Czech craft brewers on the rise

In the New York Times recently, Evan Rail reported on the Czech Republic’s growing craft beer industry and its support by a number of pubs disappointed by the limited beer choices in Prague’s bars. Rail writes “many bars are locked into exclusive agreements with large breweries, which often install and control the taps”.

Prague’s not unique in that respect. But given Bohemia’s long and diverse brewing history, Prague’s beer tourists could be short changed should their tippling choice be limited to Gambrinus, Staropramen, Urquell and Budejovicky Budvar – the big local and global brands from the region.

If you’re travelling to Prague, you can Google Rail’s article for his list of recommended pubs. But us Canberra-bound drinkers face a more limited choice of Bohemian brews. I found five on the shelves at Plonk, Fyshwick, all except one in the robust, golden, bitter lager style pioneered by Urquell in the town of Plzen in 1842.

Urquell scrubbed up well in the tasting. It’s richly malty and has the signature fragrance, flavour and bitterness of the local Saaz hops, albeit slightly toned down to how I remember it in the past.
Budvar disappointed, however; but Krusovice and the beautifully fresh, lively Kozel hit the mark, as did the amber, sweet, malty, alcoholic Primator in its own idiosyncratic style.

Pilsner Urquell 330ml $3.50
Perhaps it’s not as bitter as it used to be – but Urquell remains in the classic Bohemian Pilsner mould – richly malty but dry, with the appealing pungency of Saaz hops and a lingering, refreshing hops bitterness. It’s distributed by Coca Cola Amatil in a joint venture with Uquell’s owner, SABMiller.

Velkopopovicky Kozel Premium 500ml $4.00
Kozel, also from Plzen, is slightly more alcoholic and fuller bodied than Urquell and the hops less pungent and spicy. The hops provide a deep bitterness on the palate, offsetting the opulent maltiness, then linger on in the aftertaste. It’s a complex beer, thankfully in a decent sized bottle.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2010