Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What Does A Czech Have To Do?

I have found in my almost two years of living here in the United States that amongst the beer loving community there is a reverential awe that comes out whenever it comes up in conversation that I lived in Prague for the best part of a decade. I was going to write "beer fraternity" rather than "beer loving community" but equating the fine people I have met through beer with the boorish, obnoxious pillocks that are the stereotype of "frat boys" would be doing many a top bod a disservice.

Czech beer has, quite rightly in my opinion, an aura of excellence associated with it, and several people I have come in contact with talk about their few days drinking in Prague as one of the highlights of their beer drinking lives. However, the ignorance in the beer community over here about Czech beer never fails to astound me, and as ever it is Those Sites (how Shakespearian, like calling MacBeth "the Scottish play") that unwittingly, or otherwise, promulgate such ignorance through their rigid misunderstanding of beer styles in central Europe.

I have argued at length, both on here and on one of Those Sites, that tmavé should be a separate style for ratings, rather than being lumped together with either Dunkel or Schwarzbier. The knee jerk response is that there are too many styles already and it would just sow confusion amongst the ranks. Suggest however that Black IPA should be style and hey presto, a new style is born with an almost religious anti-critical fervour.

Czechs, however have another style of beer which is misunderstood and neglected on such sites. Polotmavé, which translates literally as "half-dark" is usually lumped together with Vienna lager, usually on the basis of them both being the same(ish) colour. Using such logic, I guess then that Schwarzbier is in fact a porter. The problem with calling polotmavé a Vienna lager is that Vienna lager as originally created by Anton Dreher used a single malt, can you guess what it was called? Most modern Vienna lagers, from what I have learnt, use a base of pilsner malt with a hefty dose of Vienna malt. Personal aside here, if you are making a Vienna with none of the eponymous malt then it isn't really a Vienna lager, regardless of the colour.

Polotmavé on the other hand, as the name kind of suggests, uses the same malts as tmavé but less of the specialty malts that make tmavé darker. As with many things in Czech brewing, their is a huge spectrum covered by the term polotmavé - from the 13º version made by Primátor to the insanely gorgeous 16º beer from Hotel Pegas that I drank in Brno. There is at least one brewery in the Czech Republic that makes both a polotmavé and a Vienna lager, called a Vídeňské červené or "Viennese Red", which to me at least suggests that Czech brewers understand the styles differently.

I guess what I am really trying to say here is that Czech beer, just as much as British, German, Belgian or American, must be understood on its own terms and not forced into artificial categories just because it makes life easier for some. It is this false categorisation that makes ratings from certain sites for some beer styles entirely irrelevant, because the model against which the beer is judged is not the same as the model from which the beer is made.


  1. I think it comes from lack of understanding rather than a conscious need to simplify. I'm definately in the 'still learning' camp when it comes to Czech beer, but could list a few dozen types of english, american or belgian brews - I bet many beer fans would say the same.

    out of interest, how do you rate Bernard Beers? Going to a beer bar opening tonight and they have Bernard 'Pilsner' and 'Dark' (I'm assuming that is their dark lager) on keg as far as I can see.

  2. I think Bernard beers are very nice indeed!

  3. I've only tried Zeitgeist by Brewdog and Budvar Dark but really liked both of them so think this Bernard Dark should be right up my street!

    Really enjoyed reading your post by the way, nice to be taught some new stuff! Thats what i love about beer, there's always something new to discover.

  4. I think some places in the states don't really know about the place there trying to promote. I went into a "typical English style pub" over there once (as it was stated on the door) and it was full of marines ringing a big bell, dropping shots of baileys into a pint of Guinness and downing the whole thing. Now I'm not sure about anyone else, but I've never, Never seen that in an 'English' pub. - maybe I just don't get out enough.

  5. The thing is. Czechs don't think in styles, they thing in categories (balling graduation) and colours.

    Anyway, there's also Polotmavé Výčepní, only two exist, I love them both, and according to what I read some time ago at Ron's blog, it is a true Czech style... I wish more breweries made that kind of beer instead of those over-attenueted světlé speciály.

  6. PF,

    That's basically what I am trying to say - you can't explain one country's beer in another country's terminology. You have to let Czech beer be Czech beer.

    The světlé speciály thing used to do my head in regularly. What was the point of going to PK or similar and having a draught choice of 4 variants of světlé, a token tmavé and the weizen? Mind you we have a worse situation over here, you go to the pub and there are times when there is nothing but overly hoppy pale ales or IPAs, an insanely strong barleywine and Guinness. Thank goodness I like Guinness (it helps putting a small sample of the barleywine into the Guinness!!).

  7. I've been campaigining for recognition of Czech styles for years. I don't seem to have made any progress at all.

  8. We are a union of at least three then!

  9. I'll be a fourth for it. But; I carry no "beery weight" at all...unless it's around the belly. I always enjoy reading my "big Three" beer blogs. Naz Dravi!- Geaux T


Lukr At That Cask Ale

Take a moment to think about what a pub that specialises in cask/real ale looks like... Chances are that when you thought about the bar itse...