9 Dec 2014

Noteless: Jaws Beer Tomahawk.lgr

I've got these two beers from my Russian friend Jegor (it's funny how we met, at the Svijany Pivní Slavnosti in 2007, where we exchanged a few words, and now we get together for a couple of pints whenever he comes to Prague). They are from Jaws, a micro-brewery from Ekaterimburg, the best in the area, according to him.

The other day, I opened the one on the right, Tomahawk, mainly because, other than the ABV % and, I assume, the Plato, there was no other information on the label—or rather, nothing I could understand, as it was all written in Russian—and I think drinking a beer you have hardly any information about can be a lot of fun.

Yeah, I know. I could have looked it up on the internet. But really, why bother? I didn't want to generate any unnecessary expectations, I had the beer in my hand already, it had been a present and I was going to drink it one way or another, so I thought it'd be better to do it unburdened by data.

I took a glass out of the cupboard, but then I said “sod it”, and picked my favourite earthenware mug—as far as I'm concerned, the best vessel for pretty much any kind of beer, and don't try to argue, because you're wrong.

I'd expected the beer to be dark—why would they've used a black label otherwise—and it was, and pretty much so, if the latte-coloured head is any indication.

At first, almost mindlessly... No, that's not the word. Instinctively, that's it, I tried to fit a style into the beer, which can also be quite fun—is it...? No, that's not true to the beer. Is it perhaps...? Not quite, but we could give it a silver medal, or whatever. But that lasted, what, two, three sips, max. Once I'd determined it was a very well-made and so far pretty good beer, it was ready to get into the more pleasant business of drinking—raise, tilt, sip, enjoy, repeat—while my mind got busy doing other, more important things. And yet, my attention would be grabbed a couple more times before the mug had emptied, as if the beer wanted to point at how awfully wrong Randy Mosher was the other day.

There's so much more fun, pleasure and joy in being a discerning drinker than a taster.

Na Zdraví!

PS: “The Art of Tasting”? Really? You've gotta be fucking joking...

3 Dec 2014

3 Brief Reviews of 3 New Places

(Well, one of them isn't that new, actually)

I've been to three places that many people have been talking about. Last week I was at BeerGeek and Dno Pytle, a week earlier, to Vinohradský Pivovar

BeerGeek, a spin-off of what many consider to be the best Pivotéka in Prague, opened in mid October, I think, and became an instant hit among the local beer intelligentsia. In many ways, it's what Zubatý Pes was 3 years ago (and still is), only that BeerGeek has the advantage of arriving in a far more mature market, at a far better address and with much nicer premises. I liked the place a lot more than photos I had seen had made me think I would (even if I still think those LCDs for the beer list are objectively ugly), and I felt quite comfortable right away—the bar looks great, as does the window to the cool-box with kegs and bottles. I'm not sure whether 30 taps aren't a few too many for a place that is not particularly big, but all the beers I had* were in good condition (if a bit too gassy in a couple of cases), and the people behind this pub clearly know what they are doing, and they also want to do it well, and for that they deserve success. Let's hope they can get the kitchen up and running soon, at least with some basic snacks.

Dno Pytle opened at the beginning of the year, and I wanted to visit it ever since I learnt they were specialised in gravity dispensed beers from Germany, and I'm a sucker for gravity dispensed beers from Germany, or anywhere else for that matter. After several frustrated plans drop by, I finally made it there on a “fuck-it-why-not” whim, while still at BeerGeek. It is very probable that I was a tiny bit pissed when I got to Dno Pytle, and I only saw the upstairs, and I still loved it! I was having a pint, talking to the owner on duty—they are two—about their “concept”, their plans—so far they've been tapping gravity dispensed beers only a couple of times a week, now, with new storage facilities, they want to do it every day— and other beery things, when he agreed to tap a barrel of something that must have been a Dopplebock, it tasted great, but nearly floored me (it was my 10th pint of the day, with an almost empty stomach), but I don't regret any of it. Like at BeerGeek, the people behind this pub know what they are doing and are determined to do it well; they also deserve success.

I wish I could give as much praise to Vinohradský Pivovar. Although it opened in October, it would take another month or so for their own beer to be ready. I went there for a quick lunch a few days after they tapped the first batch of Vinohradsky Ležák. Normally, I would wait at least a month before even thinking of going to a new brewpub or buying something from a new micro, but this one has pedigree—Franta Richter is the head brewer. Let's start with the good. The place, though not my style, looks really good, and the view to the 25hl copper brewhouse is gorgeous, service and food were both very good, the beer, on the other hand, wasn't. A fine blend of clove and burnt cable, that's how I can describe the not very intense, but still very unpleasant note of that beer, and there've been other people who felt the same. On their FB page, Vinohradský Pivovar explained that it was from their test batch, which doesn't make me any happier. Let's hope that whatever cock-up happened there will be sorted out for the next batches.

That's it, no more to say. Drink on.

Na Zdraví!

BeerGeek Bar
50.0770831N, 14.4500106E
Vinohradská 62 – Praha-Vinohrady
+420 775 260 871
Mon-Sun: 15-02
Metro A, Tram: 11, 13 – Jiřího z Poděbrad

Dno Pytle
50.0729339N, 14.4234533E
Kateřinská 10 – Praha 2-Nové Město
+420 773 028 326
Mon-Fri: 14-23, Sat-Sun: 17-00
Tram: 4, 10, 16, 22 – Štěpánská; Bus: 291 – Větrov

Vinohradský Pivovar
50.0752981N, 14.4576075E
Korunní 106 – Praha-Vinohrady
+420 222 760 080 – rezervace@vinohradskypivovar.cz
Mon-Sun: 11-24
Tram: 10, 16; Bus: 136, 175 – Orionka

*I didn't pay for my beers at BeerGeek, I drank them during an interview with Munchies

17 Nov 2014

Just a quick question

Let's see if any brewers out can give me an answer to this.

At equal capacity in hl, will the geometry of the brewing equipment affect the water and energy efficiency of the brew in any significant way?

This just popped into my mind for no particular reason. I'd say it will, but I'd like to be sure.

Thanks in advance.

Na Zdraví!

16 Nov 2014

Here you have a bit of Sunday bollocks from Spain

A specialised store form Catalonia has been kind enough to explain to us the reason why craft beer isn't so cheap (in Spanish) with four, very simple arguments that will surely end the heated debate about prices. The following is the first of them (translation mine):
Limited production. This kind of beer can't be bought in another city or region, unless it is an on-line store, specialised in craft beer like Beer Delux. The range of craft microbreweries is no more than 100 km. It is a quality product that could be altered if exposed to inadequate temperatures. The production is limited and sells-out more easily. It is an exclusive product (emphasis in the original) and clients are aware that if they don't buy it at that moment, they might not be able to buy it until a year later.

Bugger me! And all this time I thought it was because of the economies of scale, the margins set by distributors, retailers, restaurants and bars, and the acceptance of a certain part of the market. What a fool I've been!

No, really, mate. You must be joking!

I could go on with the thing about the indigenous raw materials, the innovation, and other gems that can be found in this box of bollocks, but I believe the quoted paragraph says more than enough.

It is hard to believe that in this day and age there are still people who take us for such idiots.

Na Zdraví!

PS: Personal preferences aside, I don't subscribe to the argument that good beer must be an everyman's drink, nor that it must a drink for the privileged. It can be both, and every company is free to target any kind of consumer they want, but they should do it without insulting our intelligence.

13 Nov 2014

I'll be fair with B:CRYO

The comment I posted this morning on my FB page about B:CRYO, the new product of Budějovický Budvar came out a bit negative, and perhaps not very fair.

B:CRYO is, basically, an Eisbock. According to the video you can see in the above linked website, it was created by an accident (where have I heard that one before?) that resulted in one of Budvar's regular beers being cryoconcentrated (I like that much better than “cold-distilled”, it's a lot more accurate) to 21% ABV (which makes it hard alcohol, legally speaking)

The product, which took two years to develop, will be of very limited availability—only at a few selected pubs—and is served in a rather strange fashion (you have to look at the video to understand it, and yes, that bottle is plastic).

As a consumer, this is not the kind of thing I can find interesting. Firstly because of the price—Pivní.info mentions 300-400CZK for 0.3l, which is a lot more than I'm willing to pay for, basically, a glass of booze at the moment, octanes notwithstanding. Secondly because of its limited availability—I don't want to go to a specific pub just for a novelty product. And thirdly, because they way it's served is way too gimmicky for my taste (I wonder how much of the price goes into that “ritual”), and I don't like attracting that sort of attention at a pub.

As a keen observer of the local beer market, on the other hand, B:CRYO is pretty interesting. It's the first beer of its kind in this country, and it's not the product of one of the progressive micro-breweries that have appeared in recent years, but it comes from one of the biggest, and perhaps most conservative, breweries in the country, that also happens to be state owned.

Whether this Eisbock turns out to be a good thing or not, I leave others to decide. I can't evaluate it one way or another until I've drunk it, and chances are that I won't. But if you happen to come across it, with a few hundred Crowns to spare, let me know it went.

Na Zdraví!

8 Nov 2014

It's just good business

In the years since Evan Rail's The Good Beer Guide—Prague & The Czech Republic was published, the number of microbreweries in this country has grown almost fivefold (Prague alone has 23 right now, from 6 in 2007, and there is at least one more planned).

Regardless of what some people believe, or expect us to believe, this has nothing to do with a revolution, let alone a movement, but with money. I said the other day
We have a microbrewing boom in the Czech Republic not because in the last few years almost 200 romantic, beer enthusiasts decided to realise their life-long dreams, but mostly because business people see microbreweries as a sensible investment—provided you have the space, having your own brewery up and running it's not too expensive...
And I have the figures to prove it. I've spoken to some people who know that part of the industry really well, and what they told me it's quite interesting.

Not counting any construction works that you may have to do to accommodate all the equipment, you can have a brewery with a 5hl brewhouse for less than 3 million CZK, or a bit over 4 million, if you want to have a 10hl kit—in both cases, more than enough for a brewpub with decent capacity.

Once the thing is ready to go, and all the paperwork and permits have been sorted out, you can make a Světlý Ležák for as little as 14-15 CZK/l (about the same as the wholesale price for a pint of keg Gambáč), including, energy and labour costs, and taxes. A Světlý Ležák that not only you can sell it for 30-35CZK/0.5l without anyone complaining, but it'll probably also help you to bring people through the door. No wonder then that everyone an their aunt want to have a go at this business; and I doubt it'll stop any time soon. I believe the market has as much room as there are towns and neighbourhoods that can support at least one big enough pub or restaurant.

Unfortunately, as it usually happens when an industry attracts everyone and their aunt, the average quality ends up suffering, and microbreweries are no exception.

On paper, however, it shouldn't be like that. It is true that there is a massive shortage of skilled brewers in this country, a situation that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. (On a side note, Brewing is a regulated trade in the Czech Republic, for companies, this means that they must employ a certified brewer, if only to put their signature in the brewing logs—the law doesn't require them to actually do the work, but only to be the person responsible for the production). But the equipment available today can be highly automated. It works not too differently than those automatic bread making machines: put the ingredients in the right quantities, choose the appropriate program and the computer will take care of most of the work. Just like with the bread, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to make decent, or even very good, beer with that. But beer is no bread.

According to what people have told me, there are two things that happen that often result in dodgy beers: the owners start pissing about with the machine; they believe that after a few successful batches, they can put together their own recipes, without too much of a clue about what they're doing. That's not that serious an issue, anyone should be wary of new breweries with too many different beers. The other thing, however, is far worse, and you won't notice it until it's too late; it's also related to the lack of skilled brewers on the market. Some owners tend to disregard things that are a matter of course for someone with a minimum of professional training, the TL;DR of it would be “the brewing process doesn't finish at the brewhouse”. Add to this the corner cutting and a the general notgivingafuckness not uncommon in people who expect to make a quick buck out of a hot fad and it's no wonder you get poorly made, or even stale, beer at some brewpubs.

Which is the reason why I've stopped getting excited about new breweries just because they are new, and I'm not alone. My philosophy now is to by and large ignore them until I get some sort of good references. It's prejudiced, I know, but there's nothing wrong with being a prejudiced consumer. My time and money are limited and I rather spend it on beers that will make both worth it. Fortunately for me, there isn't a shortage of them around here.

Na Zdraví!

PS: If anyone can provide different, perhaps more accurate figures, they'll be welcome

19 Oct 2014

It was all a well crafted lie

By now you must've heard about the shitstorm raised by Dan Paquette. If you haven't yet, go here, here or here to get a good picture.

Of all the people who've so far commented on the issue (or at least, of the ones I follow), I think it is Zak Avery the one who's seen it most clearly when speaks about the “sexy” and the “dull” bits of the beer business, and how the latter has been largely ignored.

All this often unconditional praise for a branch of the brewing industry, which in some cases reaches almost religious fervour, seems to have many people believe that setting up their own micro-breweries is only a few bits short of guaranteed success. It is not much more than a matter of slapping those two words on the label, having the right attitude, speaking—perhaps preaching—about your passion, and your awesome masterpieces will sell by themselves. Everybody loves craft beer, right? It's so huge that the evil, monolithic, multinational macro breweries are afraid of it. Why would they come out with their “crafty” beers, otherwise?

Marketing? Pfff! Who needs marketing when you're part of a Movement! Marketing is the bullshit the industrial breweries use to sell their swill. Craft beer is not commercial, it doesn't need any of that. If you make friends with some of the influential bloggers and writers, and other Craft Beer Evangelists, who will love you from day one, they will tell the world how awesome your masterpieces are, and then the orders will pour down. Aren't beer bars and stores also part of the movement, after all? It's where the revolution is taking place!

Consistency? Pfff! Consistency is sooo overrated! Creativity! That's the thing everyone wants, no matter the price. Be creative, and passionate (don't forget your passion, never forget your passion) and people will buy tickets to buy your beer. Spread the gospel of your awesome, creative masterpieces, everyone will love it, mate! You'll be like a rock star! Those who criticise you? Don't listen to them, they are only penny-pinchers who want to hurt the Movement...

You've been fed so much bullshit! And by us, the bloggers, the writers, the magazine editors. We've all bought that and then sold it to you at some point or another, and some still do.

That thing about the movement, the revolution? Bollocks, all of it. They're marketing buzzwords at best. What you are part of is an industry, a market, with the same rules as every industry and market. And this industry and market, just like any other, can be unfair, very unfair.

It doesn't matter how great your beers (or rather, how great you think they) are, you'll still have to go out and sell them. Bloggers, writers, magazines and reviews will help you only to some extent. You will still need to get the attention of bar and shop owners. It is incredible how many brewers don't understand that it is not me whom they have to convince to buy their beer, but the owners of the pubs and shops where I go (I might love you beer, but if I can't find it at my favourite pub or shop, I will buy another beer that I love)

And you know what? The owners of pubs and shops don't care how good your beer is. Well, they do, but not nearly as much as how good it can be for their business. They might wish you well, they might love your stuff as drinkers, but few will not hesitate to drop it to make room for some other thing they believe it'll be better for their bottom lines.

I know, I know, that sucks. And some of those pub and shop owners will even expect you to send them a keg or a case or two for free. You hate that, don't you? Them cunts! It's awful... But wait a second! Didn't you send a case to a blogger the other day (or was it a magazine editor?) or had a couple of them over at the brewery? How many cases or kegs did you sell after they posted their glowing reviews?

Once again, I apologise if we've made you believe it was easy, even if you were a fool for believing it in the first place. It's not. It may've been a few years ago, when we were happy to get at least some diversity, but we've got plenty of diversity now, and not enough money to buy it all.

Now, stop whining and go and sell your beer already. Accept reality as it is, because you I doubt you'll be able to change it.

Na Zdraví!

PS: About the bribe thing. It is another aspect of business reality, and a very ugly one that will not be eradicated, however good the justice system may or may not work, as the lines are often blurred—where does a legitimate business incentive end and a bribe start? All you can do is ask yourself how wise it is to do business with someone who asks you for baksheesh.

17 Oct 2014

Coming soon: Česká Pivní Válka

Below is the the trailer of an upcoming documentary co-produced by Evolution Films, Česká Televize, and FAMU called Česká pivní válka (Czech Beer Wars).

It follows three people: Pepa Krýsl, a very well figure of the Czech beer world, a Brew Masater and someone who makes a living out of, basically, selling breweries; Martin Jarošek, a composer so angry at Plzeňský Prazdroj that he goes all the way to South Africa to, well I don't know what for, really; and Ladislav Bureš a home-brewer (or should I say a farmhouse brewer?) from Moravia.

I'm fully aware that criticising a film it's an pointless intellectual endeavour, and an unfair one at that. But the internet has been built on unfairness and pointless intellectual endeavour (and porn), so here you go.

From the trailer and the film's blurb (in CZ), I get the impression that there's something loudly absent in this story, the regional breweries.

We have a microbrewing boom in the Czech Republic not because in the last few years almost 200 romantic beer enthusiasts decided to realise their life-long dreams, but mostly because business people see microbreweries as a sensible investment—provided you have the space, having your own brewery up and running it's not too expensive, and if it's well managed, you can expect to get the money back in five years. In other words, it's the love of money, rather than the love of beer, what has fuelled the phenomenon. Nothing wrong with that, as a consumer, I judge breweries mainly by the quality of their products, not by the intentions and ideals of the owners. That aside, and with such good chances of success, you can't really talk about a war, let alone a revolution. A renaissance maybe, but I'm that sure of that anymore.

The regional breweries, on the other hand, they didn't have it so easy. After a world war, four decades of deliberate Communist neglect, sudden market de-regulation and the depredatory style of Capitalism of the 1990s, it is surprising that so many are still around today, especially considering how many didn't make it.

Whatever one might think of the companies, owners or products (not everyone is a saint, nor all are good), the fact is that without Bernard, Svijany, Ferdinand and the other 30+ regional breweries, the Czech beer landscape would be similar to that of most countries I can think of—with very little, if anything, in between the macro and the micro—not a good picture, in my opinion. Actually, I wonder how many Kulový Blesk-like pubs, Matuška-like breweries, pivotéky and imported beers would there be today if regional breweries hadn't managed to so successfully crawl out of oblivion last decade (now, that's what I call a renaissance!).

Anyway, perhaps I'm being unfair and, regionals or not, the film may end up being good. I guess I will have to watch to find out.

Na Zdraví!

Česká pivní válka premières on Oct. 30

11 Oct 2014

On beer and the flies that love it

This article on fruit flies and beer is really worth a read—in a nutshell, according to the research referred to in the article, the reason why those little flying bastards are so attracted to your pint is symbiosis; and it's a relationship that goes way, way back— and arrives right when Ron Pattinson has been posting a very interesting series on the history of Lambic.

It's a shame, however, that the author, Annie Sneed, isn't someone more knowledgeable about beer, or at least, with a broader view on the topic. If she was, I doubt that after speaking about a research carried out by the University of Leuven and the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology in Belgium, she would've said that ”there’s a new trend among beer-makers called ‘wild fermentation’”. And she might have also been prompted to the ask those questions that are screaming to be asked, especially after learning that:
Because yeast can’t move around on their own, (…) they probably developed this strategy as a way to escape nutrient-poor environments and migrate to nutrient-rich places that fruit flies frequent, like ripe fruit or rotting trash.
The questions, then, are: Does this mean that take part in the the spontaneous fermentation are not in the air after all? Do fruit flies play a role in the production of Lambic, or have they in the past? Could it be that we owe the very existence of beer to them?

Maybe someone can answer them, maybe not. Either way, this shows how much is there left to know about our favourite booze.

Na Zdraví!

PS: It is by no means my intention to criticise Ms Sneed, nor the magazine, as she's isn't posing as an expert on the topic, and, besides, because it does open the door to someone who is an expert to dig a big deeper.

10 Oct 2014

Kostelec, Kounice, Community, Tradition

The gentleman in the picture is Kárel Klusáček, owner of the Maltings and Microbrewery in Kounice. Far from an absentee owner, he looks after pretty much every aspect of the running of the company, and he's 83 years old.
I had the pleasure, and honour to meet him last Wednesday during a trip I had put together for a good friend of mine and two of his mates.

The trip started with lunch at Černokostelecký Pivovar, or rather, at Háje, where we took the 10AM bus there.

A few days before, I had talked to Milan Starec, a.k.a. Květák, to let him know we were going, and to ask him if they could help me with the visit to Kounice. It was no problem, he said, they could arrange everything, even a taxi, or something like that, to that town.

I called him when we arrived. He said that Vodoch, the owner, would meet me at the pub after lunch, and he would take care of everything.

Food was good, very good. Beers were even better, a 10° from Frýdlant and Černá Svině, the 13º black lager, brewed right there, by Minipivovar Šnajdr. Vodouch came over when we were half way down a pint of that beer, and his first question was how we liked it. Gorgeous, it was. Better than any other time I'd had it. An extraordinarily good batch of an already very good beer that they hope will become the norm, as Vodouch said. And we were lucky, it was the last keg.

Once the glasses were emptied, Vodouch showed us the whole place, letting us poke around, answering every question; a VIP tour, one could say. If everything goes as planned, the brewery they've been painstakingly restoring for more than a decade should come back to life at the beginning of next year. What these people are doing there is nothing short of remarkable—a story that I've promised myself to tell one day, soon.

After the tour, Vodouch told us the wait for him by a white van—he was going to drive us to Kounice, there were some empty kegs to take back there, after all. In the courtyard we met Hanz, Zlý Hanz. He was returning some stuff he had borrowed for a (very successful) presentation he and Kulový Líbor had the day before for their import business. (For those who still don't get it, this is what a real beer community looks like, people helping each other, expecting no more than a thank-you, or perhaps a pint, in return).

We got to Kounice in no time, it's only 13km away. On the way Vodouch talked some of the stuff they're working on. He also told me that he wants no more than 10 different beers for next year's Vysmolení and Vykulení; he believes there's not much of a point in having more, and I agree.

Mr Klusáček wasn't there when we arrived in Kounice, but he was on his way. To Kounická Hospůdka it is then. We didn't feel like standing outside in what turned out to be a beautiful autumn day.
Quite a nice place that village pub is, in an unpretentious, village way. The first round was the house's Světlý Ležák. Excellent, if a tad to gassy, it was like any proper Světlý Ležák should be, but with something else, something that no tasting note can fully describe. it was followed by Mouřenín, the Tmavý Ležák, though not as good as Černá Svině, was still a very fine tipple.

Mr Klusáček was already waiting for us at the gate of the maltings when we left the pub a few minutes later. He greeted each of us with a big smile and a firm handshake. He was glad, eager, to show us around.

The family business begun in 1860 when Mr Klusáček's grandfather, who came from a family with already a couple of generations in brewing, bought the brewery and maltings from the Liechtensteins. In 1900, he shut down the brewery—the building is still standing, on the left of the gate—when it was clear that it could compete with the modern lager breweries of the nearby bigger towns—Nymburk, Český Brod, Kostelec—and decided to focus instead on producing malts. After getting to absolute power in the late 1940s, the Communist regime evicted his son—Mr Klusáček's father—when it nationalised the company.
Mr Klusáček wouldn't see the inside of the facilities until they were restituted to him in the early 1990s. Recently retired, he did what any other sensible person in his position would do, take the wheel firmly and carry on the family tradition (proper tradition, in flesh and blood), right where his father had been forced to leave it. He had a bit of luck, too, the Commies had continued to produce high grade floor malts during the 40 years of their regime.

All this we were told, as well as how they make their floor malts, how the same cultivar of barley can have different properties when grown in fields 30km apart, and much more, as Mr Klusáček guided us around the malting facilities and then the brewery; never stopping to catch his breath, never excusing himself for slowing us down, because he wasn't. His only “complaint” was a comment he made when going down a steep flight of ancient wooden stairs: he had to be careful because he'd recently had spine surgery. Let that sink in for a moment.
At the brewhouse—a 5hl do—besides beer and brewing, he talked about the e-shop for brewing supplies—his malts and Weyermann's, hops, Czech and imported, and yeasts—bought by microbreweries from all over the country, the export business, his story with an Texan brewer, among other things. And in the cramped space of the fermenters and tanks, he confessed that the beer isn't brewed by him, but a Brew Master he's hired, but that he's learning.

We tasted all the beers of course, straight from their tanks. The IPA, the Ginger Beer, both excellent, and the Světlý Ležák, mind bendingly good, surprisingly better than a few metres away at the pub.

When the visit finished, and we said good-by to Mr Klusáček, we still had about half an hour to kill before we had to take the bus to Český Brod, where we would catch the train back to Prague. Back to the pub, it is. The stop was only a few metres away. While we drunk our pint—this time the IPA, one of the best I've had in this country—the conversation wasn't about the beer, but about this incredible 83 year old man. A person who loves, and is proud in what he does, with more life in him than most people half his age I know, myself included, many days.

I promised myself I will go back soon to Kounice, and sit down with Mr Klusáček to listen to his story in every detail. Like Vodouch's, or Sister Doris's and Sonja's, his is a story that deserves to be told at length.

Na Zdraví!

9 Oct 2014

Local vs Good vs Outstanding

A couple of days ago, Stan whether Quality trumps Local.

To me, the answer is very easy, a big YES. I've said it many times, I believe it is important that we support local businesses, but, as I've put in my comment there: as far as I’m concerned, everything is subordinated to quality, or rather, my perception thereof; and that includes local. If a local brewery doesn’t make a beer I will want to drink, I will not buy it, I will not support that business. Why should I? Fortunately, that’s not the case where I live, and I’m happy to support my “local” brewery, which makes great beer, with business and more.

But the thing that caught my attention the most in that post is a quote from an article by one Greg Engert, that says:
Now, the desire to drink local brews has reached a fever pitch, often blinding publicans and craft beer drinkers alike from what should ultimately guide our choices: Is the beer of the highest quality? Is it bereft of off-flavors? Is it delicious? In short, is it superlative and memorable?
Editing the second part of my comment a little, I think that Engert’s search for the outstanding and the memorable is foolish, to say the least. It’s putting yourself in a position where you will likely be disappointed. Does any sensible person really want to live like that? ¿Isn't good, good enough? ¿Since when? We should embrace the good, praise the good. The outstanding should remain that, something out of the ordinary, something that surprises us, and for it all the more valuable. When everything is outstanding, nothing is.

Na Zdraví!

PS: On the other hand, the fact that someone can consider a beer bereft of off-flavours as outstanding and memorable speaks pretty much by itself.

30 Sep 2014

The Answer

You are at a pub (or a beer bar, or whatever, you know what I mean). You're not alone, you're with a bunch of people. You aren't there for a tasting or any other beer-focused thing, you're there simply to hang out with those people, and that place was chosen because everybody liked it enough, or whatever.

You order a beer, it's not the first of the day, maybe not even the first of that session; and it's a beer you've drunk already several times, though you don't drink it too often. There's nothing in that beer that makes you look forward to it any more than you look forward to any other good beer you know. You ordered it for the sole reason that at that where and when you fancied drinking something like that.

You get the beer, you thank the person that brought it to you with a nod, and you carry on with the conversation your were having, or listening to the story one of your friends was telling, whatever. The glass of beer you've just got is just another thing in the whole.

When the time has come—maybe you finished saying what you had to say, or or chewing what you were chewing, or you don't want the head to fall—you take the first sip, or rather a proper swig of that beer.

And that's when it happens. Maybe it's only a split of a second, maybe longer. But it happens. When that swig fills your mouth, the whole world comes to a stop, and your senses become part of a vortex. You feel like you are starring in a cliché of a TV advert, and you don't mind it one bit.

You exhale, put the glass down, looking at the beer, and seamlessly go back to reality, knowing you've just found the answer to the question of what makes a beer great.

Na Zdraví!

29 Sep 2014

Musings on the bus back home

Last weekend I was hired for the daunting task of taking a group of 22 Swedes out for beer. Nice gig, can't complain.

We went first to Pivovar U Tří Řůží, where I had arranged a tasting of all the six beers they had on tap that day. It worked out pretty well. I introduced each of the beers (which were all really, really good), answered the questions some of the people in the group asked about them, and about brewing in general, while the rest mostly talked about what they were tasting. Everyone was satisfied.

With the tasting behind us, we took the tram to Klášterní Pivovar Strahov, where we were to have dinner. We had two, long tables with benches (I love long tables with benches, they should be mandatory at every pub) in a room we would have to share with two other groups, bigger than ours—one of people in their fifties, the other, of students.

Fortunately, we were the first to arrive, and we could order the food and the first round before the other two groups showed up. (though it should be mentioned that the staff was great, even when they were serving more than 100 people). Unlike at the tasting, here the questions about the beers were few; the Swedes seemed to be more than satisfied with getting mugs full of the excellent stuff they make in Strahov. Everyone was in a good mood.

After the other two groups had arrived, an oompah music duo started playing. I dislike dechovka as much as the next non-retired urbanite, but I must admit that in a crowded beer hall that sort of music makes more sense than anything other. Soon everyone was swinging their mugs, banging the tables or clapping to the rhythm of the music. When the duo was not playing, each of the groups would sing their own songs, really loud, to the appreciation of the other two, and also of the staff. One of the Swedes even got the whole place to do a Mexican wave. Everyone laughed and sang, and had a riotous great time, with the exception perhaps of a couple of the kids in the youngest of the three groups, who felt too cool to be having so much fun. It was a terrificly fantastic evening, and I got paid for that!

For some reason, on the bus back home, that all got me thinking about the bit of a shitstorm Shock Top raised when their latest marketing campaign dared to suggest that craft beer is pretentious. Man! Didn't some people get their knickers on a twist!

It's all quite silly, of course. A beverage can't be pretentious. Would a bottle of, say, Heady Trooper or Dark Lord start making faces at me if I fancied mixing the beer with Fanta, or if I necked it while watching Dr. Who and eating frozen pizza? Some people would, certainly, and would likely try to convince me that I'm doing something wrong.

So, it's not the beer, but some of the people surrounding beer that often make things look so, with their serious faces, esoteric language, guided tastings, food pairings, elaborated tasting notes, right glasses and proper serving temperatures.

I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with any that, quite the contrary. Firstly, because in its worst manifestation, it's nothing but marketing dressed as a cultural thing. Secondly, because, marketing or not, there are people who truly enjoy all that. At the same time, we must not forget that there are many other people (more?) that see only pretentious, snobbish bollocks in all that premeditation and seriousness, and all the things one needs to get right to “properly” enjoy a beer; and if not that, they see it as something that sucks the fun out of their favourite tipple, and you can't blame them, just like you can't be surprised if a company uses it in their marketing.

But back to my story. As well as the tasting at Pivovar U Tří Řůží went, I don't think I need to tell you where it was that we had the most fun.

Na Zdraví!

PS: Thanks Aaron and Taste Local Beer for the gig!

24 Sep 2014

A Casual Lunch

The other day, some business that I had to take care of took me to Braník, more precisely, near the place where Zemský Pivovar will have their brewery (and a fuckton of work ahead of them). I think it was the first time ever I was around that neighbourhood, and once I finished with what I had to do, and with time in my hands, I decided I'd do what I always do in such situations, wander about.

It was a very fine day for walking, even walking uphill, and that part of Braník turned out to be a pretty nice and very quiet residential neighbourhood, though one lacking in pubs (I only walked past one that didn't look too inviting).

Feeling increasingly thirsty, I followed my feet downhill to end up in Podolí, in front of a place called Pivovarská Restaurace Dvorce (my feet are the best guides I need). The name sounded familiar, and after standing there for a full minute, I remembered I had seen it mentioned a couple of times in Pivni.info. The pub taps beers from both of Richter's breweries—U Bulovky and Jihoměstský—with prices ranging from 30 to 39CZK/0.5l.

It was late lunch time, the tables outside were all taken. Inside it'd be then. The best way to describe the interiors is “forgettable”, as if all the owners could be bothered with was to put the furniture and whatever else was needed to get the place working. The service, on the other hand, was really friendly and, more importantly, efficient. The food was also good. I had roasted boar with cabbage and knedlíky, great value at 75CZK.

As mentioned above, all the six beers on tap are brewed by Richter. When I arrived I was very thirsty and almost by reflex I ordered the 11º, only to realise that it was Jihoměstská; after my last experience with it, right before getting awfully wet, I wasn't sure I wanted to drink that again, but it was too late, the waitress was tapping it already. Wasn't it a surprise? It was in great form, if a bit too gassy, tasted almost like a very good Vienna Lager, likely the best pint of this beer I've ever had.

I felt adventurous after finishing my meal. I went for the Pale Ale, a bargain a 39CZK a pop. It was beauty, really. None of the loud, hoppy thing kids like drinking this days, more classic English than modern American. Tasty, clean and wonderfully well made. I would've stayed for another one if it hadn't been for the soundtrack. Awful.

Dear restaurant owners and managers,

It is good that you allow your staff to listen to music while working, even if they want to listen to the sort of computer generated crap some executive believes should be the hits of the summer. But does it have to be the fucking radio, and in particular, a Czech pop radio?

I can understand people liking that sort of music, even if I find it absolutely hideous, but nobody in their right mind can enjoy the ads, nobody in their right mind can take any pleasure whatsoever from having people screaming at you every ten minutes, urging you to buy shit you don't need.

Is it so hard to get that old laptop you sure have plugged to some speakers and play something from there?

Please, think about that, everybody will be grateful.

Apart from that, the place is highly recommended.

Na Zdraví!

Pivovarská Restaurace Dvorce
N 50°2.80080', E 14°24.96283'
Jeremenkova 7 – Prague-Podolí
+420 728 532 020 – restaurace@dvorce.cz
Mon-Fri: 11-23, Sat-Sun: 12-23
Tram: 3, 17. Bus: 118, 124 (Dvorce)

22 Sep 2014

A recipe to celebrate the arrival of Autumn

A couple of weeks ago, as we drove to the Farmers' Market in Dejvice, I asked my daughter what she wanted for dinner. Duck, she said (ain't that the best daughter in the world?). For some reason I've now forgotten, roasting a whole bird was out of the question that day. Fortunately, one of the stands was selling duck breasts that day and I bought three. While I sipped a beer at the market, after finishing with the shopping, I though about how I would cook them.

This is what I came up with. You'll need:
  • Duck breasts (obviously), deboned
  • 250-300ml of good Pale Lager (any pale would work, I think, even an IPA!)
  • 2-3 (depending on thickness) Tbsp red currant jam, or whateverberry jam
  • 1 medium sized carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium sized onion, coarsely chopped
  • Sage, savoury, marjoram
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • salt, pepper
Put a deep pan to heat until it reaches a temperature of are-you-mad-you-want-to-burn-down-the-house degrees, and put the already seasoned breasts skin-side down. Let them fry until the skin turns brown and turn them over. You won't need to add any oil, the lovely, lovely lard under the duck's skin will take care of things just fine. Fry the breasts for two minutes or so and take them out. Lower the heat a bit and add the veggies, then the herbs. Stir everything until the onion starts getting some colour. Add the beer, let it simmer down and add the jam one spoon at a time, always mixing so the bugger won't stick to the bottom of the pan. Stir well, let it bubble away for a couple of minutes and put the breasts back in the pan, this time with the skin side up. Cover and poach gently for 40-45 min. If you feel the sauce is still too thin at the end, you can thicken it letting it reduce for a couple of minutes at full blast—be sure to keep the breasts warm while doing that. That's it. Lovely, I promise.

Na Zdraví! a Dobrou Chuť!

PS: Sorry for the lack of pictures. I made a couple, but they turned out crap. Too hungry to bother with things like illumination and focus.

16 Sep 2014

This is perhaps my last word in "Craft Beer"

A couple of weeks ago Alan and I got an e-mail from Stan saying that, in a moment of weakness, he'd agreed to write a piece about the phrase "craft beer" asking us if we believed that the phrase, or the concept created an "us vs them" mentaility.

The following is what I wrote back to Stan a couple of days later (with some minor editing), which are, I believe, my final thoughts on this whole craft beer bollocks:

First of all, I don't see “craft beer” as a concept, but as a brand, one that's basically in the public domain. As any other brand, it has a series of—more or less fanciful—positive attributes associated to it, which have made it a very successful and valuable brand, with a pretty loyal consumer base—people who, in many cases, don't drink Russian River, Stone or New Belgium, they drink Craft Beer. So far, so good. I've got nothing against that, quite the contrary. If using those two words can help a good brewer sell a few more hl, then it can't be bad.

Unfortunately, some people in the industry have used those attributes as some sort of foundation to build an “us vs them” rhetoric that, instead of sticking to “we are good and our products are great”, will point, disproportionately, to “they (the big brewers) are bad and their products are crap”, creating in the process the mythology of a revolution, a movement that expects everyone to believe that a nano-brewery in North Carolina, Sierra Nevada, a brewpub in Wyoming, a neighbourhood bar, a liquor store, and the consumers are all in the same thing together, and that the consumer is in the front-line of “the war against crap beer”. And they've been successful in that, too, not only thanks to the people on the other side of the counter selling that tale, but also thanks to not few writers and bloggers—buying is not quite enough, you must evangelise the masses, spread the gospel of craft beer.

That was working fine until the big, industrial, commercial brewers (as if craft brewers were not commercial) decided they also wanted to play the “quality game”, either with their own brands, or buying well established craft brewers. And they've done it really well, so well that some lines have become blurred to the point that the “big beer = bad beer” equation started to crumble, resulting in the “craft vs crafty” nonsense a couple of years back, where the BA was basically telling us that how good, interesting, well made, flavourful a beer may be doesn't matter as much as who makes it. They still urge us to take sides—theirs, of course—but now business has taken precedence over quality. You wouldn't expect less from a trade association, but it's the disingenuous way they've done it what has bothered many people, myself included.

And there's another thing. I can't avoid getting the impression that to, some extent, the craft vs crafty stunt was meant to divert the attention of the fact that for that nano-brewery in North Carolina, Sierra Nevada represents a much bigger threat than Blue Moon or Shock Top.

I don't know how much longer they'll be able to keep this charade going. There are signs that the edifice is slowly starting to fall apart—Lagunitas's bitching against Sam Adams Rebel IPA (funny coming from a Californian company that opened a factory in the Midwest), the Gypsy vs Brick and Mortar Brewers (another us vs them thing there), among others.

But I believe that we—meaning those who don't make a living out of selling beer—are making to much ado about nothing. Most people can't bothered with taking sides, least of all when it comes to something of such little importance to them; and, whether we like it or not, neither do they care too much about who makes their beer. One day they might go to the taproom of their local micro, the next to Wal-Mart to buy Sam Adams, and at the weekend they will happily drink Corona with a lime wedge at a party or Bud Light while watching the game with friends, without seeing any moral conflict in that. And rightly so. We've been painted a black and white picture, but the reality is full of shades of grey.

Na Zdraví!

15 Sep 2014

A short comment on Vykulení

What can I say that I didn't already say in May? Because as I did say last week, Vykulení is basically the same as Vysomlení, but bigger, which means that it is a bloody great beer event, even if not as minimalist. The beers were really, really good—at least the ones that I bothered paying attention to. I know some people weren't big fans of the Smoked Porter, I loved it, and kudos to Jarín for sticking to his guns and making the beer he wants to make, the way he wants to make it, and doing it well, which is more than you can say about too many new breweries these days. Not in the case of last Saturday at Černokostelecký Pivovar, fortunately. Once again, the beers were really, really good—at least the ones that I bothered paying attention to, but even among those that I didn't pay attention to, I didn't find anything I disliked. Not that I drunk everything, mind you. The single malt beers, those were good. Nice, simple exercise. Three of them, one with Pilsner malts from Kounice, and the other two with Munich I and II from Bamberg. My favourite were the first and third one, simply because they tasted better than the other. But all of the beers I drank were good, even those I paid hardly any attention to—who really wants to devote too much attention to beer when there were other, more interesting things to pay attention to. The atmosphere was great, but then, Černokostelecký Pivovar does have a very special atmosphere. Add to that a bunch of friends and known faces with interesting conversation, and you tend to forget about the beer your drinking, which is good because, come on! It's just beer, but very well curated beer. Why can't all festivals be like that? I don't know, I don't care. When you start drinking at 10 AM and stay up until 2 AM having more fun than anyone would sensibly expect to have—which you pay with the appropriate hangover the day after—that is a question that I can't be arsed with finding an answer to. The fact is that the people at Černokostelecký Pivovar know how to put a beer event together better than anyone I know.

So what can I say that I didn't say in May? I don't know. It was great, and that should be more than enough. No, it's not enough! Even though I said it in May, I will say it again. Thanks Vodouch, Milan and Jarín (for letting my crash at the brewery, what a beautiful thing that is) and to everyone there for such a fantastic day, and congratulations and respect for the great job you are doing.

Na Zdraví!

PS: I don't know how much I drunk, but it was a lot, both of the stuff I bought and the beer from a separate tap reserved for the friends of the house (Únětický Posvícenský Ležák

10 Sep 2014

See you this Saturday at Vykulení

I'm really looking forward to this Saturday! I'll be going to Vykulení at Černokostelecký Pivovar.
Vykulení is quite similar to Vysmolení, but bigger, with more beers and breweries, including some imported ones (you can see the whole list here) and with a focus on floor malts. Like at the sibling festival in May, there will be beers drawn from the wood in different ways, but also a few single malt beers brewed by the in-house Černokostelecký minipivovar Šnajdr.

It all looks quite interesting, but, more importantly, I'm sure it'll be a lot of fun!

See you there.

Na Zdraví!

PS: As in the previous occasions, I've been invited to spend the night in Kostelec. What a beauty it is to not have to worry about getting back home after a whole day on the piss!

1 Sep 2014

The Straw Challenge

I don't quite subscribe to the theory (for lack of a better word) of the “right glass” for this or that style of beer. Firstly because sensory experiences can not be objectively evaluated or quantified (EDIT: outside of a controlled environment), and secondly because there are many other factors that contribute to the experience of drinking beer that the theory hardly ever takes into account. But I don't want to argue about it. I believe we will all agree that beer is best enjoyed when drunk from a glass (well, I prefer an earthenware mug, but let's not argue about that, either).

However, if you still have friends among the normal people—you know, people who don't give more than a fuck and a half about beer because, it's just beer—sooner or later you will face a situation where glasses (let alone the “right one”) won't be available. At best, there will be some plastic cups, but quite often not even that; and your only alternative will be to drink from the bottle or can, which is something very, very bad to do. It's a disrespect to beer, in particular to the beer your surely brought, because you'd rather not drink the industrial crap your friends drink, and because there's not better place to spread the gospel of craft beer than a barbecue.

Of course, you could bring your own glass, but do you really want to be that person? And if you do, are you really willing to get up, go to the kitchen and wash the glass every time you finish drinking a beer? (Because if you are obsessed enough to bring your own glass, then that's the least I would expect).

There has to be an alternative. One that will spare you the opprobrium of drinking from a bottle, but won't get too much in the way of enjoying the party.

What about straws? They are inexpensive; you can buy a pack at pretty much every supermarket, they're easy to carry, you can leave them on a table inconspicuously and then make fun of drinking beer with a straw. At worst, people have you for an eccentric, which is a lot better than “weirdo who brings his own snifter to a party”.

When I was a kid in Argentina I remember people saying that drinking beer with a straw or with a spoon will get you shitfaced like no other thing (I can see why some people would think a straw is a good idea, but a spoon? Who the fuck has ever drunk beer with a spoon?). In retrospective, it must have been some sort of urban legend, not unlike that about the lethal combination of watermelon and wine, but I never thought of drinking beer with a straw and I don't know anyone who did. Nor did I ever read something about it. So, instead of googling it, I thought that taking the matter empirically would be a lot more fun.

I chose two beers—Hubertus Světlý Ležák, from Kácov, because it'll be the most likely type of beer you'll find at a party, and Staffordshire IPA, brewed by Marston's for Marks and Spencer, because, just because.

At first I thought of doing a blind tasting, but I quickly realised that I was an idiot, so I did my best to leave behind all prejudice, and evaluated the above mentioned alternatives—glass, plastic, bottle, straw—with an open mind. I also drunk a full bottle in each case as, outside competitions (and who cares about competitions?), there's no point in evaluating beers like those two (or any other for that matter) in a smaller measure (and because, if I'm going to do something silly, let's get at least mildly pissed as a result).

(And no, I didn't drink all eight bottles in one go, it was in two separate days)

Hubertus presented notes that suggest a walk at dusk, in late summer, on a freshly mowed lawn while eating a baguette freshly baked by a jolly fat Frenchman. The IPA, on the other hand, was biscuity—shortbread perhaps? Not the real stuff from Scotland mind you, but a cheaper imitation you can buy at Lidl—and a bowl of.... Bloody hell! They tasted like a pretty good pale lager and a decent IPA should taste like.

(To be honest, I had planned to write silly tasting notes like the ones above, but the experience turned out to be more interesting than I had expected. The glass was the control sample.)

Plastic cup:
In both cases, there was a lot more head than in the glass, and it had a different consistency—like the dollop of froth you get on a latte, or something like that—and it also stayed longer. Must be the material. They also tasted more bitter, as if the hops had taken a step forward.

This must be the first time that I drink a beer straight from the bottle paying attention to it. Hubertus was awfully carbonated, to the point that the bubbles would wreck most of the structure of the beer. Things improved as the bottle emptied, with the beer also getting more bitter. The IPA, on the other hand, fared much better. It was still gassier than from glass or plastic, but not as much as the lager. Maybe it was the design of the bottle—with a shorter, stubbier neck—or it could be that the beer was less carbonated to begin with. Either way, I kind of enjoyed it, and it also kept a more uniform profile.

I wasn't expecting much, to be honest, but it was even worse than that, at least with the Lager. It was like drinking beer while suffering from a strong cold or a pollen allergy. The dullness wasn't so bad with the IPA. The bitterness was still there, but almost like listening to music through a thin wall, and the malts were almost absent. It tasted a bit like a weak hop tea with a pinch of something sweet. It wasn't unpleasant, but not something I need to do again, either.

What do I get from all this? Both beers tasted best from a glass, but not by that much, really. I can see other people liking them from a plastic cup better. After all, it's all a matter of taste, so probably you should try it yourselves and make up your own minds.

Or not. Really, if you fret about things like this when you are at a party, or some other similar situation, chances are that you are taking too seriously something that is supposed to be fun. Quite often (if not always) the best way to drink a beer is the most convenient and comfortable available. Remember that.

Na Zdraví!

25 Aug 2014

A day out with a mate

I had been planning it for awhile, the first non-work related beer day trip since who knows when. I had studied train schedules and connections, including different alternatives for the return leg, opening times, addresses, maps. It didn't even bother me that, because I didn't want to get back home too late to make dinner, I was forced to downsize the trip from three to two breweries. I was still excited. I'd even found a friend to come with me, making the thing even more fun.

We had arranged to meet Tuesday last week at Hlavní Nádraží at 10. Our train to Zadní Třebaň was leaving 10:20, and the trip would take a bit over half and hour.

It was an uneventful ride on one of those City Elephant trains (they are really cool!) that we mostly spent catching up—I hadn't seen my mate for more than a year. We arrived in Zadní Třebaň on time, but when we got off the train I realised I was a bit disoriented. I wasn't sure where Pivovar Bobr and Hostinec U Mlýna—where the brewery has a tap—were in relation to the station. I tried asking a couple of people, even the cute girl at the ticket office, but they weren't locals. After cursing myself for not having printed the map, I chose to go left, but I wouldn't be sure we were going the right way until I asked a woman playing with her child in her garden.

Not that it was of much use, really. The place was closed. A blackboard at the pub's beer garden (quite good looking, BTW) said that the on Mondays and Tuesdays the place opened at 15. Fuck them! The website said it opened at 10! You can't trust anyone these days.

But we were two men on a mission and, with God as our witness, we were not going back to the train station without a beer in our bellies! Fortunately, we weren't far from a pub—we had seen a sign pointing to one just around the corner.

It was in a camp site—Kemp Ostrov—and looked quite nice, and equally dead. In fact, it looked it hadn't opened for the day yet. But it was, or so two štamgasty assured us. They turned out to be quite friendly, and without the tapster anywhere in sight, one of them, seeing how thirsty we must have looked, got up and poured us our beer.

Country Hospoda is, by all means, a multi-brand pub. They have Pilsner Urquell, Gambrinus 10º, Staropramen Nefiltrované and Svijanský Máz. We chose Máz (I didn't expect PU to be too fresh there, and I don't like the other two) and went to sit outside.

I've never liked Máz too much, even when Svijany was my favourite brewery, but I must say that it tasted really nice that day. Maybe the capacity expansion at the brewery sorted out some quality issues, or it was a case of the “where factor”—the day was gorgeous, and we were in a very nice, and very quiet place.

Neither of us would have minded staying for another round, but we had to leave after just one. With all the talking, and the slow pace of the place, we had drunk our beers unusually slowly (at least as far as I'm concerned). Our train was leaving in ten or so minutes and, if we missed it we would have to wait to hours for the next one. We had enjoyed the pub and the beer, but not really THAT much.

The train was already at the station. It was one of those old, red, diesel single carriage ones that look like a bus. It was a fairly pleasant ride through, fields, meadows and forests, in what by all accounts appeared to be a very remote area of Central Bohemia, with the train sometimes stopping at slabs of concrete seemingly randomly placed by the tracks.

It took only 22 minutes to get to Všeradice, although it felt longer, but in a strangely pleasant way. This time we didn't have any trouble finding our way to brewery we wanted to visit from the (boarded up) station—there was a very visible sign indicating to get to Zámecký Dvůr Všeradice in no time.

After our disappointment in Zadní Třebaň, the one thing that kept on bothering me was that his place would be closed, too. Seeing construction works right by the gate to the Chateau complex didn't make me feel better. Fortunately, it's only one of the buildings that is still being renovated, and the restaurant was indeed open.

If you asked me, the tennis courts that take most of the courtyard look as out of place as a stripper at a toddler's birthday party, but it should be said that the owners have done a really good job with the restaurant inside. It's located in the old stables, barely decorated, all painted in white, with high, vaulted ceilings—it feels almost like being into Husite church—the bar in one end, right by the entrance, and the brewery in the other. Unlike almost all other brewpubs, or, rather in this case, a brewstaurant (let's see if this word catches up), the brewhouse of Pivovar Všeradice is not part of the room in a way that you can touch it, nor it is out of sight, in another part of the building, but it's in a box-like structure, with only a window that gives a view to the brewing gear.

Not surprisingly for a Tuesday early in the afternoon, the place was woefully empty, but we didn't mind it, really. And we minded it even less when we got our beers. They had four on tap: Světlá and Polotmavá 11°, Světlá 13°, and Polotmavá 14°.

With time on our side now, I decided I would work up my way through the taps, and started with the Světlá 11°. What a gorgeous beer! A true beauty! It had everything a proper Světlý Ležák should have*, and then some—a jedenáctka with swagger, one that would make anyone claiming that pale lagers are bland and boring swallow their teeth in one kick.

The Polotmavá 11° and Světlá 13°, though to me not as impressive as the previous one, were still excellent beers in their own right. The former reminded me of a Landbier, or perhaps a Kellerbier, or two, without actually trying to be one. The latter was basically like its 11º sibling, but with the hops more subdued by a slightly beefed up malt profile.

I had only one beer left to drink, the Polotmavá 14º. For some reason, I was expecting it to follow the same pattern as the two Světlé. Instead, my palate was hit with a sockful of hops. It was the house's IPA, of course. I just didn't think they had it on tap that day because the waiter didn't mention it by name. Not that it mattered, it was delicious, just as I remembered it, and a perfect way to cap the session.

The reputation of Pivovar Všeradice is more than well deserved. All four beers tasted clean and very well made, something that, as far as new breweries is concerned, sometimes feels like getting closer to an exception than a rule.

The ride back to Prague was a bit more eventful. We took the bus-looking train to Lochovice, where we could catch the express train to Prague coming from České Budějovice, at 15:20. It had a 15 minute delay, and we didn't mind one bit; the weather was still beautiful and we were not in a hurry (and we had beer). In the end, we made it to Prague by five, as my plan had intended.

Mission accomplished, it was a very fine day.

Na Zdraví!

Pivovar BobrHostinec U Mlýna
N49°55'10.702'', E14°12'33.994''
U Mlýna 8 – Zadní Třebaň

Country hospoda "Na Ostrově"
N 49°55.25573', E 14°12.52732'
Ahí en Zadní Třebaň
kempostrov@gmail.com – +420 777 150 241

Pivovar Všeradice
N 49°52.39472', E 14°6.65623'
restaurace@zamecky-dvur.cz – +607 724 091
Sun-Thu: 10-22, Fri-Sat: 10-24

23 Aug 2014

Weekend musings

It wasn't that long ago when I was still excited when knowing a new microbrewery would open or had opened and I would really look forward to drinking their stuff. But then the whole thing exploded with a couple of new breweries every week or so, and everyone and their aunt wanted to have a go at what by all accounts was fairly solid business.

Inevitably, and regardless of whether many of those everyone and their aunts got into the business to get rich quick, launder money, or were idealists with little real brewing or business skills, the overall quality “micro” beers ended up suffering to the point that buying something from a new brewery, without references, went from being a celebration of diversity to a gamble with rather poor odds.

Radniční Pivovar Jihlava was one of the breweries that opened my eyes to that reality. I remember having some of their beers not long after they opened and by the most part they ranged from the mediocre to downright crap, and I ended up avoiding them—there's plenty of good beer out there to spend my money on something I would probably not like, no matter how interesting it might look on paper. Until this morning at the Farmers' Market in Dejvice.

Both of the beers that the stand of Království Piva had on tap where from Jihlava. Needless to say, I wasn't all that excited. But always say that any beer is better than no beer and I took my place at the back of the short queue. I ended up choosing the IPA—the other one was a 12º—because nobody in front of me wanted one, which meant that I wouldn't need to wait.

What a surprisingly nice pint it turned out to be! I liked it a lot. But then I thought that my impression may have been due to quite low expectations and that being the first beer of the day, after a pretty greasy breakfast followed by some shopping, so I decided to get another one (I'm never shot of excuses for another pint). It was equally good. Could this brewery have improved so much?

It's not the first time something like that happened to me, but certainly the most remarkable one, and it made me think about new breweries in general and how they should be dealt with when it comes to reviewing them. Should they get a period of grace? And if so, for how long? On the other hand, it's not that those breweries charge a “learning curve” price when they start. Besides, wouldn't giving them some time to learn their trade be unfair to those who do things well from the very first day? And then there are also those breweries that start brilliant, only to fall into mediocrity, or worse, not much longer. So I guess we should let time decide after all, for better or worse. I don't know, I've got no answers, I'm just thinking out loud. Perhaps it should be taken on a case by case basis.

But this raises the question of reviews of new(ish) breweries as a whole, and whether they are of any use at the end of the day. I've recently visited two brewpubs in Prague and was pretty satisfied, not thrilled, mind you, but I didn't feel that my time or money had been wasted. Not much later, in Facebook and Twitter, Pivníci talked about their visits to those same brewpubs and I wouldn't say they were all too happy with what they got. Was I lucky or were they unlucky? Should choosing a new beer or brewery require the same level of research as holiday at an exotic destination? Is any of this important?

Too many questions, and not enough beer. At least I can find a solution to one of those problems right now.

Na Zdraví!

21 Aug 2014

Just a beery moment

It's early afternoon, or late lunchtime, if you want, at U Slovanské Lípy (I still miss the old, beer minimalist boozer, but Vodouch and co. have done a great job with the place—I love coming here, and I wish I could come more often than I do). I've just finished my food (it was very good) and I look at the tapster for the first time—I didn't see him when I walked in—he looks familiar.

It takes me only a couple of minutes sips to remember. It's the bloke that worked at Pivovar U Medvídků, also as tapster, six years ago, or so. We became kind of friends. We shared tastes in music, and whenever I dropped by there and he was on duty, if the place was quiet, we would sit down and chat about this and that. There were a few times that I ended up quite pissed after those visits—Laďa, the Brew Master, would give me beer, while Laďa, the tapster, gave me shots of slivovice home-made by someone from his family in the East of the country.

He vanished at some point, and I never knew what happened to him, and never felt like asking, to be honest. But it is him there behind the bar, and he's looking at me now. Not staring, mind you, but I know he is because he's got the same expression I must have had only a few minutes sips ago “I know this guy!”.

I've made up my mind that I will go to greet him on my way out (I'm not the sort of person who likes bothering people when they are working), when I see him coming my way, carrying two glasses of beer. He leaves them on a table near mine, turns around and stops right by my table.

We point at each other, with a crooked smile, and almost at unison we say each other's name.

The crooked smiles become wide and we embrace, briefly, like two old friends who, because of the dictates of life, have not seen each other for quite a long time.

Just one of those beery moments.

Na Zdraví!

20 Aug 2014

Lovely beer day with the family

Last Saturday I took the family (or rather, the missus, because she didn't want to take the bus, drove us) to Únětický Posvícení at the local brewery (where else?).

We arrived shortly before two and, even though the weather didn't look too promising, there were already a lot of people—both the patio and the restaurant were full, the only place with still plenty of free seats was the old stables, which have been recently turned into a taproom and where the main part of the event would be taking place.

After procuring ourselves with grub and booze, I talked a bit with Štěpán and Lucie Tkadlec, the couple who are running the brewery. They told me a bit more about the renovations on the main building, which include changing the roof and, more interesting still, giving the building its original looks back, which, if this picture is anything to go by, will look great. I also talked a bit with the Brew Master, Vladimír Černohorský, always a great pleasure.

By the time a barrel took the stage, literally, the stable was full. The village's alderman gave the official start to the day's festivities. After a few words and a bit of singing, the barrel was tapped—it looked the ones we took to Bavaria–and everyone got a pint. As in previous years, Posvícenské Pivo is an 11.5º Amber Rye Lager that I was very much looking forward to drinking.

A bit (two or three pints) later my wife took Nela to see the theatre performance for children in the brewery's attic. I stayed behind, talking to some people, but not for long. At the insistence of Černohorský I joined the Posvicenský Pochod, which would take us first to the memorial to the young men who died in that idiocy of imperial proportions that was WWI, and later to the chapel of Jan Nepomucký (St. John of Nepomuk), where the keg we were carrying on an ancient looking wooden cart was tapped.

The chapel is located in a very nice spot overlooking the village. Unfortunately, it's not in the best of shapes—quite neglected, with the walls inside covered in graffiti—but there's little the village can do about it as the chapel still belongs to the Catholic Church. However, they were able to restore the column and the statue of the saint by a large tree, opposite the chapel.

We stayed there a bit longer, sipping our beers, in the now very pleasant weather. When the keg dried up—which didn't take too long—most of the party left. I was enjoying myself a lot and decided to stay until the march went back to the brewery.

As we resumed our way, the assistant brewer was told to go fetch some bottles to drink at the next stop, the local cemetery, where something really cool happened.

We were standing by the cemetery's chapel, next to an apparently unmarked grave. It's headstone had long since disappeared, replaced by a large rosebush. The alderman was telling us that the grave had belonged to the local Fielder family and that, according to the records he had consulted, it was the resting place of one of the last brew-masters of Únětický Pivovar before it was closed after WWII, though he admitted that, without the headstone, he couldn't be 100% sure. Until the sun came out from behind a cloud revealing, almost as if by magic, the name Fiedlerový carved on the stone lid of the grave, which nobody had noticed.

We drank to the memory of that man and went back to the brewery. All feeling really good about ourselves and what we had seen.

Back in the brewery I joined my family again, and there was a lot more drinking, friends and fun. We danced to the tunes of a pretty good cover band and stayed until 9 in the evening or so. It was really a great day.

One of the many things I like about Únětický Pivovar is the way it has become a part of the life of the village. It goes beyond marketing wisdom, Štěpán and Lucie live there and are themselves part of the community. They want their business to prosper, of course, but they also want the village they live to be a better place for everyone.

Na Zdraví!

What about the beer, you say? Gorgeous! A true beauty. Nuanced, but with character; it doesn't need to scream in your face to get your attention, without demanding more attention than you are willing to give, it's almost impossible to get tired of it. In fact, with the exception of the desítka I had when we arrived, it was the only beer I drank for the whole day (Wow! Being at a beer related event and sticking to only beer for the whole day, who would have thought you could do that?).

6 Aug 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen. Rejoice!

I've started writing the second edition of The Pisshead's Pub Guide. I've still got no clue when I finish it—it'll depend on my workload, the one that pays the bills, and some developments in the local beer scene (more on that later). But I'm quite excited, and so should you.

Not much will change, really. There will be a few new crawls—three or four, maybe more—and it will have a index at the end, sorted by brewery. With so many good and interesting places to choose from, the selection criteria will be a bit stricter, and I've also decided that the crawls will not be longer than 5 pubs (though, as you can imagine, that might change).

The one thing that has me worrying, though, is the news I've seen these days. According to Pivovary.info, there are six brewpubs that should be opening before the end of the year-beginning of the next. That in itself isn't a problem, far from it, but knowing how things go here, many of those dates are, at best, wishful thinking. Pivovar Vinohrady, for instance, was planned for April this year, but last I heard was that it'd open in October, which could easily mean April next year.

Most of those brewpubs will be located in the outskirts of town and, open or not, it'd be almost impossible to put them in any of the crawls I've planned, but there are a couple that, provided they turn out to be good, could be included. There's also one that will be a brewery almost symbolically as their beer will be contract brewed in Kácov and they will have a 60l, or so, kit that will mostly be used to make beer on demand; the place, on the other hand, looks quite interesting for what I've heard, so it might still be worth a visit.

Anyway, if you' think there are pubs, cafés or restaurants that should be in the guide, let me know. And if any of you out there happens to be a publisher, don't be shy.

Na Zdraví!

3 Aug 2014

It happened on a Friday afternoon

The previous three months were insane work-wise. I'm not complaining (well, not much). As a free-lance translator, it is almost mandatory to take as many jobs as you possibly can because you never know what the next month will be like—especially now in summer—but this time it had got to a this-is-a-bit-too-much point, and one part of me was glad to see there would be a (hopefully not too long) break, at least as far as big translations is concerned.

That break started a couple of Fridays ago, when I finished and e-mailed the last couple of jobs I had. I was looking forward to to the first weekend without any work in more than two months, but I was also very, very tired, mentally tired. I was worn out and I thought I beer would do me well.

It was too hot to be outside, and the idea of walking to the pub in that temperature looked as attractive as a visit to the dentist. I grabbed a bottle from the fridge, carefully poured it in my earthenware mug, put some music on and my feet on the desk, it was time to unwind.

It didn't work out. When the mug got empty, my brains still felt like the engine of an ageing, slightly overloaded hatchback going up a steep hill.

“Fuck it!” I told myself and grabbed 50CZK from the wallet. The missus was downstairs, doing some work at her computer, when I said to her “Jdu na pivo”, she only answered with a nod, and didn't even ask me to take Nela or the dog with me, as she usually does.

I braved the heat—most of the way to the pub is shadeless—and dragged my feet to U Hasičů. I greeted and exchanged a few words with the regulars, while paní hospodská expertly poured my desítka.

I sat in the shade of a large birch, sipped my beer while letting my mind wander off, paying attention to almost nothing besides the rustle of the leaves. The procedure was repeated for the second pint, after which I took the 50CZK out of my pocket, paid and walked back home.

It wasn't until I was almost around the corner from the house that I realised that my feet weren't dragging anymore. I felt overall lighter, in body and mind, looking forward to preparing something nice for dinner, hoping that my daughter would help me.

A couple of beers at the pub. Try it some day, it can do wonders.

Na Zdraví!

1 Aug 2014

A conclusion after a quick visit to MMX

Pivovar MMX is one of those many brewpubs that've opened in the last few years that I never felt I needed to visit. I can't really put a finger on why; the place is fairly easy to reach from Prague—Dobřichovice has an excellent train connection, and the place itself isn't too far from the train station— and I don't remember any particularly good or bad reviews about it, in fact, I don't remember drinking any of their beers (which makes me wonder whether it isn't one of these).

Family matters took us yesterday to Dobřichovice and when were discussing where to go for lunch, I suggested MMX, to which everyone agreed.

A short and pleasant walk along the river later, we arrived to this fairly large complex that includes a hotel. The brewhouse is in a fish-tank-like room separated from the restaurant by the hotel's reception. The restaurant is very spacious and luminous, with a minimalist decoration that gives it almost the feel of an office building canteen—though with far better furniture. It fits very well the general architecture of the building, and I can see people liking it, but I'm not among them, my problem, I guess.

We sat outside, though. Service was very good—quick, professional, attentive and pleasant, they made you feel welcome without any fake smiles or pretended friendliness. The food—one of the daily specials—was a just a few notches above the 'Just OK'.

As for the house beers. I didn't know what to expect from them, which, to some extent, isn't that bad a thing—as long as the beer isn't undrinkable, you aren't likely to be disappointed.

I Started with the seasonal Pšenice 12° because thirst. A very conventional beer, almost to the point of shyness, but like the food, it had one job and did it well.

The Stout was also pretty conventional, unseasonally so, but with more of an extrovert personality, making at least an effort to impress. My favourite of the four they had on tap.

The other two were the 10º and 12º, both světlé, and both with a visibly heavy dose of caramel malts. They made me realise that caramel malts aren't a bit to pale lagers what silicon implants are to women. Most of them don't need any of that, but some have been convinced that they do. In some cases, you will probably not notice them, they are so well used they can cheat you into believing they are not there. That wasn't the case with these two beers, unfortunately, whose implants were of Andersonian proportions and, as such, diverted all of your attention from whatever it was that the rest had to offer. Yes, there are people, not few, who like big plastic boobs, but I'm not among them, my problem, I guess.

We spent the rest of the day bathing in the river, drinking ver well tapped Gambrinus under the sun, while the kids played in the park and later knocking down cans of Pilsner Urquell it my wive's relatives' garden while talking about stuff.

It was a very good day overall.

Na Zdraví!

Pivovar MMX
N 49°55.43062', E 14°15.52855'
Dobřichovická 452 – Lety
info@mmxpivo.com - +420 602 783 903
Mon-Thu, Sun: 11-23, Fri-Sat: 11-24

29 Jul 2014

Comfortably bland

Today I was in one of those rare good moods where I fancied trying something I don't remember hearing anything about, a světlá 11° from Pivovar Sedlčanský Krčín, and the best way I can describe it is, paraphrasing Pink Floyd,
Is there any flavour in there?
Just nod if you can hear me,
are there any malt or hops?
The pint was very well tapped, and there was nothing in the beer that could be considered really bad, or really good. It was halfway between everything, almost like political correctness in a pint; a non-denominational beer.

It had me wondering whether that isn't intended; as if the brewer believed that people are bound to repeat what they have forgotten.

And then I realised that there must be more than a few other, equally bland and joyless beers whose names I have forgotten.

Na Zdraví!

25 Jul 2014

On Rich and Successful People Wanting Free Money

You must've read already about Stone's crowdfunding campaign to raise cash to help them (or not?) with their expansion plans in the East Coast of the US and in Europe, and their response to the negative feedback they received, which reminded me of a high-profile professional athlete being forced by his PR to apologise for something stupid he said.

I won't comment too much on the almost arrogant, rich cunt, holier-than-thou style of the press releases and the video (and the “we are going to save German beer culture” bollocks I've seen everywhere on the internet) because I understand that it's part of Stone's marketing discourse. And because it is not what really bothers me about this

Reading the press release again (and suffering the video) I don't think Stone are being honest here.

In the best case scenario, they are (ab)using the crowd funding platform for marketing (and attention whoring) purposes. They aren't the first, and certainly not the last to do that. But it is still unethical, at least in the way it's being done.

Look at this other brewery, Freetail, who are also promoting themselves in IndieGogo. Not only they are doing it with a very clever satire, but likely is that they will not keep the money, as their campaign is set as “fixed funding”--the donations get refunded if the target is not met—while Stone's is “flexible funding”–they get to keep the money one way or another.

But that aside. Stone say that the projects will be carried out with or without the million dollars, which leads to me to believe that they already have secured the funding or are very much on the way to secure it. So why do they need that money for? To make beer? Really? I thought they were making beer already.

Neither of those breweries exist yet (they haven't even decided on a location for one of them!). It could take years until they start producing anything. And besides, what will those beers be like? Other than a bunch of marketing buzzwords, that is.

I'm not convinced. As far as I'm concerned, that million USD (4% or not, is still a fuckton of money for most mortals, and probably enough to get a fairly well equipped microbrewery going in quite a few countries) could be the cash they need to take one of those breweries to a new level, or to buy Greg a pad in Berlin, I don't know, and it doesn't matter. I feel there is something important Stone is not telling us. I feel that all Stone wants is free money from their fans, which they'll pay back, at some yet to be determined point in the future, with expensive beers that may or may not be good, because nobody knows anything about them yet, which the lenders will be expected to pick up themselves so they can get discounted merchandise or whatever. Doesn't sound like a very good deal to me.

But this is not of my concern, really. I am under no obligation to take part in this campaign anymore than I will be to buy their German made beers.

That being said, I'm sure that at least some of you are seriously considering throwing a coin in Stone's cap before they have started playing. Before you press “Donate”, answer this question: Aren't there any small breweries near where you live (or not) that are already making great beer and perhaps need your 50USD a lot more than Koch and co.?

Na Zdraví!

23 Jul 2014

Some Musings and a Short Book Review

I liked this post by Boak and Bailey on their state of their relationship with beer, and Alan's own take on the topic, mainly because I agree with pretty much everything they say, even when translating it to my own beer ecosystem.

Like them, I've come to prefer well known, reliable beers and breweries over the uncertainty of the new. And when it comes to new breweries (and to some extent, new products from breweries I know), I rarely buy stuff I have no (good) references of. I can understand why so many people give preference to new beers, it can be fun, it was for me at some point, but not any more. I want to get the most value out of my money and “will be good”, or at least “should be good”, gives me better value than “might be good”.

This brings me to price. I've all but given up on expensive beers. My limit for a (large) bottle is 8-10€, and only on very exceptional occasions and with beers I've already drunk. Really, when I can get something as good as Schneider TAP 5 for about 2€ (not to mention many excellent Czech beers, for less), I find it hard to convince myself to spend several times more on another beer.

Which brings me to this other point. Maybe it's because I'm already in my 40s, or because I have less time, money and energy than in the past, or because my priorities in life have changed, or, most likely, a mixture of all of that, but I feel that my relationship with beer has come full circle, or sort of.

Beer is again “just beer”. All beers. It's something I drink while doing something more stimulating than paying attention to the lies my senses of taste and smell might be telling me. I've also got bored of taking beer seriously; partly because I have nothing to gain from it, and partly because I've realised that there's nothing special about beer. Let me say that again, beer isn't special. It's booze that, like wine, cured bacon, music, books, and other consumer products, wants to get a share of my disposable income and time. It might get a bigger share than all those things, and it's still fun to write about it, but that doesn't make it in itself special.

The people behind the beer. That's another thing. I find their stories more interesting than the beverage itself. But I mean the real stories, not the tales that've been filtered and pasteurised by PR or marketing.

And that is why I liked so much Evan Rail's new e-book The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest. It tells the story of the author near obsession with Kout na Šumavě, in particular, with an old brewing log the current owner claims to have found hidden somewhere in the building. Evan wants to see that book and visits the brewery several times. In the process you get a glimpse of his family life, and also get to know a lot about the Kout's current owner, his relationship with the brewery, his views, struggles and plans, or at least what he chooses to tell Evan.

Would Evan have written this book if he didn't like Kout so much? Most probably, not. But that's not something that should concern the reader, because it's the story and not the beer what matters.

This is the first book in a series called Beer Trails that will include works from the likes of Stan Hieronymus, Joe Stange and Adrian Tierney-Jones. I'm already looking forward to those stories.

In the meantime, I'm off for a beer.

Na Zdraví!

PS: Evan's a good friend of mine. He sent me a free copy of the book, but you can buy it here in Amazon.