30 Dec 2011

Wishlist for 2012

In 2012 I want:
  • To keep on drinking good beer, regardless of where, how or by whom it is brewed (not too hard, I know)
  • A couple more "čtvrtá pípa" pubs, but also more places like U Slovanské Lípy that sell only one "alternative" brand (there are times when all I want is to order "pivo")
  • Aliance PIV to keep on growing
  • Prague Beer Museum to once and for all sort out their problem with the storage of the beers
  • A top of the range restaurant to start offering a solid list of domestic and imported beers that will be announced everywhere and that will not include rubbish like Corona, Guinness Draught or Desperados.
  • The fever for extreme, hop/yeast/wood driven beers to slow down a bit and that "innovative" brewers everywhere will take the challenge of making down to earth beers with moderate % of ABV, but at the same times tasty and interesting.
  • That those brewers who have quality control or consistency problems get their shit together or shut down (they are disrespecting beer and consumers and they are taking market away from people who really want to do things well)
  • That those who are planning to open a brewery do it only if they are willing to invest on a professional kit and not before they have thoroughly worked out a couple of recipes (consumers should not finance an eventual modernization of the facilities nor professional training)
  • More beer blogs in Spanish and that their authors and the authors of those that exist already won't gaze their navels so much.
  • That the Spanish speaking media keep on publishing bollocks about beer. No, really, I must confess that it is a lot of fun to pick them apart. Of course, if they want to start giving beer the respect it deserves, they'll be more than welcome.
  • That BrewDog, etc. cut it out already with the marketing gimmicks and the bombastic rhetoric. Throwing shit at the macros (or at CAMRA) isn't exciting or cool anymore. Let your beers dictate the discourse, if you have the balls for that.
  • To travel. I want to go back to Bamberg, but I also want to go somewhere I haven't been before.
  • To read, books
  • Success for Pivo, Bier & Ale, that it grows in circulation and that it gets more advertisers. This magazine is really important for our beer culture.
  • That my book sells more copies.
That's basically it. If anyone can think of anything else, or has their own wishes, feel free to use to comments.

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23 Dec 2011

2011 - The finest

Without further ado, here you have what I've liked the most during this year that is almost gone.

Domestic beer, draught: Únětická 12º, I was going to pick Chýně's magnetic Stout, a fantastic brew, no doubt, but Únětice's is not only great, but can also be drunk in more and more places in Prague and around.

Honorable mentions: Besides the aforementioned Stout, Polotmavá 13º from Pivovar Antoš.

Domestic beer, bottle: Primátor Stout.

Honorable mentions: Eggenberg Nakouření Švíhák, Janáček Kounic.

Foreign beer, draught: Mahr's Brau Ungespundet Kellerbier (at the brewery's taproom).

Honorable mentions: Neder Annafestbier, Schlenkerla Märzen (at the brewery's taproom).

Foreign beer, bottled: Pretty difficult here, but, Pliny the Elder (thanks Brian), one of those few beers that are better than their fame.

Honorable mentions: N'ice Chouffe, DeMolen Hel & Verdoemenis, Kraus Hell Lager

Pivovar: Únětický Pivovar. Not only they are making excellent beers, but they are also doing a great job with the most important thing any brewery has to do, sell their stuff, the sign of Únětický Pivovar can be found in God knows how many places already.

Honorable mentions: Pivovar Vyškov (they came back from death and now are making a pretty nice IPA and a lovely světlý ležák), Rukodělný Pivovárek Třebonice.

Hospoda (that is not Zlý Časy): Zubatý Pes 

Honorable mentions:
U Vodoucha, U Slovanské Lípy

Magazine:
Pivo, Bier & Ale

Book:
"Prague: A Pisshead's Pub Guide" (don't tell me you were expecting something else)

Event:
Annafest

Blog in English:
Boak&Bailey

Blog in Spanish:
2d2dspuma, por favor

I don't know about you, but 2011 has been the best year since I started with this blog, in many ways. Publishing my book has brought me enormous satisfaction and I was finally able to take a least a short holiday, which I greatly enjoyed. I hope 2012 will be along the same lines.

Anyway, have a nice Christmas, all of you!

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21 Dec 2011

It's obvious, but...

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but...

TRAPPIST IS NOT A STYLE

Dear micro brewer, unless you are a member of the said monastic order, your beer isn't "Trappist", nor it is "Trappist style" because, besides the fact that you can't even call it "Trappist", TRAPPIST IS NOT A STYLE.

"Abbey" is not a style, either. In some cases, it is only a little more than a label, like "craft", but in the case of the so called Erkend Belgisch Abdijbier, it referes to breweries that are subject to certain regulations, which, as with the Trappist, do not concern the quality or kind of beer that is brewed. In other words, and quoting my friend "Thirsty Pilgrim": "Westvleteren could make a farty filtered lager and it would still be Trappist beer."

The reason why Abbey and Trappist breweries don't make a Pils is the same reason why Czech industrial breweries don't make a Tripel.

And since I'm in the realm of the clearly obvious, and in response to some messages and comments that I've received or read here and there:

If you want to understand a beer, you must drink it.

Style guidelines are utterly useless. Books, magazines, blogs, articles, reviews can, at most, be good to have some additional information (something that's always welcome) and to help us know where to spend our money (which is even more welcome). But if you really want to understand a beer, you must drink it. And I mean drink it, not "taste",  sharing a 0.33l bottle with four friends, but to sit down and drink a full portion of that beer (ideally, it should be as close to its source as possible, immersed in the beer's own culture, but that's something most of us can't do that often).

So drink, pay attention, compare with other similar beers you might have drunk, think, drink again (and maybe you'll finally realise how silly it is to call "Abbey" or "Trappist" a beer brewed in Argentina, Chile, Australia or Canada)

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19 Dec 2011

Vaclavák for Czechs?

In the almost 10 years that I've been living in Prague I haven't been into any of the pubs, bars, restaurants or cafés in Wenceslas Square. Those that don't have "tourist trap" written all over, are simply not my kind of places.

The other day, though, I decided to make an exception with Restaurace v Melatrichu, which according to the The Prague Post wants to be a place that not only caters for tourist, but also for locals. At first sight, this can be confirmed by the prices of beer list (more on it later), with the exception of Pilsner Urquell, all beers are below the 40CZK mark a pint.

There are, however, a couple of things that could set some alarms off. The beers are also sold in tupláky, the only people here who drink from 1l glasses are the most obtuse tourists. On top of it, at the entrance to the restaurant the beer list is posted in Russian. Now, I've got absolutely nothing against Russians, but it is well known that, in average, they are by far the biggest spenders among all the nationalities that visit Prague. But well, those are prejudices, and wise is the person who will not be guided by them.

For some reason I expected this restaurant to be on the first floor. It's in the cellar, good, I like underground places better. It's large, spacious, divided into several spaces. I'm sure there are people who like this kind of place, I'm not among them, I find it too impersonal.
It was lunch time, there were plenty of busy tables, all the patrons seemed to be Czech. The service was pretty good, professional, no TGI friendliness, they did what they had to do and they did it well, which for me is the definition of good service (I'm one of those who prefer authentic surliness over fake smiles).

I ordered the special. It promised good value for 99CZK. It consisted on Hrstková, a pulse soup that was lovely and a very generous portion of prejt, cabbage and potatoes. The prejt (something like baked stuffing for black pudding) was perhaps a touch too salty, but not bad, the cabbage was just as I like it, a bit crunchy and the potatoes were really well made (it's remarkable how many places can fuck up something as simple as boiled potatoes). As far from sophistication as you can imagine, but it did a great job on a day that couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted to be autumn or winter.

But I hadn't come for the food, the service or the atmosphere. What brought me to Restaurace V Melantrichu was the beer. Besides the aforementioned Urquell (which I bet they still keep due to contractual obligations), they have some of the stuff from K-Brewery, two guest beers Únětická 10º y Permon 11º, that day) and, if that wasn't enough, V Melantrichu is one of the few places that has "its own" beer. It's brewed in Sokolov and it's called Melantrich, they didn't spend too much imagination on the beer's name, perhaps as much as the spent to choose what kind of beer it would be, světlý ležák.

I don't want to contradict what I said the other day, I still believe that in good hands a světlý ležák can be one of the most wonderful drinks anyone can have. But it's also the most common kind of beer in the Czech lands. If the chose to have their own beer, why didn't they have something else brewed? It didn't need to be anything "exotic", a good polotmavé would have done just fine.

Prejudice once again, perhaps Melantrich would turn out to be one of those Czech pale lagers I love so much. I get it in its own glass, head white as if it has just come out of an ad for Persil, very well tapped, not a single bubble in sight in a liquid that is as dark as světlý can be without becoming polotmavé.
I wish I could say more good things about it, but the truth is that I didn't like it, not a single little bit. A handful of dried flowers coated in toffee dusted with crushed honey flavoured candy, that's the best way I can describe it. Nasty and proud of it, I found it. (i also wish I had more pics of the place, but they turned out awful).

When I left the restaurant I wondered if that was what the beer was supposed to be, according to the wishes of the owners or if I had been unlucky and got something from a duff keg or batch.

Either way, I don't think I'll go back to find out. If that is the way the beer is supposed to be, then I know I won't like it, so why bother. Now, if bad luck was the problem, then it would be worse, it would mean that the people of V Melantrichu can't be arsed with giving the proper care to the only one thing that makes them really different from any other restaurant, and that would be pretty stupid.

But well, go see for yourselves. Restaurace V Melantrichu is still a decent alternative to the pubs that appear in the first crawl of Prague: A Pisshead's Pub Guide.

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Restaurace V Melantrichu
50°4'54.567"N, 14°25'34.123"E
Václavské náměstí 793/36 - Praha-Nové Město
+420 224 210 127 - info@restauracevmelantrichu.cz
Mon-Sat: 11-24 Sun: 11-23

PS: If anyone out there is still wondering about the fate of U Černého Vola, it's official. The lease has been sign with Mr. Benda and this pub will remain the wonderful dive we all love.

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18 Dec 2011

R.I.P. Vašku

Václav Havel has passed away today. Let's all raise a pint of black beer in his memory, I'm sure he'd appreciate the sense of humor.

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9 Dec 2011

News on the Black Ox

It seems there are some good news about U Černého Vola. One Anonymus left a comment on yesterday's post that brought my attention to some recent developments. After reading about them on the page of the petition, I decided to contact Matouš Hájek, the petition's organiser. Besides saving me some time, I thought he would be able to explain me the situation in a better way. The conlusion, it's probable that U Černého Vola has survived this. But before telling you how and why, let me tell you how this whole thing came to happen.

In his e-mail, Hájek, gave me some details that paint a pretty interesting picture. The story goes like this: Mr. Landergot, who is the current leaseholder, had decided to retire and to devolve the contract to one Mr. Benda, who's a member of the same association as him, Sdružení za zachování hostince U Černého vola (Association to preserve the pub U Černého vola). To do this he had to rescind his contract with Prague 1, the owners of the building. The town then acted exactly according to the law and opened a public tender. It was expected it would be a formality, but someone made a higher bid than Benda's.

Fortunately, it seems the authorities of Prague 1 have listened to their common sense and have decided that this coming Tuesday they will still grant the contract to Mr. Benda anyway. Hájek added that they had repeatedly told him about their intentions to keep Vola as it is, petition or not. However, I agree with him that regardless of that, the petition is important (if you haven't signed it yet, do it here, the more, the better).

It makes me feel good to know that I was able to contribute to this cause, if only with a few signatures and some strong words. Kudos to Matouš Hájek for having initiated the petition and also to the authorities of Prague 1 for having decided to preserve a small, but important, bit of the local culture.

If you are in Prague, or planing to come, do stop at U Černého Vola for a pint or two. Oh! Fuck it! Get absolutely legless there! After all, it'll be to help those handicapped children.

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PS: If you missed the chance to buy Prague: A Pisshead's Pub Guide (a "beery bath tub of Rabelaisian wit and wisdom", according to Adrian Tierney-Jones) with a 30% discount, you have until next wednesday to buy it with a 25% discount. Go to this page and when doing the purchase put the code COUNTDOWN.

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8 Dec 2011

Save the Black Ox!

U Černého Vola, an institution in the Prague beer scene and one of the finest dives in the city, if not the world, might soon cease to exist.

Unfortunately, this isn't due to the place doing bad or because some bureaucrat so decided. Quite the opposite, actually. The authorities of Prague 1 have said that they would like Vola to stay as it is, but their hands are tied by the law. Prague 1 is the building's landlord and someone has offered to rent the premises for 400,000CZK a year, which is more than the current tenants can afford, and the must accept the highest bid.

Currently, U Černého Vola is run by a non-for profit organisation that donates all revenues to a school for handicapped children. The wannabe tenants are Plzeňský Restaurant, who, if I'm not wrong, have several restaurants in Prague and around.

I'm not going to go all Occupy Wall Street on you here. I believe in Capitalism (the real one, not the travesty governments have allowed bankers and speculators to spawn) so I've got nothing against someone who wants to make money, or even become filthy rich, provided they do it honestly and fairly, and I don't have any reason to believe the people of Plzeňský Restaurant are crooks.

But I'm still quite made at this. These people want to replace a classic, unique hospoda with a lot of history, the only one in Hradčany, I believe, where locals can go for a pint without feeling like foreigners in their own town, for a Gastro Pub that'll be designed to the very last detail by the computer of an Architect and a team of Marketing Consultants. Of course, instead of a grumpy geezer that brings beer and haminex or nakladaný romadůr, tourists perhaps will be greeeted by a young, Mcfriendly waiter who can bring them a latte macchiato, a mojito or a Caesar Salad, while the use the free wi-fi to upload photos to their Facebook accounts using their smartphones.

But you know what? Fuck the Mcfriendly waiters! Fuck latte macchiato, mojito and Caesar Salad! Fuck free Wi-fi! And fuck smartphones, too, why not! I don't give a flying fuck about what some sensitive, modern, family friendly souls say, the historical centre of Prague doesn't need any more preprocessed places desinged to please a younger crowd.

A petition has been started on the internet to tray to save U Černého Vola. If you are someone who appreciate real pub culture, with all its warts and wrinkles, go to this page and sign it. It might not change much in the end, but at least it made me feel a little better.

However, there's a gleam of hope. According to what I read on Tuesday, the rent that this non-for-profit organisation is currently paying plus the money the send to that school for handicapped children is more than what Plzeňský Restaurant has offered. Let's hope that someone in the Prague 1 Town Hall can find a loophole in the law that, for a change, will benefit a majority and not just a few chosen ones.

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6 Dec 2011

A great idea for a Christmas present

Do you want to buy someone a really special Christmas gift? How about a book, you can never go wrong with a book, specially one that is not only great fun to read, but also practical for anyone planning to come to Prague (or even dreaming about it).

But that's not it. You can get that wonderful, unique, fun (did I say it was fun?) book with a 30% DISCOUNT!!!
Yes, that's right! You can buy "Prague: A Pisshead's Pub Guide"(Certainly, the best guide of Prague written by an Argentine) with a 30% DISCOUNT. But hurry up, you have until tomorrow.

So go to this page, My Author's Page at Lulu.com pick the book the whichever version you want (did you know? Now it's available in e-book format for the I-Pad!) and enter this discount code WINTERSAVE305 during the purchase. Your loved one will love it!

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5 Dec 2011

Thoughts after a couple of early pints

I love Kaaba, in Lucemburská. It's a small café in a quiet, tree-lined, side street of Vinohrady with an intimate atmosphere and fantastic soundtrack. Or at least that's how I find it on Tuesday and Thursday mornings when I go for an early pint or two of very well tapped Polička Hradební Tmavé, one of the finest exponents of one of the most underrated Czech beer categories, tmavé výčepní. Much of that atmosphere is generated by the štamgasty, who are a pretty colourful bunch. It's really fantastic to sit down and chat about history, films, music, Argentina, politics and what have you with people like a retired Mariner, an Investigative Journalist or the Chairman of the Czech Monarchist Party while listening to Cream, Tom Waits, Max Raabe or Chet Baker.

This wouldn't be possible without the figure of the owner, a pretty interesting bloke himself, with a theatre background (not acting) and great taste for music, and with whom it's also very interesting to talk.

The other day I was having a conversation about beer about beer and the local beer scene with him and he told me how he got to Polička.

When he decided to start selling draught beer Pilsner Urquell was the most natural choice, the cans and bottles were selling really well. He got in touch with the company and the representative explained him that he couldn't help him because of the low volume this place could have. Someone later recommended him Polička and now he couldn't be any happier, not only with the quality of the beer, but also with the company as a business partner.

I love talking to people from "the other side of the counter". It helps you see things from a different perspective (something that is always good to do) and occasionally you get to hear something that can be almost a revelation, just like this time. After I left the place I started asking myself whether cases like Kaaba's aren't one of the reasons why some regionals are doing so well in a shrinking or, at best, stagnant market.

Some people might say that the attitude of PU's representative is nothing but an example of the arrogance of large companies. I see it more like a example of common sense in business. Let me explain you.

Some years ago, a senior manager of a large B2B service company, which in fact was the leader in its market, was explaining me their client portfolio. At the bottom of the pyramid there were a huge number of small clients who, according to this man, brought little value and required the allocation of disproportionate resources to keep them satisfied. He added that if it was up to him, he would get rid of the lot of them, which would result in a bigger profit margin for the company with the added bonus that they would be able to take better care of the important clients, which could result in bigger revenues. Unfortunately, the owners at the time, an investment fund from the US, were the kind of people who have growth at any price as sole strategy (a pretty dumb philosophy, which I believe is to blame for much of what's happening now in the world economy) and their policy did not allow for the loss of a single client.

For a company like Plzeňksý Prazdroj Kaaba would be one of those small clients and it's understandable that they weren't interested. And they never had to worry too much about that either, after all, this kind of owners can always go to the distributors or wholesalers to buy the beer, if they want to.

But that times have changed. It's always better to deal with the producer and some mid-sized and small breweries might be filling the hole left by the big boys. Žatec, in the last year or so they've shown up in who knows how many places, most of them quite modern and fancy.

I doubt the macros are in a position to reverse the trend.

This has little to do with personal taste or even optimism. It's a simply business issue. For your average regional brewer places like Kaaba are an interesting client, not only because every keg sold counts, but also because it offers them the possibility of reaching to new consumers. The owners, on the other hand, can buy beer that is cheaper than Pilsner Urquell (plus getting all the marketing goodies and even taps). And to make things more interesting, we should not forget that the regional brands are getting more awareness by the day and, if we look at cases like Jama's (a place where people didn't use to go because they had this or that beer), switching to a regional brand can end up being very good for the business. It's only a matter of time until more people realise about this.

And then they say an early pint of bad for you.

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Kaaba
Lucemburská 15 – Praha-Vinohrady
50°4'44.863"N, 14°27'15.196"E
Mon-Sat: 7.30-22, Sun: 9-22

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2 Dec 2011

Selected Readings: November

For a change, I'm on time this month. It feels good! But enough bollocks, let's go through last month's best beer bits.

Velký Al is not too happy with what he read about Pale Lagers in an article published by American newspaper. The author, one Steve Body, a.k.a. "The Pour Fool", is one of those people who speaks with authority about a topic he doesn't understand, nor is he interested in learning much about, which isn't so much foolish as it is stupid. On the other hand, it's good to know that publishing bollocks about beer isn't exclusive to the Spanish speaking press.

Of all the people involved in the beer industry, from the suppliers of raw materials to the final consumer, nobody has the chance to feel the market better than the owners of specialised bars and shops. That is why when someone like 2D2dspuma offer their (extensive) point of view about what the new brewers should consider when putting together their product portfolio, it's a good idea to pay attention. I believe that even in Spain there is a market for "simple" beers (CCM + Lupulus, Guineu Coaner or Agullons Pura Ale are good examples), but I'm not in the privileged position of 2D2 to judge properly.

Quite related to simple beers is the topic of "Light" beers. Marcelo Braga explains to an oenophile in a very clear way what they are about, closing his piece with a brilliant conclusion.

The opposite of Light beers are the so called "Extreme" brews, among which are the super hoppy ones. Mark seems to have got tired of them a bit, or at least of those that don't offer much more than enamel stripping bitterness. It's all a matter of tastes, but to me, in these days when there are more and more hop/IBU (or even yeast or wood) driven beers, it is really refreshing and rewarding to enjoy the complex subtlety of beers where the malts are allowed to set the pace.

Pete Brown  explains us what Beer Respect means to him and at the same time complains about those who, according to him, take beer "too seriously". A few days later, this last bit prompted a very good response by Boak&Bailey. Pete might be right, but I have to agree with B&B, I believe it is good that there are people who consider beer as something worth of such profound study and debate.

I doubt many of you out there have much sympathy for the American (fake) Budweiser , or forAnhauser-Busch. However, I couldn't help but feel a bit of it after reading this article that tells about what's happened in the three years since the company fell in the claws of InBev.

That's it for this month.

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