27 Jun 2011

A lovely day

After finishing my visit to Úětický Pivovar my original plan was to take a bus to Prague and find somewhere to have lunch. The day had turned out to be a too nice for that so I changed my mind and decided I would walk to the nieghbouring village of Roztoky, following the romantically called Tiché Údolí (Silent Valley).

At the beginning of the walk, while I was still going through the village, I lamented having forgotten my MP3 player at home, but once I had left the houses behind and, following the creek, entered the forest I realised it was actually for the better. Had I been listening to any of my favourite music I would have missed the singing of the water and the birds, which, together with my footsteps, were the only sounds to be heard.

A truly beautiful walk, incredibly peaceful, relaxing. Even though I've been living here for almost a decade, I'm still surprised that you can find this kind of places right next to a major city, or even in it.
After enjoying a few kilometres in the company of my thoughts, Roztoky started to appear slowly. A couple of weekend cottages first, then the ruins of what used to be a restaurant and, next to it, the shell of an abandoned hotel that soon were followed by houses. It was only then that I realised how thirsty I was (and a bit hungry, too), so I went in search of Hospůdka Zviřátka. Just as I had feared, it was closed. A shame, it looked like a lovely, little beer garden from the outside and I had very good references of it.

I had no other choice then than to follow the road towards the train station. I still walked at forest pace, admiring some of the mansions along the way (rich people back then really had good taste) and I couldn't help to think how nice it must be to live in that neighbourhood. Meanwhile, my thirst was growing and the sun was stronger. I swear to you that by the time I go to Nádražní I would have been happy to drink almost anything I would have been offered. Fortunately, I was greeted by a sign of Rychtář that announced Pizzeria Capri.
It wasn't even 2PM and the place was absolutely empty and with a rather sad air in it. I sat at the bar and ordered "pivo". I think I was given a desítka, it tasted like heaven. I considered ordering another one, but for some reason I was afraid that the waiter will start crying on my shoulder so I paid and went on my way.

I went to the bus stop. I was lucky, the 350 was about to come. My plan now was to get off at the next stop, Sedlecký Přívoz, and from there take the ferry to the other side of the river. I'd been wanting to see that part of the world for quite some time and today I still plenty of it.
I've always liked crossing rivers, there's something almost mystic about it. You can't feel it when you cross by car or tram, you can when you cross a bridge by foot, but doing it at water level on a boat with a lazy spirit is magic.

The bar by the pier was closed, so I faced South to go to the other ferry. It was very hot already and there was no shade in sight. There were, though, a few pretty girls roller blading, who made the walk more pleasant.

Halfway between both ferries I noticed a place called Hospůdka Sluníčko. If it hadn't been for the geezer sipping a beer looking like he didn't know what a problem was I would have thought the place was closed. It turned out to be a terrace a couple of metres above the river and looked quite nice from the path I was walking. I convinced myself that it was a good time for a technical stopover and not even sign promising Gambáč would dissuade me.
There are places the beer brand matters very little, and sitting in the shade, overlooking the river and the forests across it, without suffering the noise of cars, even this little loved desítka tasted just fine.

Time wasn't so plentiful anymore, so as soon as the glass was empty I got back on the road. I wanted to get to the other ferry with enough time to have a beer before crossing.

The green and white umbrellas of Koloniál can be seen from the opposite bank of the Vltava and I had always wondered what sort of beer they announced. For some reason, the colours suggested me Ježek, but it was a great, and pleasant, surprise to find out it was Bohemia Regent (is there another place in Prague that has this brand on tap?).
There was plenty of people, or at least plenty for a Wednesday early in the afternoon, I can't even imagine what this place must be like at weekends. I ordered a desítka (served in a plastic cup, unfortunately, but I hadn't minded much the Gambáč before, so I wasn't going to make a fuss about the container of this, even better, beer) and looked for a place to sit. I was lucky, there was a free table right under an umbrella.

I put the beer and my book on the table and took out my mobile to check what time it was. I always carry it in silent mode and  when I'm walking I usually don't realise when someone calls me or texts me, which was just what had happened somewhere between getting off the boat and this beer. Good news, very good news. My students had texted me to let me know that the lesson at five had been cancelled (and paid for). My mood, which was already very good, greatly improved. A few pages and half a litre later I went for another dose of desítka, this time together with a klobása. The sausage ended up being a tad too greasy, but If I hadn't mind the Gambáč before, nor the plastic cup, I wasn't going to mind a minor detail like that, at least not on a day like this. One of those almost perfect days.
Na Zdraví!

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24 Jun 2011

Things I saw and heard in Únětice

I liked the beers of Únětický Pivovar so much, and I had such a good time at this such nice place, that the moment I arrived home I told myself I should go back there dressed as a journalist. So I got in touch with Jítka Menclová, the person in charge of the PR, and arranged a visit for last Wednesday.

This time didn't rain while I walked from the bus stop to the brewery and since I still had plenty of time I thought I would take an alternative way, which was not only nicer, but it also turned out to be shorter.

Jítka arrived a bit later and the visit started also in the company of one of the brewers. I'm preparing a piece for the Spanish magazine Bar&Beer, but I still wanted to share with you some of the things I was told there.
Únětický Pivovar isn't a brewpub, it's a beer factory that, like many others, has a taproom or výčep, as Czechs say. The taproom and the garden are already working, opening hours are Tue-Fri: 15-22, Sat-Sun: 11-22. Only soups, sausages and other beer snacks are served, the ingredients of which they try to source from nearby producers. Just as I figured out on my first visit, the taproom is in the former maltings, which also happen to be the oldest part of the building.
The beers can also be bought in PET bolles, 2l growlers and even kegs. I was told they are doing pretty well with the takeaway business, and I believe them, while I was waiting for Jítka on that Wednesday before noon I saw a couple of cars stopping to pick a few bottles.

Besides selling beer and food, the facilities of the brewery are also a venue for various cultural activities, some of them organised together with the village. This Saturday, for example, is the Solstice festival. The calendar of the activities can be checked on this page (Czech only).

The brewery proper.

They didn't want to give me figures, but I was told that the investment was quite important. They were lucky that the buildings had been really well kept, but still, reconditioning them as a brewery wasn't cheap.

The equipment is top notch, and the whole thing looks pretty nice. The copper and kettle have a 25hl capacity. Both of the beers that are brewed at the moment, a 10º and a 12º, follow classic recipes and processes, with triple decoction and the works. The Pilsen malts come from a "micro-maltster", hops are Saaz in pelets and the yeasts come from the Czech Brewing and Malting Research Institute and each batch is used six times.
The fermentation is done in two open tanks that hold 50hl each. Each of them ferments two batches at any given time. 10º ferments for a week, 12º for at least ten days.
From there they go to the lagering tanks. At the moment they have 7, each holding 50hl, but they have enough space for a few more. Beers are sold both unfiltered and filtered. I sampled the filtered desítka and it was really nice and the dvanáctká tapped straight from the lagering tank was better than a morning piss. Lovely.
They have ambitious plans. They expect to produce 1500hl this year and they aim to reach 10000hl in 3-5 years. Eventually, they want to install a proper bottling line to be able to sell the beers in returnable, glass bottles, but nothing specific at the moment. They are also planning their first two special brews, one that should come out on 28 September and another one for Christmas, though they still haven't decided on the recipes.

Both the director (the father of all this, actually) and the brewer that showed me around, used to work at Staropramen. The former left the company because he didn't like the way they were doing things anymore.

A great visit to a very nice brewery that makes very nice beers. Thanks Jítka and the rest for their hospitality and the information.
Na Zdraví!

PD: The day didn't end there, though. The visit to the brewery was followed by a great afternoon, more on it on Monday.

22 Jun 2011

They must be joking

The headline in Czech says "Pivovary založily fond, který má chránit české pivo" (Breweries set up a fund to protect Czech beer). This fund, with the slogan "České pivo - naše pivo" (Czech beer - our beer), aims to protect the national drink from the "onslaught" of the cheap imports.

Ufff! Where to begin. The founding members. Plzeňský Prazdroj, Heineken, Budvar, the PMS group (Zubr, Litovel, Holba) Souffle Maltings and Český svaz pivovarů a sladoven (Czech Brewers and Maltster Association). When I was reading this I couldn't stop my hand from slapping my forehead in disbelief. Only Pivovary Staropramen is missing and we would have a full house. Do this people really want to protect Czech beer? Gimme a break!

Prazdroj brews Gambrinus Světlý and Premium both with a 13º batch that then is divided and each of them diluted until they get to the required ABV.

Heineken in 2009 shut down four breweries and then sold the facilities of one of them to the city of Znojmo under the condition that, for a period of 10 years, nobody can brew there and no other brands but theirs can be sold in them.

The PMS Group still brews and distributes Lahváč, a beer that has nothing to envy the worst of the Polish crap.

The only one who saves the day a bit is Budvar, though they don't seem to have much of a problem with distributing Carlsberg, which might not be cheap, but it's far from good.

All of them, with the exception of the state brewer, are really happy with how well they are doing with the PET bottles, and they don't seem to worry too much that these beers are stored in the heat or even direct sunlight (I've seen it) and exposed for, who knows how long, to the harsh light of supermarkets.

But let's be fair, breweries, regardless of their size, are businesses and the primary function of every business is to generate enough money to at least keep the company going. That's fine and dandy, each has every right in the world to sell whatever they want for however much they want and I am free to decide whether I will buy it or not. But then they come banging their chests to tell me that they want to protect Czech beer when they've been debasing it for so long? Fuck off!

On the other hand, this has given me an excuse to talk about something I've been wanting to talk about for some time. The cheap imports, the calamity that these noble souls want to protect us from.

I've got no figures to back my arguments, I don't know what is the volume or market share these cheap imports have (most of them come from Poland, but there are also some from Romania and even Germany, and, at least the ones I've tried, are invariably crap), but I'm convinced that all this has been blown out of proportion by people who want to lay the blame on others for the mistakes they have made.

As in many other countries Czechs are drinking less, not less and better, just less. The main reason is that people are going out less. There are several factors involved, the crisis (real or perceived), demographic changes, etc.

A sizable part of the productive population is now between 30 and 40 years old, many of them have now children, mortgages and other obligations that, as many of you are aware of, leave less time and resources to have as much fun as in times past. To this we must add that many of these people have moved out of the urban centres into what Czechs call "Satelite towns". Many also commute by car, which means that they can't have a pint or two after work anymore. This wouldn't be much of a problem if it wasn't that when they get back, or are, home they don't have where to go.

I live in one of those sprawls and know several more. These are places where real state developers crammed as many houses as the municipal authorities would allow them, and them some. They can be quite depressing, there's nowhere were the people can get together and get to know each other better. They lack, among many other things, what 75% of Czechs consider to be the centre of the social life, a pub.

Many times it's happened to me that, after finishing with some work in the garden or at the PC, I fancy having a beer. Since I have nowhere to go, I've got no other choice than to pick a bottle from the fridge and drink it at home. I've go no problem with that, but I rarely drink more than one beer at any time at home, while I rarely drink less than two when I'm in a pub. I'm sure that's the same with most people.

To make it short, the main reason why the volume in sales of bottled, etc. beer has surpassed the volume in sales of keg, etc. beer is that people are drinking more at home, which results in people drinking less and here is where the Polish crap comes into the picture, most people do their shopping at the supermarket chains.

Unless you are at a čtvrtá pípa, when you are at a Czech pub you don't have much to choose from, a couple of products from the same company and that's pretty much it. Nobody complains about that because, after all, you don't go to a pub so much for what they have, but because of the place and how you feel there. But at the supermarkets things are different, it's the consumer who now has control of what they will drink next.

There are, I believe, three loose groups of beer consumers.

- Those who buy a brand. We could say that they make the bulk of the average consumers. Those who have drunk the same brand or two all their lives and buy them almost automatically without bothering too much about what else is there.

- Those who buy the beverage. To some extent, they are the people who have boosted the resurgence of the regional and micro breweries. They may have a favourite brand, but they like trying new things and they can change that usual brand if they find another they like better.

- Those who buy price. They've never cared too much, if at all, about things like taste, character or even quality. They buy whatever is cheaper and are the main consumers of Polish rubbish. Supermarket chains, for whom quality is the lowest priority, started importing this crap because local brewers refused to bring their prices further down or, in some cases, stopped brewing cheap brands because they weren't profitable.

The problem the macros have is that these two last groups are growing. This has put them in a difficult situation, their beers aren't cheap enough for some, neither they are interesting or tasty enough for others. The Polish, Romanian or German brewers, the supermarket chains, the government, the European Union, Al-Qaeda, the aliens among us aren't to blame, it is the macros who should blame themselves.

So, if you really want to protect Czech beer start by sorting things out at home. Stop thinking in volume and think in quality, stop using High Gravity Brewing, stop using corn syrup, stop using cheap extracts, give your beers the necessary time to ferment and lager, take the control over the production away from the accountants and give it back to your Brew Masters. If you are not willing to do that, then shut the fuck up and go cry somewhere else.

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20 Jun 2011

Just words

Yea, I know, it was irrelevant to my beer ecosystem, though quite fun to follow, I must admit. However, in some way all this CAMRA v Bloggers thing (which can also be followed here and here, among many other places) reminded me of the importance words can have and a couple of conversations on the topic that I had some time ago with Evan Rail.

Evan argued that it was important for the local micro-brewers to find a Czech equivalent to "Craft Beer". I wasn't all that sure then, but I had to admit that my friend's argument was pretty solid from the marketing discourse point of view. In theory that should have been very easy, find a translation for "Craft Beer" and Bob's your uncle.

Nope, and I agree with Evan here, "Řemeselné Pivo", even though Pivovar Matuška and a couple more people are using it already, doesn't carry the same cultural, semantic or semiotic (?) meaning than "Craft Beer".

"Řemeselné" comes from "Řemeslo", which, according to dictionaries, has as first translation "trade". Carpenters, butchers, masons, plumbers and also brewers are all people who practice a "Řemeslo", regardless of where and how they do it. In other words, it doesn't matter if someone is taking care of every aspect of a micro-brewery in their garage or pressing a button at Pivovar Staropramen, what they do is a "Řemeslo".

One of the advantages of living far from the centre is that during the commute I have time to think about all sorts of bollocks, and during one of those trips I thought I had found a solution to this problem of little importance.

"Pravé Pivo". It doesn't translate to "Craft Beer", but to "Real Beer". I thought it was fantastic, it sounded good, it could be read and pronounced in pretty much every language and it could even be a base to establish conditions for proper "Pravé Pivo". It didn't take me too long to realise that this phrase was already being used by the Czech subsidiary of Heineken. Bugger.

A few commutes later, having nothing to read and watching the countryside go by, in an almost epiphanic way another phrase popped into my mind: "Poctivé Pivo".

"Poctivé" is a beautiful word. In dictionaries it appears translated as "honest", "sincere", "fair", etc. But it is also used to describe things that have been done with care, attention to detail and, in the case of foodstuff, with quality ingredients.

Wonderful! Who wouldn't like to drink "Poctivé Pivo"? Who wouldn't like to drink an honest beer, brewed with care and good quality ingredients that has received the necessary time to ferment and mature? That's it, it's been decided...

Until that evening when a commercial break on the telly reminded me that Vitana (something like the Czech version of Knorr) has a line of dehydrated soups called "Poctivé". So, as it turned out, the word "poctivé" had already been usurped to describe a product that was made who know how and with ingredients of who knows what quality and provenance to be sold to people who really don't care all that much about what they eat. Great.

Oh! Sod it! In the end, I don't want "craft", "artisan", "real", "řemeselné", "pravé", "poctivé" or any other label beer, what I want is "good beer", i.e. beer that I'll like and let others take care of the words.

Na Zdraví!

15 Jun 2011

A beery family afternoon

I almost didn't go. In the morning, the day was lovely, sunny, but not too warm, great to spend the afternoon sitting at a nice place and drinking some nice beer. However, by the time we were returning from our weekly shopping at Dejvice's farmers' market, things were getting shitty. Dark, heavy clouds were pushing away the lovely, cotton made ones and confirmed what the forecast had said the day before, rain the whole day. Bugger.

We fed our daughter and my mood was getting worse, I really wanted to go, but not under the rain. My wife, a wise woman, convinced me and we got ready to go catch the next bus.

On the way to Černý Vůl it started to rain, a few drops at first. By the time we got to the stop Černý Vůl - Hospoda (after Chýně - Pivovarský Dvůr, this must be the best name in the world for a bus stop) those drops were already falling in gangs. We dressed our daughter with a jacket and her new wellington boots, my wife put on a jacket herself and we started the almost 2km trek to our destination. I, proper man that I am, hadn't brought a jacket, only t-shirt, shorts and sandals for me, "Badass" is my second name (or "Smartass", depends on whom you ask).

It started to rain harder on the way (a slow walk, of course), but fortunately, it wasn't pouring the way it gets you wet to the bones. It wasn't that bad when we were arriving to our destination. My mood had already improved, too. It's nice to walk under the rain on a summer day.

There it is, a few hours after it was opened (or should I say re-opened?). The weather has surely scared many, but despite of that, there are still quite a few people around. Even before walking through the gates I can feel that unique atmosphere that I so much like, the mix of a beer garden and a pivní slavnosty.

Near the entrance there is a stand (to call it some way) selling beer, sausages and other snacks. Desítka, they have. There is a bit of a queue and rain drops are falling again. Hoping to find some shelter, from the end of the queue, I look into a room. There are taps, the proper ones, the nice ones, not the mobile ones, and almost nobody waiting to be served.

Smiling like a boy walking into a toy shop with enough money in his pockets, and almost without telling anything to the missus, I go in. She follows me (knows me very well, that woman) and is glad to have to possibility to take jackets off and put them to dry a bit on a chair.

In the short distance between the door and the taps I look around, trying to make sense of this almost empty room with whitewashed walls. Could it have been part of the maltings? What is certain is that it's old, it dates from the XVIII century, or that's what the engravings at the foot of one of the columns said. When I am at the tap waiting for my turn, I reach the conclusion that this would be the promised pub. Not that I needed any sort of Sherlock like deducting powers, the taps and the big espresso machine made it all too clear.

My turn comes, I don't want to drink from a plastic cup, I want a proper "půl litr", which for 50CZK I can take home if I want. They have 12º here! Is there a better way to start things off? Beautiful, dream gold, head white like from a Persil ad, cloudy and lively, smelling like flowers and grass after a summer storm, tasted like an angel's kiss, a světlý ležák by the book, but at the same time, with its own personality. Delicious, Kout level delicious. The first sip had easily made up for the slow walk under the rain.

My daughter is also happy. Running around the room, jumping, laughing and making the few people there laugh as well. My wife takes her first sip of the beer and her big eyes get even bigger and say together with her lips "dobrý, to je!".

Drops are still falling, but, wielding my půl litr like a medal of honour, I go out to explore a bit. It's so nice to be able to drink a beer in the yard of the brewery where it was conceived and born. In a building that looks like a barn, but that now housed a stage, they are playing some music, part of a theatre play for kids. I go to fetch my family (and a new pint), but we arrive late, the play was almost finished. It doesn't matter, there were seats there and we wait until the rain decided it is finally time to go somewhere else.

I go to get another pint and something sweet for my sweet ladies. This 12º is nicer with every glass. Terrific. Someone calls me by my pseudonym, shakes my hand and asks how I like the beer, "vynikající, nádhera", I answer.

When I get back, the rain has stopped, my wife has found somewhere to sit, a row of old, wooden, cinema chairs right on the barn's wall. We stay there watching our daughter throwing stones into a puddle with other kids. How easily do kids have fun! Just like me, beer in hand, sitting outdoors watching people on a day that is only getting better. I am feeling as happy as my daughter with each stone that splashed into the puddle.

I'm done with my 12º and fancy giving the 10º a try. I'm lucky, few people. Tasty, grainy, but smooth and with a nice Saazy touch to make it interesting. I'd love to drink it filtered, I tell myself, but I like it very much as it is.

It's time to get something to eat before it's too late. A sausage, quite big, greasy and a little spicy. Sitting in that cinema chair I enjoy it a lot, it's just what I needed. When I'm finishing it I hear another voice calling my pseudonym. This time, I know the owner, it's been ages since I last saw him. He's also with his family and he's also very happy with the place and, specially, with the beers, and he's how knows about this more than me.

We go together for a refill, talking beery things. We keep talking beery things for the rest of the afternoon, having a couple more pints before it's time for me and my family to get back on the trek to take the bus back home.

Wonderful afteroon! Beer, family, friends, sun, rain and everything in the already reopened Únětický Pivovar, great place.

Na Zdraví!

PS: I'm not all that sure of the opening hours of the brewery's výčep. According to this web page, there should be a tap room, where you can also get snacks, but it doesn't say when it opens. This other page gives a list of pubs where the Únětice beer can be found. Anyway, if you feel like going there, the trip is really worth it, you can get with buses 355 or 359, both leaving from Dejvická, getting off at Únětice, Na Parcelách. The brewery's GPS coordinates are 50°8'57.303"N, 14°21'15.554"E. If the tap room isn't open, the beers can be bought at the other pubs in the village. I recommend walking down Tychý Udolí to Roztoky on the way back.

PD2: I hope you'll be able to forgive the lack of pictures, but I couldn't be arsed with taking the camera. If you want to see what the place (and the event) look like, you can do it on this page

8 Jun 2011

Anyone in Barcelona?

The wonders of globalisation! I write a book sitting in a small room in a house in a village near Prague, I publish it through an American company and people from all over the world can order it either in print or pdf. And that's not the best.

I get an e-mail from someone in Barcelona. This person tells me they would like to sell my book at their shop. We agree on a price, quantity and conditions and I, sitting in that small room in that small house in a village near Prague, order it to this American company with just a few clicks and typing a handful of words. A little over a week later the copies of my book "Praga: Guía Cervecera para Borrachines" arrive in Barcelona.

So if you are around there and fancy reading the best beer book written by an Argentine living in the Czech Republic drop by 2d2dspuma, in Manigua. But hurry up, there are only 25 copies.

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6 Jun 2011

Seasonal experiment

Strawberry season is in full swing in our garden and every afternoon it's time to pick the red fruit, just like we did yesterday.
Besides eating them fresh (with a touch of freshly ground black pepper for me, please), we like using the strawberries for many things, my favourite perhaps are jahodové knedlíky
But we are still waiting for the really big ones to ripen to make those babies. In the meantime, with yesterday's harvest my wife, thinking about the wellbeing of our daughter, made a strawberry shake with whole milk and I, thinking about... well, I don't know what I was thinking about, really, made another shake, an experimental one, with a handful of strawberries, a few leaves of mint and peppermint and half litre of wheat beer.
I mixed everything adding the beer slowly and the result was awesome. Bitter, with notes that reminded me of the brettanomyces found in Lambics and with the mint giving it a fantastic twist. I would have loved to try this with Scheider Hopfenweisse (TAP 5, for friends) or with a dash of aged Rum, anyway, it was still very interesting, delicious, refreshing and quite filling. Highly recommended.
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3 Jun 2011

Selected Readings: May

I'm sure that many of my regular readers have not "liked" my Facebook page, where, among other things, I post links to articles and other beer related stuff I find interesting. Since I'm cool with that and I don't want to leave you out of the conversation, I thought I would start this new section and share with you at least some of those articles. So, without further ado, let's start with the ones published in Spanish: (don't be lazy, Google Translate can do a pretty good job).

The Spanish brewer Estrella Galicia announced their new product, Artesana, a beer that copies almost word by word the marketing of Inèdit: world famous cook who says he took part in the creation of the beer, etc., etc. There are a couple of differences, though, according to the press release Artesana is going to be a series of beers. On the other hand, the "easy-open" cap suggests that you drink straight from the 0.33l bottle, which is not something I associate with a Michelin Starred restaurant. At least, so far, Chef Pepe Solla hasn't taken the streets to spread bollocks like his colleague Adriá.

But what interests me about this beer is not how good it might or might not be, it's the use of "Artesana" as a brand. Have they registered it?

Still in Spain, the renown food writer Carlos Maribona published his list of the 10 best Spanish beers. I've got no reason to doubt the honesty of this list, I believe it reflects its author's opinion, which is based on his experience as a consumer and journalist. The only gripe I have about it is that it includes a Belgian beer, Brabante. The nationality of the people who make it (or have it made, I'm not sure) does not determine the nationality of the beer, and that is something that someone of Maribona's caliber should know. (Would he say the same if some Spanish entrepreneurs made wine in the Czech Rep.?).

But what can we expect from journalists when there are even brewers who do not give importance to the origin of their beers? Or at least that is the conclusion I reached after reading this post in Lúpulo a Mansalva. There, we are told about a brewer that ask the author to take out from his catalogue (Lúpulo a Mansalva is an e-shop) the information about where the beer is brewed. That is really sad, I don't care what reasons this brewer has for this, but lying to the consumers is something that deserves no respect and should be denounced. Attention should also be brought to the magnanimous attitude taken by the owner of this shop. I wouldn't have done the same.

Now in English:

Stan Hieronymus proposes time as an ingredient and I really like the idea. Unlike passion and other things like that, time is something that you can taste in the final product. If you doubt that, drink a two week lager and then drink it again four weeks later.

Zak Avery posted a great analysis of modern beer branding trends. I still believe that the long term prosperity of a brewery depends on how much people like their products, but I would be a moron if I said good marketing isn't important to get the first sale.

Styles, that topic that always gets beer people talking (not as much as keg vs cask, it seems), and I really liked the way the Thirsty Pilgrim approached it, specially when he reminds us "that styles as know them today began as something educational and descriptive--a way to explain whatis--rather than something normative--what ought to be.".

If any of you out there is wondering if you haven't become a beer snob, you can find the answer on this page.

And to cap this, the live interview on Radio Česko wasn't my only media appearance last month. I was interviewed by the English version of Česká Pozice about the Czech Beer Festival, by Radio Praha about beer in general and, in Spanish, by Radio Praga about my book and my views on Czech beer. The interview ended up being so long that it had to be published in three parts: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Na Zdraví!

1 Jun 2011

Neighbourhood Beauty

By the time U Vodoucha opened I was already on the last leg of the work with my book and I had already closed to door to any new additions. I wasn't able to visit it, either, all the time I had available then was devoted to making the remaining photos of the places that would be included in the Guide. I still wanted to make it there, though, all the comments I'd heard about this new pub in Vinohrady had been very good and I promised my self that this would be the first place I would review after publishing the book. (a promise that I obviously didn't keep.

Let's start with the weaker side, the beer list. U Vodoucha has ten taps, more than half of them reserved for beers from K Brewery, the rest for micros from different parts of the country. So far, so good. However, with the exception of the excellent Majový Ležák from Dalešice (a polotmavé), all the beers that they were serving on both my visits were Pale Lagers of one Balling graduation or another. No dark beers, no wheat beers, not even Velen that lately has been in great shape. All the beers I tasted were really well served, yes, but I missed a bit of variety. Though, to be fair, since most of the taps are also rotating, it might be that I was unlucky both times.

Anyway, as I've said the other day, a pub its much more than the length or diversity of its beer list, there are a number of other factors that make a good pub, and fortunately, U Vodoucha hits the spot with all of them.
The place itself is pretty nice. Located at a quiet corner only 3 blocks from Vinohradská. The decoration has a style that I associate with the First Republic (the period between the Independence in 1918 and the Nazi occupation in 1938), but not in the way that is recreated by some posh (or wannabe posh) restaurants in the centre, this has a rural or small town feeling, or at least that is the vibe I get. Either way, it makes you feel comfortable almost as soon as you take a seat.
This feeling increases thanks to the service. It was great both times I was there. The two waitresses and the výčepník were attentive, nice and even friendly, but not in a "I must follow the corporate manual as if it was sacred word" kind of way, but in the genuine way of people who simply like doing their job well. On the other hand, my visits were during the early afternoon and the place was very quiet, so I have no idea how much the service changes when things are busy (though, it often happens that the fewer the people, the lazier the staff). Regardless of that, I really liked when the výčepník came to my table to see if I fancied another beer (yes, thank you very much) and was also quite happy to recommend me one from the list.
The food doesn't disappoint, either. No fancy, trendy stuff like Caesar's salad, proper česká klasika, which means proper pub grub. The owners of U Vodoucha are also owners of Černokostelecký Pivovar, one of those many places I am yet to visit that happens to have a very good reputation, and if you can eat there as well as here in Vinohrady, a visit might very well be worth it.

The dršťková polévka I had was superb, really tasty, well spiced, thick enough; the kind of food that makes you feel better about the world. If it had been a touch spicier, the Pivovarský Guláš would have been close to perfection. The menu said it was made with dark beer, and it could be felt, but very well integrated with the rest of the ingredients. The meat almost melted on my tongue. Even the knedlíky tasted like really home made and not something that had been bought at the nearest Tesco. They were firm, chewy, tasted fresh and wouldn't dissolve in the sauce, they absorbed it with gusto. I could have done without the raw peppers, but you don't have to eat those and my belly ended up very jolly.
But the top honours and accolades are taken by Hermelinový úsměv, perhaps the best "hermoš" I've ever had. Even the presentation of this classic beer snack is something completely different to anything I'd ever seen before. It is served in a small jar, pickled in oil onions and peppers, the cheese is filled with a mix of garlic, nuts and peppers and had been marinated to perfection. A true delicacy that all by itself makes a visit to U Vodoucha very well worth it.
And really, whether you are in the neighbourhood or not (it's easy to get there, Metro A to Flora or tram 11 Radhošťská), dropping by at U Vodoucha is strongly recommended, maybe even for a family lunch. I'm sure you'll feel really well there.

Na Zdraví!
U Vodoucha
50°4'47.286"N, 14°27'15.975"E 
Jagellonská 21 - Praha - Vinohrady
+420 736 623 294
Mon-Sun: 11-23

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