Friday, December 25, 2009

December 25, 2009

Happiness to be a beer nut in the Philippines. Nuts about beer and beer with nuts, and at times just plain nuts, depending on who you talk to, that may just be a typical sketch of a Filipino. It's a good opening to a last review for the year -- too few and infrequent throughout 2009, yes -- but it's been a good 365 days for sampling great brews.

Kala and I went to Prague some months ago, thanks to mileage accumulated over the years courtesy of our work, which flies us frequently to new horizons with the inevitable return to homebase bedraggled and worn down. In my case, the best description I've come up with is feeling like a worn-out pencil stub, which can still make marks on paper but which can't write anything legible anymore.

We thank the deities, however, for the wares of other lands, in this case the breathtaking capital of the Czech Republic.

So here are two, plus a different kind of beer bubbly, which we'll start with.

BEER SHAMPOO -- If there's a single piece of evidence needed to demonstrate I'm rather favorable to beer, this one's it and it's a splendid sort of crazy.

Introducing the Pivni Vlasovy Sampon, beer shampoo manufactured by Prague-based Manufaktura, which specializes in original beer cosmetics.

Two-thirds of the hair goo are already used up, which goes to show that this shampoo's a pretty great product. It has an incredibly unique fragrance, a bitter-sweet scent that's almost delicious, and a tiny amount makes the senses glow, the scalp feels clean and once you rinse your hair almost smiles and says "Happy!" There's been nothing like it that I've experienced before. You know it's shampoo and yet you get sweet flavor-fragrance. My only regret -- why the heck did I give away four bottles and kept only one to myself. And why didn't I get beer soap and bath salts and beer hair balm? Nyek.

Kala and I had an incredible time in Prague, a deserved week spent continuously walking around the spectacularly photogenic city, awestruck by the architecture and the multitude of aesthetic expression whether you look up or down or side to side. Swiveling your head can be surprisingly rewarding, especially in Staro Mesto, the old town.

Yet Prague is more than just about photographable sights. There's such a thing as the Prague experience and there's no better way to try out a facet of this through Czech beer and Prague's great beer cuisine.

There's something seductive about the beer of Czech craft breweries. What makes many of the fine Czech beers stand out? A certain piquancy, bitterness and tartness, courtesy of the way humulus lupulus is used -- cannabinaceae, or common hops. In a typical large Czech beer there's about 1.2 1.8 grams of hops.

AMBER -- Among the finer examples of Czech brew pubs is Klasterni Pivovar Strahov along Strahovske nadvoti, where we sampled a fine example of Czech beer, called Sv. Norbert Jantarovy (5.3% AbV), a special amber beer. In my Prague notebook, it says "probably ... the best amber beer ever" that I've tasted. "Bitter, very hoppy -- again, a really clean finish."

It was a midday stop after non-stop strolling on the morning of the second day of September -- a whole day of walking around a district of Prague where we encountered a preserved sad Dodo near the Cabinet of Curiosities and Prague's Xyloteca, which carried books with spines made from the bark of the tree described in the book.

Sv Norbert's a bottom-fermented all-malt medium-bitter beer inspired, I think, by the Vienna-style lager and Bavarian Marzen. The color's close to Marzen and the bitterness is quite Viennese. Usually brewed in March, they make the beer all year round since the monastery has cooling machines. At my favorite virtual wateringhole called Beer Advocate, the rating's equally nice, ranging from B- to A. Not bad at all.

The place looks great, with the copper vats inside the restaurant, just beside the bar. Reviews from other beer nuts cite slow service (Kala's complaint as well with the brewery resto) but the interior is really beautiful (check out the 360 degree look here) and the food is very good. I took home a couple of the pub's beer mats -- beautiful, linocut-type design of the plant life that gives beer brewing its glory.

Beer cuisine's a constant on the menus of many Prague restaurants. I ordered grilled chicken in dark beer with gerkins, and it was superb. The chicken was roasted well -- crispy on the outside and tender white meat, and the sauce was just the right thickness, the flavor accompanied by a dark beer's bitter-sweet qualities.

"HOUSE OF THE LITTLE BEARS" -- My first craft brewery experience in Prague gave me one my most enduring memories of the great city. The place is called U Medvidku along Na Perštýne in Staro Mesto. It's a hotel and pub and restaurant all in one, and the place is a veritable house of memory.

The brewery dates back to 1466 and, though it encountered a number of closures - the last one during the dark times of Stalinism - it's been up and about for some time, enthralling visitors and Prague regulars. The pub has an incredibly deep interior, with several floors framed from above by original gothic ceilings and elegant, soft, haunting lighting.

My first beer there was called "Old Dog" (5.2% AbV), a clean, fragrant semi-dark lager with a delicate lace head. I really liked it - typical Czech beer with a clean finish and the right bitterness.

Kala and I ordered Smes syru nalozenych v oleji a pive (or in the language of Earthlings, "assorted cheeses doused" [soaked is more like it] "in olive oil and beer".) The beer's not pasteurized and has a high dose of vitamin B and is recommeded as "a nutrition supplement", especially for different health remedies.

U Medvidku is described as "the smallest brewery in Prague" and its main hall is the site of Prague's first cabaret. In our last visit, Kala ordered the Old Dog and I had the brewery's centerpiece, X33, a 12.6 % AbV beer that is probably the most full-bodied beer I've ever tasted, comparable to Rochefort 10 though its sweetness prevents me from hurling X33 to the very, very top of my beer pantheon. But definitely it will belong to my "amorphous top fifteen."

This is truly a beer that comes close to drinking liquid cake and the strength and body and the beer's zooming berries makes it stand out, the flavors strong, the bitterness familiar.

On it's label -- "Made of water, barley, malt, hop and years according to the partially preserved prescription of the brewery that was at this place 500 years ago".

The label also carries the message "Don't drink alone" due to the beer's high alcohol content, but I think the original creator surely meant X33 to be consumed with company, a beer to be celebrated, especially with the roast boar that I ordered - really gamey and with just the right saltiness, which combined well with the spinach and potato dumplings (a Czech regular on the menu). Kala ordered a great trout, which was a very good companion to Medvidku's amber beer.

I got myself a green Old Dog shirt and I've taken to wearing it very infrequently, so as not to wear it out too early.

So that's it for now. A Czech beer-ender to a tough, almost painful year that was made lighter and more colorful thanks to the genius of brewmasters.

Thanks for dropping by. #

Photos by redster.


Padma said...

Cheers, Red! Enjoyed this very much. Even if I've just had dinner, reading about the food and the beer made my mouth water!

Redster said...

Hey Pad! Ako rin, binasa ko uli gusto ko na magluto at mag beer haha. Can we stroll around mountains in Feb or March, or Feb and March :-)

Oliver Bautista San Antonio said...

nice entry, was in prague some months ago as well but wasn't able to try any of the craft brews. keep on beer blogging!

Redster said...

Oi, thanks for dropping by Oliver. Craft brews from the Czech Republic really have their own personality. Look for them when you can.