21 Mar 2016

Back to the roots reviews: Pivovar Narodní & Pivovar U Dobřenských


As a personal policy, and unless I'm given a good reason to do otherwise, I wait at six months before I decide to give a new brewery my money. My days as a novelty chaser and ticker gone, and I want to have some degree of certainty when I buy a beer; there's plenty of very good stuff on the market to waste time financing crap.

That time has passed (a month or two ago, actually) and, not having any reason to do otherwise, I decided to finally pay visit to Pivovar Narodní and Pivovar U Dobřenských; both, brewpubs making beer happen in Prague's Old Town since last summer.

Pivovar Narodní actually opened its doors in spring, basically next door to the National Theatre, but it would take them another couple of months to fire up the mash tun. They weren't particularly open about that fact, and the beers they sold were from Kácov; whether it was something contract-made or relabelled is not clear. The brewing gear, by the way, is originally from the now closed brewpub in Průhonice, and I think the package also included the brewmaster.

But here I am, early afternoon on a rainy, late-winter Tuesday. The interiors have been heavily influenced by the Potrefená Husa school of interior design, but it kind of works, even with the display of souvenirs by the entrance. Maybe it's the large, wood (or coal?) fired grill on one side. The bar is also at the entrance, but has no room to perch. The only place for a quick beer on the go is a repurposed barrel standing under the stairs leading to the loft. There's another, rather nondescript, room further in and a beautiful beer garden in the back—closed, of course.

There's quite a bit of people for this time on a weekday—many are locals—and most aren't drinking beer (there are five German speaking kids 20 or so, who've all ordered Coke!). It takes me a bit too long to order my first pint as there's only one waiter on duty and it seems everyone has arrived pretty much at once.

There are three beers on tap, or rather, two and a half: a Světlá 11°, both filtered and unfiltered, and a Polotmavá 13°; the only beers they make, and all sold in bloody 0.4l portions.

I order the filtered 11° first, wondering why would a brewpub bother with filtering and which of the two versions sells better. In any case, what I'm brought is not what I could call a good beer. It is served way too cold, to the point that it almost numbs the tip of my tongue, and I start to suspect it is not an accident: there is a mild, but persistent note reminiscing of a cheap beer out of a PET bottle unfamiliar with the inside of a fridge, bought at a small Vietnamese Večerka in a summer afternoon. I don't want to know what it tastes like once it catches some temperature.

The rawer version follows. To be honest, I don't notice much of a difference in the looks, but it tastes better, and it's been served a bit warmer. However, there's something not entirely right. I feel I'm listening to a symphonic orchestra with a flute player missing out his part; unlike Dr. Lecter, I can't figure out which. Whether it's the off note of the previous beer still clinging to my palate, I can't say.

I close the session with the Polotmavá 13°. Unlike the other two, I don't find anything wrong with this beer. Nor anything particularly right. It's the beer equivalent of a veteran bank clerk who has long run out of fucks to give and now does the bare minimum to keep his job.

Overall, it was an unsatisfying experience. I'm sure Pivovar Narodní will do fine as a business: the food I saw looked nice, the service was good in the end, the prices are reasonable and they have a prime location. But I find it redundant. For this kind of beers, I'd much rather go to the relatively nearby Vinohradský Pivovar or Bašta, where I will get a full portion of better beer at a better price, or even the neighbouring U Medvídku.

Let's hope U Dobřenských turns out better. It has to, it's considerably more expensive.

Pivovar U Dobřenských is located in the premises formerly occupied by a similarly named, but short-lived pub that served Kout na Šumavě, in the namesake street that, for some reason, I always seem to have trouble to find. Like Narodní, it'll take them a month or two after opening to get the brewery to work. Unlike Narodní, you could be 100% you would be drinking their beers and not somebody else's with a different jacket.

What sets this brewery apart is their use of unconventional ingredients in all their beers, but not in the Opat fashion—an otherwise finished product flavoured with extracts and syrups—but they actually brew with those ingredients: tribulus terrestris, sage and sea-buckthorn. Their price is another thing that sets it apart: depending on the beer, 65 and 72 CZK bloody for 0.4l portions—about 80 and 90 for a half litre. It thought it was the most expensive, until I saw Strahov's updated price list.

The pub itself it's more my type; it's gorgeous in fact. Vaulted ceilings, exposed masonry, wrought iron, the brewing gear and the tanks and the custom-made taps, and the fireplace create a beautiful ambiance to sit, at least in the taproom. The other room, with more tables, though still very nice, is bland in comparison.

The only people when I arrive are a waiter/tapster and a group of four, of whom two seem to be either the owners or associates of the owners, talking business—Matuška and Hendrych are mentioned in relation to a pub or café, but I can't bring myself to follow the conversation too closely, the excellent Jazz they're playing keeps on grabbing my attention. The one thing that really surprises me is that smoking is allowed in the taproom.

I begin the session with the sea-buckthorn beer, the first in the list. I'm brought a glass with a liquid so murky that it would be considered Proper Craft Beer in some places. The menu has explanations of the botanicals used. They might include tasting notes, but I choose not to read them; I prefer to go in blind, trusting my senses and not somebody else's. There is mild tart note, which I assume comes from the berries. It's well balanced, but I'm not too happy with this beer overall. It needs some polishing; though it's possible I'm drinking the bottom of a keg or tank. In any case, for this price I was expecting something that wouldn't taste like a homebrew.

Moving a notch down the list is Tribulus, the most expensive of the bunch and the house's flagship. It looks considerably better than the previous: about the same colour, but almost clear. I've no idea what this herb is supposed to taste like, but if the beer was given to me blind, I'd probably believe it is a Pale Ale of some denomination brewed with a hop cultivar I'm not familiar with. In other words, it doesn't taste like spiked iced-tea but like beer, and a superb one at that. It's gorgeous, it prances around with joy, delighted to make your acquaintance and be at your service.

That leaves me with the Stout with sage. Stout is not the most aromatic style, and I'm very familiar with the herb (we grow it in our garden and I use it a lot for cooking), so I can easily pick it when I get my nose close to the glass, it's a fairly intense, but at the same time, restrained aroma. In the mouth, fortunately, everything has a perfect balance, even if a bit more precarious. I won't bore with tasting notes, to get an idea what this beer is like, get a good Stout, rub the leaves of fresh sage on your fingers and imagine what those two would be like together, only better. It's muscular, manly, a blacksmith of a beer. I could drink it all day and never get tired of it.

Like Tribulus, Salvia Stout looks and tastes like the product of a Brew Master who knows what he's doing and it's not afraid to show it.

Although I'd heard good comments about the beers, their prices (and their portions) put me off coming before, but I must say that in the end it was money very well spent (at least in two out of three), which is a lot more than I can say about Narodní. I will come back to Pivovar U Dobřenských, and you should go, too.

Na Zdraví!

Pivovar Narodní
50°4'53.031"N, 14°24'56.807"E
Narodní 8 – Praha-Nové Město
+420 222 544 932 – pivovar@pivovarnarodni.cz
Mon-Sun: 11-23:30
Trams: 6, 9, 17, 18, 22 – Narodní Dívadlo

Pivovar U Dobřenských
50°5'2.632"N, 14°24'56.012"E
U Dobřenských 3 – Praha-Staré Město
+420 222 222 141 – info@pivovarudobrenskych.cz
Mon-Sun: 14-24
Trams: 6, 9, 17, 18, 22 – Narodní Dívadlo

PS: Apologies for the lack of photos. I left the camera at home. You'll find some at the brewpubs' webpages.

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