Monday, March 30, 2009

Missed Opportunities.

I am starting to think that "Missed Opportunities" should be the credo of the marketing departments for most independent Czech breweries, come to think of it, most Czech breweries in general. Evan has commented several times about how poor our local breweries are here when it comes to using labels creatively.

Take the beer in these pictures as an example. Named in honour of an Austrian author and poet, who also wrote in Czech. How did I discover this, having not known it before? Yes, I had to look it up on Wikipedia. Going back to the label, it just left me asking questions, and probably annoying Mrs Velkyal into the bargain. It is possible to deduce that the beer is named after a guy called Klostermann who lived from 1848 to 1923, but that's where the information finishes. These were the questions that went through my head:
  1. Why are there 4 city crests on the label? What cities are they?
  2. What is Klostermann's connection to Strakonice?
  3. What did Klostermann do?
  4. Why is "Lager Bier" on the label in German instead of Czech?

It was only when I read his wiki entry that it became clear, and I had checked the back label, to be told the ingredients of the beer and the best before date.

But grumbling without suggesting an alternative is pointless, so here is what I would do:

  1. Use a complete wrap around label, rather than the more usual front and back efforts
  2. Leave the front section largely as it is
  3. On the back section, put the smallest possible barcode on it, and have it horizontal rather than vertical, decrease the size of the font for the ingredients and then give a potted biography of Karel Klostermann.

The potted biography could be something like this:

"Born in 1848 in Haag am Hausruck, Karel Klostermann was an author in both the Czech and German languages. His later writings are based in the Šumava region under the title "In the Heart of Šumava". Klostermann died in 1923 in Štěkeň, a village near Strakonice."

Oh, and if you want to look at the brewery website for more information about the beer, don't bother - it isn't even listed in their "assortment" section.
As for the beer, it was alright, not an amber lager up there with the likes of Primátor's excellent 13° amber, but certainly a decent enough drink.

Friday, March 27, 2009

LimeLight Label

For some reason I like to mess about and create labels for the beers I brew, and here are a couple of ideas for LimeLight, let me know what you think.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lots to look forward to...

Perhaps I should have made this plainer yesterday, but I am really looking forward to moving. I always enjoyed the itinerant lifestyle that went with growing up in the army, and although I want to stop for more than while in Virginia, I love moving about and seeing new places, learning about the history of a place and finding good places to go. Unlike some, I am not a crap traveller, I am in fact one of those annoying people who plans in advance and finds pubs to go to and beers to try - I also like to get to the airport on time, and have all necessary documents to hand when needed. Mrs Velkyal puts up with this with commendable grace and only occassional embarrassed looks.

One of the comments to yesterday's post asked me where in the Commonwealth of Virginia we are moving, and the answer is the Charlottesville area; once home to fellow homebrewer Thomas Jefferson, as well as Anna Anderson. Oh and there are a few local breweries to try out, such as Starr Hill Brewery, Devil's Backbone and South Street Brewery. Also nearby there are apparently quite a few vineyards, so I hope to indulge my love of good wine as much as my love of good beer. In my searching for places to go, I have come across a restaurant with a rather impressive beer list, as well as a recommendation from a friend about a pub or two.

Most of July though we will be spending in Mrs Velkyal's home town of Columbia, South Carolina - which will require a couple of return visits to The Flying Saucer, as well as trips to the Thomas Creek Brewery in Greenville and attending the 10 year reunion party thing for her school, whether or not I wear my kilt to that particular bash is up in the air at the moment. We also have a week in Florida scheduled, though I am yet to really research my options on that front, other than hopefully stopping again in St Augustine and re-visiting Rendezvous for some Budvar, or Czechvar as it is in that neck of the woods.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Things to do...

Being an army brat I am used to moving around a lot, last time I counted I had changed address over 30 times in nearly 34 years. Just in my decade in the Czech Republic I have lived at 10 different addresses, a lot of that has to do with the various language schools I worked for in my first couple of years here. Mrs Velkyal on the other grew up in just one city, and for most of her life lived just a few doors down from her grandparents. Our upcoming move to the States, Virginia to be precise, is thus a case of Mrs Velkyal going home and me continuing as usual, although I really hope that this will be my final move for a long time.

So I have 14 weeks to get round to doing many of the things I have never done in the Czech Republic. For example, I have never spent any reasonable amount of time in the country's second city, Brno. Sure I have been through it on the bus and train to Slovakia several times, but never actually stopping, and trying the beer at Hotel Pegas. Part of me though would rather re-visit the places I love most in the country, in particular Český Krumlov - I have a soft spot for Eggenberg Dark, and when Mrs Velkyal and I head down there we always stay in the same little penzion where breakfast should really be called breakfeast.

One thing we are doing for sure is to spend the first weekend of May down at Pivovarský Dvůr Zvíkov, May 1st is a public holiday here so we have a long weekend. Although beer and a brewery will be a big part of the weekend, I am looking forward to seeing one of my favourite Czech castles again. I am also hoping to get back to Hotel Purkmistr at some point for a weekend, and try their excellent range of beers again. Naturally I will have to get back round to the historic pubs in Prague, such as U Pinkasů and U Zlatého Tygra.

It is slowly dawning on me that it really isn't long now until I leave Prague, where I have spent most of my adult life. Quite daunting at times, but also a change that I am very much looking forward to

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stepping into the Limelight

Experimental Dark Matter was a brew kit for all intents and purposes, I didn’t have to do a boil, add hops or think too much about ingredients, other that the smokiness I wanted to add. The fact that I got a dozen drinkable bottles of beer out of it was in some ways an added bonus, and the fact that the people who have drunk it haven’t thrown up or derided it as an abomination is also quite nice. The success then of EDM was therefore the spur to try my hand at brewing with dry malt extract; thus Limelight was born – thanks to Dave at the Woolpack Inn for the name. As a quick aside, I recommend you read Dave’s blog, it is very interesting to see beer from the industry side rather than that of just the consumer.
As I noted last week, the recipe for Limelight was inspired by an article on Irish Craft Brewer about small scale brewing. As a quick re-cap, for 4 litres of wort my final recipe consisted of:

500g wheat DME
15g coriander seed – crushed
10g lime peel
15g Saaz hop pellets
Wyeast 3944 Belgian Witbier yeast
Because I don’t have a decent sized brewpot, it is necessary for me to boil up about 2/3 of my water and put it in the carboy in advance. This is also necessary as a result of water loss from evaporation, meaning that my 2 litre boil ended up at about 1.2 litres after 60 minutes.
Once the water was boiling, I chucked in the malt extract and stirred thoroughly to ensure there were no lumps or scalding on the bottom of the pan. I also had to adjust the heat to maintain a rolling boil, at which point I added the first hop addition, 7.5g of the Saaz pellets, just after which I added the coriander and lime peel, making sure the boil was ticking over nicely.

The other hop additions came with 20 and 5 minutes of the boil remaining respectively, both about half of the remaining 7.5g of Saaz. Having turned off the boil, I strained the wort through a fine mesh sieve into the waiting, by now pretty cooled, boiled water – then brought the mixture down to a decent temperature for pitching.

With two carboys to fill, I did the recipe twice and ended up with two worts both with an OG of 1.040, or 10° Balling, which are both sat with big fluffy krausens while the Yeastie Boys get down and dirty on the sugars. The plan at the moment is to let them sit for 14 days before priming and bottling.

Pictures 2-4 were taken by my good friend, and superb photographer, Mark Stewart of Black Gecko Photography - he came round to watch me brew and enjoy a few bottles from the cellar. He also had the good grace not to die from drinking EDM.

Monday, March 23, 2009

All Set for Brew Two

I took the day off on Friday. Part of the process of getting an immigrant visa to the US is to have a medical examination by an approved doctor, and in expectation of things not going as smoothly as I would like I took the whole day off - by as smooth as I would like I mean the doctor taking one quick look and declaring me a picture of health, without the need for blood tests and the like.

One of the things needed for the exam was a chest x-ray, which meant sitting around for about 90 minutes while they found a doctor to sign the little piece of paper describing the results for me to take back to the examing physician. So apparently I am pretty much healthy, no HIV, no syphilis and no TB, and much relief that the only injection needed was a tetanus booster, nobody had told me that the HIV/syphilis test was just a pin prick to the finger and the results in 15 minutes - health check drive thru, could catch on!

Declared healthy, and having enjoyed a small Schlenkerla Märzen over lunch with Evan, I set about getting the remaining ingredients for the beer I brewed on Saturday, my lime witbier - the name for which I am working on at the moment, and hoping the Yeastie Boys do their thing. I will describe in full the brewing procedure tomorrow, but my basic ingredients were as follows:

  • Wheat DME
  • Lime peel
  • Coriander seed
  • Saaz hop pellets
  • Wyeast 3944 Belgian Witbier

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Swimming in Beer History

Of all the beer blogs I read, there is one that I find endlessly fascinating - Shut Up About Barclay Perkins. I must admit that I never thought I would become so intriqued by brewing ingredients, gravities and practices, but so it would seem, and once I am safely ensconced on the other side of the Atlantic I intend to get a "proper" home brew kit and start making some the recipes which Ron has been posting of late.

As I said a couple of weeks back, I want to learn more about the history of Bohemian brewing - in particular the pre-Pilsner Urquell days. Thus it was that I started searching the online catalogues of the Czech National Archive for references to beer pre-1842, mostly I was looking for information about brewing history in České Budějovice - an interest no doubt piqued by the metal sign in Český Krumlov advertising Budweiser Urquell.

Then lightning struck my brain, and yes it hurt, why would documents about brewing in Budweis be in the Czech National Archive? Bohemia was for centuries part of the German speaking world, first as part of the Holy Roman Empire (full name: The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation), and more latterly the Austro-Hungarian Empire. From 1526 until 1918 Bohemia, as well as Moravia and Silesia, was under Habsburg rule, so surely the place to look would be the Austrian National Archive?

One quick search later and a book with an almost impossibly accurate title turns up - Geschichte des Bräuwesens in Budweis, which basically translates as the History of Brewing Methods in Budweis. Now I am trying to get my hands on a copy of the text, although I understand the Austrian archive doesn't have an electronic copy of the text.

One of the most interesting things about the book itself is that it was published in 1895, the year that the Budvar Brewery was founded, so it should be ideal for discovering what kind of beers were being brewed in Budweis by the German dominated Bürgerliches Bräuhaus.

Here's hoping....

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Of Gobby Hobbits

I celebrated quite a bit on Saturday. Well, it isn't every weekend that Liverpool beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, especially not when they do it 4-1. The powers that be are convinced that playing big games at 12.45 GMT on a Saturday somehow negates the effects of drinking before the game, but ignore the effects of the game on drinking afterwards. As I say, we celebrated quite a bit.

Just round the corner from Zlata, is Pivovarský dům - so it was only natural to continue our celebrations there - well it was really my excuse to make sure that I got at least a little bit of decent beer before things got out of hand. Thankfully they still have their very nice stout on the one and only hand pump, and they also have a special Märzen at the moment, which was rather nice as well.

At some point in the conversation, CAMRA came up - don't ask me why because I can't remember - and I told my friends what the MD of Marston's had said about certain sections of CAMRA (personally I think Knackered Old Cripplecock would be a grand name for a beer, but no doubt the Portman Group would object). At the mention of CAMRA, one of the guys on the next table looked over and we got chatting - he is a member of the West Middlesex branch, from the same part of the world as my dad, so we had a good chin wag, and being a good pub evangelist I marked a few places on his map.

I happened to mention that I was rather jealous of being able to wander into a pub and have a pint of London Pride whenever you feel like it, which led to a discussion about brands being so ubiquitous that they lose some of their appeal regardless of how good they are. The Czech Republic is a perfect example of this, especially the way we bash the big brewers such as Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen. Yes it is true that PU is not a patch on what it once was, and yes Staropramen is an abomination as it is made with corn syrup, but which would I rather drink - Staropramen or Foster's? Pilsner Urquell or Carling?

This then got me to thinking about how people equate smaller brewers with good beer, again back to the "gobby hobbits" that so irked the Marston's MD - big brewers do make good beer, take Budvar or Fuller's for example, and small brewers do make bad beer, Pražský most na Valšů springs immediately to mind. So although I maintain that the likes of Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen are not beers I will drink regularly, I am happy to admit, we are very lucky to have the standard set so much higher than many other markets.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cyclops Your Own!

As an act of solidarity, and also the fact that I have gained a bit of weight lately, I am going on a two week carb fast, which regrettably includes drinking no alcohol for a fortnight. This is something I do reasonably regularly, so it isn't anything drastic or dramatic - but it was the excuse I gave myself for doing a comparative tasting of the two versions of Experimental Dark Matter.

First a quick re-cap. When I made the beer a few weeks ago, I ended up with two different original gravities in the carboys - one was 1.040 and the other was 1.052, that 10° and 13° Balling respectively if I did my calculations correctly. The reason for two different gravities I think was the rather less than scientific approach that I took. Any way, after a few days of nervous waiting, both carboys fermented away to their hearts content.

When I bottled the beers, I did so about 5 days apart because the stronger of the two was still bubbling a bit and I knew that it wouldn't harm the beer to sit for a few days more. Plus I made such a bog of bottling the first that I decided a jerry can with tap was just what the doctor, and the wife fed up with sticky tiles, ordered. I also carbonated the stronger beer slightly differently - I used more priming solution, and hoped that the bottles didn't explode.

To the beers themselves, which I will do Cyclops style, first up the 10°, which had an ABV of 4.1%.

  • Sight - light ruby, small tan head
  • Smell - smoke, molasses, bitter chocolate
  • Taste - light caramel, faint hops, slightly sour
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Personally I thought this version was a bit thin in the body, and while it tasted fine it wasn't something that I would drink several pints of, I also under-carbonated it.

Next up the 13° with a 4.8% ABV.

  • Sight - dark ruby, tight tan head
  • Smell - smoke, treacle, dark chocolate
  • Taste - burnt toffee, smoke, dark chocolate
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
This was much better, and very close to what I was trying to achieve - the body was much fuller and rounded, lacking that slightly sour tang of the 10°. Being smug, I wouldn't have been disappointed if served this in a pub.
So my first brewing experience was successful, I got something drinkable at the end of it all, and in the 13° version, something enjoyable. It is shame I only have 10 bottles in total left, and 6 of the strong one - might use the 10° for some cooking....

Monday, March 16, 2009

From Darkness to Light

My first beer was Experimental Dark Matter, bascially a Munton's brew kit with some smoked malt steeped for flavour, fermented with a Scottish Ale yeast instead of whatever was in the packet under the lid - which I used to make a rather nice date and sultana loaf. This week should see the arrival of some more ingredients for homebrew number two - a witbier.

I decided to do a witbier after reading an article about small scale brewing on the Irish Craft Brewer website, a very good resource which I recommend everyone go and read - also the guys who run the website are superb. The witbier brewed in the article is very much classic, but using dry malt extract rather than all-grain brewing. As all-grain is out of the question for a little while, I decided to try out this recipe, although being me I plan to mess around a bit. Essentially I want to to swap the orange peel for lime peel, and am considering using the last of my smoked malt to make a smoked witbier - guess who loves rauchbier! As I have two carboys, I could make one with the smoke and one without, so I can compare.

This will be the first beer I have made which involves a boil - brew kits are great for getting the basics of making beer - so I will be using the Saaz hop pellets I bought with the first beer in mind, adding them at the relevant times as in the recipe.

On the EDM front, both versions have been bottled, the second one from my food grade plastic jerry can with a tap, which made life so much easier. I popped open one of the 10° versions, which ended up with an ABV of 4.1% and it wasn't as bad as I was expecting - actually I rather enjoyed it, but I will write more about that later in the week.

Friday, March 13, 2009

10, 12, 14, 18 Kout Gold

I commented to Evan last night in U Slovanské lípy that there is an interesting circularity in the fact that I drink there regularly, because it is right opposite the first pub in Prague that I drank in regularly. The other pub is called Planeta Žižkov, and back in 1999 they sold Lobkowicz for about 20kč - back then the princely sum of 34p, today it is about 95p. Planeta eventually joined the massed ranks of "just another Staropramen pub", so I haven't been in for a while now. The circularity comes from the fact that a 10° lager from Pivovar Kout na Šumavě costs 20kč, so yes it is still possible after ten years, to go out in Prague with a 200kč note in your pocket and have 10 pints of superb lager.

My first trip to U Slovanské lípy was because Pivní Filosof had told me about the place, and immediately I knew this would become a regular haunt, and so far everyone I have bought to the place has loved it as well. U Slovanské lipý is quite simply a "proper boozer" to coin Rob's phrase from when I was there with him last week. There is no fancy furniture, solid wooden tables, cork panelling on the walls and a tile floor are order of the day. There is no ridiculous art work, some photos of the pub during, I assume, the Prague Uprising in the Second World War, back when it was a Velkopopovický Kozel pub and there was a barricade right outside the door - I wonder if those manning the barricade would pop in for a quick pint? There are no flashing lights, no gaming machines, no gimmicks, this is a proper Czech pub - I love it!

You can't really tell from the pictures, but the clientele most of the time are normal people, everyday Jans and Janas, mostly Jans admittedly, enjoying excellent beer in very relaxed surroundings. The staff are again very good, enthusiastic, friendly and oh so patient with foreigners and their garbled efforts at Czech - and one of the girls has already achieved cult status in my world. At PK I quite often have no idea what I want, so I ask them to just bring me something and usually they do a good job. At U Slovanské lipý, as I dithered and ummed and ahhed about what to choose (ok there are only four beers but they are all superb), she just looked at me and said, "I'll bring you a 12°" - and it was the perfect decision.

I am sure it is possible to wax lyrical about U Slovanské lípy, just I am sure that these are the kinds of places I will miss very much when I move to the States at the end of June. Simply put, here is a pub worth it's weight in gold - proper gold that is rather than the pretentious blinged up pubs that dominate the centre of the city, definitely one worth getting out and finding.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rotund Antipodean Marsupial

I am not sure if ethno-pub is an actual term, but they are everywhere. Think of your home town, is there an Irish bar? Is it called The Dubliner, the James Joyce or Molly Malone's? If you are British and live outside the UK, does where you live have pubs called The Lions, The George and Dragon or The Rose and Crown? Prague is full of ethno-pubs, I even know of a couple of pubs that declared themselves to be distinctly South Bohemian, and the names above are, or were, examples of the city's various ethno-pubs. However, I am fairly sure that wherever you live, you don't have an Australian ethno-pub called the Fat Koala, or as it is in Czech, Tlustá Koala.

The thing with Koala though is that it is really a British style pub with a couple of Foster's signs and cuddly toy koala's scattered about to add "authenticity". For those of us who have been in Prague for a while, there is a very good reason for this, it used to be a British pub, called The John Bull, and all around the pub you can see John Bull Bitter stickers, and even a couple of handpumps - how I wish they were being used rather than purely decorative.

Having once been a British pub, the decor in Koala is classic British, lots of dark wood, stools at the bar, an area with comfy seating, and if I remember rightly, a snug upstairs - though without the one way glass for watching the indescribable lower orders whilst quaffing one's ale. The bar itself I think is one of the best in Prague - solid wood, with glasses hanging of it and a nice array of taps - the pub mainly sells Staropramen, as well as Kelt and Velvet from the same stable. Of course, being an Aussie pub, they have Foster's - despite the fact, I am assured, that Foster's is almost non-existant in Australia itself. So there we have one of the reasons that Koala gets on my regular pub list, it feels a bit like home, and everyone likes to go home once in while regardless of how long you have lived abroad.

While we are on the subject of decor, I have a confession to make - I love the old time metal signs that advertise beer. My particular favourite is the Budweiser Urquell sign I took a picture off last year. The walls of Koala are covered in these kinds of signs, and not just for Czech beers, but all manner of things; Irish stouts, soap and even tyres.

Given my well documented distaste for Staropramen, why do I include Koala on the list? Beyond of course the decor and historical interest, after all who goes to a pub to look at the furniture? There have been two main reasons over the years for going there, it used to be the only place in town where you could get cider, or at least something resembling it, Strongbow - and in the middle of summer there are times when even beer won't quench a thirst like cider can. These days though I can buy cider at the Cider Club, or even easier for me pop Marks and Spencer for a few bottles of their simply superb Organic Cider. If I fancy something different, then Robertson's, as well as British ales, sells Magners Irish Cider. Put very simply, I go to Koala because it is the only pub near me that always has something on tap from Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf.

Simple really, a pub where I like the surroundings, and they serve beers from one of my favourite brewers in the Czech Republic - and they even have the right shaped glasses for serving British style ales in! Importantly they seem to have worked out how to pour an ale so it doesn't take 10 minutes, and you don't have to order your second when you are a third of the way down your first, although out of habit I generally do so anyway.

So if you are visiting Prague and can't be bothered with trams and metros to find a pub with excellent craft beer, just go to Koala and have a Kocour. If you want a map, drop me an email.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Where Everybody Knows My Name

There are two seemingly equal and opposite things that I simply do not believe in; fate and coincidence. Things happen, and it is up to us to make the best of whatever comes our way, to believe in either is to resign the ability to take credit or blame for anything. Pivovarský klub is the pub in Prague where some of the best events in my life so far have taken place, and as such will always hold a special place in my world.

My first ever visit to PK was in October of 2005, when at the time I was living in a town about 50km from Prague, called Mladá Boleslav – home of Škoda Auto. I was in Prague because a friend had invited me to join him and and his colleagues at a company booze up. Being a Friday, I had been paid, finally had enough cash to replace my glasses broken while celebrating Liverpool’s unlikely Champions League victory, and had a fresh haircut – all in all, I was feeling pretty damned good, especially as I could see properly again, and we went to the wrong pub.

At this time I only knew about Pivovarský dům, so we naturally went there, to find no reservation and no recognizable faces. A phone call and taxi ride later and we were in Pivovarský klub, drinking Štěpán, their very good 12° lager and chatting with the rest of my friend’s colleagues, mostly American language teachers, banging on about what schools they went to and that they graduated “cum laude”, the American system of grading honours being rather sexier than saying I got a 2:1 and missed a first by a fraction – but studying was never something I bothered to do much of.

At some point, the Korean American bloke sat next to me tottered off to the loo. While he was away, a latecomer came down the stairs, and not wanting to listen to this guy driveling on about how German girls really “digged him”, I insisted that she sit next to me and we hit it off immediately. Thus it was that I met Mrs Velkyal, and many Friday nights for the first 6 months of our relationship started out at Pivovarský klub. The fact that it was the place we met was the deciding factor when we organized having our wedding reception there last year, and they did a magnificent job with the food and of course the beers were fabulous.

PK has a great selection of beers, though I fear that I have drunk pretty much every available Czech lager they offer. Again the staff are a key element of what makes PK a pub I love to visit, they let me know what is new, whether they think something is worth trying and of course they all know my name – and importantly, they spell it correctly when I make a reservation. When Mrs Velkyal turns up, they know what she drinks and have it ready by the time her coat is off. I also love the décor, if you can call it that, wood and bare brick, with a brass tap arrangement, simple yet elegant.

Pivovarský klub is my Cheers.

The last couple of pictures on this post were taken at our wedding reception by our photographer on the day, Mark Stewart. I recommend you take a look at his Flickr site and if you need excellent, unobstrusive, photography then contact this guy and work something out.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Saturdays are Zlatá - assuming Sky Sports so decrees.

Zlatá Hvězda is the most regular of my haunts, in particular between August and May each year. Admittedly during the summer months I am very rarely there, originally because I had gone home to Scotland in between teaching contracts, but generally it is because there is no football of interest to me during the summer. World Cups and European Championships only count on the years that Scotland somehow get to the finals. Australia playing Costa Rica in the group phases of the World Cup just doesn’t have much attraction for me, thinking about it neither does Brazil versus Argentina, I don’t follow international football at the best of times, international rugby is another question altogether.

Known to its regulars as plain Zlatá or even as “the sports bar”, despite there being at least 2 other sports bars on the same street, Zlatá is Prague’s original place for watching the Premiership on a Saturday afternoon, or whatever ridiculous time Sky Sports decide to shift games around to in order to maximize their viewing figures. Zlatá then is where I carry out my relationship with Liverpool FC, one that has seen me pours thousands of pounds into various pockets in the last decade alone, and what do I have? Hangovers from celebrating Champions League victories, FA Cup wins, a couple of Carling Cups, a UEFA Cup along the way, and many derby victories – which are always the sweetest of hangovers.

That’s the economic viewpoint. Zlatá is chock full of memories, great nights, hoarse throats and learning that lager was something that could be drinkable. The first couple of seasons, the beer of choice was Velkopopovický Kozel, back in the pre SABMiller days, when this was a lovely crisp and mildly hoppy lager that I could drink by the gallon. God knows what they sell these days, and no that doesn’t mean Robbie Fowler has patronized Zlatá. Not because I can’t see the signs that say Gambrinus, or that I can’t read the menu that says simply says 10° lager without stating the brand, but because the beer has such an awful reputation, I would rather drink mineral water when I go there.

Even though I very, very rarely take a beer anymore in Zlatá it still qualifies as a good pub in my world – because I know that every Liverpool game will be shown, regardless of whether it is being shown in the UK. Somehow, the owner will find it, and usually we will be there. It also qualifies because the staff are good, I am sure it helps that they know who I am, but I have never had a problem in there. Sure it is rather rough around the edges and a bit tatty, but that doesn’t bother me. I am sure there are plusher environs to watch sport, with better furniture and superior beer, but nowhere with the atmosphere that Zlatá can generate. Watching football in any other pub would be like sitting in the Anfield Road End instead of on the Kop, just not the same.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pub Week....

Last week on Dave’s blog, I posted a comment asking the question “what is a good pub?” – and have been playing that thought through my mind for most of the weekend.

On UK based blogs, I hear a lot about “community pubs”. This is a phrase that sounds so lovely and cozy, but in reality detracts from the fact that a pub is a business, not a community service. Regardless of one’s opinion on the tie, brewers, free houses and pubcos are not in it to make people happy, they are in it to make money. If pubs aren’t making money then hard-nosed economics dictates that the place has become an irrelevance and will close. The challenge then for the breweries with tied estates, as much as for the free houses, is to create public houses which remain relevant, loved and above all used by the community in which they are located.

This mulling got me considering the pubs I go to regularly, there are only about 4:

Each pub is associated with different people and reasons to visit, but in my mind each them would qualify as a good pub – but not for any common reason, and despite the fact that for lots of people I know, some of these places are dingy holes with crap beer. They all serve a given purpose and through the interaction of regulars and staff create micro-communities.

Over this week I will describe each pub, what I like about it, and the purpose it serves in my life. I was originally going to say my “beer drinking life”, but then, I only have one, and beer is just part of it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Session - Love Lager Lament

Love lager? "Not bloody likely" is the kind of thing I would have said, drinking my way through another pint of Caffrey's in an Oirish pub in Birmingham (O'Neill's on Broad Street usually). Ten years of living in the Czech Republic has done away with such nonsensical thinking, but then the difference between Czech lager and the yellow fizz of the UK is roughly akin to the relationship between cubic zirconia and a real diamond.

The problem today though is that once proud lagers such as Kozel and Pilsner Urquell are simply shadows of their former selves. Kozel was my favourite lager when I first moved here, then it was bought by Pilsner Urquell, who in turn sold out to SABMiller. In come the accountants and down go the lagering times and the complexity of flavour that goes with it. A similar story can be told of Staropramen, now made with 20% corn syrup, thanks A-B InBev! And yet almost every time I sit in a pub I am regaled with the ridiculous notion that "Czech beer is the best in the world", by a bloke drinking his watered down Gambrinus.

But before I start to sound like the drunk in the corner complaining that things used to be better, there are a wealth of small breweries in the Czech Republic making excellent golden pale lagers; Kout na Šumavě, Purkmistr and Chodovar to name but three. These are beers that should encourage the good citizens of this land to take an axe to the vast stainless steel conditioning tanks which barely hold their wares long enough for the smooth, crisp flavour of a Bohemian lager to develop.

What would Josef Groll make of the state of his beer these days? Groll of course is the man credited with the invention of the pilsner of which all others are imitations. For those who don't know the story, the burghers of Pilsen - as it was back then - were fed up with the poor quality of the beers they were being served up. Determined to change things they looked to Bavaria, bringing in Bavarian technology and know-how, and until 1900 hiring only Bavarian head brewers, to re-create in Bohemia Bavarian style beers. The beer Groll made was to become massively popular and spawn countless pale, insipid imitations, which swept almost everything before them. Groll himself though went back to Vilshofen after 3 years - contract not renewed, creative differences, those kinds of things - to take up the reins of his father's brewery and to die in the only place natural for him, his favourite pub. I am sure Groll, in his gruff and grumpy style (according to legend), would have told the accoutants to shove it and gone about making his Bavarian style lager in the way he knew was best.

So yes, love lager, love it enough to hunt out the good stuff and drink a toast to grumpy old Joe.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I will say this openly and clearly, so that even those at the back can hear - I am a Germanophile. I guess a lot of that comes from having lived in a town called Celle when I was a kid, Dad was in the British Army so we got to live in loads of different places. I also like German culture, the music, the people (it is a total myth that Germans have no sense of humour, it is just really quirky), and of course the beer.

A couple of weekends ago Mrs Velkyal went off to Berlin for a trip with a colleague from the school she works in, while I spent 4 days drinking a bit too much, watching Liverpool and generally bimbling about wondering what to do with myself - the first 36 hours are usually ok but then I get bored and tetchy waiting for her to come home. When she got home she presented my with a few bottles of beer, one of which was the Neuzeller Schwarzer Abt you can see in the picture. The observant among you will have noticed that I currently have some Neuzeller Porter in the cellar, which will be used in a comparative tasting of various Baltic Porters in the near future. Mrs Velkyal however didn't remember this and bought the Schwarzer Abt on the strength that she liked the label!

At only 3.9%ABV, I had certain expectations in mind. Dark lager, not too strong, therefore bits of coffee and caramel, nice clean aftertaste and a medium body. Boy was I wrong in style, apart from the dark bit, which it was - ruby red with a big fluffy head that hung around for the duration. The nose was very much coffee, although backed up with some floral notes. Tastewise was where I was most spectacularly wrong, lots of caramel and toffee sweetness, with a just the slightest hint of bitter chocolate chucked in for good measure, and lots of body, although for my tastes a bit too syrupy. This is a big beer hiding behind a small ABV, a session beer with gonads you might say.

From what I have been told by the guys at Klosterbrauerei Neuzelle, Schwarzer Abt is one of those German beers which would have all the Reinheitsgebot freaks tearing their hair out, whether on their head or on the end of their chiny chin chin. Why? Because here is a German beer which uses sugar for a portion of the fermentables! Shock, horror, German beer not sticking to Reinheitsgebot! But you know at the end of the day the key question is very simple, is it a good beer? Yes it is in Schwarzer Abt's case, a decidedly good beer, which would be ideal with a sticky toffee pudding and ice cream to round off a feast - thinking here large amounts of game being eaten straight off the spit in a dark hall, log fire and busty serving wenches!

Note: yes I know Reinheitsgebot has been repealed.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Manifesto Emerging...

Drinking beer is great, writing about is fun too but I really don't want Fuggled to become a mere diary of the beers I drink. I think that is one of the reasons I decided to make my own beer, to get a greater appreciation and handle on the process of making the drink the world loves. The joy and wonder I got from watching little bubbles of CO2 plop out of the blowoff tubes was unexpected, as was my frustration at slopping beer over the floor because bottling was more tricky than I imagined - hence yesterday I went and bought one of the jerry cans with a tap on the front.

Of the six bottles of EDM I managed to fill on Sunday, the stronger of the beers is still bubbling occasionally so I am leaving it in the fermentor an extra few days, I got great delight to see that they have dropped bright, and my beer has very little cloudiness in it. I still don't know how fully how it tastes, but we shall see in a couple of weeks once conditioning is done.

All this though has led me to think more about beer than I ever used to, how it has developed and changed, particularly in the Czech context at the moment. Some questions that have popped into my head of late:
  • Why was Plzeň beer so bad before 1842?
  • What beer did the Bürgerliches Bräuhaus Budweis originally make?
  • What were the various monasteries in Prague brewing?
  • What beer styles is Prague water naturally suited to?

So many questions, and so I will spending a lot of time reading, asking questions and if I find the answers, trying to re-create some old Bohemian beers.

But why stop there? I am glad that brewers like Pivovar Náchod and Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf are broadening the range of styles available on the Czech market, but what about brewing old style Bohemian beer as well? Why must the Czech market be so enslaved to pale golden lager?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

BrewDog socks it the Portman Group...again

Read this and giggle.....

Miracles happen!

Christopher Robertson is something of a local hero for the British expatriate community here in Prague because for nearly 6 years he has been the man to go to for British style sausages, bacon, Cheddar cheese and various other goodies from home, including beer.

The last time I bought beer from Robertson is was canned London Pride, Ruddles County and Old Speckled Hen. Obviously though, Christopher has been listening to what people want, always a good idea as a businessman, because now his shops stock an increasing range of good ales from the UK, and not just in cans but bottled.

I received an email this morning from Christopher to tell me that from Thursday at his shop in Prague 6 the following ales will be available:

Bishop's Finger in Prague? Black Sheep Ale? Spitfire?

Oh happy day, oh happy!!!

Also available in cans will be:

Check out the company website for prices, and also have a look through the excellent sausages and meat products they do and pop up to Prague 6 for an armful of ale. You might just see me up there!

Monday, March 2, 2009

EDM Bottled

Or at least the 1.040 OG version is now bottled. The final gravity on this one was 1.010, giving it an ABV of 4.07%. I decided to leave the stronger of the beers for a couple of extra days as there is still the occasional bubble coming through. I only managed to get 6 full bottles from the beer, partly a combination of small batch, just 4 litres, and the fact that bottling with a piece of tubing rather than a bottling bucket is a pain in the backside and a study in slopping beer on the floor.

That's one of the reasons that today I am going to Bauhaus to buy one of their jerry cans with a tap on the front, so that I can use it as a secondary fermemter and/or bottling bucket.

I tasted a little bit of the beer, and it is a little on the thin side and the smokiness I wanted doesn't seem to have worked, but given a few weeks in the bottles and some carbonation we will see what the final result is. At the moment I am just rather glad that the process worked and I have made beer!

Of Bostonian Beer...

 A couple of weeks ago I was up in Boston for a work related conference. Having only ever been to the city for a few hours previously, to vi...