Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

Category: Beer Tastings (Page 3 of 5)

Czech Christmas Beers: the 17° Sváteční Speciál from Broumov

Pivovar Broumov — aka Opat — is one of the country’s most interesting small breweries, regularly making an appearance at the Czech Beer Academy’s beer tastings with their “extra-hopped” medium-bodied beer, Opat Bitter extra-chmelené, one of the most aromatic pale lagers in the country. Other noteworthy models from Opat include beers flavored with honey and a new arrival made with coriander.

But this time of year is for Opat’s great Christmas brew: the 17° Sváteční speciál. Among Czech holiday beers in bottles, this one stands out.

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Czech Christmas Beers: Vánoční Speciál from Janáček

Have pity on your local beer writer at Christmas: tracking down Czech Christmas brews can be an arduous and confusing task. Many breweries — even great Czech micro and regional breweries like Chodovar and Regent — simply put holiday-themed labels on their regular products and then call them Christmas beers. Other breweries — like Bernard in the case of their Sváteční ležák — have had formerly seasonal holiday beers turn into year-round offerings.

But real Christmas beers — the seasonal, limited-edition winter brews called vánoční (“Christmas”) or sváteční (“holiday”) — do exist in the Czech lands. And they’re just now starting to appear at pubs, supermarkets and beer stores near you.

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A New Brew: Bakalář Jubilejní Speciál from Rakovník

First anniversary: Paper. Fifth anniversary: Wood. Fiftieth anniversary: Gold.

Five hundred and fifty-fifth: One very special lager.

Or at least that’s how it is for Pivovar Rakovník, a Czech brewery originally founded in 1454. To celebrate its 555th birthday next year, Rakovník is adding a “jubilee special” to its Bakalář line of beers. And though 2009 is still most of a month away, the new brew is already available at Pivní galerie.

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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.

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A New Czech Brewer Without a Brewery: Bohemia Classic

The Czech newspaper Lidové noviny reported this summer on Bohemia Classic, a new Czech beer maker which doesn’t yet have a brewery. The thrust of the story was that four former employees from Prague’s Staropramen had founded a new brewery to take on their former company.

Considering that Bohemia Classic currently has to rent kettle time at North Bohemia’s Pivovar Konrad in order to produce their beer, it seems unlikely that the upstarts will do much harm to the country’s second-largest brewer, part of global megaproducer InBev. But to judge by taste alone, Bohemia Classic has already pulled ahead of the brand from Smíchov. In fact, Bohemia Classic seems to be one of the rare cases when a beer actually lives up to its name.

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Lagerland’s First Real Stout: Primátor Stout

The Czech Republic isn’t home to a terribly trendy beer culture: as I mentioned to Andrea Turco at Cronache di Birra, the very strong lager traditions here make the Czech palate quite traditional, even inflexible.

For years, the most innovative Czech brewery has been Pivovar Primátor, currently the property of the city of Náchod, which earned its title by putting out three very good strong lagers and one of the first widely distributed Hefeweizens, followed by a decent take on a pale ale. Though the newer (and much smaller) Pivovar Kocour is trying even more new things, Primátor still puts out the most interesting beers in Prague supermarkets. And as of last month, the Náchod city beer maker is offering a further innovation: the country’s first real stout.

To skip to the chase: it’s excellent. And when you consider that East Bohemia is fairly removed from the traditional sources of stout in London and Dublin, you’d have to call it outstanding.

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Czech Beer Tasting: Raw Materials

There’s a Czech expression that says that the quality of a pint depends half on the brewer, half on the barman, but the truth is that much of it happens long before either one is involved.

Beyond mere brewing and tapping, it is the incredible high quality of Czech raw ingredients — Haná malt; Saaz hops; extremely pure and remarkably soft water; excellent strains of yeast — which allows this country to produce some of the world’s greatest lagers.

On Thursday, November 13, 2008, I’ll be leading another beer tasting and seminar in the wine cellar of Essensia restaurant, inside the Mandarin Oriental hotel. The combined dinner, talk and tasting will last about three hours.

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Nils Oscar Rökporter

How do you celebrate a new apartment? We spent last week moving exactly three and a half million boxes from our old place in Prague 8 to our new home in Prague 1, where we’re now just a few minutes’ walk from Pivovarský klub (danger, Will Robinson). After dumping our belongings in the hallway, I inaugurated the transition with a bottle of Nils Oscar Rökporter, courtesy of Per at Ohhh… My Head, who handed it over at the Ratebeer European Summer Gathering. (In exchange, I offered a bottle of Klostermann from Pivovar Strakonice).

First off, even though the name means “smoke porter,” this is no Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier — the smoke in the Nils Oscar beer is much more understated, closer to the version (or versions) from Brauerei Spezial. It’s deep ruby with a nice sandy head and a nose of malt, oats and honey. After a semi-sweet gulp on the tongue, there’s an aromatic, Montecristo-peppery smokiness. The finish is lasting but not overbearing. A great way to break in a new apartment — really good stuff.

I like Klostermann fine, but after tasting this I’m sure I did better than Per in our trade: Nils Oscar Rökporter is currently #41 of Ratebeer’s list of the 50 best beers in Sweden, and it was one of the bottles I was searching for while checking out Czech beers in Stockholm earlier this year. Though the original word was that this was a one-off brew, Per writes that it will now be brewed year round, and made available from October. Get one if you can.

The internet still isn’t hooked up at the new place, so I’m on a limited posting schedule. More once the tubes are connected.

The Ratebeer European Summer Gathering 2008

Last Sunday, 35 beer fans from around Europe met in Plzeň to sample what must have been one of the world’s best collections of unusual beers: the Grand Tasting of the 2008 Ratebeer European Summer Gathering.

How unusual? This year’s Grand Tasting list included brews from Ghana, Saudi Arabia and Argentina, as well as scores of other countries which are even better known for malt beverages. It included geographically obscure brands of average quality, like Bosnia’s Sarajevsko, as well as sought-after cult favorites like Bass No. 1 and P-2 Imperial Stout, all of which were imported into the Czech Republic in the backpacks, suitcases and automobiles of users of All were readied for the hard work of tasting — and rating.

“It gets kind of weird once you get up past 100 beers in a tasting,” admitted one attendee.

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Beer Tasting — New Czech Brews

The tradition of Czech brewing may go back more than a thousand years, but it’s also clearly moving forward. Beer lovers here have been thrilled by recent developments like the appearance of Pivovar Bašta and other new brewpubs, cutting-edge new regional breweries like Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf, and the reappearance of older styles such as Klostermann amber lager — all of which have arrived since the publication of Good Beer Guide Prague and the Czech Republic last May.

To that end, I’m doing another seminar, this time one titled “New Brews: Recent Developments in the Czech Brewing Scene,” which will take place Thursday, 3 July, 2008, in the wine cellar of Essensia restaurant (inside the Mandarin Oriental hotel). The combined dinner, talk and beer tasting will last about three hours.

In addition to a slew of new lagers and ales, many of which have never been seen in Prague, Essensia will serve its delicious Czech and Asian culinary specialties. Think of it as a luxurious meal in a five-star restaurant — only one which is accompanied by some truly great beers and a spirited discussion on the history, news, background and future of Czech brewing.

And then there is the beer list to consider.

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