If you were at all interested in Czech beer culture, you’d probably want to sneak a peek at the legal regulations on beer and beer-based beverages available from the Czech Ministry of Agriculture. I had to wade through those pages when we were putting together Good Beer Guide Prague and the Czech Republic, which included a summary of their obtuse Czech legalese in what we hoped to be semi-legible English.
Imagine my surprise when I saw the changes in a new version of that document. Errors have been fixed, a few vagaries have been cleared up, and at least one category of Czech beer has been washed away — while an interesting new Czech beer category has been proposed in its place.
At the time of the publication of GBG Prague, there were just a few legal categories for beer:
- Lehké pivo (“light beer”), under 7° Balling in original gravity and less than 130 kJ/100 ml
- Výčepní pivo (akin to “taproom beer”), 8° to 10° in original gravity
- Ležák (“lager”), 11° to 12° in original gravity
- Speciální pivo (or “special beer”), 13° and higher in original gravity
- Porter, a dark beer composed primarily of barley malt, 18° and higher in original gravity
And that was largely it, with a few more clarifications or specifications: the grist of pšeničné pivo (“wheat beer”) had to contain at least 1/3 wheat malt; kvasnicové pivo (“yeast beer”) was (confusingly) only defined as containing an addition of fermenting wort, but not yeast itself; řezané pivo (“cut beer,” generally a mix of pale and dark lagers) had to be of two beers from the same category (eg, two “taproom” or two “lager” beers).
You can see the old document here: http://iom.vse.cz/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/vyhlaska_335_1997.pdf
The new document, available from the website of the State Agricultural and Food Inspectorate, makes some very interesting changes. You can find it here: http://www.szpi.gov.cz/docDetail.aspx?docid=1007482&docType=ART&nid=11816 (click the first PDF, titled “[vyhlaska_335_1997_Sb.pdf]”
Can you spot the differences?
- Lehké pivo is gone completely. (This won’t be missed. I think I only ever encountered two or three examples.)
- In its place is a new style of beer: stolní pivo (“table beer”), made primarily from barley malt, up to 6° original gravity (inclusive).
- Výčepní pivo now ranges from 7° to 10°, up to a full percent weaker in terms of original gravity.
- Ležák is still 11° and 12°.
- Speciální pivo is still 13° and up.
- Kvasnicové pivo is now defined as containing an addition of clean yeast culture or an addition of fermenting wort.
- A new category, pivo z jiných obilovin (“beer from other grain,” meaning other than barley or wheat), of which — if I’m reading this correctly — at least 1/3 of the grist must be the other grain specified.
Also, the earlier document seemed a bit too focused on yeast types, specifying as tightly as “Saccharomyces cerevisiae subsp. uvarum (carlsbergensis)” for Czech bottom-fermented beers; now it just says “bottom-fermenting brewing yeast.” (Interestingly, both documents acknowledge the possibility of also using both acetic- as well as lactic-acid-producing bacteria in brewing. However, this is possible only for top-fermenting beers: lambic-lager hybrids are still not on the cards.)
Personally, I’m thrilled about the idea of Czech table beers that are not limited to low-calorie versions: this is an entirely new style that deserves some great new examples from some courageous Czech brewers, stat. For the moment, however, I’m most interested in — and most confused by — that “beer from other grain” category. Are we going to start seeing rye beers built on at least 33% rye, or oat beers with at least 33% oats? (Answer: unlikely.) But more importantly, does that mean that you can’t call your beer a “corn beer” if it doesn’t contain at least 1/3 corn?