Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

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Changes to Czech Brewing Regulations

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:

The new document, available from the website of the State Agricultural and Food Inspectorate, makes some very interesting changes.

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Beer Books You Need From Google Books

We seem to be entering a great time for beer writing (and reading), with wonderful work being done by Ron Pattinson at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins and by Martyn Cornell at Zythophile, two writers who are sharpening our understanding of beer’s lengthy history, and correcting a lot of inaccuracies and misunderstandings along the way, especially in the field of British brewing.

Over at A Good Beer Blog, Alan McLeod is knocking out whimsical investigations of Albany Ale (what’s that?) and 19th-century brewing in Canada and America.

But at the moment, Central Europe’s storied brewing history seems to be getting less attention in this regard, at least in English beer writing — a pity, because our beer culture suffers from at least as many inaccuracies, misunderstandings and made-up backstories as those northwest of here. (I’m not convinced, for example, that Prague’s traditional beer style is the U-Fleků-style dark lager, or even that “the standard medieval Czech brew was decidedly dark, not blond,” as Horst Dornbusch has written. That clearly wasn’t the case by 1672, when Bohuslav Balbín wrote that “Pražskému pšeničnému, jemuž se říká světlé, se může máloco rovnat, pokud jde o blahodárné účinky,” or, roughly, “There may be little equal to Prague wheat beer, which is called ‘pale’, in terms of its beneficial effects.”)

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New Beers from Žatec

It’s always humbling to be called an expert on anything, and the more I learn about Czech beer the more I come to think my expertise extends only as far as the drinking of it. Nevertheless, I was happy to be asked to write some tasting notes for a Czech Beer Festival that took place at the Porterhouse pubs in London and Dublin this past November.

The surprise? The festival lineup went well beyond the expected also-rans and usual suspects. Among the Czech beers we all know quite well were several rarities, as well as a few I hadn’t yet heard of, including what looked like two new beers from Pivovar Žatec, the historic underdog brewery in the great hop-growing town also known as Saaz.

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Beer Culture in Plzeň and Pilsner Fest 2010

Just over a week ago I went to Plzeň to join a group of British beer writers — Adrian Tierney-Jones, Mark Dredge, Pete Brown and Tim Hampson — at Pilsner Fest 2010. In addition to the festive, carnival-like atmosphere at giants Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus, we also visited craft brewers and new brewpubs, as well as historic dives and dingy bars, to make a short film about beer culture in one of Europe’s greatest brewing cities.

Grape Hops: Beer Tours to Northern Italy’s Great Craft Breweries

When she needed to make what she described as “some major life changes,” Shannon Essa turned to beer — Italian craft beer.

The result is Ms. Essa’s American tour company, Grape Hops, that offers trips to many of the up-and-coming microbreweries in Piedmont and Lombardy, along with more traditional wine and culinary adventures elsewhere in Italy and in Spain. Founded by Ms. Essa in partnership with Kim Riemann, an administrator for the travel website, Grape Hops came about after the two heard about the region’s burgeoning craft beer scene, which inspired them to start offering complete pre-planned trips as well as custom tours, hitting everything from Birrificio Montegioco to the great Lambrate brewpub in Milan, pictured above.

“We first put together an itinerary and we went over and did a dry run,” said Ms. Essa, speaking on the phone from her home in San Diego. She recalled her first experience with the vibrant Italian craft beer scene as nothing short of amazing.

“They are cooking with hops, cooking with beer — they’re experimenting with everything,” she said. “We had pieces of veal that were breaded with hops. And they had desserts that they use beers that they infuse mint into and they make desserts out of that.”

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When Grodziskie Returns

All my boddhisatvas appear on the streets of Staré Město.

We were on Dlouhá, close to Lokál, and Jonas was just waking up from his afternoon nap; I was wet from the rainstorm that had just passed. I was pushing his carriage towards a couple of errands and then home when I saw a friend from the Prague beer scene ahead of us on the sidewalk.

“How are things?” he asked, smiling.

“Good but busy,” I said. “I started brewing.”

“How much?” he asked.

I did some quick math. “Zero point twenty-two hectoliters.”

“And what kind of beer?”

“Well, the first batch was a saison, because it was 29 degrees in the apartment last week.”


“Yeah, it smells like black pepper. Tastes great. And today Jonas and I are going to brew a wit.”

“A wit sounds good right about now.”

“I’m looking forward to it. Do you know there’s going to be a new pub here, called the Prague Beer Museum, with something like 30 Czech craft beers on draft?”

“Where, around the corner somewhere?”

“No, right there on Dlouhá. There,” I said, pointing across the street.  “Where the Tom Tom Bar used to be.”

“So something like Zlý Časy?”

“Yeah, only here in the center.”

“Great news. Oh, and before I forget,” he said, “today we’re brewing the Grodziskie.”

“Wow. Where’d you get the…”


“No, the malt.”

“We’re using smoked malt from Weyermann. But the yeast we got direct from Grodzisk.”

“So, in about a month?”

“Yes,” he smiled. “In about a month.”

And with that my boddhisatva said goodbye, shaking my hand and touching Jonas’s cheek before striding deeper into Old Town. And as we pushed off down Dlouhá towards our errands, and then home, both of us were grinning.

From the Archives: Beer Culture’s Most Popular Posts

Site news: as part of our tinkering under the hood around here, we’ve had Google Analytics functioning for the past two weeks. The results are surprisingly good — who knew that a bunch of old articles about beer would crank up thousands of pageviews every week?

What’s also surprising is seeing just what people are reading. Here’s the list of Beer Culture’s most popular posts and pages for the past two weeks:

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Whatever Happened to Beer Culture?

So whatever happened to Beer Culture?

In the spirit of where Beer Culture plans to go in the future, I’d like to tell the story of Beer Culture’s past.

It should be obvious by the capital letters that I’m talking about Beer Culture the weblog, not the lowercase “beer culture” in the sense of “the customs, institutions, achievements and observable manifestations of the activities of producing, serving and drinking lagers and ales.” That particular beer culture is doing just fine, thank you very much. But in case you haven’t noticed, Beer Culture, formerly hosted by Prague Daily Monitor, has been on hiatus for the past six months or so. It’s returning now at a new address — please update your links to — as well as with a new sense of what it intends to address.

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A Belgian Beer Festival in Prague, 23-25 October

God bless the good souls over at Svět Piva and the Mandarin Oriental: this month brings another big beer event, this time focusing on the land of Cantillon. From Friday, October 23, through Sunday, October 25, the hotel will host a Belgian beer festival called “Belgium in the Glass and on the Plate,” sponsored in part by the Flanders Tourism Information Office.

The early details:

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The Slunce ve Skle Beer Fest 2009

If you couldn’t make it to the Slunce ve skle beer festival last Saturday in Plzeň, here’s a YouTube video from the day. In a word: Awesome.

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