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.

video

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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reflections

Well, the Primátor Stout on tap at PK is done with for the time being, replaced by Eggenberg Dark Lager, which is quite a nice beer in my opinion.

From what I have seen the couple of times I have been in Pivovarský klub it proved to be rather popular with the regulars and as I have stated elsewhere, as has Pivní Filosof, it really is a very nice stout - I even suggested to the staff at PK on Monday that it would be good to have it on a permanent basis, and not just in bottles - the sooner they are available the better.

The last month or so has been very encouraging for me, having been surrounded by multiple variations on the theme of pale lager it is fantastic to see ale getting some attention. Of course there are the excellent Kocour beers as well as Primátor with it's EPA and now stout. Minipivovar Žamberk also make a very good stout, and an Old Ale which is apparently quite good. So the future for ale in the Czech Republic would seem to be bright, and despite the sometimes overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there is a demand for variety, and people are willing to give a good product a go.

Which begs the question, when will the supermarket buyers sit up and take notice? If the majority of buyers are anything like those of the Marks and Spencer franchise here, they are probably happily complacent and convinced that there is no market. Yet from my conversations with a wide range of people throughout the country I get a distinct sense that while the market for specialist brews maybe small, it is growing.

I am lucky that my local supermarket stocks most of the Primátor range, but if I want Svijany then I have to go to Tesco, if I want Herold I am completely at a loss - although I did discover that a small drinks shop just up the street sells Chodovar, the only non InBev/SABMiller/Heineken beer they have.

Would a Czech version of BeerRitz be viable?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Jump!

I still feel rough. But after about 8 pints of Primátor Stout last night I think I deserve to feel crappy - thus began my month of predominantly dark beers.

Originally it was going to be the month of only dark beers, but Pivní Filosof insisted that I try the 18º Jihlavský Grand, which is labelled as a pale lager on the PK website, but is more of a dark amber than pale. Very nice it was too, smelt and tasted like honey and reminded me of Gottschalk from the monks of Želiv, but with carbonation.

From my thoroughly unscientific research I reckon that the stout was the most popular beer last night, with about half the people in the top room drinking this excellent beer.

Monday, November 3, 2008

An Original Advert

I guess you have to give credit where credit is due, and even though I don't drink Pilsner Urquell all that often, it is still a nice beer from time to time - usually when out with the lads and it is the only vaguely drink worthy beer on offer.

Mrs Velkyal and I went for one of our mammoth 3 hour strolls around the city centre last night, which included crossing the Charles Bridge from Malá Strana into Staré Město. Just behind the statue of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV was the advert for the original Pilsner which you can see below.


I thought it was rather clever, and rather more ironic given the recent post on Beer Culture about Pilsner Urquell being brewed in Poland and Russia - the original post has disappeared due to some technical issues.

Breakfast Beer

No, don't worry I am not about to join the workers at 06.30 in the morning at the railway station having their morning Staropramen and Becherovka, but today does see my re-introduction to the world of beer drinking after my, slightly failed, two week fast. Most of the weight I gained from beer and caramel slice during my trip to Oxford has gone, so I guess it was a success, if somewhat annoying.

My original plan had been to plunge straight on into something full bodied and with a good ABV, such as the bottle of Fuller's 1845 which has been sitting staring at me for about ten days. Prior to that it was nicely hidden behind the portable heater at one end of the flat, but with winter coming and Mrs Velkyal's inevitably frozen toes, it needed to move, revealing my Little Cellar in all its tempting glory.

However on hearing news that a pub just round the corner from me now has permanent tap for Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf, I decided to break my fast with the stout they are currently serving. Thus it will be straight from work to meet up with Evan and Pivní Filosof for a couple of jars.

It is good to be off the wagon and running with the dogs again.