27 May 2011

Boom and resurrections

The number of micro breweries in the Czech Rep. is now comfortably over 100. There are 107, according to what I heard on Monday, and it might be that by the time you are reading this, that figure will already be outdated. Only four years ago there weren't even 50.

Of course, not everything is rosy, there are a couple of worrying signs. The other day I read (without paying that much attention, I must confess) a report that talked about a shortage of qualified brewers, which, if true, could slow down the boom.

But that's not the worst, I've heard several comments about the substandard quality of the beers of several new breweries. I have myself come across beers that leave a bit to be desired, they are too green or boring or simply not all that well made. But at the same time, I believe that in a market such as this one, the problem is more the breweries' than the consumers' because if they aren't able to sort things out fairly quickly, they won't last too long.

But aside of that, the news is generally good and it's also gratifying to see the resurgent tradition of a brewery in each town, more so when some of them are actually coming back from the dead, as is the case with two whose products will soon be back on the market.

The first is the one that's been dead the longest and at the same time, is the one that I'm most excited about because it will be the nearest brewery from my place. After more than six decades Unětický Pivovar is brewing once again.

The building dates from 1710 and it functioned as a brewery until the Communist nationalised it at the end of the 1940's. According to the records, at some point it was producing more than 20.000hl/year and its beers could be found in many of the nearby villages and even in Prague.

After Pivovary Praha n.p. liquidated it, the building was used as storage of several kinds of goods. Fortunately, it didn't suffer the same fate as others of its kind (it wasn't turned into "luxury flats" or demolished) and the current owners decided to give it the use it was originally built for, brewing.

Their plans are quite ambitious, the aim to produce 10.000hl a year, and their beers, both filtered and unfiltered, will be available from June 11 either at the brewery's tap or at other pubs in the village. I hope they will follow the steps of their ancestors and soon their distribution will be extended to the neighbouring towns.

The second brewery is the one that is closer to my heart. Pivovar Podkovaň was closed down a bit more than three years ago. At that time the owners, a Russian company, if I remember correctly, said it was only for some renovations, but everyone knew the truth. I really liked the Podkovaň beers, I used to buy them to drink at home and that's why I was very glad when I head earlier this year that brewing was going to be resumed. I'm really looking forward to drinking them again, I hope they will honour the memory I have of them.

It seems that the beers from the Dolní Cetno brewery will see the light in Prague this 14 June at 6 with a presentation at Pivovarský Klub.

I wish both breweries success. Dej Bůh Štěstí!

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26 May 2011

I was wrong after all

"The only important thing is what's in the glass"
This is something that I've been saying, and believing, for quite some time. The opinion about a beer should be based solely on that beverage we are drinking at that moment and should not be affected by external factors, previous information or references, etc.

But I've been having some doubts about it and not only because this concept is almost impossible to put in practice to begin with. After having read a recent and excellent post by Velký Al on the hermeneutics of beer I actually realised that I was wrong. Not only there are factors that will affect our opinion, but I know believe that some of them actually should.

I still think that that the expectations built on reviews, rankings, awards, comments, ratings, etc should be ignored. Regardless of how much credit you may give them, they aren't but the manifestations of someone else's taste and experience. Someone used to drinking IPA's or "extreme" beers will probably find a Kölsch or a desítka boring, while someone who only drinks Pale Lagers will think that Guinness Draught is an explosion of flavour. But there are some other things that should be considered.

Marketing hype. Well, I don't know of any brewer who will admit his or her beers are regular, that they didn't come out as good as expected, and things like that, which shouldn't surprise anyone. Another thing is when they tell us that this or that beer is unique, ground breaking, earth shattering, revolutionary, etc. To give an example, what would we think today about Inèdit if instead of hiring a celebrity chef to spread bollocks to the four winds, they sold the beer for what it is?

The brewer's reputation. How does the beer we are drinking compare with others we've had from the same brewer? Is it up to the standards set by them? Is it better, perhaps? There are many examples of macros putting out on the market stuff that breaks with their conventions and in some cases, they are actually pretty good. But what should we think if those same beers were brewed by a much smaller company?

Price. A beer that costs you 0.5EU can't be measured with the same bar as a similar beer that costs 2EU. If I've bought a half litre can of Polish brewed "Lidlbräu Premium Pils" and it turns out to be at least drinkable (it isn't), then the beer should be considered a success, which brings me to another thing, value.

Before carrying on, I want to make something very clear. I am a rabid supporter of the inalienable right of every brewer to charge however much they see fit for the product of their labour. Really, I think it is unfair and  absurd when someone complains about a beer they haven't drunk.

On the other hand, and like I believe all of you out there, I have to pay for most of the beers I drink, and I have to work for my money and quite hard at that, so in exchange for my Koruny, I expect and demand value.

Las year I presented an hypothetical situation in which, after a blind tasting, Beer A scored better than Beer B, but at the same time, B was not only easier to get, but also considerably cheaper. At the time, I proposed it like a paradox, now I'm convinced that B is the better beer since it's the one that gives me more for my money.

The best example is Westvleteren 12. The Beer Nut  and Mark Dredge each did a blind tasting where the "best beer in the world" competed with other similar brews. In both cases, the one from St. Sixtus finished on top. I haven't had the chance to do something like that myself, but I wouldn't be surprised if I had the same results, and yet, I would still keep on thinking that Rochefort 10 or St. Bernardus Abt. 12 are better, if only because I can buy them with a lot less hassle and for a lot less money that Westvleteren. Something similar could be said about some "limited edition" beers that may be really good, but not much so than similar ones that are available all year round.

Te moment. It will affect your experience and it's something that should be weighed. Back to Westvleteren, it's a great beer, no doubt, but I swear to you that after a 10Km wal in a sunny day, or after mowing my lawn or during a BBQ, I'd much rather drink some Gambáč, in other other words, at that moment, this infamous desítka is the better beer.

Anyway, at the end of the day, it all comes down to taste and each opinion is as valid as the next. However, it's always recommendable to find to try to correctly interpret what we are drinking before evaluating it.

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24 May 2011

Live, on air, it's Pivní Filosof!

Yesterday morning I was a guest at a radio show at Radio Česko. Together with Jírka Stehlíček, a.k.a. Bejček, owner of První Pivní Tramwaj and, it could be said, spiritual father of the čtvrtá pípa concept, we talked about beer (what else?), or more precisely, the boom of the micro breweries.

Since the show was going to be live, we had been sent the questions beforehand so we could prepare the answers before going on air. Four were directly for me, others where for Bejček, a few more were for both of us, and there were some others that had been answered by Aleš Dočkal, from Pivovarský Klub on a recorded interview.

The questions were in general pretty interesting and I thought I could share with you the answers I have on air and the answers I would have liked to give to some of the other questions. Let's start with the ones that I was asked on air. (translated from Czech).

"You've been living here for almost ten years, how do you see the development of the Czech beer culture? What did your think when you arrived, how has your opinion changed and what do you think now?

When I arrived here I thought that all Czech beer was excellent. With time that opinion changed and now I think that there are some Czech beers that are excellent, some that are good, some that aren't so, etc. Regarding the beer culture, six years ago, when I started to get interested in beer, almost nobody had heard of Svijany, now this and other regional brands can be found almost everywhere and many an average consumer has them as their favourite. There are also twice as many micro breweries and back then (there are around a hundred today) y words like "nepasterované", "kvasnicové" or "nefiltrované" have become familiar among the average consumers. However, this does not mean that the beer culture has got significantly richer. Just as it happens everywhere, for most consumers the concept "beer" still means only one thing, at most two.

Is the concept "Czech beer" seen in the world the way Czechs like to believe? (meaning the reputation)

Yes, no doubt. We must not forget that most people in the world drink only one kind of beer and when they come to Prague, or anywhere else in the country, and see that they can drink Pilsner Urquell everywhere, they love it. To some of us Urquell, and other like brands, might not be big deal, but compared to what people drink elsewhere, they are at a very good level.

Czechs are starting to discover beers that were unknown to them before, IPA, etc. (...) do you think that these beers can have significant commercial success? Won't stay like a niche product?

I believe that they will always be a niche product. This doesn't mean, however, that they can't have commercial success. That will depend on the brewers, how well they are able to brew and sell this kind of beers. There are already a couple of breweries that are doing pretty well thanks to specialising in untraditional styles.

Among the other questions, the ones I found most interesting were:

Couldn't the big breweries feel threatened by the success of the micros? No way. That's never going to happen. The so called "Craft Beer Revolution" is something that doesn't exist. Some macros might get inspired by this phenomenon, or might want to profit from a new market trend, but that's as far as it goes. On the other hand, on the Czech market, the big brewers are getting a bit nervous with the success of some of the regionals. They are able to compete with the macros no only on quality and price, but also on geographical reach.

Micro breweries are popping up like mushrooms. What are the reasons of this? I think it's because people are rediscovering traditions, are once again appreciating regional and local things, stuff that they can feel as their own and unique, and micro breweries can offer that better than anyone.

To close the interview we were both asked how we imagined and ideal situation in the beer market in 10 years time. I said that I didn't believe the situation was going to change much, that there might be more micro breweries that will bet on distribution as their business model (instead of the brewpub), but that, generally speaking, things will be pretty much like they are now. (Which, by the way, isn't too bad).

Bejček, on the other hand, said that it was something hard to predict, adding that ten years ago nobody would have imagined a situation like today's. What he believes will happen, though, is that all this will force the macros to start making better beers. And I couldn't agree more.

Anyway, speaking live on the radio, and in Czech, was a very exciting experience. I thought I would be more nervous, so just before the interview I stopped for a quick pint. I might have not needed, the moment the red light went on I focused on the questions and felt really comfortable speaking to the microphone.

But well, what do you think? How would you answer the above questions applied to your respective beer ecosystems?

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20 May 2011

9 years...

Nine years ago today I was arriving in this country to start a new life. If ten years ago someone had told me that today I would be doing what I'm doing, I would have laughed at his or her face. Life is full of surprises.

Last night I thought I would open something special to celebrate this anniversary (the moving started on the 19th, when I took the plane from Buenos Aires) and in my cellar I found Coton an Old Ale brewed by The Bruery.
It's really nice to taste a beer about which you don't have any references, not even about its maker. I had received it from my friend Brian, a fellow beer enthusiast from the US, so I was expecting it to be at least good.

The label says that this 14.5% ABV brew is a blend of 75% Ale and 25% Ale aged in Bourbon barrels and Coton must be one of the most complex and interesting beers I've ever drunk.

It pours clean ocher, the nose has notes that reminded me of walnuts, dates, raisins and sherry. The mouth feel is sticky but not too thick. The beer itself changes almost with every sip, without ever loosing its perfect balance. There's Amontillado mixed with a dash of dry red wine. Fresh tropical fruit with raisins and dried figs. Wood and tobacco. And behind all this there is a wild, dark element, lurking in the shadows, but that it is fortunately, kept in line.

None of the allegories of last year, just a wonderful beer this time.

And since I'm on the topic of anniversaries. In three months, minus three days, I will reach the grand age of 40 years old. My parents were 40 when I was 13 and back then I thought they were already ancient. Now there are days when I feel ancient, but I reckon this has less to do with age than it has to do with other factors. But back to topic, what beer/s should I drink to celebrate an event of such magnitude? And, for those who are older than me, what beer/s did you drink on your 40th, or similar, birthday?

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PS: If any of you out there has for moment thought that the above paragraph isn't but a sad and pathetic way to ask for presents, well, let me tell you this, that's exactly what it is, a sad and pathetic way to ask for presents. Ha! Who's feeling awkward now? So, answer the call and write me an e-mail to get my address, etc, otherwise, if you can't be arsed with posting a bottle, buy my book then, this way, you'll be making yourself a present and I can use the money to buy myself some nice beer. (note: all beers sent as birthday presents will be polished during the celebrations).

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16 May 2011

Toothy, ballsy dog

I was the other day at the opening of Zubatý Pes, which could considered either the most deluded or the ballsiest pub in Prague.

It's not because of its location next to what looks like a warehouse in Petrohradská, a street in Vršovice with little pedestrian traffic (there's not much to choose from around in this residential neighbourhood), nor because it opened with 15 taps (something that surprises fewer people each day). It's because of the beer list, or at least, part of it.

Mike and his wife, a.k.a. Mr and Mrs Odd Dog, are distributors in the Czech Rep. of Brewdog, Mikkeller and Nøgne-Ø, among others, and a sizeable number of those 16 taps are reserved for products of those renown breweries. And really, you have to be either mad or have a lot of balls to sell in Prague so many imported beers with an average price of 60CZK a 0.3 or even 0.2l glass (and not because those beers aren't worth it). To make this bet a bit safer, the list also includes stuff from well known names like Kocour, Matuška, Tambor and Kout.
The place itself isn't too shabby, either. It's divided in three levels. There's a long, narrow bar at the entrance (where I will sure sit each time I stop by) with a couple of tables in the back. Above there is a loft with a few more tables and in the underground floor there is a pretty spacious room with tables placed at a good distance from each other. The style of the decoration might not be my cup of tea, but I must say that it works well with the environment and the concept.

Mike also happens to be a guy who knows his beers and he has already seen that they are served in the best possible conditions. To help him with that, he has conditioned one room downstairs that is very well insulated and with a constant temperature of 12ºC. Right by its door there are two coolers for the dispensing lines, each set at a different temperature. It's nice to see people that, besides the passion and all those things that romantics love to talk about, have as a priority to do things well from the very beginning.

I hope Zubatý Pes becomes a success. Mike and his wife are top people and I would like them to be talked about as a couple with vision and balls and not as deluded and naïve.

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ZUBATY PES pivní bar
Petrohradská 3 - Vršovice
50°3'50.37"N, 14°27'6.446"E
+420 723 863 160 - zubatypes@gmail.com
Mon-Thu: 14-23, Fri: 14-24, Sat: 15-24, Sun: 17-23

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11 May 2011

More Culture

I had another thing planned for today's post, but the cultural question, or actually, the issue if there is such thing as beer culture in Spain has come up again, this time in a great post by Lúpuloadicto (in Spanish).

The thing here is that I'm not sure if there is a clear definition of what "Beer Culture" is. To me, it's something that it's mostly determined by the consumption of the drink and its rituals.

With music, cinema, gastronomy, literature and pretty much any other human activity, there are different "levels" of culture. Most people are happy with what is massive and they don't meditate too much on what they consuming, but there are others, a small minority, who are more curious, more demanding, who in some cases even start to study the topic in question, not because they aim to become academics, but because they are interested in it and want to be more informed. It is just the same with beer.

But back to Spain. One of the arguments among those who do not believe there is such thing as a "Spanish Beer Culture" is that nobody knows anything about styles and/or ingredients and/or processes. At the same time, many of them would say that there is a "Spanish Wine Culture" because people are more informed about this drink. They have a certain knowledge about Geographical Denominations, varietals, etc. They are wrong, not about the existence of a Spanish Wine Culture, but about how informed people are.

The marketing of wine has managed to convince the consumer that they are informed because they are able to enumerate denominations, grapes and other wine related terms, when what they are actually doing is repeating like parrots with very little, if any, understanding of what they are saying.

Let's say an average consumer wants to celebrate a special event with a special wine and goes to his favourite hypermarket with the intention of buying something more expensive than usual. He or she goes to the wine section and sees a Rioja 2004 at 20EU and next to it a Rioja 2007 at the same price. Which one is he/she more likely to buy? The more aged one (he/she won't say "the oldest one"), because, as an average consumer, he/she believes that the more aged, the better.

After having bought the wine, he/she goes to the beer section and picks a case of the usual brand without a second look at what else is there. Well, this person doesn't know much more about wines than he/she knows about beer.

At not point he/she wondered how long have these wines had spent standing on those shelves, he/she doesn't have the slightest clue about the quality of each of the vintages, knows nothing about the makers of those wines and even less about each one of them in particular. This person bought this wine believing he/she has made an informed choice, when in reality what he/she has bought is only a brand, just like with beer.

So, if we applied to wine the same argument that is applied to beer, then we should say that in Spain there's no such thing as a wine culture, or if there is one, it's quite poor. Which is something that nobody would dare say, and rightly so. Why then there's people that still insist that in Spain, or any other country, there isn't a proper beer culture when there is a paradigm, or paradigms, of consumption that identifies the concept "beer" in the minds of most people (regardless of whether they are consumers or not)?

We could say that Spanish beer culture is very elemental, flat, too dictated by the big brands, etc and some people have set themselves as a mission to enrich it. But how? Is it possible to do it when many, if not most, brewers keep on repeating that all top fermented beers are ales, brew "Abbey" (or worse, "Trappist") beers or a foreign style following a recipe book from the BJCP, without knowing or understanding anything about its history or claim that all their beers are brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot? If you believe so, then I'm afraid we will end with a public who will know about beer as much as they actually know about wines.

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9 May 2011

Ávila's Best

For a town of its size, Ávila has a pretty nice number of good places where to go for a drink, tapas or food in general. For me, the best among all of them is a pub called La Barraca.

But before continuing, there's a disclaimer. Carmen and Fernando, the owners, are great friends of the family, whom we even have lodged in their visits to Prague. But even if that wasn't the case, I believe my opinion would stay the same, La Barraca is the best place to go for a drink in Ávila.
To begin with, there is the beer list. About 10 taps and a pretty decent range of bottles. Among the kegs you can find Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier, which is basically the beer of the house, while the rest seem to change with more or less frequency. At the time of my holidays they were tapping St. Bernardus Prius, Pilsner Urquell and a Framboos. Among the bottles you can find beauties like Schneider TAP 5 and St. Bernardus Abt 12. Everything is served in the best conditions and in its proper glass. Fernando is someone who's been doing this for two decades already and he knows very well how to take care of the beers he offers.

But that's not it. Carmen is a great cook and at La Barraca you can also eat excellent "pinchos" and "raciones". Occasionally, they serve knedlíky (according to my wife's recipe) and guláš (inspired by a recipe of yours truly).

Some might say that the beer list is a tad too "belgocentric", that it doesn't include anything we haven't seen before or that the Spanish "cervezas artesanas" aren't represented, etc. and you'll be right, regardless of whatever reasons the owners have for this (all of them valid, in my opinion). But for me a pub is something more than the quality, varierty or originality of the beer list, or even the food, it's about the place itself and how you feel there. And here, La Barraca also makes a difference.
It's pretty small, with only five or six tables, a long bar and an area surrounding a column in the middle of the room, where patrons can lean while sipping their beers and nibbling their pinchos. The decoration is full of beer memorabilia of all sorts, which together the stained glass of the windows create the atmosphere of a shrine dedicated to a god who wants us to enjoy life at its fullest instead of praying, fearing or adoring him with robotic rituals nobody understands anymore.

Another thing at La Barraca is that you'll be left with the impression that everybody knows each other there. I've come to like that at pubs, bars and cafés, even if I don't happen to be part of the everybody. I often feel, perhaps foolishly, that I'm only a couple of pints from becoming one of them.
So, if you ever visit Ávila, which I can't recommend enough, don't miss La Barrace, it'll be worth it.

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Cervecería La Barraca
Calle San Juan de la Cruz, 23
Ávila, España
N40.6545153739665 - E4.69191179231516

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6 May 2011

Tapas in Ávila

Being on a family holiday made it quite difficult to be able to do some bar crawling and experience the local beer culture as much as I would have liked (for which my finances were probably grateful).

Ávila, a gorgeous town, no doubt, it's one of those places in Spain where you still get a complimentary tapa, or better said, a pincho (a small plate with a snack), with each beer your order. That's right, you get free food with your beer, and I don't mean peanuts, but proper food. Since in most cases the said pinchos were really good, I did a little mind exercise and convinced myself that it was the food what I was paying for, while the beer was the complimentary bit. And since it's not polite to complain about something you are getting for free, I was able to enjoy the experience more.

At the bar of Santuario de Sonsoles, a very nice place just outside the city, we ate generous portions of potato tortilla and salads with mayonnaise, each for 1.50EU. The beer we got with them was Cruzcampo Glacial, which was fortunately served just as cold as the name promised.
It wasn't until the last full day of our stay that I was able to escape for a few hours with the excuse that I wanted to see if I could find some trekking boots for myself, which gave me the opportunity to visit a couple of bars alone.

I first stopped at one of the several that are on the way between my parents' place and the centre of town. 1.20EU bought me a pincho of three small chorizos that were as fatty as they were tasty and that I washed down with a glass of Mahou Clásica, which was pretty much what you can expect from a classic Spanish pale lager, but that it still did a very good job cutting through the grease of the pincho.
Already in the centre, and having failed to find what I was looking for, I came across a rather big bar in Parque del Recreo that offered a bratwurst and San Miguel Selecta for 1.80EU. The sausage wasn't bad at all, though I could have done without the ketchup and the side of mash potatoes was most likely instant, but it was a generous portion. The beer, pretty much the same as Cruzcampo Gran Reserva, or at least that was what it seemed (it was a tad too cold). For a freebie, pretty good, really. The service here was excellent and looking at how fast the servers moved behind the bar was almost hypnotic. I also saw something that left me flabbergasted (finally, a chance to use this word), "claras", i.e. pale lagers diluted with sparkling water. It seems that for some people those beers aren't bland enough.
I would have loved to continue my crawl, but a telephone call told me lunch was in the oven so I had to go back home.

My conclusion, if you know where to go, at least in Ávila, you'll be able to have a very nice light lunch for less than 5EU, with free beers on top, all while you walk around this lovely city.

There was also something that pleasantly surprised me at most of the bars I visited, how well beer was served (temperature notwithstanding). The glasses were very clean and were always rinsed, or showered  and the beer was dispensed with just the right amount of top pressure, resulting in very low carbonation and a nice thick head. Better, I must say, than not few restaurants here in Prague.

Oh! And if you'll allow me, I want to tell you about another great culinary experience I had during my holiday.

The family of my sister's de-facto hubby is from a very small village near Ávila and their tradition for Easter Sunday is to go to the nearby mountains to eat one of the most wonderful foods in the world, hornazo.
Basically, it's white bread that it's baked filled with pork, chorizo, bacon and hard-boiled egg. In this particular case, and since these people are farmers and have some pigs, all the ingredients were home made. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. I'm planning to recreate this delicacy at home soon.

At the pic-nic there were also pies, chorizo, ham, more meat, salads, all delicious and it was all paired with ice-cold cans of Mahou Cinco Estrellas, which went down wonderfully.

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4 May 2011

Cheaters?

If there's something that I care veeery little about in the beer world is the competitions and their results. I won't like a beer more or less, or, if I don't know it, be more or less curious about it because of the medals it has or hasn't won at a more or less prestigious competition.

That's mainly because the very method most commonly used to evaluate the beers, blind tastings of small samples in a very controlled environment, has very little to do with the way I (and I think almost everyone else) consume the drink.

On the other hand, I like seeing things from the other side of the counter, so I understand the importance that winning a medal has for brewers. After all, it is a recognition for their work, and everybody likes that. Of course, that medal can also be used as an effective marketing tool, and a very legitimate one at that. Whatever you and I might thing about this or that beer, the award is something concrete and hard to argue with, more so if it was obtained at a prestigious competition.

But back to this side of the counter. The only results that catch a little bit of my attention are the ones from local competitions. I know almost all the participants and it's sometimes interesting to see whether my tastes are similar to the judges'.

One of the most important local competitions is the one that takes place during the Tábor Beer Festival, which awards the much sought after Pivní Pečeť. The winner this year in the Světlý Ležák category was Staropramen 11º, a beer that I tasted shortly after it was launched and found awful, but thought it was quite tolerable when I recently had its tanková version.

After the result was known, some people started to complain that the competition had been manipulated. At first, I thought that it was due to the antipathy towards Staropramen in the local beer community and not much more than that. After all, how can you manipulate a competition of this kind? I have no doubts of the integrity of the judges, I actually know a couple of them personally. The methodology used is pretty much the same as in any other: beers are divided in categories and the winners result from a series of blind tastings. I don't have reasons to doubt the integrity of the organisers, either.

A few days later, one Jan Kajl published a an article in Pivni.info that shed some light on the matter.

The first thing he explains there is something quite obvious, but which I had never thought about, how the samples get to the competition. The organisers don't buy them at shops, supermarkets or even at the brewery. The brewers themselves send the samples in special bottles. The reason for this is simple, if a sample bought at, for example, a supermarket arrived in bad conditions, the brewer could argue that that was due to faulty storage, etc., legitimate, yes, though I think that it would still be the brewer's fault. However, as it turns out, this is where things can get manipulated.

According to Kajl, there are four methods.

In the first one the sample is taken from a selected batch. There will always be more or less noticeable differences between batches and the brewer chooses the one that has come out best. I agree with Klajl in the legitimacy of this method since that beer will end in our glasses after all.

In the second one a brewer that uses "High Gravity Brewing" adds less water to the wort leaving it at a higher gravity than the commercial version.

In the third one the sample comes from a batch brewed in the laboratory of the brewery with fermentation and/or maturing methods and times different of those from the commercial version of the beer.

In the fourth, the sample is actually brewed somewhere else, with better quality ingredients and methods.

I don't think I need to tell you that if a brewer has used any of the last three methods they are cheating.

Let's be clear that I am not accusing Staropramen or any other brewery, I have no proof and, frankly, I don't care too much. However, couldn't all this explain how it is that some beers that we consider average at best end up taking medals at important competitions? Either way, this is just another reason why I don't give a toss about competitions.

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2 May 2011

Tasting in Ávila

I'm back home from a well deserved and great family holiday in Ávila, Spain. We had a wonderful time and the break and the change of air were more than welcome.

I thought I would be able to leave my Pivní Filosof side in Prague, but the stubborn bastard followed me and caught me just when we were shopping in the local Carrefour. I didn't have another choice, then, than to follow him to the beer aisle, where I was surprised to find such variety in a relatively small town.

Of course, I didn't leave empty handed. I took a bottle of Cruzcampo Gran Reserva, which I had long wanted to taste, a four bottle pack of Alhambra Mezquita, which I had liked a lot three years ago and wanted to drink again, two bottles of Santa Margarida Trigo and one of Santa Margarida Fuerte, both from Cerveses Dedues, a micro from Catalunya about which I had no references.

I started with Gran Reserva. I'm very interested in the attempts from macros to get into the "special beer" segment. Many beer geeks aren't too happy with them. I see them differently, as products that aim at the average drinker, that who buys the brand and not the beverage, and that's why you can't expect anything earth shattering from them. At the same time, they give a glimpse of what the brew masters would be able to do if the accountants let them.
In that sense, Gran Reserva doesn't disappoint. It's a bit thin, short and boring, but despite of that, it's well balanced and goes down pretty nicely, even without chilling it too much. As someone commented on my Facebook page, it shows they allowed it to lager for a decent time. I don't think I would buy it again, but I would gladly drink it if someone offered. In other words, a good try by the Spanish subsidiary of Heineken to offer the average drinker something different without scaring the shit out of them.

But enough with the macroindustrial, it was time to taste something "artisan" and "natural" and with my dad we opened the bottles of Santa Margarida Trigo, brewed, according to their web page, with pale malts and raw wheat grown in their valley.
How to say it politely? This beer is crap, utter crap. My notes say "baker's yeast dissolved in dishwater" and I can't think of a better way to describe it. It must be the worst beer I've had this year and one of the worst in my life. The contents of both bottles ended up where it belonged, the drain.

Needless to say, mi expectations for Santa Margarida Fuerte weren't too high anymore. But still, the corked 0.75l bottle offered some hope.
Almost as bad as the other one. The only difference were the caramel malts that that managed to cover some of the "dishwater+yeast" signature character. The rest was all the same, flat, no head, really awful, and all for the sweet price of almost 5EU.

The only good thing I can say about these two beers from DeDues is that they have a nice presentation. Very functional, you can see it from a hundred metres away, which is useful when you want to know what to avoid.

Fortunately, my parents had some Mahou 5 Estrellas in the fridge to rinse my mouth and I had Mezquite to restore my faith in Spanish brewers.

The "Craft Beers" are booming right now in Spain, specially in Catalunya. Much has been discussed about their quality. I've been lucky to have come across some truly wonderful beers from Spanish micros, stuff I would gladly buy if it was available. Unfortunately, and since most people buy their beers at supermarkets like Carrefour, it is very likely that, at least in Ávila, Santa Margarida is the first impression they will get from the so hyped "Cervezas Artesanales" and it won't be a very good one.

But there's more from my Spanish holiday, stay tuned.

Na Zdraví!

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