Prague pub roundup

It’s been a busy month or so since we got back from our travels — so busy we haven’t got round to mentioning all of the fascinating pubs and breweries we visited in Prague.  So, a quick summary is in order.

Straight after U Fleku, we headed to the Novomeststky Pivovar, probably the second most touristy place in Prague.  It was very empty, and had quite a dismal atmosphere as result.  The beer was great, though — very yeasty — so much so that it smelled like rising rye bread.  We completed our touristy trio by popping into the legendary U Medvidku.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t get into the ‘pivovar’ bit, where you go to get the well-regarded Oldgott Barrique on tap.  We settled for a bottle of the same in another section, which tasted a bit sour and watery. Not really worth the bother.  The boring old Budvar on tap was great, though!

The two most interesting brewpubs took a bit more effort to get to.  Although Klasterny Pivovar Strahov isn’t that far from the Castle, it is up a ruddy great hill.  The beer and the food is a tad pricy by Czech standards, but we’d say it was worth paying the extra for.  On tap was a tmavy and the ‘jantar’ (amber), which was one of our favourite beers of the holiday.  It was almost like a British ale in its bitterness and fruitiness.  Lovely stuff.

Out in the suburbs, Pivovar U Bulovky is worth the trip for a lively and cosy atmosphere (although there’s a very scary waitress) and great beer.  Can’t really see the coach parties rocking up to this place, although we thought we spotted a few other beer geeks, notebooks and beer guides in hand.  U Bulovky offer a good lezak and a lovely polotmavy (amber), as well as a changing range of other beers. The ‘ale’ was more interesting in the fact of its existence than its flavour though — definitely a few too many pear drops going on.

One other pub we have to mention is Baracnicka Rychta, up a side street in Mala Strana.  It offers excellent beers from the Svijany brewery, the nutty “red” being the highlight.  We ate a lot of nakladany hermelin there, and felt very contented with the world.

Apologies for the lack of appropriate accents.  Life’s too short.

Poechenellekelder, Brussels

Andreea in Belgium tipped us off to this pub a while ago. We popped in on the way out to Germany, and were utterly charmed by the place, so we stopped off for a longer session on the way home.

As Andreea says, it is right on the tourist path, and there are lots of tourists in it, but you would not describe it as a trap. Well, unless you were commenting on the narrow entrance stairs – seriously dangerous after a couple of strong belgian brews. It’s extremely cosy and welcoming, the kind of place you can while away hours. It has a couple of changing beers on tap, and an extremely long list of beer in bottles.

We stuck to the Christmas specials. Kerstpater (9%) and Gouden Carolus Christmas (10.5%) were on tap, so we started there.  The Kerstpater was warming and boozy, although the finish reminded us of lucozade (too sweet?).  Gouden Carolus was better, with a nice cherry-chocolate aftertaste.  We thought it wasn’t really nice enough to justify the 10.5% strength, but it set us up for the afternoon, and Andreea really liked it.

“Palm Double” was next. We can’t find any reference to it on the Palm website.  Bizarrely, it tasted almost exactly like a 4% British bitter, despite being much stronger.  On to Pere Noel, by De Ranke. At 7%, this is weak for a Belgian Christmas beer, but was our favourite of the day.  It has the same “musty” hop taste as their XX bitter, of which we’re big fans.  It’s different and refreshing, while still being Christmassy.

There were various parades going on outside for St Nicholas’s day, and at one point an entire marching band, sousaphone and all, squeezed their way in for a post-march booze up.  All of which added to the cosiness.  A highly recommended pub.

Boak

Regensburg again, and a new brewery

It was in Regensburg, Bavaria, in 2007, that we first decided to start blogging, so excited were we by a glass of Spital Pils. On our recent holiday, we scheduled a one night stop-over to break the long train journey back to London, and had the chance to see if our opinions of the city had stood the test of time.

In 2007, we enjoyed Kneitinger Bock. We were nervous this time — what if it wasn’t as good as we remembered? It was, although Boak found it a bit too sweet this time. This time, though, we also tried the pils, which was a revelation, and one of the best beers of the holiday (“Good enough to be Czech,” we noted).

Our plan to re-drink all the beers we tried first time round was derailed, however, when we came across a new brewpub right in the centre of town which was crammed and lively. The Regensburger Weissbrauhaus was set up around a year and a half ago (despite a cheeky “Anno 1620” claim based on the age of the building). They make a standard wheat beer, a dark wheat beer, and dark and light lagers. The light wheat beer was pretty exciting (modelled after Schneider, we thought, and really juicy) although a good part of its appeal was probably its freshness. The others were not so impressive — yeasty, sweetish, with the hops missing in action.

But, what the hey — it’s got to be good that the number of breweries in this beautiful city is increasing, right?

JW Lees, at last

We’ve been wanting to try some or any of Manchester brewery JW Lees’ beers for a while now, but they don’t turn up in London much. This week, I (Bailey…) finally got the chance, taking Tandleman’s recommendation of a trip to the Netherton Hall near Frodsham, Cheshire.

It’s been refurbished in the last month and is now a very classy, very cosy flagship JW Lees pub. There’s a portrait of Mr Lees himself over the fireplace, which is nice. It’s obviously also a with its eye on diners, but not in a way which is likely to be an issue for even the most sensitive gastro-pub hater (there was an uncomfortable looking skinheaded lad who’d been forced into a pair of slacks and a shirt pretending to be a waiter, but that was about it).

The beers on offer were the plainly named Bitter (4.0%) and two seasonals — Autumn Glow (4.2%) and Plum Pudding (4.8%).

Autumn Glow was a nice starter, served with a creamy sparkled head and pleasantly soft around the edges. It was reminiscent of another beer, but the similarity took a few sips to pin down. Fuller’s Jack Frost? Maybe — there was some blackberry flavour there, amongst the crystal malt. But no: with eyes closed and imagination engaged, it could have passed for a very light-coloured German festbier. At any rate, very nice and quite complex.

Plum Pudding was a stunner — very fruity, but not at all sickly. A bit tart, if anything, and reminiscent of Liefmans Framboise. The best and most balanced English fruit beer I’ve ever tried, anyway, and one which Boak is now keen to have a crack at. it would mull nicely, too!

Drinking these in completely the wrong order, it was Bitter to finish. Is it a dull, or was that just the contrast? It got better when the head had was out of the way, starting out as boring Bombardier or Spitfire but finishing more bitter and fruity, like a less in-your-face version of Plum Pudding. But who knows for sure? My tastebuds were shot by this point, and I’d failed to bring the prescribed dry bread, bottled water and spitoon…

Read Tandleman on Plum Pudding here. Oh– and Lees grip glass is very peculiar, like something an alien would drink out of.

Bailey

Pubco sets up pretend freehouses

UK pub company Mitchells and Butlers are apparently planning to open a series of unique “concept bars”. They’ll be part of a chain but designed to look like they’re independent.

The UK pub chain company owns, among others, O’Neill’s, Scream Pubs and All Bar One, but has clearly recognised (as we’ve pointed out before) that big companies and boringly ubiquitous brands are going out of fashion. They’re not going away, though — just into hiding.

Interesting to see how this business model works out. Our bet is that one of the bars will do better than the others and then turn into a chain…

Via Marketing magazine/Brand Republic.