The Czech newspaper Lidové noviny reported this summer on Bohemia Classic, a new Czech beer maker which doesn’t yet have a brewery. The thrust of the story was that four former employees from Prague’s Staropramen had founded a new brewery to take on their former company.
Considering that Bohemia Classic currently has to rent kettle time at North Bohemia’s Pivovar Konrad in order to produce their beer, it seems unlikely that the upstarts will do much harm to the country’s second-largest brewer, part of global megaproducer InBev. But to judge by taste alone, Bohemia Classic has already pulled ahead of the brand from Smíchov. In fact, Bohemia Classic seems to be one of the rare cases when a beer actually lives up to its name.
Called tradiční výčepní světlé pivo, or “traditional taproom pale beer,” this version has 4% alcohol, putting it in the range of a Czech 10° lager, or perhaps, it’s whispered, a bit closer to an 11°. From the bottle, purchased at Prague’s Pivní galerie, it pours a very pretty clear gold with a loose white head. The aroma is of whole grain barley, with a light yeast note in the background. In the mouth, it has an 11°’s medium malt fullness with a lightly flowery hop aroma and a lasting dry bitter finish.
Is it groundbreaking? No way. In every measurable sense, this is a traditional — even classic — Czech pale lager, perfect for drinking with lunch or while trying to reel in some fish on a South Bohemian riverbank. It’s not innovative, it’s not new, it’s not oak-aged and it’s not cold-hopped. It’s certainly not trendy or stylish. But it is a great little beer.
And sometimes, that’s all you want.
As for the tale about former Staropramen employees, the real story is that Bohemia Classic’s brewer and co-owner Milan Bílek is a legendary figure in Czech brewing well beyond Prague 5. Check the history of Pivovar Ferdinand at Pivovary.info and you’ll see that Mr. Bílek was the sixteenth brewer there since 1897, responsible for Ferdinand’s Sedm kulí (“Seven Bullets”), a popular 13° amber lager named after the number of shots fired by Gavrilo Princip at the brewery’s former owner, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.
Other than that celebrated takedown, I don’t think anyone is bringing down the big boys anytime soon: you’ll be hard-pressed to find this beer much beyond rare bottles at Pivní galerie. Beerborec.cz lists it at just a few places in town, one of which is the Bohemia Classic Bar at Kandertova 12 in Praha 8-Libeň, not far from Richter Brewery.
If you get a chance, try it. And if you’d like to try it tomorrow night, Bohemia Classic is just one of seven great beers we’ll be sampling on Thursday at our beer tasting and seminar in the wine cellar of Essensia restaurant, inside the Mandarin Oriental hotel, along with Primátor’s new stout and several other exciting brews.