Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

BrewDog’s Zeit Geist vs. Three Classic Czech Dark Lagers

Beer geeks everywhere are talking about the small Scottish brewery BrewDog, and for good reason: despite being just a couple of years old — meaning very young — they’re already putting out some head-turningly good beers, and backing them up with a masterful PR game.

One of their recent nice moves on the marketing pitch: offering a sampler of prototype beers and asking drinkers to pick their favorites. Among the prototypes was Zeit Geist, “a 5.1% Black lager taking inspiration from the Czech classics.” As an imitation of a clasic Czech dark lager, it was just begging to be compared to three classics of the genre: Bernard’s speciální černé pivo, Bohemia Regent tmavý ležák and Budweiser Budvar tmavý ležák.

So how does the Scottish upstart compare to the old masters?

In terms of overall drinkability, I would say it wins. And in the case of Bohemia Regent and Budvar dark, Zeit Geist doesn’t just beat them — it pushes them in the gutter and takes their lunch money. Here’s how they stacked up.

Bernard speciální černé pivo: This beer had the nicest, fluffiest and longest-lasting head, pouring a very deep amber, almost black with a pronounced nose of Dutch cocoa. It was sweeter than Budvar but less sweet than Bohemia Regent, and much sweeter than Zeit Geist (more on this later). In the mouth there were notes of cocoa and biscuity malt. A great beer.

Bohemia Regent 12° tmavý ležák: This beer had the least long-lasting head and was lightest in color: deep amber, but far from black. There were cola notes in the nose and a gingery sweetness in the mouth. It was the sweetest of all four, with a clumsy, saccharine finish.

Budweiser Budvar tmavý ležák: This beer had the second longest-lasting head, fluffy creamy color, second darkest color, but the nose had weird cooked-vegetable notes. It had a thin body, and, in comparison to Bernard and Zeit Geist, was not terribly charismatic. It turned out to be the least appealing of all four, making me think that this was perhaps a bad bottle.

Brewdog Zeit Geist: Virtually identical in color to Bernard, though not as long-lasting in the foam department. The nose smells conspicuously like smoked malt, and there’s a pronounced Rauchbier taste in the mouth. Very nice, and reminiscent of their Rip Tide stout in the body with a strong astringence in the finish.

Bernard, as usual, was excellent; the Bohemia Regent and Budvar versions were disappointing. But here’s the thing: although I really liked Zeit Geist, I don’t think it tasted very Czech, certainly not like the other three beers, which easily stood together in a group: Zeit Geist was far more dry in the finish, far more of a German Schwarzbier than a Czech tmavý ležák. If I had known this, I would have compared it to Herold Bohemian Black Lager, one of the only dry dark lagers in the Czech lands.

In any case, it was interesting to see what Scottish brewers think a Czech dark lager should taste like. If I understand it correctly, Zeit Geist didn’t make the cut in the voting, so I’m not sure if we’ll ever see it produced: my prototype bottle, visible at the right of the picture at the top of the page, didn’t have a label or any means of identification beyond the cap. As it turns out, Brew Dog’s contest winner was a beer in the style of yet another country: Chaos Theory, an absolutely outstanding, extremely complex take on an hoppy, citrus-scented American IPA.


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  1. Really interesting post.
    I also thought that ZeitGeist was dryer and hoppier than your usual Czech dark lager. It reminded me more to something that Strahov can make than Herold. I wonder which Czech darks they got their inspiration from.

  2. Interesting comments there, as the bottle I had of Zeit Geist was very bland and I couldn’t detect the slightest trace of smoke – it was actually something I then said it would benefit from.

  3. Well, from the description of the Budweiser Budvar tmavý ležák, it does sound a little off. What you describe doesn’t sound like what I enjoyed on tap at Budvarka at all, though it was in a different format. As for the brewery, BrewDog has been gaining some notariety here in the States, and we see Punk IPA come in waves. Makes me wonder if Chaos Theory will be a big hit here, too, though I’d rather see something different from their lineup (i.e. Paradox!).

  4. I love a good taste test — I’d love to read more of these if you are inclined to write them. Really helpful in navigating the vast and complex world of Czech beer.

    We did a similar dark lager taste-off once (in the days before Brew Dog rose to world dominance) and also thought that Bernard was by far the best of those we tried. Budvar Dark is easy to get hold of here in London, so it’s the one I drink most often. It does sound like your bottle was a stinker, though.

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