Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

The New Gambrinus 11° Excelent Pale Lager

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.


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  1. “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.” – that sounds remarkably like my football watching habits at Zlata, although generally I leave the wine for 6 Nations afternoons.

  2. pivnizub

    I hope, that I’ll be never forced to enter a hospoda, that only offers Gambrinus. The regular 10° and 12° Gambrinus brands are so far away from a typical “Bohemian Pilsener”, that they should be better called “German Premium Pilsener”……… ;-)

  3. Kjetil, Norway

    I agree that many top rated beers on RateBeer can be some kind of “extreme” and mostly prefered by advanced beer lovers. Another thing is that these beers can be hard to find, especially many small local micro breweries. I have been in Praha four times, but never tried Gambrinus at a local pub. I`ve always looked for something more interesting, Bernard, Primator, Svijany, unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell, Policka, Cerna Hora and all czech micro brewery I can find! Unfortunately, czech beer is hard to get in Norway. It is possible to find Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen Cerny, Starobrno (Medium), Budweis Bohemia 1795 Lager and Krusovice Imperial. But, recently I bought two new bottles in my local supermarked (Rema 1000): Bernard Lager (11 svetle), which I did not like, and Gambrinus Svetly, which I liked a lot. They were not to expensive either, according to Norwegian standard…. A little more than 3 Euro for a 0,5 L bottle. I know that this price for a standard lager could provoke a heart attact down in Central Europe!!By the way, Bernard also had Norwegian text on the label.

    So, next time I`m in Praha, I think I have to try this new Gambrinus Excelent.

  4. Hey Kjetil, I think you might enjoy this new Gambrinus. And I would definitely recommend giving other Bernard beers a try: their Sváteční Ležák won the prize for best pale lager of the year at the SPP beer awards earlier this month, along with first and second place for their two non-alcoholic beers (they also make a great dark lager):

    Pivnizub, somehow I have the impression you’re not going to be trapped in such a place anytime soon.

  5. Kjetil, Norway

    Bernard is one of many czech favourites. I have brought home bottles from Tesco and enjoyed others at Kyvadlo. The new non-alcoholic beers and 11° Polotmave are “still missing”. I had the Sváteční Ležák in 2007, and it was great!

  6. Michal

    Well, pivnizub, then we’ll probably never meet – I enjoy G12 very much and it is usally best served when it is the only beer on tap, like U Hofmanu. And from tank, of course… I’m looking forward to try the new G11, it could be a nice addtion, although I don’t expect to go crazy after it.
    Something like Kozel 11 they have at the new Kozlovna at Lidicka – decent beer but nothing to write home about.

  7. kex4u

    A good beer is good for creativity!

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