31 Aug 2011

Quite an improvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Na Zdraví!

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

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

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29 Aug 2011

Disappointment in Žatec

Last week I made a visit to Žatec, the city that is perhaps the heart of Czech beer, since it gives its name to one of the most famous and appreciated kinds of hops, Saaz (thus is the town's name German). It was a business trip, actually, and I visited the Hops Museum and the Hops Institute, where I had a chat with the bloke in charge of the research brewery that operates there. Both visits and the people I met were very interesting and gave me quite a lot of material for my next article in Bar&Beer.

Of course that I didn't miss the local brewpub, U Orloje, which is located right next to the museum and is adjoined to the visitors' centre of Chrám Chmele a Piva (The Temple of Hops and Beer - the moniker adopted by the region).
It's a very nice place inside, modern, but with some soul. They also have a very pleasant and rather big beer garden that could be a lot nicer if they had those long, wooden tables with benches that I believe should be mandatory for every beer garden, instead of those metal and plastic ones that are more appropriate for a coffee shop (but that's my thing).
The service was efficient, though a bit slow at first. The food was on the average side, nothing memorable, really, but I should mention that I ordered the only thing that was left on the lunch menu and there was some interesting looking stuff on the permanent one. So far, quite fine, the problem, however, were the beers, which is actually the thing that makes you come to a brewpub to begin with.

They brew three kinds, I first ordered the 11º, which is called Žatecký Samec, in honour to a beer that used to be brewed in the city a long time ago. It came too yeasty and with a mild, and not at all pleasant, sour note; something unforgivable for a brewpub, where beers are supposed to be the freshest. I should have sent it back, but I had to wait quite long for it, it was very, very hot and I was very, very, thirsty, so by the time I realised I had already drunk half the pint.
It was followed by Chmelový Ležák, another pale lager, in this case with 12º Plato. Better than the previous one, but terribly boring. The name, Chmelový, refers to the hops (in Czech, Chmel), but an effort was needed to find much trace of the aromatic herb in the taste and the aroma. I wasn't expecting something like an American style DIPA, but they could have given this beer some more Saaz character.
The worst of the lot, however, was Chrámové Tmavé, the house's dark beer. The first pint I got was sour, I sent it back this time. The waitress took it without any complain and replaced it. This pint was better, but the colour, quite paler than the usual Czech tmavé, gave me the impression that what I had in front of me was a řezané, in which case it would be even worse. The beer was almost tasteless, without any character whatsoever. It was as if they'd brewed a 12º with a handful of colouring malts and even less hops.
I didn't leave the place very happy. I went to the centre looking for somewhere to drink something from the local brewery, Pivovar Žatec, but I couldn't find any decent enough place where they had the beers on tap, not even next to the brewery itself! Quite sad, really, a pity.

Compared to what is brewed by other micros that have opened in the last 12 months (U Orloje opened last December), like Pivovar Antoš, in Slaný, or Únětický Pivovar, U Orloje's beers are a couple of streets behind. It could also be that I was unlucky that day, on my Facebook page a friend who knows his beer very well left a comment saying that he had liked the beers at U Orloje.

Either way, if I ever have to go back to Žatec, I will visit this brewpub again, after all, there's not much else to choose from in that town.
Pivovar a Restaurace U Orloje
GPS: 50°19'28.894"N, 13°32'41.524"E
Nám. Prokopa Malého 1951 - Žatec
restaurant@chchp.cz - +420 415 210 952
Mon-Sun: 11-22

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26 Aug 2011

Short news

I've been quite busy lately, so all the great topics I have in the pipeline will have to wait a bit longer, but I still wanted to share with you some of the things that I've been doing.

I was with my family in Český Kumlov last weekend. I don't think I need to tell you what a great town Krumlov is, on the other hand, I believe the prices are worth mentioning. We sat for a drink and dinner by the river, almost below the castle's beautiful tower and while we were watching the rafters go by we drank at one place Bernard and at another Regent Černý and we also had lunch on the terrace the Café of the Municipal Theatre, which has one of the most beautiful views of Prague. At all places, the food was pretty good, the service was very friendly and the beers (always in good condition) were always around 35CZK a pint. Great value, but not nearly as much as the 29CZK I paid for a pint of Eggernberg Nakouřený Švihák at a kiosk right within the Castle's grounds! And it was really nice, too! Not as nice, though, as when I drank it na stojáka at the brewery's pub while chatting with the štamgasty (by the way, Eggenberg's smoke beer is in great shape this year).

Last Wednesday I was in Beroun. This was actually a "business trip", but I still had a great time. Berounský Medvěd is a unique brewpub, located in the facilities of a scrap yard. I chatted a bit with the owners and the Brew Master, nice people all of them. Their beers (brewed in a kit built with scrap metal that is wood-fired) are very, very good. Grizzly, a Czech Porter, is one of those beers I would love to drink every winter day of my life. But the top price goes to their Cyklopivo, an osmíčka, meaning an 8º Balling (pale) lager, that is tastier and more flavourful than many beers with twice the ABV I know. A truly wonderful brew.

The most important news of the week, however, is that, after many people have asked for it, the best pub guide of Prague (sod modesty) is now available at Pivkupectví, the bottle shop of Zlý Časy, where 25 copies arrived yesterday. Hurry up, they might not be there for long.

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19 Aug 2011

High IBU year

The news has been covered by newspapers and TV, the 2011 harvest of Saaz hops is extraordinarily good, or maybe too good, if farmers are to be believed. The price of the prized aromatic herb has dropped so low that many of them warned that they would rather not even pick it.

So, breweries from all over the world and of all sizes, forget your Citra, Sorachi Ace, Nelson Sauvin, Amarillo and other faddish, transatlantic and antipodean hops. Get in touch with your dealers and buy a good fuckload of Žatecký Porloranní červeňák or Premiant at Lidl-like prices. And before any of you comes saying "But, mate! How can I brew my super double-triple barrel aged Imperial Indian Whatever with Saaz?" Buy a bottle of DeMolen Hel & Verdoemenis, which comes with 99IBU squeezed out of Premiant and Hellertau hops (and it's a bloody kick-ass beer, at least when two years old, great to celebrate a special day) or have a go at brewing something more subtle, yet flavourful, you know, the kind everyone likes (not counting snobs and geeks, of course).
Oh! And dear Czech brewers, with the price of your favourite hops so low, you don't have any excuses this year to use extracts, get your shit together and buy Saaz.

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17 Aug 2011

On the piss in Franconia (Day 3)

Click here if you want to know what happened the first day

Click here if you want to know what happened the second day

I woke up shortly after... Well I don't after when. This time it was not my bladder that got me out of bed, but something a bit more urgent and a lot less negotiable.

The digestive Chernobyl that followed forced me to leave the room in search of something that resembled fresh air. I felt awful. The head was alright, but my stomach felt as if it was floating in a mix of ink and burnt frying oil. Nothing that a good dönner kebab, an espresso and a cold beer couldn't sort out.

At ten we left the hotel, put our bags in the bus and went for lunch. Daša had arranged for us a visit to Brauerei Kraus, in Hirschaid. It turned out to be a very pretty place. The brewery itself had nothing remarkable about it, but the complex that surrounded it did. It included a place for private parties, a beautiful beergarten, a hotel and a restaurant.
The brewery has been property of the Kraus family since it was established in 1845. Today, it is Mrs. Kraus who calls the shots, while her husband spend his time doing what he likes best, fishing and hunting (and drinking, I presume), which brings me to the lunch thing I mentioned above.
In the small towns in Franconia people still keep the Sunday family lunch tradition, but, unlike in most other countries, they don't stay at home but go together to country restaurants. The idea is having a long walk before and after the meal.

Kraus's restaurant has a very good reputation in Hirscheid and its surroundings and if it hadn't been for Daša, it would have been more than impossible to get a table. Our friend, because by then she was already one more of the group, talked to Mrs. Kraus and convinced her to let us seat at the stammgäste table, quite an honour.

The restaurant is very nice, with everything you imagine a rural German restaurant can be, and then some, a lot of wood, hunting trophies, etc. etc. There was even a chandelier made with antlers.
The place's reputation is more than deserved. The food is impressive! Germany sized portions, everything fresh and home made. I ordered roasted venison in a sauce with cranberries, it came with the typical dumpling and stewed red cabbage on the side. I can't begin to explain you how good it was. Just remembering it makes my mouth water. And the price, great, 9EU.
What I drank before and during the meal was the house's Kellerbier. A very well educated brew, it won't interrupt the conversation unless is spoken to. Yummy, yummy. Several fell in the line of duty.
It's so nice to drink this kind of beers in earthenware mugs! When you finish it and want another one (and why not?), you simply you simply lay down the mug and soon it will be replaced by a full one. No words are needed, not even looking at the server. After the meal I ordered a Hirschentrunk a dunkles with a touch of smoked malts that tasted like made of sweet dreams and came served in an elegant chalice.
We finished lunch feeling happier than a Bishop at a private concert of the Vienna Boys' Choir and got on our way to Forcheim to say our good-byes to the Annafest.

Some of the group went straight to the Kellerwald, but I and a few others chose to do some sightseeing in the town, which is very pretty. Even though it isn't a very touristy town, everything is very well taken care of, it seems people enjoy living there, and why wouldn't they?

We wanted to visit Eichorn and Neder, but at the stübe of the former there was a private party, and the latter's was closed during the Annafest. We had no other choice than going to Hebendanz, which is right next door to Neder, which in turn basically around the corner from Eichorn. Amazing, a town of 30,000 people that has three breweries in the centre.
Hebendanz is to Forchheim what Fässla is to Bamberg, i.e. the local pisshead's favourite pub. However, early on a Sunday afternoon, there wasn't much going on. The beer on tap was a more than decen Export.

We didn't linger there for too long. We finished our beers and went to the Annafest, to Greif's Keller, where we had a farewell Maß (well, two), while enjoyed the wonderful atmosphere of the Kellerwald for one last time.
Those weren't the last beers of the day, though. Among my travel mates was Ivan Chramosil, Brew Master at U Fleků, who had brought along a few bottles of his famous beer, which was poured in a Maß someone had kept as a souvenir that passed from hand to hand during the trip back home.

It was a truly memorable weekend, I hadn't had so much fun in quite some time. I hope I can do something like this again soon. Thanks, Pavel, thank you very much.

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12 Aug 2011

Friday morning musings

I might be exaggerating, and if that is the case, I apologise beforehand, but some things that I've lately read here and there, wich together with a few e-mails I've received these days, have started to give me the impression that there are not few brewers who are making styles instead of beer and, what's even worse, they seem to make them so they can participate in competitions.

The other day the magazine All About Beer, published an article titled "Rediscovering Pils". A pretty good piece, until the last page (electronic version) where once again we are served the bollocks of "Imperial Pils" (and even Double Pils is mentioned), a new pseudo style that is actually not that new. As I often do with stuff I find interesting, I linked this article on my Facebook page, making my opinion about this style nonsense very clear.

But there was someone who came out in defense of all this, a micro brewer from Argentina, who said:
"The thing is that if I make a lager with 8-9% ABV and more than 50IBU's, for example, there is no category where I can compete, who can I compare it with? What references do I have? As we, brewers, experiment and try things out, styles are adjusted o new styles are created. This is important only when it comes to competitions..."
Even though Ron Pattison and others have shown that style guidelines aren't really necessary for a serious competition, the truth is that, whether we like it or not, the categories of most competitions these days are put together based on such style guidelines, usually from the BJCP. It's a fact and there's little point arguing about it here, but can these competitions really be used as a reference as this brewer claims?

In a competition beers are evaluated in conditions that are far from those the beers are usually consumed and according to certain more or less well defined parameters. It doesn't matter how tasty, interesting, balanced, etc. a beer can be, if the judges consider that it doesn't fit within those parameters, they won't let it compete.

When I wrote him an e-mail to congratulate him for his superb Don Toto Barley Wine, Gerardo Fiorotto, its creator, told me that after tasting it, a judge told him that Don Toto was actually an Old Ale, rather than a Barley Wine (as if there actually was any difference) What would have happened if Gerardo had presented Don Toto in a competition as Barley Wine, just as he understands it? Or what would be the judges' reaction if presented with any of those several less than 4% ABV IPA's that several British brewers are making?

So, and answering the question above, no, I don't believe a competition can be used as a realistic reference for the beers you make.

If you are a brewer and you want to compare your beer with other similar ones, the best you can do is to get a few samples of said beers and drink (not just taste) them one by one, just like any other consumer would do, better still if you can do it with a friend or an associate. A 0.1l sample might be good enough to technically evaluate a beer, but to really know how good a beer is, you have to actually drink it.

As I've said before, I understand very well why brewers like taking part in competitions, but I believe we have a problem when a brewer wants to satisfy a judge rather than the consumer.

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10 Aug 2011

On the piss in Franconia (Day 2)

Click here if you want to know what happened the first day

I woke up sometime after eight. Or rather, I was woken up by my bladder and it was already late to try to negotiate with it. I went out in search of breakfast (it was not included and I didn't want to pay the 12EU the hotel wanted for it). Unfortunately, there weren't any bierstübe or biergarten open around so I had to make do with a bakery and coffee shop (great pretzel, pretty good croissant, crap coffee).

With something at least a bit solid in my guts I started walking around, following my feet. After a few minutes I remembered what we had been told the day before, that everything in Germany, except bakeries and petrol stations, is closed on Sundays (civilised bunch these Germans). I changed my course to the Getränkemarkt that was near the hotel.

What a wonderful thing a Getränrkemarkt is. This one in particular was supermarket sized and full of booze. And, of course, they had an impressive range of regional beers. I ran into Standa there, one of my travel mates, who knows a thing or two about German beers and was able to give me some advice. I stopped at six bottles, I could have bought a lot more, but I didn't fancy having to lug 30kg once we got to Prague on Sunday night.

I went back to the hotel to leave the shopping and something reminded me that this was going to be a very beer-intense day, so I went to the petrol station across the street to get something else for breakfast, something that would get me ready for what the day had in store.

Besides the ubiquitous mass produced, multinationally owned brands like Paulaner, Beck's and Bittburger, this petrol station had a more than decent selection of regional brews. I picked a Landbier that was cold enough and decent enough to be drunk straight from the bottle. That's class.
At about ten we all got on the bus and got on the way to the first stop of the day, the promised city of Bamberg (prior a quick stopover in Erlanger to pick Daša up).

I had wanted to visit Bamberg for a long time already and I was very, very excited. The city didn't disappoint at all. It's beautiful (I made many pics, but the weather was rubbish and they don't do the town justice). It's one of the few German towns its size or lager that wasn't destroyed during WWII. It's really worth visiting. It didn't disappoint beerwise, either, far from it.

The tour included a guided visit to the local Brewing Museum. It's interesting to learn about how beer was brewed in the past, but not nearly as interesting as to experience how it is drunk in the present, so I had decided beforehand that I would skip the museum and do some pub crawling (or should I say, stübe crawling) instead.

Fortunately, I wasn't the only one with that in mind, I was joined by Tomáš Erlich, chairman of the SPP, and Petr Buriánek, beer wizard and creator of the recipes for the Zlý Časy's special beers. Petr had been to Bamberg several times and was a very good guide. Our first stop was Brauerei Fässla.
Of all the places we visited that day, Fässla y by far the least touristy. It stübe is a favourite among local pissheads, which gives it much of its atmosphere. You go into a long corridor with nicotine stained walls, a couple of tables always reserved for the stammgäste and a small window with the tap. There is also a room, but we didn't go in, we went straight to the courtyard in the back, where we had a surprisingly good Pils and and an average at best Lagerbier.
From there, we crossed the street to our second stop, Brauerei Spezial, the other Bamberg brewery that makes smoked beers. Their pub is a more "respectable" and "family friendly" place. It was around noon and it was packed. We were lucky to find an empty table in a corner. We ordered, of course, the speziality (haha) of the house, the Rauchbier.
Anyone who tells you that Rauchbier is a style has no fucking clue what they are talking about. Spezial's couldn't have been more different than, for example, Schlenkerla's. Brownish amber, crystal clear, with notes that reminded more of wood than bacon. Delicious, glorious.
We were considering the possibility of staying there for lunch, but an SMS advised us that the rest of the group had just finished their visit to the museum and were on their way to Schlenkerla. Food can wait, beer can't. We paid and crossed the river once more.
What can be said about Brauerei Schlenkerla? (apart that there's not much of a "brauerei" there anymore). It's a wonderful place. It was packed, of course, so we were left with no choice but to go to the courtyard and drink na stojáka with the rest of the group.
Schlenkerla's Märzen was the first Rauchbier I ever drunk and it was love at first sip. It's a beer that I now well, I've drunk it several times on tap in Prague and the bottles are a usual dweller in my cellar. Oh! But drinking in at Schlenkerla and gravity tapped is something else. Fuck me! What a great beer!

When it stopped raining, some of us moved to the garden in the back to drink and chat some more. Cool time we had.
It was a rather shot time, though. There was still plenty to do and it was time to move on. We have to thank Daša for the next stop. She had managed to allow us a visit to the Weyermann maltings, the company she works for.

Weyermann, which has been run by the same family for over 150 years, is one of the most renown maltings in the world. They supply specialty malts to many Czech and, of course, German breweries and also to breweries in the US, Japan, South Africa, etc. They make 80 different kinds of malts, not only for the brewing industry, but also for distillers, bakers, etc.

I must confess that I wasn't very excited with the idea. I wanted to keep on boozing, but in the end I was very happy with the visit. The building itself is pretty nice. We were shown the room where the grain germinates, where we saw how this part of the process is still done the old-fashioned way. From there we went to the room where the grain is dried and roasted. Here we were able to taste some of the specialty malts that Weyermann makes. It was amazing to eat rye chocolate malt and see that it tastes just like top quality bitter chocolate (I would love to drink a beer made with this). The only thing we regretted was that the experimental brewery they have there was unmanned and were weren't able to taste any of the really interesting stuff they had maturing in the tanks.

Once the educational break was over we went to visit the (four me, Tomáš and Petr, at least) fourth brewery of the day, Mahr's.
A couple of months ago I reviewed a few beers from Mahr's for Pivo, Bier & Ale and I loved their Kellerbier. I was dying to drink it in its most natural environment, gravity tapped.

Pavel Borowiec had mentioned that Mahr's bierstübe was one of the prettiest, and he might be right. It's rather intimate, with a low, almost black ceiling, very welcoming. The kind of place where you want to shelter on a cold and/or rainy day.
The Kellerbier didn't disappoint, in no way. It was indeed gravity tapped (we even witnessed the "ritual" of tapping a new barrel) and was majestic, better than a morning quickie. We had a couple of pints, all squeezed around a table, talking and laughing a lot, having a royally good time. It's so beautiful to go to a pub and have a beer or two with friends! Few pleasures in life can compare to that.
We could have easily stayed there until, well, until today, I guess, if it hadn't been for a little problem, they don't serve food at Mahr's at weekends. With a bit of a heavy heart we left this beautiful schenk and got on the bus in search of something solid to fill our stomachs.
And we found a pretty nice place. Löwenbräu Keller (not to be confused with the namesake brewery from Munich). Nothing memorable, but nothing wrong, either with the decoration and the looks of it. The service was very good and the food, once again pork with the mandatory sides, was once again great and, once again, great value at 7EU for a huge portion. The beer, a keller that did what was expected of it without bothering to do much more than that. We licked our fingers, finished our beers and went to Forchheim for another dose of Annafest.
This time we started from the lower part of the Kellerwald. The fist Maß was from Weissenohe, which turned out to be perhaps the worst of the weekend. Unlike the rest, is dispensed by top pressure, and way too much of it. I didn't enjoy it, drank it anyway.

From there we wento to Löwenbraukeller. Their Festbier was quite better than the Keller we had drunk a bit before.
The next Maß was courtesy of St. Georgen (well, courtesy isn't the right word, I had to pay 6.9EU for it). You can find their Kellerbier every now and again at Zlý Časy, and I strongly recommend it. Their Festbier was also very good. My favourite of the evening.

I was told I also had a Maß from Greif, which may or may not be true. I wasn't paying too much attention to what I was drinking by then. I do remember that I was having one of the times of my life. I finished the Annafest evening with Pavel Borowiec and someone else listening to a band playing some kickass Blues Brothers-like tunes and singing to the top of my voice with each of the songs.

We went back to the bus, sharing a Maß and happy to be alive there and then.

I went to sleep well after midnight, unsurprisingly pissed, given the amount of beer I had consumed, and there was still one day left.

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8 Aug 2011

Spreading ignorance

Mariano Braga is a sommelier from Argentina who keeps a very interesting wine blog. Not long ago he added to it a new section called "Miércoles de Cerveza" and you know what? It's not bad at all! Specially if you consider that its goal is to open the minds of an oenophile audience.

It's evident that Mariano takes things seriously and, more importantly, has respect for his readers, and that's why, instead of talking about a topic he might not know so well, he left the section in charge of his brother Marcelo, himself a micro brewer.

Unfortunately, Mariano seems to be an exception among wine specialists, many of whom don't have any issue with spewing nonsense about something they know fuck all about, like beer. Such is the case with José Tomás, a Spanish oenologist and sommelier, who in this article can be read saying (from the original in Spanish):
"One of the types of beer, the 'lager' (with a lower fermentation) 'are very dry in the mouth' and are usually the pale ones with a white head that goes down quickly. Depending on the malts that have been used, it will be more or less carbonated. On the other hand, there are the 'ale' beers (with a double fermentation, in storage and in the bottle). 'These are sweeter with a head that goes down more slowly', says José. Unlike the former, which are served as refreshment, they are used to combine with foods. 'They are denser'. Their color, according to José, links the drink to the kind of roast. The pale ones have it milder while the black beers will have a harder one. But still, all kinds of mixes can be made among them."
What the fuck!?! Mate, how many beers have you had in your life? Two, three at most, and all of them at home while watching a reality show on the telly!

It's really incredible. I'm sure that Mr José Tomás knows a fuckton about wines. About beer, however, he doesn't seem to know much more than I know about the liturgy of the Coptic Church, and you don't see me here speaking about that, do you?

But it's not the ignorance of this git what irritates me so much. This bloke isn't one of those (unfortunately many) bloggers who in their free time copy and paste pretty much anything that Wikipedia throws at them, or publishes press releases of brewers and distributors without even reading them. I've got no problem with those people, after all, they don't expect anything in return for their "work". But this twat is spreading his bollocks at the tasting courses he's giving, for which I'm sure he gets paid a few monies, which puts him at pretty much the same level as that Nigerian Prince that sent me a very affectionate e-mail earlier today.

There are in Spain quite a few people who know quite a lot about beer. I'm sure that there are many among them who would be more than happy to cooperate in projects like the ones mentioned in the article. Why the fuck then don't the people of the Cuinare get in touch with any of them instead of keep on hiring charlatans like José Tomás? Can it be that all of them there are nothing but a bunch of charlatans who enjoy ripping off their clients?

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5 Aug 2011

On the piss in Franconia (Day 1)

Even though my 40th birthday is still two weeks away, I already got a kickass present (what? You haven't sent yours yet? What are you waiting for?), an invitation to spend a weekend in Franconia, Germany, that had the Annafest as its main program.

The Annafest is a huge beer festival that is held every year at the end of July in what is known as the Kellerwald, a word that can be translated as "cellar forest". It's a forested hill in the outskirts of Forscheim (a very pretty small town) where the local breweries have their "keller", deep cellars dug in the rock, where they traditionally lager their beers. There are five or six that are open year round, but during the festival their number grows to more than 20 and the local breweries are joined by several others from the region. As expected, there is also music, on six stages, amusement park attractions, fast-food stands, etc.

The tour had been organised by Pivo, Bier & Ale and we are 15 people in the group, including Pavel Borowiec, Chief Editor of the magazine. A nice gang with several known faces and others that would become friends during the weekend.

We left Prague at 11, made a stop at a petrol station near the border and drove into Germany. Our destination was Nuremberg, where we would be accommodated. The traffic on the road near the town was awful, no surprise for a Friday afternoon.

We arrived at Hotel Nestor, our home for the next two nights (and much better than I had expected, my room was almost posh), and after leaving our bags and stretching our legs we got on our way to Forchheim, with a stopover in Erlanger to pick up Daša Hrnečková, who would play an important role in this excursion.

It took quite a bit to find this lady (because of the traffic and because the GPS navigation thingy refused to do its job in Erlanger) and when we finally arrived in Forchheim we were all VERY thirsty. We would have to wait a bit longer. We were greeted by a local personality who told us a bit about the town and the festival. By the time he finished I think most of us would have been able to kill an angry boar with our bare hands, if that meant we could get a pint. There was no need for that, only a short walk uphill.

Kellerwald at last! And I swear to you that it's impressive. The atmosphere is unbelievable and the whole settings are almost dreamlike. There were already many people and it all smelled of joy (and grilled sausages).
I didn't waste too much time looking around and went straight to the nearest keller to have my first Maß of Festbier. The Festbier are amber beers (lager, of course) with 5.5-5.7% ABV (if I'm not wrong, by their Plato graduation they can be considered bock, or somewhere near there, but I'd like to be corrected) that are lagered in the keller and are dispensed by gravity, not by top pressure. The Maß, from which all these beers are drunk, is a 1l earthenware tankard. I don't like drinking from tupláky (as Czechs call them) because if you don't want your beer to get piss warm, you have to drink it fast. This ceramic tankards are a different thing, the material keeps the temperature for a long time, so you can enjoy your beer without any hurries.
Not that I bothered to see how that work with my first beer of the day. Neder, it was, one of the local breweries. The Maß emptied as if it had been pierced. It didn't take me long to get my second one. All the festbier are very similar, very malty, with notes that reminded me of gingerbread (but don't take that too seriously). Thanks to the way they are dispensed, they have very low carbonation and an amazing drinkability. Neder's turned out to be specially good, a touch hoppier than the rest, which gave it a very nice flowery twist.
We didn't stay at that Neder's Keller very long. There was a German pop band playing awful German pop music and we went in search of a quieter place, the keller of Eichorn, another local brewer with an also very good festbier. When I was already working on my second Maß of Eichorn I realised I was hungry and ordered some food (besides the fast-food stands, the Keller also serve proper meals). Big mistake. Not because the food was bad, it was great! But because the portion was huge and became an obstacle for my beer drinking. (BTW, at 7EU this Franconian vepřo-knedlo-zelo was great value. At the Czech Beer Festival you'll pay around the same for a smaller portion of something not nearly as good, maybe the organisers should visit Annafest to learn a thing or two).
It was hard work to finish the evening's fourth Maß and I had almost decided to go explore a bit when someone had the wisdom of ordering me another beer. Then it was when I finally realised that the Annafest isn't about how many different beers you can drink in a day, but about a celebration of beer drinking with friends. That's the reason you come to Forchheim for.

Curiously, by the time I was finishing my fith litre of Festbier I was feeling much lighter and almost ready for a sixth. Unfortunately, it was time to go back to the bus.

I went to sleep well after midnight, surprisingly undrunk given the amount of strong beer I had consumed, and that was just the beginning...

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3 Aug 2011

Selected Readings: July

Yeah, yeah, we are already in August and like most of you, I can't believe it. Time flies when you are having fun, and July has left us with plenty of fun things to read.

The journey begins actually with a glass of wine. From England, Fiona Beckett writes a critic to wine critics, where she brings attention to the poor ethics, if not downright corruption, that seems to be common among many of her colleagues. After reading it I was left wondering if that couldn't happen with beer. With the increasing importance many people are giving to blogs and how much we all like getting free samples or being invited to events, can it be that some of us are more lenient towards some brewers/distributors because we want to keep on drinking for free? What is the right thing to do when a free sample we got to review in our blogs turns out to be crap? Food for thought.

On a lighter note, but still on the wine topic the Argentine food blog Fondo de Olla publishes a funny rant about the bollocks that dominates the wine discourse. I confess to having committed poetic excesses when describing a beer like "It smelled like walking in a field of ripe wheat while holding a bunch of wild flowers", just to mention the most recent one. To my defense, I do it because, on the one hand, it's fun and on the other, this is a blog and not a press release or a plug from a distributor/brewer in a magazine or newspaper, like the ones that speak about food pairing with Cruzcampo or that "Refreshingment" is a beer category or that you can find notes of Danish summer apples in Carlsberg.

And since we are speaking about bollocks and snobbery, The Contrarian complains about how difficult it has become to order a beer at some Craft Beer Bars, and he makes a good point. Beer has always been an inclusive drink, but when you need to have studied the Style Guidelines of the BJCP in order to be able to order a pint, it results in beer adopting some of the vices of wine, another beverage that has always been inclusive, however much the wine marketing people wish ignore that fact.

(But well, maybe you are one of those people who believes that to truly enjoy a beer you need to take three short sips first and not just drink it, or who would like all pubs to have a sommelier and would never set food in one that doesn't have a list of at least 450 Craft Beers from around the world (50 on tap) that must change periodically, lest you get bored of it. In that case, you should perhaps have a look at this rehabilitation program for beer snobs.

Among those vices of wine is, in my opinion, the use of the word "terroir", which some people are trying to apply to beer. Stan Hieronymus makes a very good point, but he still doesn't convince me. I do like the idea of emphasising the origin of a beer, something that, as I've already discussed, is very important to know, but the "terroir" thing has already been abused enough by marketing of wine for us to start using it (and quite wrongly at that) for beer.

And more on marketing. The economy section of La Vanguardia published an interview with Albert Castellón, general director of Moritz. What this man says is not much more than a compilation of the meaning of the "Brand above drink" concept. Let's not pay too much attention to crap like "He likes beer a lot, but "as a principle" if he's at a bar where they don't have Moritz, he drinks coffee or a soft drink and then tries to find out why they don't have Moritz", and let's focus on "brand" (a word he mentions seven times, while "hops" isn't uttered only once). Castellón says that Moritz is "Barcelona's beer" even though it is brewed more than 300Km away in Zaragoza! Go figure.

And more marketing bollocks, this time from England. Martyn Cornell wrote a brilliant satire titled "New White Wine Launched for Men" in response to yet another pathetic launch of yet another pathetic "beer for women" that brings together all the clichés of the supposed relationship the ladies have with beer.

The nonsense of the month this month comes from Colombia, courtesy of one José Rafael Arango, who in an article full of the usual "historical" stuff shares with us a historic revelation "With time, Eastern and Western cultures took on with passion the brewing of many kinds of beer. Such was the variety and profusion of this beverage that in 1516 William IV, Duke of Bavaria, was forced to proclaim the famous beer purity law or Reinheitsgebot, with which brewers were restricted to using only water, barley and hops, a rule that has preserved to this day the purity and quality of the precious liquid. What else can be added to that?

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