Monday, August 07, 2006
Czech beer in the New York Times.
How pleasingly timely, considering I’ll be there in a little more than three weeks.
The Ultimate Beer Run in the Czech Republic, by Evan Rail (New York Times; link probably requires registration).
Here’s an excerpt.
Going to the source is an emerging pastime for beer lovers. The wine trails of Napa, Bordeaux and Piedmont need no introduction. The same, however, cannot be said for the beer trails of Bohemia and Moravia. And yet, in recent years, amateur beer hunters have begun carving their own paths through these ancient Czech kingdoms, tapping into the same passion for local hops and barley that drives oenophiles to cross the globe for zinfandel and nebbiolo.
Wine snobs might call this overreaching, but great beer is inextricably tied to its environment in much the same way that a great Burgundy displays a characteristic terroir. Real Pilsner, for example, is made with the low-sulfite, low-carbonate water of the Czech city of Pilsen, its original home. Many have tried, but it’s nearly impossible to make a good Pilsner elsewhere without doctoring the water, and even then, it will never taste the same.
Around Europe, a handful of beer trails have already emerged, like the lambic breweries of the Senne Valley in Belgium, the seven Trappist monastery breweries of Belgium and the Netherlands, and the dozen or so Kölsch beer makers of Cologne.
There’s a certain irritation inherent in the recognition that the mainstream media seems unable to “get beer right” unless it can be explained using “wine geek” concepts, hence the examples of “terroir” “wine trails,” but so be it.
Fortunately, brewer and writer Garrett Oliver helps to provide much needed context as the author first predictably journeys to Pilsner Urquell and Budvar, but then also finds a gem of a tiny brewpub in a mountain meadow and visits another in Prague.
In the end, it’s a fairly good article, and worth a read. I’d add that all involved, from the author through Oliver, overstate the case when it comes to the traditional expertise of Czech brewing. For every independent brewery, there are a half-dozen of more (including SAB Miller’s Pilsner Urquell) owned by foreign investors, and the post-Communist transition from old-fashioned methods like open primary fermentation, in favor of using stainless steel, has produced technically superior beer that seldom tastes as authentic as it formerly did.
Although that won’t stop me from drinking it when I’m there …