Sunday, December 28, 2008
Saturday, December 27, 2008
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
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!
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
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:
- 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 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:
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:
- 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
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:
- Primátor Weizen
Find it, drink it, enjoy it.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
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:
- BrewDog Paradox Smokehead
Whisky and stout in a single glass - sheer Genius.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
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:
- Galway Hooker
Worth jumping on a plane to Ireland for.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
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
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:
- 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
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:
- Kout na Šumavě
Simply the best lager in the Czech Republic.
Friday, December 12, 2008
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
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
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
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
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 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
- 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
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).
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
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
“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
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.