8 May 2017

Musings Over an Afternoon Pint

The other day I stopped for a couple of beers at Krkonošská Hospůdka, a friendly, unpretentious little place I wish I could go to more often. I was the first patron to walk in, just when the doors had opened for the day, but I wasn’t alone for long. A couple, a few older than me, took a table in the opposite end of the room, and more people would soon follow; a mixed crowd that created a great atmosphere.

I ordered Krakonoš 12°, I was thirsty and didn’t want to think about what else was there, besides, I have a bit of a soft spot for that beer, even if consistency is not one of its strongest points, but that afternoon was spot on.

The man at the other end of the room studied the blackboard with the beers on tap and picked President, a 12° Světlý Ležák from Pivovar Ovipistán. I don’t remember having seen any references of this létajicí pivovar or its beers, but this man at the other end of the room was sure liking that dvanáctka, so much that he got another before I was through with my first beer and talked his companion into having one, too, with similar results.

Well, I told myself, this is as good a reference as anyone would need, and I ordered a velké.

It was rubbish, really. Most people describe diacetyl as buttery, to me, cheap margarine melting is a more accurate descriptor (if you are in Czechia, imagine dropping a dollop of Perla on a hot pan), and this beer smelled like plenty of it, and didn’t taste much better. Now, I don’t mind some diacetyl in my Pale Lagers any more than I mind a rock band using synthesisers, but this one was like Van Halen’s “Jump”. I tried to pay as little attention as possible, drinking it in big swigs while focusing on my book so I could get to the next beer.

Bob&Dave Bitter 11° was my next beer. I didn’t order it first because I thought it was a Bitter and not a bitter jedenáctka, and a lovely one at that! It begins almost Helles-like malty, but the grassy-herbal bitterness builds up almost to the point of wrecking the whole thing half-way down the glass, where it settles in its clean, bready cushion. It’s brewed by Robert Franěk, former (?) brewer at Pivovar Hendrych, at the brand new, resurrected brewery in Kamenice nad Lipou, and it’s quite similar to Hendrych 11°, which it seems to have replaced at this pub.

And yet, as much as I was enjoying it, I couldn’t get my mind off of the pint of pomazánkové máslo juice I’d just had. If you follow the comments of the local beer intelligentsia, you might get the impression that diacetyl-ladden beers have become a scourge, to the point that Jiří Kaňa wandered in Pivní.info whether 2016 wasn’t the year of diacetyl. And yet, that man sitting at the table in the opposite end of the room was clearly enjoying President 12°, and was probably in his fourth glass by then.

A beer is good if you like it, and it’s well made if it reflects the intentions of the brewer. Not having at hand the brewer of President 12° to ask him, I will assume, for the sake of the argument, that this beer was well made. Could it be that the problem with diacetyl is ours because we’ve been told it’s an off-flavour by some style guidelines or another? I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that loudly hopped beers were an acquired taste; or the sour beers that geeks like so much these days.

The conclusion of this? Go to Krkonošská Hospůdka and get yourself some of that Bob&Dave Bitter. You won’t regret it.

Na Zdraví!

Krkonošská Hospůdka

50°5'53.776"N, 14°24'23.323"E
Muchova 7 – Prague-Bubeneč
+420 608 566 262 – davidhousa@gmail.com
Mon-Fri: 15-22:30
Metro A, Trams: 1, 2, 8, 18, 20, 25, 26 – Hradčanská

12 Apr 2017

Back to the Roots Reviews: Pivovar Na Lochkově

There’s no better way to kill a few hours in Prague than going on a beer run. That was the case last Thursday when I decided to check out Pivovar Na Lochkově, which had opened about a year ago.

After having taken care of a couple of errands, I went to Na Knížecí to get the 120 to Lochkov. It was a pleasant half hour ride through some parts of Prague I haven’t explored yet (I spotted a couple of interesting pubs, btw).

Lochkov is one of those countless villages that Prague gobbled up sometime last century, and it seems to have been spared the overdevelopment of similar localities. Though very near the SW section of Pražský Okruh, it’s still very surrounded by fields and small patches of forest. Having lived the first three decades of my life in a city where you have to drive for well more than an hour to see anything resembling countryside, going through fields after a few minutes by bus from the centre is something that never ceases to fascinate me.

The brewpub is almost around the corner from the bus stop, opposite an old, abandoned brewery that seems to have been quite big. I arrive shortly after opening time. The waitress is still making photos of the lunch menu to be posted on FB, for sure, and there’s only one other client; though more will be arriving soon.

The place is quite modern and not too big. It has walls with what looks to be fake exposed bricks and there are a lot of straight lines and other details that remind me a little too much to Potrefená Husa or a bar at an airport. The only thing that makes it somewhat welcoming are the large windows that make the front. You can see the brewhouse (5 hl, I reckon, and quite good looking) from them, in one corner, behind the bar, which isn’t very long. To the left of the bar is the kitchen. I take a table opposite the bar. The plush bench along the wall is really soft and when I sit the table ends up being a tad too high.

The service is flawless. My order for food and pivo is taken as soon as I've made myself comfortable. The food, holandský řizek with potatoes and a salad does the job. The portion is generous. I’ve had worse for 120 CZK.

But what's brought me here is the beer. I don’t remember seeing any references to Pivovar Na Lochkově since their opening, at least not in the last few months, so I don't know what to expect. There are three beers on tap: a Světlá 11°, a Polotmavá 13°, and the Ipička. I begin with the Pale Lager, of course.

It wasn’t good. It smelled heavy of honey flavouring and little else. It reminded me to what the owner of another microbrewery said while he was showing us the shop: that they have to add caramelised malts to their Světlý Ležák because Pilsner Urquell has made people expect a darker Pale Lager. Bollocks. Some of the best beers in the style are really pale and nobody seems to mind. If only that had been the only problem with this 11°. It tasted as if diacetyl and phenols were fighting over the mouthfeel while the hops wanked in a corner. It was the food that made it drinkable.

Needless to say, my expectations for the next beer, the Polotmavá 13°, weren’t high. It looked mahogany, almost like a Dunkles, and it was delicious! Bit of wood and nuts, with enough caramel to balance it, and a breath of floral hops in the finish. I really loved it, and decided that this beer alone had made the trip worth it.

I had time for one more before taking the bus, and it would have to be a small one. What the fuck. Let’s get the Ipička. It was crap. A couple of years ago, ČIPEs (Český India Pejl Ejl) were quite yeasty and unfinished. They seem to have evolved to something cleaner that smells like cheap cheese. I’ve noticed this feature in too many of these beers lately, including Bernard’s and last month’s Prazdroj’s (though to a lesser extent). It’s horrible! This one was also had hardly anything to balance the harshness of what I suspect are old, oxidised hops [citation needed]. Why do they bother? Or rather, why do I bother. I should know better by now.

Pivovar Na Lochkově has a few things going on for it. I don’t regret the trip and, if I could get some assurance of consistency, I wouldn’t mind going back just for the Polotmavá 13°.

Na Zdraví!

Pivovar Na Lochkově
50°0'9.733"N, 14°21'17.470"E
Ke Slivenci 36 – Praha-Lochkov
+420 257 212 378 – nalochkove@nalochkove.cz
Bus: 120 to Lochkov
Mon-Sun: 11-22

30 Mar 2017

How About a Rant?

I’d already commented about this on FB, but I finished a project ahead of schedule and I’m in the mood for a bit of ranting. So here it goes.

Two weeks ago was the first Salon Piva in Prague at Průmyslový palác, in Výstaviště, following namesake festivals in Bratislava and other Slovakian towns, organised by the same people.

It was a trendy AF event, with trendy AF breweries presenting trendy AF beers, which I couldn’t be arsed to attend. It was a tasting-only festival, to begin with, with 20 cl samples costing mostly between 25 and 50 CZK, as Pivníci reported (though one of their pictures showed a brewery selling 10 cl samples for 20 and 25 CZK). And to get to those samples, and the glass they were served in (no Teku or buttplug, but a Shaker. I’ll take a trendy point off, I think) you had to pay the 150 CZK admission fee.

Just to put it into perspective, the price of the admission fee buys you: 2 large IPAs at Pivovar Strahov, 2 half-litre portions of Matuška or a similarly priced brand at several pubs in town or 2 litres of the superb Fabián 12° at the lovely taproom Pivovar Hostomice has set up near Nám. Republiky (2,5 l, if you stick to the equally superb 10°). Why the fuck would I want to pay that much only so I can go into a place to buy ridiculously overpriced tasting samples?

But that isn’t my quarrel with this festival. The pricing and the admission fee are legitimate business decisions by people trying to cash in on a hot trend while it lasts. And Who can blame them? There seems to be a market not only willing but happy to pay that sort of money, even in a town like Prague, which isn’t precisely lacking trendy places with trendy beer.

No, there’s another thing that bothered me about this festival, and quite a bit.

The payment system was similar to the one Český Pivní Festival has been using for several years, a chip card that you top up with credits, replacing cash and tokens to purchase beer and food. So far, so good; clever, in fact. The thing is that the system had been set up with a 10% TIP by default whenever you went to top up your card bought a beer. And this where things begin to rub me the wrong way. It is not too different to the “10% Service Charge” some tourist traps in the centre will add to the bill of anyone not speaking Czech. Of course, people topping up their cards could opt out of the tip, every time, but that is not something you should have to opt out of.

“But, Max,” I can hear some of you say, “I’m cool with that. I do believe the owners of the Craft Breweries that came to Salon Piva to promote their Craft Beers deserve that extra bit for pouring those overpriced tasting samples and putting them on the counter, with a smile.”

Fair enough. But if I told you that only half of it went to reward the people serving beverage and food? Yup, you’ve read that right. According to Pivníci, half of that almost mandatory surcharge (only announced at the cash desks) ended up in the pockets HELLOPAY®, the provider of the payment system, who had set up that surcharge. Cute, init? Yeah, and when went to get a refund of your remaining credits when you returned the card before leaving the festival, HELLOPAY® would automatically round down the amount to the nearest ten, giving themselves another tip in the process for the great service they’ve given you. This, according to the comment below, it's not true. I was a twat for not checking up the information, and I apologise for that.

Fuck this bullshit! Fuck HELLOPAY®! And fuck the organisers of Salon Piva, too for being cool with it! This is not cashing in on a fad, this is just ripping people off. Prague’s beer scene doesn’t need cunts like you. Do us a favour and don’t come back next year. I apologise for this, too, BTW.

Na Zdraví!

12 Mar 2017

Just a Shower Thought

It's been happening in the US, the UK, Spain, Italy; even in Argentina, Colombia, and Chile. The big boys are buying small, independent breweries. And it seems that it will go on for the foreseeable future.

Now, given their recent and, with few exceptions, not entirely successful attempts at producing "new" stuff, (even Pradroj has an IPA this month!) I wonder how much longer it will take for Czech big brewers to start buying minipivovary here, and who are the most suitable candidates.

That's it. Carry on doing what you were doing.

Na Zdraví!

3 Jan 2017

A Recap of an Unproductive Year

It’s been pretty quiet around here, hasn’t it?

I thought 2016 would be a lot more productive than the year before. It started quite well, in fact. I was having a lot of fun with the Tram Beer Challenge—both doing it and writing about it—and I had several other things bouncing about in my head. But then work happened, and a lot of it (fortunately), which left me with little time, and even less energy, to sit down and write.

Prices is one of the things I wanted to write about, and for some time. Not only they’ve gone up, but it seems that “expensive” beer has become the norm now. Pivovar U Medvídků is perhaps the best example to illustrate what I mean. Ten years ago, 48 CZK for a half-litre of OldGott was pretty expensive—IIRC you could still find Pilsner Urquell for less than 30 CZK without walking too much. Today’s price-tag of 50 CZK for the same portion of the same beer doesn’t rise any eyebrows—I’d the wager the average price of a pint of PU in Prague is around 40CZK these days. A big part of that inflation can be seen in the increasingly popular Ales and other “foreign styles”, and I have this nagging suspicion I have that a good number of them are overpriced in relation to their production costs when compared to those of Lagers of similar gravity. Unfortunately, I never got around to doing the necessary research to prove or disprove that hypothesis.

Somewhat related to that is my capitulation in my personal (and futile) war against the bloody 40 cl measures, when I saw that even Zlý Časy had adopted them as of last 1 December; which kind of pissed me off, especially because they kept the same nominal prices as previously.

Another thing that I mused about last year was whether it makes any sense to hold a beer festival in Prague, a city that to some extent is itself a year-long beer festival. Why putting up with the inconveniences of such events, which include at least one (usually, several) of the following: lack of toilets, lack of sits, crappy food, beers served in less than ideal conditions, rubbish and loud music, moderators who believe have a comedic talent, queues, and, last but not least, fucking entry fees, when you just pop in whenever you fancy at any of the 30+ microbreweries and countless specialist and not-so-specialist-but-still-with-interesting-beers pubs in town, knowing that you are likely to get table service, clean toilets, better food and beer served in good condition, and without being required to pay an entry fee for the privilege? I’ve still haven’t decided.

But the one thing I regret the most not writing about is my meeting back in June with Lukáš Svoboda, “Master of the Taps” (I coined that) at the Ambiente Restaurant Group. He shared a lot of his knowledge about the proper care of beers and taplines, what goes on inside a keg once it’s been tapped, why the same beer will taste different if it’s poured in one draw or in two or more, the difference between the the type of taps that are in most wide use here and abroad (you know the ones I mean) and those old-fashioned looking ones, first popularised by Pilsner Urquell (yes, this kind, a.k.a. “Nostalgie”)*. My notes look very chaotic now to be able to put together something coherent and engaging, I’m afraid. The one thing I can tell you for sure is that, to properly serve a beer, the glass should be chilled and rinsed in cold water, and not dry and at room temperature, as I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere.

Anyway, I don’t know about my plans for this year, to be honest. I’ve been thinking of starting work on a third edition of the Pisshead’s Pub Guide, but I haven’t quite made up my mind yet. In any case, don’t expect much to happening here, but I'm open to suggestions.

Na Zdraví!

*There are two main differences: the internal diameter of the pipe of each, 7 mm in common taps, 10 mm in the other ones; and the fact that the handle of the regular taps have only 3 positions, while the handle of the “Nostalgie” moves along a 90° arc.