10 Oct 2016

Prague Beer Week Grand Finále - a Review


The first Prague Beer Week was held between 3 and 9 October through a series of events around town with beer (or craft pivo, as they said in their press release, sigh!) as their only, rather flimsy, connection. It culminated at the weekend with the Grand Finále, a tasting festival at Kulturní Sportovna in Smíchov; the only event I attended, on Friday.

(Disclaimer: I had a press pass, which meant that I didn't have to pay the 100 CZK admission fee, was given 5 tokens and the glass without paying the deposit. To be honest, I wouldn't have gone otherwise. I'm not keen on tastings—I much prefer drinking—and, mainly, because I'm against paying a admission fee so I can get into a place to buy beer.)

Kulturní Sportovna is a repurposed old warehouse next to the Na Knížecí bus station that doesn't seem to have been refurbished much beyond what was needed to make it functional. It was the perfect venue for an event of this kind: welcoming, rustic, unpretentious and with a bit of a country-pub vibe; certainly much nicer than a luxury hotel, château or an exhibition hall.

At the left of the entrance was the place's permanent bar and opposite it was installed a mobile bar that prepared beer cocktails. Between them there was basically an empty space. Food was provided by a food truck parked outside, by the entrance. The Czech beers were tapped from a long, U-shaped, bar put behind a column in the middle of the hall, while the foreign ones could be found in the cellar.

Not being the audience of this type of event, I can't evaluate the atmosphere fairly. I didn't like the music much (my problem only), but they played it at a moderate volume and you didn't need to scream to talk to the person next to you.

It all felt very professionally organised. There was plenty of sitting room, with picnic tables around the taps with the Czech beers, and some more seats and tables downstairs. There were also a couple of tanks to rinse the festival-issued glass, a Teku (really ugly, if you ask me, and tasting from it was not better, or worse, than from pretty much any other type of glass; but it's trendy and has a tall stem that makes it automatically fancy). At the entrance you were issued a card listing all the beers on tap, with their styles, Plato and ABV; very useful to help you choose what you'll drink next, instead of walking around the bar.

Everything seemed to be working in good order, at least in the couple of hours I spent of Friday. My only quibble was the lack of water to rinse your palate between samples. Pitchers on the tables or at least a water fountain would've been a fine detail, especially since many of the beers were really packed with flavour.

The range of beers was superb—45 beers from 15 breweries/brands (10 domestic, 5 imported)—with enough diversity to make everyone happy. There were Pale and Dark Lagers, a Weizenbock, PAs and Stouts of various persuasions, even sours.

Since drinking a tasting sample of a session strength beer is a waste of time, and beer, I stuck mostly to the heavier hitters. The Czech beers I had—No Idols DIPA from Clock, Asfalt from Zhůřák, Superfly India Saison from Falkon, Morion Stout from Albrecht, Zichovecký's Weizenbock, Permon's Russian Imperial Stout, and Sibeeria's Sweet Jesus—were all very good to excellent; though perhaps served a bit too cold, especially those Stouts. The only discordant note was High Diver, an IPA brewed by Next Level Brewing, from Germany, which I thought was awful. I ignored the other foreign beers. They cost two tokens; too expensive for stuff I didn't know anything about. Which brings me to the one thing that bothered me:

The price.

The tokens were 35 CZK and each would buy you a tasting sample of a Czech beer. Though the size of the samples appeared to be pretty much up to the tapster, I was mostly served 0.2l. That works out to almost 90 CZK for a pint. Way too much; and ridiculous for some of the beers listed. It's considerably more than what you'd pay for Matuška or Falkon (two of the most expensive brands in the country) at places like BeerGeek or Zlý Časy—which won't charge you 100 CZK to get in. A 25 CZK price tag, though still far from cheap, would have been reasonable. Really, for that kind of money per volume you can get, at not few pubs in town, one litre of some truly great beers (or craft pivo, if they want to call them like that), a couple of which were also served at this festival.

But as I've said, it was a very well put together event, and the organisers deserve praise, prices notwithstanding. Thank you for the invitation.

Na Zdraví!

6 comments:

  1. Ludicrously expensive beer? Check. Trendy venue? Check. Paying just to get in? Check. Run-down dive location? Check.

    I suspect hipsters!

    I love Czech beer and this place is very near my flat, but I would never go there for this kind of thing. I'd walk another fifty steps and get on the 7 for five minutes to U Prince Miroslava. This kind of thing just doesn't seem Czech to me at all.

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    1. Hmm... Your comment has given me an idea for a future post; and hipsters will have nothing to do with it.

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    2. Neil, the organizers are the ones behind the May Prague Beer Festival. We have an event at our Dominikanský dvůr site, where we charge 50 CZK a day, 80 CZK for two days - helps defray our costs. Mind you, beers are very normally priced. Check out the photos, next one beginning of April 2017 https://www.facebook.com/JanaVolkovaPhotography/photos/?tab=album&album_id=497873883671117

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    3. I understand why you charge an entry fee, and it does make sense from your perspective.

      The problem I have with it as a consumer, however, is that, if I went one day, and had, say, 5 beers, those 80 CZK add another 16 CZK to the price of each beer, and I don't feel I would get any equivalent value in return. In fact, it could be argued that I'd be getting even less value than if I went to a pub or a beer garden to do exactly the same I'd be doing at your festival, where I might have to put up with crowds, queues, lack of toilets and places to sit, no service (depending on the festival, rubbish music), beers tapped in less than ideal conditions, etc.

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  2. Having vetted a few of these, the money is all in the tasting glass. When it's ten bucks to enter an event and that gets you the mandatory glass, the rest being pay as you go the organizers make a killing on that glass.

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    1. You had to pay an additional 100 CZK deposit for the glass. How many people took it home, hard to say, but it would be certainly a bit more profit on top.

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