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A Critic to the Critics

Even though we hardly dine out anymore, I still enjoy reading Prague restaurant reviews. I specially like those where the author has a good grasp of the concept of value for money, even if they aren't paying from their own pockets, and where they tell us about their dining experience in a straightforward, fun to read language.

Unfortunately, I must say I've lost my patience with the whole lot of them. The reason, their ignorance and total lack of interest in beer.

The Czech Republic is home to some of the finest lagers in the world. "Pivo" is a source of national pride and plays an important part in Czech popular and culinary cultures. How is it then that restaurant reviewers don't complain when a restaurant offers bad beer?

No, I'm not just grumpy because it's Monday morning (well, a bit, yes). Many times I've read how reviewers complain, and fairly so, about the authenticity or freshness of some ingredients, the way a dish is prepared or presented, the composition of menus and even the prize and provenance of mineral water. Oh! But a 0.3l glass of Stella Artois at 60CZK? No worries there, mate. They've even praised the stuff!

In this piece in CBW the author, one Milan Ballik, says: "One mug of ice-cold draft Stella Artois beer helped me to regain my spirit..." (I really can't imagine how that popcorn juice could help anyone with half a palate to feel better). Or Laura Baranik in her review of Potrefená Husa claims that the chain serves "quality beer". They might now how to tap it, but Stella and Staropramen are NOT quality beers by Czech standards, far from it (and no, I don't think she meant Leffe and Hoegaarden).

I'm sure there are some of you who are thinking of writing a comment saying something like: "But there are many people who like Stella! So what's the problem?"

Sadly, that is true. But you know what? There are also many people who don't like their spicy food to be too spicy, who prefer their pasta, steaks and burgers to be a tad overcooked and who don't give much of a rat's ass about what sort of rice or cheese is used in their risotto. However, the critics do have a big problem with that.

I don't care if they drink beer or not. Restaurant reviewers should not allow restaurants in the Czech Republic to get away with offering bad beer, no matter how good they might be.

Na Zdraví!

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  1. Excellent post!

    It always suprises me how good restaurants who pay attention to every detail, taking care of excellent wine, freshly pressed juice, providing even selected table water very often manage to carry only an awful watery beer.

    Once I started a small discussion in a restaurant that serves good food and nice wines why do they have only Stella available and how does it compare to their „high standarts”. The reply was – but it is excellent, it comes from Belgium. My reply that lots of Tetrapak wine come from France as well did not seem to convice the waiter :).

  2. And the funniest thing here is that our Stella doesn't even come from Belgium, it's brewed in Smíchov, so much for Belgian excellence...

  3. I have got to the point where I simply think "screw 'em" - if people want to go and pay stupid money for third rate beer then let them prove their stupidity and ignorance, not to mention then blind, slavish belief in marketing tosh. If people would rather believe a slick marketing campaign instead of reality then let them live in moron world.

  4. Stella is indeed a medium quality beer, but compared to Staropramen or Gambrinus it is still drinkable; the one thing I simply can'r get my head around is the fact that in all the Potrefená Husa restaurants they only have dark Leffe on tap, but not Leffe Blond. The light version is in my opinion better and I think, that the Czechs could easily take a liking to it, also it's much harder to spoil beer like Leffe than Hoegaarden, which is often watery and bland there.

    Oh and I tried (two weeks ago) Zlý časy for the first time and it was amazing! I sampled five beers (Chotěboř kvasnicové, Klášter light, Opat, Bílá Labuť and one more) had a klobása for like 35 CZK... anyway it was a great evening, I live in the centre so without this blog I wouldn't even know about a hospoda located in Prague 6, so thanks for that.

  5. Jakub,

    Stella is not even medium quality, it's among the worst rubbish that is brewed in this country. To me, it's no better than Staropramen or Braník (I suspect they are the same beer with different labels, something I will prove soon).

    I don't like Gambrinus, but if I have to choose between it and that pseudo-belgian swill brewed in Smíchov, I would pick Gambáč any day, even from a warm can.

    Oh! And I'm glad you liked ZC.

  6. Well Braník is awful - no argument there; and Stella..once I had a sample which was brewed in Belgium and it was slightly better than the Smíchov version, although it was still Stella Artois... Gambrinus is not good, but I did get used to it I just hope that the same thing will not happen with Staropramen (Granát is drinkable, but the rest...)

  7. Well said and as for Kolkovna and Husa with their male only waiters, with attitudes to match and crap beer peddled as posh beer and the worse lunch menus in town, screw em.

  8. Ok, I know I bear some guilt in this respect. But I'm working on it. I thought of you when I was writing about the Staro at Las Adelitas.

    But enough about me. I saw you in the background of the CNN piece on Czech beer! Good interview with Evan Rail. But the best bit was the woman saying she drank beer because it makes her breasts biggers. Very funny.

  9. I was trying to stay away, but I'd had a few pints under my belt already so my sense of space was a bit askew. But anyway, I MADE IT TO CNN, I am someone now!

    I have to see if I can find the video....

    Back to topic. Glad to know at least someone is starting to pay attention. I just hope those who make a living out of reviewing restaurants also paid more attention to the quality of the beer restaurants offer.

  10. I think it's just snobbery, mixed with a bit of prejudice. Beer is looked down upon, and is not associated with fine eating - just look at the respect given to someone who has a 'knowledge of fine wines', as opposed to the funny looks you get sometimes when you start criticising the products of certain breweries and promoting some lesser-known 'brands'...

  11. Here's the video. Max, you appear at :30 and briefly at 3:26


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