14 Jan 2016

About Those Changes in Czech Beer Regulations


Czech beer regulations are set to be updated. Most of the changes, however, are in nomenclature; though not all of it is pointless.

Once the amendment comes into force, the category Speciál will be called Silné Pivo. It does make a bit of sense, maybe; a beer doesn't need to be higher than 13° to be “special”, and there is nothing special about many beers bigger than 13°. Though, whether a beer with an ABV just north of 5% can be considered strong is another question.

Porter as a legal category will be scrapped. The is the one change I fully agree with. Right now, a brewer who wants to make something like Fuller's London Porter could technically speaking get in trouble because the beer isn't 18° or higher. Not anymore. (I just wonder how long it will take for a beer geek to come out of the woodwork, shouting that Pardubický Pivovar must change the name of its Porter because it is not an Ale).

The most contentious issue in the proposed amendment—at least for the local beer community—is that the current text does not contemplate renaming the category Ležák, something a few people have been fussing about for some time already. I don't quite see where the problem is, really. I don't see many of those people having an issue with Black IPA, Imperial Pilsner or Imperial Black Berliner Weisse (I'm not making that one up, believe me), or that Výčpení Pivo is sold in bottles and cans. Why then is Ležák wrong?

Ladislav Jakl, who knows his beer, explains it here. Let's forget for a second the rather convoluted, and not entirely accurate analogy with cars that he uses. According to him—and all the rest—Ležák is a style; therefore, only beers of that style should be categorised as such. I see several problems with this view. Firstly, Výčpení Pivo and Speciál can also be Ležák, if we understand it as Lager. And Lager isn't a beer style proper to begin with, it's a beer family; or more precisely, a method of beer making. Any cold fermented beer will be a Lager, and even warm fermented beers can be as well, if the secondary fermentation is at low temperatures, and relatively long, as is the case with Kölsch, Alt and some Abbey Beers (though it's a bit more complicated there).

But what if Ležák does not equal Lager? As a translator, I know very well that it is often the context and not a dictionary that determines how a word must be understood in another language, and this goes specially for beer. A Helles is a Helles and a Dunkles is a Dunkles; you can describe them as a German or Bavarian type of pale/dark Lager, but they are a lot more than that. Perhaps, we should take the word Ležák the same way? But then, what happens with Světlý, Polotmavý and Tmavý/Černý? Never mind, it's a pointless debate now; or will be soon, once the category is renamed Plné Pivo (Vollbier, or Full Beer), as it has been announced.

I'm tempted to make the silly joke that whatever is not Plné Pivo is what, Prazdné Pivo? Just to illustrate how unnecessary all this is. But it'd be an even bigger was of time; to all intents and purposes, the categories could be called Honza, Pepa and Tonda and it would make no difference to the consumer, and very little to the brewers. The current nomenclature has been no obstacle for the explosion in diversity style-wise of the last few years (they had no obligation to put the category, in large letters, on the front labels), and I don't see how the amendment could affect that one way or another . Everybody orders or buys beer of a given Balling degree, brand, colour, or style, and they still will. I don't think anyone will ever ask whether the Stout they're about to order is a Ležák or Speciál, Plné or Silné, Pepa or Tonda.

Na Zdraví!

4 comments:

  1. No, you see Pardubický's is a Baltic Porter, in keeping with the Czech Republic's beautiful Baltic coastline.

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    1. No, it's an Imperial Porter. It's been brewed since 1891, when Bohemia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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  2. Can you point to an English-language description of what the names were and what they will become? Or, if no such thing exists, write it? Lovely to see my just-published book will be out of date now on these matters.

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    1. The current names are:
      Stolní pivo, Výčepní pivo, Ležák and Speciál. Only last two will change to Plné pivo and Silné pivo, respectively. I don't thing there's any more sense in translating the names than there is in translating Märzen, Bock or Landbier

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