Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Dynamic Duo

Pivovar Náchod, makers of the Primátor brand, have one of the most diverse ranges of beer in the Czech Republic. As well as the standard lagers made by practically every Czech brewer, they also make a weizen, an English Pale Ale, a stout and a couple of big hitters – Exklusiv, Rytířský and Double, at 21° and 24° respectively. They also made this year's World's Best Lager - the 16° Exklusiv.With all the strength of a doppelbock, the 21° Rytířský is definitely not a session beer – unless of course you want your session to end early that is – it is 9% ABV! As you can see from the picture this is again a dark golden beer with a huge white head – and was supremely poured by Mrs Velkyal. The nose is quite delicate, with all the hallmark notes of Saaz hops. In the mouth however it is rather sweet and the mouthfeel distinctly syrupy although the slight bitterness comes through in the end, only to be smothered at the last. I found this an easier beer to drink than the Strahov Christmas Special, but only just.
The bully of the school yard however is the 10.5%ABV Double, a strong dark lager – which confusingly is called a porter by the Slovak labelling and a “speciální tmavé pivo” or “special dark beer”. It is certainly a very dark beer, deep ruby with a light coffee head that fades rather quickly. As expected the nose is grassy from the Saaz hops, as well as the slightest hint of caramelized bananas. Taste wise there is a distinctly burnt caramel flavour, with touches of bitter coffee and cocoa, the alcohol leaving a tingling sensation on my lips. Unlike the Rytířský, the Double doesn’t feel syrupy, despite the fact that it is very sweet. I imagine that this would pair up very nicely with the excellent mature farmhouse cheddar that the Cheesey shop sells.

I think I am coming to the conclusion that as much as I like flavourful beers, I am not a big fan of strongly alcoholic beers – especially when they only come in a half litre bottle. I never thought I would be saying this, but the Rytířský and the Double would be better in a 300ml bottle. Powerful and full of flavour, these are nice beers – but certainly not for regular sessions.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Time Travel

I have to say that I rather like being able to write something and then schedule it, in full assurance that it will get posted and I can focus on other things - such as trawling my way through my Christmas present - if O'Hanlon's Port Stout can't make the Queen's Speech worth listening to then I guess I will move on the Durham Temptation, and so on until something good happens - like the opening of the pub at the end of the road.

Being the only one of my family without children I will no doubt get to vanish for an hour or so of sanity - perhaps dragging my brothers and father with me.

Hope you are all having a lovely Christmas - and if Christmas is not part of your culture then I hope you are having a fantastic day anyway!

Slainte!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Fuggled Review of the Year - Beer of the Year

So there we have it, my overview of the year. I have left out many excellent beers, many beers which I hope to try again before too long. That list includes many new beers to me, such as:

And of course a number of favourites that I will buy regularly:

To choose my favourite beer from 2008 is an exceptionally difficult task, and I do so in full awareness that I am being entirely subjective. My beer of the year is thus the one that has given me the most pleasure, the most instruction in all that a beer can beer and the most inspiration as to what I can do with my own beer making. As such, my beer of the year is more than just a drink of the year, it is also a reflection on the brewery which has in many ways defined my beer drinking in the last year.

Therefore my beer of the year, and by extension my brewery of the year is:

  1. Pivovar Varnsdorf for their Kocour V3.

Flying the face of your culture is always fraught with danger and laden with potential booby traps. Flying the face of Czech brewing culture and tradition is like voting Conservative in Scotland. Well done the guys (and most especially the breweress) for being true to their stated aim of not being boring.

May you prosper in 2009, and far beyond.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Fuggled Review of the Year - Rauchbier

I had my first ever smoked beer this year, the classic Schlenkerla Märzen from Bamberg – it was a revelation. I had never come across smoked beer before, although with a bit of thought and research I realized that many beers prior to the invention of coke, the fuel not the soft drink, would have had a smoky flavour to them.

The discovery of smoked beers had got me thinking about the kinds of beers I will make, and my first beer I plan to make in 2009 is currently a smoked mild – admittedly using a mild kit and chucking in a mini-mash of smoked malt. It has also got me thinking about the different flavours that would be imparted by using different fuels, such as oak and more especially peat – I wonder if a stout made from peat smoked malt would more closely resemble the early porters and stouts which so took Ireland by storm, perhaps though I am simply indulging my love of whiskey and wanting the same peat flavours in my beer?

The shortlist for smoked beer of the year in the Fuggled world is as follows:

The Purkmistr Rauchbier was one of my favourite beers at the Slunce ve Skle festival back in September, not as in your face as the Schlenkerla Märzen but still with a distinct smokiness and with the excellent drinkability of all the Purkmistr beers I have tried.

From the Schlenkerla stable the Rauchweizen is the best, again it is not as in your face and the Märzen but the sublte smokiness coupled with the classic banana and cloves of a wheat beer make for something eminently intriguing.

Kocour take the credit for V3, although it was a collaborative beer, aged in Tokaj barrels from Hungary. Full bodied and with winey elements mixed in with the taste of sausages – this was a beer which tick boxes on almost every part of the tongue.

Of the three, one stands above the others in terms of originality and vision, and on those bases, as well as just being a damned fine beer the winner is:

  1. Kocour V3

This is an annual special – unfortunately the next time it is made I will be living the US, and unless I can find some way of getting it to South Carolina I will spend many a day pining after it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Fuggled Review of the Year - Wheat Beers

There was once a time when I didn’t drink wheat beer at all. I still remember the day when sitting with one of my best friends in a pub in Birmingham and he suggested I try a wheat beer. I found it so foul that I was tempted to pour it into the canal – for those familiar with Brum (probably the only major English city I would ever live in again) we were sat in a pub just behind Brindley Place waiting for a concert by The Mutton Birds, supported by a local band called Mudskipper. I had just got my degree in theology, my friend was about to take up a post as a youth pastor in Lancashire – it was the last time we saw each other, and the last beer he had (apparently).

Fast forward ten years to Pivovarský klub in Prague, sitting with a friend of mine who spent a lot of his life in the West Midlands, and he suggested to me that I should try Schöfferhofer – and my mind was blown away. I loved this stuff, and thought to myself, where has wheat beer been all my beer drinking life?

Thus this year has been one not only of discovering great ales and lagers, but also learning to appreciate wheat beer. I freely admit that still the wheats I like are from Germany and the Czech Republic, I am yet to find a Belgian wit that I like – given that it took me ten years to appreciate it at all, give me a break ok?

The three for my shortlist are:

Schöfferhofer makes the shortlist simply because it was my Damascus moment, when I discovered wheat beer as something I wanted to drink and is still the standard by which I judge weissbier – whether that be right or wrong, the fact remains it was the first I liked.

Primátor make lovely beers in general and to my mind their weizen is the best in their range, better even than their stout and English Pale Ale. Admittedly it is more consistently better from the bottle than on tap.

I have only ever had two pints of Memminger, both of them in Berlin in May – for breakfast! A very nice, refreshing beer that I could imagine spending a hot summer’s day on Alexanderplatz drinking, preferably brought by a buxom German serving wench (thank goodness Mrs Velkyal knows what I am, and what, I like).

In the wheat beer stakes there is a clear winner, not just because I happen to love this beer but also because everyone I have introduced to it so far has raved about it too, including my mate that gave me my first ever Schöfferhofer, therefore the winner is:

  1. Primátor Weizen


Find it, drink it, enjoy it.

    Thursday, December 18, 2008

    The Fuggled Review of the Year - Stouts and Porters

    Dark beers have played a major role in my drinking this year, in particular stouts and porters, both from the Czech Republic and from further afield, such as the UK, Ireland, Norway and Germany. I have learnt about the differences between a Baltic and a London porter, and about the different styles of stout, whether dry, sweet or imperial.

    When I started my, legal, drinking life, stout was very much my ale of choice. I remember ordering my first ever pint in the Dark Island hotel back at home, it was a Guinness - a youthful homage to my eldest brother. When studying in Birmingham I would wander off for pints of Murphy's and Beamish.

    When I came back from Oxford a few months ago, many of the beers I brought with me were stouts and porters of various types, and the only beers I managed to bring from Ireland were from the Carlow Brewing Company, makers of O'Hara's stout.

    My shortlist of stouts and porters is as follows:

    O'Hara's on draught was good, from the bottle it was great - and still I have a bottle in the cellar waiting to be drunk when the right day arrives.

    Wrasslers XXXX was, they say, the choice of stout for Irish hero Michael Collins - a man evidently of exceptional taste in beer. Smooth, full bodied and yet easy to drink, if I lived in Ireland it would be my beer of choice.

    What can be said about BrewDog's sublime Paradox series of imperial stouts aged in whisky casks, very simply - where can I buy more?

    There is a clear winner here, and it is simply because within one drink the makers have managed to combine two of my passions, as such my Stout/Porter of 2008 is:

    1. BrewDog Paradox Smokehead

    Whisky and stout in a single glass - sheer Genius.

    Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    The Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale Ales and Bitters

    After years of drinking lager, it has been a pleasure to once again drink ale on a regular basis. Despite the fact that I have had some very nice ales here in the Czech Republic, most of the pale ales and bitters I have enjoyed in the last 12 months have been an integral part of my trips to the UK and Ireland.

    I have enjoyed re-acquainting myself with old favourites as well as discovering stuff from breweries I had never heard of before. However, it was the newcomers that made my short list of 3 for this category (and believe me I agonized over leaving some of my favourite beers out). The three contenders for my pale ale/bitter of 2008 are:

    All of the pale ales I have tried from Pivovar Varnsdorf have been excellent, whether the English Pale Ale, the American style Pale Ale or the India Pale Ale, which I first had at the Slunce ve Skle festival in Plzeň. The IPA gets the nod over the others because of the wonderful fresh citrus flavours and the fact that it is an endlessly wonderful and easy drinking ale.

    I had the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale whilst in Galway last month, having heard from many people that it is the standard against which many pale ales are judged, and it is a beautifully crafted beer – one which when I am living in the States will be as permanent a fixture in my cellar as possible.

    Galway Hooker was a beer that was very close to the top of my list for trying during the trip to Ireland. Again a very crisp and refreshing beer, and one which I heartily wish was available in bottles so that it could be enjoyed by more people than those very lucky souls in Galway and the few towns in Ireland where it is available on tap.

    Again a very, very difficult choice, but my pale ale/bitter of the year is:

    1. Galway Hooker

    Worth jumping on a plane to Ireland for.

    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    The Fuggled Review of the Year - Amber and Dark Lagers

    There is a Czech tradition that if a woman drinks dark lager then she will have big breasts, though there is nothing said about getting a big gut as well, so we can only assume that dark beer is good for you!

    In all seriousness though, there was a time when I didn't particularly like the darker lagers on offer in the Czech Republic - however this has changed in recent years, partly I think as a natural progression from when I was fed up with the Czech lagers I was drinking at the time, and thus looked for something different.

    The reason I have put amber and dark lagers under the same post is that I drink proportionately less of them than other lagers here, so a post each would be stretching things practically to breaking point, despite the fact that this has given me something of a headache when it comes to choosing my top three of the year, which are

    The Strahov Autumn Special was a magnificent beer, rich and flavourful and worth every drop of the two or three I enjoyed in the late autumn sun whilst looking at Strahov Monastery, one of my favourite buildings in Prague.

    Hukvaldy 14° was one of those beautiful happy moments when you say, I'll just have the one, and end up having a couple over lunch and savouring every drop, telling all your colleagues that they should get to the pub that very day and try it - then discovering they took your advice and were raving about it too!

    The Chodovar brewery makes some of my favourite beers, and their Skalní ležák is quite simply a lovely beer which never fails to satisfy. When PK had it on tap earlier this year I was in heaven.

    This is such a difficult choice, but in the immortal words of Connor MacLeod, there can be only one:
    1. Chodovar Skalní ležák

    Chodovar wins here for its consistency as one of my favourite amber lagers and the fact that I have used it in my various beer cooking experiment successfully.

    Monday, December 15, 2008

    The Fuggled Review of the Year - Pale Lagers

    Yes there are still a couple of weeks of drinking time left this year, but as I will be in France and the UK in the coming weeks I am not sure how much posting I will get to do after this week.

    As you would expect, living in the country where lager is king, I drink quite a lot of it. Once upon a time I drank, and enjoyed, the mega-brands - Gambrinus, Staropramen and Kozel. Those days have been consigned to history for various abominations; diluting the beer after fermentation, using corn syrup as an adjunct, just generally trashing one of my favourite beers.

    This year though I have discovered a wealth of pale lagers, of varying strengths, which I enjoy and which restored my once flagging faith in pale lager. My top three though are:

    The Kout is so well made, and for a 10º lager it is bursting with flavour, and the only pub in Prague with it on tap is a ten minute jaunt from my flat, and it costs an insane 20kč for a half litre (that's $1/€0.80/£0.70 at current exchange rates).

    Purkmistr is worth the trip to Plzeň alone, and I am probably being controversial here but it is the only light lager from that hallowed city which is actually worth drinking (cue comments about the unfiltered and unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell available at the brewery - that doesn't count as it is not commercially available as far as I am aware).

    Yes I have a soft spot for Primátor, and their 12º is a very nice and drinkable lager, and again very cheap in the Billa near my office.

    It is difficult to pick just one to be the Fuggled Pale Lager of the Year - a prize unburdened with history and monetary value - but the award goes to:

    1. Kout na Šumavě

    Simply the best lager in the Czech Republic.

    Friday, December 12, 2008

    Beer Hero of the Week

    This week has been rather quiet, other than a few solitary beers at PK on Tuesday - tonight however is our team shindig at work. Having said that, I have a blinding headache at the moment, so hopefully the ibuprofen will kick in soon, otherwise I will have to drink slower than one would like.

    Anyway, to the this week's Beer Hero. This week's hero is an unknown soldier, a warrior in the cause of bringing me good beer so that my infinitely extensible waistline can yo-yo its way through the yuletide fun. Ladies and gentleman, I give you this week's Beer Hero of the week:

    Whoever it is my brother persuades to pick up some beer from Lovibonds beer in Henley-on-Thames!

    I thank you!

    Thursday, December 11, 2008

    Oh bum!

    By some stroke of infinite genius, I fly to France on the day that the Christmas Beer Market starts here in Prague - that's next Saturday.

    There is more information over on Evan's blog, for those that can't read Czech.

    For those that can here is an article with some of the foreign brewers taking part:


    So if you are in Prague, get along to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and try some wonderful beers.

    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    Rev ale ation

    Seeing as though last night was Mrs Velkyal's school Christmas soiree, I nipped along to Pivovarský klub to try a couple of interesting beers on tap. Luckily when I arrived there was a space at the bar, the downstairs area being used for one of PK's club nights.


    I had checked PK's website in the afternoon, and saw that they had an American IPA but it wasn't stated who made it and I remember Pivovarský dům once made a Double IPA which I hadn't really enjoyed that much. When I heard that it was from Kocour, there was no question that I was going to get along and have a couple. And what a lovely beer it is, a huge nose of citrus, flowers and grass and a big refreshing kick of bitterness which I imagine would cut through the stogiest of foods with consummate ease, all of this backed up with a gentle sweetness and a long dry finish. Fabulous, simply fabulous.


    I thought though it my duty to try the other specials they had on tap, other than the Delirium Christmas, which I couldn't justify spending silly money on. So next up came the Opat 17° Christmas Special from Pivovar Broumov, which looked like one of those peel-less marmalades (an abomination in my opinion - the marmalade, not the colour of the beer). The nose reminded me of various Christmasy type things, the sweetness of honey and a light spiciness of gingerbread, with just a subtle hint of vanilla. It was quite sweet, and a little syrupy, and I felt it could have done with a touch more bitterness. As the drink wore on, I am convinced I got a whiff of glue - not sure what was going on with that, but certainly it was there.


    I decided to leave the light beers behind and go to the dark side to try the Rambousek 16° Christmas Special. Watching it being poured, I was thinking - "looks like a stout, head like a stout, hurrah, more stout!". Boy was I wrong. The nose was simply not what I expected, instead of the heavy coffee and chocolate smells I was expecting, there was a very nice floralness about the nose, although eventually some coffee and treacle made it through. And what a fantastic taste this stuff has, a rich sweet maltiness, like burnt toffee, all cut through with a gentle bitterness. Another wonderful beer - which I may have to pop round with a plastic bottle to get filled up and take home to Mrs Velkyal, to my mind it was possibly the best Christmas beer I have had.


    I guess whatever I drank next would have had a hard act to follow, but having chatted for a bit with Pivní Filosof I opted for the Holba Šerák, a 14º amber lager which to be perfectly honest left me cold. It wasn't bad, but it could have been so much more. Perhaps I am comparing it too much with the magnificent Hukvaldy I had last month, but this just wasn't up there for me.


    I do have a minor gripe though, and I have made this gripe before I think, but three of the beers I had only come in measures of 0.3l for 35kč, the equivalent would be about 60kč/£2.00/€2.40/$3.00 a half litre. For very strong beers I can understand selling a smaller measure, but for the American IPA then what possible justification is there for not selling the full half litre? It was the same situation with Primátor's magnificent stout, which was sold just up the road at U Radnice for 22kč for the full half litre.

    Monday, December 8, 2008

    Christmas Not So Special

    Liverpool being top of the league was probably the highlight of my weekend, especially as with only 21 minutes to go we were staring at the distinct possibility of yet another 0-0 draw, which would have been the first time in Liverpool’s history that we had three 0-0 draws in a row. Thank goodness though for Xabi Alonso breaking the deadlock and we eventually ran out 3-1 winners to remain 1 point ahead of Chelsea.
    Straight after the game I had to dash off and meet a friend as we had arranged to pop into Klášterní Pivovar Strahov to try the recently released Christmas Special, a 19° Doppelbock, which you can see in the picture above. My overwhelming impression was that it was just too sweet, with a powerful dose of alcohol, for my tastes - it was almost like drinking alcoholic honey to be blunt. I guess the root of my disappointment was that I had really enjoyed their autumn special and I asked if they still had some available, but unfortunately to no avail. Feeling peckish – as one does after a stressful game and rather too much beer – we decided to eat. I am a big fan of black pudding, much to Mrs Velkyal’s abhorrence, and so with the Czech version jelito on the menu it was an easy decision.

    Strahov is one of my favourite brewpubs in Prague, not the cheapest by any stretch of the imagination but certainly one which I always enjoying going to. Doppelbock is very unlikely to become a regular tipple, but Strahov do make very nice beers, so if sweet and syrupy is your thing get up there soon and enjoy.

    Friday, December 5, 2008

    Beer Hero of the Week

    I had a rant earlier in the week about pubs not having websites, which makes life a bit tricky when I go off to strange foreign lands - sometimes after 10 years in the Czech Republic, Britain feels somewhat odd at first. I could add to my rant the laxity with which members of certain "consumer organisations" reply to emails requesting information, so my Beer Hero of the Week is a shared by three breweries for their quick replies and that they gave me exactly the kind of information I was looking for when wrote at the beginning of this week.


    Without further ado, my Beer Heroes this week are:

    I hope that over the few days I am in Kent at Christmas that I will find some of their brews to try.

    The Session #22 - Prohibition


    Being British and living in the Czech Republic, the question for this month’s Session – what does the repeal of Prohibition mean to you, and how will you celebrate your right to drink beer? – could almost too easily be dismissed as irrelevant.

    The driving force behind Prohibition was a misrepresentation of Christian values, in particular a misrepresentation of Puritanism. There is nothing in the Bible which denounces the making and drinking of alcohol, Jesus himself indulged in a spot of home-winemaking at the wedding in Cana, much to the consternation of his guests – how dare they leave the best wine to last, when everyone was so pickled they couldn’t appreciate the flavours and aromas of simply divine wine! Without wanting to get into the theological nuances of Greek, it was wine not grape juice that Jesus handed out at the Last Supper, anything else would have been strictly un-Kosher, and Jesus was after all a Jew.

    In the UK we had the Temperance League, dedicated to stamping out the ill effects of drunkenness within the working classes – a well meaning, if patronizingly paternalistic, attempt to improve the lot of the working man in much the same way as New Lanark was to be a model village for the workers.

    Banning alcohol is ultimately counter-productive, because the demand for drink will always be there regardless of what is on the statute books, and it simply serves to create a new class of criminals. If governments are serious about lessening the effects of binge drinking then education is the key rather than legislation. Attempts to stigmatise alcohol simply glamorizes it in the minds of the impressionable.

    What does the repeal of Prohibition mean to me? It means that a misguided attempt to make a better world, the unintentional creation of criminals and the misrepresentation of the Christian faith was put thoroughly and rightly where it belongs, to bed. How will I celebrate my right to drink? Well I am not the kind of person to go shoving my rights in other people’s faces, I believe that every right has a corresponding responsibility – the right to drink is really about drinking responsibly, “whatever that means” to quote Prince Charles.

    Thursday, December 4, 2008

    Finally!!

    Major kudos here to Evan for giving me the link to this site.

    It looks as though the homebrew project is back on track!

    Now, which of my ideas to make???

    The Finalised Christmas Beer List

    A wee while ago I compiled a list of beers which I was considering buying myself for Christmas, having decided that I could indeed afford 24 bottles of various British beers, here is the final list in full:

    • Burton Bridge Santa's Porter
    • Cropton Rudolphs Revenge
    • Gordons Christmas Ale
    • Naylors Santa's Choice Winter Warmer
    • Naylors Scrooge's Christmas Barrel
    • O'hanlon's Goodwill
    • RCH Ale Mary
    • Woods Christmas Cracker
    • Black Sheep Riggwelter
    • Bradfield Farmers Stout
    • Hook Norton Double Stout
    • O'Hanlons Port Stout - 2x
    • Durham St Cuthbert Ale
    • Durham Benedictus
    • Durham Temptation
    • Thomas Hardys Ale
    • Wentworth Oatmeal Stout
    • Harviestoun Engine Oil
    • Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted
    • Traquair House Ale
    • Traquair Jacobite Ale
    • Brewdog Rip Tide
    • Atlas Latitude

    I can't promise reviews of all of them, but I can promise they will all be drunk (I may be rather pickled myself as well!).

    I ordered all of these from BeerRitz - and was very impressed at the speed with which the first 12 bottles arrived at my brother's place in Kent.

    Wednesday, December 3, 2008

    Peat Smoke Heaven

    This is part 1 of a two part tasting, part two will take place sometime in September 2010, as that is the best before date on my bottles of BrewDog Paradox Smokehead, and I want to see what difference a couple of years, and being transported to the US will have on the beer.

    When Mrs Velkyal and I move to the US next year, I plan to finally buy a brew kit and start making my own beer. Various recipes have already been designed, my head still spins with ideas. One of the first beers I thought of making was a peat-smoked stout, which I was going to call Machair. In my original plan I wanted to use a portion of distillers malt to give the smokiness of my favourite whiskey – Talisker, although I am also partial to Islay whiskies, in particular Laphroaig.
    It was these plans for a peat smoke stout that flooded into my mind as I opened the bottle, and the unmistakable smell of whisky filled my nostrils, even before pouring. Having spent a month drinking dark beers, I fear that I have worn the word “dark” very thin, in which case this beer is absolutely opaque, not a glimmer of light could make it through! As you can see from the picture, there is very little head, all the better for letting the aromas escape and drive you crazy – behind the very evident whisky are traces of coffee and caramel, which in drinking serve to smooth out the beer. At 10%ABV, this is definitely not a beer for the faint minded – the warming glow of the alcohol lingers in the mouth and down the throat from the first sip (and trust me, you don’t want to be chugging this one).
    Big, bold and brash, this is very much a grown-up’s beer.

    Tuesday, December 2, 2008

    Who Knows?

    I am hoping this is an international phenomena, but could somebody please tell pub owners that having a net presence is a very smart move?

    Whenever Mrs Velkyal and I go on our trips I like to do some research for pubs to go to, local beers to try and so on. Obviously with big brewers like Fuller's they have a section on their site listing their pubs, although I wonder why the pubs themselves don't have their own sites - especially as basic information site is cheap and easy to maintain.

    You don't need to make some fancy pants website using dynamic languages such as php, a nice simple yet informative html set-up will do nicely.

    What do I want to know:
    • Opening hours
    • What's on tap? (and if you are in the free trade keep it up to date)
    • Is there food?
    • Any special events?
    • How to get there
    No wonder pubs are going to the wall they fail to advertise their existence. Thank God for the CAMRA database, but even that should just be a starting point.

    What Price Value?


    At work last week, my line manager turns to me and says:

    “Al, you have a beer blog, don’t you?”

    “Indeed” I replied.

    Thus I came to be in possession of a can of Tesco Value Beer, with a request to write about it, so here goes.

    Made in Poland, with an ABV of 3.5% and only four listed ingredients, water, malt, hops and yeast – good start so far. It even looked as a lager should do, pale golden with a foamy white head, although that soon disappeared to leave a few large white patches on the top of the beer which for a moment made me think that the beer had a bad case of eczema. The tell tale smell of a god awful beer was the first thing to hit my nose, dish soap, although there was also a faint maltiness which suggested actually malt may once have gone through the same factory as this can of “beer”. Drinking it was possibly the biggest mistake I made, it was simply disgusting, worse even than the dreaded dark beer from Ů Pražský Most na Valsů. After one mouthful the remaining 400 and something milliliters were tipped down the sink.

    Who drinks this stuff? Seriously, next time you see someone in Tesco with this foul abomination in their trolley or basket, consider it an act of civic duty to warn them that their choice of beer is abysmal and if they really want something to drink, to stick to mineral water. Alternatively, give them the difference in price between Tesco Value and something worth drinking and hope you make a convert to the cause of real beer.

    Monday, December 1, 2008

    Beer Bloggers Picnic

    Saturday evening was spent in the presence of fellow bloggers Evan and Pivní Filosof as well as Boak and Bailey, who were over from London on a tour of Germany and the Czech Republic. Being good hosts, we hope, we arranged to meet up and introduce our visitors to some of our favourite pubs in the city, starting with Pivovarský klub, where the highlight for me was the very nice Granát from Pivovar Pardubice. After a while we walked up into Žižkov to drop into the very recently opened U Slovanské Lipy, Prague’s first pub selling beer from Pivovar Kout na Šumavě.

    U Slovanské Lipy is very unlikely to win any style awards, and is definitely not the kind of place for those ex-pats for whom trips to the Potrefena Husa in Prague 3 is living dangerously. Sitting down at a table I was taken back to pubs in Southern Bohemia, where a previous girlfriend came from – a proper Czech pub, with great Czech beer, what more could anyone ask for? Well to start with we asked for a round of their desítka, 10° golden lager, and what a grand beer it is, putting to bed the idea that desítka is a weaker version of a brewery’s flagship dvanáctka, that’s 12° to non-Czech speakers.

    Following hot of the heels of our drained glasses was the 14° dark lager, quite easily the best lager I have had in a very long time, whether light or dark, regardless of strength, this was just simply magnificent – worth the walk up the hill just in itself. Having made the required ohs and ahs about the dark, we progressed on to the 12° kvasnícové, also a very good beer and just too easy to drink – what lucky people they are in Šumava, not only do they live in a beautiful part of the world, but they have a great local brewer to enjoy. Last up was a round of small glasses of the 18° Baltic Porter. Again it was a nice beer, brimming with flavour, however for me it just didn’t reach the heights of the dark lager. If we didn’t have plans to visit Zlý Časy, I could happily have stayed and nursed several more pints of the dark goodness.

    Zlý Časy provided with one of the most unexpected experiences of my beer drinking life, a Klášter worth drinking, in this case the 12°. I am a convert? We’ll see. Unforeseen circumstances, involving forgotten keys, meant that I had to call it an early night at around half ten. There are few more pleasurable nights to be had than sitting around drinking superb beers with good company, which without exception has been my experience of all the people I have met through this blog so far, and I am very much looking forward to the bottle of Gose which Boak and Bailey brought over from Leipzig.

    Friday, November 28, 2008

    Beer Hero of the Week

    At first I considered making this the "Beer Enemy of the Week". But I decided that rather than fulminate against someone who is clearly so out of touch with people that he has no place in a socialist party (assuming that New Labour is such a beast), I would give praise to someone who fulminated against someone who is clearly so out of touch.

    So for his piece describing ever so aptly Alastair Darling, my Beer Hero of the Week is:

    Pete Brown

    Also, his books are pretty damned good, go and buy them and read them if you haven't already!

    Dark Month Quick Review

    So November is all but over, and with it my month of drinking predominantly dark beers. I haven't written about everything I have tried this month, so here is a random collection of thoughts on the various brews I have tried:

    Most drunk in the month: Primátor Stout, yes it is very nice, and no I am not on a stipend from Pivovar Náchod.

    Most enjoyed of the month: O'Hara's Stout from the Carlow Brewing Company, from the bottle that is, the remaining bottle I have in the cellar may be opened tonight in celebration.

    Discovery of the month: Hukvaldy 14° amber lager, pure nectar.

    Over-hyped beer of the month: Porterhouse Oyster Stout, it isn't bad, just not as good as I expected, even then it is streets behind Wrasslers XXXX.

    Confusion of the month: Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter and Oatmeal Stout, are they supposed to have a slightly soapy taste to them? Someone help me with that.

    I am sure this weekend will see several more darks enjoyed, though I may not write about them all, but I do have a special treat planned for Sunday, which is St Andrew's Day. I will be opening one of my bottles of BrewDog Paradox Smokehead in celebration.

    Thursday, November 27, 2008

    A Porter's Life

    This is one of my favourite songs, makes me wonder sometimes how the human race survived so long without all our modern "health" pre-occupation?

    If you want your child to grow
    Your child to grow, your child to grow
    If you want your child to grow
    Give him a jar of porter

    Chorus:Sing too-ra loo-ra loo-ra-la too-ra loo-ra loo-ra-la
    Sing too-ra loo-ra loo-ra-la; give him a jar of porter

    When I was young and cradle cake
    No drop of milk now would I take
    My father up and had his spake
    Give child a jar of porter

    Chorus:Sing too-ra loo-ra loo-ra-la too-ra loo-ra loo-ra-la
    Sing too-ra loo-ra loo-ra-la; give the child a jar of porter

    And when I'm dead and in my grave
    I hope for me a prayer you'll say
    And as you're passin' by
    That you'll throw in a jar of porter

    Chorus:Sing too-ra loo-ra loo-ra-la too-ra loo-ra loo-ra-la
    Sing too-ra loo-ra loo-ra-la; throw in a jar of porter

    And when I reach the holy gates
    I hope you'll not have long to wait
    I'll call St. Peter aside and say
    Brought you up a jar of porter

    Chorus:Sing too-ra loo-ra loo-ra-la too-ra loo-ra loo-ra-la
    Sing too-ra loo-ra loo-ra-la, brought you up a jar of porter

    Wednesday, November 26, 2008

    A Plea to Czech Readers

    I saw this link this morning on expats.cz - so if you are reading this and love ale, contact these people with suggestions of British and Irish ales you would like to see available in the Czech Republic!

    Click here to read the what they are after, and here to contact them.

    A Couple of Dark Germans

    Continuing my month of dark beers, last night I reached into my little cellar and pulled out a couple of bottles from Germany, Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel and Thurn und Taxis Dunkle Weisse. As you can see the German theme continued with the glass I used, a Beck's Vier glass which the landlord of the Bull and Castle in Dublin gave us last Monday and Mrs Velkyal packed in her back successfully to get it back to Prague in one piece, despite my naysaying.

    Weltenbuger Kloster claim to be the oldest monastery brewery in the world, having been established in 1050 (or ten to eleven as it's sometimes called), though I very much doubt that the Barock Dunkel bears any major resemblance to whatever the monks were churning out then. This poured a very alluring ruby colour, with a big fluffy tan head and lots and lots of carbonation - which I wondered if it had anything to do with the glass, as there were streams of bubbles coming up from the pattern on the glass bottom. At first the nose worried me as it bore a resemblance to the detergenty smell from the dark lager I bought from U Valšů - which still ranks as the worst beer I have ever drunk, but eventually it gave way to a predominantly ginger spiciness. Tastewise this was really nothing special, lightly malty but with a thin body it was quite disappointing to be frank - perhaps I like big beers too much these days?

    I have become something of a fan of dunkel weisse beers, and enjoyed several dark Erdingers when Pivovarský klub had it on tap in place of the very nice Primátor Weizen, so I was looking forward to the Thurn und Taxis. It poured a cloudy brown, almost like gingerbread. with a slighty off-white head which was huge! Again there were loads of bubbles rising from the little patch on the bottom of the glass, as you can see from the video below (I wonder how many people just shook their heads at me making a video of bubbles in a beer glass). The nose was laden with cloves and other wintery spices, such as ginger and even a trace of nutmeg - I was getting excited at the prospect of this one, winter is my favourite time of year! The beer has a nice balance of sweetness and bitterness, with neither overpowering the other - reminding me of slightly burnt toffee as well as bananas flambeed in rum, it was very nice, but about half way down it lost some of its zest and was in fact somewhat dull to finish off, a bit of an anti-climax really.

    The only way I can think of to sum up these two beers was that they were nothing special, although in the case of the Weltenburger even that is being slightly generous. Ah well.

    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Czech Stouts

    For all our ravings of late about Primátor’s newly released stout, this particular beer style is not new to the Czech market, nor are Pivovar Náchod, its makers, the only Czech brewer making the black stuff. Just after I first moved to Prague way back in the 20th century, Pražské Pivovary came out with a stout called Kelt, which at the time was a very welcome substitute for Guinness, my beer of choice during my student days. Pivovar Varnsdorf, under the Kocour brand, also make a stout, which I have written about previously, as do Minipivovar Žamberk.

    Yesterday afternoon as Mrs Velkyal and I made one of eclectic dinners, in this case a variation on the theme of cottage pie, basically being minced beef in Kelt with a mashed potato topping, I decided to do a side by side tasting of the three main Czech stouts – whilst listening to the Chieftains!

    I decided to start with the Kocour. I love the way this flows from the bottle, almost like treacle, and with a rich brown head on top of the wonderfully opaque and fragrant beer. This was the first time that I had this from a bottle rather than on tap, and as bottled versions are done by hand, it bears a close resemblance to the draught version, with a lightly roasted coffee nose and slight cocoa notes. The beer is smooth and easy drinking and would certainly be a beer that I would drink regularly. One thing I noticed though from the bottle is that the head disappears very quickly and left no trace of lacing down the glass. Being a Czech stout, it was interesting to read on the label that they had used Saaz hops.

    Taking Mrs Velkyal’s advice I opened my remaining bottle of Kelt, which in common with the Kocour version pours out very dark and thick, although the head is lighter and lasted longer. The nose was really nothing to write home about, very slight coffee notes and maybe a touch of caramel. Having tried a couple of pints of Guinness whilst over in Ireland last weekend I can better make a comparison of the two, and Kelt still stands up as a reasonable substitute, although the body is distinctly watery in comparison and there is a lack of the dry bitterness which I would expect from a real irish stout. Having said that, with the delight of finding Wrasslers XXXX and O’Hara’s, Guinness is no longer what I immediately think of when thinking of Irish stouts, Kelt then stands up to Guinness because it is an industrial stout that is neither offensive nor memorable.

    Last up was the single beer I have probably drunk more of than any other this month, Primátor’s version of stout, which myself, Pivní Filosof and Evan Rail have described at length elsewhere. However, this was the first time I had tried it from the bottle rather than on tap. Again it pours thick and smooth, with a light brown head – which lasts far longer than the previous two, and is clearly more rocky than the Kelt head. The nose is more pronounced than both the Kocour and the Kelt, although it only just shades the Kocour whilst entirely eclipsing the Kelt. Like its tapped version, this is a very nice beer, with more evident coffee flavours and a fuller body than either the other contenders. Having said that, when comparing it to the real thing (O’Hara’s that is for those unsure of my Irish Stout allegiances), it is still lacking body and could use more oomph in the hops department.

    The fact that I can even produce a side by side tasting of three stouts in the Czech Republic is in itself something to celebrate, and evidence that slowly brewers are realizing that there is a market here for ale as well as lager. You have to give Pražské Pivovary credit for bringing out a stout nearly a decade ago (even though I believe it is not top fermented), however the game has moved on and clearly Primátor and Kocour are at the forefront of the ale revolution, viva la revolution!

    Friday, November 21, 2008

    Beer Hero of the Week

    This week's Beer Hero of the Week was decided upon last Saturday, as I polished off yet another bottle of excellent beer sat in a great pub in the West of Ireland.

    For simply having a fantastic collection of beers, and being one of the most welcoming and comfortable pubs I can remember being in, Beer Hero of the Week goes to:

    Sheridan's On The Docks in Galway.

    Keep up the good work!

    No Blues in the Porterhouse

    On our trip to Ireland last weekend, there was only one thing which was an absolute must as far as I was concerned, visiting one of the Porterhouse brewpubs whilst in Dublin on the Friday. I had heard much about their Oyster Stout and Wrasslers XXXX, and was hoping that they still had some of the their seasonally brewed Alt. Coming into Dublin on the bus from Westmeath took about an hour through some lovely countryside and past a plethora of houses that if I had the money I would buy at the drop of a hat. My first impressions of the city were that it reminded me a several other places that I like, in particular Limoges and Glasgow.



    Having strolled around the centre for a few hours I suggested that we find somewhere to sit down and have a coffee or similar - admittedly I only made this suggestion once I had spied the Porterhouse Central. The pub put me in mind of the classic image of a New York bar, dark with a long bar, I liked it, and so headed to the bar to get some sustenance in the form of a pint of Alt, which was still on tap much to my delight, and it was a nice example of the style, perhaps a little thin in the body but it had the right combination of malty sweetness and refreshing drinkability.
    The one I was most looking forward though was the Oyster Stout, and as I said to Beer Nut on Monday, I was a little disappointed. I had heard so many good things about this beer and so was expecting great things. It is isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, it is just that perhaps I had stretched my imagination too far and even ambrosia wouldn't have lived up to its reputation. What it is though is a nicely dark and flavourful stout.

    No problems however though with the Wrasslers XXXX, which is a reproduction of an old time stout which was apparently the drink of choice of Michael Collins, and what great taste in beer he must have had. The aroma of hops and coffee were teasing my nose as I carried my pint back to the table, urging me to dive on in and enjoy. Enjoy it I most certainly did, full on roasted coffee and liquorice flavours, wonderfully dry and with a long finish. The Porterhouse website say that this was beer like your grandfather drank - makes me wish all the more I had known him in that case!
    With about half an hour to go before meeting up with our host's husband to head back to Westmeath, I squeezed in a pint of Plain Porter. I was starting to wonder about porters, not being a big fan of the examples I had tried already, too much soy sauce in the nose and taste for my liking. Plain was a different beast altogether, easy drinking, with light roasted flavours and a slight touch of burnt toffee. Given more time I would have have been alternating between this and the Wrasslers.

    One thing though which stands out in my memory was an old fella sat on the table next to us who ordered a whiskey and water, which came already mixed - a big no no. When the barman had gone, having ever so gently been put in his place, the old fella began to talk about how the job of a barman in the modern world has become so devalued - was interesting to sit and listen to his stories (bad habit of mine is earwigging!).

    So that was our wonderful trip to Ireland, the fulfilment of a long held dream. Sláinte!

    Thursday, November 20, 2008

    Primátor Stout Update

    I got an email this morning from Pivovar Náchod telling me that their excellent Primátor Stout will be available from the following supermarkets in Prague:

    Hypernova in Průhonice and Nové Butovice from December 10th to the end of the year, also in Kaufland, although no date was specified.

    The stout is also part of a special box set of 8 beers which will be available at Kaufland from December 6th, and Tesco four days later.

    I am sure stocks will go quickly.

    A Day in the Bay

    I have mentioned many times here that I am an avid Liverpool fan and although I get along to the pub to watch most games in a season the sport I love watching most is rugby. The highlight of the sporting year for me is the Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and our arch-enemy England during the 6 Nations. This weekend saw a raft of international rugby test matches, most notably Scotland against the world champions South Africa and Ireland up against New Zealand. Originally I had wanted to try and get tickets for the Ireland game at Croke Park, but unless you are a member of an IRFU affiliated club then the chances of getting a ticket are slimmer than Kate Moss on a diet.

    We spent Saturday in Galway, a town I had wanted to visit very much and so when our friends suggested that we spend the Saturday there I leapt for joy. On discovering that they also like rugby I knew it was going to be a fine day out, and so it was. While the ladies strolled around the shopping centre, the men wandered off to find a pub – a very difficult chore as I am sure you can imagine. On William Street we popped into a place called Garavan’s to wait for our women folk, and as chance would have it, we caught the last 20 minutes of Liverpool’s win over Bolton Wanderers. Here I had my first Guinness in Ireland, and although it was too cold it was certainly a step up from every Guinness I have ever had anywhere else. With the game over and the ladies out of the shops we went in search of somewhere for lunch, that somewhere was the King’s Head.

    According to a plaque in the pub the King’s Head was given to the executioner of King Charles I by a grateful Parliament. This cavernous pub was very nice as was the lunch we had there, one of my three seafood and chip themed meals over the weekend, we also watched Scotland throw away a 10 point half-time advantage to lose 10-14 to the Springboks. We decided to move on to a different place to watch Ireland’s game with the All Blacks, and find a place that served Galway Hooker. Following a tip from a barman in a random pub on Shop Street we ended up in Sheridan’s On The Docks – a place which from the outside looks like a poncey winebar.


    I am not sure I could have actually been further from the truth, the turf fire blazing away when we entered and the sight of a Galway Hooker tap on the bar convinced us to stay here - the nice space around the medium sized tv for watching the rugby may also have played a part, so we settled in for the evening. I went to the bar, ordered a couple of pints of Galway Hooker, the ladies had found more shopping to do, and almost fainted with joy when I saw the list of bottled beers; Bishop's Finger, Spitfire, Fuller's ESB and advertised as their "Beer of the Week" Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.


    Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of Galway Hooker, partly because while having my first pint Mrs Velkyal was taking pictures of the docks, however this beer is seered into my memory, it is good stuff! The beer is golden bordering on amber and had a nice looking white head - none of your "all the way to the top" silliness in Ireland thank god, and the nose was very citrusy, very hoppy and really got me salivating, and it was worth every mouthful! Hoppy, refreshing, clean, crisp, moorish are the best words to describe this beer, and I think 4 mouthfuls later all that slighty malty lovely goodness was gone. Yum, yum, yum - better have another one just in case, still no camera mind - how do lady folk find random knitware shops in which to splash their cash?


    I have described elsewhere my love affair with Bishop's Finger, so that was naturally up next, followed by it's stablemate, Spitfire - another beer that I like very much from the bottle, though I am not a fan of Spitfire Smooth (if I want something smooth I will buy a milkshake).


    When trying to decide what came next I admit that I sent Evan Rail a text message asking if the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was worth forking out €6 for (in my defence your honour, I had never had a Sierra Nevada beer and wanted professional guidance), suitably assured it was next up. What a magnificent beer it is! I am sure many far more qualified people than I have waxed lyrical about it, but I really enjoyed this one. With a refreshing hoppiness that has a rather subtle sweetness underpining it, this is a very easy beer to drink and one which when Mrs Velkyal and I are encamped the US will no doubt be a regular in the cellar. Admittedly I didn't take any detailed notes, because by this point it was half time and the referee had awarded a penalty try to the All Blacks, making the score 3-10 going into the break.



    As the second half got under way I opted for the Fuller's ESB. Again an excellent beer, big and bold in the hops and malt department with a large dollop of toffee sweetness. One thing I noticed in particular was the smoothness of the beer, which makes it more of a beer for taking your time over. By the end of the second 40 minutes, Ireland had been clinically dismissed 3-22 and I had stoked up a nice warming glow from the wonderful beers on offer.


    And so we headed back to Westmeath in the rain, just in time to hit the local pub for few more pints and some darts to finish off the day.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Lacking in Bottling

    This is more an observation than a criticism, but one of the hardest things to do in Ireland at the weekend was to find craft brewed Irish beer in the shops. In every supermarket we went into I went straight to the beer section, only to be confronted with shelf after shelf of Guinness, Heineken and a selection of Eastern European lagers; usually Lech, Zywiec and Staropramen. Only once did we see something interesting, in this case London Pride and Franziskaner Weissbier - which I recommended to the friends we were staying with, and which they very much enjoyed. On Monday morning I was almost in despair at the possibility of finding O'Hara's Stout in bottles to bring back to Prague, so much so that I nearly bought the Marks and Spencer Irish Stout which I believe is a variant of O'Hara's. Thus it was that I was very thankful to Adeptus for his tip on where to get some in Dublin Airport once through the security checks.

    It would seem to me that there are two issues here:
    • craft brewers not bottling their beer
    • supermarkets not stocking craft beers
    Take for example the excellent Galway Hooker, a beer which I understand was originally conceived and designed as a beer purely for Galway - something I think is a fantastic idea, to begin with. Having a core market is clearly very important for a small, local, brewer. Once a product gains a reputation beyond its catchment area - given the prevalence of beer blogs, websites and other modern media, a good product will catch attention very quickly - then the viability of bottling becomes an important issue. It would have been great to bring some Hooker back for the likes of Evan Rail and Pivní Filosof to do a joint tasting in the spirit of our recent BrewDog posts.

    But then comes the question of the supermarkets. If they are not going to stock the craft beers already available, such as the beers from the Carlow Brewing Company, or even from Whitewater up in Northern Ireland then what incentive is there for the local brewers to invest money in a bottling line? I am aware that the Porterhouse will soon be installing their own bottling line, to allow a wider distribution of their beers (some of which will be mentioned tomorrow or Friday), I just hope that they will be picked up by the supermarket buyers.

    In many ways the situation as I perceived it in Ireland, and I am more than happy to be wrong here, resembles that of the Czech Republic. Yes you can get Svijany and Primátor quite easily in Prague, but walk into Tesco and the shelves are burdened down with Gambrinus and Staropramen. Pivovarský klub and Pivní Galerie stock a wide range of Czech beers, but what about outside of Prague? Of course there is the tradition of beers being on tap, however I think it is something of a fallacy to consider draught beer as naturally superior to bottled beer; take my comments yesterday about O'Hara's Stout as an example.

    As I said at the top of the post, these are just observations - if I am off the mark then let me know.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    Adept Nuts and Pints

    Mrs Velkyal and I got back from our trip to Ireland last night, so the rest of the this week will probably be dedicated to our 4 days there. I am sure that chronology will go right out the window, but there we go. Yesterday we spent the day in Dublin, having arrived in the city from Westmeath at about 8 in the morning, the first thing on our agenda was breakfast - perhaps a slightly strange thing to mention on a blog about beer, but I was so impressed by the little cafe we found that it deserves a mention here. Just off O'Connell Street is a place called The Earl, which does various forms of Irish breakfast, as well as cakes and pastries. For just €11 I had the full works: 2 bacon rashers, 2 sausages, black pudding, white pudding, hash brown mushrooms, tomatoes, beans, toast and a pot of tea. Fantastic!

    Suitably fed, Mrs Velkyal had a lighter breakfast, we wandered around the streets of the city centre, eventually heading over to Temple Bar and the city's medieval heart to find the Bull and Castle, where we were due to meet up with the Beer Nut, Adeptus and Thom for a few pints, although unfortunately Thom couldn't make it. When the pub eventually opened, and we got some respite from the rain, we got in, sat down opposite the bar and ordered our first beers. Mrs Velkyal went for the Galway Hooker, more of which later in the week, while I opted for the Castle Red, which was rather nice - I wasn't taking notes so I going from memory here.

    Next up for me was the Rebel Lager, a lovely golden lager which would more than hold its own in the Czech Republic, yes it is that good - it is amazing sometimes that people still drink slop like Carling and Carlsberg when there is good lager being made by the smaller breweries. I would actually put this on a par with Budvar in the flavour and body stakes, and I am a big fan of the golden nectar from Southern Bohemia.

    I have to say now that I love beer people. People that I have met as a result of Fuggled and my beer drinking/learning experiences have universally been warm, interesting, informed and generous, and yesterday was no different, the bottle of Porterhouse Celebration Stout that Beer Nut gave me now has pride of place in the Little Cellar.

    Given that the Bull and Castle is the only place in Ireland that we found with such a wide selection of microbrew beers, I have to confess that I started on a mission to try as many as I could, and that I hadn't already had - so for example I left the Galway Hooker alone as I had in Galway. An interesting experiment for me was to try the difference between O'Hara's Celtic Stout on draught, if I remember rightly it was a nitro-tap, and in the bottle. First up was the tap, and it looked pretty much as you expect an Irish Stout to look, dark, tight creamy head. In drinking it was smooth with coffee notes, a bit of chocolate and a dry finish - a very nice pint, Mrs Velkyal agreed. Bottle conditioned however was a completely different story - it was simply magnificent, you can see the difference in the picture, but the explosion of smells and tastes which are missing in the draught version was frankly quite shocking - a much, much better beer, and I was so glad to find a box set of all the Carlow Brewing Company beers in the airport so I could bring a bottle home.

    Next up was Clotworthy Dobbin - which came very highly recommended by both Adeptus and the Beer Nut. Wow this was a lovely drink! As you can see from the picture, it is a dark red, what you can't see however is the full on cocoa and chocolate nose and the smooth, silky feeling of the toffee tasting beer in the mouth. The Beer Nut asked me which was the best Irish beer I had drunk over the weekend - a tie between this and Galway Hooker. To round off lunch I tried the light and refreshing Blarney Blonde, from the makers of the Rebel Lager, and it was a nice way to clean off my palate in preparation for the flight back to Prague.

    I can think of few better ways to spend a couple of hours than drinking with fellow beer bloggers, and I hope they enjoy the beer I brought them as much as I enjoyed the beers they recommended, the excellent pub we had them in and the good company Mrs Velkyal and I thoroughly appreciated. Cheers lads!

    Friday, November 14, 2008

    BrewDog Prototypes

    Sometimes when I read about the beers being made in the US and other countries less hide bound to traditions and beer styles I am green with envy. As much as I like Czech beer, innovative brewers are few and far between, Kocour and Primátor being the prime examples, although of course there are smaller regional breweries doing interesting things. Recently, in conjunction with Evan Rail and Pivní Filosof, I reviewed the Punk IPA from BrewDog that I picked up in Oxford. Thus it was last week that a box of BrewDog’s prototype beers for 2009 arrived at Mrs Velkyal’s school, containing Chaos Theory, Bad Pixie and Zeit Geist.



    The first I tried was the 7.1% ABV IPA, tentatively called Chaos Theory, which I think is an excellent name and certainly allows plenty of scope for marketing guff on the label. Described as an IPA, I have to admit that I was expecting something along the lines of the Punk IPA. The first thing that struck me though was that this one was much darker, more of a dark amber bordering on red, although again there was a rather minimal head. As would be expected from an IPA, the nose was full of citrus, in fact it was very pungent, with a mix of Seville orange marmalade and bittersweet pink grapefruit. The contrast between bitter and sweet was to be a constant theme in the beer, the first taste being very bitter, and something of a shock if the truth be told, but subsequently it mellows out to reveal its jellied undertones. As you would expect from this style it is very hoppy and the aftertaste reminded me of drinking an excellent single malt with a nice warming afterglow. The final few mouthfuls were syrupy sweet in a way that reinforced the jelly, an excellent beer overall.



    Next up was Bad Pixie, which according to the BrewDog website is a wheat beer flavoured with juniper berries and lemon peel. Having become something of a devotee of wheat beer in recent months, I was intrigued by the idea of the juniper berries and could half imagine the Queen Mother giving up her Gordon’s for this. The beer is very pale and had a bubbly white head that very quickly dissolved into nothingness, leaving an almost soapy rim around the glass. The nose confused me for a while, because I couldn’t place the smell, until eventually it hit me that it smelt a bit like a stale pub carpet. In some ways it was similar to the Zoigl smell I wrote about a couple of weeks back, but without sufficient potency to make you thing there was something going on, more that something was off. Taste wise, it was rather spicy – leaving a warm chilli glow on the roof of my mouth which was laced with citrus – given the juniper berry and lemon peel additions that is hardly suprising, the problem was that there was nothing backing up those flavours, rather it was just very dry. It was almost like a lemon meringue pie left on the windowsill for a few weeks.

    Last up was Zeit Geist, advertised as a classic Czech style dark lager, and it is certainly dark – dark ruby with a light espresso coloured head, which in common with the other beers disappeared very quickly. As you would expect from a dark lager the nose was dominated by coffee notes, with subtle hints of burnt toffee and even a delicate floral tone suggesting the use of Saaz hops. The burnt theme came through in the tasting, although this time it was less coffee and more chocolate, I would go so far as to say it was like a singed Hershy bar, sweet yet sour. As it is advertised as a Czech style dark lager, I guess it is only natural to compare it to beers such as Herold Dark, and while it doesn’t match that in terms of body and flavour, it would hold its own against the industrial darks such as Staropramen, as such it is an easily drinkable dark.

    The point of this exercise is not just to rate three beers, but to say how one would change them with a view to their improvement. I would not make many changes to Chaos Theory, I really enjoyed it, and while at 7.1% ABV it is in no way a session beer, it is an excellent beer for enjoying a few pints with your mates, and I can imagine that it would go very well with a long meal – preferably involving stovies and clootie dumpling – its bitterness more than balancing out the sweetness of the latter. The Bad Pixie, if I may be so bold, I would forget about altogether, it simply does not work for me, I would also though add the caveat that a wheat beer is would be an excellent addition to the range, just not this one. Zeit Geist has potential, but it needs to receive a proverbial kicking from some of the big boys of the dark lager scene to whip it into shape. It isn’t bad, it is just a bit weedy and as such out of keeping with the image cultivated by BrewDog of being Britain’s bad boys of brewing, beef it up, maybe teach it the fine art of smoking and you could have a contender on your hands.

    For more opinions on these beers also pop over to Pivni Filosof's blog!

    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    Off on trips again

    This evening I will realise something of a dream of mine, I will be in Ireland. I can't really explain why but I have always wanted to go there and with Monday being a public holiday in the Czech Republic, Mrs Velkyal and I decided to take an extra couple of days off and make a very long weekend of it.

    Of course no trip to Ireland would be complete for me without hunting out various beers and pubs; so for example tomorrow we are in Dublin, and I have already requested stopping in both The Porterhouse and Messrs Maguire - and I may have to drop into the Czech Inn as well, we shall see.

    On Saturday we are going over to Galway, so a few pints of Galway Hooker is a necessity - although I think the highlight for me will be just being back by the Atlantic, and I imagine it is an area of the world which is very similar to my own.

    Have no idea what is happening on Sunday, but then on Monday we are meeting up with The BeerNut, Adeptus and Thom for lunch at the Bull and Castle, even though it may be more liquid than actual lunch!


    All in all I am very much looking forward to this trip other than the flying that is.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    Things filed under Misc

    So many things have been sitting in the back of my mind lately, muttering "when are you go to write about ME?" - thankfully not literally otherwise I would be very worried.



    One such thing has been Mrs Velkyal and I's alcoholic experiments, of which there were three:

    Of the three projects only one can be regarded as a success, the dandelion wine. As I commented a few months ago, it already tasted great when we bottled it. However, the recipe we used said that it needed to be left to age for 3 months, which was the first weekend in November. We actually opened our little taster bottle during last week, to discover that it tasted even better! Having just the tiniest of sips - we are taking it to France for Christmas - it is full of citrus flavours, is very sweet, and very, very alcoholic! As we don't have the equipment to gauge the ABV, I am guessing here when I say it is at least 25%. It actually has a similar effect as a nice single malt whisky in that it radiates heat through your body only when it gets into your chest! Yes it is lovely stuff, and something we will be making again.


    As for the other two projects, both were failures, and in the case of the mead an unmitigated disaster. The mead actually tasted awful, was thin and acrid, so all 3 litres were poured down the lav - I will however try again to make mead, but this time I will use a different recipe, and I will use a different yeast.


    The beer hacking was a case of plenty of fizz bang excitement followed by a damp squib. My intention to infuse the stout with cinnamon and clove flavours certainly worked a treat as the nose of the previously unadorned Kelt was now laden with traditional Christmas scents, unfortunately it tasted dull and lifeless - the beer was flat and so another litre of booze went the way of the U-bend.



    Another thing that needed attending to was the growing collection of Primátor beers in my fridge, in particular the Premium which I had never tried before. What a lovely lager this is. As you can see from the picture it pours a dark golden colour with a rocky white head, the nose is full of the classic Czech Saaz floral notes. The beer itself was crisp, I would eve say it was slightly tart with a nicely rounded body, a very refreshing lager, which could quite easily become a regular in the fridge - if only my local Billa sold it!



    The third thing that needed seeing to was making a start on the dark beers in my cellar which form the core of my Dark Month, so it was that on Monday night I agonised over which one to open first - the winner being Samuel Smith's Taddy Porter, which is pictured above. This one is a wonderful deep ruby colour, bordering on black, and the head was a frothy dark tan. The nose was really interesting as the first thing that hit me was soy sauce, which brought to mind the Pardubický Porter, however there were also light coffee hints and eventually something which brought to mind the kelp beds on the beaches back at home, which I am assuming was from the seaweed finings used in production. The pre-dominant flavour though was of caramelised bananas, one of my favourite desserts, as well as dark chocolate and a light coffee taste. This was a very smooth beer and one which I enjoyed sipping whilst watching the Daleks and Cybermen try to take over the world!

    Tuesday, November 11, 2008

    Liquid Lunch


    Something I have not done in a long time is have a liquid lunch, however I had to meet up with Pivní Filosof to give him a bottle of BrewDog's prototype wheat beer, so we met up in Zlý Časy and had a couple of pints while we were at it.

    The highlight of the lunch was the magnificent Hukvaldy 14º amber lager, and what a pint it was! The glass placed in front of me was filled with a beautiful dark brown beer topped by a tight knit white head that basically stopped any aromas getting through, although as the head lessened there was a distinct toffee touch to the nose. Drink this stuff was pure nectar, like sticky toffee pudding in a glass, smooth, sweet and with a fragrant bitterness which offset the sweetness perfectly.

    If only every lunchtime were so good.

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Pub Music

    I do most of my drinking in the pub like most beer drinkers, though I am yet to graduate to the elevated status of a “ticker” – the very phrase brings to mind twitchers, who on hearing that a Lesser Spotted African Warbling Tit was blown of course and is now pottering around on Rockall think this is a perfectly good reason to hire a boat to find said tit and hang around with implausibly large binoculars. So while I have a collection of beer in both the fridge and in my Little Cellar, I am not much of a home drinker.

    Last week Tandleman posted a link to a report by the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford entitled “The enduring appeal of the local”, essentially a report about what makes a good pub. Given my plans for a business when Mrs Velkyal and I have decamped across the Pond, the report was rather interesting and is proving very useful in formulating my business plan, naturally having to take into account the differences between an American audience and a British, slight though they may be. The report has stimulated a lot of thinking around the question “what is a good pub?” and thankfully confirmed some of my own plans as being on the right track.

    The most interesting thing for me was the difference between genders regarding particular reasons for going to a given pub. Both genders main reason was that it has a “warm welcoming cosy atmosphere”, however for the ladies, the second main reason was that it gave them a sense of being part of a community, thirdly that it was lively. The men on the other hand look for places that serve great beer, and then tie third place with the sense of community, serving great beer and having a great landlord.

    One thing that I think about quite a bit is the role music plays in pubs, and the range of options that exist. My own preference in pubs I go to is to have background music, but not at a level where it impedes conversation, although Pivovarský klub has no music at all, this in spite of the fact that they have a decent sound system as well as a piano in the downstairs bar, I have only heard rumour that the piano ever gets played. On the other extreme is Zlatá Hvězda, which quite often has music so loud to just end up staring at your friends.

    I am a big fan of the juke box, although few pubs in Prague take the bother to keep them up to date – which is probably just as well for me as I am really so far out of the loop on what is popular these days, one of the joys of living a life without television and only the World Service for radio, part of that is laziness because I can’t be bothered to tune to the radio to a Czech music station and then back again in the evening. I am also a fan of live music in pubs, and would love to have reasonably regular nights with bands in my place, in particular local bands with the occasional semi-famous band with a cult following.

    One of the things I want to avoid though is for my musical tastes to become a dictatorship in my pub, unless of course the regulars don’t mind an eclectic mix of The Smiths, Wolfstone, The Chieftains, Nirvana and of course Starflyer 59 – who in my dream world would be the live band on opening night. I am acutely aware that the style of music a pub plays regularly affects the kind of customers that it attracts, thus I wouldn’t play lots of Rammstein, even though I enjoy their music, neither on the other side would I play the overtures to Mozart’s operas.

    Friday, November 7, 2008

    Beer Hero of the Week

    As I was thinking about my favourite beer for this month's Session, my mind went back to a guy I met in Prague about 8 years ago.

    Often we would talk about beer, he had been assistant manager in a Shepherd Neame pub in Kent and would tell me how fantastic their beers were. It would be a few years later that I would discover the truth of his claims, and I am now a fan of their brews, in particular Bishop's Finger.

    So this week's Beer Hero of the Week is:

    Mike "the Hat" Rivers.

    If anyone knows the whereabouts of said Mr Rivers, tell him to get in touch with me, or Raimonda, or Marek for that matter!

    Wherever you are though Mike, cheers!

    The Session #21 - What is your favourite Beer and Why?

    The very word “favourite” is so nebulous, so transitory and so subject to whim that to address a question such as “what is your favourite beer?” is like asking which breath in the last 33 years was the best? Like the vast majority of beer drinkers there are times when I only drink a particular style of beer, whether through design or availability. There are beer styles that I love, such as Alt, which seem to combine the drinkability of lager with the flavours of ale. I guess though the beer I would choose as my favourite is the one that has the same effect on me as the ratatouille Remy places in front of Anton Ego – yes I love Pixar movies – though obviously when I fell off my bike my mother didn’t give me a pint of ale to sooth my ills.

    My favourite beer is very much like my best friend, I very rarely get to see him – seeing as though he is the American Consul to Kazakhstan, my friend that is, not the beer. It is very rare that I get to enjoy my favourite beer, simply because it is very difficult to get British ales in the Czech Republic. This beer, as well as being my favourite, is also the beer that opened my eyes to the delights of good beer, rather than throwing pint after pint of megaswill down my throat. That beer was Shepherd Neame’s Bishop’s Finger.

    Bishop’s Finger was the first cask conditioned ale I ever drank, or at least that I remember drinking, sitting in a village pub in Kent with my eldest brother. A friend who I met in Prague used to work for Shepherd Neame and recommended that when I got back to the UK I should hunt out Bishop’s Finger – so it was all Mike the Hat’s fault, even though it was some 2 years after he had left Prague that I actually got back to the UK. Whenever I have a bottle of Bishop’s Finger these days I am taken back to the pub garden on a sunny July day in Kent.

    I love the colour of Bishop’s Finger, deep copper, almost red crowned with a white head, forgive me if I become pompous and wax lyrical – after all this is my favourite beer! The nose tells you that this is a strong ale, full of malt and with just a tinge of the alcoholic delights to come. The beer tastes rather fruity, almost bittersweet like blood oranges that have zing and this being a Kentish beer, the hops are very noticeable in the finish. The beer is big and bold, yet smooth and easy to drink, with flavours that blew my mind when I first tried it all those years ago.


    This month's Session is hosted by Matt at A World of Brews.

    Thursday, November 6, 2008

    Thai me down

    On Monday night Mrs Velkyal told me that we were going out on Wednesday to either drown our sorrows or celebrate, thankfully we were celebrating the election of Barack Obama to the White House. As this was Mrs Velkyal's idea, the choice of restaurant was entirely up to her, so we went to a Thai restaurant in an area of Prague called Vršovice - I can't remember the name of the restaurant however, I really should learn to pay more attention to these kinds of things.

    Having almost bashed my head on the door lintel as we entered the restaurant, we sat down to peruse the menu - also with us were Joanna, a colleague of Mrs Velkyal, and her husband Oscar, who got married the day after we did and recently swapped the Caribbean for Central Europe. On the very first page of the menu was a special offer - "Chang Thai Beer Only 35kč!" That's about £1.15, $1.84 or €1.40. Well given that the other choice was Gambrinus, what would you have done? Exactly.

    My first instinct was to look at the label, and only 3 ingredients are listed, water, malt and hops - "good start" I thought to myself. The beer itself was a very pale golden colour, with a reasonable white head, although this disappeared worryingly quickly. There was very little on the nose, slight grassiness, floral notes, but nothing to get the juices flowing. And bland it was to drink as well, really very little flavour, more of a vaguely hop flavoured fizzy drink - perhaps I should have had the Gambrinus.

    The food however was lovely, I had crispy Thai duck with red curry, coconut milk and lemongrass with a side serving of egg fried noodles - happily distended (my homage to Bill Bryson, wanted to use that phrase for ages!), we walked back from Vršovice to the centre of the city, shoring up our plans for relocating to the US next summer.