On Wednesday, November 19, the Sdružení přátel piva held its annual awards ceremony for the greatest beers, breweries, and the best brewmaster in the Czech Republic.
Often rendered in English as the Union of Friends of Beer, the SPP is the Czech beer consumers’ organization, a counterpart to the Campaign for Real Ale and other fellow members of the European Beer Consumers Union, similarly working to promote quality beer and preserve local beer traditions. Though there are many beer awards in the lager-loving Czech Republic, the SPP awards are among the most prestigious and most anticipated such ceremonies on the Czech beer calendar.
The awards, handed out this year inside the cozy beer hall on the Budweiser Budvar brewery grounds, went to the following:
For 10° (desítka) beer of the year — a category of beers of moderate alcohol and the most commonly consumed type of beer in the country — the winners were:
First Place: Moravské Sklepní nefiltrované from Černá Hora
Second place: Pardál světlé výčepní pivo from Budvar
Third place: Budweiser Budvar světlé výčepní pivo
For 11° (jedenáctka) beer of the year — a category of medium body and alcohol — the winners were:
First Place: Ležák 11° from Pivovar Klášter
Second place: Otakar ležák from Polička
Third place: Svijanský Maz from Svijany
For 12° (dvanáctka) beer of the year — premium lagers of the classic “Bohemian Pilsner” style — the winners were:
First Place: Sváteční ležák from Bernard
Second place: Pilsner Urquell
Third place: Opat from Pivovar Broumov
For Speziál of the year — a category of higher-gravity special lagers — the winners were:
First Place: Primátor Exklusiv 16° from Pivovar Náchod
Second place: Kvasar from Černá Hora
Third place: Démon from Lobkowicz
For dark beer of the year:
First Place: Budweiser Budvar tmavý ležák
Second place: Speciální černé pivo from Bernard
Third place: Svijanská Kněžna from Svijany
For polotmavý pivo of the year — half-dark and amber lagers — the winners were:
First Place: Skalák from Rohozec
Second place: Primátor Pale Ale from Pivovar Náchod
Third place: Primátor polotmavé 13° from Pivovar Náchod
For non-alcoholic beer of the year — a growth category in the Czech lands — the winners were:
First Place: Bernard Free Jantar (amber)
Second place: Bernard Free (pale)
Third place: Svijanská Vozka from Svijany
For minipivovar of the year — “mini brewery,” aka “brewpub” — the winners were:
First Place: Prague’s Klášterní Pivovar Strahov
Second place: Pivovarský dvůr Chýně
Third place: Malostranský pivovar in Velké Meziříčí
For brewery of the year:
First Place: Svijany
Second place: Budweiser Budvar
Third place: Pivovar Náchod (Primátor)
For sládek roku, brewmaster of the year:
Ing. Josef Tolar from Budweiser Budvar
In addition to the awards, there were plenty of great brews on hand. Klášterní Pivovar Strahov brought its wonderful Autumn Dark, made with this year’s fresh Saaz hop harvest, which tasted even better — with much more hop bite in the finish — than last year’s version; the brewery’s excellent wheat beer provided a nice light counterpoint. Both the 11° and 12° pale lagers from Pivovar Polička were on draft, as was just about everything from Budweiser Budvar; the only Budvar beer I didn’t see there was the oft-maligned Bud Super Strong.
After the awards ceremony, the attendees went on a tour of the Budweiser Budvar brewery led by brewmaster Josef Tolar himself. I’ve been on the public tour at Budvar before, but this was the first time I saw so much behind the scenes and got to ask so many questions. (Q: What hops are used in the new love-it-or-hate-it Pardál? A: 100% Czech hops of the Angus variety, due to its higher alpha-acid content than the traditional Saaz hops used in Budvar. Q: When did Budvar complete its switch from open fermenters to cyclindro-conical tanks? A: 1996.)
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to stop in Budvar’s chmelárna, or hop room, which was a bit of a disappointment: Garrett Oliver once described the intensity of the hop aroma getting stronger and stronger as you take the slow freight elevator down into the chmelárna, and how the scent of all those hops — Budvar uses only whole Saaz hop flowers, no pellets or extracts — is nearly overwhelming once you’re actually in the room.
It was a great day out. Members of the Polish Bractwo Piwne, another European Beer Consumers Union member group, were also in attendance, as was Toshi Ishii, brewmaster from Japan’s Yo-Ho Brewing Co. I asked Miroslav Šmejda of Primátor about the brewery’s new stout, who said to look for it in Prague at Kaufland stores sometimes next month. Everyone seemed to have a great time: winners, losers, and especially lovers of great Czech beer.
And then, just a few minutes before we were supposed to take the bus back to Prague, Zbyněk Holan and Tomáš Maier from SPP told me to come with them. As the party continued, Mr. Tolar broke away from the celebrations and led us back across the darkened brewery grounds. He made a quick call on his mobile. A moment later, a Budvar employee arrived, opening the doors to the freight elevator for the hop room.