Tag Archives: Czechvar

Pictures at a Czech Beer Exhibition: Pilsen, Budweis, Český Krumlov

Wooded hillsides, a hundred lakes mirroring the fleeting afternoon sunlight, emerald green pastures with the occasional dusting of snow. Stately Renaissance facades watching over magnificent squares and Gothic spires reaching skyward. Dimly lit train stations redolent of times past. Castle towns that drew artists like Egon Schiele away from the bustle of Vienna. The Vlatava (Moldau) winding its way languidly through České Budějovice (Budweis) and Český Krumlov.

And, of course, cities that have given their names to beer styles and brands renowned the world over.

Pictures at a Czech beer exhibition.

Gallery 1: České Budějovice: home of the real Budweiser

IMG_5655Twilight over the old town’s Black Tower signals the shift from exploring the narrow streets radiating off the main square to settling into taverns for hearty Bohemian food and beer.

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The Dominican Monastery gardens. I’m sure these folks drank plenty of beer in their time.

U Tří Sedláků (At the Three Yeoman) once catered to merchants and officers, and to the rafters driving wood along the river. During the Communist era it was annexed to a nearby restaurant called Masné Krámy (Meat Shops).

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On its own again since 2005, it now serves Pilsener Urquell, while the neighbouring Masné Krámy deals in Budweiser Budvar.

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By the time night falls, the Masné Krámy, with its Renaissance façade and basilica-style layout dating back to the sixteenth century, transforms itself into a classically raucous drinking establishment. Forget about trying to find a table.

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The city hall

The previous night’s revelry now the stuff of dreams, it’s time for some culture in the form of a brewery tour.

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The real deal.

The Pivovar Budějovický Budvar (Budweiser Budvar Brewery) was founded in 1895, and has been engaged in a protracted trademark dispute with a certain Annheuser-Busch.

IMG_5709The dispute takes center stage in a tongue-and-cheek short film that forms part of the exhibit in the visitor center. Spend some time checking out the rest of the exhibits if you arrive early for your tour.

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Those midday tours really help you work up an appetite. If the samples on the tour weren’t enough, you can head next door to the Budvar Brewpub.

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Relatively light fare as far as Bohemian cuisine goes.

České Budějovice isn’t all Budweiser Budvar and Pilsener Urquell. You’ll find the occasional gem tucked away here and there. Krajinská is one such spot. Great food, too. (Of note: The micro/craft breweries we visited depart from the stock repertoire of delicious but hefty Bohemian cuisine, offering lighter fare with an “artisanal” touch.)

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Minipivovar Krajinská

Keep your eyes open for Beeranek as well – closed in late December when we visited. Thanks to Tomáš Hasík for the tips.

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Off to Pilsen two hours away.

Historical note: The train line connecting České Budějovice to Linz is the second-oldest train line in the world.

Gallery 2: Plzeń/Pilsen

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The Great Synagogue, built in 1893, is the second-largest synagogue in Europe.

Plzeń is the birthplace of that most famous of beer styles, the Pilsener, first brewed in 1842 by Bavarian brewer, Josef Groll.

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St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral, located on Republic Square.

Pilsener Urquell (now under the auspices of SABMiller) is ubiquitous, as are the taverns and hotels affiliated with the company.

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Not a microbrewery.

English tours depart on a regular basis throughout the day. We showed up about 10 minutes after one had started. No worries. You can get a combo ticket for the tour and for the Brewery Museum.

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Malting bed plus crucifix and uncanny wax figure.

The informative museum of brewing history –– complete with an intricate model of a brewery that took eighteen years to build –– is also affiliated with the Pils Urquell folks.

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Apparently this contraption can even brew a small volume of beer.

Back to Pilsener Urquell we go. The tour of the biggest brewing operation in town is a fairly straightforward affair augmented by high-tech multi-media displays and a trip to the bottling and canning line.

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Can’t get enough of them copper kettle photos.

But that all changes with the labyrinthine lagering cellars dating to 1839 –– worth the price of admission alone.

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The cellars are also home to small-batch open-fermented beer that subsequently spends time in pitched aging casks.

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Note the date: 28.12. Brewed the day before we arrived.

If only Pils Urquell and similarly large breweries would distribute this kind of tradition beyond their cellars. Vastly better than any bottled or draught Pils Urquell.

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U Pašáka

Pilsen is also home to a nascent craft beer scene.

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One particularly vibrant craft beer bar, Na Čepu (no good pix, unfortunately –– blame it on the good beer) has set up shop in the shadow of the Brewery Museum. Co-owner Jaroslav Jakeš is a wealth of information on the local and Czech-wide beer scene.

And so we head out the next morning, skies blazing blue, memories of Czech-style stouts and white IPAs sustaining us, in the direction of Český Krumlov.

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Gallery 3: Český Krumlov

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If the Eggenberg beer hasn’t grabbed your attention yet, the tower rising up from the castle precincts will. Try scaling those rocks after a few beer.

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View of St. Vitus, straight up.

Český Krumlov suffered neglect during the communist era, but its splendid Renaissance and Baroque buildings were restored in the early 1990s, earning the town a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992.

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Cue up Smetana.

After all that Pilsener Urquell and Budweiser Budvar, Eggenberg Brewery (not to be confused with the Schloss Eggenberg brewery, brewers of the famous Samichlaus, in Austria’s Salzkammergut) provided us with a refreshing change of pace.

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A classic beer hall.

Their Nakouřený Švihák, a Rauchbier with very subtle maple-syrup-accented wood smoke, was one of the highlights of the trip. A much different Rauchbier than, say, Bamberg’s Aecht Schlenkerla.

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Duck with purple cabbage and two kinds of traditional Bohemian dumplings.

I don’t know about you, but these photographic reminiscences have made me hungry and maybe a little bit thirsty. Time for dinner and a beer.

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Filtered/unfiltered.

Na zdraví!

Related Tempest Articles:

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

Say No to Style Loyalty

All images by F.D. Hofer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

2015 is barely four weeks old, and already we’ve seen the craft beer scene light up with plenty of fireworks. Perplexingly, Tony Magee of Lagunitas filed a trademark lawsuit against Sierra Nevada, only to back down after being “seriously schooled” by the good folks on Twitter. About a week before that hue and cry, a blogger in the New York State capitol region ignited a firestorm of his own, claiming that “[f]lights are dumb, and you’re dumb if you like them.IMG_9985 Needless to say, not everyone agreed. Just last week, news broke that Anheuser-Busch InBev has continued its craft beer shopping spree, scooping up Seattle’s Elysian a mere three months after the ink had dried on its deal to acquire 10 Barrel Brewing of Bend, Oregon. I suppose Elysian will have to quietly discontinue its Loser Pale Ale, or at least erase the “Corporate Beer Still Sucks” tagline from the packaging.

Less dramatic but no less significant, Andy Crouch’s article on Sam Adams registers Jim Koch’s amazement and displeasure that hipster millenials, concerned as they apparently are with “authenticity,” have abandoned the old-school pioneers of the craft beer scene, especially those erstwhile pioneers who head some of the largest American-owned breweries in the land. Crouch notes that Koch’s iconic beer brands have become so run-of-the-mill among thrill seekers that an increasing number of bars have opted not to sell the Boston Lager that was instrumental in floating the rising tide of craft beer.100-4032_IMG

Now, even if I’m not the biggest fan of many of the seventy-five-odd beers that Sam Adams has rolled out over the years –– Cherry Wheat cough syrup, anyone? –– I’d be the last person to suggest that we shouldn’t expand our gustatory horizons. But what concerns me, defender of lagers that I am, is the alacrity with which many a commenter discussing Crouch’s article dismisses Sam Adams on the basis of its ostensibly staid flagship lager. (To be sure, Sam Adams was not without its many defenders on the long list of comments to Crouch’s Boston Magazine article and on the even longer comment threads on BeerAdvocate.) One commenter expressed frustration with Boston Beer Company, the maker of Sam Adams, for putting so much marketing weight behind Boston Lager at the expense of the other beers in its vast portfolio. Another person who commented directly on Crouch’s article was more pointed: “To call Sam Adams Lager ‘exceptional’ is an impossible stretch of the imagination. Sure it’s better than Bud, but that’s like saying river water is better than ocean water.”

I have a suggestion.

Fellow imbibers-in-arms, let us stop this fruitless denigration of lager. Let us not be shy in asserting that subtlety and nuance can also be a mark of quality. Let us distinguish between quality and an indiscriminate taste for attributes such as bitterness, sourness, and hoppiness. And let us now praise lagers in all their yellow, amber, copper, black, dry, hoppy, sweet, and smoky glory.100-4036_IMGFor this edition of the Saturday Six-Pack, I’ll include six different lager styles and mix things up between the U.S. and Central Europe, but I’ll refrain from including some of the more compelling versions of Munich light lagers I’ve found in North America in today’s six-pack. You just won’t find them far beyond the precincts where they’re brewed. Two such beers, should you find yourself in Kansas City or Austin, are these: KC Bier Co.’s Munich Helles, and the Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company’s Hell Yes Munich light lager. Simplicity as sublimity.

On to it.

Pilsener: Hans’ Pils, Real Ale (Texas)

When people think of the long tradition of lager brewing in the U.S., chances are their first thoughts are of Milwaukee. There, German immigrants with names like Schlitz and Müller (Miller) unleashed a tide of then-fashionable lagers from the shores of Lake Michigan. Not to be forgotten, Texas, too, welcomed a large contingent of German immigrants in the nineteenth century.Real Ale - Hans Pils It should come as no surprise, then, that Texas is also home to innumerable lagers that aren’t called Shiner.

Hans’ Pils from Real Ale is but one fine example of the lagers that keep Texans cool during the humid summer months. As with any well-crafted Pilsener, this crisply spicy beer with its subterranean bready sweetness is not the kind of beer that calls forth a stream of descriptors. Marked by herbal hops and a mineral austerity, Hans’ Pils is less like the softly floral Pilsners of southern Germany, paying tribute instead to the bracingly dry Pilsners of northern Germany. Bonus points: Hans’ Pils took home a silver medal at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival.

Czech Dark Lager: Czechvar Dark Lager, Czechvar (Bohemia)

If you can appreciate the malty richness of a Munich Dunkel and the subtle smoky roast coffee character of a Schwarzbier, chances are you’ll enjoy Czechvar’s dry and hop-inflected interpretation of a style we don’t see that often on North American bottle shop shelves.Czechvar - DarkLager 6er Czechvar began exporting their dark lager across the Atlantic in 2012, so with any luck we’ll start seeing more Czech dark lager. Czechvar’s garnet-limned black beer glistens like onyx in the glass, and a whiff of smoke wreaths complex malt aromas of chocolate and walnut-like nuttiness. Taut and ascetic, the woody and earthy tones anchor dark fruit notes of prune, lending the typically floral-spicy Saaz hops a more brooding cast en route to a softly medicinal herbal licorice finish.

Vienna Lager: LTD Lager Series Vienna-Style Lager, Full Sail (Oregon)

The label of this, the fifth recipe in Full Sail’s LTD Lager Series, throws down the gauntlet for those who love amber ales, proclaiming that what’s in the bottle is “a Vienna-style Lager so crazy good, you might convert to Lagerism.” Full Sail’s on to something here with this emphatically malty beer.

One of the classic world beer styles, Vienna Lager was once at the forefront of a new breed of lighter-coloured beers when it was first introduced by brewing legend, Anton Dreher, in 1841. Vienna Lager gets its distinctive dark golden to amber-orange hue from the kilned malt bearing the same city name. Darker than British pale ale malt yet not quite as dark as Munich malt, the light kilning process brings out a toasty, slightly fruity sweetness that dries out in the finish.

These days, Vienna Lager is a rare bird indeed in any craft beer taxonomy. As Michael Jackson once quipped, “Like Vienna’s role as an imperial capital, its style of beer seems to have faded as abruptly as the last waltz” (Jackson, 1988, 192). An unfortunate state of affairs, this lack of popularity. Full Sail - LTD Vienna

Full Sail to the rescue. And full steam ahead at that, with a beverage rich in toasted bread and toffee, malted milk, malt ball candies, nougat, and subtle dried cherry notes, all undergirded by faintly perceptible earthy, musky noble hops. Despite its silky sweetness, Full Sail’s Vienna Lager still manages a relatively dry finish reminiscent of marmalade toast and dried apricot, thanks in part to the unobtrusive herbal-spicy hop component.

Schwarzbier: Black Bavarian-Style Lager, Sprecher (Wisconsin)

Sprecher has more than ably carried the torch of Milwaukee’s storied German lager past, and at a price so reasonable as to make many other craft beers look embarrassingly expensive. If you have friends who swear they don’t like dark beers because dark beers are “too heavy,” this ruby-tinted deep brown-black beverage is the perfect remedy to such intractable conditions.Sprecher - Black Lager Smoky dark-roasted malts with just a touch of coffee and dark chocolate meet earthy licorice and dark caramel in this crisply playful glass of good cheer. With its long, mildly smoky cherry-plum finish, you might find yourself in the mood to fire up your grill in the dead of winter.

Rauchbier: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, Brauerei Heller (Bavaria)

If that tantalizing undercurrent of smokiness in Sprecher’s Schwarzbier has piqued your interest, you’ll be happy (or perhaps slightly disturbed) to learn that Aecht Schlenkerla’s Märzen ramps up the beechwood-smoked malt intensity to campfire levels. Smoked meat, bacon, and even aromas of smoked oysters appear front and center alongside a steely minerality. Who said lagers were boring? Inhale more deeply and the rich, toasty dark cherry calling card of Munich malt will leave no doubt that this is a well-crafted Märzen through and through.Aecht Schlenkerla - Maerzen II You’d be forgiven for thinking that a beer of such quixotic aromatic density would have the deftness of lead on the palate, but nothing could be further from the truth. Aecht Schlenkerla’s Märzen is clean and smooth, and a dash of minty eucalyptus hop flavours near the finish adds crispness to this already deep and complex beer. A true classic that every beer drinker should try at least once in his or her life.

Doppelbock: Korbinian, Weihenstephan (Bavaria)

Weihenstephan - KorbinianAll I’m going to say is that Doppelbocks are among my favourite beers, and Korbinian is one of my favourite Doppelbocks. Don’t drink this one cold, or it won’t be among your favourite beers.

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So what ever became of that Sam Adams Boston Lager that touched off these musings? Grab one off the shelf and drink it alongside the other Vienna Lager in your six-pack. Sam Adams’ Hallertauer Mittelfrüh hop showcase really isn’t half bad at all, and its dry-hopped brightness relative to the Full Sail might even appeal to the hopheads in the crowd.

Related Tempest Articles

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

A Bavarian in Texas: Franconia Brewing Company

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

The MaltHead Manifesto

Images

With the exception of label images, photos by F.D. Hofer.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.