Showing posts with label Herold. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Herold. Show all posts

2 Feb 2011

Crisis, my ass (II)

You can't blame Austrias for believing there is a crisis in the Czech brewing industry, they are seeing things from a distance and their information is sure second hand. To a certain extent, the general public can't be blamed, either. The 12% drop in production is an undeniable reality, the kind that the media loves for their bombastic headlines, knowing full well that not many people will bother with details.

Jan Veselý isn't Austrian and, in this context, he can't be considered part of the general public. As chairman of Český Svaz Pivovarů a Sladoven (Czech Brewers and Maltsters Association) he is someone who should not much better and yet, when you read the interview he gave to Radio.CZ (kindly reproduced by kindly posted by Pivni.Info) you can almost see him sobbing in despair. There, Veselý goes as far as to say that "in recent history, there have never been worse times than this".

Really, Mr. Veselý?

To me, as a consumer, these are the best of times. Regional beers have never been easier to find in pubs, restaurants, supermarkets and some shops. Microbreweries are booming, only in Prague there are 12 (well, 11 and 1/2, Třebonice brews only in Winter) and many are those that one way or another get their beers to pubs in the city. And if that wasn't enough, getting a wide range of quality imported beers isn't a dream anymore.

OK. Mr Veselý doesn't speak on behalf of the consumers, but as a spokesman for the industry. But even in such role he is missing the point.

Some regional beers are publishing their results for the past year and the picture they give is pretty different:

K-Brewery: They haven't published any figures yet, but it is expected that the combined volume of their seven breweries will be pretty close to 1 million hl, if not more, with a double figure growth. Also, Martín Burda, the biggest shareholder of the company, has said in a recent interview that 2010 was a very successful year from the financial and commercial point of view, and that they expect an even better 2011.

Svijany: They had set as a goal to brew 400,000hl in 2010, which they reached on Dec. 1, as they announced on their Facebook page. Not bad for a brewery that had their death sentence signed in 1998.

Rohozec: 10% growth.

Primátor: 3% increase in sales.

Bernard: For the second year in a row the broke the 200,000hl barrier, setting up another record in production for the brewery.

Havlíčkův Brod: Better known by their brand, Rebel, it had almost 2% increase in production.

Herold: 1.5% increase in production for another brewery that came back from a deep coma.

Chotěboř: The owners of this small industrial brewery that started operations in mid 2009 are very happy with the results of their first full year. So much that they are already evaluating the possibility of investing in order to double their current capacity. (By the way, Mr Vesely, how many industrial breweries opened during those glorious years of 160l per capita a year? How many were shut down?).

But I wanted to know more, so I wrote to a few other regional brewers and asked them how had they done last year. Five of them answered:

Polička: The brewery's boss, Karel Witz, sent me an e-mail with a very detailed description of the operational and financial results of his brewery. In short words, 2010 was pretty good in spite of a slight drop in production.

Žatec: 5% increase in production and around the same in turnover.

Ferdinand: 13% increase in production.

Budějovický Měšťanský Pivovar: 25% increase in production.

Bakalář: The brewery changed hands in the middle of last year and production dropped by 5%. However, the new owners feel optimistic thanks to the trends in the last months.

And all this without taking into account the many micro breweries that opened last year or that invested in order to meet the growing demand for their products.

Yes, I'm sure that there owners worried by the future of their companies and workers wondering whether they will be able to keep their jobs till the end of the year, but that's something that happens in every industry regardless of the global situation in the economy and markets.

So, Mr. Vesely, are these really such bad times? They really don't seem to me.

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4 Feb 2010

Making the best of an invitation

Though I talk about places that I visit while wandering around the city, restaurant reviewing is nor my area of expertise, neither the main topic of this blog. That's why I was quite surprised by the mail received from Restaurace Paprika a few days before Christmas.

Paprika is a small Hungarian restaurant located in a back street of Holešovice. Its owner Holešovice wanted to invite me to taste the home made sausages his brother, the chef, makes. I love sausages, they are one of the best beer snacks in the world, and I have a greasy spot for Hungarian-like sausages. Of course I accepted the invitation. In my religion refusing without a very good reason an invitation to good food is a capital sin punished by an eternity of drinking piss-warm Corona from glasses of Kout na Šumavě.

So a couple of weeks ago I agreed with Lászlo to pay him a visit on a quiet afternoon. I didn't go empty handed, I took a few beers with me to try some pairings and share with my host.
Paprika is a pretty small restaurant, but very welcoming, a real neighbourhood place. The decoration and the furnishings are basic and unpretentious, I quite liked it. I was welcomed by László. He's a very nice and friendly bloke, from Hungary, but has been living in Prague for many years. He told me the restaurant had opened in March and that fortunately, things were beginning to go very well. Still, he said they would like to move to a nicer location, with more pedestrian traffic. He also explained their philosophy of using only fresh ingredients, as authentic as possible, what they can't get here, they bring from their home-town. The aim is to cook really home made typical Hungarian food.

To get things started he brought me three pieces of bread topped with different lard based spreads, kacsazsír, with duck lard; tepertőkrém, with pork drippings and kolbászzsír tarjadarabokkal with sausage drippings with bits of roasted pork neck. All three absolutely delicious. The perfect beer snack. I paired the first two with Svijanský Rytíř, the bitterness of this světlý ležák cut through the fattiness and brought up the flavours of the spreads. I tried the other with Primátor 13%, not bad, but I liked the match with Svijany better.
The "main course" (or so I thought at the moment) came next, the promised home made sausage. László told me that they mince the season the meat themselves and then stuff it in tripes brought from Hungary. It was wonderful! Perhaps the best sausage I've ever had in a restaurant. Incredibly meaty, with the right amount of spice that gained intensity as the sausage lost length. I wasn't a big fan of the tripe, very thin and soft, I prefer them snappier, but László told me that it is the kind used for this type of sausage. I paired it both with Primátor 13% and with Herold Tmavé. The latter worked better. Its roasted notes complemented the spice very well. The sausage also came with a plate of mixed pickles, I loved the cabbage, which also went well with the Herold.

After that I was brought another round of spreads on (now bigger) pieces of bread and we chatted a bit more about Hungarian food and culinary traditions and, specially, about Goulash and how they prepare it. I got a couple of good tips to improve my already wicked gulášek. After I was done with the spreads (man, they are lovely!) I went to the loo, when I came back I had a surprise waiting for me on the table. A generous portion of the dish we had been discussing.
The real name is vörösboros marhalábszárpörkölt. It came with something that looked like cus-cus called tarhonya. Though a bit too salty for my taste, it was still very, very good. Wonderfully rich and tasty, with very tender mean that was neither stringy nor dry. Fantastic. Here, Primátor 13% did a very good job. Its caramel notes made a nice base for the tasty flavours of this goulash.

I ended up stuffed and with a very jolly belly, also very satisfied with my pairing experiments. I promised László I would visit his restaurant with my family once the weather got a bit nicer. The offer of draught beer is nothing to write home about, Pilsner Urquell and Kozel (I'm trying to see if László wants to change suppliers), but they have the pretty good Maisel Weisse, from Germany at 37CZK a bottle. Of course, there's also a nice selection of Hungarian wines.

I strongly recommend Restaurace Paprika. Not only they serve good home-made food, but the owners are honest, hard-working people who are everything they can to offer the best possible quality to their clients, and that deserves support.

Na Zdraví!

Restaurace Paprika
Jateční 39
Holešovice - Praga 7
+420 722 064 214

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12 Nov 2009

It's good to be me (2009 edition)

Just like last year, and the year before, the good people of Sdružení Přátel Piva were kind enough to invite me to their annual award ceremony, which, to a certain extent, is actually an excuse to get together for a few beers with friends, colleagues, etc.

This year's edition took place at Pivovar Strahov. It seems thasince there was no need to travel anywhere, more people that usual attended. I arrived at 11 and the downstairs room was already packed.
It wasn't long before a glass of beer almost magically materialised in my hand (Budvar Dark, fine, but way too cold for my taste). It was a rather chilly day, but I was thirsty after the walk from Dejvická. I found Evan Rail and while we exchanged stories about our family lives and greeted a few known faces, the beginning of the award ceremony proper was announced. With a new beer in hand (Chotěboř světlý ležák, really good) I followed the crowd to the room upstairs, which was also wall-to-wall full.
The ceremony was fun and didn't feel too long, partly thanks to the reigning good mood. I'll analyse the awards tomorrow, if I get the list, because I didn't bother to take notes.
Once the formal affair was over, food was served. The line at the buffet table was pretty long, but moved quickly. The food that I had (onion soup, bramboračky, pork ribs, chicken wings and some smoked stuff) was finger licking good (and fingers had to actually be licked since it was easier to eat most of it with the hands).

With a full plate in one hand and a beer in the other we went back upstairs to eat more comfortably. With Evan and his friend Chris (an American brewer living in CZ) we chatted about many topics, mostly beer, though. Later we were joined by Aleš Dočkal and so the beers went by (or the hours, whatever).

Even though there was plenty to choose from, it was very difficult to resist the magnetic attraction of the host beers from Strahov, both great, specially the dark one, and the ones from U Medvídku, in fantastic shape, both. Before leaving, when almost everyone had packed and gone away, I had a glass of Herold Weizen, which I noticed tastier and with more spice than in previous occasions, something that made me really glad.

I had a fantastic time, not only thanks to the very good beer and food, but also because of the people. It was really nice to have a chat, even a short one, with people I hadn't seen for some time, or with new people. It also made me pretty happy to be recognised, and not as the crazy Argentine that comes to drink for free, but as "Pivní Filosof". Several were those who asked me about my daughter, my home-brewing adventures or complimented my blog. One of them, the owner of První Pivní Tramvaj, even asked me for a Czech version of this blog. It would be nice.

Good food, great beers and even better company, can a day get any better?

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14 Aug 2009

Real Potential

While some breweries are working hard at reducing or dumbing down their product line, there are others that, fortunately, are doing the exact opossite.

A couple of months ago Herold brought back from the dead their pseničné pivo, which, though not as good as Primátor Weizen, is a very decent product that can be easily compared with the better known Bavarian brands.

But it seems they haven't had enough. Pivovar Březnice "announced" (meaning that I was told by someone with no connection to the brewery) a Dunklesweizen a couple of weeks ago. Actually, it's not an entirely new product, either, they used to brew it in the nineties, according to what I've heard. I haven't been able to taste it yet, it is only available in kegs and I haven't been lucky enough to get it anywhere, but just the fact that it is out there is reason enough to celebrate in my books.

And they aren't the only ones taking the wheat road. Word on the street is that Pivovar Černá Hora is preparing a weizen of their own that might be launched together with the Gluten Free beer they have set for this Autumn.

Wheat beers are becoming more and more popular among the micros as well. That's not surprising, many of those breweries are working at the limit of their capacities and the increase in demand during the summer months always threatens to compromise the quality of their products. Wheat beers have turned out to be a blessing for them. They are ready in just two weeks, while their lagers need at least five. By offering their patrons a suitable alternative to quench their thirsts, the demand for ležaký decreases a bit, which gives them a bit more time to properly mature.

And people do like them. While enjoying Nuselské Bilé the other day, Hanz, the owner of Zlý Časy was telling me how well wheat beers in general are selling at his pub. But you don't need to go to a beer geeks' spot to see that for yourself. Just drop by at U Sadu during a sunny afternoon and check out how many glasses of Primátor Weizen can be seen on the tables.

What surprises me a bit is that it is women and other people who don't drink too much beer who seem to like pšenky the most. The other day I have my mother in law a bit to try, and she absolutely loved it.

In a nutshell, wheat beers do have a lot of potential. What they need is more exposure. For example, other than Dobrá Trafika in Karmelitská, I can't think of any other place in the centre that offers a Czech Wheat Beer, and I don't understand why? Anyway, once these beers get the exposure they deserve, they will be a huge success, perhaps reaching, if not surpassing, the numbers of dark beers.

Might we see in a near future the resurrection of Gambrinus Bilé?

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4 Jun 2009

Welcome back

After a two year absence Pivovar Herold has started brewing a wheat beer again.

In August last year the brewery changed owners. For almost a decade Pivovar Březnice had been owned by a company of American origin that focused mostly on the export market, giving little if any attention to the domestic one. The sharp fall in the value of the US Dollar against the Czech Koruna resulted in prices becoming uncompetitive and the yanks decided to pack their bags. Now the new owners are trying to recover the market that Herold lost. The return of Herold Pseničné was possible thanks to the head brewer who was able to talk his new bosses into allowing him to brew it again.

I had tasted the beer just before it was discontinued, it was only once, I think, and I don't remember much about it, so I was really looking forward to drinking it again. Instead of reviewing it alone, I decided to do a comparative tasating with the other industrially produced domestic wheat beer, Primátor Weizen. Both bottled, both while sitting on my terrace.
I started with Náchod's, with which I am very familiar and is know one of my favourite beers. It is brewed with a single decoction mashing, which makes it a bit of a rarity. According to Czech beer guru Honza Šuran, the only two beers of this kind that are brewed using this mashing method are Primátor's and Pivovarský Dům's.
What else can I say about Primátor Weizenbier, only that it tastes better every day. It has a perfect balance of sweetness, bitterness and sourness that makes it very refreshing and tasty.

When Evan Rail published his review of Herold Wheat, Javier left a comment saying that he thought Primátor Weizen was better than German wheat beers. His opinion only managed to garner the incredulity of another reader, Elf. Well, I agree with Javier. I think Primátor Weizenbier is a better beer than the famous Bavarian ones (Schneider, Paulaner, Erdinger, etc) and it's on the same level, if not a bit higher, that most of the ones coming from smaller breweries that I've tasted. But this isn't adoptive nationalism on my part. Two German beer enthusiast with whom I spent an afternoon the other day agreed with this view. But of course, at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal tastes.

With Primátor having vanished from the glass, it was Herold's turn. It pours a bit paler and it's less aromatic, it isn't as rich, either. The flavours are milder and it lacks much of the spice and citrus notes that are so present in its competitor. At the same time, I found the malt a bit too dominant. It's not bad at all, I didn't dislike it. It is very easy to drink and it could be a great option for those who want to start discovering the world of wheat beers. And actually, qualitatively speaking, it could compete on equal footing with many of the Bavarian weizen, and even come on top of several of them. But as is the case with those from the neighbouring country, Herold Wheat is no match for Primátor Weizen.
Tastes aside, I think it's great that we can now choose between two industrial Czech wheat beers. There is no doubt that the popularity of this style is growing. Primátor Weizen sells really well at those places that serve it. There also seem to be more micros that offer wheat beer (many of them wonderful), which are really popular in the summer months. Will we ever see the day when any of the best known names in Czech beer has a go at brewing a weizen?

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4 May 2009

Cut it!

Las year I wrote a post about řezané, the Czech custom of mixing a pale and dark beer, something like the English black & tan, and I never spoke about the subject again.

I used to drink a lot more řezané than I do now. In fact, since I have become some sort of "beer hunter" I almost don't drink "cut" beers at all, and if it wasn't for this pot by Ron Pattison, I don't think I would have thought about doing what you will see below.

I decided to mix some beers at home, but not as it is usually done, i.e. a pale and a dark beer from the same brand or brewing group, I wanted to cut beers that are different from each other, always keeping the pale+dark concept. These were the pairings:

First cut: Svijanský Rytíř + Pardubický Porter. 12° balling - 5%ABV for Svijany, 19° Balling - 8%ABV for Porter. The former, with a classic Bohemian pale lager bitterness to which some almost pale ale like fruity notes are added. The latter, with prunes, chocolate and port.
I poured a bit too much Svijany in the first pint and the result was a very boring beer. Instead of complementing or contrasting each other, both beers did their best in drowning each other out.

Maths dictated that the second pint should have more of the Porter. Things improved considerably. Licorice, coffee and burnt sugar stepped forward. All by themselves they wouldn't have been very pleasant, but with the support of the fusion of the fruit in both beers, the resulting drink acquired a very interesting complexity. A slow drinker.

Second cut: Janáček Comenius + Primátor Double: 14° Balling - 6%ABV for Comenius, 24° Balling - 10%ABV for Double. The biggest gravity difference and also a pretty large difference in flavour, dry herbal in the former, licorice and chocolate in the latter.
The result, however, was awful. Tasted like medicine with sugar. I had a hard time finishing the glass, and I still had two half bottles to mix. I Thought better and decided to drink them separatedly instead.

Third cut: Opat Bitter + Herold Tmavé. 11° Ballig - 4.2%ABV for Opat, 13°Balling - 5.2% ABV for Herold. The former, a light, pretty bitter session beer with cold hopping. The latter, perhaps my favourite Czech dark beer, with intense roasted notes.
The result was that Herold crushed the abbot, and while he was down on the ground, kicked him a bit more for good measure. The only effect on Herold was that it tasted a bit tired. Tried adding some more of the Opat, which resulted in a further beating and in a more tired dark beer. I thought that the contrasting flavours of these two beers would work in an interesting way, but I didn't consider the differences of the bodies of both.

Fourth cut: Polička Záviš + Herold Tmavé. After Herold's domination of the previous cut, I had my doubts about how this one would turn out. Though I was also hopeful, Záviš comes with 12°Balling and 5%ABV and with a rather fruity profile.
The result was a Herold a bit more tired than before, but still dominating, leaving only a tiny space for the fruit from Záviš.

Neither of the cuts with Herold worked as I had expected. Maybe I should have mixed it with Svijanský Rytíř, or something similar, after all, that one managed to hold its ground very well with Porter, a much stronger beer. I will try it out one of these days.

Fifth cut: Primátor Weizenbier + Primátor Stout. The original plan was to recreate a black & tan with Primátor English Pale Ale, but I couldn't find it, so instead of going to look for it somewhere else I picked a bottle of Weizen. And why not? wasn't it the idea of this "study" to mix very different beers? And what can be more different than a Stout and a Heffeweizen.
I didn't know what to expect, but whatever it would turn out to be, the very idea of mixing these beers was a lot of fun. Fortunately, the result was fantastic. I poured the weizen first in the first pint. The taste of the blend was reminiscent of a rauchweizen, with some chocolate. Primátor Stout is brewed with some smoked malts, I don't know in what proportion, but I'm sure it isn't too big since their contribution is limited to an undertone that adds a bit more complexity to the drink. Here they took a more protagonist role, becoming a perfect duo with the fruit from the weizen.

The second pint was even better. This time I poured the stout first. The yeast sediments of the weizen formed a golden cloud that almost managed to totally separate both beers. The taste, very ripe bananas with espresso coffee and some chocolate. Here the smokned notes went back to the background and the coffee gained in intensity as the glass went down, without ever managing to fully dominate. When I finished this beauty I regretted not having bought another pair of those beers. I wanted to cut them again, this time in a pitcher and sit down to sip them slowly as the sun went down. That is something I will definetively do soon.
I want to keep on cutting beers. The possibilities are endless. Besides, it is something really fun and interesting to do, which also gives me some material to write about Czech beers, which I've kind of neglected lately.

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27 Dec 2008

La Ronda #7: Beery Christmas

For the December edition of "La Ronda" we chose something not very original, but still interesting, I think. The topic was the following:

"What beer, or beers, will you drink with your Christmas dinner or lunch?. And since the Spanish speaking beer bloggers are not from beer countries, they were also asked to talk about the reaction fo the family.

As mentioned in the previous post, this was going to be a very special Christmas for us because it was going to be the first we would be celebrating at our new home.

Everything turned out very well. We had bought the tree a couple of weeks earlier. On Monday 22 we went to buy the fish that would be dinner, a carp, following the tradition of going somewhere where they are sold alive. Tuesday afternoon we decorated the tree and prepared the potatoe salad, and Wednesday morning we finished preparing the table and left everything ready to receive my in-laws.

I had left a few bottles of Svijanský Rytíř chilling outside. They were soon opened to drink with open sandwiches and cold cuts. We also had a glass of malinovice (raspberry schnapps), home made, that one of my clients gave me as present (those are clients!!!).

Later, while we were raiding the trays with vanoční cukrovy (Christmas biscuits) that my wife and mother in law had baked, I opened a bottle of Herold Tmavé that had also spent some time outside. It was a very pleasant combination. The cukrovy atenuated the sweeter notes of the beer, leaving only room for the more interesting roasted notes to fully express themselves.
It was time for dinner. First, fish soup that I made with the bones and other parts of the carp. It was tasty and mild, good to open the appetite. Main course, traditional fried carp with potatoe salad in two versions, mine and my father in law's, each very different, each delicious. The choice of beer for dinner was almost last minute. I had picked one already, but on the Thursday before I stopped by at Pivovarský Dvůr Chýně and picked two 1,5l bottles, one of them was of their Vanoční Světlý Speciál 14°. It was those almost signature fruity notes of all the beers from Chýně, one of the best Czech micros, but with a fantastically dry and bitter finish. Needless to say, the beer paired wonderfully with both fish and salads, of which we ate tonnes. We all liked it and not a drop was left after dinner.
After opening the presents (I got a pipe from my wife! how cool is that!), it was time to raid the cukrovy again, after a shot of malinovice to help digest the dinner, of course. For that moment I had chosen a beer that I aroused my curiosity at the last Christmas Beer Festival, Nørrebro Bryghus Julebryg, a season special brewed with malt, wheat and oats malts, together with a secret mix of Christmas spices. I served it at room temperature. It is a very delicate beer. Pours a dark amber, with a good looking compact head. Its bouquet has cinnamon, nuts and perník (gingerbread). And it does taste almost like perník juice, it's got that mellow sweetness with a mildly spiced touch. The finish is short, warm and with a subtle rum note. I loved this beer. It shows that a beer doesn't need to be extreme to be memorable. It's like an elegant lady, but not glamourous, attractive without the need of any sexy clothes.
As in many other countries, here in the Czech Republic, Christmas celebration does not end on December 24, it goes on a day or two more. Christmas lunch would be roasted duck with knedlíky and sauerkraut. While we prepared with with my mother in law, a couple more Svijany went down. To pair with this feast I had chosen the other beer I had brought from Chýně, Tmavý Speciál, also fermented at 14°balling, also with a relatively low 5%ABV. Again, the choice was right. Those fruity notes (I think I could recognise a beer from Chýně with my eyes closed thanks to them) contrasted very well with the home made sauerkraut and complemented the taste of the duck, to wrap everything in an intense roasted coffee finish that reminded me more of a Stout than of a Czech dark Lager. I wolfed down almost half the duck, two servings of sourkraut and about 10 knedlíku. The beer was all drunk, too. If it hadn't been that we decided to go to Prague to see the Christmas markets in Old Town Square, I would have slept until Monday.
When we came back we ate some home made sausages (also present from a client) with some of the left over potatoe salad (we still had a lot of it). With that I drunk Louny Hořký Speciál 13%, which, like the 11% that I had tasted at the Christmas Beer Festival, disappointed me, not because it was bad, but because it didn't fulfill the promise of extra bitterness.
But the celebrations didn't end there. Another part of the family came over on Friday to have roasted turkey with potatoes, and also soup with liver dumplings. I paired the food with Svijanský Baron 15%. The strongest beer from Svijany, that did a pretty good job with the turkey and side dishes. Again, I ate a lot.

More presents were opened after lunch. Several tonnes more of cukrovy were eaten (and we still have a couple more tonnes in the pantry). During the afternoon I opened other beers. Rebel Vanoční Speciál, a 14° gold lager. Nice, it would have been an adecuate pairing for the carp and potatoe salad, but that didn't impress me much. Poutník Speciál 14%, another gold lager of the same balling graduation, but somewhat drier. Janáček Vanoční Speciál, which I had already tasted in my visit to Hradec Králove, of all the Czech Christmas beers of 14°balling this is the one I liked the most. And also the Louny that was left, Hořký Speciál 16%, a little better than its little sisters, more syrupy, with more character, but that also fails to fulfill the promise of extra bitterness.
It was already dark outside (which means anytime after 4.30PM) and I opened a bottle of Schlenkerla Urbock to drink with a cheese and smoked meats platter. I have become a fan of "smoked" beers, and this one was just what I expected. Almost black, with a generous head of a ligth beige colour. The nose reminded me of schwardsvalská šunka a smoked cured raw ham that I like a lot, together with caramel and nuts. It tasted somehow like a tea made of that ham, with those strong wood notes it has, followed by caramel and mild cocoa with nuts. Delicious. It was very surprised when my wife, my nieces and my brother in law all said they liked the beer a lot.
It was a very nice Christmas celebration. We are both very happy with how well everything turned out. Everyone liked the beers I chose, only my wife regretted not being able to drink more of them. There will be a chance next year.

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14 Dec 2008

To warm up

For many, beer means a yellowy drink of low ABV that is drunk at artic temperatures, many others, however, know that that isn't the way beer showld be enoyed, regardless of what the macros would like to make us believe. Yet few are those who would consider drinking beer at room temperature. The question then is: can you enjoy a beer at the same temperature you would drink red wine? It depends on the beer, of course.

The idea for this "experiment" happened almost by accident. One afternoon I fancied having a pint (strange, isn't it?) only to realise that I had nothing cooling in the fridge. I didn't feel like waiting for one to chill in the freezer, so I took a bottle of Bernard Černý that I had in the cellar (actually a little room under the stairs that keeps a few degrees cooler than the rest of the house), thinking that maybe it won't be bad. Even before opening the bottle I thought I could make a selection of dark beers to taste them at room temperature, all of them old friends. The results are the following:

Bernard Černý: The nose was of coffee sweetened with plenty of caramel, sweeter than when it's cold. It still tastes roasted and dry, though a bit silkier, followed by a mild acidity that fortunately is well balanced by a caramel base. I like it better cold, I prefer its roasted notes to the sweet.
Herold Tmavé: This might be my favourite Czech dark beer. At room temperature it's a lot less aromatic and it tastes rather sweeter, in fact, I noticed it quite tuned down, almost like a tmavé from a keg that is not so fresh anymore. No doubt, I prefer it cold.
Pardubický Porter: I've always liked a lot the prune and port notes of this beer, even from the first sip I had long ago. Warmer, it is a very different beer, keeps its identity, but improves considerably. Together with the prunes, I felt also cocoa and black sugar in the nose, which I don't remember having noticed before. There is more cocoa and something akin to gingerbread and a lot less fruit in the taste. The alcohol is just as well integrated as in the cold version. I loved it! It feels warmer, makes you drink it very slowly, an ideal winter drink.
Primátor Double: It is the one that changes the least, though it feels somehow more mature. The only thing that bothered me was its excessive carbonation when pouring the first half of the bottle. There are still licorice, black sugar and some ginger notes. It tastes less sweet. The finish is short and dry, and it's the only moment that I noticed its 10%ABV. The effect it has after drinking is the same as when it's cold, mild drowsiness.
Of the four, I liked the stronger ones a lot more, with the one from Pardubice taking the top honours. I see them as excellent pairings for the Christmas biscuits that my wife is already baking, and the ones that my mother in law will bring (Man! Do I love those!). It will be nice to sit down and gorge with the biscuits and wahing them down with Porter or Double while watching the same pohádky as every year.

Which beers you normally drink cold would you like to taste at room temperature?

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28 Nov 2008

La Ronda #6: Women, Seduction and Beers

La Ronda is the Spanish beer blogging community project very much inspired by (if not a rip off of) The Sessions. Every month a member of the community proposes a topic about which the other bloggers are supposed to write. This month La Ronda was invited by Catador, a beer blogger from Chile, who proposes a very interesting and fun topic that goes like this:

"You have met a girl who somehow, after learning about your passion for beer, asks you to invite her to a private tasting. Not being of the shy or silly kind, you invite her to your place. Which beers would you give her to sample? And for what purpose?

I am happily married and even suggesting something like that might get me in trouble. I couldn't do it with my wife because, since she is fortunate enough to be living with me, she already knows all the beers I know. So I decided to give the thing a twist and face it in another way, as if I was helping a friend that is in that very situation. This is how I see it:

I am sitting by the fireplace with my wife. We are listening to music, eating some home made red currant pie and driking Pardubický Porter at room temperature. The bell rings just as I am about to prepare my pipe. My wife goes to the door and comes back with my young friend Svatopluk, whom, like a mentor, I've been iniciating in the world of real beer. After the mandatory greetings Svatopluk says, with a worried tone, "I need your help. I am courting a girl whom I am crazy for. We have dated a few times and things are going well. The problem is that she wants to come to my place so I can show her some of the wonderful beers I've been telling her about and have aroused her curiosity so much. What can I do? I am afraid of ruining it.
"And you like this girl a lot." I saw lighting up my pipe. My friend nods, takes the glass that my wife offered him and pours himself some of the Porter.
I stroke my beard, take a few seconds to think and say: "I've got it. Take notes, my friend."
Svatopluk produces a notepad and a pen and sets to listen to my advice with the utmost attention.
"You will greet her with a glass of Černá Hora Modrá Luna. I know, I know." I saw, anticipating his objection. "I know you don't like it so much, but She will, more so if you offer it together with a plate of mild cheese, grapes and almonds."
Svatopluk takes notes with eagerness and I ask him:
"What is the name of this girl?"
"Markéta, and she is beautiful, an angel!" He says with dreamy eyes.
"I wouldn't expect any less from you, my friend. And tell, Markéta, does she like seafood?"
"Yes, very much"
"Ah! Good!" I say, glad seeing that my plan would not have any complications. "Then, for first course, you will prepare prawns stir fried in butter and olive oil, with garlic, a little ginger and fresh mint. On the side, you will serve a green salad dressed with a sause made of white yougurt, chopped anchovies, olive oil, oregano and chives."
"Oh! That sounds delicious!" Svatopluk. But then doubt invades his features. "But, what can I serve this with?"
"With Primátor Weizen, of course!"
"Right!" Svatopluk almost shouts. "Girls like it a lot, it is easy to drink and not as sour as others, and its taste and characteristics will pair perfectly with the food."
"That's right it. You have learnt, young friend of mine." I say, with satisfaction.
Almost shyly, but at the same time with confidence, Svatopluk asks: "Can I suggest the main course?"
"But, sure!" His enthusiasm is contagious and, deep inside of me, I know his idea will be the right one.
"What if I prepare your recipe of pork with beer marmelade?"
You surprise me! That is exactly what I was thinking! I recommend you serve it with fried or roasted polenta"
"Yes! Yes! And I could pair it with Bernard Jantár."
"Good idea. Alternatively, you could also consider Strakonice Klostermann or Herold Granát. They are a little stronger." I add, winking, only to meet the disapproving stare of my wife. I smile at her, indictating that it is just an innocent joke, and carry on.
"Of course you will have to serve some dessert."
"Oh yes! I haven't thought about it. I hardly ever eat dessert, but this is a special occasion. What do you recommend?" His expression didn't show fear, but true will to learn something new.
"Flan. I think I've got a recipe somewhere. It takes some time to prepare, but it isn't too difficult. You will have to choose a sweetish dark beer for this. Perhaps Chodovar Černá Desítka or Polička Hradební Tmavé or, if you prefer something stronger, Svijanská Kněžna. Their caramel notes will be a perfect pairing with the flan."
"Thanks!" Exclaims Svatopluk, almost jumping from his seat. "I am running to buy everything right now."
"Wait, wait, little grasshopper. Don't rush, the evening does not need to finish yet."
Svatopluk goes back to his seat, his face invaded by curiousity.
"How important is this Markéta to you?"
"You can't even imagine." He answers with a sigh.
"Then hold on a minute." I tell him and go to the cellar, from where I come back with two bottles of X33.
After giving them to Svatopluk, I tell him. "You must not forget the final touch. You will serve this beer together with a selection of fine chocolates while you listen to music and continue with your seduction."
Svatopluk embraces the bottles, holding them tight on his chest and smiles like a little boy.
"If after this feast Markéta's knickers don't loosen up, she is not the right one for you." Both the reproach on my wife's face and the fear on Svatopluk's make me burst in laughter.
"Fear not my young friend. I am sure that the date will end in passion, to continue in romance the morning after."
The smile returns to Svatopluk's face, who can't hold his enthusiasm any longer. "Your advice is so wise! This will be an evening that Markéta will never in her life forget. How can I show you my gratitude for this invaluable help?"
I suck my pipe and softly pat him on the back. "There is nothing to be grateful for, friend. I was also young and I know how important it is to find a good woman." I saw smiling, while I gently squeeze my princess's hand. "Go. I wish you luck. And give my regards to this surely wonderful damsel."
When Svatopluk leaves, talking to himself about where he will have to go to buy all the ingredients and beers, a turn to my woman, kiss her lips and aks. "Lásko muj*. Aren't you hungry? What if we prepared something to eat?"

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(*)Love of mine, in Czech.

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27 Sep 2008

Shopping around town

At the end of Spreading the Gospel I complained that at supermarkets it was easier to find rubbish like Stella or Heineken than any of the many and very good regional Czech beers.

That thing kept going around my head, so much so that I decided to go out and see how true that was. So I started roaming the streets of Prague determined to go into every shop and supermarket that sells beer I cam across (which is a lot).

In the meantime, Evan Rail posted an about the same topic in his blog. There he speaks about Pivní Galerie and Pivovarský Klub as great places where to find an unmatched variety of beers in Prague. Though the truth is that, when it comes to take away bottles, their prices are rather high, quite higher than what can be paid at a supermarket. It must also be considered that many people don't have the possibility of going all the way there just to buy a couple of bottles to drink with dinner, that is specially so for Galerie, that only opens during the week.

Due to moral and quality control reasons I don't like shopping at supermarket chains. But I am pragmatic and above all, I want to support with my money those breweries that deserve it. So let's get started with the centre.

Billa in Celncie offers Primátor EPA, Polotomavé 13%, Weissbier and a couple more of the special brews from Pivovar Náchod, and also Bernard Svatečný Ležák. The prices, 13Kč for a Weissbier.

Across the square, in front of Kotva, Albert has, or at least they did a few weeks ago, Primátor EPA and Weissbier, at pretty much the same prices as Billa. There were only a few bottles of each that day, and I don't know if the renovated the stock. Curiously, the Albert branch located in the bowels of that monstruosity called Palladium Praha, right opposite, was selling just the usual faces (some of them pretty ugly). Actually, the same can be said about the rest of the branches of Albert in the centre.

Tesco in Nardoní, apart from the already mentioned Primátor Bernard Svatečný Ležák y Černé also stocks a gem Regent Světlý Ležák for the spectacular price of 12Kč!

Leaving Prague 1, but staying with the British origin supermarket chain, you can find on the shelves of Tesco Express Bělehradská Primátor Polotmavé 13% y Weissbier, and Bernard Svatečný Ležák, Černé y Jantár, which I hadn't seen at any other supermarket. A tram stop later, in the same Bělehradská, I had a very pleasant surprise at the Z-Market there located when I saw on their shelves that not only they stocked Bernard Svatečný Ležák and Černé but also Ferdinand Světlý Ležák 7 Kuli. Great!

There is more to be found in Bělehradská. Right by the tram stop Nuselské Schody is a Delvita (one of the few left, and for sure soon to become Billa). There you will be able to buy pretty much all the line of Primátor, some from Bernard and canned Nymburk Golden Lager. Oh! And don't be fooled by a beer called Vratislav, as it is no other than Staropramen in disguise.

Back to Vinohrady, though further from the centre, around Flora metro station to be more precise. The Albert outlet located in the shopping centre of the same name stocks the whole line of Klášter, and at a fantastic price, 9,90Kč for Ležák. You won't find Klášter at any of the other Albert around, but you will find Bernard Svatečný Ležák and maybe even Černé.

Down Vinohradská, about 300m from Flora, at the number 125 you will find a little gem. A bottle shop that sells the whole line of Chodovar at excellent prices, including their very good Skalní Ležák for 19Kč.

Billa in Dejvice suprised me when I saw that they stocked most of the line from Primátor and Bernard. But maybe the best place to buy beers in the area is found at about 150m from there, it's a small shop in Narodní Obrani, almost at the corner with Rooseveltova. It's called just Napoje and you can find there all the line of Svijany, several Rohozec, a couple of Bernard y Platan and more recently Políčka and Herold. Everything at brilliant prices. In fact, that is the place where I buy my everyday beers.

I've also heard that Billa in Prosek sells some beers from Svijany, but I haven't made it there to check it or to see what else they offer.

This post is not finished yet. There will be a link to it on the right hand column and I will update it as I find new places. Needless to say, the help from my readers will be very appreciated.

So if you live, work or are staying nearby any of these places there is no more excuse to keep on taking home the same stuff and not to try something new and, in my opinion, better.

Update 28/9/2008
Just one day after I published and I already have to update this.
First, some Anonymus commented that Tesco Eden carries the whole line of Primátor, together with some Bernards.
Second, remember what I said above about Billa Dejvice? Well, pretty much forget about it. I went there the other day to buy a couple of Primátor Weizen for the weekend and there was no trace of it, neither of the Polotmavé 13% or Double 24%, the only ones left were Exklusiv 16% and Rytíř 21% not bad, but it was better. What did really surprise me though, was seeing cases of Bakalář there were výčepní světlé, Premium and tmavý ležák, not the best stuff, but A LOT better than imported Eurolagers. Let's hope they will re-stock those missing Prmátor.

Update 3/10/2008
It seems that Hypernova is commited to Svijany. According to some Anonynus, they also stock the beers from the fine brewery of North Bohemia at their outlet in Nové Butovice.
I also stopped by the new Kaufland near Palmovka and saw a few bottles of Primátor, the special ones, including Weizen (they seem to be everywhere, that's great!) Bernard, including Svateční Ležák (which also seems pretty easy to find) and a couple of beers from the other brewery in České Budějovice, Samson and Budweiser Burgerbräu, again, not the cream of the crop, but certainly preferrable to most imported stuff you can see there.
And speaking about imported, but this time a decent one. The same anonymust that tipped about Svijany in Butovice mentions that Interspar in Zlíčin carries the Belgian Duvel.

Update 25/10/2008
I haven't updated this list for awhile, but it's not because I had forgotten. Here you have a couple more places.
Billa en Korunní sells most of the line from Primátor together with several from Bernard.
Along with the above metnioned, Tesco in Nový Smíchov (Anděl) offers most of the line from Svijany and Regent Světlý Ležák and Výčepní, all of them at much better prices that the more popular and mediocre brands. I wonder if someday they will make me happy and also stock Regent Tmavý.
Continuing with Tesco, the new Expres branch, just opened opposite the Hradčanská metro station sells Primátor Polotmavé 13% and Weissbier.
And the best for last, since it's about a small shop. I actually prefer doing my shopping at small shops, but generally the choice of beers at them leaves tonnes to be desired. At the corner of Kamenická and Letohradská, in Letná, you can find a couple of beers from the Svijany line and the whole lot from Pernštejn, Pivovar Pardubice, which, I must admit, I don't like too much, except for their brilliant Pardubický Porter that can be bought for 23CZK. Thanks Evan for the tip.

Update 9/11
More from Hypernova Nové Butovice (WOW! I can't believe I already know two people that go there) According to the comment of quack-duck. Apart from Svijany, they are also stocking the whole lot from Klášter and some from Ferdinand, 10°, Světlý and Tmavý Ležák, that is good news, whish they also sold Sedm Kuli. If Budweiser Bürgerbräu and Samson are your thing, you can find them there, too, along with some stuff from Primátor, will their fantastic Stout be available, too? I hope so.
For those of you who live in the fine neighbourhood of Petřini, or for some reason, happen to end up there, Supermarket Norma will offer you Klášter 11°, Lobkowicz Vévoda and Žatec tmavý ležák, previously known as Lučan, and a pretty fine dark beer for the price (9CZK).

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27 Aug 2008

La Ronda #3: A tasting for beginners

La Ronda is a community project of the beer blogs in Spanish that is inspired (if not an outright rip-off) of The Sessions, started by Stan Hieronymus and spread throughout the English beer blogosphere.

This month, Delirium, from "De Cervezas y Otras Cosas" has proposed a very interesting topic that I thought it is worth sharing with my English speaking readers. The idea is to choose 5 to 8 beers to put together a tasting aimed mostly at people not very familiarised with the different kinds of beers available out there. There are a couple of catches, though. The beers shouldn't be from obscure craft breweries that can be got only once a year and the likes, but stuff that can be relatively easily found locally.

It really gave me a lot of food for thought. It wasn't easy to put together a line-up. From the very beginning I decided that all the beers would be Czech. Not because I have anything against (good quality) imported ones, but because I believe that although being considered among the best in the world, Czech beers are also among the least known.

But what could I choose that was representative of Czech brewing art? I could have easily put together a tasting of 8 ležáku (Pilsner Lagers, as they are known elsewhere), but everybody knows how good they can be, so there wouldn't be much of a surprise there. I also though of doing a numerical progression from 11 to 18, based on balling graduation, but, though it could be fun it lacks much of a concept.

In the end, I decided to do something similar, and I think better, than a tasting I organised last year with the people of Pivovarský Klub. So I put together a list of 8 beers (plus a surprise one to clean the palate, I know it bends the rules, but you'll see there is a reason for it) divided in four pairs.

First pair, we start on the golden side:
Bernard Svateční Ležak(12°balling, 5%ABV). It is the only one that more or less fits in the most famous Czech style, Pilsner Lager, but at the same time, it is a good representative of the style I probably like most, kvasnicové. A beer that is refreshing, with a fantastic balance between fruit, flowers and citrus; light but with a firm body thanks to the added yeasts in the bottle.
Primátor Weizen (5%ABV): Another kvasnicové, according to Czech publicans, this time made of wheat. It's a beer that is getting more and more adepts each day. Different to its German counterparts, yet nonetheless good. Fruitier, with a bit of a fuller body, less sour and terribly refreshing. So far the only pšeničné in regular industrial production, I hope there will be more.

Second pair, we go amber:
Ferdinando Sedm Kuli (13°balling, 5.5%ABV): There might be better ones out there, but I've chosen it because it has proved to be a favourite among foreign visitors. That different touch it has is thanks to the herbs that are part of the recipe.
Primátor Polotamvé 13%(13°balling, 5.5%ABV): Another from that great brewery in Náchod, and the beer I like the most in its category. Perfect balance between caramel and herbs. Brewed with a wheat adjunct, it is one of those beers that everyone seems to like and that I never get tired of drinking.

Third pair, things get dark:
Regent Tamvý Ležák (4.4%ABV): A great beer that deserves more recognition. Light in body, yet with intense flavours that mix the caramel, toffee notes of many Czech dark beers with more interesting roasted and coffee flavours.
Herold Bohemian Black Lager (13°balling, 5.2%ABV): One of my most favourite, that, like the one above, deserves to be better known. With very intense flavours, full of cocoa, coffee, caramel, and a delicious roasted and dry finish. An excellent beer by all means.

Fourth pair, a display of strength:
Vyškov Jubiler (16.8°balling, 7.5%ABV). Another one of my top favourites. Alcohol integrated to perfection, incredibly well balanced notes where hoppy bitterness sets the pace without overwhelming delicate hints of honey and fruit. A beer I love to sit down and drink slowly.
Pardubický Porter (19°balling, 8%ABV). A seriously strong beer and, again, with beautifully integrated alcohol, which does not interfere with tastes or aromas, but actually reinforces them, giving more character to the mix of prunes, port and pleasant sourness.

The surprise is Bernard s Čistou Hlavou (Bernard with clear head), the nealko from the great brewery in Humpolec. A non alcoholic beer of surprising bitterness and even body. Its short and refreshing taste, together with the lack of alcohol makes it a very good option to clean and rest the palate between pair and pair, or even sample and sample. It also shows that Czechs can also make very good beers of this kind.

I believe the selection is as varied and broad as the rules allowed. I could have included a lot more, but I think these beers can prove without any trouble that Czech brewing is a lot more than only Pilsner Lager. And being that, with the exception of Primátor Weizen, all beers in the list are lagers, it would be shown to beginners or the pseudo knowledgeable that the word lager doesn't mean the fizzy, yellowy, hyperindustrialised drink of the big global brands.

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2 Jun 2008

Second round

Just as I had promised myself the other day, I made my second visit to Pivní Festival Praha. This time the weather was a lot nicer, pretty warm and with a lot of sunshine. Ideal to sit and have a few beers under the shade of leafy trees.

I got there early, again, there was a bit more people than the previous Friday. I went around a little to make some pictures and noticed that most of the stands were already open, and were offering a rather wide assortment of food and merchandising.

Not being able to score a free pint this time, without further ado, I headed towards the K Brewing tent. Big was my surprise when I noticed that the tent had been expanded to the neighbouring one, which the first few days had offered only Staropramen and Braník. Svijany, Platan and Janaček had been now joined by Herold. I took a seat and ordered a pint of excellent Herold Polotmavé 13° to drink while I waited for one of my mates, who was already on his way.

I enjoyed the beer slowly and noticed that, already that early, there was more people at the small breweries' tents (the two mentioned above, plus Konrad's). Actually, the only people that were at SAB-Miller's and Budvar's seemed to be tourists o Scottish football fans.

My friend Mark arrived, we had each a pint of the brilliant Herold Tmavé 13° and went to the Konrad's tent. It had been a while since I drank any of their beers, and I had never tasted Jocker, a gold lager brewed at 14°balling that didn't really make it. I found it a bit out of balance, with the added sugar overwhelming a fruity bitterness that, had it been stronger, would have made this beer a great one. I didn't think too much of their 11°, again, the sugar. Anyway, we both enjoyed the service at that tent. They were really friendly with broad smiles and spoke a more than acceptable English when they heard us speak in that language.

We moved to the original K Brewing tent. We wanted to have some Rohozec, Černá Hora and Jihlava. All the time talking about how most people seemed to be at these tents, avoiding the others as if it was bad luck to go there.

Soon we were joined my friend Eric and Evan Rail, and later my queen. What can I say, we had a great time. We moved between tents, we had really a lot of very good beer. I also had the chance to have a short chat with one of the organisers, Max Munson. He gave me a press accreditation that, unfortunately, I wasn't able to use. Pity I didn't get it before.

There had been changes in one week. The offer from the small breweries had been expanded, as well as the space dedicated to them, taking it away from the big boys. The ironies of life. Ten years ago Staropramen was about to close down Svijany, now they were sharing a tent where surely, the very good beers from North Bohemia were outselling the very deficient ones from Smíchov.

The policy for ordering food had also been modified. There was no need anymore to go to another tent to get it. The servers will bring your order just as in every restaurant.

I found the service efficient and friendly. The taps of the small breweries were now properly tagged and there none of the mistakes of the first days (at least not while I was sober enough to notice). One of the problems that I had heard and read many say, the slowness of the service, had apparently been solved by dividing the six breweries that, at the beginning, were in one tent.

I haven't got any figures, but to me, and regardless of criticisms, the first edition of the Czech Beer Festival Prague was a success. The organisers showed that they are able to put together an event of this size without any major problems, and also that they are smart and flexible people. They quickly realised the popularity of the small breweries and acted accordingly, giving them more space and offering more.

There are of course several aspects to improve. Here are some of the things I would like to see next year:
- Free entrance, at least until 7 or 8PM. With the level of prices once inside, charging 120CZK just for getting in make no sense. During the week, when I had a long break, I really fancied stopping by there to have a couple of beers, the admission fee made me change my mind. I wonder how many more people thought the same.
- Cheaper food. I might be asking too much here. But 156CZK for guláš is way too much. As is 195CZK for a 200g portion of roasted steer, which I tasted and didn't think it was worth that much. And I'm not so sure about the price tag for the soups. We had kyselo (a sour vegetable and potato cream soup) and gulašova, they weren't bad, and they came in a loaf of pretty good bread, but if it hadn't been for the limitations of the tolar system, they should have been cheaper.

- More small breweries, specially Bernard and Primátor (the biggest absentee). This seems to be already a fact.
- Evan would like the multinationals to be dropped. I don't agree. Whether we like it or not, Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and the local brands of Heineken are an important part of the Czech brewing world and they must be there. Of course, with a lot less space and maybe even sharing one tent.
- It's not entirely the organisers' responsibility, but I would really like to see more official support. Beer is national drink here and it is an important part of popular culture. However, the event wasn't even mentioned in Czech Tourism and only the mayor's visit at the opening received some space in the website of Prague's City Hall.

The real winners of the festival were the small breweries, and thus, the consumers. The tents where they were tapped were the most popular by far. People told me they actually had to wait to get a table when they went, while there were plenty of free seats in the other tents. As mentioned before, the relatively high price played in favour of these beers. Not many are willing to pay 39CZK for a pint of Gambrinus when it can be found at every corner, and cheaper. But when we are talking about something little known or totally unknown and (after having drunk one) of better quality, the price doesn't seem so high anymore.

Svijany, Platan, Konrad, Herold, Janáček, Jihlava, Černá Hora, Rakovník and Rohozec proved that, when everybody plays with the same rules, has the same conditions and opportunities, regardless of size and marketing budgets, can put up a good fight if not outright beat the biggest breweries in the Czech Republic.

It has been a fine celebration of Czech Beer. Let's hope next year's will be better

Na Zdraví!