21 Feb 2014

Monday Afternoon Blues

It's Monday around noon. I've just got a text message from my student telling me that the lesson has to be cancelled. Great news, the lesson is already paid and now I've got some free time in my hands. A great chance to check out Kavárna Liberál.

I spotted it a few weeks ago, while wandering the side streets between Veletržní Palác and Strossmajerovo Nám. It's located at a corner, opposite a small park, and it looked really nice from the outside. I was tempted to go in that day, but I refrained; something told me that this was not the sort of place where you can pop in for a quick pint and then move on.

So here I am at last. A very nice place this one is. Barely decorated white walls, a part of the room has very worn out hardwood floors and the other part, very worn out small tiles. The furnishing is the café standard, in dark wood and it looks that the chairs and tables could tell a few stories. The frames of the windows and the door are also in dark wood, as is the bar, slightly elevated in the far end. Welcoming.

I take a table near the bar and order a desítka from Únětice – sometimes I get the impression that Únětické Pivovar has cornered the market of Prague's cool café-pub hybrids – and try to unwind and soak in the atmosphere.

The beer is in good enough shape and the first pint goes down very quickly, as first pints are wont to do. It's only when I get the second that I realise there's something that's not quite right. I don't feel as I thought I would. Maybe it's the soundtrack – a Beatles compilation. Nothing wrong with the Fab Four – though I'm more of a Rolling Stones type of person – but their songs are a little too upbeat for the place, and the day – it dawned bright and sunny, only to turn into an introspective grey later in the morning. Blues or Nick Cave would be more appropriate, I tell myself.

I'm half down that second pint, having almost decided that there won't be a third, when the magic happens. Yellow Submarine ends and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da starts just when the waitress is heading towards a table with a young couple, and the wooden heels of her boots hit the worn out hardwood floor in perfect synchronicity with the rhythm of the song. It's hypnotic.

All the other pieces fall into their place when the next song starts: While My Guitar Gently Weeps. I look outside and the world seems that have slowed down just a notch; the only people rushing are those crossing the small square to get to the café, as if they were escaping from something.

The beer tastes somehow better now, and I do get a third pint. When it arrives, I start wishing winter would never end, because it's simply perfect to be sitting at that small table in that café in that corner of the world in a grey winter afternoon. As I sip my pint, I ask myself if it isn't winter what we all actually crave for. Winter is at the same time full of the memories – good and bad – from the previous year and the promises – and the anxiety – of what's to come. It's a bit like the first pint of that new beer you've heard so much about, which you somehow hope will taste familiar enough so it won't demand too much of your attention while you are sitting in a quiet pub or café, listening to music and watching the world outside move slowly, wishing the moment will never end and knowing the next pint will taste even better.

Now I'm in my fourth pint and the soundtrack has changed: pop ballads from the 1980s. The magic is slowly fading away. It's time to leave, I guess.

Once outside, I turn around to have a last look at Kavárna Liberál. Yup, I was right when I first saw it. There is something about it that will make you stay a beer longer, and come back, at least when the music is right.

Na Zdraví!

Kavárna Liberál
50°6'2.401"N, 14°26'11.450"E
Heřmanova 6 – Prague 7
+420 732 222 880
Mon-Sat: 9-24, Sun: 14-24

9 Feb 2014

Noteless: Antoš Tlustý Netopýr - Rye IPA

Here we've got something with a rather label from Pivovar Antoš, Slaný. Let's see if the contents are prettier.

I poured it in a glass, a glass made of glass, otherwise, it wouldn't be a glass. The consensus seems to be that a glass is better, so a glass was chosen. I reckon, however, that it would have been pretty neat in an earthenware mug, but I wouldn't have been able to make the mandatory picture. Anyway, the first photo came out crap and I didn't realise until the pint was almost finished, thus the picture you can see.
It smells quite nice, really. Not nice enough to wear as perfume, but nice enough to say it smells quite nice; a tad nicer than your average beer of this sort, I'd say. It's got all those pleasantly aromatic things you'd expect from a beer of this sort, not because you've read it in a book, but because you've already had your fair share of beers of this sort; and all is very nicely arranged. If smell was like interior design, it'd be like walking into the living room of someone with very good taste in modern, but not too trendy stuff, and without any artistic pretensions. You know when you look in glossy magazines at photos of interiors that look as if nobody was living there, and how weird it feels? Well, this is not it, this living room is as nice as those in any glossy magazine, but better because it looks like someone is actually living there. So, that's the impression I get from the smell of this beer, that of looking at the photo of a living room in a glossy magazine, but getting the impression that someone, who likes opening the windows in the early morning to let in the fresh air from the Occitan countryside in late spring, leads a very happy life in there. A very nice aroma, indeed.

It doesn't taste half bad, either, far from it, very far from it. Believe me. It's very well balanced, which is nice. Unbalanced things run the risk of falling down and hurting themselves. It's nice to feel, then, that this beer will not fall down and hurt itself. You might end up hurting yourself, though if you ran down the stairs after drinking a couple pints too many of this, which the cheeky bastard will tempt you to do, but that's another story. Either way, the brewer should get some praise for making a beer that can feel safe to walk around, knowing it will not fall down due to some balance problems, and still manage to do it with heads up and with an assertive step.

As for the taste itself. A bit like the smell, actually. You know, all those tids and bits anyone would expect from a beer if this sort, or at least most of them, and something else underlying somewhere in there. It's a note that brings up a memory you wish you had suppressed, it was something embarrassing you did, or rather, something you felt at the time it was embarrassing enough to try to forget, but now you look at it with a bit of a nostalgic smile and almost feel like telling someone about it. It might be bollocks anyway; I can't remember now what I ate or drunk before this beer. But a fancy of my senses or not, it made me smack my lips a couple of times and burp once, which reminds me that this beer's burp also tasted good. Come to think of it, people should write more about the burps in their tasting notes. I didn't myself with this one, but I remember it was a sort of refreshing burp, it could have been able to calm a cough had I had one that day.

This is the sort of beer you should drink if you feel like drinking a beer of this sort. It might even work if you want to drink a beer of another sort, if you don't happen to have that sort of beer at hand, or if you have this beer in the fridge and don't want to wait (provided the other one needs chilling, of course), I guess; I haven't tried myself, so I'm speculating here.

Na Zdraví!

7 Feb 2014

The Session #84: “Alternative” Reviews

Blame Oliver Gray, the host of this month's session for what is to follow. He wants us to review a beer without actually reviewing it.

It's a tough job. I chose Permon Black IPA for it because... well, because it's black, but I will need to sit down and drink it quietly, hoping the beer will inspire me to write something that will speak about it without it being an evaluation thereof.

Some music will help. I guess that after a couple of songs of Al Kooper's Super Session I will have got some inspiration. What a great piece of music this record is! Amazing black music by white people. Come to think of it, in a way it mirrors the beer, a Pale Ale that is Black, but I fear I might be getting too close to reviewing.

Before getting too lost in my thoughts, I want to have a last look at my browser to see if there aren't any e-mails that need to be sorted out urgently. There aren't, but there's a tab open on an article I've been wanting to read since the morning. The Quantum Mechanics of Fate – How time travel might explain some of science’s biggest puzzles. A fascinating piece, it talks about the idea that the future might be influencing the past, the concept of retrocausality, they call it. I love it. It challenges so many established ideas, opens so many questions – starting with the very existence of time, something, some people are not all that sure of, very much like the very idea of a Black IPA.

I'm none the wiser about this non-review by the time I finish reading the article, and I notice that more than half the glass is gone. Instead of thinking about the beer and what it leaves behind after each sip, I'm thinking about whether my future self isn't influencing my present self in some way that relates to the beer. Can the beer be generating some memories that my future self is, in his own when, right now recalling, and what sort of memories could they be?

I need to concentrate, I need to figure out what to write because the deadline is this Friday.

I'm trying to choose what to play next to help me think, when my daughter comes. “Tatínku. Pojď si se mnou hrát!” she asks me. And yeah, I go play with her, and I take the est of the beer with me. We play her favourite game these days. She's some wild animal and she's cooking me dinner, a soup. And suddenly realise the beer pairs wonderfully with it. Could that be the memory? We will see.

6 Feb 2014

Musings on the news

Before I start, I want to get this off my chest. Breweries don't “sell out”. They aren't indy rock bands singing about teenage angst and the struggle against The Man with cryptic lyrics, they are businesses; assets that can be bought and sold like any other. An owner that sells a brewery isn't betraying anything or anyone, is only accepting what they believe is a good enough offer for those assets.

Now that we've made that clear, let's carry on.

The sale of Blue Point Brewing to ABIB has been, and will be, much discussed, just like it happened with Goose Island a few years ago. Since neither of those breweries are part of my beer ecosystem, I would need to dig very deep to find a single fuck to give about their fortunes and I can't really be arsed with that. As far as I'm concerned, it was a good decision by the owners, and I congratulate them for that.

There are other people, however, who naturally have a few fucks to give about this. One of them left a comment on my FB page saying: ”It is going to have great significance. Will this be the same as in the 60s and 70s in the UK where the five mega brewers systematically bought up small brewers and then consolidated production into their existing plants and closed the local breweries down?” Though this person might be overreacting a bit, I believe that there are people in the industry who are asking themselves a similar question, as it is clear that macro brewers aren't done shopping yet.

Personally, and from a distance, I doubt there's much of a risk of this having any significant impact in the industry as a whole. The “Craft Brewery” branch is, at least in the US, very healthy. Soon there'll be more than 3000 brewing companies operating, and there's certainly room for more, and most of them are not, and are not likely to ever be of any interest to the likes of ABIB, either because they don't make enough beer, they haven't got a wide enough distribution, or their brands don't have very much of a potential for growth. As for the others, the ones that meet that criteria – and I don't know how many can there be – it is safe to assume that many of their owners would never consider selling their companies, regardless of how much they are offered or who offers it, whatever their reasons might be. The question is, what will happen when they retire?

I'm not a big fan of the figure of the rock star brewer, but I'd be stupid to deny that it is a great marketing and branding tool. They give their companies a human face, one that many people can relate to. Sooner or later, however, even the most “passionate” of them will have to hang their gloves. Will their companies be able to survive without them?

One of the reasons that I remember being mentioned behind the sale of Boulevard Brewing Co. to Duvel, and also Goose Island to ABIB, was that their owners were concerned about the future of their companies after their retirement (I wish I could provide links, but I can't remember where exactly I read it). Which is very understandable, there are many examples of companies didn't survive long after their founders had left the building, or that at least became a shadow of their former selves.

To me, this is the sort of thing the sort of beer geek who gets their panties in a twist every time an independent brewer becomes part of a much larger corporation should be asking themselves. What is better a Goose Island-so far-like scenario, or a once proud brewer falling apart due to lack of able management?

Na Zdraví!