Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Prague 2017 Day 3 - Viewpoints, Weird Donkeys and Vietnam

Day 3 started much the same as any other with us moaning about hangovers before making sandwiches at the apartment before heading out.

We decided to head up to Letna Park because we'd not been there before and we'd heard it has great views over the city (also, beer gardens.

We jumped off the tram somewhere in Holesovice near the Generali Arena where AC Sparta Prague play, and for a team that I've seen play champions league games I was surprised how small their stadium is. I guess ice hockey is more their thing since the TipSport Arena where HC Sparta Prague play is massive.

We wandered through the greenest space we'd seen in Prague, the large Letna Park and found the Metronome where there was skateboarding and the universal sign for "You wanna buy drugs, fam?" and holy shit, the view was incredible. A wide unobstructed view of the city I love in all its glory.

Afterwards we took a short wander and accidentally found a Staropramen beer garden serving Tankova at very cheap prices, about 32kc if I remember correctly. Despite it only being 11:30am of course I had to have a pint of the 10 degree (which is not the horrible stuff we get here). It was so nice sitting in the scorching sun drinking beers, chatting and smoking cigarettes. Some English girls then arrived who knew ALL ABOUT BEER, it was great because I learned that Corona is from Italy. NOT. We prevailed through their knowledgeable conversation which somehow, effortlessly switched to make-up and I have no idea how. We decided to have another pint with Sammie once again making the mistake of thinking the cider wasn't Kingswood. Obviously it was, to her disappointment.

We decided to head towards The Prague Market in Holesovice with another stop at another beer garden. This one wasn't quite as nice and only had Gambrinus 10 which I actually prefer in bottles and Sammie had a bottle of Frisco which is like a blended fruit cider from the makers of Pilsner Urquell.

We finally found the market and it was wonderful. I felt like I was walking around Great Yarmouth due to the sheer amount of stalls selling genuine knock off merchandise and cheaply made everything, except there were more Vietnamese people than in GY.

We found the food hall which was wall to wall of fresh produce. Fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses and the freshest carp you could find... in fact it was so fresh that it was swimming around in the tank still! Next, food was on the agenda, and the only food we could find was Vietnamese, but I was OK with that! I had some curried chicken noodles which were alright, washed down with a can of Gambrinus 10 that boasted 10% extra, whilst I got lost in translation and accidentally ordered Sammie a chicken pho, but it was delicious and fresh so no complaints.

We decided to walk through the housing estates and construction sites of the very quiet Holesovice area towards Pivovar Marina which I'm sure that you don't need to know Czech to figure out that it's a small craft brewery and restaurant next to the water. The restaurant and beer garden are both massive and there's a small, probably only 5bbl brew kit behind the bar. The Holešovický ležák 12 was a delicious unfiltered lager, popping with sweetness and fresh grassy hops whilst Sammie's Marina tmavý speciál 13 was rich and chocolatey.

We got the tram into the centre next and went to another place on our hit list for the week, T-Anker which is a bar/restaurant on top of a rather brutalist looking department store. With the sun shining down on us, and the amazing view over the city it didn't even matter that their house lager was just OK.

Next we were going to meet Adam, Brendon and Bellos somewhere that I would never have chosen before. A well known, misogynistic chain of American bar/restaurants. Hooters. Tankovka Pilsner Urquell and chicken wings were delicious and cheap enough but I couldn't shake the uncomfortable feeling I had being in a restaurant where the management's entire philosophy is for female waiting staff to get their boobs out.

We moved on swiftly to Craft House where we'd been the other night and was handily across the road. They'd shaken their tap list up a bit so there were fresh new beers for us to try. Hendrych H8 is a pilsner that I'd had before and was tasting as delicious as ever. Sammie's Raven Morrigan Irish Dry Stout was silky smooth, creamy and full of chocolate as a beer of the style should be. Raven is one of the best Czech craft breweries out there so I had to grab a pint of their juicy, Casquinox IPA which unsurprisingly was full of Cascade and Equinox hops whilst Sammie had been craving something sour so went for the locally brewed Zubaty Pes Kiwinator which was an uber salty and bitter Kiwi Gose.

We left the guys to their own devices and went somewhere that Sammie had seen online and we'd been recommended before, Pivovarsky Klub. We walked into an incredibly busy tiny bar since the downstairs was closed; the bar man who was doing everything by himself including drinks, glass collecting, glass washing, serving food, seating people, the works was incredible calm and collected, asked us to either come back when downstairs is open or just wait for a seat. Bars of this small size in the UK struggle with even three people on so he was doing an impressive job. Eventually he spotted two seats at the bar so reserved them for us and we jumped in. There's a small but carefully curated tap list of 6 beers, one of which I'd noticed was Benedict Světlý ležák 12 which Joe had recommended me on twitter, and holy shit it was one of the best lagers I had all week. Perfectly crisp and hoppy. Sammie went for Rebel pšeničný which is a perfect banana and clove tasting creamy hefeweizen.

It was with this, we decided to call it a night. Stopping via Tesco and sitting in Sacre Couer park with a couple of beers on the way back to our apartment as the next day was going to be boozy...

Friday, 23 June 2017

Prague 2017 Day 2 - Not Just Pilsner in Pilsen

Waking up with irresponsibly sore heads, we had some breakfast at the apartment and caught the train to Pilsen, a city of a little over 150,000 about an hour and a half on the train from Prague.

I'd been to Pilsen once before, back in 2015 to do the Pilsner Urquell brewery tour which I didn't fancy doing again so this was a trip to see the town and visit some pubs.

First stop was actually the Pilsner Urquell brewery where they were preparing for a performance art festival later that evening. As it was a nice, though somewhat blustery day, we sat outside drinking their ubiquitous beer which I'm sure I don't need to introduce by now.

After that we took a wander over the river, taking in the sights of the beautiful city and found Na Parkanu, a pub I'd heard so much about before since they sell Unfiltered Pilsner Urquell, probably the only place to do so. I'd had it once before, directly in the cellars beneath the brewery but I was underwhelmed with this and that's probably because it's a case of needing the experience more than you need the drug. Next, a poster in the pub caught my eye; it was advertising Master Summer Ale which comes from Prazdroj who make Pilsner Urquell so I went for that. It's great seeing an extremely traditional brewery making their take on a modern craft beer and it not being shit! It was exactly what I expected from a summer ale... citrusy and refreshing. Sammie went for a cider, thinking it wasn't Kingswood but much to her disappointment it was. It just tastes like Apple Tango (which I don't mind so much).

Whilst we were walking towards somewhere else, we figured it'd be hilarious to pop into the British and American sweet shop and to our entertainment found Bud Light, John Smiths and Boddingtons in the beer fridge!

After that we found another little craft beer bar and bottle shop that wasn't on my radar, Pivotecka, so it would have been rude not to stop. Lovely little hipster looking oasis where I observed a mixture of people from two guys who were clearly on a craft beer crawl, to two coders with the macbooks discussing development stuff and a guy who was slightly confused that they didn't sell Pilsner Urquell so made do with another lager. I think there were about 15 beers on tap, which was pretty astounding. I figured it was time for an IPA so I went for Zichovec 15 Degree IPA which was happily drinkable. A little hoppy but more English style. Sammie went for Hellstork Doppelcock which is a honey doppelbock. A little too sweet for my liking.

Next stop was Francis, another craft beer bar which actually sold Pilsner Urquell so I had a pint to which Sammie judge me as she ordered her Zhurak Melounie Oatmeal IPA which I wish I would have had because it was rich with a thick body and a boatload of fruity hops. It actually reminded me of Siren Soundwave.

Back round the corner and we were hungry so stopped for a dirty kebab which was very delicious and wasn't the last of the trip.

Next stop was Na Cepu, another little craft beer bar where I had the Pivečka Cascade IPA as I wanted hops again. It was nice, but not exactly bursting. Sammie had some weird beer that tasted like apples. I wasn't into it.

We walked towards the station and purposefully missed the next train out to go to Klub malých pivovarů which I'd heard was good, and boy I was not disappointed! 8 taps of craft from the Czech Republic's finest. I started with Kout na Šumavě 10 degree lager which was crisp and delicious whilst Sammie had Frýdlant Albrect 12 degree as she'd had the dark version the previous night and enjoyed it. I have to admit I preferred this one. We decided to have one more beer which turned out to be the best I'd had all day, and possibly the best of the trip. Permon Cryo Hop Mosiac was a punch in the face with mosaic hops, citrusy, bitter, toasty, juicy. Basically it's 100% what I want in a beer and I should have had another pint. Sammie had a bottle of Sedmy Schod because she has one of their beer mats but hadn't tried it before. I wasn't a fan; it tasted like one of those old American imports.

Next stop was the train station and we had some beers on the train and got off at Smichov. We wandered across the river and went to (A) Void which describes itself as a floating gallery. The atmosphere here was banging, with music and dancing which was nice considering everywhere we'd been in Pilsen was dead. We had a couple of beers here, but just relatively boring Lobkowicz lagers but remember what I said earlier about needing the experience more than the drug? Well that. We absolutely loved sitting in the scorching sun, drinking pints and listening to music.

More craft beer next as we found Kulovy Blesk where I found what I think was my only Matuska beer of the trip, their wonderfully summery and hoppy California whilst Sammie went for Bad Flash Hop Wings IPA which was equally tasty.

And that was day two, more beeriness, more cheeriness but a different city to explore.


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Prague 2017 Day 1 - Monks & Craft Beer

Ah, the now annual trip to Prague. A wonderful occasion as it's one of my favourite cities. The old world style buildings, mixed with modern architecture. I love it.

Usually we don't arrive until quite late at night but this time we opted for an early flight meaning we could get there in time to enjoy our first day. Obviously an early flight means a mandatory 6am pint of Adnams Mosaic at the airport too, which is always a delight.

We landed at around 11:30am and got an Uber to the apartment we were staying in, but we were too early for Check-In so we decided to pop to our local for the week... Smíchovská Krčma. It's a small, and cheap, pub and restaurant with a half constructed back garden in shade of the sun. The beer selection is the same that you'd find in many Prague pubs with the likes of Pilsner Urquell, Radegast, Kozel Cerny and Gambrinus of course. Obviously I opted for the crisp and refreshing Pilsner Urquell which was probably the cheapest PU of the trip at 39kc for a half litre which was perfect on a hot day. I went on to have three before check in.

Our apartment was still being cleaned at the time of check in so we dropped our bags and decided to take a wander for a beer or two and groceries.

The next stop was an old favourite, Bernard Andel, which was the quietest I've ever seen it and it led me to wonder if people even drink on a Sunday. I had the Unfiltered 12 Degree which was colder than the previous Urquell and delicious as always, whilst Sammie opted for a bottle of their new IPA. It seems that Bernard are trying to get all modern on us! Their IPA was nothing to speak of; it was probably more English style with its sweet maltiness and no hop bitterness to speak of.

On the way to Tesco and back to the apartment, we stopped at the very new Beertime... CRAFT BEER HAS FINALLY HIT SMICHOV! 14 taps of modern craft beers (and the occasional craft lager). I went for a half litre of the locally brewed Sibeeria Lollihop IPA at 6.6%, mostly because of the novelty name but it turns out it was a nice little juicy banger full of fruity hops and was served in a nonic glass, to my delight. It also seems that Zichovec Pina Colada Cream Ale, which was very sweet and creamy and tasted a bit like a pina colada. It wasn't for me, but Sammie loved it.
Czech craft breweries are being as playful as the likes of Omnipollo as Sammie went for

Decided to have a couple of beers at the apartment next, one of which was Tesco Finest Unfiltered Lager - yes, even Tesco is getting into the craft beer own brand game over there! It's unclear as to who brewed it but I was impressed as it's exactly how a porter should be, though maybe a bit thin.

Our next stop was Klasterni Pivovar Strahov, which I've seemed to have missed on my previous two visits. We accidentally sat down on the same table as a gun loving, Trump supporter from North Carolina who despite having been living in Prague for 15 years barely speaks it. He advised me to get the St Norbert IPA because apparently it's exactly the same as Pliny the Elder. Spoiler: It's a really decent beer, strong malty backbone and a nice hoppiness but Pliny it is not. I think I was more impressed with their Weizen that Sammie had.

We walked down the hill next and found another bar from the poplar Lokal chain at U Bile Kuzelky. I think I've talked about Lokal before - they basically just sell Pilsner Urquell Tankovna which is why it's awesome. Enough said.

Next we were going to meet my friend Adam and his merry band of Cumbrians in Vortex bar but it appeared to be closed so we just headed to Craft House, somewhere we'd been before. First Order Green Door IPA was drinkable but nothing special but Sammie's Frydlant Albrecht 12 Katerina dark lager was full of caramel and roastiness.

Afterwards we decided to walk back to Smichov instead of using public transport because Prague is pretty, and that way we'd walk past Hells Bells Rockin' Pub and I can tell you that this time it was not rockin'.

We've always had pleasant experiences here but this time, a different guy was working on the bar. I only realised when I ordered my second drink that he was massively overcharging us by 40kc so we were paying 74kc for a fucking Staropramen. Being slightly drunk I figured I wasn't going to be an arsehole drunken Englishman so we finished our drinks and left before popping across the road to Pivnice U Mejly which is a little oddball 24 hour sports bar we quite like. Here, the prices were exactly how they're meant to be. A solid 31kc for Staropramen 10.

We then decided to go home to sleep as the next day we were catching a train to Pilsen.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Real Reason Why RateBev is Terrible

This weekend Good Beer Hunting broke the news that an AB Inbev owned investment firm has bought a stake in popular beer ratings website, Ratebeer.

This led to a #Hopinions poll by my friends at Beer O'Clock show asking whether it's a good or bad thing. Here is the poll and my response:

Now I thought long and hard about this after I tweeted it and realised that it's a terrible thing; not for the industry but for the people within the beer community.

The Irrelevant Reason

There was a lot flying around on twitter about how AB InBev will now have access to all of this big data and market insights which is a bad thing, but it's not. They already had access to it. Everyone did. Anyone can harvest data from Ratebeer to tell you what the most popular beers are in a given region. Besides, how would ABI use the data? Sure, they've bought craft breweries but craft brewers don't need to be told what's popular. The data side of things is irrelevant.

The Real Reason

What is relevant, however, is the fact that the knowledge of this buyout could destroy a whole community of tens of thousands of people across the world.

It's not secret that I'm not a fan of Ratebeer - in fact I regularly refer to it as "hatebeer" - but I am a fan of the sense of community that craft beer has.

See, Ratebeer has thousands of subscribers from all over the world that share one common interest... craft beer. Although it's actually not strictly true that they only have one common interest because the second is that they hate big conglomerates like AB InBev.

Just look through the Ratebeer forums every time a AB Inbev or some other conglomerate buys a craft brewery and you'll see hundreds of posts showing outrage; cries of boycotting said breweries, and photos & videos of angry beer geeks drain pouring $25 bottles of beer because they can taste the corporate structure.

Now I've not looked at the Ratebeer forum since this announcement but I'd bet my last 50p that there are many angry people on there; people looking for a way out; somewhere else to go and trade beers; somewhere to continue being a part of that community, and I doubt I can see them all flocking to Ratebeer's biggest rival, Beer Advocate.

Sure they could all go to Reddit, or they could keep in touch via strings of emails or WhatsApp groups but it's not the same. It was one of the only surviving forums when forums all but died.

Where will they go now that they know the evil eyes of AB InBev are on them, stealing their thoughts, because you can't wear a tinfoil hat on the internet.

The Ratebeer community could potentially be destroyed and this really isn't good for the beer community.


An Opportunity That Can't Be Missed

If I were the owner of Untappd, I would be rubbing my hands with glee, thinking of all of the potential new subscribers I could potentially get. Historically, Ratebeer and Untappd are worlds apart as Untappd users generally don't take everything quite so seriously but this could change.

Sure, right now you can toast and comment on checkins; you can rate them and split the format you had them in but if I were the owner of Untappd I would be paying my app developers to work overtime, throughout the night working on a forum that former, disgusted Ratebeer users could flock to, to share beer and rage at the next buyout.

This could be a massive and wise move for Untappd. It doesn't have to be the end of this whole community. Just a migration.