Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Little Claws of Beer

It will come as no surprise that I broke my beer fast with a pale lager. It will likewise comes as no surprise that I mostly drank pale lagers over the weekend. Also of no surprise to anyone that has ever paid attention to my wafflings here, the best beer I had all weekend was a Czech pale lager, as in actually from Czechia.

The beer in question is the 12° pale lager from Únětický Pivovar, based in the village of Ùnětice a few kilometres outside Prague. It was a beer that I had thoroughly enjoyed on my trip back to central Europe in 2019, and one that I have long hoped to see in this neck of woods as it is part of B. United's program that cold ships beer in bulk to Connecticut and then can it there. After badgering aplenty of the good people at Beer Run, I was able to put in an order for a case of this nectar, thus on Friday I collected 24 16oz cans to find space in the fridge for.

Having given it the best part of 24 hours in the fridge to get down to a steady proper temperature, I cracked open a can and didn't take notes. I just savoured what is clearly one of the best pale lagers, of any description, available anywhere in the US today. A bold claim perhaps, and if you want to change my mind, feel free to send me beer. At one point I handed Mrs V the glass and her single word response was "nice", but the kind of "nice" that tells you that she was having an Anton Ego moment for hospody a půlitry.

I have learnt my lesson of years past when it comes to getting back off the wagon after a month with no drinking, thus I ease my way back in and don't go nuts and have 10 pints on day 1 and a minging hangover come day 2. Thus it was that I found myself pondering what makes real Czech pale lager a more satisfying experience for me than pretty much any non-Czech made stab at the style?

Perhaps it's the decoction mash, whether triple or double? Or maybe, at least in Únětický's case, the continued use of open fermentation rather than the modern CCVs and how fermenter geometry affects yeast behaviour, leading to a longer, gentler primary fermentation? Perhaps it's the lack of fizziness? That's not to say that Czech beers are flat or uncarbonated, but they don't have that jagged edged, prickly fizz of many a US made lager. Maybe it comes down to doing things the way they have always been done, after all why fix what was never broken?

All that is not to say though that US made interpretations of the style, or any style for that matter, are uniformly sub-par. Bohemian style pale lagers like those brewed by Schilling, Von Trapp, and Champion would certainly stand up to scrutiny in Czechia. There is though something intangible that puts the likes of Únětický Pivovar, Pivovar Hostomice, and the much missed Kout na Šumavě, into the beery stratosphere, and that intangible seems to make it across the Pond.

Naturally I am open to the possibility that it is just my own personal Ostalgia, and those sharp little claws that never let go.

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