Remember that trip to Norway I did two years ago, where Sigurd taught us how to brew Norwegian raw ale? Well, that was just the beginning of our cooperation (and friendship) with him. Sigurd came to Czechia two months later to give a talk about kveik at Černokostelecký pivovar and to visit a few pubs in Prague. There were also plans for last year, which had to be cancelled for reasons I’m sure you’re well aware of, and the same fate suffered some of this year’s plans, too; though not all of them, fortunately.
Sigurd was back in our neck of the woods recently, and this time we would stay for almost a week. The program prepared for him was quite packed, it started on Monday at U Fleku, where Sigurd was brought straight from the airport. I met at the beer hall of the historical brewery with Tomáš “Vodouch” Vodochovský, one of the owners of Černokostelecký pivovar, and when Sigurd arrived with Pavel (a member of the staff of ČP) we headed towards the brewery itself and its museum, not before allowing our friend to get properly acclimatised.
I had toured the museum and the brewery a couple of times in the past, but this visit was very special. In pretty much every room Vodouch had a story to share about an exhibit he had rescued in his youth from a brewery about to be torn down. He remembered not only what each thing was used for, but also where he rescued it from and how it ended up at the museum.
After the brewery tour, and the tasting, we hit a couple of pubs and called it a night. Sigurd went to Kostelec with Vodouh and Pavel, and on Tuesday he would visit a few sites. I would meet all of them again on Wednesday for the main even of Sigurd’s trip in the courtyard of Černokostelecký pivovar.
Actually, I met them again on Tuesday evening at the restaurant of Černokostelecký pivovar; I thought it’d be wiser to spend the night in Kostelec than to wake up an an ungodly hour so I could be there at 8. I also met with Milan “Květak” (Cauliflower) Starec, ČP’s other owner, to discuss with him what I was supposed to do as the thing’s official translator.
Květak also told that their brewery museum is now officially called Národní muzeum pivovarnictví (National Brewing Museum) and that this event, and Sigurd’s trip, was part of a wider project financed by EEA Funds (also known as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Noway Grants) called “Revitalization of the Liechtenstein brewery, restoration of original technology and opening of a unique brewery museum and archive in Kostelec nad Černými lesy”. The works should be finished in 2024 and the partners of the project are the Czech Technical University in Prague, Faculty of Architecture - the Research Centre for Industrial Heritage FA CTU Prague, the Herring Era Museum, from Iceland, and Kveik Training, from Norway.
As I said earlier, the main event was on Wednesday, in the courtyard of Černokostelecký pivovar, where Sigurd would show how to brew a Norwegian farmhouse raw ale with kveik to an audience of amateur and professional brewers that included people with decades of experience like Martin Vávra, from Bad Flash, and Aleš Dvořák, brew master at Budějovický Budvar. Also attending were the cameras of Česká televize, which captured every step of the process and interviewed Sigurd for a report that will be aired in one their shows in the coming weeks.
The brewing process was exactly the same we learned in Norway. The malt, the juniper, the elder wood, and the hops were locally sourced, of course, and Sigurd brought with him some of his heirloom kveik. The main difference was the equipment; for example, instead of a copper cauldron hanging above an open fire, we had a wood fired field kitchen, also known goulash cannon, or better still, in German, Gulaschkanone (an epic word, no doubt).
The event went really well despite the weather. Besides my duties as translator and interpreter, I spent most of the day helping Sigurd, as some sort of assistant brewer. It was also beautiful to see the interest and enthusiasm of the audience, who in addition to observing attentively everything we did and ask lots of questions, in some cases they also wanted to get their hands dirty and help with, for instance, cooling the wort – though might have been because of the cold.
After Sigurd had given the Kveik Shout for the cameras and the fermentation tank was full, we stayed outside around a fire drinking and tasting beers with the people that were left, and then inside to drink a couple more pints; but we didn’t stay up too late, on Thursday we were having an early start and it would be a long day.
We left the brewery shortly after 7 in the morning and, after stopping for breakfast at the local butcher’s, we headed to Žďár nad Sázavou.
Our first stop there was Muzeum nové generace, a new museum located in what once was the brewery of a Cistercian monastery – one of the rooms is the humná, or floor maltings, and in another you can see a valach, a device used to dry malt before the adoption of the modern kiln in the mid-19th century. It’s a beautiful museum that maps the history of monastery and the town until the Baroque, when the monastery was closed, with interactive and multi-media exhibits.
From there we went to Zelená Hora, a pilgrimage church listed among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and one of the most impressive buildings I’ve seen in my life, not because of its size – it’s quite small actually – but because of its highly unusual shape, designed by Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel, a very famous and peculiar architect of the time.
At this time of the year the site is closed to the public, but Květak had spoken with its caretaker, Ms Michaela Kokojanová, who was there to receive us and let us in. She was a friendly and very enthusiastic lady who explained us in detail the restoration works that have been, and are still being done to the church and the site as a whole. We must have stayed there for about an hour, awed by the weird beauty of that building, and we couldn’t stop talking about it for the rest of the day.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant by the museum, which itself looked like an exhibit from the turn of the century, (20th – 21st), and we got back on the road to Veselý Kopec, an open-air museum near Hlínsko.
By the time we arrived there it was snowing like in a Christmas fairytale, which added to the atmosphere of a site that would be beautiful in any weather. It consist of about two dozen rural buildings – farmhouses, barns, mills, an oil press, etc. – from the region dating to the 19th century, laid out as if it was village. The truth, however, is that almost none of those buildings were there until the 1960s, when the first exhibits were brought an reassembled like 3D jigsaw puzzles after having been carefully disassembled in their original locations. Our guide, Mr Jan Štorek, made the visit all the more enjoyable. As someone who has dedicated his entire life to the museum, he knew every nook and cranny in detail and his excitement when he was telling us, for example, about their plans to put the water mill back on operation was contagious.
The final stop of the day was at Kutílková palírna a pivovar Žlebské Chvalovice. We were greeted there by the owner, Mr Jaroslav Kutílek, a most brilliant host. He was eager to show us his kingdom: the brewing kit (a 6 hl, two-piece set vertically, with the lautering tun on top, something I’d never seen) and the distillery. He was even more eager for us to taste his products. The beers, I have to say, were unremarkable, but the brandys he makes with the fruit from his own orchards were the dog’s bollocks! We spent the rest of the evening there snacking, tasting (except for Pavel, who had to drive), talking and having a cracking time.
On the way back to Kostelec, Pavel dropped me at the train station in Český Brod, from where I made my long way back home.
On Friday I had to take care of some work related things, so I couldn’t join Sigurd on his trip to Pivovar Lobeč and Kocour, in Varnsdorf, where he spent the night. We met again on Saturday, when he an Pavel picked me up at home to go to Žatec. Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit the local hop museum, but we were welcome at Žatecký pivovar.
I’ve never been a fan of the beers from Žatec, not because they are bad, it’s just that I feel they don’t have enough hop character to honour their name, their city and their region. The brewery, on the other hand, it’s beautiful. It’s your typical Czech regional brewery, with a copper brewhouse consisting of mash-tun, decoction kettle, lautering tun, and kettle, deep cellars with open fermenters and even deeper cellars with lagering tanks, where we, of course, tasted some of the local product.
After a (surprisingly) magnificent lunch at the steakhouse El Toro, we also visited the Žatec brewery museum right next door to the brewery. It was put together by the people of Národní muzeum pivovarnictví and its dedicated to the history of not only the brewery next door, but of the region as a whole; it’s certainly well worth a visit if you are around, and admission is free.
We ended the day in Prague, having a few beers at Černá/Black Swine to say good-bye to Sigurd, who was flying back home on Sunday. Let’s hope things go back to normal, or as close as normal as possible, and we can see him again next year.
Now for the disclaimer. I was paid for my translation services and I didn’t have to pay for any of the food and beer I had at Černokostelecký pivovar and in the trips, nor for the accommodation at the brewery; but that’s very far from the reason I’m so happy to be part of this. In the 15 years I’ve been blogging and writing about beer, I’ve been involved in a number of beer-related projects, but none of them has given me more satisfaction than this one, because I feel I’m helping people, good people, and friends, in something they are truly passionate about, and that is simply priceless. And it’s my intention to keep on helping them in any way I can.