As a prelude to what follows, you probably recall that I was fortunate to have traveled in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, and accordingly, I enjoyed quite a few excellent beers that in my opinion actually benefited from the communist system.
Now, this may sound ridiculous at first utterance, but consider that outside of a few heavy export hitters (Pilsner Urquell prime among them), more than a few traditional lager breweries in Czechoslovakia routinely were denied substantial investment capital during the communist era. Rather, they were compelled to continue brewing the old-fashioned way ... and maybe that wasn't a problem at all.
After communism, when most of these breweries were privatized (read: sold off to western brewing conglomerates), their operations were modernized and streamlined. To my palate during subsequent trips, this "upgrading" had an effect on traditional Czech lager similar to what happens when the human voice is subjected to Auto-Tune. The beers became technically brilliant, and thus perfectly boring.
It was only a matter of time until the counter-revolution, and although I've not been to the area since 2006, I'm endlessly pleased to read of numerous small brewery start-ups. Modern-think stole character from the lagers; now the new generation is stealing it back. I enthusiastically approve this message, and I want to go back some sweet day. Please?
Until then, and with the help of the Kout na Šumavě brewery website (in English and Czech) and Ron Pattinson's seminal European Beer Guide section on Czech Republic, here's a glimpse at the three visitors. I tasted all of them earlier.
Koutská „tap“ blonde beer 10°/Koutská desítka - výčepní světlé pivo 10%
3-4% (8-10° Plato)
Pattinson: "Pale, low-strength lager. In German the name "Světlé Výčepní Pivo" translates as "Helles Schankbier". Usually highly-attenuated and fairly hoppy. Not lagered for any great time, such beers are sold 3-4 weeks after mashing. The most popular style of beer in the Czech Republic."
Note that desítka simply means the number ten. In general, the term výčepní can mean tapping, tap or draft; in the sense of 10° Czech beer, it seems to denote and perhaps emphasize the lower gravity. Because lower gravity lagers are less expensive, they're the big sellers in the Czech Republic. Crisp and sessionable.
Koutská Blonde lager 12°/Koutská dvanáctka - světlý ležák 12%
4.4 - 5% (11-12.5° Plato)
"The classic Czech pale lager style. The name means the same as "Helles Lagerbier" in German. Individual beers vary greatly, from sweetish and malty (like Pilsner Urquell) to dry and hoppy (Budvar). One thing they all have in common is being heavily hopped with good quality aroma hops (such as Saaz). Beers in this style should be lagered for 2-3 months before sale."
Likewise, dvanáctka means twelve. You may have noticed that the Czech custom is to render the °as %, which can play games with the minds of tourists. Kout na Šumavě's 12° golden lager fits Pattinson's description perfectly; it isn't just the extra body, but perfectly balanced hops from bittering through flavor and aroma.
Now the judgment gets a bit harder. Koutská's Special dark beer 18° is excellent, with a roasty malt edge and balanced sweetness that does not seem to approach Doppelbock's (the body seems light for Doppelbock). I'm not sure which style it best fits. Maybe here:
Special dark beer 18°/Koutský tmavý speciál - tmavé speciální pivo 18%Tmavé (Černé) Speciální Pivo
8 - 10% (18-24° Plato)
"Dark doppelbock. Includes the strongest Czech lagers."
Tmavé is "dark" and Černé is "black." Is it Dopelbock, or it it an example of the nearly extinct Czech style of Porter, which Pattinson likens to the Polish variety?
8 - 9% (19-20° Plato)
"Black lagers. Very full-bodied beers, with lots of dark malt flavours and a good dose of bitterness. Pre- WW II, the standard top-end beer of Czech breweries. Getting rare."
Beats me. Perhaps further information will be forthcoming.
I can say this: These Kout na Šumavě lagers are as good as I hoped they would be. There's a regrettable tendency for today's enthusiast to dismiss "mere" lager, which finds itself outgunned by extreme styles, and yet, in the end, this means only that there'll be more left for me -- and that'll do wonderfully, at least until the next Czech trip can be taken.