31 May 2014

Reason why I love drinking alone at pubs #815,428

Yesterday I spent the whole day in Pilsen, on assignment. Part of that assignment was a visit to Na Spilce, the restaurant at the Pilsner Urquell brewery, where I would have to eat and drink on someone else's account (I know, hard work, but someone has to do it). The place was quite full, or rather, all the tables that were not reserved were taken* so I had to wait a little.

Eventually, one freed and right after I'd been given the menu, a man came and asked if he could sit. We started the usual small talk (full place, lunch break, etc.) and he didn't need more than a few words to notice that I'm a foreigner, which is followed by the almost mandatory question “odkud jsi/jste” (where are you from?).

I've lost count of how many times my nationality has been an ice-breaker, and this one was no exception. Soon we were talking about what brought me here to the Czech Rep. (the beer and the women, of course), what I was doing there at that pub and our jobs. When I told him that, among other things, I'm a beer writer, he was very interested. It turned out that in the village where he lives someone has just finished setting up a brewery and has made some beer already, which has beer lagering for some time, but has no name yet (for some reason, I like that – let's take care of the product first, and then we'll see about the branding), and this bloke would swear it's really good.

We passed the rest of the time talking about beer and pubs, almost like two old friends, and before we parted we exchanged telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. My new friend promised to pass my contact information to his neighbour so I could get to know him and his still nameless brewery.

You don't get that writing tasting notes at home, do you?

Na Zdraví!

*I've no problem with reservations, it's something that I use often myself, but I was in Na Spilce for almost one hour and during that time nobody came any of those reserved tables. At most pubs I know, they will let you sit at a reserved table as long as you assure them you'll be done by the time table was reserved for, but I guess that at places like Na Spilce they don't bother to ask what time the party will be coming.

28 May 2014

3 weekends, 3 festivals en Prague

Right when the Czech Beer Festival is coming to an end, there will be in Prague three beer festivals at three successive weekends.

The first one starts this Friday, Pivo na Naplavce. It looks quite good – a nice venue on the embankment on the right bank of the Vltava, and fairly interesting list of breweries – until you notice the hidden admission fee.

They say entrance is free, but only provided you don't want to drink anything. Beers will not served in plastic cups, nor in any container you might bring, but only in the festival's 0.3l glass mugs, which. The one with a logo will set you back a whopping 200CZK, or you can pay 60CZK for a marketingly handicapped one, and 20CZK more if you want the festival's catalogue and beermat, or something like that.

Even though I don't mind drinking from plastic cups (in fact, I sometimes even prefer it for the sake of convenience), I can understand and accept a non-plastic policy, and not only for the reasons given by the organisers, but why can't I bring my own 0.3l glass and be served there? Why should I buy something I don't need, nor want? Whatever the answer to those questions are, I don't care. I will go to a pub where I won't have to pay anything extra for the privilege of drinking beer.

A week later is Žižkovské pivobraní, in Parukařka. Like the previous one, this festival has a very nice venue (that park is really cool) and admission, even if you fancy beer – you know this being a beer festival – is truly free. What's not so certain, though, is the list of breweries. The posters I've seen in the street promise 35, but the website only mentions 3. No, I've not forgotten about what I said the other day regarding the advantages of minimalism at festivals, but none of those three breweries look very exciting, and knowing if there'll be something I would really to drink wouldn't hurt, but that's more a marketing issue than anything else. Anyway, I won't have been able to make it, so let me know if you do.

The third of this row of beer events is Pivo na Hrad. Like the previous two editions, it takes place in the Royal Gardens of Prague Castle, by the Summer Palace, a wonderful venue.

Pivo na Hrad is a bit of an oddball in this country. You pay an admission fee of 350CZK that includes a tasting glass, which you can use to taste free of any further charges any of the beers that, according to the FB page, 70 micro breweries from the whole of the Czech Republic will offer, as many times as you want. The organisers have also promised that representatives of all of the breweries will be there.

I hope I can make it this year – I'm not quite sure yet. Yes, I want to go to this festival admission fee and tasting samples-only, and all; it'll be a chance to catch up with some people I haven't seen for awhile, and to meet some others I'd like to speak to.

So, there you have it. I don't want to hear you say “Mum! I'm bored!”

Na Zdraví!

Pivo na Naplavce
30-31/5/2014 in Náplavka

Žižkovské pivobraní
6-7/6/2014 in Parukařka

Pivo na Hrad
13-14/6/2014 in Prague Castle's Royal Gardens

25 May 2014

Hangovered comment

As someone convinced that drinking, and not tasting, is how you can really appreciate a beer, I don't get excited any more when beer events announce they will have hundreds of different brands. In fact, I find it to some extent rather redundant. It's not a criticism, it's just a personal feeling.

How many beers can I drink in one day without ending up legless (and useless the day after)? 10, 15, 20 perhaps, if I stretch my limits, take my time with each beer, and drink carefully (though not moderately)? Any figure much higher than that will be, as far as I'm concerned a bit of a waste of time, and maybe even a nuisance. What beers should I drink? Should I gamble on new ones, or play safe and stick to stuff I'm familiar with? Which are the beers I should start with, and which should I leave for end of the day, when my senses will be tired and myself probably quite pissed? And what should I drink next, that thing my mate is drinking that is quite good, or something neither of us have had yet? But I will have to be very careful with my choices – a crap beer would mean a waste of time, money and liver capacity that could have been allocated to something else. The tyranny of choice.

One of the reasons I believe Vysmolení, at Černokostelecké Pivovár, is one of the best beer events in the Czech calendar is precisely their very limited beer list.
Look at that. 7 beers – 8, if we count Kácov 10º that isn't included on the list. It's brilliant! Or, rather, it was brilliant, yesterday. Quality over quantity – four of the beers are brewed on site by Jarín Šnajdr, and two had been brewed specially for the event.

I was able to drink all of them, without exception (well, yes, Kácov, I forgot it was there), and then I mostly stayed with those I liked the most – Žitovec and Tmavý Speciál – while I focused on the more pleasant aspects of going to a beer festival, spending a day having a great time, in great company and meet some people I don't get to see as often as I would like.

And what a great day it was! I got there shortly after 9 (thanks Líbor for the ride there and back), and it only took a couple of minutes to get my first beer, Hostomická Křižovka, a lovely 11°, and went through the rest of the list from there, spending much of the day sitting behind the “cask bar” with friends (it was a lot of fun there, I even served a few beers!)

The beers were of moderate strength, and with not too intense flavour, which helped me stay up, drinking, until past midnight. The only exception was Vysmolenec, the 20º Baltic Porter aged in Pinot Noir barrels gravity dispensed from the wood (as were others, what a pleasure, I love gravity dispensed beers) but I only had a small glass of that one (very, very good stuff).

There's a sibling event in September, Vykulení. I hope I can make it this year, because it looks every bit as good, if a bit bigger.

Yeah! And thanks Milan and Tomáš for once again allowing me to crash at the brewery, and for everything else. Much appreciated.

Na Zdraví!

16 May 2014

Comments on the Czech Beer news

I've got nothing better to write about today (well, I do, but I can't be arsed), so you'll have to put up with some comments on the news.

It's been more than two months already since Carslberg bought a majority stake in Pivovar Žatec, and frankly, I believe it could be a good thing in the long run.

Pivovar Žatec is to me one of the most disappointing Czech breweries. They have everything to be great: smallish, independent (so far), traditional and located right in the heart of one of the most famous and renown hop growing regions in the world, and yet, their beers, though not bad, taste almost like something a multinational would put together. The reason for this might because the brewery was the property of a company incorporated in Cyprus and, for what I've heard, the owners are very frugal with the fucks they give about the beers. Maybe someone in Denmark will figure out a way to capitalise the brewery's and brand's potential? Whatever happens, let's hope that the Danes will take more inspiration from what Heineken has so far done with Březňák, rather than from what InBev did with Staropramen.

Speaking about Staropramen. It might be because of the implosion of the Radler market (el volumen de producción last year fell by 40%, compared to 2012), or because, after two years, Molson-Coors have decided to finally do something with the Smíchov brewery, but things are moving in an interesting fashion.

Staropramen is the official beer of Rock For People, the biggest music festival in the Czech Republic, and they've announced they will be brewing a special beer for the event, giving the public to choose from three alternatives: an 11º světlý, unfiltered and unpasteurised, a 14º polotmavé, unfiltered, and unpasteurised and a 20° světlý unpasteurised.

I would love to see the 20º, or any other HGB-less beer with enough lagering time (I have it from good sources that Staropramen brews at 17º and their ležák matures two weeks in average). But as @czechbeerblog said on Twitter, it's not very likely they'll make such a strong beer for a rock festival. My money is on the polotmavé, which I wouldn't mind drinking, either – it must be closer to what Granát was at the beginning. As for the 11º, I would love to know in what way it is different to their current 11º.

Did I mention Heienken? Yes I did. A couple of months ago they kindly sent me a case of their new beer Starobrno Drak, an extra hopped Světlý Ležák. I won't comment on the “extra hopped” bit because that can be quite relative. After going through the whole case I can say with some authority that the beer isn't bad. It's not something that would go out of my way for, but I wouldn't mind finding it in a pub.

I was reminded of this beer when I read the news that Pilsner Urquell apparently will be sold in brown bottles in the near future. Like Urquell, Drak, and the whole line of Starobrno, is sold in green bottles, and I think there are way too many beers in green bottles here in CZ, and I wonder why. Some time ago, a green bottle will have been a sign of a premium beer – after all, Pilsner Urquell is still considered the most prestigious Czech beer – but is it still so? Měsťán and Braník are also sold in green bottles, and those beers are as lowbrow as you can get. Braník has even joked about it not long ago with a slogan that said “drahý jen vypadá” (it only looks expensive). If the flagship Czech beer brand does switch to brown glass, will the rest follow suit? Let's hope so.

I wish I had a few thousand crowns to spare because I would use them to buy some shares of Pivovary Lobkowicz, who are having their IPO at the end of this month. Not because I have a particular attachment to the company or their beers (though, it should be said, some of the stuff they make is excellent), but because I believe those shares will be very valuable if (or should I say when?) they are taken over by a bigger company (not necessarily a brewing one). In the meantine, I will keep on enjoying the good beers they make.

Yesterday started the Czech Beer Festival – 2014 and, though they have a great location this year in Letná, I will not be going. I refuse to pay an admission fee, even if it is only 45CZK, just so I can drink beer in a large tent. Besides, next Saturday, 24 May is Černokostelecké Vysmolení, an event that to me is far more interesting in every possible sense. Have a look at this pdf, if you don't believe me.

There are few other things, but I'm thirsty already, so you'll have to wait.

Na Zdraví!