Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Dark Thoughts Abound

Tmavé, the Czech style dark lager, has been on my mind a lot recently.

Not just because Morana is available at Devils Backbone Basecamp at the moment, I don't believe it is on at either of their other locations, Outpost in Lexington or Back Yard in Charlottesville, but hopefully it will be at some point. Also not just because I am planning to brew my own version of Morana, that I call Černý Lev (that's Black Lion for the non-Czech speakers), at some point in the nearish future as I have started doing decoction mashes with my homebrew. These two facts though are related to my pondering...but first a quick jaunt back in time, to last November.


I went back to Prague, which you probably know as I posted about some of the beers and pubs I went to, but I didn't write about every pub or even every beer I had in the pubs I did write about. While I did write about the perfect session at Hostomická Nelevarna, I didn't mention that I had a couple of half litres of Hostomice's delightful Fabián Tmavý 14°. To my mind it is one of the best dark lagers being brewed in Czechia today and certainly one of my favourites. As my group of friends and I discussed the finer points of Czech beer in general, it was mentioned that Fabián Tmavý is not a classic Czech dark lager, because the proportions of Pilsner and Munich malt are reversed.

In my homebrew version of Morana, which is basically the same other than using CaraMunich I rather than CaraBohemian, which I can't see to find in any of the online homebrew stores, the grain bill is:
  • 74% Bohemian Pilsner
  • 11% Munich
  • 11% CaraMunich I
  • 4% Carafa III Special
Initially, I was shocked at the idea of using so much Munich malt in a tmavé, but also deeply intrigued by how such a beer would turn out. I imagine it would be richer, with a deep malt character, a more intense breadiness, and would probably take an extra wallop of hops to give the balance I would expect. As I was pondering, and reading the Pivovar Hostomice description of Fabián Tmavý, a phrase jumped out at me, that I think I probably just glossed over previously, "Tmavé speciální pivo bavorského typu", which translates as "special dark beer, of the Bavarian type". The description continues...

"K výrobě tohoto speciálu bylo použito čtyř druhů sladů, což zaručuje plnou, výrazně sladovou, chuť a však bez sladkého doznívání většiny českých, tmavých, piv. Toto pivo je nečekaně výrazně chmelenoa výrazná hořkost udílí tomuto pivu nečekanou pitelnost. Tmavé pivo, které Vás překvapí."

Which translates as:

"Four types of malt were used to produce this special, which guarantees a full, distinctly malty taste, but without the sweet aftertaste of most Czech dark beers. This beer is unexpectedly very hoppy and the strong bitterness gives this beer an unexpected drinkability. A dark beer that will surprise you."

So, we still have the 4 types of malt, just with more Munich than Pilsner from what I was told, and big dose of hoppiness and bitterness to make the beer more drinkable. For reference, Morana has about 25 IBUs. I decided to create a new recipe for Černý Lev, taking into account the markers laid down by Hostomice, so here goes:
  • 70% Munich
  • 15% Bohemian Pilsner
  • 10% CaraMunich I
  • 5% Carafa III Special
  • 25 IBUs Saaz for 60 minutes
  • 13 IBUs Saaz for 30 minutes
  • 2 IBUs Saaz for 5 minutes
  • Saflager 34/70 Yeast
My aim would be to keep to 14°, as that seems to be the sweet spot of the modern tmavé, including the direct inspiration for Morana - the much missed Kout na Šumavě.

There is, however, a question that keeps pottering through my mind, and I am being vaguely cynical with this question. As I plan to get back into entering homebrew competitions this year, do I enter this particular beer in the Czech dark lager category or do I take my lead from Hostomice and enter it as a Munich Dunkel, given the phrase that this is a dark beer "of the Bavarian type"? 

Monday, January 8, 2024

Rauchbier Revival?

Tis January, so 2 things must be true, I am taking the month off the booze, and I am diving into the Austrian National Library's online newspaper archives looking at the sometimes weird, but often wonderful world of brewing in Central Europe prior to World War 1.

I really don't take a structured approach to my, ahem, "research", usually preferring to just to enter a keyword or phrase, select the publication I want to look at, and start scanning through images. Just a side note, I find these kind of publications so enlightening about the brewing, and broader, world at the time, as opposed to reading technical brewing treatises. In particular I love trade ads in journals like Der Böhmisches Bierbrauer, Gambrinus Brauerei und Hopfen Zeitung, or Saazer Hopfenzeitung und Lokaler Anzeiger as they give you a picture of the ingredients, machinery, and assorted allied products being made and sold in Central Europe.

Anyway, purely on a whim, I decided to see what I would get if I typed "rauch" into the advanced search, pre-filtering to Der Böhmisches Bierbrauer. There were 115 results returned, and so I decided to sort further by searching on "rauchbier" specifically, which gave me this single result from October 26th 1909:


The headline in bold there declares there is a "Re-emergence of "self-malting"", going on, quoting an article from Bamberg in the "Allgemeine Anzeige für Brauer und Mälzer" which, assuming the translation is reasonable accurate goes on to say:
"The depressed situation of the small breweries is now leading them to return to the old arrangement of malting themselves. Over the years, people have gotten used to getting the malt ready from the malt factory. Today's cheap (?) barley price offers the hand for a return to the old system and so the old Bavarian smoked beer will soon appear again. Whether this will prove successful remains to be seen in the future."

If this report is correct, smaller breweries in Bavaria were going back to malting their own grains because the cost of the raw materials was sufficiently low to make this economical again, rather than buying their malt from the likes of Weyermann, whose maltings is massive pile right next to the railway station in Bamberg.

What jumped out most to me though was that the relative low cost of barley could lead to the return of "the old Bavarian smoked beer". This raises the question then, did rauchbier die out in Bavaria in the latter 19th century and only revive when breweries starting taking back the ability to make their own malt, as, for example, Schlenkerla continue to do so to this day?

Another question this raises is, were malting companies such as Weyermann not providing rauchmalz and thus the beer died out? Was there customer demand for rauchbier to the extent that any other malting company at the time was providing rauchmalz?

As ever, more questions than answers at this point, but if we can take this report at face value, it looks possible that rauchbier as we know it today could so easily have gone the way of grodziskie, broyhan, and Braunschweiger mumme, but for the alleged fact that barley was cheap in the years running up to World War 1.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Pubs in AI

For those that don't know, my day job is as a Product Manager in the world of academic publishing. As with any other software based industry, artificial intelligence is becoming part and parcel of the work we do, so I spend a decent amount of time playing with various tools like ChatGPT, Bard, and DALL-E.

I had been messing about with Bing's DALL-E powered Image Creator for a few hours when I hit upon the idea of using it and ChatGPT in tandem, basically having ChatGPT to summarise a body of text into a prompt of fewer than 50 words to enter into Image Creator.

I decided to take the text of my post back in August describing my dream pub, and initially ChatGPT gave me the following prompt:

Imagine a North Atlantic dream pub with church-like simplicity, perched by the ocean. Picture a cozy interior featuring a great hall structure, discrete spaces, and a roaring fireplace. Capture the North Atlantic ambiance with clouds, sea bird cries, and the scent of the ocean. Envision a community-friendly space, welcoming children responsibly, with a wall of books and a local-focused drink and food selection. Embrace the comfort, camaraderie, and North Atlantic charm of this dream pub.

Image Creator then generated 4 images based on the prompt, of which this one I felt was closest to the prompt.


My initial thought with this particular image was that the church was too ornate for what I was thinking off when I described the simple Calvinist architecture of many a North Atlantic church, so I asked ChatGPT to refine the prompt further, resulting in:

Imagine a serene North Atlantic dream pub, its simple coastal church design nestled by the ocean. Picture a warm interior with a great hall layout, inviting spaces, and a crackling fireplace. Feel the North Atlantic ambiance with clouds, sea bird sounds, and the scent of the ocean. Visualize a welcoming community space, children embraced responsibly, featuring books, local drinks, and hearty food. Sense the comfort, camaraderie, and pure charm of this dream pub.

The best of the resulting images was this one, and it was definitely closer.

I still felt that the building was too grand, and too obviously a church, so I asked ChatGPT to target the kind of very simple churches you see in rural Iceland.

Envision a serene North Atlantic dream pub, mirroring the simplicity of Hellnar, Iceland's church. By the ocean, it offers a humble layout with cozy spaces, a crackling fireplace, and the North Atlantic's natural charm. A warm community space welcomes all, featuring books, local drinks, and hearty food. Embrace the comfort and camaraderie of this unpretentious dream pub.

Finally I felt as though the best image of the 4 provided got to the heart of the kind of pub I had in mind when I wrote my post.


I shared this image on several of my socials, and the reaction has been mostly positive, that this kind of pub would appeal to people that follow me.

Not wanting to rest on my laurels, I decided I would see if AI could give me an accurate image of a real pub I have described in a post, starting with a post from my last trip to Scotland in 2019, when I had a night out with Mrs V in the public bar of the Station Hotel in Alness. The text based prompt that ChatGPT spat out was:

Generate a nostalgic image of a traditional Scottish pub: teal blue doors, worn wooden interior, patrons enjoying Tennent's lager. Capture the lively atmosphere, groups of working men, and the couple at the bar. Emphasize the charm, gaming machine, and the essence of camaraderie in this Highland pub scene.

Bing's closest response was this.


Whilst not an absolute match, if you have spent any time drinking in a Highland hotel's public bar, you will definitely recognise the scene, and it actually makes me feel nostalgic for home.

With so many pubs visited over the years, I think that this kind of fun will be something I do pretty often. and see how the technology, and my ability to create prompts improves.

Best Beer Ever!

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