suggestion to every meal on the menu. When I asked him about it, he said that it was still in a very early planning stage and that he actually saw it as something difficult to realise, given the rotating beers thing. However, they had decided to start offering a "Chef Specials" menu with just a few items that will change periodically and it is here where they will start suggesting beer pairings based on the list of each day.

We closed the conversation talking about the branch Jáma is soon to open near the National Theatre, which will of course also offer regional beers from six taps, one of them rotative.

But this has become too long, there were a couple more questions, but I'll deal with them in a future post. For the moment, all I can say is that what I saw was very positive. Change not only is possible, but can also be lucrative.

Oh! And for those of you who are wondering whether Jáma will now become part of my regular rotation. I still don't know, really. I will see once the summer patio opens in a few days. There aren't many options in the centre where one cne can have a nice beer al fresco.

Jáma-The Hollow
V jámě 1671/7
110 00 Praga 1
+420 224 222 383

28 Mar 2010

On recognition, a funny offer and some sad news

The other day I got an e-mail announcing me that Pivní Filosof had been included in the list of the "Best 50 Beer Blogs", which was published in the blog of Onlinedegrees.net.

I've got no idea who these people are (though I wonder if they aren't the same that send me emails offering me On-line University Degrees), nor what their selection criteria was, but a pat in the back is a pat in the back and it will always be welcome.

A couple of days later I got another e-mail, this time coming from the editor of a "How to" website, telling me that they were about to launch a new service and were interested in my being a contributor and one of the "Founding Members" of the "Beauty and Style" channel, since they consider me an expert in the field glamour and pretty things.

I wonder if they ever had a look at my photo up there, and if the did, I really can't imagine who could be interested in the beauty tips I could give (and frankly, I don't think I want to know).

And now, getting a bit serious for the bad news.

If understood well the message posted in one of the discussion forums of Pivní Info one of my favourite boozers, U Slovanské Lípy, has closed its doors for good.

It's a real shame. Even though the food was hit and miss (tilting towards the latter), the service at Lípy was always great and the place had a special charm that I didn't quite get at the beginning, but later learnt to love and on top of all that, they had Kout na Šumavě.

I will really miss this hospoda and will forever cherish the memories of the pleasant liquid moments I spent there with friends and visitors.

I hope Kout can soon find another place that will offer their great beers on a permanent basis.

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24 Mar 2010

Now, this is just stupid

There's nothing wrong in a company looking after and protecting their brand, or brands. Quite the contrary, I think it's something very important that every company should do. After all, brands are among the most valuable assets they have.

Whatever I might think about the beer (and I still like their tanková), I've always liked the way SAB-Miller takes care of the Pilsner Urqell brand. It's known that the company employs quality inspectors go on undercover visits to their tied pubs. Their job is to see that the beer is well taken care of, properly served and some of them check the hygiene and maintenance of the tap system. This might look like something out of an urban legend, but I believe it's true, walking around the Czech Rep. you will come across many pubs with stickers, plaques and other certificates that prove it.

Certainly, another one of the tasks of these inspectors is to make sure that no beers other than Pilsner Urquell are sold as such. Nothing wrong there, either. However, sometimes things can get a bit out of hands, or better put, can become really stupid.

Last Week Plzeňský Prazdroj pressed criminal charges against the owner of Pivovar Kout na Šumavě, Jan Skala, for unfair competition and misuse of the Pilsner Urquell brand.

Yeah, you've read well. A brewery that last year produced 10.5 million hl filed a complaint against another that brewed 8 thousand hl for unfair competition.

The reason? Somehow Prazdroj found out that Kout was using Pilsner Urquell kegs to distribute their own beers. Yeah, you've read well.

I'm not familiar with the law, but I do know that this is common practice among micro breweries and not few wine makers as well. New kegs aren't cheap and many of micros can't afford to buy enough of them, so they end up using someone else's. Breweries aren't too happy about this, of course. They never get back many of those barrels and that means a financial loss since the deposit they charge for them is only a fraction of the price of a new one. But thus far, they've never seemed to have fretted to much about it, either.

There are times, though, when the use of someone else's kegs isn't something a microbrewery does on purpose. It can happen that pub owners go to a micro to buy beer bringing with them empty kegs, which get washed and refilled without any further questions. What happens with the beer after that once it's paid is something the breweries don't, and frankly shouldn't, care too much about.

Now, does this really mean unfair competition and misuse of a brand? Do the people of SAB-Miller seriously want us to believe that Kout na Šumavě want to sell their beers as Pilsner Urquell?

To whom? Why?

In just a couple of years Kout has earned a very well deserved reputation in the beer community thanks the the outstanding quality of their product. It doesn't make any sense at all that someone like them would want to pass any of their beers as something of a lesser quality.

Another thing that should be mentioned as well is that kegs aren't like bottles, people never see them. Everyone trusts that the beer they have in the glass is the one they've ordered and will pay for later. In other words, if I go to a hospoda to have a pint of Pilsner Urquell and an unscrupulous owner pours me, in a glass of Pilsner Urquell, say, Kout coming from a tap with a Pilsner Urquell clip, there's no way I'll find out.... Wait a second!!!

Can it be that Pilsner Urquell is afraid?

This reminds me of a story someone told me the other day. There was an owner of a hospoda who was tired of selling Gambrinus. He wanted to change it for another brand, but the štamgasty would have none of it. For them, Gambáč was the best and nothing could replace it. The owner then decided to take drastic measures. He contacted the representative of that other brewery and asked if there was any problem if their beer was sold in Gambrinus branded glasses. No problem at all, certainly not. So, for several weeks he served the new beer to his regulars without telling them about the change. One day he asked them how they liked their pints and all agreed that the beer was great, better than usual. The owner then showed them the plastic cap of the keg and said: "Gents, this is what you've bee drinking these last few days, so shut the fuck up and forget about Gambáč, because this is what you will keep on drinking from now on". No complaints were ever heard again.

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22 Mar 2010

Progress Report

I'm sure many of you are wondering how the project of my book is going, specially those who have generously donated to the cause. Fear not! Here is the second (and very belated) progress report.

The first words have been forged into bytes and I've already set up a work schedule that I hope (and doubt) I'll be able to keep. At the same time, research goes on and still provides something to talk about. Today is about a myth busted, popular wisdom confirmed and a pleasant surprise.

The myth busted: "Service at Prague's pubs, etc. is crap". Or at least that is the impression you will get after reading many an expat restaurant review or forum thread. It's bollocks! OK, I'm not going to say that you won't come across bad service in this city, but the same happens in every city and tourist spot in the world.

These last few months I have visited many places I had never been to before, and almost without exception I've found the service to be efficient, proper and professional, and more than once, even genuinely friendly. Take as an example the girl tending the bar at this small café lost in the backstreets of Vinohrady (or is it already Žižkov?) that sells the fine beers of Polička. One rainy afternoon I stopped there to have a tmavé výčepní that arrived very well tapped, sporting a lovely looking thick head. I took a few moments to admire it and the girl said something I didn't quite catch, to which I responded with compliments to her work as "výčepník", this resulted in an even broader smile and the consequent short chat about the beer and the crappy weather.

Many times good service doesn't come alone, of course, it helps a lot to smile, be polite, learn at least a handful of words in Czech and, above all, no to have that "I own the place" attitude I've seen in many patrons. They end up getting bad service, and they bloody well deserve it!

Popular wisdom confirmed: "The quality of a pint depends on equal parts on the person that makes it and the person that taps it". A great truth! There are mediocre beers that in good hands can be brilliant, and brilliant beers that in the wrong hands can become mediocre, if not worse. The best example of this is Svijanský Máz. This jedenáctká has always been my least favourite beer from Pivovar Svijany, and lately, I have noticed a drop in its quality that can be related to the extraordinary expansion of this very successful regional brewer (it is their best selling product). Still, when I had it at Baráčnická Rychta I thought it was wonderful. On the other hand, when I visted Café Jehuda, in Blanická, near Nám. Míru, it was so horribly tapped that it bordered the undrinkable. A pity, because the place itself is not too shabby.

A pleasant surprise: Coming from Pivovar Žatec, whom have strongly, and I think deservedly, critised in the past. Now, in Prague, there are at least four places that offer their beers, at two of them I had their Kvasnicová 12º (actually, nefiltrovaná) and it's so good! A lot of fresh fruit with a touch of honey and fresh bread, all spiced with a herbal-floral note that wraps everything up. It's impossible to have just one. It made me really glad, specially because I liked one of those places very much, and it's one of those that open early.

I'm very satisfied with the way this project is going, it's giving me a lot of satisfaction. Once again, loads of thanks to those who are helping me finance it, you are great motivation!

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18 Mar 2010

Christmas Surprise

A couple of days before last Christmas I got in mailbox an announcement telling me I had a parcel from Norway waiting for me at the local post office (which is in the next village).

"Hmmm!" I say opening my eyes wide and twisting my mouth appropriately to express my intrigue. I wasn't expecting anything from the long country of the North. After seeing the parcel's weight written on the slip I reckoned, and hoped, they were beers. And so it was. Jens from Haandbryggeriet had sent me a few samples of his beers: Aqua Vita Porter, Haandbakk, Norse Porter, Dark Force, Gravøl (that will have a separate review) and one of my last year's favourites, Norwegian Wood, plus one more bottle that didn't survive the trip.

I must say that, after having tasted several of their beers, Haandbryggeriet has become one of my favourite breweries. Their product line is very interesting and varied, many of the beers are fermented using their own strain of "wild yeast" and recreate ancient Norwegian recipes. It might turn out that some of the results are not to everyone's taste, but their concept and execution still deserve praise.

The one I was most curious about from the batch was Aquavita Porter. This "fad" of aging or maturing beers in oak barrels, specially if they were used for other drinks, is really interesting, even if some of the products don't turn out that good. This one in particular is a Norwegian Porter with 10%ABV that was matured in old Aquavit barrels. Since I had never drunk that traditional Scandinavian spirit, I had no idea about what to expect from this beer.
Aquavita Porter is fantastic! Boozy nose that reminds a bit of Cognac, with notes of burnt wood and some dried fruits. It's incredibly complex, bitter chocolate, pepper, burnt sugar, mild vanilla. Each of them taking their turn without stepping on the other one's toes. All ends in a dry and slightly spicy finish. Despite all this and its rather high ABV the beer goes down really smooth. Great to sit by the fireplace reading a good book. Spectacular!
The other Barrel Aged sample of the bunch was Haandbakk, a Sour Ale with 7.5%ABV that was matured in old French wine casks. Definitely not recommended for beginners. Those of you who have never tried a sour beer, or those who don't like them, better stay away from this one. Now, for those of you who do enjoy some sourness in your lives, this is something you should have a go at. Pours a pretty fizzy ocher. The nose is a mix of Extra Brut Champagne with mild caramel. My taste for sour beers is not all that well developed yet, at the beginning I found Haandback to be very pleasant, the sour notes were well balanced by sweet fruit. However, as I emptied that half litre measure and the beer warmed up, the sourness built up and I didn't find it so easy to drink anymore, but that's something that's happened to me with, for example, Cantillon Geueze. Perhaps I could enjoy it a lot more in smaller measures or paired with some really aromatic cheese.
Leaving the realm of the exotic for a bit I chose Norse Porter and its more moderated 6.5%ABV. It pours as expected and already here you can see its excessive carbonation, which by the way, is a problem I've seen in several beers from HaandBryggeriet. So many bubbles do away with much of the body, that aside, Norse Porter is a fine beer, with aromas that remind of chocolate with a smoked note or two. The chocolate, now more intense, comes back in the taste, now joined by caramel. The finish is long and has some pleasant sourness added to it. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing out of place, either.

It took me several days, if not weeks, to finally open Wild Thing. I thought it would be something on the lines of Haandbakk and I really have to be in a special state of mind to tackle a sour beer. When the day arrived I was met by a very pleasant surprise.
Wild Thing is one of those "historical beers" of HaandBryggeriet. Its label says that is brewed with three grains, flavoured with cranberries and currant and fermented using the house's wild yeast. It pours and intense reddish amber, topped by a compact head that his a mild pink hue. The best way to describe its aroma and flavour is a "blend between dunklesweizen and fruit lambic". That might not sound very appealing to some of you, but believe me, it is a delicious beer. Perfectly balanced, each of its elements know the role they have to play and don't do anything they shouldn't. Even my wife, who doesn't even want to hear about sour beers, loved it. Even with a rather respectable 7%, Wild Thing goes down almost like session beer. I see it ideal to drink in a cool summer evening while the sun goes down.
To close the session I was left with Dark Force, which calls itself an Imperial Double Wheat Stout or whatever. To the eye looks just like any other Imperial Stout. There was too much alcohol on the nose backed only by some dry wood. Perhaps I was expecting something more complex or exotic, but the truth is that it didn't quite make it for me. It's halfway between the Impy and a Weizenbock or something similar, but without the most interesting bits of either of them. It could be a good alternative for someone who's never had a dark beer of such intense character, but I expected more.

As whole, these bunch serve to reinforce my sympathies for HaandBryggeriet. I really like their philosophy of digging out some recipes from the past using them to, paradoxically, offer something new and out of the ordinary; at the same time breaking a bit the mold that good beer can only be made with a limited set of ingredients and that they should fit into a specific style. Yeah, there are a few breweries around the world that do something similar, but that doesn't take away merit from this Norwegian brewers.

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16 Mar 2010

A Paradox

Mi favourite "beer proverb" is: "The only important thing is what's in the glass. The rest, at most, is interesting". I also believe that the ideal way to evaluate a beer would be using the so called "Double Blind Tasting" method, in which you don't have any preliminary information whatsoever about the beer or beers to be judged.

In reality, though, this method is pretty hard to use. There's always going to be a long list of factors that will influence our opinion over this or that beer. But even if we did employ it, can it be really useful to define if a beer is better than another or others? Shouldn't some of those above mentioned factors be considered in order to reach that conclusion?

Let's play a mind game: We are doing a comparative tasting of two beers, let's call them A and B. The only information we have about them is very general: Both are from the same country or region (we aren't told which) and they are of regular production (i.e. they aren't seasonal or from limited edition or vintage), their ABV's are roughly the same and this and other characteristics would put them into the same category or style.

After analysing the hypothetical results we see that everyone agrees that both beers are great and that they would love to be able to drink them again. However, there is a majority who liked sample B better. In this context, we could fairly say that beer B is better than A, and few could argue that.

But this is not a realistic context and in fact, if we wanted to drink either of those beers again, we would have to buy it. And here is where a series of objective factors start playing a role because they sort of create, or show, some considerable differences between this two beers.

It turns out that sample A is relatively easy to find in any largish city and its price is of around a couple of EU. Sample B, on the other hand, it's not only very difficult to come across, but on those occasions when it shows up on the local market its price is two, three or more times higher than A's.

So, which is the better beer, the one we liked a bit better but will rarely be able to drink or the one we liked a bit less, but that we can drink pretty much any time we fancy?

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12 Mar 2010

Amazing

Yesterday I put on my journalist costume and had did an interview for my next piece for Bar&Beer. I was at SPŠPT (that in Czech stands for Industrial Middle School for Food Technology), where, among other careers, kids can learn Brewing. There I had one of the most wonderful beer experiences of my life, tasting at a secondary school beers brewed by pupils.

I tasted three of them, a polotmavý ležák with a nice caramel body, fruit notes and a mild bitter finish, a tmavá 20ª that was a great example of Baltic Porter, a lot of dried fruit and well integrated roasted notes and the star of the house Podsklalský Smrtihlav a tmavé with 37º Plato and 13.3%ABV, brewed with 100% grain, with a pretty complicated process and, the sample I tried, lagered for about a year. It was really good, even though it was served too cold, I could still feel ripe fruit, vanilla and some spice. The alcohol was very well integrated and made me feel I was drinking some nice brandy.
All three beers, which I must emphasise are brewed by secondary school kids, were flawless and would put to shame many a product from non-Czech commercial micros.

But the best of all was having the chance to meet and establish a friendship with the man in charge of the department, the School's Director and his predecessor. All of them, fantastic people, with a lot of passion for beer and whom I hope I'll meet again soon.

Yeah, that's right, I live in a country where already at 15 a kid can learn how to brew professionally and also how to taste beer.

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9 Mar 2010

The brand above the drink

A few days ago Pete Brown told us about the fate of Tetley's Cask,  and how its owner, Carlsberg UK, have decided they will close the brewery in Leeds and shift the production elsewhere in England.

This is nothing new, neither surprising. It's common practice among the big multinational brewing groups. Heineken CZ have been a lot on the news lately for doing just that here in the Czech Republic. In the last year they have shut down three breweries, in Znojmo, Kutná Hora and, most recently, in Louny (they had bought the last two the year before).

But this is not what I wanted to talk about today (neither about Heineken's idea of a free market). The closing of breweries, though sad, is something inevitable in this context and, to be fair, we should ask ourselves whether those breweries would have survived had they remained independent, which, unfortunately, we will never know.

What I wanted to talk about is the little respect Heineken has for language and, to a certain extent, the intelligence of the consumers.

On the pages that in their website Heineken Česká Republika dedicates to the brands of the closed breweries we can still see the following slogans:

"Dačický aneb zlatý mok ze stříbrného města" (Dačický, or the golden beverage from the silver town.) for the brand formerly brewed in Kutná Hora (this city in the middle ages was famous for its silver mines).

"Dobré pivo ze Znojemska za dobrou cenu." (Good beer for a good price from the Znojmo region.) For Hostan

"...pivo s hořkou chutí a s historií dlouhou jako je město Louny samo." (...beer with a bitter taste and a history that is as long the history of the town of Louny.). For the namesake beer.

The last one is perhaps the worst of the lot. The history of Pivovar Louny has finished and the beer is no longer brewed in the city it was named after, but in Velké or Krasné Březno (can't remember which now).

I'm pretty sure the long time drinkers of all these brands are glad to at least still be able to keep on enjoying them, even if only as in name. But still, and specially in Louny's case, this is just another, sad, example of the Brand above the Drink

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8 Mar 2010

Things are taking shape

Well, it seems my idea was not as crazy as I had thought. There've been quite a few who've said they would like to attend what I have decided to call Internation Gathering of Beer Bloggers, Prague 2010. People from Latvia, Spain, England, Norway, Denmark y Holland have already expressed their interest and so, the even already has a date: 22-23 October 2010.

The program hasn't been defined yet, it will depend on how many people are attending, but it's already certain that the closing will take place at Zlý Časy, while Friday 22nd will almost surely include a visit to at least one brewery.

Registration is already open, those who want to sign up can send me un mail, or leave a comment below. Let's see how many how many of us we can put around the same table.

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PS: Anyone fancies designing a logo for this? (It should include the phrase in Spanish: "Reunión Internacional de Blogueros Cerveceros, Praga 2010")

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6 Mar 2010

More Swedes

I bet you were thinking I had forgotten. No way! How could I? But with so many things to write about and a sudden surge in work, I had to postpone the publishing of the tasting notes from the rest of the Swedish beers Leif had brought me.

This time the notes come from four samples from the same brewery Jämtlands Bryggeri.

Something curious happened to me with them. If you take each on its own you won't find anything wrong, nor anything remarkably good. None of them stand out for their complexity or intensity. They are rather simple beers, the kind that won't demand much of your attention and that can be good company when spending time with friends or cooking or watching a film, and I have no problem with that at all, I really like this kind of beers. The problem is that when evaluating them as an ensemble I found that they are all too similar to each other. Not only I got the impression that the same kind of hopes with resinous notes were used, but that they were used in the same way.
Pilgrim Ale, with 4,5%ABV, pours a clear brown, the nose reminds of juicy tropical fruit, sprinkled with mild caramel. Fuller bodied than its bitterness would have you believe and yet, the malt could offer some more firmness. Towards the finish there is some burnt sugar that gives the sip a longer run. Fine to drink with grilled offal and sausages from an Argentine Asado.
Bärnsten calls itself a Premium Lager and has the thus almost mandatory 5%ABV. It doesn't pour the expected pale gold, however, but it's more on the amber side of things. Mostly dry, piney nose with a hint of tropical fruit in the back. Other than resinous notes, there are some herbs and a mineral touch by the end that actually fits the beer quite well. After so many years living in the Czech Republic few are the foreign lagers that can raise my eyebrows, this one is not among them.
Hell, with 5.1%ABV isn't the dark beer one would almost expect from its name (given that the brewery also makes a beer called "Heaven", it was safe to assume that the "Hell" wasn't necessarily related to the German Style), but it's a světlý ležák gold topped by a nice white head. The rest of it, however, is all too similar to the premium lager, a bit maltier perhaps. Another sessionable brew that won't tire you nor will make you loose the thread of the conversation.
Last was Postiljon, a Strong Pale Ale with 5,8%ABV. The best way to describe it is Pilgrim's big sibling. Stronger, maltier, tastier, with slightly better balanced bitterness and not much else to add.
And a bonus! I don't know if you remember that when I published the tasting notes from the previous session I mentioned that I had just found a still unopened bottle of Slottskälans Bryggery's Red Ale. And what a surprise it was! Pours a rather ocher side of red with a thin but compact head. The nose reminds of sweet fruit, resin and some caramel. The first couple of sips made me fear a beer of monotonous bitterness, but then, bit by bit, the malt makes its way and ends up wedging itself between the herbs and the burnt sugar. The result is a beer with some complexity and very interesting to drink. A real joy.

Just like with the batch that Gnoff had brough, this bunch of Swedish brews were quite a mixed bag, from the brilliant to the boring, just as it happens everywhere, really...

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1 Mar 2010

On the same topic

I've got quite a bit of work today, but I still wanted to post something. Something related to the topic I talked about the other day, the difference between the perception of beer and wine.

Films and TV series are often a good mirror to contemporary popular culture and the other day I was thinking about how beer is portrayed in them and ended up with the following questions:

How many times have you seen beer being discussed, at least briefly, in a film or TV series? It is consumed, but not talked about.

How many times have you seen a character, main or secondary, that is a beer geek, collector or that works at something related to the brewing industry?

Is there a film or TV series where either beer or brewing, or its trade, are at the centre of the narrative? I mean something in the lines of that incredibly overrated film Sideways.

My answers: Never. Never. No.

I might be wrong, of course. But let's say I'm right, do you think the perception of beer by the general public would change if it was as something more than "just beer"?

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