Just like I told you the other day, last weekend I went with my family to Kostelec nad Černými lesy with the festival, or celebration, as main excuse. We had a fantastic time, pity the weather that was on the wrong side of crappy, but there's nothing you can do about it.
We arrived on a very warm Friday evening. We were accommodated in the dorm that belongs to the local branch of the National Agricultural University, a building from the 18th century that used to be a orphanage and a hospice. The rooms were rather spartan, but very comfortable, more than adequate to crash for a couple of nights.
Once we had left our stuff in the room, we went to the Pivovar. Jarin, who had invited us, was waiting there, together with Milan Starec, one of the owners and a very nice guy. The pub is beautiful, it reminded a bit to those rural pubs in Franconia. The walls are full of treasures, old adverts of bygone beers, photos and documents from the times when Černokostelecký Pivovar was still brewing (in the golden years it had a volume of up to 70,000 hl a year and was the biggest in Central Bohemia). The atmosphere was great. We shared a table with a couple who were also on a visit and spent much of the dinner talking with them.
A while and two pints later I walked my wife and daughter to the hotel, gave each a good night kiss and went back to the brewery. I kept my promise with Milan and had with him a glass of their home made sour cherry liqueur ("a glass", what en euphemism), it was delicious. We had some beer and a few words. The beer, tapped in a 1.5l copper tankard, was Bešťák, the Světlý Ležák brewed for the event, a pale lager with an attitude that could have spent a week or two more in the cellar, but was still very nice.
Milan had to get back to work so, tankard in hand, I went back to that corner of the courtyard to live one of those magic beer moments. They were tapping two beers there, the above mentioned Jantár, and Černá Svině, a dark beer also brewed by Jarin. We were all standing around a wooden barrel, talking about old Czech films and books, listening to the brewing stories of Černohorský and one of the other owners of Černokostelecký Pivovar, laughing until our jaws were almost falling, with the copper tankard passing from hand to hand being refilled every time someone wanted to leave. Word can't describe such joy. But the day had been long and I went to bed some time after 11, quite tired but very happy.
When we woke up the next morning I felt as if we had slept months and not hours. Not because of those feelings you sometimes get after spending the night at a foreign place, but because the temperature had dropped by almost 20ºC from the previous afternoon and the sunshine was only a nice memory. We had breakfast at a café in the town's main square, it turned out to be really beautiful, my wife and daughter loved it, a liked it, too, but was eager to go to the Pivovar.
What I like the most about this kind of events it's not so much the beer or the food (by the way, that fire roasted smoked ham was gorgeous), it's the people. I met a couple of friends whom I hadn't seen for a while, a few of the štamgasty from Zlý Časy and some other colourful characters of the local beer world. It seemed that every time I turned around someone would say hello to me.
The main feature of this festival was the barrel pitching. In the past all beers fermented and matured in wooden barrels and to prevent them from getting in touch with the wood and contaminated, the inside of the barrels was coated in brewer's pitch. As with every other traditional craft, it is fascinating to watch when performed by masters. There was a time when breweries would employ platoons of coopers and pitchers. The pitch had to be replaced periodically and was done even with the biggest casks (in the courtyard there was one with over 800hl capacity). Here they showed how it's done only with smaller barrels, the plan, according to what I heard, is to have them filled with beer.
the word "passion", but I don't think there is another way to describe the thing that motivates these people to do what they are doing. It's true that in the long run this is still a commercial enterprise, but they could have done things a lot easier and faster (and cheaper) by setting a microbrewery with modern gear, keeping the old stuff as museum pieces. I'm sure they would have been very successful, but they chose the longer, harder and riskier road and they deserve respect for that. I can't wait until those old pots start brewing again, I'm sure the beers will be very good, because besides passion and all that, these people really want to do things well.
After having some dinner and leaving my family safe in their bed, I went back to the pub to keep on drinking, talking and having a great time. Tilting a bit to starboard I went to sleep after midnight, feeling happier than a kid at Christmas and already looking forward to going back to Černokostelecký Pivovar, a place everyone should visit some day.
PS: Many thanks to Jarin and Milan for their hospitality and generosity.
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