OHIM – Prague is truly a ‘Golden City’

Thursday 23 and Friday, February 24th, I judged the ‘Czech and Moravian Beer Bottle Caps’, a beer contest with – how surprising – merely Czech and Moravian beers, in an original setup. Besides bottled beer we mostly judged beers from tap: a battery of twenty double-tap coolers were placed on a stage and during the competition barrels were changed whilst they cleaned the lines!

You can get a lot worse

Who knows me a little must know I felt like being in heaven. I’m a big fan of lagers and pilsners, especially the original versions and the North German ones: the latter burst of crackling hops, while the Bavarian and Czech lagers still primarily have a malt character. Pilsner is named after the Czech city of Pilsen and it flows pretty much through the veins of every true Czech. They also brew dark lagers, such as Brooklyn reinvented in 1986, as well as some porters, stouts and the now inevitable IPA. The competition was between eight (8!) IPA’s, a porter, a stout, two Imperial stouts, a sour fruit ale, twenty-six dark lagers and one hundred thirty-six (136!) ‘Bohemian style pilsner and lagers’. As if Mother Hulda shook her pillow, so to speak.

Eventually, all beers were judged and the best scoring breweries will be honored. The result follows in a month. Besides Czech innkeepers, brewers and (beer) journalists there was an international jury which, besides myself, saw Carl Kins (Belgian beer connoisseur and author) and Tim Hampson (English beer writer and connoisseur). I thought

‘Great beer’ comes in large glasses

I went mental: one after another wonderful beer came to the table. Of course there were negative outliers: yes, a hint of diacetyl in Bohemian pilsner is to be expected, but there was one beer whose aroma could readily flavor a week’s production of Werther’s Echte without a problem. Still, the average level was exceptionally high: nine out of ten beers scored above the predicate ‘fair’. The exception category was IPA: better than stuffing a dark blond to amber colored, top fermented beer up to the neck with hops is not to be found. There is no balance in them and please Lord, make them stop trying.

Praise to God there was ample free time in the program and so I could revisit the ‘Golden City’ of which I have some fond memories. I’ve been to Prague many times before, the last time exactly ten years ago. The first time I was there in 1986, on a school trip: the wall was still standing and the depressing atmosphere and oppression of the communist regime could clearly be felt. We, high school students, thought we were Texan oil barons and I fear we also behaved so. It was thirty years ago, the euro did not exist, and a pint of lager cost, converted to now, 20 euro cents. Lager which was exceptionally good – and they are still great. It is an incomprehensible fact that the beer style is almost degenerated elsewhere in the world to not more than a joke of the original, almost a bad brewer’s joke.

‘The Black Bull’ – Prague beer house

Step inside any bar – besides five restaurants at least three pubs can be found in any street – and you can count on a perfect draft beer. There will of course be the odd one out, like in the competition, but generally you can’t get any better. U Kata, Pivovarsky Dum, U Zhlate Tigra, U Supa, U Jary, Ostry – not just random examples and therefore evermore exemplary. Which Dutch brewery dares to pick up this glove and will try and brew a heck of a Bohemian pilsener, a lager if necessary?

Incidentally: avoid the thought of beer at the airport. Tasty and well tapped, but you pay between three and five times more when compared to the “expensive” city center. Pure theft or modern piracy as you want. But, as the officiating waiter said: “This is not Old Town. This airport.” I had no reply to that.

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