Monday, September 15, 2008

Of Pots and Pints

Each year, on the second weekend in September, the small town of Beroun hosts a ceramics festival. Being just over 30km from Prague, Mrs Velkyal and I decided to spend the best part of our Sunday wandering around stalls perusing the wares of various potters, while eating freshly made doughnuts. What I wasn't expecting was to have a beer revelation. The centre of the square had a large tent selling Gambrinus and hot dogs by the dozen, out on the fringes though we came across a tiny stall selling beer from the Minipivovar Žamberk, which sells under the brand name Žamberecký Kanec - "kanec" means wild boar. On tap yesterday was a kvasnicové beer - which has fresh yeast added to it after lagering and which Mrs Velkyal enjoyed very much - and to my delight an imperial stout.

Both Mrs Velkyal and I speak Czech well enough that we can get by with most things we want to do, but obviously we don't speak Czech to each other, and it was the fact that we were speaking English to each other that we found out about the stout. To begin with I just ordered a kvasnicové beer, turning to Mrs Velkyal to ask if she also wanted a pint - at which point the owner of the brewery (I am assuming there) asked if she would like to try their "dark beer", when he went on to describe the beer and I heard the phrase "in the style of stout" I took an executive decision and gave the kvasnicové to Mrs Velkyal and had myself the stout - I love it when a snap decision reaps such fantastic rewards.
The Czech Republic is known quite rightly as being the home of golden lagers, but there seems to be a growing trend toward, or should that be back to, ales. Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf make some excellent ales, and the Kanec Imperial Stout was in my opinion a wonderful pint, and at 5.5%ABV not as alcoholic as some imperial stouts. As you can see from the picture, this is a very dark stout with a smallish light tan head - a thing of beauty in my book. The nose was full of coffee and in the mouth it was quite bitter but with enough maltiness to keep it from being overpowering, and thus the rest of the pint is smooth and thick and filling, almost like a strong coffee tiramisu. I was in half a mind to buy a bottle of water, ditch the water and ask them to fill the bottle with the stout, yes it was that good. I am fairly sure that before Mrs Velkyal and I leave the Czech Republic we will be paying a visit to Žamberk to try the other beers they have on offer.
Thus we wandered around the festival a bit more, looked at solid clay racoons and decided it was time to eat and being fans of traditional Czech and Slovak food we decided to have halušky, and by happy chance the halušky stand was next to the stall for Minipivovar Žamberk and so I did what any self respecting beer lover would do and had another pint of stout, and had a chat with the brewery owner, who seemed to be a real beer euthusiast who wants to make proper beers rather than using chemicals and other such additivies. Looking at the ingredients list on the label he gave me his beer sticks to the basics of brewing beer: water, malt, hops and yeast.

Unfortunately not all my beer discoveries yesterday were so pleasant. There was also a van selling beer from the Pivovar Berounský Medvěd - the Beroun Bear Brewery. In the interests of science and having heard that their beer wasn't anything to write home about, I decided I would try their 11º lager. Perhaps it was an unwise choice after three very filling and tasty stouts, perhaps it was also the fact that it was sold by a surly barmaid who seemed to show no interest in the beer itself, but this stuff did absolutely nothing for me. The beer was thin and had a distinctly funky flavour that reminded me of my old nemesis Klašter, I have to admit I ended up chucking most of this one away, I just didn't want to drink it after I had downed about a third of a pint - it was that bad.
Having said that though, the outstanding memory of our trip to Beroun will be the fabulous Žamberecký Kanec Imperial Stout, and hopefully we'll being seeing Žamberk beers in Prague more often. And with my ideas for using beer in my cooking I plan to buy some wild boar and make a boar goulash with their stout!

2 comments:

  1. The stout sounds delicious. I'm embarrassed to admit I've not yet made it to the Czech Republic. My wife was apparently in Prague countless times in her misspent youth, so I get the feeling she's afraid of the place now ;)

    The Halušky description on Wikipedia you linked to sounds alot like Spätzle, a Swabian dish my wifes mother makes, especially the scraping bits of dough off a board. Very nice it is too! :D

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  2. I am sure the wife would love to revisit her youth - though I am sure Prague will have changed a lot, I have been here nearly ten years and the differences are huge. From what I know halusky are basically the same as spaetzle - they have a perfect meal with pork, cabbage and a pint!

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