30 Dec 2011

Wishlist for 2012

In 2012 I want:
  • To keep on drinking good beer, regardless of where, how or by whom it is brewed (not too hard, I know)
  • A couple more "čtvrtá pípa" pubs, but also more places like U Slovanské Lípy that sell only one "alternative" brand (there are times when all I want is to order "pivo")
  • Aliance PIV to keep on growing
  • Prague Beer Museum to once and for all sort out their problem with the storage of the beers
  • A top of the range restaurant to start offering a solid list of domestic and imported beers that will be announced everywhere and that will not include rubbish like Corona, Guinness Draught or Desperados.
  • The fever for extreme, hop/yeast/wood driven beers to slow down a bit and that "innovative" brewers everywhere will take the challenge of making down to earth beers with moderate % of ABV, but at the same times tasty and interesting.
  • That those brewers who have quality control or consistency problems get their shit together or shut down (they are disrespecting beer and consumers and they are taking market away from people who really want to do things well)
  • That those who are planning to open a brewery do it only if they are willing to invest on a professional kit and not before they have thoroughly worked out a couple of recipes (consumers should not finance an eventual modernization of the facilities nor professional training)
  • More beer blogs in Spanish and that their authors and the authors of those that exist already won't gaze their navels so much.
  • That the Spanish speaking media keep on publishing bollocks about beer. No, really, I must confess that it is a lot of fun to pick them apart. Of course, if they want to start giving beer the respect it deserves, they'll be more than welcome.
  • That BrewDog, etc. cut it out already with the marketing gimmicks and the bombastic rhetoric. Throwing shit at the macros (or at CAMRA) isn't exciting or cool anymore. Let your beers dictate the discourse, if you have the balls for that.
  • To travel. I want to go back to Bamberg, but I also want to go somewhere I haven't been before.
  • To read, books
  • Success for Pivo, Bier & Ale, that it grows in circulation and that it gets more advertisers. This magazine is really important for our beer culture.
  • That my book sells more copies.
That's basically it. If anyone can think of anything else, or has their own wishes, feel free to use to comments.

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23 Dec 2011

2011 - The finest

Without further ado, here you have what I've liked the most during this year that is almost gone.

Domestic beer, draught: Únětická 12º, I was going to pick Chýně's magnetic Stout, a fantastic brew, no doubt, but Únětice's is not only great, but can also be drunk in more and more places in Prague and around.

Honorable mentions: Besides the aforementioned Stout, Polotmavá 13º from Pivovar Antoš.

Domestic beer, bottle: Primátor Stout.

Honorable mentions: Eggenberg Nakouření Švíhák, Janáček Kounic.

Foreign beer, draught: Mahr's Brau Ungespundet Kellerbier (at the brewery's taproom).

Honorable mentions: Neder Annafestbier, Schlenkerla Märzen (at the brewery's taproom).

Foreign beer, bottled: Pretty difficult here, but, Pliny the Elder (thanks Brian), one of those few beers that are better than their fame.

Honorable mentions: N'ice Chouffe, DeMolen Hel & Verdoemenis, Kraus Hell Lager

Pivovar: Únětický Pivovar. Not only they are making excellent beers, but they are also doing a great job with the most important thing any brewery has to do, sell their stuff, the sign of Únětický Pivovar can be found in God knows how many places already.

Honorable mentions: Pivovar Vyškov (they came back from death and now are making a pretty nice IPA and a lovely světlý ležák), Rukodělný Pivovárek Třebonice.

Hospoda (that is not Zlý Časy): Zubatý Pes 

Honorable mentions:
U Vodoucha, U Slovanské Lípy

Magazine:
Pivo, Bier & Ale

Book:
"Prague: A Pisshead's Pub Guide" (don't tell me you were expecting something else)

Event:
Annafest

Blog in English:
Boak&Bailey

Blog in Spanish:
2d2dspuma, por favor

I don't know about you, but 2011 has been the best year since I started with this blog, in many ways. Publishing my book has brought me enormous satisfaction and I was finally able to take a least a short holiday, which I greatly enjoyed. I hope 2012 will be along the same lines.

Anyway, have a nice Christmas, all of you!

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21 Dec 2011

It's obvious, but...

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but...

TRAPPIST IS NOT A STYLE

Dear micro brewer, unless you are a member of the said monastic order, your beer isn't "Trappist", nor it is "Trappist style" because, besides the fact that you can't even call it "Trappist", TRAPPIST IS NOT A STYLE.

"Abbey" is not a style, either. In some cases, it is only a little more than a label, like "craft", but in the case of the so called Erkend Belgisch Abdijbier, it referes to breweries that are subject to certain regulations, which, as with the Trappist, do not concern the quality or kind of beer that is brewed. In other words, and quoting my friend "Thirsty Pilgrim": "Westvleteren could make a farty filtered lager and it would still be Trappist beer."

The reason why Abbey and Trappist breweries don't make a Pils is the same reason why Czech industrial breweries don't make a Tripel.

And since I'm in the realm of the clearly obvious, and in response to some messages and comments that I've received or read here and there:

If you want to understand a beer, you must drink it.

Style guidelines are utterly useless. Books, magazines, blogs, articles, reviews can, at most, be good to have some additional information (something that's always welcome) and to help us know where to spend our money (which is even more welcome). But if you really want to understand a beer, you must drink it. And I mean drink it, not "taste",  sharing a 0.33l bottle with four friends, but to sit down and drink a full portion of that beer (ideally, it should be as close to its source as possible, immersed in the beer's own culture, but that's something most of us can't do that often).

So drink, pay attention, compare with other similar beers you might have drunk, think, drink again (and maybe you'll finally realise how silly it is to call "Abbey" or "Trappist" a beer brewed in Argentina, Chile, Australia or Canada)

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19 Dec 2011

Vaclavák for Czechs?

In the almost 10 years that I've been living in Prague I haven't been into any of the pubs, bars, restaurants or cafés in Wenceslas Square. Those that don't have "tourist trap" written all over, are simply not my kind of places.

The other day, though, I decided to make an exception with Restaurace v Melatrichu, which according to the The Prague Post wants to be a place that not only caters for tourist, but also for locals. At first sight, this can be confirmed by the prices of beer list (more on it later), with the exception of Pilsner Urquell, all beers are below the 40CZK mark a pint.

There are, however, a couple of things that could set some alarms off. The beers are also sold in tupláky, the only people here who drink from 1l glasses are the most obtuse tourists. On top of it, at the entrance to the restaurant the beer list is posted in Russian. Now, I've got absolutely nothing against Russians, but it is well known that, in average, they are by far the biggest spenders among all the nationalities that visit Prague. But well, those are prejudices, and wise is the person who will not be guided by them.

For some reason I expected this restaurant to be on the first floor. It's in the cellar, good, I like underground places better. It's large, spacious, divided into several spaces. I'm sure there are people who like this kind of place, I'm not among them, I find it too impersonal.
It was lunch time, there were plenty of busy tables, all the patrons seemed to be Czech. The service was pretty good, professional, no TGI friendliness, they did what they had to do and they did it well, which for me is the definition of good service (I'm one of those who prefer authentic surliness over fake smiles).

I ordered the special. It promised good value for 99CZK. It consisted on Hrstková, a pulse soup that was lovely and a very generous portion of prejt, cabbage and potatoes. The prejt (something like baked stuffing for black pudding) was perhaps a touch too salty, but not bad, the cabbage was just as I like it, a bit crunchy and the potatoes were really well made (it's remarkable how many places can fuck up something as simple as boiled potatoes). As far from sophistication as you can imagine, but it did a great job on a day that couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted to be autumn or winter.

But I hadn't come for the food, the service or the atmosphere. What brought me to Restaurace V Melantrichu was the beer. Besides the aforementioned Urquell (which I bet they still keep due to contractual obligations), they have some of the stuff from K-Brewery, two guest beers Únětická 10º y Permon 11º, that day) and, if that wasn't enough, V Melantrichu is one of the few places that has "its own" beer. It's brewed in Sokolov and it's called Melantrich, they didn't spend too much imagination on the beer's name, perhaps as much as the spent to choose what kind of beer it would be, světlý ležák.

I don't want to contradict what I said the other day, I still believe that in good hands a světlý ležák can be one of the most wonderful drinks anyone can have. But it's also the most common kind of beer in the Czech lands. If the chose to have their own beer, why didn't they have something else brewed? It didn't need to be anything "exotic", a good polotmavé would have done just fine.

Prejudice once again, perhaps Melantrich would turn out to be one of those Czech pale lagers I love so much. I get it in its own glass, head white as if it has just come out of an ad for Persil, very well tapped, not a single bubble in sight in a liquid that is as dark as světlý can be without becoming polotmavé.
I wish I could say more good things about it, but the truth is that I didn't like it, not a single little bit. A handful of dried flowers coated in toffee dusted with crushed honey flavoured candy, that's the best way I can describe it. Nasty and proud of it, I found it. (i also wish I had more pics of the place, but they turned out awful).

When I left the restaurant I wondered if that was what the beer was supposed to be, according to the wishes of the owners or if I had been unlucky and got something from a duff keg or batch.

Either way, I don't think I'll go back to find out. If that is the way the beer is supposed to be, then I know I won't like it, so why bother. Now, if bad luck was the problem, then it would be worse, it would mean that the people of V Melantrichu can't be arsed with giving the proper care to the only one thing that makes them really different from any other restaurant, and that would be pretty stupid.

But well, go see for yourselves. Restaurace V Melantrichu is still a decent alternative to the pubs that appear in the first crawl of Prague: A Pisshead's Pub Guide.

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Restaurace V Melantrichu
50°4'54.567"N, 14°25'34.123"E
Václavské náměstí 793/36 - Praha-Nové Město
+420 224 210 127 - info@restauracevmelantrichu.cz
Mon-Sat: 11-24 Sun: 11-23

PS: If anyone out there is still wondering about the fate of U Černého Vola, it's official. The lease has been sign with Mr. Benda and this pub will remain the wonderful dive we all love.

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18 Dec 2011

R.I.P. Vašku

Václav Havel has passed away today. Let's all raise a pint of black beer in his memory, I'm sure he'd appreciate the sense of humor.

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9 Dec 2011

News on the Black Ox

It seems there are some good news about U Černého Vola. One Anonymus left a comment on yesterday's post that brought my attention to some recent developments. After reading about them on the page of the petition, I decided to contact Matouš Hájek, the petition's organiser. Besides saving me some time, I thought he would be able to explain me the situation in a better way. The conlusion, it's probable that U Černého Vola has survived this. But before telling you how and why, let me tell you how this whole thing came to happen.

In his e-mail, Hájek, gave me some details that paint a pretty interesting picture. The story goes like this: Mr. Landergot, who is the current leaseholder, had decided to retire and to devolve the contract to one Mr. Benda, who's a member of the same association as him, Sdružení za zachování hostince U Černého vola (Association to preserve the pub U Černého vola). To do this he had to rescind his contract with Prague 1, the owners of the building. The town then acted exactly according to the law and opened a public tender. It was expected it would be a formality, but someone made a higher bid than Benda's.

Fortunately, it seems the authorities of Prague 1 have listened to their common sense and have decided that this coming Tuesday they will still grant the contract to Mr. Benda anyway. Hájek added that they had repeatedly told him about their intentions to keep Vola as it is, petition or not. However, I agree with him that regardless of that, the petition is important (if you haven't signed it yet, do it here, the more, the better).

It makes me feel good to know that I was able to contribute to this cause, if only with a few signatures and some strong words. Kudos to Matouš Hájek for having initiated the petition and also to the authorities of Prague 1 for having decided to preserve a small, but important, bit of the local culture.

If you are in Prague, or planing to come, do stop at U Černého Vola for a pint or two. Oh! Fuck it! Get absolutely legless there! After all, it'll be to help those handicapped children.

Na Zdraví!

PS: If you missed the chance to buy Prague: A Pisshead's Pub Guide (a "beery bath tub of Rabelaisian wit and wisdom", according to Adrian Tierney-Jones) with a 30% discount, you have until next wednesday to buy it with a 25% discount. Go to this page and when doing the purchase put the code COUNTDOWN.

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8 Dec 2011

Save the Black Ox!

U Černého Vola, an institution in the Prague beer scene and one of the finest dives in the city, if not the world, might soon cease to exist.

Unfortunately, this isn't due to the place doing bad or because some bureaucrat so decided. Quite the opposite, actually. The authorities of Prague 1 have said that they would like Vola to stay as it is, but their hands are tied by the law. Prague 1 is the building's landlord and someone has offered to rent the premises for 400,000CZK a year, which is more than the current tenants can afford, and the must accept the highest bid.

Currently, U Černého Vola is run by a non-for profit organisation that donates all revenues to a school for handicapped children. The wannabe tenants are Plzeňský Restaurant, who, if I'm not wrong, have several restaurants in Prague and around.

I'm not going to go all Occupy Wall Street on you here. I believe in Capitalism (the real one, not the travesty governments have allowed bankers and speculators to spawn) so I've got nothing against someone who wants to make money, or even become filthy rich, provided they do it honestly and fairly, and I don't have any reason to believe the people of Plzeňský Restaurant are crooks.

But I'm still quite made at this. These people want to replace a classic, unique hospoda with a lot of history, the only one in Hradčany, I believe, where locals can go for a pint without feeling like foreigners in their own town, for a Gastro Pub that'll be designed to the very last detail by the computer of an Architect and a team of Marketing Consultants. Of course, instead of a grumpy geezer that brings beer and haminex or nakladaný romadůr, tourists perhaps will be greeeted by a young, Mcfriendly waiter who can bring them a latte macchiato, a mojito or a Caesar Salad, while the use the free wi-fi to upload photos to their Facebook accounts using their smartphones.

But you know what? Fuck the Mcfriendly waiters! Fuck latte macchiato, mojito and Caesar Salad! Fuck free Wi-fi! And fuck smartphones, too, why not! I don't give a flying fuck about what some sensitive, modern, family friendly souls say, the historical centre of Prague doesn't need any more preprocessed places desinged to please a younger crowd.

A petition has been started on the internet to tray to save U Černého Vola. If you are someone who appreciate real pub culture, with all its warts and wrinkles, go to this page and sign it. It might not change much in the end, but at least it made me feel a little better.

However, there's a gleam of hope. According to what I read on Tuesday, the rent that this non-for-profit organisation is currently paying plus the money the send to that school for handicapped children is more than what Plzeňský Restaurant has offered. Let's hope that someone in the Prague 1 Town Hall can find a loophole in the law that, for a change, will benefit a majority and not just a few chosen ones.

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6 Dec 2011

A great idea for a Christmas present

Do you want to buy someone a really special Christmas gift? How about a book, you can never go wrong with a book, specially one that is not only great fun to read, but also practical for anyone planning to come to Prague (or even dreaming about it).

But that's not it. You can get that wonderful, unique, fun (did I say it was fun?) book with a 30% DISCOUNT!!!
Yes, that's right! You can buy "Prague: A Pisshead's Pub Guide"(Certainly, the best guide of Prague written by an Argentine) with a 30% DISCOUNT. But hurry up, you have until tomorrow.

So go to this page, My Author's Page at Lulu.com pick the book the whichever version you want (did you know? Now it's available in e-book format for the I-Pad!) and enter this discount code WINTERSAVE305 during the purchase. Your loved one will love it!

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5 Dec 2011

Thoughts after a couple of early pints

I love Kaaba, in Lucemburská. It's a small café in a quiet, tree-lined, side street of Vinohrady with an intimate atmosphere and fantastic soundtrack. Or at least that's how I find it on Tuesday and Thursday mornings when I go for an early pint or two of very well tapped Polička Hradební Tmavé, one of the finest exponents of one of the most underrated Czech beer categories, tmavé výčepní. Much of that atmosphere is generated by the štamgasty, who are a pretty colourful bunch. It's really fantastic to sit down and chat about history, films, music, Argentina, politics and what have you with people like a retired Mariner, an Investigative Journalist or the Chairman of the Czech Monarchist Party while listening to Cream, Tom Waits, Max Raabe or Chet Baker.

This wouldn't be possible without the figure of the owner, a pretty interesting bloke himself, with a theatre background (not acting) and great taste for music, and with whom it's also very interesting to talk.

The other day I was having a conversation about beer about beer and the local beer scene with him and he told me how he got to Polička.

When he decided to start selling draught beer Pilsner Urquell was the most natural choice, the cans and bottles were selling really well. He got in touch with the company and the representative explained him that he couldn't help him because of the low volume this place could have. Someone later recommended him Polička and now he couldn't be any happier, not only with the quality of the beer, but also with the company as a business partner.

I love talking to people from "the other side of the counter". It helps you see things from a different perspective (something that is always good to do) and occasionally you get to hear something that can be almost a revelation, just like this time. After I left the place I started asking myself whether cases like Kaaba's aren't one of the reasons why some regionals are doing so well in a shrinking or, at best, stagnant market.

Some people might say that the attitude of PU's representative is nothing but an example of the arrogance of large companies. I see it more like a example of common sense in business. Let me explain you.

Some years ago, a senior manager of a large B2B service company, which in fact was the leader in its market, was explaining me their client portfolio. At the bottom of the pyramid there were a huge number of small clients who, according to this man, brought little value and required the allocation of disproportionate resources to keep them satisfied. He added that if it was up to him, he would get rid of the lot of them, which would result in a bigger profit margin for the company with the added bonus that they would be able to take better care of the important clients, which could result in bigger revenues. Unfortunately, the owners at the time, an investment fund from the US, were the kind of people who have growth at any price as sole strategy (a pretty dumb philosophy, which I believe is to blame for much of what's happening now in the world economy) and their policy did not allow for the loss of a single client.

For a company like Plzeňksý Prazdroj Kaaba would be one of those small clients and it's understandable that they weren't interested. And they never had to worry too much about that either, after all, this kind of owners can always go to the distributors or wholesalers to buy the beer, if they want to.

But that times have changed. It's always better to deal with the producer and some mid-sized and small breweries might be filling the hole left by the big boys. Žatec, in the last year or so they've shown up in who knows how many places, most of them quite modern and fancy.

I doubt the macros are in a position to reverse the trend.

This has little to do with personal taste or even optimism. It's a simply business issue. For your average regional brewer places like Kaaba are an interesting client, not only because every keg sold counts, but also because it offers them the possibility of reaching to new consumers. The owners, on the other hand, can buy beer that is cheaper than Pilsner Urquell (plus getting all the marketing goodies and even taps). And to make things more interesting, we should not forget that the regional brands are getting more awareness by the day and, if we look at cases like Jama's (a place where people didn't use to go because they had this or that beer), switching to a regional brand can end up being very good for the business. It's only a matter of time until more people realise about this.

And then they say an early pint of bad for you.

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Kaaba
Lucemburská 15 – Praha-Vinohrady
50°4'44.863"N, 14°27'15.196"E
Mon-Sat: 7.30-22, Sun: 9-22

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2 Dec 2011

Selected Readings: November

For a change, I'm on time this month. It feels good! But enough bollocks, let's go through last month's best beer bits.

Velký Al is not too happy with what he read about Pale Lagers in an article published by American newspaper. The author, one Steve Body, a.k.a. "The Pour Fool", is one of those people who speaks with authority about a topic he doesn't understand, nor is he interested in learning much about, which isn't so much foolish as it is stupid. On the other hand, it's good to know that publishing bollocks about beer isn't exclusive to the Spanish speaking press.

Of all the people involved in the beer industry, from the suppliers of raw materials to the final consumer, nobody has the chance to feel the market better than the owners of specialised bars and shops. That is why when someone like 2D2dspuma offer their (extensive) point of view about what the new brewers should consider when putting together their product portfolio, it's a good idea to pay attention. I believe that even in Spain there is a market for "simple" beers (CCM + Lupulus, Guineu Coaner or Agullons Pura Ale are good examples), but I'm not in the privileged position of 2D2 to judge properly.

Quite related to simple beers is the topic of "Light" beers. Marcelo Braga explains to an oenophile in a very clear way what they are about, closing his piece with a brilliant conclusion.

The opposite of Light beers are the so called "Extreme" brews, among which are the super hoppy ones. Mark seems to have got tired of them a bit, or at least of those that don't offer much more than enamel stripping bitterness. It's all a matter of tastes, but to me, in these days when there are more and more hop/IBU (or even yeast or wood) driven beers, it is really refreshing and rewarding to enjoy the complex subtlety of beers where the malts are allowed to set the pace.

Pete Brown  explains us what Beer Respect means to him and at the same time complains about those who, according to him, take beer "too seriously". A few days later, this last bit prompted a very good response by Boak&Bailey. Pete might be right, but I have to agree with B&B, I believe it is good that there are people who consider beer as something worth of such profound study and debate.

I doubt many of you out there have much sympathy for the American (fake) Budweiser , or forAnhauser-Busch. However, I couldn't help but feel a bit of it after reading this article that tells about what's happened in the three years since the company fell in the claws of InBev.

That's it for this month.

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30 Nov 2011

In praise of the bores

These days I've read more than one blog post quoting some people denouncing the "uniformity" of the German beer landscape, which reminded me that until not long ago I was saying more or less the same about the Czech one.

Tandlemann spoke about Schönram, a rural Bavarian brewery owned by a yank, that specialises in Pale Ales, Porters, etc. A few days before, Stan Hieronymus presented TAP X, Schneider's new beer. Both cases are shown as proof of a slow change in the "boring" German beer market.

Something similar, though in a bigger scale, is happening here. Pivovar Kocour, Matuška and others are becoming more and more specialised in "exotic" styles and, generally speaking, with very good results both in quality and sales. The relative success of these beers have motivated others to have a go at making "something different" and the other day it was announced that the recently privatised and rescued from a certain death Pivovar Výškov is coming out with their own IPA (that looks pretty good).

All this vitality is more than welcome. Interestingly, though, it has helped me to learn to appreciate once again those beers that I was starting to find boring. Last weekend I was having a few pints at the gorgeous Výčep of Únětický Pivovar. I started with the Desítka, switched to Dvanáctka and finished off with a couple of portions of Polotmavá 13º, their Christmas special. All of them great, very different not only from each other, but also from other beers in their respective categories. All of them simple classics. The same could be said about the Dunkles, Keller, Märzen, etc. from Franconia that I've drunk either in situ or here bottled. Kraus's Hell Lager, for example, was symphony of subtlety and personality.

My point is that anyone can make something "distinctive" with an imported hop variety or with ingredients or processes that aren't the usual. Even the most obtuse consumer will notice they are drinking something different. Achieving something similar using the same old, boring ingredients to brew the same old, boring three or four styles is a lot more difficult, and not only because it requires the drinker to pay more attention (something that unfortunately, few do).

I'm not saying the "innovators" should focus more on the "classics", I'm sure they know very well what they are doing with their business. Nor am I saying that one group of beer is better than the other, Chýně's Stout is one of the best beers I've drunk this year and I am a fan of diversity, there can never be enough of it, and that's why I'll keep on encouraging those who want to bring more colour to the market.

However, I believe that those who prefer to stay with the "usual stuff" and manage to elevate a světlý ležák, a tmavé or polotmavé or even a desítka to new levels deserve every bit as much praise.

Na Zdraví!


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24 Nov 2011

It's time to grow up

"Unlike industrial beers, the so called "craft beers" tend to be yeast soups of incredibly irregular quality. That could be because they are brewed by amateurs who use equipment that is a bit more than improvised. These self proclaimed "Brew Masters", be it due to their poor knowledge of the trade or their limited business vision, often sell clearly flawed beers and expect the consumer not only to pay a high price for them, but also to accept and even admire them because they are "craft" or "artisan".
Can you imagine what would happen if someone published something like this? The author would be greeted by a barrage of heavy caliber insults fired by platoons of lovers of good beer. And it would be well deserved! That thing above is not only false, but also massively stupid.

Not a lot more false and stupid, though, than the first paragraph of this article published in a Chilean beer site (SP):
"The main difference between industrial and craft beer is found in the proportions, in the treatment of the raw materials and in the brewing process. Regarding the raw materials, their proportion is lower in industrial beers, which also use non natural preservatives."
It's not the first time (and I'm afraid, nor the last) that I read something along those lines and I wonder when they will cut it out with that bollocks.

Yes, it's true that there are, not few, "industrial" beers brewed with chemical additives, etc., nobody is denying that, but it's also true that there are, not few, "craft" beers and brewers that could very well fit in that silly description at the beginning. And yet, nobody in their right mind would ever think of making such generalization. Why then is it's OK to do it with the "industrial" beers?

If micro brewers, specially those in "emerging markets", expect to be respected and taken seriously, they should start by acting like adults and leave behind all that childish nonsense. There are a multitude of arguments that can be used to establish a rhetorical difference between "craft" and "industrial" beers, which not only are much closer to reality, but also will address more effectively the mature, and if you want, sophisticated, audience I'm sure many would like to reach. (Of course, those arguments would be as solid as a morning fart the moment someone gets a dodgy beer, but that's something that many brewers know well enough already).

It would also help, too, that those "craft brewers" who haven't done it yet would finally come to terms with the fact that their brewery is a COMPANY, a BUSINESS and not and art project or a political manifesto; that their beers are COMMERCIAL and that brewing is a noble TRADE people people have been practicing for a long, long time with the main purpose of MAKING MONEY. Wanting to make money, or to even get rich, is not a sin, and what we really care about is to be able to drink a consistently well made beer.

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23 Nov 2011

The magic of Lípy

Does any of you have a favourite pub in your town that for whatever reasons, that don't have to do with money, you don't go as often as you'd like?

That is exactly what happens to me with U Slovanské Lípy. I love this pub, so much that for the IN Magazine's survey I put it on the second spot of my Top 10. The reason why I don't go that often is perhaps the opening hours. At 4PM I'm usually on my second or third pint somewhere else and don't feel very much like moving.

Those who follow this blog for a longer time might remember that early last year Lípy closed, something that caused much sadness. Fortunately, it was only for a few weeks, a bunch of new people took over the place and has it running to this day. I don't know if it was their own choice or lack of resources, but whatever it is, I'm glad they've kept the small town dive decoration pretty much intact, only a few Rock'n'Roll touches here and there to give it an even better vibe.

After heavens know how long, the other day I was roaming around the neighbourhood and thought it would be a good idea to stop by at U Slovanské Lípy for a quick pint of Kout 10º. The bloke at the bar recognised me from this blog (something I'll never get used to) and we started to talk. It turned out to be Michal, the person in charge of the place now. I asked him how business is going and he told me that it's going pretty well (one thing I like about Czechs is that if things don't go well, they'll usually tell you they are going like crap). He also told me they've started running a hostel in the building above the pub, which is going fairly well, too.

I stayed a bit longer than I had planned, talking to Michal about beer and pubs and having a very good time. After I left I promised myself I would try to go more often, in only, to be able to have a chat with Michal. I won't go on now to tell you how passionate he and his team might be (you know what I think of that), what is to me more important is that it is evident they are committed to do things well, which, I believe is a basic ingredient for success.

But that aside, if you are in Prague, drop by U Slovanské Lípy, not only you'll be able to enjoy the outstanding beers of Kout na Šumavě, probably at their best in Prague, but you'll be able to do it at a truly unique place.

Na Zdraví!

U Slovanské lípy
50°5'14.693"N, 14°27'12.343"E
Tachovské náměstí 288 - Praha 3-Žižkov
+420-602-190-112
Mon-Sat: 16-23

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21 Nov 2011

A quick question

I've got a couple of topics going around my head, but I'm too lazy to sit down and write about them, so I thought I would ask a hypothetical just for the sake of it.

If you had a brewery with a capacity of 3-5hl a batch, what sort of beer would you have as your "workhorse"* and which would be your "flagship" and why?

That's it.

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*meaning here the beer that would sell the most by volume

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18 Nov 2011

Selected Readings: October

A bit late, I know, but still better than last month.

Actually, I wouldn't say there was a lot (I was still quite bus) and much of the discourse was dominated by Oxford Companion to Beer, which generated a few heated debates.

Martyn Cornell, after finding a few history mistakes in some bits he'd read, asked, a bit too vehemently perhaps, if the book wasn't a dreadful disaster (no wonder after all the work he's done trying to bring some light to the myths about the history of English brewing). Of course, the book's Chief Editor, Garret Oliver, wasn't too thrilled and said his bit in an interview he gave to Alan, which itself generated a few interesting comments.

To me, however, the best review of this book was Barm's, who dissected it bit by bit and gave his opinion in a long, fair and fun to read post.

Now, if any of you is interested about the opinion of someone who hasn't read the book yet, I think The Oxford Companion to Beer has been a victim of its own ambitions and of the huge reputations of the publisher and of Garret Oliver. Maybe Barm is right when he says it might have been rushed a bit to make it in time for the Christmas shopping.

Still in the field of History. Evan Rail calls scholars to study a bit more the history of the beers of Central and Eastern Europe, of which little is known, and suggests a few books to get started. If the number of visitors my post on the historical relationship between Pilsner Urquell and Pale Ale can serve as an indicator, there are quite a lot of people out there who are interested in the topic, and I can't begin to imagine how much they'd like to know about Mum, a old, and gone, German style that according to Page 123 of this 1838 book was "made principally with wheaten malt, with a portion of oat and bean malt, tops of fir and birch and various herbs".

But enough with history. Let's come to the present.

Velký Al has heard enough about oxymoronic beers. It all started with the Black IPA and now there are people speaking of Black Pils and Black Kölsch. What's next, a Pale Schwartz?

Czech speakers should read this "parallel" interview where one of the authors of Pivni Recenze and the Head Brewer of Gambrinus the PR guy of Prazdroj both answer the same questions. Priceless.

Bollocks of the month goes to that rubbish from Murcia, of course, but you've read about it already.

Na Zdraví!

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14 Nov 2011

Off with the legend

"In 1838 the Burghers of Pilsen gathered in the town square and poured 36 barrels of beer into the drains [...] This uncharacteristic revolt was prompted by the various poor quality, unsavoury brews being offered up as beer."
Thus is the tale about the pivotal event that prompted the good burghers and brewing rights holders of the city to set up the brewery that would eventually become Pilsner Urquell.

It's a story I'm sure many of you have read more or less adorned in countless websites, blogs, magazine and book articles and even books. It's a story that I don't believe for a second. And not (just) because I took the above quote from The Book of Legends, in Pilsner Urquell's global website, neither because it's a little bit too convenient for the brand's discourse. There are other reasons.

First of all, there's no precise date of the event, while we do know when the first batch of PU was tapped (5 October, or 11 November, or 25 February of 1842, depending on whom you ask), but of the revolt, not even a month, which is strange for something of such apparent importance. And believe me, I looked for it, I spent much of last weekend researching, trying to find a reliable reference (my social life is awesome, as you can see).

After realising that web pages were a bit of a waste of time, I went to Google Books (what a wonderful tool) and found a couple of very interesting things.

The London general gazetteer, by Richard Brooks, published in 1838, on p. 581 mentions that "Pilsen [...] is particularly rich in sheep, and noted for excellent cheese". No mention of beer or breweries. In the same book, on p. 607 we are told that in Rakovník "very good beer is brewed" and on p. 403, that Jorkau, a town near Žatec (I wasn't able to find the Czech name of Jorkau) is "celebrated for its breweries".

Mc'Culloch̓s universal gazetteer, published in 1855, in the entry for Pilsen (p. 604), the author mentions the schools, the woolen, leather and iron industries and also the large fair that was held once a year, which was attended by traders from all over Bohemia. Nothing about the brewery, or brewing industry at all.

And in a book called A dictionary, geographical, statistical, and historical: of the various countries, places, and principal natural objects in the world, Volumes 1-2, published in 1866, we can read on page 391 that in Bohemia "Some wine is made, but the quality is very inferior; and beer is the national beverage". Yet there's no mention of Pilsen (or Prague for that matter) as a brewing centre of particular importance.

In fact, I found very few references of beer and brewing in Bohemia in these and other contemporary books I consulted. In one of them, I can't remember which one now, the author speaks at length about the beauty of Prague and its architecture, and about its cultural life, but doesn't mention a single brewery. However, beer and breweries are mentioned in the entries of other cities and countries. For example, A Gazetteer of the world (1856) says that in Belgium "the number of breweries amount to 2800 and a large portion of their produce is exported". The breweries and beers of cities in Saxony, Bavaria and even France and Holland, among many others, are mentioned as well in this and the other books. That might be because at the time those books were written, brewing in Bohemia was done mostly by small breweries and not the large ones that would become the norm by the end of the 19th century.

The only reference to the "Pilsen's beer revolt" was was an indirect one and I found it in a Czech book called "Pivovarnictví", by Ladislav Chládek. On page 40 the author mentions that the "Měšťanský Pivovar v Plzni" (Burghers* brewery in Pilsen) was established in 1839, adding that it was because the beer in the city was bad, but I don't quite believe that, either.

Now, I'm not saying that the beer in Pilsen was good, I don't know, but with brewing had been practiced in the city since it was founded in 1295, so one would expect that the brew masters knew what they were doing, but even if it had been on the wrong side of crap, I believe the Burghers' motivations were other...

On the same page in Pivovarnictví, just above the reference mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are a couple of interesting things that might start shedding some light on all this. We are told there that bottom fermented lagers had already been brewed in Bohemia in the 15th Century (something Evan Rail already talked about a while ago, and that, if proven correct, would challenge the latest findings of cold fermenting yeasts tracing their origin to Patagonia). However, they seemed to have been rather exceptional. Bottom, or cold, fermented brewing didn't catch on in Bohemia until 1840. Yes, that's 2 years before the first pint "Měšťanský Pivovar v Plzni" was tapped. According to this book it was brewmaster Votěch Wanka (please, keep the silly jokes to yourselves) who brewing lagers in U Primasů, a brewery in Koňský Trh (Wenceslas Sq., today) and only a year later, already 10% of all the breweries in the realm had switched to bottom fermenting, and their number was growing. Though, according to this lagering was already being done in Prague as early as 1830's, though with top fermented beers).

This was not fortuitous. When Anton Dreher took over the family business in 1833, he switched to brewing lagers (or 1836), which turned out to be a pretty good idea. Dreher's brewery near Vienna expanded rapidly and would later become the centre of a company that owned breweries all over the Austrian Empire.

During those years, Mr. Dreher and his mate Gabriel Sedlmayr II, owner of Spaten, in Munich, went to Great Britain where they were very impressed with what they saw, and tasted, in Burton and by the English method of malting. And in fact, according to something Ron Pattison told me once in an e-mail, Dreher was so impressed that he tried, unsuccessfully, to brew pale in Austria.

So my theory is that the Burghers in Pilsen actually wanted to make something like Pale Ale. It all fits in quite well. The Pilsen malts were made using the English method, but brewing a PA the English way had proved to be a risk (or maybe they even tried it, and didn't work out). Lager brewing was expanding rapidly in Bohemia. And there's the beer itself, the Pale Lager. There are no analysis of colour of Pale Ales in the 1830's, but in Ron's, and in other places, I found several mentions of these beers being brewed from "the palest malts", so it's possible to believe that their colour was that of Pilsner Urquell. Moreover, unlike most other styles of lager of the time, and still now, the Pilsner was also much hoppier, just like Pale Ales. Too many coincidences.

It could have been that the beers in Pilsen were not that good or, at least, were not as good as lagers, as I especulated once, either way, it's clear to me that "Měšťanský Pivovar v Plzni" was established purely because its owners saw the way the wind was blowing and they were no fools, how bad or good the beers were had little, if anything, to do with it. Another thing to also bear in mind is that, unlike what I used to believe, the Pale Lager wouldn't take the world by storm right away, it was more like a slow change in the seasons, even in Bohemia, but that's another story.

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* I believe "Burgher" is a more appropriate translation than Citizen to the Czech word "Měšťan"

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9 Nov 2011

A quick German question

Is there anyone who can explain me what "Vollbier" and "Landbier" are supposed to indicate? Are they legal categories like Märzen, Bock or Weizen (that many people seem wrongly consider them "styles") or are they something more arbitrary? And since I'm asking, is "Rauchbier" also a legal category when it comes to German beer?

Well, more than one question, actually. Thanks in advance for your answers.

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7 Nov 2011

In the memory of the departed

Last Wednesday Sdružení Přátel Piva, announced their awards for this year at a party held at Pivovar Jihlava that once again I could attend, ach jo!

I'm not going to discuss who won what, you can see it for yourselves in the link above. My only comment is that I believe it's about time wheat beers get their own category, there are plenty of them already on the market (some, very good) and it makes no sense that they have to compete with Pale Ales, etc. But that's not what brought me to write this post.

The awards were given on Nov. 2, the day after dušičky (All Saints), a day when (not only) Czechs remember those loved ones who have passed away by leaving flowers and lightning candles at their graves or memorials. Because of this, SPP thought it would be a good idea to commemorate the breweries that have disappeared since 1990.

It's a rather long list (that only mention industrial breweries) and a bit sad, too. But it was the last entry what caught my attention, Zlatopramen, the fourth brewery that Heineken shuts down in the last couple of years. And all this at the same time that they are doing a very good job with their seasonal series (they already announced a new special beer for St. Martin's day) y with some of the all year round products, too. (Březňák is still very good, and SPP gave Krušovice 10° the first place in its category).

Unlike the three breweries that had been closed before, Hostan, Kutná Hora y Louny, Zlatopramen isn't a little known regional brand, but a pretty successful one nationwide, which in fact, brought life to the "jedenáctka" category.

The question here isn't why Heineken has closed this brewery (the answer is easy, the accountants didn't consider it profitable enough and/or decided it would be more efficient to shift the brand's production to Brno, and that's it, fuck tradition), but whether this and the other three above mentioned, and even perhaps Braník, could have survived if they had been left to their own fates.

To start getting the answer we have to go back to the list published by SPP. We'll see there that the bulk of the breweries is made from those that closed before 2000 (18 out of 27), while seven of the nine that have closed since belonged at the time to groups, two multinationals and a Czech one. This means that almost all of the breweries that made it to the 21st century are still going around today (and in some cases, doing very well, despite a drop in overall consumption). If we add the fact that many of those brands are still being produced, we could start thinking that yes, Zlatopramen, etc. could have managed to stay in business, more or less successfully to this day.

But things aren't that simple. Going through the archives of Pivovary.info, where you can find in more or less detail the history of the breweries from the list, you'll see that in most cases, the culprits were not the macros or the multinationals, but the breweries' own management and owners. And let's not forget that, save a few notable exceptions, in 1990 the Czech brewing industry was in a pretty sorry shape, as a result of four decades of lack of investments and overall neglect by the Communist regime (those who know Czech, check out this video, it'll explain a few things).

The answer then, is not easy.

But all this is nothing but speculation, we should perhaps ask another question, why don't Heineken, etc. sell those breweries to someone who would like to operate them? (and this is neither new, nor exclusive of the Dutch, remember the history between Staropramen and Svijany) Looking, for example, at the conditions the Dutch giant imposed the city of Znojmo when they sold them the facilities of the Hostan brewery, one is tempted to believe that they are afraid of competition, but I think that it's much more than that, and I wish someone could tell me what it is.

Anyway, even though I was never a fan of Zlatopramen, it's sad to see a brewery closing down, more so when it happens this way. I hope it will be the last one, at least for a while.

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31 Oct 2011

Bamberger Rindfleisch

When Cuketka.cz published this recipe for beef with wheat beer, the most read Czech food blogger reminded me about an idea that had been going around my mind for quite some time, to try to make something like Beef Bourguignon, but with beer instead of wine.

Unlike the above linked recipe, I hadn't thought of using wheat beer, but a dark smoked one (hence the name, because I am that creative, yeah) and I must say it was better than lovely.

This is an easy recipe, great for a weekend. It doesn't need too much time to prepare and once you put the thing in the oven you can leave it alone until it's almost ready.

It's better for it to use a cheap cut of beef, it will roast for a couple of hours, so it should be really tender and, also, the fattier the meat, the tastier the sauce will be.

One of the ingredients is celeriac, which is a common root vegetable here, but I don't know how easy it can be to get in other countries. If you can't find it or can't be arsed with looking for it, you can use another root vegetable or more carrot.

So, take your notepad and a pen, here it goes.
Bamberger Rindfleisch (serves several)

1kg beef, cut in pieces like for a stew or a guláš
50g of bacon, diced
1 medium sized onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2-3 smallish carrots, diced
100g (approx.) celeriac, diced
1/2l dark smoked beer
1/3 cup tomato puree
Soy sauce (only a few drops), salt, pepper
Sage, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves
Cooking oil
Flour
A bottle of a not too strong, not too intense beer to sip while preparing everything.

In a roasting pan that can be covered or a pot that can go into the oven heat some oil. Lightly coat the beef with the flour and toss it in the hot oil. Don't put it all at once, do it a few pieces at a time. When they get brown on all sides take them out and keep them apart.

Once done with the beef, put the veggies, bacon and herbs, add a dash of the beer to scrape what is left on the bottom of the pan/pot and mix. Let it cook until the onion starts getting a bit of colour and put back the beef. Mix some more and add the beer, soy sauce and tomato. Let it boil for about a minute, cover it and put it into an oven preheated at 170ºC. Roast it for two, two and a half hours, or until the meat is really tender. And that's it.
We ate it with a pumpkin puree that I finished with nutmeg and sour cream. It was some really über-awesome grub, I swear.

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28 Oct 2011

Magnetic Beer

That's the name of the new category I've made up. Yes, I know, it's probably silly, redundant and pointless, but let me explain anyway.

Picture this scenario. You go to one of those pubs that has a more or less extensive beer list. Among the day's offer you find some old favourites, something you have long wanted to drink again and a couple of new things. Eventually, you order one of those new beers, but, being a proper beer-hyperactive, even before getting your pint you are already thinking about which beer you'll order next (if you haven't decided already that this will be your last of the session). However, without even having drunk half the glass, you are already looking forward to getting a new one. The beer won't let you go. The others are still there, you know it, you haven't forgotten them, but there's no way you can leave this one you are drinking. You end up drinking several more pints than planned and only a major dose of willpower helps you leave the pub before it's too late.

That is what happened to me the other day at Zlý Časy with Black Dog, a new Stout from Chýně. It was my third, and maybe last, pint of the afternoon, it already looked quite interesting from the list of ingredients: roasted barley, roasted rye malts, Hellertau from NZ (?). Dark as a gorilla's bumhole, topped by a latté coloured, very compact head, 13º Balling and 5% ABV, light bodied but far from thin, complex, but not overwhelming or tiring, with everything you can expect from a dry Stout, but with a unique character. I wasn't able to get away from it, I was stuck, I ended up having four pints of it and, if it hadn't been for the hour, I would have gladly had four more. This is not the fist time that something like this happened to me, before it was with Hoppy Cat, an excellent Porter from Kocour, in collaboration wtih The Hoppy Brewing co. and with Březňák from Vyškov, a světlý ležák that has something magnetic in it.

Has something like this ever happened to any of you?

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24 Oct 2011

Open letter

To the Chief Editors of the Spanish speaking, non specialised media

Dear sirs,

I am an enemy of censorship of any kind, I strongly believe that everyone should have the right say anything that crosses their mind regardless of how moronic, nonsensical or wrong it might be and as long as they are willing to bear the consequences should the said thing turns out to be slanderous or offensive. However, after reading this piece of rubbish (SP) published last Sunday in the Murcia edition of La Verdad, I am left with no choice but to plead from the bottom of my heart and with a tear rolling down my cheek that you refrain from publishing any more articles that deal, at least superficially or tangentially, with technical aspects of beer or brewing. Not only because they disrespect the noble trade of beer making, but also because they disrespect all of your readers, regardless of how little or much interest or knowledge they have in or about the topic.

The above linked article is just another example of the poor quality of what your media publish about beer. In this particular case, it is evident that the author, whose name is unknown, knows as much about the topic as I know about Kabuki theatre, and that all his or her research was limited at most to the first two or three results offered by an internet search engine, because there is no other way to explain that he or she opens his or her opus with the following paragraph (translated from the Spanish original)
"1: Ingredients: Malted Barley: Pale Ale malt and Cristal Malt, they are used in the mashing to extract sugars that will later be converted to alcohol. Water: It is essential for brewing, since up to 90% of the beer is water. It is treated by osmosis to take out or add the salts and minerals needed to make a good beer. Hops: They provide the characteristic citrus aromas and flavours. It is a wild, climbing plant that gives beer its aroma and bitterness. It also protects and preserves it, preventing the growth of harmful microorganisms. Yeasts: They provide the fruity esters that are added to the wort during the fermentation process. They transform the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Because of this ingredient there are two kinds of beer, the Pale Ales, from top fermentation and the Lager, from bottom or reduced fermentation."
This shows a lack of professionalism that almost borders the criminal. On the other hand, and to be fair, it is not hard to understand you, Editors in Chief, that you publish the bollocks you publish in your media when there are professionals in the industry, be it from macro brewers or from micro brewers, who seem to enjoy spreading disinformation, the quality of which is not much better than what you publish.

Sincerely yours,

Pivní Filosof

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21 Oct 2011

Names and categories, their importance or lack thereof

The other day I wento to Zlý Časy for a couple of pints. As usual, I opened the session with a good ležák (Tambor 11º, which was more than lovely) to quench my thirst and see what else the other 23 taps had to offer.

While chatting with a couple of the patrons I decided that Žamberk's Sametový Ale would be my next beer (not before seriously considering ordering another pint of Tambor or perhaps one of Mahr's Kellerbier).

Handsome beer it was, it looked very nice in its nonic. A finger-thick, creamy, slightly tanned head, the beer itself, a polotmavý amber colour. Pity I didn't have my camera. But when I got my nose close to the glass, it's "Aleness" wasn't so clear anymore, I got the distinctive clove notes of a weizen, while the flavour reminded me of a dampfbier. The "Sametový" thing was spot on, though. It had a nice, velvety texture ("samet" in Czech means velvet). Far from an Ale, in my books, but far from boring at the same time. I was satisfied.

It was followed by Pauliner, from Třebonice. More than its name, what caught my attention was its description as a "čokoladový weizen". I thought it would have chocolate (extract), but when I read the list of ingredients (what a great idea the beer cards of Aliance P.I.V. are!) I saw that it was actually brewed with chocolate wheat malts. The bloke I was sharing the table with had ordered and wasn't very thrilled, but I still wanted to give it a chance, I trust David, the creator of this beer.

Pauliner is one of the darkest wheat beers I've seen in my life. It's really black and it looks great. Things start going downhill with the nose, there's almost nothing, just a whiff of green apples that doesn't fit it. The promised, or expected, complexity of the malts was noticeable by its absence, there was some roastiness, yes, but far from enough of it and, despite being a 12º with only 4,3 ABV, it felt very thin. I was left thinking that maybe the yeasts that were used weren't the most appropriate, but overall, I was left disappointed.

Beer names and categories tend to generate expectations, and such was the case of both these beers. Pauliner failed because it had none of the things I was expecting, even though I had discarded the presence of any cocoa based product. But I believe I wouldn't have been satisfied even if I had drunk it blind.

Sametový Ale had it a bit easier. "Ale" is a wide category, and I'm excluding all those top fermented beers that are wrongly categorised as Ale. And it still failed to meet the expectations and I still liked it, and when I like what I have in the glass, they can call it or categorise it "Honza" for all I care, it's not my problem after all, and I believe most people don't care, either.

However, there are people (and their number is increasing, and I'm not including here those who would argue whether a beer is an Old Ale or a Barley Wine) who do care, whose judgments will be affected by a beer's failing to meet the expectations generated by its name/category, and not without reason. And that is something brewers should pay attention to when baptising and labeling their creations.

Na Zdraví!

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14 Oct 2011

Knock-off pivo

It's well known that it's not too difficult to find imitations of famous and horribly over-priced brands of clothes and accessories (by the way, I don't know who's the biggest fool, someone who buys a 2000EU handbag or someone who buys a knock-off of said handbag because they want to pretend they can afford such thing). I've also read about knock-off wines, you know, plonk that is given a label of a well known (and perhaps horribly overpriced) chateau this or that (there was a great Benny Hill gag with that), but this is the first time I've heard about knock-off beer.

According to the news, customs and police last week arrested a gang that was doing just that.

Česká Televize gives a bit more detail on their news broadcast. It seems this gang was sourcing the beer from a small local brewery and selling it under well known brands.

The authorities haven't released the names of either the brewer or the brands that were affected. They have said, though, that one of the members of the gang had some sort of relationship with the small brewery, while others were linked to distributors.

I find it hard to believe that the unnamed small brewer from Central Bohemia was doing this on purpose, unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be what bigger brewers believe, in fact, they claim in ČT's report that it's rather common practice, that smaller breweries sell their stuff under better known brands, even the people of Staropramen complain about that!

Now, before you ask why the fuck a small brewer would sell their beers as Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, Gambrinus, etc., when people's preferences are slowly shifting towards smaller breweries, let me say that it's not fair to the brewers, regardless of whatever crap they happen to brew, and to the consumers, who drink whatever they drink because they like it.

That said, why the fuck will a small brewer sell their beers as Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, Gambrinus, etc. when people's preferences are a slowly shifting towards smaller breweries? Really, think about it for a second. People are more and more looking for alternative brands or rediscovering regional ones. I know quite a few brewers and believe me, they are proud of their product and they would never think of doing something so foolish.

I'm not saying that this things don't happen, it's obvious that they do, but I see it more as the work of pub owners, who buy a cheaper brand X and sell it as a more expensive brand Z (or a 10º for a 12º), knowing that most people will not notice the difference. I'm sure most times they do it to rip people off, but there are others who might do it because they want to get something through the thick skulls of their štamgasty, either way, the brewers can't be held responsible for that.

Perhaps, next time you got to a Staropramen or Gambáč pub you may want to have a look at the kegs, though, you'll yourself a favour if you go somewhere that offers beers that have been properly brewed at a smaller brewery, just to be sure.

Na Zdraví!

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12 Oct 2011

Prague's best according to experts

IN, a lifestyle magazine that comes out with the Wednesday Edition of Hospodářské Noviny, one of the most important newspapers in the Czech Rep., has published a list with the 10 best places to have a beer in Prague.

This ranking was put together with the help of a jury of 15 personalities. Each one of them was asked to send their own Top 10, which should consider the condition and quality of the beers, regardless of brands, price or business model, as well as other reasons why they like them, with the food being left out of the equation.

Based on those lists, Tomáš Wehle, the author of the article, ordered the ranking assigning points to each hospoda with the following system: 6 points for each first place, 5 for each second, 4 for each third, 3 for each fourth, 2 for each fifth, and 1 for each sixth to tenth places.

I don't usually give much relevance to most Top X lists, but this one is a bit different because I was one of the members of the jury. I can't even begin to explain you what an honour it is for me to have collaborated with this ranking to see my name among those of people of the caliber of Jan Šurán (one of the most respected and influential Brew Masters in the country), Ladislav Jákl (the controversial Secretary of the President of the Czech Republic and a renown beer connoisseur), Evan Rail, Martin Kuciel (author of Cuketka.cz, the most read Czech food blog) or Pavel Mauer (author and publisher of the most influential restaurant guide here).

But enogh chest beating already. This is what the ranking looks like:

1-   Zlý Časy 51 p
2-   Zubatý Pes 33 p
3-   První Pivní Tramway 29p
4-5 Pivovar U Bulovky 21p
4-5 Lokál Dlouhá 21p
6-   Pivovarský Klub 19p
7-   U Jelínků 18p
8-9 U Hrocha 13p
8-9 Lokál U Bílé kuželky 13p
10- U Pinkasů 12p

Personal preferences aside, I don't think anyone can be surprised by Zlý Časy's first place. I was a bit surprised, though, by the position of Zubatý Pes, not because it's undeserved, Mike is doing a great job with that pub, but because it opened only a couple of months ago in a less than ideal location. Another interesting point is that only one Pilsner Urquell pub has made it to the top five, while there are four among the bottom five, an indication, perhaps of what the current trend is, a trend that I hope will keep on growing.

And what do you think? What other hospody would you include on this list?

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10 Oct 2011

A British surprise

I roam the streets of Prague a lot and, as you all know, I like stopping here and there for a quick pint and that's why I have a very good mental map of the location of the toilets where I can offload those beers without having to pay for the privilege.

Marks & Spencer's branch in Vaclavák is one of those places. The loos are on the top floor, by the coffee shop, in the food and beverage dept. One day, about two months ago, I went there in quite a hurry and, as usual, I didn't bother to look too much around.

Once the call of nature had been answered, just when I was coming out of the toilets, something made me look down to my left. I don't know what it was, perhaps something I had seen on the way in, but not quite noticed. There they were, almost hidden on the bottom shelf, in a dark corner of the wine section, bottles of beer! And not the usual imported, or pseudo-imported, rubbish you find at most supermarkets, but stuff from M&S's own line of beers. I couldn't believe it! Two and a half years ago I had complained that at this oh-so British store you couldn't find any of the very good beers that are brewed in the Isles, and I wasn't the only one, Velký Al had the same complaint and he even started an e-mail campaign to try to change things.

I seriously doubt anyone in M&S paid any attention to our nagging, but I didn't care. At last I was going to be able to drink some of those beers I had heard about. That day I bought a bottle of London Porter brewed by Meantime, who claim to have followed a recipe from 1750 (the presence of wheat malt makes me doubt the historical accuracy). There were others, an Irish Stout brewed by Carlow Brewing co., an Italian Lager brewed by God knows who and a Czech Lager brewed by Regent, but I only had room for one.

A month or so later I went back and found Staffordshire IPA, brewed by Marston's and a Cornish IPA, from St. Austell.

I found a few more later at the branch by the Budějovická metro station. Besides the Stout, there was a Scottish Ale, from Cairgorn, brewed with thistle and ginger.

All in all, the beers are quite good, though at least in two cases, also a bit inconsistent. I liked the Irish Stout a lot the fist time I had it, not so much the second time; while I didn't think too much of the Staffordshire IPA the first time, but was very, very, pleased by it the second time. My favourite so far has been the Cornish IPA, though.

The only real problem with this are the prices. Not because they are high, but because they are unpredictable. When I first bought the London Porter it cost me 70CZK, when I went the second time, the price was well over 100CZK, then I saw it again at 70 or so CZK and the other day they had it at 140CZK (always for 0.5l bottles). The same could be said of the rest. I don't know the reason behind this (I've spoken with someone from the company and they weren't able to give me an answer, either), but it'd be great if they could make up their minds. For example, if I had bought the Porter at 110CZK I don't think I would have been unhappy, but I don't think, either, I would have wanted to buy it again, not when I can get St. Peter's Old Style Porter or Fuller's London Porter, which I believe are better, for a lower price, but if they kept it at 70CZK, I'd gladly buy it more often.

On the other hand, I'm not so sure that Marks & Spencer have much interest in keep on selling this product line here. The beers can't be found anymore at the Budějovická's branch and in Vaclavák they are way too hidden for people to notice them easily, it's almost as if they were ashamed of carrying them. I hope I'm wrong with this and that, consistent prices or not, I will be able to keep on buying these beers in the future. Despite how much, and how well (both in quantity and quality) the offer of imported beers has grown, English beers are still underrepresented here (and not so much for lack of interest from this side, but more because of the lack of flexibility of some brewers there), so it's positive have another channel to get them.

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5 Oct 2011

Selected Readings: August - September

I've been given a break from this project I'm working on, so I wanted to use it to catch up with this section, which this time spans two months, lucky you!

For reasons I'm not aware of and can't be arsed with finding out, at some point in history someone decided that one day in August was going to be "IPA Day". I like drinking a good IPA as much as the next beer geek and I don't need any special date for that, but if this "holiday" motivates authors like Martyn Cornell to publish some good stuff on the topic, then I'm all for it. And a pretty good post it is, one that tries for the upteenth time tries to kill some of the myths of this style's history.

A few days later, and related to it, another great beer historian, Ron Pattison, speaks about the style, but from another perspective, bringing to the table what he calls "IPA inflation", or how some of those "this or that IPA" that seem to be such a hit among brewers are actually other styles. Where I disagree with Ron is in the closing statement, that IPA is going to eventually fade away just like Mild once did. It's true that the style is hugely popular among "craft beer" drinkers, but those people are only a niche market, a nice that is growing, so there are still a lot of people who still haven't drunk their first IPA.

From Colombia, Manza shares his remarkable experience with a can of Carslberg Special Brew that had been aged for 13 years!. I won't add anything else, go and Google translate it.

Tandleman, on the other hand, tells us that there's nothing wrong with drinking alone, something that, I believe, most of us agree with, but it never hurts to explain it once more to all those people who don't seem to get it. And yes, sitting at a hospoda early in the afternoon, when there is just a few people, with a good beer and a good read as sole company is one of those life's great little pleasures.

I don't know about you, but what I usually prefer to drink at a hosopoda, be it alone or with friends is what some EBU-ABV craftophiles might call "boring beer", but that could actually better be described the way Boak & Bailey brilliantly do it.

I have harshly, and deservedly, critisised the way the Spanish speaking press deals with the topic of "beer". Sometimes, it is really irritating, not so much for the disrespect they show to our favourite beverage, but for the complete lack of professionalism of the people who publish that crap. But I like being fair and the Spanish daily El País published one of the best articles I've read about beer in Spanish. It resists the temptation of plugs, it doesn't get trapped into technicalities, it "just" speaks about a new phenomenon in the market avoiding demagoguery and chauvinism. On the other hand, I still believe that "revolution" is too big a word for craft beer.

Now in September. Not much to speak of here, really, but I didn't have enough time to pay too much attention.

Once again, Martyn Cornell, posts a very well researched post about Ales that used to be brewed with the purpose of being barrel aged for decades, a tradition that has been lost and, unfortunately, doesn't seem anyone is going to revive anytime soon.

Back the the Spanish "Craft Beer" phenomenon. The folks at Lúpulo a Mansalva offer a slightly different view of it. It's interesting sometimes to see things from the other side of the counter, and LaM is an on-line beer retailer that wants to give priority to local products, which, according to what they tell us in their blog, isn't always that easy, not so much because of quality issues, but because of some not very sensible policies of some brewers.

The prize for the bollocks of these two months goes to Expats.cz, or actually, to some Suchi Rudra, who was allowed to publish an article that could have hardly been any sillier, lazier, more chauvinist and populist and less well researched. I have read better stuff in traveler's blogs. As a lover of Czech beer, I was quite ashamed and fortunately, my mate Velký Al spared me the bother of writing a response to it.

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3 Oct 2011

The Globalised Terroir


Joe, the Thirsty Pilgrim, is again talking about this terroir and beer thing, something I'm not a fan of, really.

At first I saw in it just another nonsensical parallel forcibly drawn between beer and wine, but after reading a bit more about it, I realised that the thing goes further than that. However, and although some of their arguments are quite solid, I get the impression that the "terroirists" (the similarity with "terrorist" is entirely casual) are not taking into account some of the fundamental aspects of the very nature of beer, and they are nothing new, they've always been there.

It is true that wine and beer have many things in common, but at the same time, they are enormously different (and no, I'm not talking about the bollocks of wine = pretentious+snobbish, beer=the everyman's drink. Beer can be as pretentious and snobbish as wine, and wine can be as much the everyman's drink as beer, if the people that sell and talk about it so want).

To begin with, beer doesn't suffer the geographical and seasonal limitations of wine, its fermentables can be grown almost anywhere, can also be stored for relatively long and transported great distances. Beer is also very flexible, if there isn't enough barley, another grain can be used, no hops? no problem.

Another big difference is that beer isn't the result of a mostly natural process, it has always been an "industrial" product resulting from human ingenuity. Thanks to this, and the flexibility I mention above, beer, in many ways, has been a sort of mirror of the evolution of our civilisation, and if Patrick McGovern is right, and people did start practicing agriculture so they could have a reliable source of grain to make beer, our favourite beverage might have even triggered it.

What I want to say with all this is that those "traditional" styles that the terroirists use as example of their arguments weren't only the product of the available raw materials and indigenous yeast strains of a given place and age, but also a product of their times.

During most of history, brewers, just like every other average person, didn't leave the small worlds they lived very often, and knew very little about what happened beyond them. They also learnt their trade from Master Brewers who lived in those very same small worlds. It is tempting to assume that there wasn't much room for innovation, let alone experimentation, specially in a commercial activity like brewing. And yet, some of those very same brewers had no problem with adopting new ingredients or processes introduced from abroad, if they considered them convenient. A great example of this is the introduction of hops in England.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but our world is very, very different now. It's a world where an American company can outsource their call centre to India, a Graphic Designer can take jobs from a Spanish agency without leaving his or her home in suburban Buenos Aires, an English chef can open a restaurant in Prague where he serves perhaps the best Asian food in the country and someone from Norway, Australia or Chile can be reading this post, which is a response to another one written by a gringo living in Costa Rica, during their commute, while sipping a beer at a pub or  while enjoying their Italian holiday. And just like they have done throughout history, beer and brewing are reflecting this new reality.

Today anyone can learn the trade by trial and error in their garage or cellar using recipes downloaded from the internet and setting up a brewery isn't a lot more difficult than setting up any other sort of company. Once done with the beaurocracy, the technology can be bought in the Czech Republic, the malts can be sourced from Germany, the hops from New Zealand, a strain of Belgian yeasts can be ordered and, eventually, a collaboration with an English brewer can be arranged.

So, that Saison from Denmark, that IPA from Belgium, that Trippel from the US or the Czech Stout that I'm drinking now aren't "...beer without a home, an orphan, a delicious flavor without roots, trapped in a glass...", as Don Feinberg says in one of the excerpts from his essay reproduced in Joe's blog. Just like the first hopped beers in England, these are also a product of their time. Yes, their history is still very young, and it's yet to be seen how long it'll last, but the same could have been said about the Pilsner Lager 150 years ago. As for home, they do have one, you can call it "The Global Terroir", if you wish.

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21 Sep 2011

So you won't forget me

Still buried in work. I can't complain, really, but at times it becomes quite tedious. Since it's very likely that the pause will continue until the end of the month, I wanted to leave you with a little something so you won't forget that I'm still here and drinking:

To say that unfiltered beer = better beer (or worse still, "crafter" beer) is like saying that bitterer/maltier, stronger/weaker, darker/paler beer = better beer, which would be, of course, utter bollocks.

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5 Sep 2011

Probable pause

Is probable that in the coming days, if not weeks, you won't see much activity in this blog. I've been hired to do a huge and quite difficult (and a bit beyond my area of expertise) translation that is consuming almost all my available time.

As soon as this monster (that will pay very well) so allows, I will try to post at least the Selected Readings of last month so you will have something to keep yourselves entertained. Until then, I hope you'll be able to forgive the silence.

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31 Aug 2011

Quite an improvement

On the home page of his excellent blog, Appellation Beer, Stan Hieronymus presents his "New Beer Rules", a Decalogue that everyone should pay attention to.

I must admit that I hardly ever follow rule #3 "You must drink at least two servings of a beer before you pass judgment on it.". Just like the rest, this rule makes a lot of sense, but in my reality, if a beer has failed to impress me it's very difficult that I will want to drink it again. Why bother when there's so much and so good to choose from?

Such was the case with Merlin, the flagship dark beer of K Brewery, which, according to them, is Stout inspired and brewed with an adjunct of roasted barley. I drank it shortly after it had been launched, during my first visit to Kopyto, in Žižkov. I didn't like it, and I never thought of drinking it again, until the other day.

I was near Jiřího z Poděbrad when I was caught by one of those annoying storms that were such a pain in the arse during the first half of august. I needed some shelter. I was at about 200m from U Sadu, but I didn't have any cash on me and that pub doesn't take credit cards. Kopyto wasn't as near, but they do take plastic and I didn't have much of a choice if I wanted to have some decent beer, so there I ran.

I've been going to Kopyto quite often recently. A few times for lunch (food is quite good), but I usually stop by just to have a quick Velen on my way to a class I have nearby (BTW, the wheat beer from Černá Hora is in amazing shape this season, better than Primátor's, I'd say). That day, however, what I fancied was a dark beer and I noticed that they were now selling Merlin at 32CZK/0.5l, instead of 0.3l for the same price as at other places. Without any high expectations, I ordered a pint.

I don't know what they've done to this beer, but they have certainly improved it. There's still not much of a roasted barley character in it. There is a roasted note, yes, but it's not very different from what you can find in, for instance, Herold's dark lager. But regardless of that, the beer was tastier, better balanced, more interesting. I ended up having three and I would have gladly stayed for one or two more had I had the time. I've had it several more times afterwards, and my opinion stays. Good, good dark lager.

All this doesn't mean that from now on I will start following Stan's rule #3, but I do think I will start paying more attention to some of the beers that failed to impress me in the past, I want to see what time has done to them.

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PD: If someone at K-Brewery is reading this. No matter how good Merlin might be, it is not especial enough to be sold only in 0.3l measures (both bottled and on tap - Kopyto here is an exception). Distribute it in a man's portion of 0.5l and you'll have me as a regular consumer.

PD2: If someone from Kopyto is reading this. Do something about the fucking music! I'm not complaining about the preprocessed techno-pop rubbish that seems to be the stable soundtrack there, there are many people who like that stuff, so it's my problem that I don't, but don't play it from the fucking TV! (or the radio for that matter) The ads are really annoying! I'm sure you've heard of MP3's, well, do something with them.

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