Friday, May 20, 2011

What's in a Name?

Whilst looking through the pictures that are already on Fuggled, I rediscovered this little delight:

I took the picture at Hotel Pegas, a hotel and brewpub in the centre of Brno, the second city of the Czech Republic, during a trip down to Moravia in 2009. The sign was in fact one of a pair, unfortunately I didn't take a picture of the other, or if I did, I can't find it. The second picture though was a German version of the Czech sign, which translates roughly in English as "Original Porter from České Budějovice" - or Budweis as it is also known.

You can see from picture that the brewery making this porter was Měšťanský Pivovar, the brewery that today is known generally as Samson, though was originally called "Die Budweiser Bräuberechtigten - Bürgerliches Bräuhaus-Gegründet 1795 - Budweis". I am guessing from the fact that the sign was in both German and Czech that it dates from the period known as the Czech National Revival, which led to Josef Jungmann publishing the first Czech dictionary and eventually the building of the Czech National Theatre in June 1881 - the original building burnt down in August 1881 and was re-built and opened in 1883.

I don't know about you, but I find that sign fascinating on so many levels. Firstly the fact that it was made in both Czech and German pointing to the multi-cultural nature of Bohemia. Secondly, the brewery that produced the beer was using Budweiser as an appellation, and this before Budvar was even created in 1895 (so if anyone say Budvar is the original Budweiser they are wrong). Thirdly, and perhaps most intriguing was that the brewery was making a porter, a style more commonly associated with London and the Baltic region.

In the modern Czech brewing law, a porter is a dark beer brewed to greater than 18º Plato, about 1.076. However, it is dangerous to read the modern Czech interpretation of porter back into the 19th century, so what was this beer? I would like to posit a theory, and I am perfectly happy for it to be complete bullshit, but I think without much more evidence available (until I finally get round to reading a book I have on brewing in České Budějovice pre 1895) I think it holds water.

As discussed elsewhere, tmavé up until the late 19th century was warm fermented. Even today if you go to the legendary beer hall U Fleků, their tmavé is distinctly stout like. From what I understand of that beer, the recipe is largely the same today as it was in the 1890s, but it is cold fermented and lagered. What is today called tmavé in the Czech lands bears an uncanny resemblance to porter, whether Baltic or otherwise. Was it then a version of porter that was poured down the drains of Plzeň that eventually led to Pilsner?

Obviously without the brewing records it is impossible to know for sure was Budweiser Porter was, but I am thinking that a little homebrew project to brew a Czech Porter would be interesting, and I have to do something with the 5 extra ounces of Saaz that I have knocking about in the fridge. When it comes to the yeast strain, I think a German ale strain is in order, something from Dusseldorf for example. I imagine that the beer would have enjoyed a long cool conditioning phase, somewhat akin to Scottish beers, and so once fermented in will sit in the cellar for a while.

Another project for an every growing list.


  1. I thought I was the only one with an ever growing list of projects. It seems new projects pop up all the time.

  2. I've seen several references to Porter in old signs, I've seen Březňák Porter and Třeboňský Porter among others.

    On the other hand, according to what Ron Pattison told me once, Pale Lagers didn't become the favourite kind of beers until after WWII (or I, I don't remember). The first commercially successful lagers seemed to have been dark. Which is no wonder, really, given that that was the colour of the beers most people drunk before lager. Flekovské seems to be one of the few Pražské Tmavé Ležáky that survives to this day.

  3. On a side note, I would bet that all these Czech porters were bottom fermented, just like Pardubický has been since 1891.

    I have the impression that they were rather common and that they were brewed by the new industrial breweries that sprung up in the second half of the 19th century, all of which, as far as I know, brew bottom fermented and all used open fermenters, which, if I'm right, would pretty much rule out top fermented beers.

  4. Why would the use of open fermenters rule out warm fermentation?

    The Yorkshire Square is an open fermenter and still used by some to make pale ales and porters in the UK.

  5. For two reasons (in the case of Czech beers):

    - In many breweries the "spilka", fermenting room (or whatever the technical name is) is refrigerated or somehow kept at a 7ºC, or so, temperature.

    - Even if you don't have a refrigerated spilka, (some breweries keep the temperature of the fermenters with a system that circulates cold water) it's quite risky to have top fermenting yeast next to bottom fermenting ones.

  6. I think we have crossed wires a bit here, I thought when you wrote:

    "if I'm right, would pretty much rule out top fermented beers."

    that you meant the use of open fermenters would rule out the possibility of warm fermention as a whole, rather than fermenting warm and cold next to each other. Clearly that would be difficult from a technical perspective given the differing temperature requirements.

    However, you and I both know that many Czech breweries trace their history back to the dim and distant past, Svijany to 1564, Rakovnik to 1454, U Fleku to 1499 and Samson to 1795. As Ron notes it wasn't until the 1890s that dark beers in Bohemia were cold fermented, so I think it is a safe assumption that anythign called "porter" before that decade would most likely have been warm fermented.

    When the brewers of Bohemia modernised in the 1890s then they became cold fermented. So the Bavarian methods of cold fermentation and lagering replaced the Bohemian tradition of warm fermentation, but the actual recipes remained the same, and they kept the name of the beer type for what we would call brand recognition.

  7. I didn't want to mean that you can't use open fermenters for top fermenting beers.

    On the other hand, I would bet that most of the larger breweries that opened from 1860 (Staropramen, Jihlava, Vinohrady, etc.), or so, on were cold fermenters pretty much from the get go. But then, it's quite possible that I'm wrong on that one. Either way, I'm pretty sure that those signs like the one you show above are from the last bits of the 19th century. Don't ask me why, I can't prove it, but it's a pretty strong belief.

    BTW, today at U Medvídku I spotted another sign of Czech Porter (didn't have my camera, unfortunately) this time it was advertised as 14º Lekarský, or something like that, from Hrádec Králove.

    And I'm not so sure about the "brand recognition" thing". Most of the beers that swept the market in the second half of the 19th cent. were different thing all together. Prague shows a good example of what happened. The breweries in Holešovice and Braník were each opened by groups of license holders who got together. U Medvídku shut down in 1898 and the owner was one of the partners at the Holešovice brewery. Things like must have been quite common. But once again, that is speculation on my part.

    Anyway, and just to make your project even more interesting. How about brewing two versions of the same Porter, each with a different fermentation?

  8. That is part of the plan, and part of the reason why I have been trying to work out a successful method of lagering in the absence of a spare fridge.

    Too many projects, too many projects.

  9. The problem with your theory there though is that if Ron is correct and tmaves only became cold fermented in the 1890s, then the new industrial brewers must have been making only pale lagers in the 30 years between their rise and the conversion of tmave from warm fermentation.

    That scenario would suggest to me that the brewers making porter/tmave prior to conversion were forced into the change in order to survive in the brave new world of pale lager, whilst keeping a version of their old product alive.