Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sunshine in a Glass - Part Deux

I came to Plzeň with a very definite plan in mind; stage one, drink Purkmistr beers on the Friday night; stage two, drink the others on the Saturday and try everything available; stage three, have enough material to write at least five blog entries. Stage one was an abject failure, for reasons I mentioned yesterday, i.e. they had different beers than were available in their pub on the Friday night. Stage two was reasonably successful, I enjoyed beers from at least 5 of the other brewers attending the event, and one brewer in particular has found a special place in my beer drinking soul.

One of the most challenging things of Saturday was writing down my notes about each beer, it was somewhat chilly and looking back at my scribblings, some of them are indecipherable. Anyway here are my assorted highlights, leaving aside Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf, which we will deal with tomorrow. First up was the "Staročeské bilé pivo" from the Pivovrek Velký Rybnik, bilé pivo here means wheat beer and it was actually rather nice to see them using the old name for wheat beer – once upon a time wheat beers were “white” and barley beers were “red”. The beer itself was very reminiscent of the German style wheats I have learnt to thoroughly enjoy over the last year or so. It poured a cloudy dark yellow with a nice white head, the nose was clearly citrusy, which carried over in the first mouthful, tart and refreshing – it would have be perfect on a sunny day, which unfortunately Saturday wasn’t.

One of the brewers I was particularly keen to try out was Kout na Šumavě, which Evan Rail has waxed lyrical about over on Beer Culture. They had three beers on offer, and so I plumped for their filtered 12° lager, and a very nice chat with I assume the owner. I am sure the virtues of Kout na Šumavě have been extolled in many places, but this for me was as close to Bohemian lager perfection as I have ever experienced, pouring a dark golden with a tight rocky head. In the mouth it was sheer lager delight, I am not sure I have enjoyed a pint of bottom-fermented beer so much for a long time. Pivní Filosof had told me that this was a good beer, and boy was he right – for anyone who thinks that lager is pale and insipid this stuff should be made compulsory drinking.

Next on my list of notes is a 13° dark lager from Železná Ruda, a very dark beer which had a light tan head that never fully disappeared. Sticking my nose into the glass, having bought a nice 0.3l Purkmistr glass specially, the overwhelming aroma was Italian roasted coffee, which was complemented in the mouth by the gentlest chocolate flavour, which made the beer very smooth in the mouth and a very satisfying drink. One of the highlights of the day though was a 14° wheat beer from U Rybiček in Střibro. Unlike the Velký Rybnik wheat, this one came served with a slice of lemon chucked in the top. When I got back to our table, where myself and Pivní Filosof were happily swapping beers and making notes, one of the Czech guys at our table was horrified at the sight of the lemon floating in the beer. Even with allowing for the lemon, this had a sweet citrus nose, which reminded me of thick cut orange marmalade, a fact which was backed up by the taste. Again a refreshing wheat beer, but being stronger than others I have tried was more filling.

As a result of these various tastings I will be wandering around the Czech Republic to try out the rest of these brewers beers, in particular I am looking forward to getting down to Kout na Šumavě and enjoying copious amounts of their 12°.

One thing that constantly came to mind on Saturday was the fact that Czechs make wonderful beers, yet the vast majority of Czechs are convinced that mega-brands like Gambrinus and Staropramen are fantastic. So entrenched is this brand loyalty that at the festival one of the guys at our table was almost feverish in his claims that while the beers available were good, they were not as good as Pilsner Urquell. Yes Czechs make great beer, but the mega brands are not among them and the wider audience the smaller brewers can attract the better. After all, is this not one of the key tenets of capitalism, that competitions improves consumer choice? But consumer choice is worthless without consumer education.

1 comment:

  1. It's funny, isn't it? The exact same vocal inappropriate fondness for national (though foreign-owned) megaswill is also to be found in the country with the second highest beer consumption per capita.

    Those big brewers really know how to cling on to a market.

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