Okay, I goofed. As part of the first post of Beer Culture, I promised a review of the Christmas beer at Prague’s Klášterní pivovar Strahov (Strahov Monastery Brewery). By the time I got up there last week, it was gone, completely sold out and no longer available. Promiňte! I’ve tried this beer several times over the past few years and it’s always seemed to last longer than this — and it’s always been worth the trip. But, due to the typical holiday rush, the 2007 version escaped me. Give me another eleven months and I’ll make it up to you.
As an alternative, here’s a tasting report on two other special beers from Strahov, both of which I tried recently from bottles.
Sv. Norbert Podzimní Tmavé / Autumn Dark 16° (pictured above). From the label: “An all-malt, bottom-fermented beer brewed from the fresh harvest of hops.” This is a clear, very dark amber brewed at 16°, or 1.065, and ending up with 6.3% ABV. It’s topped with a loose, sandy-colored head that doesn’t stick around for too long. The fruity, aromatic nose hints of raspberries and hashish. It has a lush mouthfeel and a full, bittersweet malt rush in the mouth, followed by a lasting, toasty finish. This beer has less coffee flavors than most Czech darks, and additional sips uncover rich licorice and cola notes. Outstanding.
Sv. Norbert Pšeničné / Weizen 13°. This wheat beer pours a cloudy deep gold with a thick, creamy white head. From the bottle, it appears less fizzy than the version on tap. The bouquet has a mysteriously spicy, almost animal scent. In the mouth it has a rich, honey-scented malt-wheat body and minimal citrus flavors which finish with a peppery clove note. Arguably the best wheat beer in the country. I believe it has benefited substantially from bottle-conditioning, and I would prefer this version to the one on draft.
It’s interesting to note that there is only one rating for the Autumn Dark at Ratebeer, and only four ratings exist for the wheat beer, though the brewery’s standard amber special is ranked as the second-best beer in the country (coming only after the unfiltered Pilsner Urquell served at the end of the brewery tour). When I went to Strahov, there was another less-common beer on tap, the Sv. Norbert Světlé 12°, a classic golden lager with a bitter hop finish that I enjoyed immensely.
There are only two caveats to visiting Strahov, both of which stem from the same root problem, that the clientele is largely composed of foreign tourists, often in large, noisy groups. First of all, this means that service can be indifferent at best and even quite unfriendly, in the case of at least one waiter in the brewpub restaurant. Second, as I mentioned in the guidebook, the price-portion ratio is also geared towards tourists, with a smallish .4-liter glass of draft beer costing 59 Kč (at current rates, $3.30 / £1.70 / €2.27), and a .5-liter bottle of Weizen, the only bottle they had available on my most recent visit, priced at 100 Kč.
By local standards, that’s very expensive beer. As I wrote earlier, a .5-liter glass (or půllitr, the standard serving) of great polotmavé pivo costs 25 Kč at Prague’s newest brewpub, Pivovar Bašta. A half-liter of good Budvar, Bernard or Svijany can also be as cheap as 25 Kč in the center of Prague, and much less in the outskirts. But the Strahov beers certainly offer something more than your average pint of lager, and only you can decide if the pivo is worth the price.