Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

Category: Beer Travel (Page 2 of 4)

Herold in the Park

Herold beer has had a long and winding path over the past few years. Less than a decade ago it was found fairly often in expat hangouts like the Globe, though not always in the best condition, and sometimes in downright terrible condition. Although things had markedly improved by the time Michael Jackson came to Prague to promote Herold in late 2004, the brand’s image had been damaged by the occasional bad pints from before.

And yet Herold was making great beers, including one of the country’s first widely distributed wheat beers, the first Czech dark wheat most of us had ever seen, and a full line of quality lagers, including what must have been the country’s best bottled dark. They were always a bit hard to find in Prague, but then they became much harder to find, until only a couple of places carried the beer by the time I was finishing Good Beer Guide Prague and the Czech Republic.

One of them was the Dívčí skok restaurant in Prague’s Divoká Šárka park, a favorite setting for hiking and sunbathing. When the temperatures moved up earlier this summer, I went out there to have a pint.

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What We Learned at Pilsner Urquell

When you spend all day at Pilsner Urquell, you learn lots of things.

Above is a shot of senior trade brewmaster Václav Berka in the maltings with the crew from the Discovery Channel. During a full day of shooting, I had time to ask a number of questions about the brewery and how it operates. The malt house is a case in point: it’s not on the standard tour at Pilsner Urquell, so few visitors get to see it. And yet it’s a rather special feature: Pilsner Urquell is the only major Czech brewery which still has its own maltings, buying raw barley from Czech and Moravian farmers and producing just one type of malt which constitutes 100% of the grist of Pilsner Urquell. Any extra malt is sold to Czech homebrewers and small producers, or used to make Kozel.

And while many people assume Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus to be the same brewery, there are enough differences to consider them as separate entities. To start, the Pilsner Urquell brewhouse is only used for that beer; Gambrinus has its own, separate brewhouse.

More factoids gleaned during a day at Pilsner Urquell:

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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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Czech Beer Fest Update

Max Bahnson has an interesting post about the opening ceremonies and the first day at the Czech Beer Festival, along with some good insight and opinions on what works and what doesn’t. Please read.

From where I sat, the first day seemed to go very well, especially given the scale of the event and the fact that this year’s is the first. There were some great beers that are never seen on draft in Prague. There was a friendly, festive atmosphere with lots of catching up. Honza Kočka from Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf dropped by. Tomáš Erlich from SPP showed up with friends from Poland’s Bractwo Piwne (still in town from the recent Days of Polish Beer at Pivovarský klub).

The most rewarding thing? To my eyes, the beers from small producers were by far the most popular.

But it turned out I wasn’t the only one who thought so. The next morning, I got a call from the festival organizers.

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30 Great Brews: The Czech Beer Festival Beer List

A couple of days ago, we wondered out loud what beers would be present at the first annual Czech Beer Festival, which takes place 23 May–1 June 2008. As we asked then,

Will Janáček serve its Comenius? Will Jihlava offer Jihlavský Grand? Or will it all be 10° and 12° světlý ležák, the pale lagers that dominate 95% of all local consumption?

We now have the answers: Yes, Yes, and No!

Color us at least slightly impressed: We’ve just received the finalized beer list from the organizers and not only are Jihlavský Grand and Comenius ready to be tapped, but several other great brews from small producers should also be waiting for you over at the Výstaviště exhibition grounds. (We also have a 3-D map diagram thingy you can print up to help plan your session.)

Here are the beers that are supposed to be there, organized by tent and/or brewing group.

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Czech Beer in Stockholm

There’s a fair amount of beer in the Swedish capital, and much of it seems to be Czech. Step into a bar in the trendy neighborhood of Södermalm and you’ll probably see Krušovice and Pilsner Urquell as often as anything else. Czech lagers seem to be frequently sold as premium imports here, an in the case of Starobrno’s position at the top of the list at Pet Sounds Bar, a chic offshoot of a legendary local record shop. A few other Czech brands — including Primátor — show up at the many outlets of Systembolaget, the Swedish government’s alcohol monopoly.

And then there’s Stockholm’s Švejk pub.

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Italian Craft Beer as a Gourmet Product


I’ve just about recovered from the eight-day, 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) drive through Piedmont and Lombardy, though the impact of seeing northern Italy’s wonderful beer culture firsthand is going to be harder to get over. A case in point: I can’t quite forget the outstanding beer selection at the Eataly supermarket in Turin, pictured above.

Eataly is surely a special case: most supermarkets in Italy don’t carry legends like Thomas Hardy’s Ale, as well as vast selections of local craft brews like Baladin, Grado Plato, Troll and Montegioco. Nonetheless, the fact that a high-end food store like Eataly has a entire craft beer department — as well as an on-site beer restaurant — testifies to how successfully Italian craft brewers have pushed for their products to be seen as an integral part of fine food and drink.

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Italian Beers for Home


What beers do you bring home from a five-day tasting trip in Italy?

Unlike many more-established beer-loving countries, Italian beer culture is based in large part on bottles, rather than draft. (The Czech Republic is the opposite, with even some local experts arguing that tap beer is always, invariably, 100% better than bottled, the concept of bottle conditioning still somewhat unknown here in Lagerland.) This means that before you return, you can easily load your car up with beers and beer-related items. And when you zip down the Passo del Brennero into Austrian Tyrol, you’ll only go that much faster.

Here’s what we brought back with us.

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Italian Beer Culture


A quick post from the road: we’re in Italy after a night at the remarkable Nuovo Birrificio Italiano, part of a week in Piedmont and Lombardy researching Italian beer culture. (And in an attempt to build a few bridges, we have filled our car with some great Czech lagers, which, much like Johnny Appleseed, we are handing out in our wake.)

The most striking element of Italy’s brewing scene so far: unbound enthusiasm, from the brewers to the pubs to the serving staff and the customers. Czechs may drink more — far more, in fact, besting the Italians’ annual per capita consumption by some 130 liters — but the Italian beer fans we’ve met in the past few days are way more enthusiastic about their choice of beverage. Hearing people here talk about craft beer is like listening to a bunch of converts to a new religion or meeting a group of political revolutionaries (as opposed to culinary ones). Everywhere you look is the wide-eyed expression of the true believer.

A few observations from a few days on the road:

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Get Ready for the Czech Beer Festival 23.5–1.6


Around the Czech Republic, pivní slavnosti — beer festivals — regularly bring big crowds to brewery grounds, city halls and convention centers. And yet they often have a few problems: the ones in Prague usually only serve one kind of beer. The ones on brewery grounds usually serve their brews only, and only in cheap plastic cups. And the festivals with a variety of beers usually take place in remote locations.

Enter the Czech Beer Festival, set for its maiden voyage this spring. Taking place May 23 through June 1, the Czech Beer Festival will bring in beer from a variety of producers to vast tents set up at Prague’s Výstaviště exhibition grounds, the same place that held Prague’s Christmas Beer Markets, only in a slightly different area and on a much, much larger scale. As in: employing more than 200 servers. Some 100,000 custom-designed beer tokens, produced expressly for the festival by the Czech mint and together weighing over 1,000 kilos — more than a long ton — will be put into circulation. There will be seating for at least 10,000 guests, as well as plenty of standing room under the trees. At any given time, two large bulls will be roasting on spits. And there will even be a beer for dogs.

“We want to create something like Oktoberfest,” said Jan Hübner, the festival’s organizer. “Only with Czech beer.”

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