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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