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Catching up with an Old Friend

Láďa Veselý is a true Master Brewer with forty years’ experience in the trade. After spending some time in Japan, he became the first Brew Master at Pivovar U Medvíků. That’s where I met him ten years ago, during one of my first visits to that brewpub, at the beginning of my beer philosophising career.

I can’t remember exactly how our first meeting went. I think I asked him something about the beer I was drinking and Láďa was eager not only to answer my questions, but also to hear my opinion about his product.

Back then I had more time and fewer responsibilities and I would drop by about once a month to have a chat with him, and sometimes taste one of his new beers. We slowly became friends. Once, I took two Brazilians that were helping put together a brewery in Brazil that would make Czech-inspired beers, or so they claimed. After a couple of rounds, they said they wanted to hire Láďa to show their brewer the ropes and he agreed on the condition that I would go with him as an interpreter. Naturally, nothing came out of it, they were just two blokes with tall tales.

One day I asked him why he didn’t follow the example of Martin Matuška and set up his own brewery. He said he didn’t have the chops to be a entrepreneur; that he was happy being a brewer. So I was really curious to know what they had done to convince him to become a co-owner at Pivovar Uhříněves, and I was determined to ask him that when the other day I paid him a visit at his new domain.

The history of Pivovar Uhříněves shares some similarities with Únětický’s. It was established in the early 18th century in a village outside Prague (Uhříněves wouldn’t become part of the capital until 2001) and in 1949 was nationalised and shut down by the Communist regime. It was a bigger brewery, though—a look at the former malt house makes it clear—and it its peak produced 40,000 hl/year.

In 1992, the complex was restituted to the family of the legitimate owner, and last brewer, and they would spend the next two decades restoring the buildings that now, besides the brewery, house storage facilities and offices.

I was impressed by the beers from Uhříněves when I went to the brewery pub last year, and also in the couple of times I went to their pub in Vinohrady (to pub itself is nothing to write home about, but the beers are served in great condition), so was looking forward to seeing the brewery proper, and catch up with an old friend, too.

This time I did take the back streets from the train station and I have to say that, away from the main road, Uhříněves doesn’t look like a bad place to live. When I was beginning to think I had got lost when, behind the trees, I spotted the bell tower of the church opposite the brewery restaurant. A minute later I was standing in front of the main entrance to the brewery complex. Láďa came to greet me in the courtyard.

The new brewery is very modern, and compact. The brewhouse has a 20 hl kit and everything is shiny stainless-steel. It was financed with EU funds and the grant sets pretty strict conditions regarding how many people they must have employed and how much beer they must be producing by a given deadline. They are a bit behind schedule with both. They’ve recently added a tank to expand capacity and they’re studying alternatives to expand it further. Fortunately, space doesn’t seem to be much of an issue.

As always, Láďa was happy to answer my questions, hear my opinion about the beers and also show me around. There were a couple of interesting surprises. The ample space in the upstairs houses the mill, but it’s mostly used for storage, of everything: malts, glasses, bottles, tools, etc. I noticed the floor was made of metal and before I could ask, Láďa told me that it is actually the coolship of the original brewery. When we went back downstairs, he opened an old door on one side of the fermentation/lagering chamber that lead to the original brewhouse—or the remains thereof. The 100 hl copper mash tun and kettle are still there like antediluvian titans waiting to be awoken. Unfortunately, a restoration like at Černokostelecký Pivovar is out of the question. After almost 80 years of neglect, the equipment that has survived is in a very bad shape and most of it would have to be replaced. But the do have plans. Once they’ve figured out how to make the room safe for occupancy again (the wooden ceiling is literally falling apart), they want to turn it into a taproom. Until then, they will have to make do with the gift shop that should be opening in the coming months, where, besides branded merchandising and bottled beer, there will be at least one tap.

We didn’t only talk about beer, of course, but also about life in general: family, homes, work; we shared anecdotes, all while Láďa relentlessly filled my mug with 14° Světlý Speciál. It was like being with a mate at the pub, only that the beer didn’t come from a tap or cask, but straight from a lagering tank.

Ah, yeah! How they talked him into this.

It was a chance encounter, he told me. He was in Uhříněves for the theatre and noticed the chimney of the kiln after parking his car. He went in that direction to have a closer look and, while he was standing by the main entrance, a man appeared and asked him if he could help him. Láďa said he was only looking at the old brewery and added that it would be great if someone would “resurrect” it.

That man turned out to be the owner of the facility, the son of the last brewer of Uhříněves, who at the time was the deputy mayor of the town (now he’s the mayor). They talked for a bit, exchanged telephone numbers and, a couple of weeks later, Láďa was invited to a meeting at the offices of the Municipal Authority to discuss the possible (and eventual) resurrection of the brewery. The rest is history, or rather, the present, and the future.

Na Zdraví!

Comments

  1. Excellent blog! Looking forward to getting out to the brewery in November.

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