Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reviewing Homebrew

Up until now the only homebrew I have tried is my own, of course not including my father's efforts when I was about 11 - I did enjoy pouring half pints from the polypins! However, when my friend Saruman came over from Ireland last week he brought the following homebrew with him:
  • BitterBock
  • Dark Cerveza
  • Wheat

Saruman has recently upgraded his brewing operations from kits, which the three beers above are based on, to extract with speciality grains. At present my beers are extract with speciality grains and although I plan eventually to go all-grain, I like the ease of this method while I get the hang of the boiling and fermenting stages.

Anyway, on to Saruman's beer, which I have again used the Cyclops system for evaluating.

Bitterbock - an interesting idea where he mixed together a bitter kit and a bock kit, then fermented it with a Danstar Windsor Ale yeast.

  • sight - very dark, brown at the edges, tan head
  • smell - cocoa, citrus, floral
  • taste - bitter, crisp, dry
  • sweet - 2/5
  • bitter - 2/5

An interesting beer, almost like a lemony porter which would be, as Ron would take great ironic delight in saying, "not true to style", but still drinkable and as I put it in my notes "porter-lite" (yes Americanisms are creeping in to my world).

Dark Cerveza - again Saruman messed around with the kit, and instead of using sugar as instructed, he halved the fermentables between light and dark dry malt extract.

  • sight - dark orange. slightly off-white head
  • smell - malty, light fruit, oranges
  • taste - tangy, marmelade
  • sweet - 2/5
  • bitter - 2.5/5

On a hot summer day, a few of these straight from the cooler (more Americanisms!) would be very refreshing. I am not sure if sour is a normal thing to find in a Mexican cerveza, but it worked quite well in this beer.

The last of the beers was a wheat, which we included in our Eurovision Wheat Contest - more of which tomorrow.

  • sight - light orange, thin white head
  • smell - slightly smokey, mild citrus
  • taste - malty, quite syrupy
  • sweet - 2.5/5
  • bitter - 1/5

This was probably the weakest of the three as I felt it was somewhat flat and you could tell it was from a beer kit, however it would make a decent drink over a barbecue (random thought - can you barbecue black pudding?).

One thing that came up with each of the beers was a certain maltiness, almost sweetness, which belied the fact that the beers were made from a kit - I also found this with my EDM. I am sure than Saruman will derive greater pleasure from going to extract and speciality grains, and look forward to seeing what he comes up with.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

O Little Town of Blansko

The little town of Blansko is about 30 minutes north of Brno on the train and is the gateway to the Moravian karst, the purpose of our trip last week to the south of the Czech Republic. On arrival from Brno, our intention was to grab a taxi and get to our hotel in Skální Mlýn for the night. We spent a very pleasant evenng enjoying the peace and quiet, and got an early night so that the following morning we could get up and visit the Punkva Caves. Just a quick plug, the hotel is really nice, with very friendly staff and if you are into caves and underground rivers then a visit in Punkva is well worth it.

Having spent the morning going through the caves on foot and by boat, and then taking a cable car to the top of Machoca, a sinkhole that forms part of the underground tour and occassionally hosts musical events as the acoustics are excellent, we decided to head in to Blansko for lunch and a few beers before getting the train back to Prague in the evening. As usual we wanted to try the local brew, and in this neck of the woods it is Černá Hora, a brewery which traces its history back to 1298 and the Knights Templar.

This is where things get a bit vague. While it is true that I had my notebook and camera with me, I didn't take any notes and can't remember the name of one of the two pubs we went into, suffice to it was a little restaurant on the main street, just a couple of doors down from the branch of ČSOB. The other was Restaurace Dělnický dům, which has a huge beer garden, near the wooden church in the pictures below. The church was originally in Sub-Carpathian Rus, in what is now Ukraine, but was once a part of Czechoslavkia.

The restaurant we had lunch in was a fairly standard small town pub, nothing special, no fancy menu and Černá Hora's 12° light lager on tap - a beer I find eminently drinkable if nothing worth rushing around Prague looking for. The food was decent, including the lovely škvárky - bits of pork rind deep fried, but the highlight was the fact that Mrs Saruman ordered soup and for the first time in my life I saw the waiter bring a huge bowl for the customer to help themselves!

Suitably fed and watered, and again thrilled by the friendly, smiley service, we struck off to find the wooden church and see what other pubs we could find. Thus we came upon Restaurace Dělnický dům, where we sat in the garden and enjoyed more Černá Hora beer - the ladies had řezané, a mix of light and dark beer, which Mrs Velkyal declared one of the nicest she has had - high praise indeed.

I polished off a half litre of the dark, and while not up there with the Pegas dark from the day before, it was certainly a very quaffable beer.

Mrs Velkyal, still snacky after lunch decided to try their nakládaný hermelín, which once again came with the thumbs up. Unfortunately we had a train to catch, so off to the station we walked.

One thing that we commented on time and time again in our little trip to Moravia was just how friendly the service was. Bar and hotel staff were universally friendly and helpful, which is unfortunately not always the case in Prague. The staff at Restaurace Dělnický dům in particular were excellent, it was such a shame that we didn't have more time to sit and drink in the sun.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Horses Flying Over Brno

Brno is the Czech Republic's second largest city, with a population of 370,000. The Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Paul is featured on the Czech 10kč coin. The bus station is a grim dump. The outskirts throng with that most Czech of housing option, the panelák - pre-fabricated apartment blocks which most expats refer to as "communist" but were in fact designed in Italy. Such was the sum total of my knowledge of Brno prior to Thursday, Brno had been for 10 years a stop off point on the way to Bratislava or Vienna, never somewhere to spend some time - even though we only spent about 4 hours in the city, what I saw I liked - nice city centre and clean - so much cleaner than Prague.

We were in Brno as part of our overnight trip to Moravia to see the karst caves, one of Mrs Velkyal's long held ambitions before we leave. By the time the train pulled into the station we were hungry and ready to find a place I had heard much about. Hotel Pegas is in the centre of Brno and for years I have been hearing friends bang on about how good their beer is, so with this in mind and having been told that their beers come in 600ml glasses rather than the usual half litre (and then there is head on top of that!), it simply had to be winkled out.

The pub itself is classic central European, dark wood panelling, wooden furniture, the bar in the centre of the main room - which is the smoking area, there is a no-smoking area in one of the side rooms - hop bines drapped indiscriminately around the place and metal signs for various breweries around the place, more of which at some future point.

Rather than writing great long paragraphs about each of the beer we tried, I will simply go back to my three phrase challenge. Here goes:


  • Světlý ležák - dark gold, quite floral, hoppy bite

  • Pšeničné (wheat) - cloudy amber, citrusy, refreshingly spicy
  • Tmávé (dark) - dark ruby, cocoa, coffee


  • Gold (polotmávé - amber lager) - light red, malty, syrupy

Of the four beers my favourite by a very wide margin was the dark lager, it was simply magnificent, full of smooth coffee and chocolate flavours that reminded me of stout, which is of course never a bad thing. On the beer front there were only a couple of bum notes as far as I was concerned. Firstly when I ordered their wheat beer it came with a slice of lemon floating in it - I have no objection to people adding lemon to their wheat beer but I prefer the option of not having it, so please put it on a side plate, or ask the customer before hand. Secondly the Pegas Gold is just too sickly sweet for my tastes, almost like drinking jelly cubes.

Of course, this being lunch, food was also ordered. In my case some lovely bratwurst which came with mustard and a salsa - such a traditional central European touch don't you think? I am starting to think that I am uniquely alone in this, but please would restaurants stop trying to make pretty pictures on my plate? If I order sausages and mustard, I want sausages and mustard, not sausages, mustard, salsa and frilly bits of salad, all of which is topped with a liberal sprinkling of parsley. My main course was these lovely ribs with potato pancakes, and a new found appreciation for horseradish.

If you are lucky enough to live in Brno then make this place your regular feeding and watering hole. Otherwise make a point to visit this delightful city and enjoy the food, beer and excellent service at Hotel Pegas.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Buckets of Beer

I can't remember the last time I drank so much beer over the course of a few days. Since Saruman arrived in Prague on Tuesday with his good lady wife we have trawled our way through various Czech lagers, British ales, my homebrew and his, a comparison of Czech and Irish stouts, as well as brewing up Fuggled.

In between all the beer related stuff, we went to Brno and the Moravian karst - quite possibly one of the most beautiful places on earth. Over the course of this week I will be reporting back on the following:
  • Ireland vs Czech Republic in the International Stout Cup
  • Eurovision Wheat Contest, pitching Ireland, England, Germany and the Czech Republic against each other and a couple of homebrew wheats
  • 6 English ales under 6%ABV
  • Cyclopsing homebrew
  • Moravian beer and pubs
  • Brewing Fuggled

In the interests of my liver I have decided to cut back for a about 10 days before Mrs Velkyal and I head off to Purkmistr and a quiet weekend away.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fuggled Up

I think I will have to change my original plan to make a stout, mainly because the people I get my malt extract from sent me the wrong one. I ordered the Extra Dark and got the standard Pale instead - not a big problem but I have decided to make something different, and finish off the remains of my rauch malt, I am guessing it would be more of a porter than a stout but we'll see what happens, and I have decided to chuck in some cocoa to add a chocolatey flavour.

Basically I am planning to make a smoked chocolate porter using the following ingredients:
  • pale dry malt extract
  • rauch malt
  • black malt
  • unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Irish ale yeast
  • Fuggles hops

if it turns out as I imagine, it should be something of a treat.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Love My Budvar

I don't generally drink on Tuesday nights. last night though Mrs Velkyal, myself and the Sarumans went to Budvarka to meet up with my photographer friend, his wife and their 2 week old son.

Budvarka is, as far as I am aware, the only place in Prague which has the complete range of Budvar beers on tap, including the lovely dark lager and their kroužkovaný, a krausened lager which I very much enjoy. If I remember rightly they don't have their stronger offering, Bud, on tap, but after several too many drinks last night I am not entirely sure about that.

When we got back to our shoebox which passes for a flat - one of the topics of conversation last night was how Mrs Velkyal and I will cope with a bigger flat having got used to being able to just turn around and talk without wondering where each other is - I opened the final two bottles of EDM 13, which were about 6 weeks old by this point. What a lovely beer that stuff was, I will definitely be trying to make that again in the future, though I will have to design a recipe rather than use a beer kit. I also opened a bottle of EDM 10 just to see how it was, and rather than the sour abomination I was expecting, it was rather smooth and drinkable - certainly better than I feared.

Tonight we will be continuing Saruman's real Czech beer education somewhere, haven't decided yet and then tomorrow we are off to Moravia for an overnight trip.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Go! Drink! Now!!!

Sorry to say, for my readers outside of Prague this post will bear so little relevance to your life that it is almost painful.

I just got back from giving Mrs Velkyal and I's friends from Ireland the keys to our flat as they are staying with us until Sunday, so naturally I took them to a pub for lunch, in this case Zlý Časy. Little did I know that they have on tap the second edition of Kocour's superb V3 rauchbier.

Simply put, this year's edition is magnificent, packed with flavour and boasting a nice sour edge, and not so smokey that it feels like you are drinking gammon steaks.

So, for those of you in Prague, get to Zlý Časy or anywhere else they advertise V3 and enjoy the champion elect in the Fuggled Review of the Year Rauchbier category - yes it will take a magnificent beer to beat this one!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Visitors

Tomorrow my friend Saruman and his wife are coming over from Ireland for a very extended weekend stay - I was originally going to say Mrs Saruman, but that would mess up my view of Tolkien's great work completely, plus can you imagine doing the housework at Isengard?

Of course every opportunity to pop into places for a pint must be taken, whether we are in Prague or down south in Moravia - we are planning to go to the karst cave systems just outside Brno, and go to Brno itself, though I doubt I will be trying the Starobrno as it gives me a minging headache the morning after.

I am also hoping to do some tasting sessions with him in the flat, perhaps a Czech Republic vs Ireland in the Stout Cup, as well as a range of Baltic Porters. Mrs Velkyal and I have both taken Thursday and Friday off, so if the weather holds, it should be a fantastic weekend!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Improving Gambrinus

Warning, those of you of a delicate disposition may wish to look away at the end of this post as the photo may be too much for you.

The rest of us though can take dark pleasure in this method of improving Gambrinus, the Czech Republic's best-selling beer.

My boss spent most of last week in Moscow, and I am sure that after several hours on an Aeroflot flight the first thing on his mind when he got back to Prague was to have a nice cold beer. Well his beer was certainly cold, he had inadvertently left a few bottles of Plzeň's other brew in his freezer.

This is what he had....

Frozen beer and a broken bottle, rendering the Gambrinus entirely undrinkable - an improvement indeed.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter Blessings from Strahov

Four times a year, Klášterní Pivovar Strahov brings out a special beer to supplement their excellent amber and dark lagers. For the summer months they bring out a weizen, in the autumn a special dark bock made with freshly harvested hops, and for Christmas a very sweet doppelbock. The brewery's Easter special is a classic Bohemian style Pilsner.



At 13° this is a little stronger than the standard pilsners found in the Czech Republic, but made with a single type of malt and Saaz hops, the ingredients are as classic as they get. From the pictures you can see that it also looks the part.



Having been up to Strahov on Saturday night with some friends, I decided on Sunday that I should take Mrs Velkyal up there to try the new brew, I knew she'd love it - not wrong on that score! As the weather was so beautiful we decided to walk from out flat over to Malá Strana before getting the tram up the hill to Strahov.

Few things in life are as pleasurable as a long walk with the wife which ends in a few excellent beers in the sun.



If you are in Prague over the coming weeks, make a point of getting up to Strahov, and yes it is pricier than many places in the city, and there are places where you can get the same beer cheaper, but sitting in the sunlight courtyard with views of baroque palaces is surely worth an extra euro for your beer?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Limelight in the Spotlight

Yesterday I finally got round to bottling the remaining car-baby of Limelight. I decided to use a bit more priming solution with this one because the couple of bottles I hd already indulged in were a bit under-carbonated and the head disappeared somewhat quickly. With bottling done with, I popped open another bottle of Limelight in order to do my official Cyclops analysis for this beer.



The bottle had been conditioning for 2 weeks and opened with a relief inducing pop, there is something about the sound of opening a bottle of your own beer and knowing that at least you got the carbonating process right! Just a quick recap, the OG of Limelight was 1.040 (that's 10° for all the Plato/Balling buffs), admittedly a little short of the style guides, but there we go. The FG for both car-babies was 1.012, which gave me an ABV of 3.8%

And the Cyclops looks like this:
  • sight - dark orange, cloudy, off-white head
  • smell - citrus fruits, spices, floral notes
  • taste - dry, crisp, citrus
  • sweet - 1/5
  • bitter - 1.5/5
The carbonation from this bottle was ok, as you can see from the head in the picture, although I thought the body was a little on the thin side - given though that my favourite beers are all big on body and flavour, it could be that this is perfectly acceptable and I just like fuller beers.
Given the lovely weather we are enjoying in Prague at the moment, and the fringe benefits that go with that, a few cold Limelights by the river would be a very refreshing prospect.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Gunning for Guinness!

For those of you who don't make your own beer, a word of warning - this is an addictive hobby. No sooner had Limelight been brewed and was sitting in the carboys (really at only 4 litres a time I should them carbabies) and I was planning my next beer, and most likely the last beer I will brew on this side of the Atlantic.

I knew immediately the style, it had to be a stout. If some evil dictator suddenly decreed that the world could only drink one style of beer, and it was my decision as to what style, then you would be stout drinkers!

The problem with making a stout here though was my desire to use British hops and malt to fill out the Czech dry malt extract. Thankfully the very good people at Hop Shop UK are happy to send things to the Czech Republic, and yesterday my black malt, Irish Ale Yeast and Fuggles hops arrived in the post.

The name for my first attempt at the black stuff? Totally Fuggled.

According to the Beer Recipator tool, it should turn out something like this:


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Picture Time

One of the guys I go for a drink with fairly regularly is Rob, a graphic designer and all round good egg. Yesterday while catching up with my emails from having been out of the office for a couple of days, I noticed than Rob had sent me something interesting, a label for LimeLight, which you can see below and I think is fantastic!


Also announced earlier in the week, it is amazing how much stuff you miss when flat on your back, were the winners of BrewDog's photo competition. I submitted a couple of pictures and decided that I would share them with everyone now that the winners have been declared.


Not as good as the winners for sure, but I like them.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Buggered Back Buggers Bottling

I have spent the last few days lying on the floor. Not as a result of indulging in too much strong ale, but rather as a result of having sciatica, which flared up on Sunday morning and is still giving me sufficient gip that I need to stand up and walk for a few minutes quite regularly - a big relief after being unable to stand up at all on Sunday.

Thus my plans to bottle the second carboy of LimeLight were put on hold, though I am fairly confident that the extra time in the carboy won't do any significant damage to the beer. If all goes well, I will be inducting Mrs Velkyal into the Fuggled Brewery Union of Bottlers and other Sundried Enablers over the next day or so.

Having taken a couple of days hoilday to lie about on the floor watching House M.D. I was quite relieved to get back to work this morning, albeit that the walk from the bus stop nearest the office took 15 minutes instead of the usual 5.

Mrs Velkyal has suggested buying a cane for me.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Session - Rauchbier


I am sure you know the feeling.

The Session is coming up and this month it is about a style of beer which you have mixed feelings about, in this case rauchbier. Then you get to the office, having had a fair few pints the night before, bit of a headache, still half asleep and you realise that you forgot to put your perfectly crafted post on your flash drive.

Such are the joys of not having the internet in your pokey little flat. Not a great start to the day to be sure, but at least I have my severance pay to look forward to.


There we are then, I am the dunce to be sent to the corner. so here are some pictures of rauchbier.

My first ever rauchbier - definitely a shock to the system.

I really like the Schlenkerla labels, especially the seal with a man drinking a beer!

I find the weizen easier to drink than the märzen, and enjoyed one last night at Zlý Časy.

My absolute favourite rauchbier, and unfortunately only made once a year, Kocour's magnificent V3.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

LimeLight Details

I bottled one of the carboys last night as planned, I also got Mrs Velkyal to buy me four bottles of Bernard, in this case the dark, in order to have enough bottles to do the other carboy at the weekend.

From an OG of 1.040 this batch ended up at 1.012, giving it an ABV of 3.8%, which is a touch on the low side, as was the OG.

With regard to colour it is a darkish yellow at the moment, but I will post some pictures after I have given it 3 weeks to condition properly.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Bottling Day

LimeLight has been sitting in the carboys now for 11 days, so this afternoon when I get home from work I will be bottling it. I may though have to buy another couple of bottles of Bernard or Chodovar to indulge in before I start as I only have 10 empty bottles at the moment - I have drunk a lot more of both of them since I started making my own beer as they have swing tops and thus I didn't have to go out and buy a capper.

Remaining with home brew, but this time the kit itself, I have been asked several times where I bought my equipment from? A question which often precedes much umming and ahhing before trying to explain that I didn't buy a kit, I cobbled it all together - so for those interested, here is what my kit consists of, and the price thereof:
  • 2 x 5l wine bottles, 180kč each (about $9/£6/€6.60)
  • 2 x rubber bungs with hole, 45kč each
  • 2 x airlocks, 17kč each
  • 1 x hydrometer, 210kč
  • 1 metre food grade plastic tubing (1cm diameter), 15kč (I think off the top of my head)
  • 1.5 metres food grade plastic tubing (2.5cm diameter), 25kč (again, I think)
  • 1 5l food grade plastic jerry can with tap, 250kč
So for a grand total of 984kč - which is $49.20/£33.90/€36.45 - you too can have a brewing kit for making batches of about 8 litres a time. Sure it is only a small amount of beer, but if things go badly at least you're not throwing 18.5l worth of beer down the drain.
For my Czech readers, I bought most of the equipment from Billa and Bauhaus - the bungs and airlocks I bought from Hop Shop UK - this was before I knew Evan and he gave me the website of a Czech home brewing shop, where I now get my ingredients from, as well as my hydrometer. So far Mrs Velkyal and I have made the following in our kit:
It is perfectly plausible and possible to make a decent beer without spending tons of cash on the latest and bestest equipment with bells, whistles and LCD display panels, and it is hugely satisfying to know that so far no-one has gone blind or died from drinking my beer. Happy days all round, especially as I got made redundant the other day!
I am actually not too bothered about the redundancy thing, the severance pay will be very helpful in getting set up Stateside.