Friday 25 August 2017

A visit to Únětický pivovar

The last visit I organised for the Brewery History Society trip to Prague was to Únětický pivovar. I'd become a big fan of their beer on work trips to Prague, and previously scouted out the feasibility of a visit.

The brewery is in a glorious old brewery building:

The the actual brewhouse is surprisingly small nowadays:

So they still have space for a boules rink:

Once again there were lots of open fermenters:

And an awful lot of conditioning tanks:

And yes, we did drink some beer straight from them:

Sunday 20 August 2017

The GBBF: give the little guys a chance

This year there has been a blessed silence from the choir of whingers that pipe up when the Champion Beer of Britain is announced. Instead in the blogosphere there has been a more measured discussion on the selection of beers for the GBBF. I must admit I didn't really pay much attention to what beers were on offer this year, which could be considered bad form. Though the reason I didn't peruse the programme closely was I was simply enjoying myself too much, so perhaps not all bad.

Some of the commentators on the Tandleman's blog post have been complaining that the beer selection was dull, and more exciting beers should be chosen. Marble Brewery, whose beers were not there this year, are also mentioned as a sign that beer from good breweries is not ordered.

I'm not so sure myself. Though CAMRA does indeed move in mysterious ways, I like that they try to be inclusive. Small breweries, that never feature in the lists of usual suspects, have a chance to showcase their beer at a national level. And take it from me, if you work at one of these small breweries this is proper exciting stuff. So at the risk of offending breweries that think they are entitled to a permanent slot, and beer geeks that want to see a 'best of ratebeer' selection, is say let the little guys have their day in the sun.


Saturday 12 August 2017

How evil is evil?

Whilst over in London for the GBBF I had the chance to try Fuller's unfined keg Pride. Considering the lengths some craft brewers will now go to to deliberately make cloudy beer it was surprisingly bright.

Certainly if I was handed a pint of cask beer looking like that I might eye it suspiciously but I wouldn't take it back. The beer tasted like normal Pride, except it was colder and fizzier. And it cost a pound a pint more, so it's not something I can recommend.

There is also the doctrinal matter to take into consideration. As a keg beer, served using extraneous CO2, it's undoubtedly evil, but how evil? It's not filtered or pasteurised so I did wonder if drinking it is a venial or mortal sin. More work for the CAMRA theologians there. I took the precaution of saying an act of contrition and three Hail Protzes after finishing my pint just in case.

Friday 11 August 2017

The Great British Beer Festival 2017

Lots of people are down on beer festivals at the moment. Or at least the CAMRA ones. And certainly their role does seem to be changing from showcasing cask beer to raising funds for our Mother Church.

When I were a lad, back in the days when most of the pubs near me were either Allied Breweries or Courage, beer festivals were a rare chance to see interesting and unusual beers like Hop Back Summer Lightning or Sarah Hughes Original Dark Ruby Mild. After the Beer Orders though it became increasingly possible to to sample a wide range of new beers just by visiting a few pubs in the town centre. So many years ago I stopped going to the Great British Beer Festival, the price of the ticket and the train fair seemed an awful lot to pay before a drop had even passed my lips.

But once I started getting free tickets for the trade day, and work paying for the transport, my view changed dramatically. Funny that. The GBBF is now a high spot of the year, better than a birthday or bookfair. There aren't often that many beers I'm keen to tick off, as despite my dedicated beer nerdery I haven't heard of most of them nowadays. A lot of beer geeks hang out at the foreign beer bars, and some seem to think this reflects badly on CAMRA, even though they've provided the beer and anyway it's hardly surprising that beer geeks flock around the rare and exotic beers rather than the permanently available domestic ones. But I'm even more lost with the foreign beers, so unless someone recommends stuff to me I seldom bother, and I didn't haven anything from abroad this year. I did have the Burning Sky/Harvey's key keg beer though, safe in the knowledge I wasn't putting my immortal soul at risk.

For me the GBBF for me is really about the networking, and I well ahead on points this year. I missed out on one person I'd hoped to catch up with, but saw so many others I can't complain. The IBD meeting is handy for the hobnobbing, and though it was a re-run of the haze meeting in October I still picket up some interesting titbits. The only published paper comparing the taste of fined and unfined beer showed negligible difference, but some of the audience said effects have been found (and not necessarily that unfined beers taste better) so it will be interesting to see if anything gets published.

Pic from October
I bought a book from Boak and Bailey, of which I've so far read very little but it's already a strong contender for Book of the Year.

Oh yes

And I was given a beer by a friend from the New Lion Brewery, which I'm delighted to say I managed to get home safely.

Cheers Mat!

As I was booked into a hotel in Olympia this year I stayed later than I normally do, which did help with all the networking. And yes, I did have a Full English the next morning, my need for fried pork products seemed particularly strong.

Wednesday 2 August 2017

A visit to the Pilsner Urquell brewery

The next day of the Brewery History Society visit to Prague saw us get the train to Pilsen. I know there's a lot of brewing history in Prague, but I've wanted to visit the Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský prazdroj) brewery for a very long time. For many years Pilsner Urquell was the only lager that I liked, and the brewery of the original pilsner is obviously of great historical significance.

A view of the brewery and the Jubilee Gate

It was good, very good. There's a large modern brewery on the site (production is over 10 million hectolitres a year) but they've also kept the old brewhouse and cellars.

The bottling line was also suitably large, and working at a cracking pace. I didn't see any stoppages whilst we were there.

The old brewhouse has more copper though:

Some serious hammer rash can be seen on the chute going into the lauter tun:

The new brewhouse is another cathedral of gleaming copper, though I think in this case it's copper cladding over stainless steel. But they do still have direct gas firing and a copper heat exchange surface, and do triple decoction mashing.

They also have two 10m lauter tuns, with space for one more.

10m lauter tuns
Quite where and when the mash and wort go I'm not entirely certain. With the two vessel continental system I'd been assuming the lower vessel was the mash and wort kettle, and the upper one the lauter tun. Where an extra lauter tun comes into it I'm not sure, but I dare say it speeds up getting things through the brewhouse.

It's all highly automated
Then it was into the cellars.

 There's 9km of them.

And they still do some fermentation and conditioning in wooden vessels there.

And yes, we did have a drop or two.

Pilsen murky: it's great stuff.

Na zdraví

Tuesday 1 August 2017

As above, so below

With the rise of murky craft beer I am once more left thinking how the poor, deluded crafties are groping blindly towards the shining light of our Mother church's teachings. Though in the CAMRA catechism the definition of real ale talks of the inherent evil of extraneous CO2, it is often forgotten that artificial carbonation is also an obvious external sign that the greater evils of filtration and pasteurisation have occurred.

Carbonation itself affects beer flavour, and high levels of carbonation can overpower some flavours, but filtration and pasteurisation are likely to cause more flavour problems. Once beer has been separated from the yeast it has lost a lot of its natural protection from oxidation, and great care has to be taken to prevent off flavours developing. Modern brewers will be looking for oxygen pick up of less than 100 parts per billion, something that is not always possible to achieve. Particularly if you're not working at a megabrewery with high spec. kit. Any problems caused by oxygen will be increased during pasteurisation, and when the beer is then served with a high level of carbonation it is a shadow a what it once was.

The current fashion for beer that can only be described as murky is in part because devotees think they have better flavour, and that they've not been filtered or pasteurised will be a big reason for this.  I myself have seeking out unfiltered and unpasteurised beers for many years. In Britain we have a long tradition of making such beers, and they can usually be found by looking for beers served from handpumps.