27 Sep 2010


A few weeks ago I told you about my experience with beers in both original and barrel aged versions and about my conclusions on which I liked better. The result, so far, was a tie, with the barrel aged version of CCM +Malta coming on top of the original, and the barrel aged version of Nøgne-Ø Imperial Stout falling behind the unwooded.

I had in my cellar one more bottle of a barrel agend Nøgne-Ø, God Jul, their Christmas special, which had spent three months in Islay casks. The original version is, perhaps, one of my favourite winter beers ever and I was very curious about how the wood treatment had affected it.
Not very well, I must say. The first thing that hits the nose when it comes close to the glass is something that reminded me of acetone, not pleasant. Once that dissipates it leaves the stage to a lot of wood and booze (perhaps that is how Islay Whisky is supposed to smell, I don't know, I've never had any) that covers most of the beer, there's barely a whiff of coffee that can get out of that blanket. The taste is, fortunately, a bit more balanced, but still, those whisky notes are too intense and overwhelming and end up saturating all of those things that I loved from the original version.

I've already tasted several of the beers of Nøgne-Ø and this one is so far, the only one I didn't like one bit.

So, the score at the moment is 2-1 in favour of Original Versions. Let's see how this thing continues.

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24 Sep 2010

The Best Festival

Just as I had announced, las Saturday, I attended the Slunce ve Skle beer festival in Pilsen, and you can't imagine what a great time I had.

Unlike the first time, this year I went alone, or actually, without my wife, because I can't say I was alone. I had bought a "ticket" for the Zlý Časy bus that was leaving at 12. Of course, on the bus were many known faces, some of which, like Ian and his girlfriend Petra, I hadn't seen for quite some time. The trip was far from boring, I spent it talking about beer with this bloke whose name I can't remember. We couldn't help but discuss Gambrinus Nefiltrované, my friend didn't like it, either.

We arrived in Plzeň – Černice a bit after 1PM and very thirsty. We each received a glass with the logo of the Nusle beer temple and headed to Purkmistr.

Thinks were quite lively already. I soon found Evan Rail, already with a beer in hand, who was with a Texan friend whose name I can't remember. I said hello to them and as soon as I was able I procured myself the first beer of the day, Argent, from Pivovar U Rybiček - Stříbro, an excellent Světlý Ležák, ideal to get things going.

While I was drinking it and was doing my best to soak up the atmosphere, Evan commented "If we are good, this is the kind of place we'll go after dying". And yeah, already from the beginning I could feel almost in paradise. Nice place, lovely weather, more than a hundred different beers from more than forty micro breweries. What else could you ask? Well, yes, there could have been a few more pretty women, as Texan friend rightly said (really, there were far too many men), but I'm happily married, so nowadays good beer, good food and good company is more than enough for me (though some eye candy is always welcome).

From then on many beers went down my throat, some excellent, some good and a couple on the wrong side of "not that good". I didn't take any notes, but I do remember the I loved Hastrman Staročeské Bilé de Velký Rybník, a fantastic wheat beer, the Polotmavé from Pivovar Groll, from Pilsen, which made me really glad because the last time I had been there the beer was quite rubbish, and Tmavá 18º from Belveder or Permon, I can't remember, which I chose to cap the day.

Among all that good stuff I ran into many friends. It was great, really. Every time I left a conversation to go get a refill, or food or go to the loo, I came across someone who will start a chat with me, among them, people like Tomáš Mikulica, Brew Master at Chýně, Martin Matuška, owner of the name sake brewery, Jiří Faměra, Technical Director of K Brewery and many more. But the best of all was perhaps helping a friend to destroy some evidence. He was supposed to have his beers at the festival, but a visit from Customs made him change his mind and he was left with plenty of beer that needed to be drunk.

I was also able to talk a bit with Mike and his wife, from Odd Dog. They did great with the two Brew Dog kegs they had brought, 5AM Saint and Punk IPA. By 5, I guess, they had sold them out, and they didn't do too bad with the bottles, either (I bought one from Nøgne-Ø, a double IPA that looks pretty interesting). And hats off to the job Mike did explaining people, in a very straight forward way, the difference between his beers and most of the others that were available there.

In the meantime, people continued arriving to the point that it became almost impossible to walk in the courtyard of Purkmistr, where most of the breweries had their stands, and the square in front of the brewery/hotel was pretty full as well. I don't like crowds, but here I didn't feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed, quite the opposite, I felt pretty fine, I was surrounded by people that were having a kick-ass time and you could breath that.

At 8PM the bus took us back to Prague (I slept most of the trip) and when we arrived I had to fight the temptation to accept the invitation to party on at Zlý Časy, but I was very tired, quite sozzled and really looking forward to my bed.

It was a wonderful day, really. Slunce ve Skle is arguably the best beer festival in the Czech Republic. It's got the lot, good prices (most beers were 20CZK/0.3l and 30CZK/0.5l), an impressive variety that will leave geeks and tickers more than satisfied, but that at the same time is oriented mostly at the average drinker, all in a hard to match atmosphere.

In short, it was an event I greatly enjoyed, and twice. That day my wife attended the birthday party of the daughter of some good friends of ours, at which were about 16 million kids of 0 to 8 years old. I spent the day at place very similar to paradise and I could have easily spent it at place very similar to hell.

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13 Sep 2010

It Hurts! (II)

Perhaps, after reading my comment on the new products of the three multinationals, someone thought that I was exaggerating or that I misinterpreted the situation. After all, it could also be said that Krušovice 10 is another attempt in Heineken's struggle to restore the image of that brand. That Master Zlatý just wants to complete the colour palette (together with Polotmavý 13 and Tmavý 18) of a brand that has been already three years on the market and that it was about time it was made available in bottles, especially now when sales bottled beer has for the first time ever in the Czech Rep. surpassed sales of draught beer. And that Staropramen 11 is just Smíchov's response to Pardal Echt and Gambrinus Excelent.

And since we are talking about the jedenáctká from Gambrinus. The word on the street is that the goal of this beer was to revitalise the most popular brand in this country, which, it seems, has been slowly loosing some of the public's favour.

I've got no clue about the scale in which this is happening, but I've come across quite a few people who've said they don't like Gambrinus anymore. And I'm not speaking about "beer geeks" here, in some cases they were people who still think Pilsner Urquell is the best beer in the world. The reason, according to them, is the loss of quality.

Anyway, the truth is that Excelent was launched with a heavy advertising and marketing campaign. It's been already two years of that, though (I think) and it could be that that initial drive has lost some of its momentum, which may have forced the suits at Prazdroj to find another way to bring some new life to their best selling asset.

The other day I stopped for a slice of Pizza at "Pizza Paolo", a stand in Vršovice, right at the corner of Vršovická and Moskevská (BTW, pretty good pizza at 25CZK a slice). The stand occupies basically part of the patio of U Waldeska, a quite nice looking tankovná that I had never visited. While I was enjoying my snack I saw the following poster on the door:
Nefiltrovaný Gambáč! I had to try that!

There weren't many people when I came in. I took a seat at the bar and told the Výčepní to pour me a nefiltrovaný. The bloke put it in front of me and said something like "Nice, eh?" (speaking about the beer, of course). Identical to pretty much every other unfiltered pale lager, it looks. The nose is also similar to many, grass, herbs and a touch of fresh white bread. The taste. Hmmm... Not bad, not bad at all, really. On the other hand, not only I was really thirsty, but that also happened to be my first beer of the day, and you know what effect that tends to have, so I ordered another one (about 45 seconds later, I was really thirsty).

Unlike the Gambáč we are all familiar with, the nefiltrované (point to Prazdroj for not calling it Kvasnicové) does have some flavour and character, the problem is that it's too "green". I don't know how long Gambrinus lagers (a couple of days shy of not enough, I would bet), but this beer could have used a couple more weeks in a cold cellar. Have you ever eaten a banana that was not fully ripe yet? Well, pale lagers that have not lagered enough usually leave me with a sensation that reminds me of that.

In short, once I started paying attention to it I stopped liking it so much.

But that's my thing. Still this product made me muse a bit: Who is its target consumer?

I don't think it's the people who have stopped drinking Gambrinus and now prefer regional or even micro beers. They won't be that easily drawn to the unfiltered version of a beer they don't like anymore. Yes, there might be some that, like me, will try it out of curiosity, but I don't see them being very impressed by it (not to mention that for that, they will have to happen to be at a pub that has the beer in the first place). And the usual Gambáč drinker? I would say that in most cases it is somone that comes to their pub, orders a "pivo" without much pondering on the subject anymore. Perhaps some will order the unfiltered version, also out of curiosity, but likely is that after one glass they will go back to the stuff they are used to and like.

So, who is this product's target consumer? I don't know and somehow I have the impression the people in Pilsen don't know it very well, either. Gambrinus Nefiltrované seems to be a pilot test, the poster at U Waldeska said the beer will be available only until the end of October. Besides, I don't remember having seen anything in the media about it or posters at other pubs (which doesn't necessarily means that there hasn't been advertising, I've been so busy lately that it could have flown under my radar).

While I was having my second glass, I asked the Výčepní how this beer was selling. Not well, it had been available for a week and only two 50l kegs had been sold so far. Perhaps the fault is the waiters', I didn't hear any of them offer the new beer or perhaps is the marketing. I should check what's going on with it at other pubs.

Whatever it is, it makes you think when the, by far, best selling brand in this country decides to respond to the change in habits of a certain group of consumers, most of whom don't buy the brand anymore.


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6 Sep 2010

Inside Joke

Finally, the time came for the last of the bottles that Todd had brought me, Smokestack Series Collaboration No. 1 fom Boulevard Brewing Co.. Unlike the previous two, Yeti Espresso Oak Aged and Russian River Supplication, I didn't open Collaboration Nº1 because I thought it would "pair" well with a given moment. I did it just because I wanted to drink something new and its elegant bottle was the one that caught my attention first.

Todd had brought it a bit like a joke. According to the brewer, it is an Imperial Pilsner and he had read my opinion about this "style". Opinion that hasn't changed a bit, actually, after reading the back label, it's been reinforced.

The name, Collaboration, is because the beer was brewed together by Steven Powels, brewer at Boulevard, and Jean-Marie Rock, Brew Master at Orval, recreating a beer the latter used to brew at the beginning of his career, which I very much doubt was categorised as an Imperial Pilsner.

But nobody gives much of a toss about what the labels say, better pay attention to what the beer says.
It's brewed 100% with Pilsner malts and Saaz hops and it pours the expected pale gold topped by a head as white as an ad for clothes washing detergent. The first thing that is felt by the nose is the alcohol, which fortunately, doesn't fully cover notes of pineapple, herbs and flowers. The taste has many of the things you would associate with a Světlý Ležák or a Pils, but, once again, with way too much alcohol. It's too think, there's not enough malts to support it. Too attenuated, something Mr. Rock himself confirms, the beer, at 8%ABV, is stronger than he had expected.

The link article speaks in detail about the "first wort hopping" method that was used to brew Collaboration Nº1. I wonder if they also used decoction, since they don't mention it, I will assume they didn't. Can that have been one of the reasons the beer attenuated so much, or at least, why it feels so thin?

Frankly, I didn't like it. With its pedigree and the presentation (and I'm sure, the price, too), I was expecting a lot more. In the end, it ends up loosing against the humble Jihlavský Grand.

Anyway, Todd thanks a lot for these three beers. Hope we can meet again soon.

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3 Sep 2010

This year I won't miss it

Next Saturday, Sept. 18 is the third edition of the, in my opinion, best beer festival in the Czech Republic Slunce ve Skle. A total of 39 micro breweries, including three from Germany and one from Scotland, will be there offering around 100 different kinds of beer. Some of the names are already making my mouth water (the list can be seen on the festival's web page).

Just like the previous two editions, the event will take place at Pivovar Purkmistr, in Pilsen-Černice and kicks off at 1PM.

I'm really looking forward to going this year. I missed the previous edition, but still remember (well, at least partially) how much fun I had two years ago. I'm going to miss Velký Al (can't say the same about his idea of the shots, though), who I'm sure would love to be there. There won't be a shortage of friends, but it won't be the same without the big Scot.

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Slunce ve Skle
Sábado 18-9-2010, 13hs
Hotel - Pivovar Purkmistr
Selská náves 21/2
326 00 Plzeň – Černice