Beers from the Měšťanský Pivovar — or Burghers’ Brewery — in the Czech town of Havličkův Brod are usually known by the brand name of Rebel. In this country, when it is thought of at all, Rebel is considered a better-than-average medium-size brewery, winning an award in Žatec in 2008 as the “brewery of the year” among producers under 100,000 hectoliters. Abroad, Rebel is one of the few Czech lagers to make it to the United States, along with other low-profile brewers like Nová Paka, sold under the Brouček / BrouCzech label.
However, it’s doubtful if most Americans — or even many Czechs — are aware of Rebel’s under-promoted Christmas beer, the very nice Rebel Sváteční speciál.
Like many other Czech holiday specials, Rebel Sváteční speciál is a pale lager brewed at 14° on the Plato / Balling scale. But it is a step ahead of similar holiday beers from Krakonoš and Poutník, and it makes a nice contrast to the similar, but stronger and more hop-infused Vánoční speciál from Janáček.
The label lists water, barley malt, hop products, sugar and antioxidant ascorbic acid — meaning E300 — as ingredients. While Janáček’s version comes in with 6% alcohol, the Rebel holiday beer claims just 5.4%. If both are truly brewed at 14°, you would expect the Rebel version to be fuller in the mouth and sweeter, having much more residual sugar.
Rebel Sváteční speciál pours a deeper shade of gold than many beers with more alcohol. It has a loose white head of minimal duration. In the nose there are notes of whole grains with a touch of honey, a müsli-like, slightly earthy aroma. In the mouth, there’s a bit of malt sugar, but well-balanced by the bitterness; it has a surprisingly minty aroma-hop finish. Unlike the Krakonoš and Poutník beers, there’s only a very moderate amount of diacetyl: no vanilla, and just a touch of butterscotch.
Among Czech Christmas beers in bottles, this one ranks as a keeper with Janáček Vánoční speciál. As expected, it is a bit chewier than Janáček, showing off the sweet flip side of the Czech pale lager coin, a constant balance between aromatic hoppy bitterness and a malty, sugary body. I’d generally prefer the 17° Sváteční speciál from Opat, aka Pivovar Broumov, or the wonderful Svatý Norbert speciální polotmavé vánoční pivo, brewed this year at 19.5° — a rich, bitter and sweet Czech Doppelbock which beautifully masks its 8% alcohol — at Prague’s Klášterní pivovar Strahov.
But it is Christmas Day, and Rebel Sváteční speciál is what I am drinking with my lunch.