Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Břevnovský Pivovar: A Czech Microbrew Revolution?

Prague, Czech Republic: The birthplace of Pilsner and a brewing tradition dating back hundreds of years. But while Czech Republic is world renowned for producing some of the best light beers in the world, can they possibly bear to part ways with tradition and start producing other newer styles? My first search for pubs offering more than one or two beers proved unfruitful. That is until I was introduced to the P.I.V. Alliance.

The P.I.V Alliance (loosely translated means: Smarter Options for Beer) is a collection of certified Czech pubs primarily, but not entirely, located in Prague and dedicated to serving customers a refreshing new selection of beers produced by microbreweries throughout the country. P.I.V. was founded in 2010 by five Prague publicans and has since grown to nine member pubs located throughout Czech Republic. In order to be included in the alliance, pubs must undergo a six-month trial period and meet strict guidelines. The existence alone of the alliance is suggestive of the desire for more variety within Czech beer culture.

After visiting one of the member pubs in Prague, Restaurace Kulový blesk, and examining their various offerings, it's obvious that brewers and customers alike are hungry for more flavours than traditional lighter beers can offer. I was thinking about this situation and how it parallels the situation in 1980's era USA when the craft beer revolution began gaining momentum. The significant difference, however, is that formal beer production has taken place in Czech Republic since the 12th century and probably many hundreds of years before that. The long-standing tradition of beer production was well-established 500 years before America was even a dream. When Pilsner came about in Bohemia in the late 19th century it took the world by storm and in a way, the country has never looked back. The small percentage of craft breweries here are fighting a 170 year-old battle against this very thing. But small brewers are still trying. And the options available at this pub ranged from American Style Pale Ales to Russian Imperial Stouts, a far cry from the dark and light lagers so readily available. It will be interesting to see how the general public takes to these options, and whether or not they'll take hold. Perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of something huge: the craft beer revolution in Czech Republic. Only time will tell.

The beer I elected to try was a Russian Imperial Stout from a small brewery in Prague operating since 2011: Břevnovský Pivovar. The space in which they currently brew was originally used by monks to brew beer in the 18th century but production ceased in 1889. The newly renovated space allows for an annual production of 3,000 hL or about 2,500 barrels/year. In addition to offering traditional light and dark lagers, Břevnovský Pivovar produces an Imperial Pilsner, an IPA, and this Russian Imperial Stout. Břevnovský has also revealed they have a barrel-aging program, with several beers already on wood. The Russian Imperial Stout sits at a very strong 8.5% and is the strongest beer I've seen thus far on my travels through Czech Republic. A microbrewed Russian Imperial Stout from Czech Republic is something I couldn't pass up. On to the beer!

Name: Břevnovský Benedict Russian Imperial Stout
Category/Style: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 8.50%
IBU: Unknown
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: Unknown
Bottled: 08.07.2012
Bottle Size: 330 mL
Location Purchased: Restaurace Kulový blesk, Prague, Czech Republic

The Pour: Jet black, not much light penetrating this beer. Head is dark brown/tan and thick and creamy. Retention is excellent and lacing is decent.

The Nose: Lots of dark fruit and heavily roasted malt. A bit astringent. A little salty. Old coffee, toffee, smoke and dark chocolate. A bit of brown sugar and cocoa powder. Smells like an IRS.

The Taste: A bit thin bodywise. At 8.5% the alcohol is not noticeable at all. Definitely dominated by the roasty smoky malts. Flavour is a little bittersweet, a little salty, a hint of sweet toffee. A bit bready as well. A little spice in there. It's quite light on the palate, and the carbonation is low. As it warms the alcohol becomes more noticeable and I can detect some warming on the back of my throat. Finish is a lingering roasted bitterness.

The Verdict: Quite impressed actually. Finding something other than a light-bodied dark lager has proven difficult but it seems there is an underground culture of beer geeks in existence in Prague. In addition to bottled beers from Czech microbreweries, I saw bottles from Germany and Holland (more specifically from: Brouwerij de Molen) at pubs and bottle shops. The flavours in this beer were spot on for the style and was surprisingly easy to drink. After visiting their website and finding out they're brewing an IPA I might have to pop in and have a taste. If you're coming to Prague and tire of the standard smattering of light lagers, go to the P.I.V. Alliance website and seek out the five pubs located within the city. Their selection will not disappoint. Hopefully this is a small preview of things to come here in a beer culture dominated by light beers, cheers!

Thanks for reading!