25 Feb 2011

3 Presents, 3 Reviews

It's been long since I last posted a review here. I'm sure you were missing them. Don't get too excited, these are going to be rather short.

Agullons Setembre (5,5% ABV)
A present from Edgar, the same who broought me that beauty Fuller's Vintage Ale. I'd heard a lot about this beer, and all of it was good. Edgar told me about how this beer is made and what made it so special, but I've forgotten since (a blend with Lambic, perhaps?). Anyway, regardless of how Setembre was brewed I really liked it a lot. The sourness both in the bouquet and the flavours reminded me of a Geuze. It's very well balanced thanks to a rather subtle malt base that doesn't let things get out of control. Excellent job by Masia Agullons.

Mikkeller Black Whisky Edition (17,5% ABV)
Birthday present.
I was really looking forward to tasting this beast. I had liked the original version a lot and I was curious about what changes had the three months in a whisky barrel had brought.

Just as I had done with the original version, I shared the beer with my dad. Impressive! Everything that I'd liked was still there and the wood and the whisky had given it a twist to make the beer even more complex, without this resulting in something harder to drink. It's still a beer to sip slowly in the evening after a hearty dinner.

It's hard to say which one I liked best, the original version or the Whisky Edition, but I think it it's fair to put a 2-2 to the ongoing competition between barreled and non-barreled versions of the same beer.

Infinium (10,5% ABV)
Present from Fernando, a great friend, a great guy and owner of La Barraca, a great pub in Ávila, which I'll be visiting soon.

The most special thing this beer has (besides the bottle, it must be one of the most beautiful I've ever seen) is that it is a collaboration between legendary Bavarian brewery Weinhenstephan and the also very famous Sam Adams.

A few days before I received it I read a review by the Thirsty Pilgrim, which is spot-on (what is curious is that the word "Ale" isn't seen in the bottle I have). There's I noticed in the beer that Joe doesn't mention, a dry white wine acidity that starts mild, but gets stronger as the bottle empties. It could have made something majestic of this beer, but it doesn't quite make friends with the syrupy, almost sticky base. It's still very drinkable and the ABV is very well integrated, but at the same time, it left longing for the what it could have been, rather than satisfied (perhaps a bit of aging can improve it?).

If I compare it (unfairly, I know, they are two completely different things) with the other Bavarian-American collaboration, Tap 5 a.k.a. Hopfenweisse from Scheider and Brooklyn, Infinium is a step or two behind. TAP 5 has a couple more advantages, besides being glorious is on regular production and its prices is the same as Aventinus's.

Thanks a lot to the tree people who gave me the opportunity to taste this three special brews.

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19 Feb 2011

How could I forget?

The first issue of the magazine Pivo, Bier & Ale is already available (well, the second issue is about to come out, but this can still be found). Believe it or not, it is at the moment, the only specialised magazine published in Czech.

The magazine's main aim is to enrich the local beer culture. Besides interviews, news and reviews, there are also some articles that are more technically oriented and a bit of history here and there, as well. As the name implies, the contents are not only about Czech beer, but beer in all its EBC's, ABV's and IBU's.
I can't begin to explain you how proud I feel about having my own section, with my name printed in large boldface, and share the pages with people of the caliber of Jan Šuran and Josef Krýsl.

My first article was a review of three beers from De Molen that turned out pretty nice in its Czech version, thanks to Petr Buriánek's translation, so much so that it inspired a competition!

The magazine can be bought at this places or ordered by e-mail indicating how many copies and where you want them delivered.

And since I'm here, I'd like to ask the magazine's Chief Editor, Pavel Borowiec, for giving me the opportunity to be part of this project.

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16 Feb 2011

Badass grub

My cat is badass. Really badass. He's mixed with Siberian or Norwegian and in winter can weigh up to 7 or 8 kilos.
He's pretty big and he's badass. One day I saw him keep his ground in front of a boxer.

It was one of those rare summer afternoons that Apolo was at home. One of our neighbours stopped by with his dog in our garden to say hello. The cat was stretched by the French window and when he saw the dog he crouched as if ready to jump. The dog saw him and went closer. Apolo didn't move. The dog stopped right at the window and looked at the cat with curiosity. Apolo didn't move. The dog put a paw inside the house. Apolo didn't move, but he doubled in size and instead of a hiss what he uttered was a deep growl that sounded as if a demon was about to fart. It gave me a slight chill, I must confess. The dog reassessed the situation and, very slowly, took his paw out of the house and, very slowly, walked backwards, never taking his eyes off the cat. Apolo didn't move and carried on stretching by the window.

Why all this? Well, my cat's favourite food are chicken hearts and since I also wanted to be at least a little more badass, I thought I would cook something with this delicacy and here's the recipe:

Chicken hearts in Porter Sauce
(serves 1)
A handful of chicken hearts cut in half
A medium sized onion, sliced
A large garlic clove, sliced
Three or four slices of bacon, chopped
A generous dash of tomato sauce
Around 150ml of Pardubický Porter or any other strong dark beer that isn't too hoppy
Goose lard, thyme, sage, pepper and Hungarian paprika
Melt the lard in a very hot wok and add the bacon, let it release some of its flavour and add the hearts. Stir them until they are getting brown and add the onion, the garlic and the spices and herbs. Mix for a couple of minutes and add the beer and a bit later, the tomato sauce. Let it reduce a little and serve.

I ate it only with some rye bread. I had though about opening some tmavý ležák, but I still had plenty of Porter in the bottle so that's what I washed it down with and I ended up feeling a bit more badass.

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11 Feb 2011

Friday Morning Musings

I'm not interested in answering Mark's call, I think I've already made myself clear enough in the comments. But still, the following is inspired by the topic he proposed, but also by Barm's excellent response and today's totally unrelated post by Alan.

This isn't a new topic, either, it's something that it's already been discussed a number of times in this and other blogs, but if you don't mind, I'd like to get back on the subject (and if you do mind, well, the problem is yours, really).

How many times have we heard or read that this or that brewer/brewery makes their beers with passion, love, that they are not after the money, that they are fulfilling a childhood's dream, that they want to change the world one pint at a time, that they brew because they want to make the world a happier place, that each one of the bottles that comes out of their breweries is like their own child, and other similar things as if any of that was important?

Don't get me wrong, it's nice to see people that are successful doing something they love, it is inspiring. But let's be real, that success has little to do with their passion, brewing is not an art form, it is a business.

Passion could serve well as an emotional reserve when things aren't going too well, but real success depends on other factors: proficiency, professionalism, seriousness, business talent, knowledge of the market, determination to do things well and respect for the consumer, specially for small brewers. Foster's can afford treating people as fools because they know full well that their target consumer buys a brand and not a beer, and those who buy only brands are fools to begin with. Yeah, there are those who buy the "craft beer" brand, but the owners of micro-breweries should assume their consumers are people who want to drink beer, and beer that is good and not "Gourmet", "Innovative", "Boutique" or any of those bollocks.

So. Hail those who brew for money! Hail those who've set up a brewery because they saw in it a good business! I wish all of them success and riches, if you know how to do things well, that is, otherwise, you can fuck yourselves like everyone else.

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2 Feb 2011

Crisis, my ass (II)

You can't blame Austrias for believing there is a crisis in the Czech brewing industry, they are seeing things from a distance and their information is sure second hand. To a certain extent, the general public can't be blamed, either. The 12% drop in production is an undeniable reality, the kind that the media loves for their bombastic headlines, knowing full well that not many people will bother with details.

Jan Veselý isn't Austrian and, in this context, he can't be considered part of the general public. As chairman of Český Svaz Pivovarů a Sladoven (Czech Brewers and Maltsters Association) he is someone who should not much better and yet, when you read the interview he gave to Radio.CZ (kindly reproduced by kindly posted by Pivni.Info) you can almost see him sobbing in despair. There, Veselý goes as far as to say that "in recent history, there have never been worse times than this".

Really, Mr. Veselý?

To me, as a consumer, these are the best of times. Regional beers have never been easier to find in pubs, restaurants, supermarkets and some shops. Microbreweries are booming, only in Prague there are 12 (well, 11 and 1/2, Třebonice brews only in Winter) and many are those that one way or another get their beers to pubs in the city. And if that wasn't enough, getting a wide range of quality imported beers isn't a dream anymore.

OK. Mr Veselý doesn't speak on behalf of the consumers, but as a spokesman for the industry. But even in such role he is missing the point.

Some regional beers are publishing their results for the past year and the picture they give is pretty different:

K-Brewery: They haven't published any figures yet, but it is expected that the combined volume of their seven breweries will be pretty close to 1 million hl, if not more, with a double figure growth. Also, Martín Burda, the biggest shareholder of the company, has said in a recent interview that 2010 was a very successful year from the financial and commercial point of view, and that they expect an even better 2011.

Svijany: They had set as a goal to brew 400,000hl in 2010, which they reached on Dec. 1, as they announced on their Facebook page. Not bad for a brewery that had their death sentence signed in 1998.

Rohozec: 10% growth.

Primátor: 3% increase in sales.

Bernard: For the second year in a row the broke the 200,000hl barrier, setting up another record in production for the brewery.

Havlíčkův Brod: Better known by their brand, Rebel, it had almost 2% increase in production.

Herold: 1.5% increase in production for another brewery that came back from a deep coma.

Chotěboř: The owners of this small industrial brewery that started operations in mid 2009 are very happy with the results of their first full year. So much that they are already evaluating the possibility of investing in order to double their current capacity. (By the way, Mr Vesely, how many industrial breweries opened during those glorious years of 160l per capita a year? How many were shut down?).

But I wanted to know more, so I wrote to a few other regional brewers and asked them how had they done last year. Five of them answered:

Polička: The brewery's boss, Karel Witz, sent me an e-mail with a very detailed description of the operational and financial results of his brewery. In short words, 2010 was pretty good in spite of a slight drop in production.

Žatec: 5% increase in production and around the same in turnover.

Ferdinand: 13% increase in production.

Budějovický Měšťanský Pivovar: 25% increase in production.

Bakalář: The brewery changed hands in the middle of last year and production dropped by 5%. However, the new owners feel optimistic thanks to the trends in the last months.

And all this without taking into account the many micro breweries that opened last year or that invested in order to meet the growing demand for their products.

Yes, I'm sure that there owners worried by the future of their companies and workers wondering whether they will be able to keep their jobs till the end of the year, but that's something that happens in every industry regardless of the global situation in the economy and markets.

So, Mr. Vesely, are these really such bad times? They really don't seem to me.

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