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