20 Feb 2015

Well, would you look at that

To be perfectly honest, I don't think I would bother to go to Haštalský dědek if it wasn't the only pub in Prague where I can redeem the vouchers Heineken sends me for their seasonal beers. It's not that there's something particularly wrong with it (though, being greeted by a soundtrack composed by a Czech pop radio isn't particularly right, either), but, like many other restaurants and bars in hotels, it feels like a mandatory feature, and not something that could, or should, stand on its own feet—something you can almost breathe.

But there I was the other day, holding a voucher for two pints of Krušovice Kazbek Ležák. I wasn't really planning to go, but my schedule changed almost at the last moment and I told myself “why not?”, I was, after all, a bit curious about this new beer.

Perhaps, curiosity notwithstanding, my expectations weren't very high, but I really liked this single-hop pale lager! I loved how they used this newish Czech hop cultivar (which I can best describe as a grumpier version of Saaz): as it should be in a Světlý Ležák, it didn't scream like Ian Gillan in the 1970s, but crooned like Tom Waits did those years. Very enjoyable indeed.

But then came the second pint.

Pivo vaří sládek ale ho dělá hospodský is what Czech beer wisdom states, and very rightly so. It doesn't matter all that much how good a beer is at the brewery, but how good it is in the glass. And not only that, the same beer will taste different at different pubs, something that I've experienced on countless occasions. But the other day, in Haštalský dědek, must have been the first time I experienced it at the same pub.

The first pint was poured by a young bloke in one draw. It looked perfect—thick white head that could almost eat with a spoon—and tasted likewise. Before I finished it, the bloke went on a break (it was early afternoon and the place was very quiet) and was replaced by a young girl with sculpted nails. She poured the beer in two draws, letting the head settle for a minute or two after first draw.

The pint didn't look as good. There was some visible carbonation—there hadn't been any in the previous pint—and the head looked more soapy. The beer had changed, too. It had lost a little of its balance; it was still Tom Waits, but Bone Machine than Closing Time.

In its own way, it was a very interesting experience that made me realise how relatively little* this (in my opinion, the most important) link in the beer-making chain is discussed, and that I should learn a lot more about it.

Na Zdraví!

PS: Thanks Heineken.CZ for the beer. Good job, really.

* with the exception, perhaps, of those who focus on Cask Ale.

13 Feb 2015

A happy reunion

It's something that must've happened to everyone. You're friends with someone, close friends, even. You've known them for years, and have spent a lot of time together, but then life starts drifting you apart. There's no apparent reason for it; you're both still living in the same city and neither has done anything could have made the other angry. In fact, you probably can't even tell when things changed because you didn't notice until they've become just another status update on Facebook, and you can't remember when was the last time you went for a beer together.

That's pretty much what happened to me with Primátor Weizenbier, one of my favourite beers at some point, and the first Weizen I developed a relationship with (and my relationship with wheat beers could have hardly had worse start). I loved that beer, and I drank it often, but for some reason or another, I can't really tell you why, it fell off my usual rotation. I thought about it often, but, like a telephone call or e-mail to that estranged friend, buying a bottle or going somewhere to have it on tap was always put off for a more convenient time that never seemed to happen.

Until the other day.

I was in in Vršovice doing field work for my book. Neklid was on the list. It was early afternoon, the place was almost empty. I walked in thinking of having some Únětické Pivo. It was only after I took off my coat and sat that I remembered Primátor Weizenbier used to be on tap here—I hadn't been to that pub in years. And they still had it! I ordered one, of course.
It was great! It tasted like seeing that old friend in a pub you had forgotten was one of his favourites, and both noticing the presence of the other at exactly the same time. We did some catching up, and it felt good, the memories felt good. Every sip was a reminder of why I've always liked that beer so much.

I had two pints, would've stayed for several more if I'd had time. Just as I would do what that friend, we parted, promising we'll try to meet more often from now on. And I've kept my promise; I've invited Primátor Weizenbier to my place after who knows how long. It also felt good.

Hmm... I think there's a telephone I should make...

Na Zdraví!

8 Feb 2015

The Session #96 - Festivals

A few years ago I may have responded to the topic of this month's Session, hosted by the English version of Birraire, in a different way. But now festivals are something that don't excite me anymore. Crowds and queuing aren't very much my thing, and I don't like the sort of consumerism they promote, especially the bigger ones that brag about having hundreds, if not thousands of different beers. It's not that I have something against them, mind you, like with romantic films, I'm simply not their audience.

Those very, very few that I attend, I like them more for the atmosphere and the people I know I'll find there than for the beers; after all, good, interesting beers is something I can find any day, without hardly any effort. In other words, a festival is to me not much more than a glorified beer garden.

This is, by the way, the reason why I adamantly refuse to pay an admission ticket for a festival, be it overt or covert. Pubs and beer gardens won't charge me a fee for the privilege of buying beer, so I don't see why I should pay any to get into a festival. Once again, I'm not against the charge itself; festivals are private enterprises and organisers will have legitimate reasons to set that charge, or not, it doesn't matter because either way, I don't think I'll be getting any real value in exchange of my money.

As for the role festivals play. As someone without any stakes whatsoever in the industry, I can only speculate, and likely is that I'll reach the wrong conclusions. Each festival is different and organisers will have each their own goals. Goals that are, and should be of no concern to us, the consumers. Since we haven't assumed any of the risks associated with putting together an event of this sort, we have no right to question their purpose.

At the end the day, though, and regardless of why we go to a festival (which sometimes can also mean spending quite some time and money to get there), what we all really want from a it is to have a good time, and as long as said good time is delivered, whether the purpose of the festival is to promote an industry—or a segment thereof—make a bunch of geeks happy or solely profit from a hot fad, is of very little relevance.

Na Zdraví!

2 Feb 2015

Hostinec U Tunelu - Love at first sight

Love at first pint, that's something that's happened to me quite a few times. I think you know what I mean, you walk into a pub for the first time, without really knowing what to expect, but when you're sipping your first beer, you realise you've come to the right place.

Love at first sight with a pub, however, that's something I don't remember ever happening to me until I stumbled upon Hostinec U Tunelu a couple of months back.

I had been in Lower Žižkov that afternoon, doing some research for the upcoming second edition of the Pisshead's Pub Guide*. After finishing at U Slovanské Lípy, instead of taking the bus or walking to Florenc, I decided to go to Karlín through the tunnel and then catch the tram to Dejvice in Sokolovská. And there I found it, as its name implies, right by the exit of the tunnel.

It had only recently replaced a namesake pub I had never felt compelled to patronise. Gone were the Gambrinus signs that covered the large windows; it was now possible to see inside, and it was beautiful! First Republic chic all around, and I'm a sucker for First Republic chic. Gone was Gambáč, too, replaced by Konrad, a regional brewery from North Bohemia that I've come to like a lot.

I had to go in! It couldn't resist it. I checked the time; there was enough for a quick pint, maybe two.

In I went. I didn't mind that there didn't seem to be a place to have one na stojáka, especially after noticing the wood-burning stove next to the bar, with a couple of large, gently steaming pots on top. Yup! You've come to the right place, I told myself.
Being a new pub, in the mid-afternoon, I wasn't surprised to find it almost empty, which somehow added to its charm, as it is small enough to make that quietness cozy. I took a table in one corner and ordered my pint of 12º from a waitress that came as soon as I had sat down.

Then I started noticing some details that made me like U Tunelu even more: there were no paper coasters with the logo of Konrad, but those thick, small ceramic plates that seem to have been the norm in the old times; there was a tapster, a bloke whose main job is pour beer and, surely, look after it as well, the tapster taking a thick-glassed, half litre mug (the perfect glass for this sort of beer, and many others) from a sink filled with clean, cold water by the taps and proceeding to pour the beer in one draw.
The beer tasted good, very good, of course. Even before it was brought to me, I had decided that I wouldn't drink it quick, and that it wouldn't be one. I would get home a bit later than expected. The missus would understand, I was doing research for the book.

Things were going according to plan until something ignited a conversation with the two merry gentlemen at the table next to mine. I've told you already how things usually turn out when someone asks me where I'm from at a pub. This one was no exception, and soon my two new friends insisted on buying me each a pint.
Refusing would've been impolite. Not that I had much of an internal conflict; I'd pretty much made up my mind that I would stay for a pint longer when I ordered the second 12º, with a soup to go with it—čočková, just like babička used to make it, if I'd had a Czech babička who made lentil soup.

In the end, I got home a couple of hours later than I'd said I would, in a very good mood, and very enthusiastic about my discovery. My wife's disapproval lasted until I started to put together dinner (without chopping any fingers), while I told her about how lovely that new pub was.

I went back to U Tunelu as soon as I could. I wanted to make sure if my infatuation wasn't a case of the beer goggles—I had five pints under my belt before that first visit. It wasn't, the place is great through and through. And it is very popular with the denizens of the nearby offices—no wonder, the limited lunch menu is great value, and so are the beer snacks, and the service is very good, too. I've been several times more since—once with the missus even!–and my first impression was reinforced with each visit. This is a pub done right: beer minimalist, down to earth, following the modern trend of good food made with fresh, quality ingredients; it feels classic and creative at the same time, not to mention incredibly welcoming. You can hardly ask for more.

Na Zdraví!

Hostinec U Tunelu
50.0905706N, 14.4531067E
Thamová 1 – Prague 8-Karlín
+420 224 815 801 - utunelu@utunelu.cz
Mon-Sat: 11-23
Metro B; Trams 3, 8 - Křižíková