11 Mar 2011

Hectic, but Beertastic day

I knew very well that last Wednesday was going to be a long day, but I never imagined it would be so hectic.

The only thing I had planned for that day was the Beer Dinner at Celéste that evening. Things started to change at the weekend when my great friend Gunnar wrote me saying he would be a few days in Prague. The only day I knew I was going to have any time was actually Wednesday, so we agreed to meet in the afternoon to at least have a couple of beers together.

Monday brought a new change. I had planned to go to the embassy to renew my passport, but it turned out that Monday and Tuesday were national holidays in Argentina and the embassy was closed. No big deal, I would have to go a bit earlier, which would mean that I could meet with Gunnar for a late lunch, too.

When I was on my way to the city I got a desperate call of another good friend, Hanz, owner of Zlý Časy. A surprise visit was on his way and he urgently needed someone who could help him to communicate with this person. I told him I would try to go there as soon as I could, but that it wouldn't be earlier than 2.30. I let Gunnar know about the change in plans, of course, he didn't have a problem with meeting at the Nusle beer temple.

The visitor was none other than Menno Olivier, a.k.a. Mr DeMolen, who had decided to make a stopover in Prague on his way to Moravia, where he was going to take a look at the brewery he had bought there.

Pavel Borowiec, chief editor of Pivo, Bier & Ale was already at there when I arrived, and when we all heard what Menno had just said our jaws almost broke the table. Actually, it was a minor misunderstanding. DeMolen won't brew in the Czech Republic, what they've bought here is the equipment that will be installed in the new facility they are building in Holland.

Anyway, Menno turned out to be a pretty nice guy who not only knows very well how to make beer, but also has the business side of things very clear (which is something that doesn't get the recognition in deserves). He agreed with Hanz to reinforce their partnership in oder to bring more beers from DeMolen and from other breweries Menno works with, and also, the possibility of organising a more formal presentation by the end of the year was also discussed.

Once Menno had left, not before leaving me a really nice present, a bottle of List&Bedrog aged in Bourbon barrels, and inviting me to the festival he organises in September (I would love to go), I was finally able to pay more attention to Gunnar, who also brought me a few goodies from his native Norway, among them, two bottles of the wonderful Norwegian Wood. In exchange of them, he received a selection of Czech beers that I hope he will also like.

As always, I had a great time with my friend. What a thing beer, it has given me the change to meet so many great people. Gunnar and I are two completely different people, different ages, different countries, different walks of life and lives in general, basically, the only thing we have in common is that we both like to drink beer, if it wasn't for that, we would have hardly become such good friends.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to spend with him as much time as I would have liked and had to leave to attend the original appointment I had for that day so, after the good byes and the hopes to see each other soon, I got on my way to Celéste.

I won't lie to you, the event wasn't a success from the attendance point of view. According to the restaurant's manager, that was mostly due to problems with the marketing and the web page. On the other hand, from the culinary point of view it was a big hit. Both the manager and the Chef were very happy with the results.

All the pairings worked wonderfully, the clients not only were very satisfied with them, but in some cases very surprised by them. There was even a French wine geek who ended up amazed by the match of Svijanský Rytíř and the foie gras terrine with pineapple and the one of smoked beer and the fish (which I must add, were both heavenly).

I also had a good time explaining the different pairings and answering the questions of the people and, needless to say, tasting each one of the courses.

As I say above, the people of Celéste ended up very happy and excited by the event and they've decided they want to do it on a regular basis, every three months and already that evening we started talking about working on the next one.

Despite being very tired, and surprisingly sober, few times I got back home so late, but in such good mood.

Na Zdraví!

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4 Mar 2011

The Session #49: A ‘regular’ beer

I hardly ever take part in The Session. I usually don't find the topics very relevant to my beer world, but this one is an exception. This month it is no other than Stan Hieronymus, one of the fathers (or is he THE father) of this project, who  proposes the following topic: A Regular Beer.

Being a beer lover, I can say I'm blessed to be living in the Czech Republic. Yes, it is true that if we are speaking in terms of "variety" or "innovation", it would be pretty fair to say that Czech brewers leave at least a bit to be desired, but if it is "regular beers" we are speaking about, this place is close to heaven.

I like "extreme", "innovative", "weird", "experimental", "whateveryouwanttocallthem" beers. I can enjoy drinking them (provided they are good) as much as the next über beer geek, and I also celebrate their existence, because they can prove better than anything else that "beer" is not just one thing, one brand or one style. However, when it comes to drinking on an everyday basis (and I do drink everyday, several times a day), it's the regular beer that I go back again and again.

It's a regular beer that I open when I get back home or when I'm cooking dinner. It's a regular beer that I order first whenever I go to pubs like Zlý Časy and sip while I look at what else is out there. It's a regular beer that I offer my guests or visitors, knowing full well that they will like it. It's a regular beer that I drink to quench my thirst (is there a more noble purpose for a beverage?) and It's a regular beer what I have right now next to me while I write this, Poutník 12º, to be more specific (few beers can be more regular than a světlý ležák in the Czech Republic).

There are people out there who say that those beers are boring. It's their opinion, but sometimes I wonder how much they really understand about beer. Most of the regular beers I drink aren't complex, but that doesn't mean they are boring, they can be beautiful in their simplicity, just like this Poutník I'm drinking, and they won't demand too much of your attention, it's as if they knew you have more important thing to care about at a given moment and they are happy to help you make those moments more pleasant.

So here's to regular beers, the beers that everyone drinks.

Na Zdaví!

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2 Mar 2011

Got anything to do on Wed. 9/3?

Serendipity. I can't think of a better word to describe the genesis of this story.

It all started last September when a food a travel writer from Honk Kong was coming to Prague on assignment from the magazine she works for. She needed someone to help her out with the local beer scene and fellow blogger Brewsta told her to contact me.

We agreed to have lunch at a brewpub on a Wednesday in early October and then to visit a couple more pubs to show her what all this čtvrtá pípa thing was about.

The evening before our meeting she sent me a message saying that a last minute interview had come out at a restaurant in the centre of Prague. She was supposed to be there at two, so she asked me if we could meet for lunch a bit earlier. To make up for the inconvenience, she said I could join her and her photographer in the interview. I saw no problem with that, I'm not the kind of person that would easily refuse the possibility of a free meal or two.

The restaurant in question turned out to be Cèleste. We were greeted by Lubo, the manager and, much to my surprise, he not only remembered me from my first and only visit more than a year before, but he also welcomed me warmly.

The interview went really well, we tasted some of the specialties of the house (very good) and got to meet the Head Chef, Gwendal Le Ruyet, a friendly bloke from La Bretagne.

Just as the meeting was coming to a close, Gwendal surprised me by saying that he would love to put together a Czech beer and food pairing menu. Needless to say, I offered him my help.

Due to life and work, it wasn't until a month or so ago that we were finally able to meet to start realising that idea. I liked Gwendal's plan a lot. He wouldn't pick a few courses from the regular menu and then the beers. He wanted to choose the beers first and then cook something for them. My task would be to make a list of 15 to 20 different beers and from them we would select the ones that would make it to the menu.

We met for that purpose a couple of weeks ago. Me and Lubo brought a selection of Czech beers from the Zlý Časy bottle shop and I sat with Gwendal to taste them (and I put emphasis on the “tasting”, we really took a few sips of each).

Being the good chef that he is, Gwendal already had an outline of the seven courses of the tasting menu, he had basically chosen the main ingredient of each, and with that foundation, we chose the beers that would go with them and discussed how those ingredients could be prepared and served with.

It was a great experience working with him. We got along really well and our minds were really in tune with each other. But that wasn't for me the most exciting thing. Gwendal will the first to tell you that he doesn't know anything about beer, words like Pale Ale and Weizenbock are completely alien to him. And yet, it was wonderful to see his enthusiasm with the drink and the differences between each of the beers. This shows that you don't really need to bother getting into too much, if any, detail when you want to “evangelise” someone (at least not at the beginning), the best thing you can do is let the beer do the talking.

It took a couple of hours of exchanging ideas to finally put together the beer list. We chose six Czech beers and we agreed that it would be a good idea to bring a foreign one for the dessert, just to show that Czechs are not the only ones that can brew. The result of all this work is the following:
  • Raw Langoustine with Menton lemon. Served with: Primátor Weizenbier
  • Blue organic poached egg, pancetta, aspargus and gorgonzola piccante. Served with: Ferdinand Sedm Kuli 
  • Foie gras terrine. Served with: Svijanský Rytíř 
  • Sole, Eel or Turbot "a la diable". Served with: Eggenberg Nakouření Švihák
  • Pork in grass, légumes au miel: Served with: Matuška Tmavé 
  • French beer cheese. Served with: Jihlavský Grand 
  • Surprise dessert. Served with: Lindemans Faro 

Quite interesting, I think. I'm really excited about the fish and smoked beer pairing. It was Gwendal's idea, by the way. The rest, I believe are fairly expected.

But what I like the most about the pairings is that all of the six Czech beers are of the regular kind, nothing exotic or extreme and, with the exception of Matuška's, they are all “industrial”. And even the Faro, put in a Belgian context, could also be considered regular. This shows that you don't need “glamour”, or any other of the bollocks Ferrán Adriá and his ilk claim are a must to bring beer into the upmarket restaurants, what you need is open-minded people who are more interested in offering quality and something new to their clients rather than in getting free glasses, signs and other merchandising from brewers.

One a more personal note. I've been nagging for quite some time about how little upmarket restaurants and their gurus care about beer, so it's very rewarding to finally be able to do something concrete about it. I truly hope this dinner will be successful, not for my own sake and not so much for the sake of the staff of Cèleste, hard working people who are committed to quality, but because if this turns out well other similar events might follow and maybe not only in Cèleste, who knows?

Oh, yeah, I was almost forgetting, I'll be hosting the dinner. I'm quite excited about it.

The event takes place on Wednesday, March 9, the cost is 2000CZK per person, for those who want the 7 course menu, incl. beers (guests can also choose separate items from the menu) and reservations can be made here: info@celesterestaurant.cz

Na Zdraví!

Dinner with Czech beer and French food
Wednesday March 9, 2011, 19hs
Cèleste Restaurant
Dancing Building - Rašínovo nábřeží 80
Prague 2