Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Tour de Pils

In the Before Times, I went to Texas, San Antonio to be precise. With a day of conferencing behind me, I found a bar in which to have dinner, and in said bar I had my first ever beer from Live Oak Brewing in Austin. I had been in Austin just a couple of months previously but hadn't seen this beer while I was there. The beer was Live Oak Pilz, and I described it at the time as "one of the most authentic iterations of the style I have had in the ten years since I left Prague".

I was back in Texas last week, for the first time since the pandemic began, last time I was there was the week before lockdowns came into place, SXSW had been cancelled, and the city was a ghost town. I knew that on this trip I would finally make it out to the brewery, and its 22 acre beer garden, though me being me, I eventually plonked my arse at a long trestle table inside the tap room itself.

Naturally I checked out the tap list first, even though I knew fine well what my first beer was going to be.

Standing at the bar, I spied the opportunity to do a little tour of Central Europe through the medium of pale lager. On tap that day was not just Pilz, but that was where I started, with a mug of foamy happy place fresh from the Lukr tap...

Now, I have to admit that I was thrown off by the bartender asking me if I wanted the beer "crispy or sweet", but she was talking about the style of pour that I wanted, hladinka  or šnyt. As you can see I agree with Karel Čapek that a šnyt is "at least something more than nothing", and so had a classic hladinka. Pilz pours a lovely light golden, is as clear as a bell, and that wet creamy foam just kind of sat there, at least until I slurped a good deal of it off. Up to this point, the only Pilz I had had was canned, but fresh at source on tap is basically as good as beer gets. The aroma was mostly the spicy Saaz hops, tinged with hints of hay and orange blossom, dancing around with crusty bread of the malt. All of which carries on into the drinking, ah the drinking of a Live Oak Pilz is such a pleasure, firmly bitter, finishing snappy and clean, I could happily have ended my ersatz Central European tour in Bohemia, but having reveled with Čech, Lech was beckoning me northwards...

The other Lukr tap that day was home to Piwko Pils, a 4.4% Polish style pale lager, hopped with Lubelski, Marynka, and Sybilla. The beer itself pours a touch paler than the Pilz, but shared that wonderful clarity, and a foamy cap that just wouldn't budge without a few gulps of it being taken. The aroma was earthy, almost reminding me of the tobacco character that I find in beers hopped with Fuggles. There was little malt aroma that was noticeable, though there was perhaps a hint of smokiness. That earthiness was dominant in the flavour department as well, backed up by a woodiness that made the bitterness of the beer feel almost rough and rustic, in the background were notes of fresh country bread. It wasn't really what I was expecting after the elegant Pilz, but it was certainly tasty, and the dry, almost puckering, finish actually reminded me of a Slovak beer I had a long time ago in a village close to the Slovak-Hungarian border, Gemer - before it got bought by Heineken that is. Having journeyed with Lech, my mind wandered west...

Gold was actually my first beer of the trip, at my favourite Austin hangout, Scholz Garten, alongside a glorious plate of wurst, kraut, and senf. This one was poured on the regular taps, and I am always happy to get a beer in a Willibecher, no other beer glass says Central Europe to me than the venerable becher. Gold, as you would expect, lives up to its name,  pouring a vibrant golden with a hefty firm head, propped up by the occasional tremulous bubble making its way up the glass. As I mentioned on Twitter, "proper lager isn't fizzy", and this is proper lager. Ah that crusty bread aroma, so indicative of pilsner malt, I love it, especially when it is joined by the floral nature of German noble hops. In an instant I am transported to mountain meadows, the jangling bells of livestock, and the urge to spend a sunny day sat outside a local braugasthof sampling the wares. Tastewise, Gold is subtly spicy with layers of lightly honeyed toast and gentle minerality in the finish. The mouthfeel was almost lascivious, satiny, and yet clean and crisp as all great lagers are, and this is a truly great lager. Say it quietly, but I think it is actually better than Pilz, and I would love to try a side by side tasting of this with Von Trapp's stellar Bavarian Pilsner.

With my tour de pils complete, I did move on to try other of Live Oak's offerings that day, but I had been joined by Ruvani of Amethyst Heels fame, along with the husband, and it would have been rude to take notes and pictures, so I didn't bother.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023


I mentioned in my previous post that I had once come across the concept of "Dortmunder malt" at some point in the dim and distant past, but couldn't remember where I saw it. With that particular point of interest once again piqued, I decided to bimble around various online sources and see what I could find out about this elusive type of malt, which if you recall was as pale as Pilsner malt whilst being fully modified in the Bavarian manner, which according to the Illustriertes Brauerei Lexikon by Max Delbrück in 1925 makes it part of the "langmalz" family of malt.

"Langmalz", according to Delbrück, undergoes extensive modification over a  longer period of time on the malting floor. Apparently it is possible for "langmalz" to be "too good" if it becomes overly modified. Such over-modification can apparently causes problems with head retention and the body of the beer, especially in "the production of pale beers". The last sentence of this section also notes that "langmalz" is used in the distillery, though here is means malt where the leaf germ is at least twice the length of the grain and at least 20 days old.

With the horrors there of the dangers of over-modification, best to just under modify and decoct right?

So we have a pretty decent idea of what Dortmunder Malt was, but malt doesn't just magic itself out of thin air, it is of course the product of an industrial process, meaning it needs inputs, in this case barley. As I learnt when I spent time with Murphy & Rude malting for my article in Pellicle, not all barley is suited to the malting process. It would appear that Dortmunder malt had a very specific need when it came to the barley from which it was made.

The description above confirms again the process for making Dortmunder malt, extended low kilning resulting in a pale, fully modified malt, but the barley itself needs to be high quality, low-protein barley of the type you would find in Saxony, Silesia, Bohemia, and Moravia, basically modern Czechia and the appropriate bordering regions in Germany and Poland. Given that in the late 19th century Emanuel Proskowetz was busily improving the Old-Haná barley to give the world the "Proskowetz Haná" strain and from there came Kneifl, Valtice, and Diamant, it is no surprise that the maltsters of Dortmund sourced their grain from the other side of Europe.

Taking such malt, the brewers of Dortmund produced a beer that was "highly fermented, alcohol rich, vinous, delicate", and yet very pale when compared to the strength of the beer. Brewed to 14° Plato, the Dortmunder analysed in Der Böhmische Bierbrauer in 1896 had a colour rating, last column in the table, of 6 while Bohemian pilsners brewed at just under 12° Plato ranged from 5.5 to 6.5.

So, a 14° beer yielded the same colour as a 12°, meaning Dortmunder malt was paler than Pilsner malt, but something else was a play in Dortmund, water chemistry.

In the Bayerisches Brauer-Journal of 1908 it was noted that Dortmunder Bier had a "heartiness, fullness, and mildness" that would be unimaginable but for the high concentration of gypsum in Dortmund's brewing water, making it essentially the polar opposite of the soft water of Plzeň, and the writer even name checks Burton upon Trent in England as having a comparative gypsum concentration to the brewing water. Water that is high in gypsum extracts less colour from the malt than softer waters, while increasing extract yield and increasing the perception of bitterness in the beer. So important to Dortmunder was this water chemistry that the writer confidently declare that any "attempt to brew a Dortmund beer from Dortmund malt with Munich or Plzeň water would fail miserably".

This all makes me wonder if any of the beers produced today that lay claim to the moniker "Dortmunder" would be accepted as such by late 19th century and early 20th century authorities? Is there in production today a "Dortmunder malz" as opposed to the near ubiquitous, in lager, Pilsner malt? Weyermann in Bamberg produce an "Extra Pale Premium Pilsner" malt, is that basically a rebranded Dortmunder style malt? Do any of the "Dortmunders" on the market today use the necessary amount of gypsum in their brewing water to create the very pale beer the city became famous for? Have we confused additional strength for sweetness and darkness that would seem to be out of kilter with the original?

More questions, more archive diving...

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Dortmund Question

My last post was ostensibly about how Bohemian brewers felt about North German breweries co-opting the name "pilsener" to describe their pale lagers. The article from Der Böhmischer Bierbrauer that I reference in the post includes several references to quotes by Professor Wilhelm Windisch, one time chief of the VLB in Berlin, where he praises the qualities of Dortmund beer, whilst musing why German brewers felt it necessary to co-opt a foreign brew.

We all kind of know the general outline of history when it comes to pale lager, Josef Groll creates Pilsner Urquell in 1842, which is just a hair paler than Anton Dreher's Vienna Lager, and thus kicks off a pan-continental craze for pale bottom fermented beers. By the end of the 19th century, the list of "styles" that have come about as a result of Groll's introduction of English malting technology to Central Europe included Helles, Biere d'Alsace, North German Pilsner, Polish Mocne, and of course Dortmunder. All of the styles followed the same basic template, pale malt and the local hops, from Strisselspalt in Alsace, though Hallertau and Tettnang in Germany, up to Poland's Lublin.

In our hop centric minds in the early 21st century, we make the assumption that the main driver of differentiation in all these beers was the presence of local hops, relegating malt to essentially the role of hop delivery system. However the role of malt in the development of beer styles seems to get somewhat overlooked, as if all pale central European beers can be brewed with pilsner malt and whatever hops are appropriate. Historically that seems not to have been the case.

I wish I could remember where I first came across the term "Dortmunder malt" but alas the old grey matter is, well, getting older. However, I did find, not in the newspaper archives of the Austrian National Library I am sure you are relieved to hear, a book called the "Handbuch der Enzymologie, Vol II" on Google Books. On page 1236 of the book there is a fascinating breakdown of the different base malts in use in Germany at the time, I believe the book dates from the 1940s rather than the 1545 Google claims. In this section we get a description of the "dark" Munich malt, the "pale" Bohemian and Dortmunder malts, and the "golden" Vienna malt that is a middle ground between the others.

According to the writer, the fact that Bohemian and Dortmunder malts are pale is the only thing they have in common. He goes on to explain how Pilsner malt is modified "just enough" (major shout here to Andreas Krennmair for helping me with the translation of "Auflösung" meaning "modification" in a malting context) while Dortmunder malt is fully modified just like Bavarian malts. As you probably know, modification with regards to malt refers to:

"the extent to which the endosperm breaks down...releasing nutrients for yeast growth and making the starch available for enzyme degradation during mashing"*

In addition to be more fully modified that Bohemian malt, Dortmunder is also to be treated more gently that Pilsner malt, with the kilning process not reaching temperatures of more than 75°C/167°F. The writer describes the kilning process of Pilsner malt as being "pre-drying at 35-40°, rising to 55° until the water content reaches 8%, then kilning up to 100°", kilning also only takes 3 to 4 hours.

Apparently if you subject Dortmund malt to the same process it would become far too dark. Essentially Dortmunder malt needs to be carefully tended when compared to Pilsner malt so as to stay pale whilst achieving a full modification like Munich malt.

It would appear then that, at least in the 1940s, Dortmunder beer was brewed using specifically Dortmunder malt rather than the modern approach where "Pilsner" malt is the base. However, as early as 1913 Der Böhmische Bierbrauer was referring to "so-called" Dortmunder malt as a "minor type" of base malt, whilst describing it as "lightly kilned". It would seem that it was the use of Dortmunder malt that prevented the style from becoming the dominant German beer.

In an article from 1899 in the brewing journal "Gambrinus Brauerei- und Hopfen- Zeitung", the writer discusses why people were moving away from Dortmunder towards Bohemian beers. The writer confirms again that Dortmunder malt is kilned at low temperatures and thus very pale. He goes on to state that such low kilned malt has an "empty taste", and such a paucity of flavour causes the breweries to stick to brewing a 14° beer, which the writer defines as being "ein alkoholreiches Bier" - an alcohol rich beer - inferring then that Dortmunder was strong because that was it's main redeeming feature. The writer finishes his section on Dortmunder beer by comparing the beer with the Bohemian 10° beers that were "doing so well on the market" by stating they are "good beers, that hold their foam well, and don't taste empty at all".

At the end of the day, the average consumer wanted something that was flavourful, looked good, and wasn't "alkoholreiches", and thus Dortmunder was relegated to an also ran of the pale lager world, with Dortmunder malt eventually dropping out of production altogether it would seem.

* quote from "The Brewer's Handbook" by Ted Goldammer - https://www.beer-brewing.com/beer_brewing/beer_brewing_barley_malts/malt_modification.htm

Thursday, February 9, 2023

1895 - The Year of Pilsener?

It was only within about 50 years of its creation in 1842 that pale lagers from Plzeň were under attack in the learned press of the day. We all know the story of how Josef Groll's golden lager swept continental Europe, inspiring imitations in Munich, Dortmund, Strasbourg, Leuven, Glasgow. You name a major brewing city in Europe in and around 1895 and you likely have a pale lager, vaguely in the style of "pilsner", being brewed, though of course there were hold outs like London, Burton, and Dublin.

Recently though in one of my trawls through the newspaper archive of the Austrian National Library, it really is a fascinating resource that I keep coming back to, I learnt that certain beers being brewed in the recently established German Empire were considered better than the Bohemian original, in particular the "pilsener" lagers of northern Germany and the Dortmunder.

According to one Doctor Wilhelm Windisch, writing in "Wochenschrift für Brauerei", Pilsner and Dortmunder are both "light beers" but of "very different types", and Dr Windisch poses the question "which is the nobler of the two"? Windisch then goes on to sing the praises of the Dortmunder, saying (and here I am relying on the veracity of the quotation in Der Böhmisches Bierbrauer in August 1895 above) that Dortmunder is "always clean". The German here is "es stets blank", "blank" can translate into English as "bare", "shiny", or "pure", though a Czech possibility is the word "čistý", which in English can translate as "clean". Given the context of later in the quote about a yeasty flavour, I think Dr Windisch is talking about the classic clean flavour that we associate with lagers in general.

Dr Windisch goes on that Dortmunder has "a better hop taste than the Pilsener" arguing that in pale lagers from Plzeň "the taste of hop oil is sometimes very strong". His final accusation as to the inferiority of Pilsner, from Plzeň, when compared to Dortmunder is that it has "almost without exception...a peculiar yeasty taste" which he then claims "is not fresh, but a peculiarly old one, like the one imparted to beer by dying or dead yeast". From this he would seem to be claiming that in the Bohemian pilsners of the 1890s you could taste the autolysis of the yeast as it dies.

Moving on from comparing Dortmunder and Bohemian Pilsner, Windisch further extols the virtues of the "Pilsener" style being brewed in Northern Germany, noting that they are "light in colour and...they have a more pronounced hop taste". He points out that this additional hop flavour is due to in part to using more hops in the boil and a slightly different hopping schedule in Northern Germany than in Bohemia. Windisch then goes on to drop the mic, by declaring that Northern German:

"so-called "Pilsener" beers are much more similar to Dortmund beer, and we really didn't need to borrow a beer type from abroad, especially since Dortmund beer has long since acquired an excellent reputation"

leaving us with this question:

"as far as wholesomeness and digestibility are concerned, the question still needs to be decided, whether our light, clear, and not excessively hopped so-called "Pilsener" beer or the Dortmund-style beer isn't even "healthier" than the cloudy, yeasty, strongly hopped Pilsner beer"?

Despite this, Windisch notes that the "importation of Pilsener and other Bohemian beers is steadily increasing and has become very important". As a result of this growing competition from the east,  Munich breweries were forced into action, particularly Spaten and their the recently created helles lager that he notes is "similar to Pilsener beer". So conservative though were Munich drinkers that it had been market tested far from the Bavarian heartlands at the Café Ronacher in Hamburg's Savoy Hotel. As a result of the success of the trial, Spaten started full scale production of their pale lager. The coming of pale lager to Munich, whilst seemingly ignored by the Munich beer press, was declared "notable progress" in the popular press, and in the mind of Windisch himself "a beer-political event of the very first order".

Having quoted Dr Windisch at length, the author of this article in Der Böhmisches Bierbrauer gives short shrift and is quite acerbic in his response claim that:

"you have to get used to the fact that "Pilsner" is making more friends in North Germany because of its excellent properties, is spreading as a result of North German breweries borrowing this popular beer type from Bohemia! The fact that the people of Munich are now also brewing a light beer in the "Pilsner" style doesn't come as a surprise either; already in the 16th Century people set a good example there, in that a brewing method that originated in Bohemia - to produce weisses Weizenbier - was made native in Munich, as can be seen from the brewing regulations of 1616."

Boom from the Bohemian, who signs off as "Ein echter Pilsener". He is basically saying, yes Mr Windisch it is no surprise that people are jumping on the "Pilsener" bandwagon because it is popular, and points out that we have seen this in beer history before, when Bavaria copied the Bohemian "bilé pivo" (white beer/weissbier) and made it is own.

What I found particularly interesting about this little article, which feels like an editorial, was not the history as presented by Dr Windisch, though yes that was fascinating, but rather the response of the "echter Pilsener". Rather than engage with the learned professor on the merits of Bohemian brewed pilsners when compared with those of norther Germany, Dortmund, and Munich he choses the route of rather nationalistic bombast. His argument is essentially, "we're popular and that's why people use the name pilsener", a brewer's "yah boo sucks to you" response basically.

Though putting this in context a little, at this point, if I have understand the other German language stuff I have been reading lately, the definition of what constituted a "pilsner" or "pilsener" in the German Empire, as opposed to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had not been settled. As late as 1909 the "Böhmische Brauhaus" in Berlin was using the term "Pilsator" for their pale Bohemian style lager. What we are seeing here is the beginning of a battle that in some ways rages on to this day, what exactly even is a "pilsner"?

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Could it Work Here?

A few weeks ago I decided to kill some time by finally getting round to watching the Craft Beer Channel series on YouTube about cask ale. If you haven't watched it, I heartily recommend it, as well as the 2 episodes about homebrew cask ale. One episode has stuck with me in particular since my little marathon, and that is the one about micropubs in Thanet.

I love the concept of the micropub, as it allows easier entry into the world of selling booze as well as allowing the business to be more of an expression of the owner as it is unbound by the conventions of "the pub". Since watching the video, and reading Boak and Bailey's fantastic post in BeerAdvocate about their local, The Draper's Arms, I have been thinking about micropubs a fair bit - coincidently, Boak and Bailey posted today about another micropub. Just last week, on our drive to do the weekly shop, Mrs V asked me if I would like to open a micropub, and I had to admit that I had been investigating some of the legalities in Virginia around boozer retailing.

One of the things that has always put me off opening some kind of establishment from which to sell beer is that if you have a "mixed beverage" license in Virginia you are required to also sell food. Said food, and non-alcoholic beverage, sales are required to be 45% of the business's gross food and mixed beverage revenues, and just the food revenues must exceed $4,000, of which $2,000 must be in the form of a "substantial meal". My gut reaction there is simple, fuck that. I don't want to be a place people go to eat meals, I want to be a place people go to enjoy good beer with their friends.

Virginia does though have a "Retail On- and Off-Premises Wine and Beer" license that would allow the licensee to "sell beer and wine for on-premises consumption and to sell wine and beer in closed containers for off-premises consumption". As such, if I understand the Virginia ABC website properly, it would be possible to open a micropub in the Commonwealth.

So while legally possible, I think (this is not legal advice, so don't quote me), there is still a big question pottering around in the back of my head. Would people in central Virginia frequent a place that is essentially an alehouse? My vision for a micropub would literally be a bar in the back corner of the premises, and I like the idea of using empty storefronts on the high street rather than being collocated with the very big box stores that have suffocated so many small towns to the point of becoming commuter dormitories - I won't use the word "community" here. The rest of the space would be a collection of mismatched tables, chairs, and benches, with no table service to speak of - come to the bar, get your drinks, pay for them, and find a space to sit. In the video, I have to admit that I love the idea of The Chapel, a place that is both micropub and bookstore rolled into one.

I can see pretty clearly what I would want my establishment to look like, and at the bar in corner, I'd have maybe 4 taps, constantly rotating through breweries and styles. Given that the license includes the ability to sell wine, sure I have a selection of that available too, though not being much of wine drinker I'd be relying on someone else to help me pick a selection - assuming it would be Mrs V, there would be Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand for sure.

The nagging question at the back of mind however just won't go away...would people get it? Have we as a consumerist society become so accustomed to ease and convenience that the idea of going to a pub and not being able to get a cocktail is too much for some? With people so ready and eager to go online to write a misleading review of your establishment, is it worth trying to do something other than a restaurant with a good beer selection? Do people even just pop out to the pub for a quick drink on their way home from work?

What do you folks think, can micropubs work in small town America?

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

What a Pickle

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about some of my favourite Czech pub snacks, which left me in something of an nostalgic reverie. When Mrs V and I lived in Prague our Sunday tradition was to take a number 6, 8, or 26 tram from Masarykovo nádraží to Strossmayerovo náměstí and from there a number 17 to Trojská. Once at Trojská we would walk along the river, practically to the zoo and then cross the river Vltava into the expansive Stromovka park, once the hunting grounds of toffs. Having walked through Stromovka we would be near Letenské náměstí and would often have brunch at a restaurant called Fraktal before continuing our walk through the park at Letna, then down the hill, across Čechův most, and into Prague's Old Town to find a pub to sit in and fritter away the afternoon.

As a result of both the reverie and my post, I decided I needed to make some utopenci again. As I mentioned in the post, "utopenec" (singular) translates as "drowned man" in Czech, a name that allegedly comes from a Bohemian story about a pub owner and miller. The legend goes that in the town of Beroun, coincidentally one of Mrs V and I's favourite day trips from Prague for their ceramic festival, there once lived a man by the name of Šamánek, whose boozer was well regarded for the quality of the pickled sausages it served. One day, our friend Šamánek was making repairs to the waterwheel that powered his mill and had the misfortune of falling into the water and drowning. Henceforth the pickled sausages sold at his pub were called, rather darkly, after his misfortune to become a drowned man.

Several friends asked if I could share with them how to make utopenci (plural), and so when I got round to making a new batch at the weekend, I figured I'd take some pictures and put it all here. So...for the recipe you will need:

  • 1 packet of spicy smoked sausage
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 Hungarian wax peppers
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 0.5 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 0.5 teaspoon allspice berries
  • 0.5 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 4 or 5 bay leaves

The traditional Czech sausage used in utopenci is called a špekáček (singular), which is a short, fat smoked sausage that is a mix of beef and pork. The Wegman's Smoked Hungarian style sausage below is the closest I have found to špekáčky (plural).

Before dealing with the sausages themselves though, we need to make the brine. In a smallish pot, mix the vinegar, water, salt, sugar, and spices then bring to the boil. Boil hard for 3 minutes, remove the pot from the heat, and let the brine cool. You don't want to pour boiling brine over the sausages, we are pickling not cooking them remember.

While the brine is cooling, prepare the sausages and vegetables. I cut one end off the sausages purely so they fit better in the type of jar I generally use. Finely slice the onions and peppers.

Next up split the sausages lengthwise without cutting all the way through to the other side and stuff them with slices of onion and pepper.

Once the brine is lukewarm, it is time to fill your jar with more sliced onions and peppers, and add the stuffed sausages so that you have a pretty well packed jar.

Before pouring the brine into the jar, I take a spoon to remove the allspice, peppercorns, and bay leaves, which I then add to the jar so they can macerate further and add more flavour. Gently pour in the brine to cover the sausages completely, using a chopstick or similar to allow the spices to penetrate further into the jar. Once full, tap the jar on the counter surface a few times to get rid of any air pockets.

Pop a lid on the jar and put it into the fridge to forget about for at least 10 days, though 2 weeks is my preferred minimum.

When it is time to eat them, just pull out a sausage, some of the veggies, which will have pickled nicely as well, and serve with a dollop of mustard, a couple of slices of seeded rye bread, and a half litre of some properly made Bohemian style pilsner, Pilsner Urquell would do the trick nicely.

Note: there is another theory as to the origin of the name, but it is less prosaic and hence, sadly, more likely, simply that the floating sausages look like drowned men. Meh, I prefer the story of Šamánek.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Through a Glass Darkly

According to one Dr Schulze, writing in 1890, "you shouldn't drink beer out of beer glasses". Schulze went on to state that the traditional German bierkrug was far superior as it protects the liquid from the deleterious effects of sunlight. This fact might seem fairly obvious to us here in the first quarter of the 21st century, but in late 19th century central Europe, this was cause for much concern and investigation.

It was in the decades following the creation of Pilsner Urquell, and the subsequent revolution in brewing as from the North Sea to the Black Sea, from the Baltics to the Balkans brewers turned their attention to mimicking Josef Groll's golden lager, that glass became a more common sight on the table of drinking dens across Europe. The industralisation of glassmaking, which resulted in a more affordable vessel, coupled with the sparkling bright transparent nature of the new fangled lagers, made being able to see you beer as you drank all the rage.

However, looks came at a price. If you didn't drink quick enough then the sunlight streaming through your golden pint, then your beer would start to "decompose" and the beer loses its condition "extremely quickly".

Step into the breach then one Wilhelm/Vilem Havlík, master brewer at the Kročehlav brewery near Kladno, about 19 miles/30km from Prague. According to an article in Der Böhmisches Bierbrauer from February 15, 1893, yes I have been browsing around the newspaper archive of the Austrian National Library again, Havlík invented "new, practical beer glasses".

The article claims that a "polish beer glass, in which the rays of light collect at certain points, is the least suitable beer container, since the harmful effects of the light are increased". The article goes on to suggest filling a ceramic krug and a transparent beer glass with beer, leaving them for 15 minutes before tasting. The ceramic is "still fresh and appetising", while the beer in the glass has "lost aroma and sharpness".

If I understand the article correctly, Havlík's glass was entirely opaque, other than for a clear base that would allow the drinker to check the clarity of the beer. The patent submitted by Havlík notes that the glass is entirely lead free and as such replaced the recommendation of a Director Schnitze to drink from gold or silver cups.

A fun element of the design is that these glasses had a "rough, etched plate or strip" upon which the drinker can write their name or some other note whilst at the pub to keep the same glass for the duration of their stay. Finishing off the piece, the editors of Der Böhmisches Bierbrauer hoped that the new glass would soon be available in drinking dens throughout Bohemia.

I couldn't find any definite examples of such glasses as I searching, whether on Ebay or Google, so if anyone knows of any out there it would be fascinating to see. However, it is clear (pun maybe intended), that the idea had very little long term impact as transparent glassware is the norm, though it does also show how little things change across the years, as even in the 1890s people were coming up with new and improved glassware.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Local or for Locals?

It is a mere 7.2 miles, via the back roads of Virginia, from my house to my local brewery, Patch Brewing, by far the quickest and easiest place for me to get to for a pint. I took advantage of this fact several times this holiday season, whether it was afternoon drinkies with my neighbour on Christmas Eve, getting my boys out of the house to run around in the kids play area on Boxing Day, or just having an afternoon drink with Mrs V and the boys whilst playing ludo in the main bar.

Patch has been open for a little over a year now, housed in a former VFW hall on something like 15 acres of land just outside Gordonsville. Their plans include things such as pick you own berries and walking trails in the woods to complement the existing pair of bars, I am a big fan of the outside space though it is sadly closed for winter right now. The brewery itself, and the main tap room area, are housed in the actual VFW hall, an open space with dartboards, a juke box, and trestle tables that remind me of central European beer halls.

When it comes to the beer itself, Erik is really starting to come into his own now that he has his brewhouse set up and has been brewing on it for about 6 months. Erik's previous job was working at the Devils Backbone Brewing Basecamp, and before that at Three Notch'd Brewing in Charlottesville. As such, he has worked under two of the best brewers I know in Jason Oliver and Dave Warwick respectively. An example of this would be his porter that I recently tried again over the holidays having not been wildly impressed when I had it on opening, it was excellent. Testament to the fact that it pays to give a brewer time to work out how to make his system work for him before passing judgement.

It was on my Christmas Eve trip to Patch that I was stood at the bar, there was basically no one there other than myself, my neighbour, and the general manager, who was tending the bar that day. I've know the GM for quite some time now, initially through the local homebrew club, but also as he has been in the beer industry for the best part of a decade I think at this point. The rest of the bar staff know me as a pilsner drinker, and Erik's Pylon Pilsner is definitely my most regular tipple at Patch, but the GM knew what I was there for, their "copper ale", which in my mind treads a fine line between dark mild and the kind of darker best bitter you get in the south of England.

As we chatted, I asked what the brewery's top sellers are. Pylon comes second to Lempicky Light Lager, an American light lager brewed with Murphy & Rude malted corn. When I tried it in the early days of autumn, having stumbled over the name several times (it is lem-piky, not the lem-pitz-ky my Czech brain reads it as), I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, nicely refreshing, not wildly bitter, but also not bland in the slightest. In discussing the Lempicky, the GM noted that part of Patch's ethos is to make beer "for local people" rather than just being "local" by virtue of proximity.

I have to admit I really like that approach, as well as the fact that the malted corn used in Lempicky is grown and malted locally too, with Murphy & Rude being less than 20 miles from the brewery. Outside of bigger urban areas, Gordonsville proper has a population of about 1500, and away from major tourist haunts, breweries need to cater more closely to the tastes of the local populace, and as such have a broad selection of styles rather than going deep into a particular style. In Charlottesville you can afford to have your taps dominated by IPAs because you are always going to have transient business by virtue of it being the local major hub and a tourist destination.

This also got me thinking about how so many of the beer styles we love and take for granted are a combination of location in a physical sense and locale in a population sense. Take Pilsner Urquell, its location has insanely soft water, which extracts less colour from malt than the hard water of London, for example, and is a key element in what made it such a revolutionary beer. Yet, from my understanding of the history, the brewery was started because the people of Plzeň were drinking more and more imported lager type beer from Bavaria. The good burghers of the city basically decided they wanted a slice of the action, and thus gave the people something they wanted, and the world a new beer style into the bargain.

When I was a student, back in the dim and distant past of the 20th century, one of the things that came up in homiletics classes - yes, I studied to be a preacher - was the importance of understanding your audience, which is basically analogous to understanding your customer. When the majority of your customers come from your locale, presenting them with something they understand and like is key. Sure they may never become a dedicated craft drinker with a penchant for hazy IPAs, but if they become a loyal drinker of your light lager then you have gained both a customer and an advocate, and that can only be a good thing.

Being "local" is all good and well, but I feel as though being "for locals" is better.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Year of Czech...Snacks

I wish I could remember where I read it, I thought it might be Vinepair, but I can't find the article there. Apparently 2023 is to be the "year of Czech beer" in the context of the writer discussing Schilling's very respectable polotmavý ležák, Augustin.

That phrase "year of Czech beer" had me conflicted however. On the one hand, yes I would love to see more traditional Bohemian style beers, whether světlé, polotmavé, or tmavé, at whatever strength category is in order, lehké (8° or less), výčepní (8°-10°), ležák (11°-12°), speciální (13°+), or porter if it's dark and over 18°. On the other hand, I dread the market being swamped with second rate brews, trading on the popularity/trendiness of Czech beer, a pale lager hopped with Saaz does not a Bohemian pilsner make, neither yet does adding a slug of Carafa to your "pilsner" recipe make a tmavé.

Inevitably, along with screeds about how Czech beer is the IT beer of 2023 will come the "hanger-on" content around what foods pair with what beers, how the Lukr tap is "traditional" (retro-revival is far more accurate), and the mythological dumping of beer by the good citizens of Pilsen that is claimed to be the catalyst for the advent of Pilsner Urquell.

What I would love to see though in all the inevitable content, is an appreciation of broader Czech pub culture and the kind of things you are likely to see or get in a Czech boozer - preferably one outside of Prague 1, 2, and the posh bits of 3. In particular it would thrill my heart to walk into a brewpub that is showcasing a triple decoction světlý ležák, hopped to the nines with Saaz, open fermented, extensive horizontal lagering, and be able to order an "utopenec" or "drowned man". 

Utopenci (plural here, hence change in spelling) are pickled sausages, served with a slice or two of rye bread, some of the onions from the pickling liquor, and a good dollop of mustard. They were one of my absolute favourite bar snacks when I lived in Czechia, usually fished out of a great jar behind the bar, and served with little ceremony. In my unhumble opinion you need to get out of Prague altogether to find truly great utopenci, from memory the ones I had in Velké Hamry were superb. In a fit of ostalgia (not a typo) last year I decided to make my own...

The method itself is pure simplicity, split some spicy sausages, in this case Hungarian style smoked paprika sausages from Wegmans, slice a couple of onions and Hungarian wax peppers, layering them in a clean container with an airtight lid. For the brine I made a mixture of white vinegar, salt, a tiny bit of sugar, along with a bay leaf, a few allspice berries, and some black peppercorns, boiled it for a few minutes then let it cool to blood temperature. Once the brine had cooled, pour it over the sausages, onions, and peppers, and seal up your container, then put it in the fridge for a couple of weeks to mature. Some recipes include thinly sliced chili peppers, but I didn't have any, so I didn't use them. The great thing about peasant snacks is recipes are wonderfully flexible depending on what is in your cupboard.

Another gastronomic treasure to be found in many a Czech pub is nakládaný hermelín, which really means "marinated heremlín", "hermelín" is a soft cheese in the mold of brie. Evan Rail best described it in his article for Vinepair as "a type of gooey, marinated soft cheese that serves as a popular beer snack in the atmospheric beer halls of Prague". Again, this is something that Mrs V and I make fairly often, even though, as the article notes, here in central Virginia we have to replace the hermelín with brie.

As you can see from the picture, the brie is split in half, and a paste of garlic and paprika, add a little cayenne if you like a touch of heat, is smeared on the revealed cheese. The halves are then put back together and stacked in a sterile glass jar with onions and wax peppers, lots of onions - I think we used 4 large ones in this batch. Added to jar are a couple of bay leaves, some allspice berries, and black peppercorns - are you seeing a flavour theme here yet? The jar is then filled with oil, the blandest, most neutral oil you can find, and left to sit in the fridge for 10 days to 2 weeks. What comes out of the jar is an unctuous, pungent cheese that spreads easily on a slab of rye bread, best enjoyed with a half litre of whatever style of Bohemian beer is your fancy that day.

Bread...the staff of life, and Czech bread, chleb, in particular is something I loved. The standard loaf in Czechia is a dense, brown rye bread, that sticks to your ribs, and goes with absolutely everything. I never understood expats who didn't like it, and I even knew one who had his friends from the UK bring British bread over when they came to visit. Anyway, Czech bread looks kind of like this version I baked last year:

Another of my favourite pub snacks in Czechia is half a loaf of this kind of bread, sliced most of the way through, served warm, and with a pot of škvarková pomazánka, basically an egg, gherkin, and mustard spread that includes "škvarký" - the cooked, unrenderable bits left over from making lard from belly pork. This video shows the process far better than I can explain it, suffice to say it is fecking delicious, spread on the warm bread...I need to make more lard soon...

As I said earlier, if I were to walk into a taproom showcasing Czech beers and any of these snack were also available, I'd be in heaven. The best foods to pair with Czech beer are Czech foods, they go hand in hand so perfectly.

Tour de Pils

In the Before Times, I went to Texas, San Antonio to be precise. With a day of conferencing behind me, I found a bar in which to have dinner...