Beer aficionados tend to go for extremes: the highest-rated and most sought-after beers listed on sites like BeerAdvocate and RateBeer are often extremely high in alcohol, extremely bitter, extremely sour — or some combination of all three.
But your average beer drinker isn’t into extremes. Most people who want a beer — here in Prague and elsewhere — pretty much want “just a beer.” In this country, the pint they reach for most often is Gambrinus, which occupies 25% of the Czech market between its two brands, Gambrinus Světlý and Gambrinus Premium, equivalent to 10° and 12° pale lagers.
Now the country’s most popular brand has expanded its lineup to a full troika with the new Gambrinus Excelent, also a pale lager, albeit at 11°. However, this beer is much more of a departure from its two stablemates than it sounds.
While the first two Gambrinus beers are actually variations on a single stronger beer brewed at 13° and then diluted to approximate the grades of 10° and 12°, Gambrinus 11° Excelent is brewed separately — and not at such a higher gravity, according to brewmaster Jan Hlaváček. While there can be some dilution, he said, it is on the scale of 0.2% or so, and only to ensure a standardization in the final product.
“We would like to be sure that it is exactly 11.3°,” Mr. Hlaváček said, referring to the equivalent percentage of sugars present before the beer’s fermentation.
Another difference: Gambrinus 11° Excelent is brewed with caramel malt, which is not in the other Gambrinus beers, using a traditional double-decoction mash. It is hopped with two doses of Sládek hops and a final late dose of the great Žatecký poloraný červeňák hops, all Czech varieties, all in the form of pellets.
So how does it taste?
Surprisingly nice. In appearance, it is a medium gold that at first glance could even pass for Pilsner Urquell, with a very thick white head that lasts and lasts. It has fine carbonation, approaching fizziness. The nose gives up notes of caramel and whole grains. In the mouth there’s a lightly sugary body — a perfect Czech “medium” — with notes of maize and just a hint of maple syrup with a very moderate hop bitterness, finishing more on the sweet than the bitter side.
Don’t get me wrong: Gambrinus 11° Excelent isn’t going to please everyone, and certainly not most hardcore beer fans. Despite the names being thrown around, there’s not a lot of Saaz hop aroma going on. But in the daily-drinker category that Gambrinus completely owns in the Czech Republic, this is a nice addition.
If you don’t regularly drink Gambrinus already, this probably isn’t the beer for you. But if you find yourself in a pub that only has Gambrinus, you might enjoy Gambrinus 11° instead of ordering water or whatever iffy wine they have there. And if your friends are all Gambrinus drinkers, this might be a way to introduce them to some slightly different tastes.
And who knows? One of them might become a hardcore beer fan because of it.