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!

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for a very good experience, meeting mr Klusáček was an unforgettable meeting with an extraordinary vital elderly man, with a true passion for his trade, and not willing to comprimise with quality in any step of the production of first class malts. His pride of every detail, even down to the computer controled software for drying of malts was a joy for all of us to experience first hand. Thanks again for having us share this story live !

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  2. Ahhh!, Černá Svině, I miss that smooth dark lager! It was a great beer trip to the Czech countryside just a short bus/train trip outside Praha. Beer greetings to Max and Gunnar who arranged this beer-cultural trip.

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