Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

Tag: Beer Tastings

Czech Beer Festival and More


On Friday, the Czech Beer Festival kicked off at Letňany exhibition grounds (last year’s version is pictured above). It’s fair to say that there was some chaos at the opening: when Velký Al from Fuggled and I arrived a half hour after things got started at 3 p.m., there was only one beer available on tap. Tent #6, which was supposed to have Kout and other indies, had nothing going. Nor did any other tent besides #3. It sounds impossible: at a beer festival, beer fans were going thirsty.

But within an hour or so, the situation righted itself. Several great beers from Náchod’s Pivovar Primátor started flowing, including the brewery’s new 11° pale lager. Within a short while we were even sampling Kout na Šumavě 10°, a desítka with as much character as most 12° beers in these parts.

It’s very different from last year’s festival in that there is no entry fee. Most beers are 40 crowns, though this year the strong beers, like Jihlava’s 18° Jihlavský Grand, are served in .3-liter glasses, which makes far more sense than serving them by the pint. You definitely should check it out before the festival closes on May 31.

But there’s more.

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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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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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More Czech Beer News and Rumors

It’s the start of the travel season, and that means I’ve been on deadline for a handful of stories. Consequently, my thoughts are fairly well fragmented at this point. Here are some of the many beery notes that are bouncing around my cranium.

Yesterday I saw the first poster (at a bus stop) for the Czech Beer Festival. Considering the starting pistol is set to go off in just 10 days, you’d think there would be a wee bit more coverage — is the word getting out? Someone, at least, should follow-up on the fact that they told us they’re brewing and serving a beer for dogs.

I recently tried another Lučan Premium Tmavé, a once-great dark beer from Žatec, and found that it was nowhere near as dark — nor as flavorful — as it was in my earlier tasting notes. Max Bahnson came to a similar conclusion about the whole line of Žatec beers at Pivní filosof. It reminds me of how different beer (and beer writing) is from wine, given beer’s ephemeral nature: a great beer can become mediocre with the next batch, but a great wine often seems more permanent, or at least more permanently great, because everyone knows you’re talking about (at least if it were beer) the 2007 Lučan Premium Tmavé, not every Lučan beer ever made. This is different in the case of beers marked with a vintage, but how many of those are there, anyway?

I’m not sure if it had anything to do with our anti-Heineken email campaign (more on this later), but there’s clearly much less Heineken on display at my local Albert supermarket: it used to take up about a meter of shelf space, plus several grab-a-beer cases on the floor. Now it takes up half a meter of shelf space and that’s it. Did someone hear us?

In related news, I had a Starobrno Medium (owned by Heineken) yesterday and thought it was great. Not craft beer, but a good factory-made lager by any measure. So perhaps foreign ownership of local beers is not the end of the world — aside from the repatriation of profits, that is.

To judge by numerous recent tastings, Primátor’s Weizenbier is currently firing on all cylinders. Just in time for summer…

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