The Ethereal Form of the Spirit of a Place

Where exactly is the Staropramen we get in 330ml bottles in UK supermarkets brewed? Probably not Prague, but good luck pinning it down any more precisely than that from the packaging.

We don’t dis­like Staro­pra­men (or haven’t dis­liked it, of which more in a moment) and have drunk a fair few pints and bot­tles of it over the years, despite know­ing that it’s not gen­er­al­ly high­ly regard­ed by experts in Czech beer. If we want a lager to drink at a bar­be­cue or to swig from the bot­tle at a par­ty – come on, this is one of life’s great plea­sures! – we’ll some­times pick up a four-quid four-pack at the super­mar­ket. That’s how we end­ed up hold­ing bot­tles in our hands on Sun­day and, for the first time in ages, real­ly look­ing at the pack­ag­ing.

Staropramen.

Estab­lished in Prague. Proud­ly brewed since 1849. #1 Prague beer in the world. The spir­it of Prague. Then, in tiny print, “Brewed and bot­tled in the EU for Mol­son Coors Brew­ing Com­pa­ny (UK) Ltd.”

That all reads to us like the most weasel­ly pos­si­ble way of say­ing NOT ACTUALLY BREWED IN PRAGUE.

So, where is it brewed if not there?

Mol­son Coors has brew­ing plants else­where in the Czech Repub­lic, and all over the EU, from Bul­gar­ia to Bur­ton-upon-Trent. But we have a sus­pi­cion if this ver­sion of the beer was brewed in the UK they would be less shy about it, on the basis that they’re rea­son­ably open about the fact that Pravha, the 4% draught vari­ant, is brewed here.

Our guess as to what’s going on, at least in part, is that there is no sin­gle point of ori­gin, and that they’re keep­ing their options open with regard to logis­tics. Per­haps some of the Staro­pra­men we get in the UK is some­times brewed in Prague, or at least else­where in the Czech Repub­lic, but there might be occa­sion­al peri­ods when addi­tion­al demand is ful­filled by plants in, say, Croa­t­ia. Being more spe­cif­ic on the labels would make this kind of flex­i­bil­i­ty dif­fi­cult.

So, who can say for sure? We’ve emailed to ask this spe­cif­ic ques­tion and will let you know if we hear back.

As to the qual­i­ty of the beer… Well, we’ve stuck up for it longer than some but it real­ly did taste a bit rough to us this time; harsh and nasty, with the same odd hot, pla­s­ticky tang we also pick up in Stel­la Artois and San Miguel in par­tic­u­lar. Per­haps that’s the result of the brew­ing tak­ing place away from home; or because the beer now only uses “ingre­di­ents includ­ing Czech hops” (our empha­sis); or because the lager­ing time is a mere “cou­ple of weeks”. Most like­ly, it’s a com­bi­na­tion of these and a lot of oth­er small­er cor­ner cut­ting exer­cis­es, them­selves the symp­tom of a lack of respect for the beer, even if the brand con­tin­ues to be worth milk­ing.

And why is the brand valu­able? Because peo­ple think they’re buy­ing some­thing from Prague – a gen­uine import, a reminder of adven­tures past, some­thing for which it is worth pay­ing a (small) pre­mi­um – just like we did on Sun­day after­noon.

Where a beer is from, or appears to be from, does mat­ter, at least to the mar­ket­ing peo­ple whose job it is to per­suade con­sumers to buy it.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 17 February 2018: Koduõlu, Tmavé Pivo, Buck’s Fizz

Here’s everything that grabbed us in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from inclusion to IKEA.

Before we start, though, here’s a reminder that oth­er links round-ups are avail­able: Stan Hierony­mus posts every Mon­day (lat­est) and Alan McLeod has nabbed Thurs­day. Do take a look if our list below leaves you hun­gry for more.

Illustration: "Odd One Out".

First up, for Gal-Dem mag­a­zine Alexan­dra Sewell (@wehavelalex) has writ­ten about her expe­ri­ence of the British beer scene as a black woman, and explored the pos­si­ble rea­sons more black women might not be involved:

Alco­hol was nev­er a fea­ture in our fam­i­ly house­hold. My British-born Jamaican mum nev­er kept low­ly bot­tles of brandy hid­den in the kitchen cup­boards and we weren’t accus­tomed to any­thing more than a non-alco­holic “Buck’s Fizz” at Christ­mas time. As a small kid, Sun­days were for church. As a big­ger kid, I was too pre­oc­cu­pied with school. And as far as I was con­cerned, alco­hol was some­thing that was out of sight, and there­fore entire­ly out of mind. I knew of it; I knew oth­er peo­ple that liked it and drank it, but the only edu­ca­tion I had about such a big part of the cul­ture I was born into was from those bor­der­line hilar­i­ous Chan­nel 4 doc­u­men­taries about peo­ple binge-drink­ing and puk­ing up onto the street.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 17 Feb­ru­ary 2018: Koduõlu, Tmavé Pivo, Buck’s Fizz”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 September 2016: Camouflage, Machines, Monks

We’re still snowed under working on The Big Project but we’ve found time to read a few interesting articles and blog posts in the last week.

First, the author of the Run­ning Past blog pro­files a South Lon­don land­mark, The Northover, which was built in the 1930s, cam­ou­flaged dur­ing World War II, and made a brief appear­ance in The Long Good Fri­day. (High­ly rel­e­vant to our cur­rent obses­sions.)


Picture by Michael Kiser for Good Beer Hunting, used with permission.
Pic­ture by Michael Kiser for Good Beer Hunt­ing, used with per­mis­sion.

Good Beer Hunt­ing con­tin­ues to sign up great writ­ers to its team. The lat­est addi­tion is Evan Rail who debuts with a por­trait of an Amer­i­can brew­er in the Czech Repub­lic:

Despite the Amer­i­can approach, the name itself—which trans­lates, rough­ly, to some­thing like Brew­ery Zhůř-guy—is almost ridicu­lous­ly Czech, con­tain­ing not only the language’s almost-impos­si­ble-to-pro­nounce ‘ř,’ but also the bizarrely long ‘á,’ to say noth­ing of the ooh-sound­ing ‘ů.’ (Oh, and the ‘z’ and the “h’ in ‘Zhůřák’ are pro­nounced sep­a­rate­ly. Good luck with that.) 


TV screen showing a monk on the brewery tour.
SOURCE: The Beer­Cast, used with per­mis­sion.

It’s dif­fi­cult to get an inter­est­ing post out of a mass jun­ket but not impos­si­ble as Richard Tay­lor demon­strates with his lat­est Beer­Cast post con­trast­ing the tour brew­ery tour at Can­til­lon with that at La Trappe:

But the prob­lem with Can­til­lon is that when you com­bine it with Twit­ter and Face­book, and become used to brew­eries com­mu­ni­cat­ing with their cus­tomers direct­ly 24/7 you devel­op the worst pos­si­ble affec­ta­tion – a sense of enti­tle­ment. It doesn’t afflict me very often, but for some rea­son it did at Kon­ing­shoeven – I just expect­ed the monks to be there, mash­ing in and paus­ing to answer ques­tions in bro­ken Eng­lish…


tavern

For the Recipes Project Dr James Brown and Dr Angela McShane of the like-mind­ed Intox­i­cants Project share an account of a dis­cus­sion around the ques­tion ‘Were Ear­ly Mod­ern Peo­ple Per­pet­u­al­ly Drunk?’ It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing read with this sec­tion on the hearty, nutri­tious qual­i­ty of very sweet beer a par­tic­u­lar eye-open­er:

Indeed, even had they had the tech­ni­cal means to achieve… high lev­els of fer­men­ta­tion, they would prob­a­bly not have want­ed to: in the more expen­sive beers, using a lot of malt, they were like­ly to have been push­ing for ‘sweet­ness and body’ rather than max­i­mum alco­holic strength, which could lead to thin­ness and an astrin­gent taste.


At Beer and Present Dan­ger Josh Far­ring­ton brings news of a brew­ing project based on machine learn­ing:

Devised by machine learn­ing firm Intel­li­gent Lay­er and cre­ative agency 10x, the process com­bines arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence with the wis­dom of crowds, using it’s own algo­rithms and feed­back from drinkers to con­stant­ly update, refine, and reit­er­ate the four styles cur­rent­ly being made – a Pale, a Gold­en, an Amber and a Black. Just as ear­ly-adopters can beta-test an app, now you can help devel­op a beer, respond­ing to an online bot’s ques­tion­naire after each drink, allow­ing Intel­li­gen­tX to bring out a new­ly refined gen­er­a­tion each month.

Mar­ket­ing gim­mick, or the future? And will it cre­ate beers per­fect­ly engi­neered to appeal to geeks, or bland­ed out brews that offend no-one?


Dave S is still strug­gling to answer a ques­tion that bugs him: which British bit­ters are most high­ly regard­ed by beer geeks? This time, he’s crunched some num­bers from Rate­Beer to come up with a rank­ing.


And final­ly, anoth­er call for help from us:

News, Nuggets & Longreads 21 May 2016: Pilsner, Mild and Pubs

These are all the blog posts and articles touching on beer and pubs that have given us pause for thought, or told us something we didn’t know, in the last week, from Pilsner to pubs.

→ We some­how missed this one last week so it gets top billing today: Evan Rail’s blog is back from what­ev­er Inter­net worm­hole it got lost in (this is great news, gen­er­al­ly) and his lat­est post is about the influ­ence of the Czech influ­ence on Euro­pean lager brew­ing in the 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies. It makes a strong case, with ref­er­ence to some love­ly pri­ma­ry sources, for Czech brew­ing get­ting more cred­it than it has tend­ed to in the past:

For its low-grade Bav­ière, the brew­ery used Ger­man hops (gen­er­al­ly Haller­tau, Woln­zach and a less-expen­sive cul­ti­var, Bav­ière Mon­tagne), which it bought from J. Tüch­mann & Söhne and Bernard Bing in Nurem­berg. But for the high­er-grade Munich and the Bock that was lat­er renamed Pil­sner, the brew­ery gen­er­al­ly used 100% Saaz, pur­chased from hop ven­dors like the Kell­ner broth­ers and Son­nen­schein & Lan­des­mann, both in Žatec (aka Saaz), right here in Bohemia.

Detail from a Whitbread advertisement, 1937, showing beer with food.

→ For Eater Matthew Sedac­ca pon­ders how ‘food­ie cul­ture’ (which includes craft beer) sur­vived, and even thrived dur­ing, the Great Reces­sion. We don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly agree with all of his con­clu­sions but it’s a great ques­tion:

A large dri­ver behind the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the “food­ie” ide­ol­o­gy dur­ing and post-reces­sion has been linked to the mil­len­ni­al generation’s shift in atti­tude towards mate­r­i­al goods —€” name­ly, they don’t real­ly want them. Sev­er­al reports have high­light­ed the phe­nom­e­non that, unlike the baby boomers and sev­er­al mem­bers of Gen X, mil­len­ni­als pre­fer con­sump­tion of ‘expe­ri­ences.’

→ Alec Lath­am con­sid­ers the var­i­ous ways in which pubs in St Albans, where he lives, have mutat­ed, changed or oth­er­wise been rein­vent­ed:

Some pubs come back from the dead, oth­ers change the ori­en­ta­tion of their ‘swing’… Though Mokoko’s isn’t a beery place, it’s still a great bar. After all, cock­tails are peo­ple too.

Greene King sign

→ In an inter­view with Aus­tralian Brews News the ven­er­a­ble brew­ing pro­fes­sor Charles Bam­forth has railed against gim­micks in brew­ing, like a Dog­fish Head beer made with chewed-up and spat-out grains: ‘Come on! You’re only going to do it once aren’t you?’ It’s not all grump­ing, though: he thinks black IPA, for exam­ple, is the right kind of bound­ary push­ing.

→ Ed vis­it­ed Greene King and brings us this inter­est­ing nugget, among oth­ers:

I also got to try their XX mild at last… Hav­ing var­i­ous milds in the port­fo­lio from the brew­eries they’ve tak­en over they ratio­nalised it to just one recipe, and had tast­ing tri­als to decide on the best one. Despite the name it’s sold under it was actu­al­ly the Hardys and Han­sons mild that won.

→ Gary Gill­man con­tin­ues to dig up tast­ing notes and opin­ions on Bel­gian beer from the 19th cen­tu­ry like this 1836 1847 diary entry men­tion­ing West­malle. (The mak­ings of a longer arti­cle or e-book here, per­haps?)

→ Not read­ing but lis­ten­ing: on the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio Lon­don this week a lis­ten­er asked if any­one remem­bered an estate pub in South Lon­don called The Apples & Pears. Peo­ple did (@ 2h 20m):

It was a very mod­ern pub… Myself and my three girl­friends used to dri­ve up on a Sat­ur­day night in our Austin A40… We used to go around ’72, ’73… We used to dress to match the era of the car, lots of long beads, head­bands, floun­cy frocks, sort of 1920s flap­pers was our style…

→ Carlisle is get­ting a State Man­age­ment Scheme muse­um with Her­itage Lot­tery fund­ing – fan­tas­tic new! Let’s gen­er­al­ly have more brew­ing, beer and pub muse­ums and exhi­bi­tions, please. (There’s no web­site that we can find so this Tweet with a screen­shot of a Word doc­u­ment will have to do.)

Beer in Prague, 1958

Detail of 1958 Prague transit map.

Among the var­i­ous piles of crap use­ful things that we hoard col­lect, there’s an ever-grow­ing stack of old tourist guide­books, includ­ing a 1958 guide to Prague, from the Czecho­slo­va­kian state tourism board. Here’s an abridged ver­sion of the sec­tion that caught our eye this week­end.

Prague Brew­eries and Beer-hous­es

And still our acquain­tance with Old Prague would not be com­plete if we did not vis­it the places where the cit­i­zens of Prague used to go to quaff a tankard of foam­ing ale or a glass of wine. Innu­mer­able are the beer and wine tav­erns in Prague. Many of them are of ancient stand­ing. Of the old brew­eries (of which there were for instance in Dlouhá ulice alone no less than twelve) only two still sur­vive. The old­er of these is the brew­ery “u Tomáše”, in the Malá Strana. Today nobody could count how many bar­rels of excel­lent black beer have been drunk here since the time of Charles IV, when the Augus­tin­ian monks brewed their first hops.

[…]

The coun­ter­part to the St Thomas Brew­ery is the brew­ery on the New Town side of the riv­er, “U Fleků”, of which we first hear in the 15th cen­tu­ry. More per­haps than any oth­er beer-house in Prague, “U Fleků” lives in Czech lit­er­a­ture and has become immor­tal as the bohéme who fre­quent­ed it at the turn of the cen­tu­ry.

[…]

We must only add that in Prague there are sev­er­al mod­ern brew­eries, of which the largest is the Smí­chov Staro­pra­men – which takes us unto Prague of the mid­dle of the 20th cen­tu­ry where, in an up-to-date alchemist’s kitchen, hops and malts are con­vert­ed into beer, the tra­di­tion­al Czech bev­er­age.

And so, let’s raise our bedewed and froth-topped glass­es and drink to this city that also pro­vides so well for man’s mate­r­i­al wants!