Friday, February 27, 2009

A Question of Taste

In many ways the scribblings of a blogger, whether of beer or something else, are easy to create and substantiate. For even the most extreme comment you can find at least one person to back me up and say “I know what you mean”. Swimming against a tide is something I am not really bothered by, and sometimes I am very much aware that I don’t agree with fellow bloggers or beer lovers, about a particular range of beers. It is of course a question of taste.

I don’t hide the fact that I am not a fan of Klášter, for me it is nothing special, nothing to go screaming off to the shop at a great rate of knots to spend my 14kč on a bottle of – that’s 40p/$0.75/€0.50 for my British, American and Eurozone readers respectively. And while it may be a decent enough beer to have from time to time on tap, it is not something I would actively search out.

Last night, I decided to take Mrs Velkyal out for dinner. My wife is a pianist by training and in preparation for our move back to the United States she had just seen her piano of several years taken away to a good home. I knew that it would be better to take her out for a meal and a couple of beers to take her mind off the loss of the Joanna. So I got the address of the new place in Žižkov selling the beers of Pivovarský dvůr Chyně from Pivní Filosof and dragged Mrs V. up the hill for something to eat and drink.

Pivní Filosof has mentioned on his blog that we trekked out to Chyně for lunch a couple of weeks back, with the Everards brewer and his wife who were over in Prague on holiday – I fear taking them to several of Prague’s brewpubs may have turned it into something of a busman’s holiday however. The beers that day really did nothing for me, only the 14° dark held out any hope. Unfortunately our trip to the restaurant in Hotel Victor did little to dispel my apathy towards Chyně. Of the three full beers I had, again only the 14° dark satisfied me, the light of the same strength was too buttery for my tastes; the 10° light beer was thin bodied and to my stout mind insipid. It would be easy for me to dismiss my opinions as the ravings of a stout and ale man if it were not for the fact that I have drunk 10° lagers for most of the last 10 years, and have had several which have a complexity of flavour which would put many stronger beers to shame.

In fairness to Hotel Victor, the food we had was quite nice, decent onion rings although dips of various kinds would be nice, an acceptable goulash and Mrs V’s chicken schnitzel tasted as good as it looked. They also had very pleasant service, the lady working the pumps was friendly, helpful and attentive and those are invaluable attributes in waiting staff. As we waited for the bill I suggested that we head the 200m up to U Slovanský Lipy to finish the night with a couple of Kout na Šumavě beers – admittedly in order to show her the difference between Chyně and Kout, were we ran into Iain and Ian of Pivní Filosof commentary fame.

Over pints of Kout's simply magnificent 14° dark and 12° kvásničák we discussed our various opinions about Chyně and I had to admit that I am simply not a fan, to howls of disbelief. However we soon worked out that the main difference between my opinion and that of various others is that I like beers with a bitter bite. I am, as has been noted, very much a stout, bitter and pale ale drinker. I like my beers to have a good hoppy bite and a full body, Ian (sorry guys can never remember which is which) is my polar opposite, can’t stand bitter or stout and yet loves Chyně. I should however say though it is not that I think their beers are bad, as in Gambrinus bad, but just not my thing.

So yes my opinions are simply that, an answer to the question of my taste.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fuggled Changes

I have been playing with the idea of creating a top-level domain name for some time now, and as of this morning my dream has been realised!

Ladies and gentleman, allow to introduce the new URL for this blog:

That will probably be just the first change to happen in the coming weeks and months - I will be messing with the HTML and trying to improve the look of the blog. I am also planning to find somewhere in my pokey flat to take better pictures of the various beers I have at home, so hopefully we'll see an improvement there as well. Another thing I am planning with is getting some kind of logo designed.

I am assured that using the old link will still work, but I think it is probably best if you update your links to the domain name.

Also, if you notice that your blog was once on my blog roll and is no longer then please let me know and I will restore it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New website about pubs in Prague

As you can see, there is a little picture on here now which links to the following website:

The website is building into a database of pubs and beers available in Prague, and as such will become a good resource for visitors and locals alike.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

And the award for beer name....

When Saruman from The Tale of the Ale suggested this name, it was clearly a case of all bets being off. It was love at first sight, and so the smoked Scottish dark mild (or maybe not from looking at the style guides) will be called:
  • Experimental Dark Matter
Saruman's prize? Erm, a bottle of said beer if it tastes alright when he hopefully comes over to Prague sometime in the Spring. If not, then I think the fact I introduced him to a good Hooker should be more than enough!
Being the sad anorak I am (and if any brewers in or around Virginia are reading this and need marketing people then email me!), I spent about 3 or 4 minutes messing around on Word developing a label for the said beer, here is a screenshot.

Monday, February 23, 2009

What's it called?

It was a question I wasn't expecting to be honest. Sat in U Buldoka on Saturday enjoying rather too many of the excellent Zlatá Labuť they had on tap. From my quick scan of the pub, the Zlatá Labuť was outselling the standard Pilsner Urquell by about 5 pints to 1.

"So what is it called?" - simple enough question, but not one I had really considered.

"What is what called?" - you can see my intuitive faculties aren't particularly sharp when I have had a few.

"Your beer, what are you going to call it?" - looks of impatience abound.

"erm...dunno" - great conversationalist me, eh?

So what will I call my first beer? Assuming of course that it isn't some foul tasting disaster. As Loyd Grossman would say when presenting Through the Keyhole, let's look at the evidence:
  • based on a dark mild extract
  • I used muscovado sugar
  • I added (hopefully) smoky flavour and aroma
  • fermented using Scottish ale yeast

Some thoughts for names:

  • Depths of Darkness
  • Highland Speakeasy

Any other suggestions?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bottle, mini-keg or jerry can?

I spent last night scrubbing bottles. I have had several swing-tops sitting around the flat for a while now in expectation of my first homebrew, so I finally got round to cleaning them thoroughly and letting the labels float off in the hot water.

My batch of beer is a grand total of 8 litres, and I have at the moment only 7 bottles (although I have 2 bottles of Bernard in appropriate bottles), this got me thinking about how I want to serve my beer.

Pivovarský klub sells those 5 litre mini-kegs, so I could buy one of those, fill it - blending one of the beers into the other to make sure it is full, and then bottle the remaining beer. Or, I could buy a jerry can.

Bauhaus is a German home and garden ware chain that has a few branches in Prague, and they sell jerry cans made from food grade plastic which come with a tap on the front. I think the smallest size they have is 10 litres, which would be a bit big I guess, but I could then blend the two beers together, add some extra yeast to do a secondary fermentation and then serve straight from the jerry can.

Alternatively, I could just drink more Bernard, Chodovar and anything that comes in a swing top and bottle everything - green bottles for the 1.040 OG worth and brown for the 1.052 OG.

Thoughts ladies and gentleman please!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Big Dogs Off the Leash

I am, it must be said, a little concerned. Fret not, the yeast hasn't died on me - in fact both fermenters have nice healthy looking krausens on them, and are bubbling away at about 40 little pops a minute. Yes, yes, yes, I know - how sad can a grown man get when he sits and counts how often his homebrew is bubbling, is there a technical term for this? The bubbling I mean, not the counting, I already know the technical term for that.

Wanting to restore some self-respect I decided that the moment had come, the moment I had been putting off and putting off, the time to open a couple of the monster BrewDog bottles that I have picked up lately. Just like Mark over on Pencil and Spoon, I have a habit of looking at bottles, deciding to drink them and then putting them back because I am not sure the occasion is right. Last night I just picked up the bottle and opened it before I could convince myself otherwise - that bottle was Hardcore IPA.


I have written elsewhere about my first run in with IPA from BrewDog, so I knew the vague neighbourhood I would be in with Hardcore, what I didn't know was just how much bigger and more in your face this one was to be. The beer pours a dark amber and the white head didn't last very long, although every time I would swirl the glass there would be a nice fresh head. The nose was sweet citrus all over the place, grapefruit mainly and lots of it, and the first taste was a bitterness explosion but backed up with a smooth, soothing, toffee like sweetness. American style IPAs are something new to me, and the more I try the more I like.


Emboldened by my impulsive opening of one big hitter, I reached in and pulled out a bottle of the 12%ABV Tokyo. I have heard great things about this beer from Evan, so my expectations were high. As a stout should be, this was a black hole - no light getting through at one, and the nose was alcoholic and roasted and peaty and like molasses (Mrs Velkyal stuck her nose in and instantly said "is this a BrewDog?" - brand recognition!), drool, drool. The first thing to strike home when I tasted it was the flavour of oak and vanilla, not surprising as it was aged on French oak chips, that coupled with the warming alcohol put me in mind of Paradox, but without the whisky element. The more I drank the more complex it became, a strong spiciness and yet a freshness in the finish which I am putting down to the cranberries. Definitely a sipping beer, one where you revel in each and every mouthful.

The only thing missing last night was being back in the Highlands, sat in a deep leather armchair while an Atlantic gale lashes the house and the peat fire glows in the hearth and the deerhound sits at my feet.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let there be life!

My wort is dark, well it would be - look at the ingredients above. The instructions on the dark mild extract said to add sugar, so I did - light muscovado sugar from our local Marks and Spencer (who still don't stock any of the M&S real ales available in the UK - boo-hiss!!!!). I was rather shocked at how dark the sugar went when nicely dissolved, but there was something exciting about a dark smoky wort.


Add to the wort the smoked malt, which had steeped for 30 minutes as per the instructions in John Palmer's How to Brew - once I had checked that smoked malt could be steeped for flavour and aroma. The malt bag was made by that ever so crafty woman, Mrs Velkyal (I keep trying to persuade her to set up a blog about her quilting, crocheting, knitting, sewing and the multitude of other crafty things she does, but to no avail, yet). The malt looked like a thick porridge when the steeping was done, and the smell had been ushered from the flat with our high tech ventilation system - open window, keep door ajar with old DMS boot.


And forlornly the carboys sat, hours passed, then days and there was no sign of life - but deep in the darkness things were astir. Last night when I got home from work, one of the carboys was showing signs of life, the one with the 1.040 OG wort in it - joy abounded, I may have leapt about a bit with happiness, not too much mind, one is British after all. I allowed myself a celebratory beer, the Paulaner Oktoberfestbier you see below - it was rather nice, like honey and lemons with a malty taste.


This morning I awoke to the 2 carboys merrily bubbling away. So while my little brother enjoyed the birth of his third daughter on Saturday, I am enjoying the birth of my beer.

Note: My dad was in REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers), which they affectionately termed "rough engineering made easy" - it was in that spirit that much of my brewing "equipment" was made, this is homebrew at its mostly homely.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bohatý nebo blazen?

I went to Zlý Časy yesterday on my way home from work - for some reason, of late every time I head over there to get more bottles, it snows. And boy did it snow yesterday in Prague, we enough to put London out of commission for months - about 4 inches!

I was hoping that they would have beers from the Nørrebro Bryghus in Denmark, and I was not to be disappointed. I got a bottle each of:
  • La Granja Stout
  • Bombay Pale Ale
  • North Bridge Extreme

I also picked up another bottle of BrewDog's Paradox Smokehead to replace one I gave to a friend. A couple of pints were also in order, first up the Harrachov František, a banana laden delight, and then the Kácov 12° pale lager, which went down nicely as well.

Chatting away to the barman and, I assume, the bar owner I mentioned that I had bought a bottle of La Granja Stout on Saturday whilst at Pivovarský klub which had set me back 385CZK (that's €13.75/£12/$17), at which they stated that I must be rich (bohatý), to which I replied "rich or mental".

Hence the title.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nervous Expectation

Yesterday was brew day. Today nothing is happening in the fermentors. I am a little worried to be honest.

Everything went well with making the wort, but it took longer than I wanted to get it chilled down to a suitable temperature for pitching the yeast - the smack pack of which didn't swell up as much as I thought it would.

Any way, I somehow managed to end up with two worts, one with an OG of 1.040 and the other of 1.052 - I guess this is because I used slightly more muscovado sugar in one fermentor than in the other.

Having read various forums on the internet, and consulted with Evan, I am going to give it a few days to sit there, and if nothing happens then I will have to ditch the lot of it.

Lessons have been learnt however, so even without beer at the end of it all it has been worthwhile.

Friday, February 13, 2009

To Bee or not to Bee?


Tandleman recently commented on his distaste for honey beers, and so it was with his post in mind that I opened up my bottles of Wychwood BeeWyched last night, having discovered that just the one Hobgoblin wouldn't suffice. Actually, the one Hobgoblin and 2 BeeWycheds didn't suffice either, so I had a Paulaner hefe-weissbier and a Mönchshof Urtypisches Schwarzbier as well.

BeeWyched is a pale ale which is made with FairTrade honey and pours a dark amber, topped off with a fluffy cream head. The nose was mostly sweet, but not overpoweringly so, a light maltiness came through as did subtle citrus notes. The first taste is very much that of a pale ale, but slowly the sweetness of the honey asserts itself, but without becoming too much and cloying. I was worried that it would suffer from the same thin body as the Belhaven Fruit Beer, but it was actually rather robust and velvety. Overall a nice beer, one which Mrs Velkyal rather enjoyed and has asked me to go back to Cider Club today in the hope that they have more - does Primátor English Pale Ale have competition?

I only made a few mental notes about and the Paulaner hefe-weissbier - a supremely yummy beer, overflowing in all the clove and banana goodness you expect from a bavaria wheat beer as well as buckets of citrus that makes it hugely refreshing. The Mönchshof was also very nice, lots of toffee, caramel and fruit with a bitterness which cuts through it all to make it one delightful beer to drink.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, tomorrow is brew day - so hopefully on Monday I will have pictures and what not of the first Velky Ale!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Question for the Brewers

Saturday is pencilled in as my first brewing day, the beer being made will be 16 litres of an "imperial smoked mild" - not a big batch I know, and a slightly odd style.

But this is my question, is dry hopping with Saaz hop pellets a good idea or not?

Dodge the Jam


As you know I spent January not drinking. The observant among you will have noticed that the list of beers residing in my cellar grew exponentially during January as well. On one of my trips to stock up, I wandered from work to Cider Club - I say wandered, it was a Friday and sometimes I like to walk home from the office, which takes me an hour or so.

Cider Club is one of those wonderfully random places which from the outside seems to be a comic shop, but on the inside is in fact a comic shop that sells cider, and ales from the UK, in particular Wychwood ales. Having picked up a couple of bottles each of Hobgoblin and BeeWyched (deciding against more Black Wych), the owner asked me if I wanted free beer? Hmmmm, the agony of choice. So I walked out with a bottle of Belhaven Fruit Beer as well as the bought and paid for stuff.

Fruit beers are still one of those things which baffle me. I like the occassional kriek, such as the one from Mort Subite I had over the holidays, but most often fruit beers leave me wondering "why?". The Belhaven was no different, pouring a dark orange, almost red colour with a slightly off-white head and with a nose the reminded me of mixed fruit jam, my favourite, I allowed myself to be cautiously optimistic. Oh dear. The body was horribly thin, yes it tasted like fruit jam, but fruit jam so watered down that I seriously considered pouring it away. It wasn't truly bad, but neither was it something I will want to drink again, and I guess I know now why it was being offered for free - and even that wasn't a redeeming feature.

I will post a photo of said beer tomorrow - forgot to move it from my laptop to my flash drive. Oops.
Update: There's the picture.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Picture Time

These are some of my favourite pictures I have taken in various restaurants and pubs over the last couple of years.

This one is the taps in the no smoking section of my regular haunt Pivovarský klub, I took this with my mobile phone from my favourite seat at the bar.

This was taken in the brewery section of U Medvídků, there is something nice about seeing old style kit still in use (I am a sucker for this kind of stuff) - this is one of the open-top fermenters used for making Oldgott Barrique.

I took this picture in the restaurant attached to the Eggenburg brewery in Český Krumlov a while back. For those who don't speak German it say "Budweiser from the Original Source, Municipal Brewery Budweis, founded 1795". You can guess why I like this particular picture.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bombed and Hacked

Yesterday, after work and a couple of errands, I met up with Evan, Pivní Filosof and Rob - with whom I have shared many enjoyable drinking sessions (including the infamous finishing off of a pub's remaining Primátor Stout and wondering why it was labelled as "coffee beer"). The aim was for Evan to introduce us to the delights of the American IPA, more specifically the IPAs of the Stone Brewing Company in San Diego, also into the mix, as an example of a more straight IPA I brought along a few bottles of Belhaven Twisted Thistle.

Being completely disorganised yesterday, I didn't bring a camera with me, nor did I bring my tasting notes book, so you'll get fuller descriptions of the beer on the blogs of the other guys.

We started out with the weakest of the quartet, the Twisted Thistle, which is made with Challenger and Cascade hops and weighs in at only 5.3%. I thought it rather nice IPA, the kind of beer you could happily sup away on all night.

Next up was the Stone IPA, and this was a world apart from every standard British IPA, not to mention every Czech made American IPA I have had in Prague. Big on the hops, and it was at this point that I discovered what marijuana tastes like, apparently. I have never been one for smoking, although I love the smell of pipe smoke. I was expecting a lot more citrus and bitterness - to be honest I was expecting it to be like sucking lemons, but it was suprisingly smooth and while not a beer for a Friday night session at 6.9%ABV, it was certainly very drinkable, and one I would like to try on draught.

Following on from the standard Stone IPA was the Cali-Belique IPA, which from what I understand is basically the normal Stone IPA fermented with a Belgian yeast, hence the name. The difference that the yeast made was very pronounced, again the apparent marijuana touch was there, but this time I was reminded of the Rochefort ales, with lots of cocoa on the nose. As the four of us sat around the kitchen table, we discussed using different yeasts with the same basic ingredients and seeing what the results would be - which has me concocting all manner of plans for my homebrew when I get to the US in the summer.

The last of the Stone brews was Ruination. Evan had warned us that this would be last as the bitterness would effectively render our tastebuds redundant. Again I was expecting something quite different on the bitterness front, and found that the maltiness of the beer, despite playing second fiddle to the hops, made the beer quite smooth and refreshing.

Throughout the tasting session we all had cans of Pilsner Urquell available, so that we could compare the hoppiness of a beer we all know quite well with that of the IPAs on the table. To put it bluntly, by the time we got to the Ruination, the PU was distinctly awful, and smelt rather similar to the boiling wort at U Medvídků last Thursday. With time winding down on our tasting session, and our tastebuds being gently soothed by Bernard Černé, Evan decided to open a bottle of his hacked Porter. Very interesting, but I will let Evan tell the full story of this experiment when he gets round to it.

Rob and I then sloped off to Pivovarský klub to finish off their version of an American IPA - in the interests of research naturally. In a similar vein to last Wednesday and Thursday, there really are few pleasures as worthwhile as sitting with fellow beer lovers drinking excellent beer and discussing whatever comes up.

To sum up, a wonderful evening.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Welcome Break

I gave myself an extended weekend, took last Thursday and Friday off. I wasn't planning to get out of Prague or do anything special, I just decided to take a couple of days off and enjoy laying in my bed longer than normal.

The laying in bed plan was partly because on Wednesday night I had arranged to meet with the brewer of Everards in the UK, who was over in Prague for a few days with his wife. So Mrs Velkyal and I spent the evening at Pivovarský klub enjoying their company and various rather nice beers - my personal favourite was the American IPA made by Pivovarský dům.

During Wednesday night we arranged to meet up on the Thursday for a guided tour of some of Prague's brewpubs, which actually turned out to be just Pivovarský dvůr Chýně and U Medvídků, where we went up to the brewery part of the pub and sat dranking their excellent Oldgott Barrique, whilst watching a fresh batch being made - that was certainly fun! I also learnt that it is actually possible to talk for 9 hours straight about beer, and after we had gone our seperate ways I went to U Slovanské Lípy for some Kout na Šumavě lagers - as you can imagine, Friday was spent generally recovering at a very slow pace.

Drinking with a professional brewer is definitely something I would recommend, especially when you have heard people raving about a particular beer and then the professional highlights a couple of problems with the beer, and their possible causes, as happened in Chyně. Plus with Everard's being one of the larger regional breweries in the UK it was interesting to get a different view on the tie than I have heard from most people, a subject I have been mulling over and will no doubt come back to.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Velky Al Beyond the Beer

BBC Radio 4 does a program called Desert Island Discs where people have to imagine that they are stranded on a desert island and are allowed the following:

8 pieces of music
1 book - excluding the Bible, other religious works and the Complete Works of Shakespeare
1 luxury item - which must be inanimate

I thought I would re-define the list to have 4 pieces of music or albums and 4 books, and my 1 luxury item would be a single bottle of beer. So here goes:

Music

Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto
Peat Fire Flame - The Corries
Louder than Bombs - The Smiths
Requiem - Mozart

Books

Credo - Melvyn Bragg
Scotland's Empire - Tom Devine
Testament to Freedom - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
High Fidelity - Nick Hornby

Luxury Bottle of Beer

BrewDog Paradox

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mild or Imperial?

It started with a frantic phone call from Mrs Velkyal; a box had arrived at her school and they wanted money, for her to take it off their hands - 832CZK to be precise, about 25 quid. I had forgotten that there is some strange way of paying for mail order goods here - paying the deliverer the entire invoice amount. It all got sorted, and I got to bring home the ingredients for my first homebrew project, ordered from this website (sorry if you don't speak Czech).

Rather than going straight on in to all grain brewing, due to a lack of space and a disinclination to spend tons of money on stuff only few months before moving, I decided to get myself a Munton's Perfect Pint kit, the dark mild to be precise. However, from reading How to Brew I know that it is probably best to use the extract as a base to add other things to my beer. So I dreamed up making a smoked mild, and decided to get a different yeast to use and some extra hops to freshen things up a little.

My ingredients are:

Munton's Perfect Pint Dark Mild hopped extract
Demerera sugar
Weyermann Rauchmalt
Saaz red hop pellets
Wyeast 1728 Scottish Ale

My basic plan is to make 3 batches of 8 litres, owing to space restrictions. At the moment I am not sure how much rauchmalt to use (I have 2kg of the stuff!!!), or at what point to use the hops - any advice happily received.

I have also played with the idea of making a kind of Imperial Smoked Mild (contradiction in terms I know) and using all the extract in a single batch, especially as the yeast is well suited to high alcohol brews. Again, homebrewers out there, any advice would be gratefully received.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Jubilate!

What a dire month January was. It is one of my traditions these days to give up the booze for the whole month and gladly see the Christmas excess drain away. If it wasn't hard enough to not drink for a month then Liverpool decided to make life yet harder by giving up the winning habit - other than beating Preston North End in the FA Cup, they drew every game in January.

February could not come soon enough, and what better to break the fast than a bottle of Porterhouse Celebration Stout? A gift from The Beer Nut when Mrs Velkyal and I went over to Ireland in November. Created to mark the 10 anniversary of The Porterhouse Brewing Company, this 10% ABV bottle conditioned imperial stout was already 2 years old when I popped off the crown cork.

I must say now that I like big stouts, and this was up there with the best of them - black as coal, dark biege head, coffee and cocoa in abundance on the nose, big, big big so far. What a lovely beer this was to drink as well, burnt caramel and rich luxuriant chocolate held beautifully in tension, wonderful to sip and feel the warmth of the alcohol. The perfect way to re-enter the wonderful world of beer.

The day of course got better because Liverpool re-discovered their winning ways and gave Chelsea a right spanking at Anfield! Things are looking up.