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Archive for the ‘Czech Republic’ Category

Way back in the middle ages, approximately five years ago, some of the best beers in the world were hard to get. There were mythologies about the elusive beers you had to travel around the globe to find, and some micros had serious trouble scaling up their production when the buzz on ratebeer or BA said this was something worth seeking out.

Other beers were perhaps not as exclusive or even exciting, it was just that they did not travel well. British cask ales are generally best in Britain, and it takes some cellarmanship to make sure they are served in prime condition.

The session beers of Central Europe are also best enjoyed fresh and on tap. The dusty bottles you brought home from Prague were not very enjoyable a few months later.

I don’t mind, actually. It is amazing that we now can get some of the best beers of the world in keg and bottle here in Oslo, and I certainly hope that things will stay that way. But, on the other hand, I’m happy to know that there is a fresh Mass or pint of the local brew waiting for me, something different than the stuff I get at home.

Some try to do both at the same time. Pilsener Urquell has been a benchmark beer for decades, and even had a good reputation during the Communist area. The bottled and canned version is available everywhere, and they ship it chilled to North America to make sure it is up to standards.

But there is also the other beer of the same name. The beer which was, until recently, only available in the vaulted cellars of the brewery. The cloudy, unpasteurized and unfiltered version of the glowing golden beer we all know.

SAB Miller, the owner of the brewery and of the brand name as this is being written – tomorrow they may be gobbled up by someone else – has decided to make a road show of the exclusive unfiltered beer. They are bringing a few selected 25 liter barrels, fresh from the tank, to a short list of pubs and bars in some European countries. Norway and Finland are included, I’d be surprised if  Sweden and Denmark don’t get a visit. I don’t know about the rest of Europe.

There was a tasting session in Oslo last night, with a few barrels as well as a representative of the brewery flown in from Plzen.  A video showing the making of the barrels, subdued lightning, the feeling that you are a part of something exclusive. Q&A with the brewery guy. The question is, obviously, is it worth all the fuzz?

It is a good beer, no doubt about that. There is an inviting freshness, a pleasant malty body and Saaz hops giving both fruit and just the right amount of bitterness. Cloudy, low carbonation. But, to be honest, there are many small scale breweries around Europe that can make a replica of this. The ingredients are readily available. The wooden casks look nice, but don’t let them fool you. They are sealed with resin to make sure noen of the oaky flavours seep out into the beer. It is nothing like an Altbier where the wood adds flavour, character and and edge to the beer.

One way of looking at this is as a museum piece sent out in a temporary exhibition. The historical beer has some interest in its own right. But it is not sent out for that purpose.

In a time where every item of food and drink has to have a story, having a real history is a great advantage. The recent ads from Fuller’s, oozing of London nostalgia, are spot on. For SAB Miller to have a beer in their portfolio that goes back centuries give them an opportunity to tap into this. Of course they use this every day to market the standard Urquell brand. But to have this old fashioned beer that has to be consumed within a few hours of opening is a new opportunity to spin the tale, to place the brand name in the spotlight. To create positive associations between old handicrafts and traditions and what, frankly, is a lager among lagers. In the mundane global marketplace, you do not get any space on the counter for your beer engine by claiming an impeccable heritage – you need to sell enough pint to justify your presence. And when everyone else tells a tale about Mother Theresa, cobwebs in the attic or hand picked blueberries, you have to keep trying.

But the importers have set up a puzzling list of places in Norway to get the privilege, one of them a trade union conference center where I think they would be more likely to think the unfiltered beer was faulty than to appreciate the rare opportunity.

But by all means- this is a beer you should make a detour to try. It definitely belongs in a 100 beers-you-must-try list.

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There has been some discussion about beer innovation lately – today I’ll focus on the opposite, the celebration of beer heritage.

The border region including the Austrian Mühlviertel, the Czech South Bohemia and the German Lower Bavaria  wants to be a lighthouse for beer tourism, according to Genuss Bier. (You are about as far away from the sea as you are likely to get in Europe, so I assume lighthouses are few and far between there..)

The capital of South Bohemia is České Budějovice, better known as Budweis, which shows that their brewing credentials go way back.

The project has a budget of almost a million Euro, most of which come from EU funding (And Norway is most likely a proud sponsor).

There are four elements to be established by mid-2014:

• the establishment of a Beer Academy

• a quality offensive for hotels and restaurants 

• the establishment of a beer fair covering the whole region
• a common marketing of the BeerWorldRegion.

I applaud this for various reasons. There is, obviously, the beer part of it all. The promotion of beer tourism rooted in local traditions and linked with local culture is an end in itself.

On the other hand, have a look at the map. This is a region that today will look idyllic with its fields and forests, towns and castles. But it is also a region that has seen more than its share of war and conflict . The Iron Curtain ran right through this part of the continent, but that is just the culmination of a thousand years of strife.

There are many ways of stimulating the bonds between neighbours that have been separated by political forces. I can hardly think of a more pleasant way of doing this than by beer.

The reason that this struck a chord is probably that I am currently reading  the book Microcosm, a history of the Central European city today known as Wroclaw, recommended by Boak and Bailey in an earlier discussion.

Freshening up my German is rising towards the top of my to do list.

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Wot? No category for best beer glass?

 

A challenge from Mark at Pencil and Spoon, which really ended up as a personal year end review of sorts. 

I’ve decided to focus on interesting new beers and breweries. Sure, there was amazing stuff from BrewDog, Mikkeller and Nøgne ø this year as well, but the beer scene is far more complex: 

Best UK Draught Beer 

Acorn Lubeski IPA. Never heard of? They have a series of single hop IPAs or, rather premium bitters, and this one showcases Lubeski hops. Smooth base, fine malty body, lovely citrus hoppiness. Lemon and lime. Long dry finish. Obscure enough that it’s not even on their web site, but the Beer Nut can confirm I haven’t just made it up. 

Best UK Bottled Beer 

It must be the Thornbridge St. Petersburg Imperial Russian Stout Highland Whisky Reserve. So massive you’re unable to even tweet the name of the beer. Be sure to grab some bottles of their next release. In the meantime, their Jaipur and Halycon beers are awesome, too. They should have better international distribution, with new brewing facilities I assume they are ready to take over the world. 

Best Overseas Draught Beer: 

Chotěboř 12° Kvasnicová. 

A new Czech brewery with export ambitions. Their bottled beers are great, but their yeast beer is divine.  

Best Overseas Bottled Beer 

Both Christmas beers from Sigtuna Brygghus, Sweden took me by surprise. They are the Scandinavian brewery to watch in 2010. They are a stone’s throw from Arlanda Airport, so it should be possible to fit in a visit… 

Best Overall Beer 

Birrificio del Ducato Nuova Mattina (New Morning) 

Hazy peach color, rocky head. Very Belgian aroma. An explosion of flavour from the first sip. Full malt, sweet and sour, stable and barnyard, Summer flowers, pepper, spearmint, some ashes. Bittersweet finish with some peppery and warming ginger. Their beers are to be found across Europe now, try them all! 

Best Bottle Label or Pump Clip 

Nøgne ø Sunturnbrew 

Best UK Brewery 

BrewDog. 

Best Overseas Brewery  

Just one? I could just say Nøgne ø, but that’s cheating. De Molen? Yes, it must be de Molen. 

Pub/Bar of the Year 

The Football Pub, Rome 

Beer Festival of the Year 

Copenhagen Beer Festival. But I enjoy Pig’s Ear immensely. 

Supermarket of the Year 

I wouldn’t know. The expanded Marks & Spencer range with full information about the beer and their breweries is impressive. 

Independent Retailer of the Year 

beermerchants.com 

Online Retailer of the Year 

A tie: beermerchants.com, birraland.it 

Best Beer Book 

Pete Brown: Hops and Glory 

Best Beer Blog 

That’s tough,eh? If I could pick ten. And some have been praised so much lately its best for their egos if I ignore them.. 

I must say Ron Pattison. Not for the historical records, which are beyond me, but for his descriptions of his days out. As Alan recently observed, he is, at his best, Dickensian. But I must also point to two other expats who have their special angle on the beer scene and the general culture they have settled in – Barry and Max

Best Beer Twitterer 

@thebeernut 

Best Online Interactive Brewery 

BrewDog 

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year 

The Gunmakers. Good, no nonsense food, properly kept pints. 

Next Year I’d Most Like To… 

go to the US and drink beer. East Coast, West Coast, North or South. Not that I’m likely to. On quite another level, I hope to meet as many friendly and generous beer people on both sides of the bar and the mash tun as in 2009. 

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I had time for a lunchtime session, and I had to pick one of the brew pubs on my list. Pivovarský dům was conveniently situated, reachable on foot from my hotel – and with a tram stop with direct connection back to my hotel.

The facade is very impressive, you don’t seem to pay much for window space in this part of town. Lots of breweriana inside the windows, but when you open the door, the place is more intimate than it looked like from the outside.

A lovely aroma of malt fills the room, there is no doubt that this is a working brewery.

There is a substantial many of Czech staples. I consider duck or game, but en up ordering a goulash with dumplings.

The beer range is rather special. In addition to the expected light and dark lagers, there is a range of flavoured beers as well as a weissen. Some of these are obviously brewed mostly for novelty, like the banana beer and the nettle beer. It is therefore very convenient that they have specially designed sampler devices, more or less modelled at the Kölschkranz Alan is yearning for.

How were the beers? Both the svetly and tmavy, the light and dark, were good representatives of the style. The light beer was both light and refreshing, with a lovely bitter tail that keeps growing. Flowers, mint and grass. The dark had cocoa, coffee and a little cocoa. Quite subtle, a beer you could keep drinking all night. On the sweet side, but there was a dusty dryness, too. I ordered a half liter of this to have with my meal.

The other beers? To be honest, none of them appealed very much to me. The added ingredients overpowered the beer. I think brewing some of those to a higher strength could possibly have made them more balanced and enjoyable.

The goulash was splendid, the prices were very decent.

I did by no means regret visiting.

But will I be back?

I think there are lots of other places in Prague I’d like to explore first.

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Sept 09 008

Shortly before five, a text message told me Max had arrived at my hotel. I handed over the beers from the Norwegian micros, and we set off for Zlý Časy. Half an hour and two tram rides later, we arrived.

The first time I visited, last year, this pub has some sort of festival going on, meaning that they had an outstanding range of beers from micros on tap. Well, they have moved beyond that.

There are16 beers on tap in this fairly small bar right now, a new Prague record. Two Germans, an Oktoberfest and the Sclenkerla Märtzen, the rest quality Czech brews. A few Weissen, a Scottish ale and a long list of lagers, some of them yeast beers, some of them just lovely pilseners.

Sept 09 010Max has described our beers of the evening very well, while omitting a nice meal of smoked pork, horseradish and mustard, just as beery food should be. I will not point out any of these beers as outshining the others, though the unfiltered yeast beers are always a special treat…

Fast and friendly service, and they seemed to treat all customers well. But it is very nice to be with one of the regulars – who also knows the language -in a place like this.

I hope this concept will work, though having such a broad range of beers in such a small pub sounds risky, especially with a number of beers that have to be sold in a day or two after opening the keg. But this is not the place for tickers sipping from small glasses, you need to ask for the half liter and let the golden liquid flow freely down your throat!

A pleasant time spent in pleasant company. Max and I have only met twice, but we get along very well, with no uncomfortable gaps in the conversation.

Sure, there are lots of beer bars in Prague I haven’t visited. But I’ll make sure I’ll hit Zlý Časy the first evening the next time I’m in town as well. And even if they have Nøgne ø beers on their list then, I’ll always go for the local brews.

They have reorganized their web site over the last week, making it easier to see the ever changing beer list. Today they have Chimay Tripel on tap if you want a small break in your lager consumption.

Zly Casy beers

Instead of pump clips

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To Prague for a meeting this week, and I, obviously, used the opportunity to do some beery things as well.

I had an appointment with Max, the Beer Philosopher, and I even brought along quite a few beers to him from Nøgne ø and Haandbryggeriet. He is considering importing some of their beers. While they obviously cannot compete with the price level of the domestic brews, it will be interesting to see if there is a market for ales in this land og lagers. I’m sure he will blog about this himself.

I knew the routines for public transport from my last visit, and within an hour of touchdown I checked into my hotel, despite having used both the airport bus, the Metro and a tram.

It was still early afternoon, and I had an hour or so to spare.

My hotel was in the Castle district, right at the top of the steep street leading down in the direction of the Charles bridge. I had done my homework, meaning reading Evan Rail’s Good Beer Guide to Prague and the Czech Republic. This informed me that there was a fine tavern just around the corner, U Cerneho Vola. (Sorry for omitting all accents and stuff from the names, they are beyond my scope!)

This place is a bit of a paradox. Across the street from one of the major churches on the castle hill as well as the palace housing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this is still an unpretentious bar with wooden furniture and a menu that’s blissfully short.

There is cheese. And sausages. And beer.

The beer in question is Kozel, which may not sound too exotic. Their dark variety is a global brand, but having it fresh from tap is very different. Lots of sweet malt, but there are lots of other complex elements there as you sip your pint. I tried a glass of the pale Kozel, too, a crisp and clean pilsener that also does its job very well when it is served under optimal conditions.

Mixed clientelle – students and tourists in smaller groups. When I see people lighting their cigarettes, I realize that this was common across Europe just a few years ago. I don’t know if there is any pending legislation in the Czech Republic.

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Well, almost. Craft beer to Prague. If anyone had told me this ten years ago…

Sept 09 193

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