Otherwise known as Březňák, Pivovar Velké Březno has one of the strangest and most tragic histories in the Czech lands. Located in the Czech-German border region that was once called the Sudetenland, for most of its early existence the brewery had a pronouncedly German clientele. Now, returning to its roots, the brewery has launched an excellent new beer for the German market: the so-called Doppel-Doppel Bock.
Of course, it’s never quite that simple when the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia and the Holocaust are concerned, and Březňák is so weirdly mixed up in the situation that as you hear the story it’s hard to remember which level of irony you’ve reached. For example, this brewery proudly supplied beer to Rommel’s Afrikakorps throughout the war. But the man who posed for the picture on the label, Victor Cibich, aka Zippich — the very image of a once-Nazi brewery — was actually a German-speaking Czech Jew. And yes, it gets even weirder from there.
But first: the beer. I found this one at Pivní galerie, where owner Petr Vaněk said he thought it was one of the last such bottles in the country. (Though afterwards, I saw a few more at the new “Beer Gallery” bottle shop on Nerudova, which I’ll write about another time.) It is a German 500-milliliter bottle, and virtually everything on the label is in German, claiming that this is perhaps the first Doppel-Doppel Bock in the world, and noting that it was brewed at 21° and that it contains 10% alcohol by volume. Unlike most beers of this strength in the Czech Republic, it does not list added sugar as an ingredient: just water, malt, hops, hop extract and yeast.
Doppel-Doppel Bock (10% ABV) Clear amber with a thick, sandy head that makes a good effort to stick around, despite the high-alcohol odds. Very light carbonation. A nose of straw and nutty sweetness hinting at candied walnuts. In the mouth it is vinous, sweet and full without being cloying, lacking the saccharine aftertaste of most added-sugar strong beers. Instead, there is a lasting natural syrup with maple and honey notes that finishes with a pleasant hop tang. Additional sips bring out notes of almonds and baked apples. Remarkably well-incorporated alcohol for 10%. This is definitely a sipper, a winter warmer, and probably the best beer brewed at this strength in the country.
Tasting it, I was definitely impressed, and at several moments it struck me less like a beer than like something I would pour on pancakes — it is that syrupy. It is apparently not very well-known, as it was not listed on Březňák’s beers at Ratebeer.com. It seems a pity that this beer is not more widely available, but perhaps things will change. I’ve given a bottle to Max Bahnson, who’s planning to write about it soon.
Oh, and the rest of the story: so Pivovar Velké Březno supplied beer to the Afrikakorps, despite having adopted a Jewish man’s face for its logo as early as 1906. Victor Cibich himself died in 1916; his wife, Auguste, passed away in 1938. They left behind two grown-up sons, Bruno and Paul, who, as Jews, were sent to concentration camps during the war. Against all odds, the two Cibich boys survived and returned to Velké Březno after the war. But after a scant few months at home, they were forced to leave in the anti-German purges of 1946. That is to say: they were first expelled by the Germans for being Jews, and then they were expelled by the Czechs for being Germans. Bruno and Paul Cibich settled in Nuremberg, Germany, where they died within a few days of each other, in 1967.