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A Little Bit of Czech Republic in St. Louis, Missouri

I apologize for how long it has taken me to update the blog. The fall semester just ended and I received bad news. Even though I will have satisfied all my requirements for subjects I must have taken before graduating in the summer, I still must take another 5 courses in the fall–in any subject because I don’t have 120 hours. . .so I’ve been dealing with that along with final papers and exams. Anyway, I had wanted to update about some cultural Czech goings-on in the U.S.

My friend, Danielle–another American exchange student who studied in Brno last year and was in my Czech class, had to make an appearance within her Czech pageant network that just happened to be in my neck of the woods–The Czech Cultural Educational Center in St. Louis, Missouri. They were having their annual fall Czech culture festival, complete with Czech imports, meals with knedliky, and pečivo for dessert. So Danielle showed up to my place the evening before at like 2 AM, as I struggled to sit up awake watching an episode of “Rick Steves’ Europe.” Then, we both overslept the next morning and Danielle threw on her fancy Czech traditional kroj and we were off to the festival!

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A C0-selfie! 🙂

I remarked upon arrival, noticing that half the stuff around here was actually German/Austrian/Bavarian (because that’s DIFFERENT than just regular old German lol) type stuff as well, that I could have worn my Austrian dirndl–and gotten all fancily dressed up too–and only a couple people would have noticed the difference. Oh well.

There were three lovely choices for meat: pork tenderloin, honey-roasted duck, or beef gulasch. Danielle had the pork and I had the duck. They had for choices of sides: mashed potatoes, knedliky (dumplings), rice, sauerkraut/cabbage, and some kind of vegetable. I think both of us decided on knedliky and sauerkraut. (If you’re ordering honey-roasted duck, you must pair it with sauerkraut or pickled beets.) I paired lunch with a dark lager from Praga, because it had been a while since I’d had a dark lager beer.

379667_10151757812701517_483109612_nWe went for a stroll around the booths and took in the festivities going on around us. The Czech Cultural Educational Center had brought some really good polka and big band bands in to play German and Czech-style polka. Toward the end, around the time Danielle had to hit the road, a group from Czech Republic came on. They traveled all the way here to play, so that was pretty cool of them. I also happened to drink more spirits and beer. Danielle couldn’t drink though, technically, because she was in her kroj and representing the Miss Czech-Slovak Pageant in the U.S. All the pieces of her outfit were either passed down from her family (she has Czech heritage) or she made the pieces herself. If you want to participate in the pageant, you have to make most of your kroj yourself.

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The kroj includes: a fancy embroidered vest,  an apron, a knee-length skirt, and a lacy/ruffly blouse.

Anyway, both of us had a lot of fun with Czech Culture Educational Center in St. Louis and cannot wait for their spring festival, I am sure. I’ll be down there on the south side again for some good Czech food and spirits and the friendly Czech, Austrian, and German company as well.

 

 

 

 

 

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Prague and Bohemia Beer Part II

Last week, I discussed beer from the Prague and Bohemia areas along with notable spots where they have hard-to-find brews on tap. This week I am continuing the discussion, as mentioned in the last post, because  my two sources gave me a lot to work with. Also, it has dawned on me that I’ve gone to a lot more notable breweries and pub in Prague because when I was in Prague I was there to go site-seeing. Whereas when I was in Brno, I was there studying and I guess took for granted how much time I would have to go to certain places.

I’ve had a few people who know about this project mention that I absolutely should not forget about Staropramen. The brewery calls their beer “Prague’s Jewel” and proclaims “in every glass lies the spirit of Prague.” The first batch of beer was brewed in 1871 and comes with the seal of approval from Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria himself. The meaning of the name is “Old Spring” in Czech. Staropramen is fairly easy to find in Prague. It’s served at most hostels, pubs, and restaurants. There are twelve varieties of Staropramen, 4 of them being mixer-type beers that contain fruit flavor. The main five brews you will find are: Staropramen Světlý 10° (4,7%), Staropramen 11°(5%) Staropramen ležák 12° (5%), Staropramen nefiltrovaný (4,8%),  Staropramen Granát (4,4%), and Staropramen černý  (dark). But, here is a link to a list of their products (I apologize, this is also in Czech): All Staropramen beers here.

My friend who has lived his whole life in Prague suggested to me Brewery U Fleků in Prague. The brewery has been in existence since 1499 until it was confiscated by the communist regime. But, it was returned to its rightful owners in 1991. Ever since then this brewery has been a popular tourist destination because of the lovely interior design and traditional Czech decor. At the restaurant, you can have either lunch or a typical appetizer, along with sampling their special. Or, you can take a tour of the brewery and a simple would be included in the tour.

On my personal blog, I discussed Kutná Hora a little bit, but left a lot out because that post was mostly about my experience at the Sedlec Ossuary (a church with its entire decor made of humans bones). (Link to my photos if any macabre souls are curious: Kutna Hora and a Church Decorated with Human Bones.

What I did not talk about though was traditional Czech kitchens or special beer and spirits available in that village. (I did this for obvious reasons. . .I am aware that looking at actual human remains and reading about food and drink may not be the best combination.) Anyway, there is a lot more to Kutná Hora than just this attraction, as it was once the second most populated city right behind Prague. In particular, the city had been home to a brewery established in the late 16th century, but closed due to regime changes in the Czech Republic during the 19th century. Recently, Pivovar Kutná Hora reopened its doors in 2012 and brewed its first batch of beer earlier this year. It’s a relatively new attraction in Kutná Hora, but the building itself is historical and the new brews are based on historical recipes.

 

 

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Prague and Bohemia Beer Part I

For this post, I’ve had to branch out and ask for the assistance of not just one source, but now two. Much of my perceptions of Bohemian beer are based on the handful of pubs and breweries I have visited either with my Turkish roommate in the fall semester last year and then more later with my boyfriend in the beginning of last summer. But, I thought it would also be interesting to ask an old friend who has lived his entire life in Prague and has also spent a lot of time outside of the city around Bohemia. He is like most Czechs, a general fan of beer, but he’s also shown me that he is very opinionated when it comes to his home region’s brews. I thought it was only fair to ask an “expert” for his beer recommendations before I began to write about my own. Other than to inform me about a brewery that I had not heard of but he says is important to the region, most of his beer picks match up with what I would have suggested to drink in Czech Republic.

Let’s talk about Kozel. Kozel is my favorite Czech beer. It’s also high on the list of both my sources. If all three of us agree on Kozel’s awesomeness, then it must be good. A cold half of a liter of it is also pictured to the right among all my fancy widgets. As you can tell, that is a picture of a dark lager. Kozel or Velkopopvický Kozel, as is its actual brand name, has four kinds of brews to offer: Kozel Světlý (light), which is 10 degrees (4%) and a pale lager (its color reminds me of autumn leaves). You can also find the pale lager in an 11 degree version, which has .6% more ABV in it, and also a 12 degree version (4.8%). But my favorite is Kozel Černý (black), their dark lager that is less than 10 degrees because it has a bit of an after-taste that reminds me of coffee. (Also, I can ultimately drink more of it,  since it has less alcohol and I drink this beer strictly because I enjoy the taste. . .not the buzz.) Kozel is based in Popovice (Velké–or big–Popovice), which is relatively close to Prague, so if you are visiting Prague you ought to take a day trip to the brewery. Tours are only about 100 crowns (in Czech) or 130 crowns if conducted in a foreign language (German, English, Russian, French, or Polish) and they have a flat group rate of about 310 crowns. I haven’t been to this brewery, because I had a very limited budget for trips outside of Brno and made my day trip for the Bohemian Region Kutná Hora so that I can see a very famous church with its entire interior decor made out of bones. (Maybe I will post about it at a later date, because I realize that I haven’t actually talked about it on any of my media.) When I go back, I will definitely make the trip to this brewery though.

The next beer I am supposed to talk about, as suggested by my Prague source, is Budvar (or Budweiser as it is known by in German-speaking countries). This beer has absolutely nothing to do with Anheuser-Busch (trust me, I’m from St. Louis, this is not the same beer as what is advertised as Budweiser in the States. . .it’s much better). It’s widely known across Europe that Adolphus Busch pretty much took the recipe for the American pilsner version from Budovice, as it’s known today (or Budweis as it was known when Czech Republic was considered a part of the Hapsburg Empire and had a very strong German-speaking population).  The Budovice brewery though has been around in various forms since the 14th century. It’s also located in a very gorgeous part of Bohemia that you should just spend a few days or a weekend in, and while you’re there you might as well check out the brewery and fill up on Budvar. Right now, Budvar has a special Black cherry flavor out, by the way.

On my last week in Czech Republic last summer, the boyfriend and I visited Pivovar U Medvídků in Prague in Staré Město. The brewery produced beer from 1466 until 1898. During the time of socialism and communism in Czech Republic, the building was seized by the government and it was not returned until 1989. The new owners of the building turned it into a hotel and recently restored its brewery, where they now produce several types of beer that you can only get in a well-hidden part of the building. When I was there, I tried their special brew called “1466.” It is called that to commemorate the founding of the brewery, and also because it has exactly 14,66 degrees (6.1% ABV).

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(1466 is the lighter colored one.)

I intend to go back to this place a few more times because they have several other kinds of beer that have sparked my interest. Also, they have a very long menu full of traditional Czech, Slovakian, Polish, and Austrian meals. They have a “bílé” beer with 12 degrees alcohol content. They have something called “Blackgott” (gott=god in German) with 14 degrees alcohol content (5.8% ABV). They have a beer that is supposed to taste like honey called “Medvídek” (or little bear), that I am interested in trying. They also have two brews geared toward women on the bottom of their list.

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dumplings filled with smoked pork meat and served in gravy, sauerkraut, fried onions, and pickled beets from Pivovar U Medvídků

Finally, I would like to discuss a pub Petr (the boyfriend) and I went to with his friends in Prague, called Hostinec U Vodoucha. This pub is located in the Žižkov part of Prague and is very cozy and traditionally Czech. It attracts quite a crowd of people, who occasionally erupt into Czech drinking songs. But this is a very special pub. Not only are they known for having really good starters,specifically, some kind of spread made out of liver that is served with awesome Czech rye bread, and something Petr at that was served to him in a jar and made his breath smell like vinegar, onions, and garlic. I had none of that second thing with all the nasty stuff in it (I don’t like raw onions and I am mildly allergic to large amounts of fresh garlic), but the liver spread was surprisingly pleasant. Also, I had this not-so-Czech casserole dish later in the evening in order to subdue all the fruit liquor shots I did:

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In conclusion, I would also return to this pub. The wait staff were very friendly and accommodating, despite my being a foreigner and having issues with the language (okay, my boyfriend helped me out a bit. . .or a lot). They also have a very long list of beer on tap that comes from small breweries throughout the Czech Republic (and Czech Republic has a lot of breweries), so this is a good place to go if you want to try a lot of different kinds of brews in a very short amount of time. (See the list here: http://uvodoucha.pivovarkostelec.cz/uvod sorry the website is only available in Czech!) But, it would probably be best if you want to venture to this pub, to make friends with some Czechs and go with them because they didn’t have English menus (well, it’s not like I need an English menu for food after 11 months there, but for beer I was kind of confused by the beer descriptions in Czech).

Next week, I will post another entry about Prague and Bohemian beers, because both my sources’ lists are even longer than this entry can be.

 

 

 

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Brno and Moravia Beers

I lived in Brno for a year, as I may have mentioned in the first post. Obviously, I’m biased to Brno and Moravian beer. (I promise I will talk about Prague and Bohemia beers in the next post, and I will also get to the popular beers that don’t fit in either of these categories BECAUSE THERE ARE MORE THAN TWO STATES IN CZECH REPUBLIC, AMERICAN TOUR GUIDE IN PRAGUE WHO SAID THAT THERE WERE ONLY 2 STATES. . .) I may have been getting half of all my hydration at one point from Brno beer, because beer is quite simply cheaper in restaurants than water or soda (and I don’t really drink soda anyway). By far, the likeliest beer you will drink in Brno is Starobrno. I mean, the brewery is right in town (it was actually a 5-minute walk from where I lived. . .in Starobrno–the old part of the city).

But I also need to talk about some beers that are brewed in the region, but outside of Brno. The first brewery I went to in Czech Republic was Pivovar Vyškov in Vyškov, Southern Moravia. Their brewery tour included a pretty generous tasting. I recall being drunk on the bus ride home, but I am also a lightweight. There is also the Pegas Hotel that makes its own beer (and also has the best svičková na smetaně–or beef tenderloin in a cream sauce with cranberry preserves and whipped topping–in Brno). On my first day in Brno, my Czech tutor took me there, because I asked him to take me to a place where I could get good Czech food and good Czech beer.

The Starobrno brewery has been around in some form in the same general area since 1325. The area has a lot of history, considering the brewery has been rebuilt several times because it has constantly been a target during times of war in the Moravian area. For example, the brewery and the convent it was associated with were burnt down several times in the 14th century during the Hussite wars. Until 1911, the brewery was owned mostly by Germans and very few Czechs had any kind of share in the company. Eventually in the 20th century, Starbrno became the property of an Austrian company, BBAG until BBAG merged with Heineken. (So technically it’s owned by Heineken now.)

Starobrno has six types of beers to choose from. It also produces green beer, which nearly everyone in Czech Republic goes out to get on Green Thursday, or Maundy Thursday–the Thursday before Easter, if you have no experience within a catholic family. (Side note: their neighbors next door, the Austrians, simply eat spinach on this day, but Austrians take Lent a bit more seriously than the roughly 70% of the Czech population who identify as nonreligious.)

The varieties of Starobrno beer and corresponding degrees below:

Ležák (light): 10 degrees (3.5% ABV)

Medium: 11 degrees (something around 4.0% ABV)

Černé (black or dark lager)

Řezák (semi-pale lager with caramel flavors): 12 degrees (4.4% ABV), if my memory serves me correctly. I found myself drinking Řezák quite often. I think it was the caramel flavoring that I liked.

Tradiční (pale lager)

Fríí- Alcohol free beer

*I am waiting for my friend to give me permission to use her photo of Green Thursday beer. In the meantime, please enjoy this photo of me drinking a Starobrno in a green shirt (I’m unsure of the variety of beer, because this photo was taken on my 21st birthday. . .also bangs).

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Also, green beer!

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Vyškov is a short drive outside of Brno (like maybe 45 minutes or less depending on traffic). If you can, arrange a ride there and check out the brewery (Pivovar) there. They have about 17 varieties ranging from pale lagers, semi-pale lagers, to dark lagers with alcohol content between 10 and 16 degrees (Jubiler 16, which is a pale lager). I feel like it would be extremely tedious to list every single variety. You need to just try them for yourselves. So I’m linking the brewery’s website here.

Finally, I need to bring this monster post to an end eventually. But, it wouldn’t be a good Czech beer blog unless I mentioned the Pegas Brewery and hotel. The Pegas brewery is in the Brno city centre near the city ossuary, Freedom Square, and several examples of historical buildings. It’s also a hotel. They have their own 12 degree wheat, 12 degree pale lager, 12 degree dark lager, and filtered lager, and they have 14-16 degree options that are available at certain times of the year. (The last couple of times I was there, they had a 14-degree dark lager, but they do not have that particular lager listed on their official website at the moment.) And yes, as I mentioned before the food is awesome there.

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That beef tenderloin dish I was telling you about, served with knedliky (bread dumplings).

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Pilsner Urquell, the First Pale Lager in the World

                Pilsner Urquell gets its name from the place it’s brewed, Pilsen (or Plzeň as Czechs call it), a smaller city in the Bohemia region of Czech Republic. This beer has been brewed here since 1842 and is the first “Pilsner” style beer of its kind, since there are other beers throughout the world brewed in a similar method as this that would be called Pilsners. It is also the first pale lager. Because Pilsner Urquell was bought by the SABMiller brewing empire, it is also the most prominent Czech beer internationally. In fact, Pilsner Urquell is the only Czech beer I can find in my hometown of St. Louis. (If someone out there has any tips about where I can find more varieties of Czech beer in the St. Louis or Midwest area, please talk to me in the comments.)

                In Czech Republic, Pilsner Urquell is available in versions between 10 and less than 12 degrees(the alcohol content ranges from 3.5-4.4%). There are also special brews that come out every once in a while. For example, Pilsner came out with a 170 Golden Years special beer that is especially golden in color to celebrate their 170th anniversary. If you’re traveling through Bohemia, the Pilsner Urquell headquarters in Plzeň (merely a half-hour or so train or bus ride outside of Prague)is a very interesting place to stop. There, you can sample the very first pale lager in the world along with several other Czech brands that are under the patriotically and traditionally Czech Plzensky Prazdroj umbrella of brews.

                Setting an example for the other worldwide Pilsner beers to follow, Pilsner Urquell is a bottom-fermented beer. However, it is different from other Pilsners because it is more strongly hopped than other Czech beers. Pilsner Urquell is also known for its use of Saaz hops. (Saaz hops are a special “noble” hop that are native to Western Bohemia, where Plzeň is located.) The resulting aroma from the use of Saaz hops could be described as earthy, spicy, and herbal. Pilsner Urquell is in a triple flame decoction mash. A “subtle, malty sweetness with caramel tones” results from this process, according to the brand’s website. This brewery is also very particular about the water they use. The water must be soft water with very little chemicals or substances within to influence the taste or aroma of the beer. As a result, the taste is very pure.

                So if you are starting out your trip through Czech Republic or Central Europe, I would suggest starting out your beer exploration with Pilsner Urquell. This beer being the very first Pilsner in the world and the style of beer that Czech Republic is known for, it is a good beginning to your Czech beer exploration.

EDIT 24/10/2013: First of all, I’d like to mention that there are two kinds of Pilsner Urquell, 3.5% alcohol content and 4.4% alcohol content. But, the 3.5% version is the Pilsner Urquell that is shipped internationally (and in U.S. version the bottles only contain .3 liter but the bottles in Czech contain .5 liter of beer.) I was confused in my research because I saw both these versions listed under products somewhere, and that was weird to me because if I ever saw Pilsner Urquell on the menu or in the supermarket somewhere, there were not two versions of it. Well, in Czech Republic, there is only one Pilsner Urquell. However, if you are trying this out abroad the Pilsner Urquell you will find will be significantly different from the authentic Czech version.

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An Explanation of the numerical values on Czech Beers

When visiting the Czech Republic, tourists and other travelers may notice that each beer offered at a pub, restaurant, brewery, or even cafe has a temperature attached to it. The most typical temperatures you would see would be 10, 12, maybe 14, and 16 degrees. During my first few weeks in Brno my question was, “What exactly do these numbers mean?” The short answer for the numbers is that they indicate how strong the beer is. The smaller the number the less alcohol is in the beer, and the greater the number the more alcohol is in the beer. The long answer is a bit more complicated, because Czechs, having such a confusing language, must also have a confusing mathematical formula to determine how drunk their beer is going to get you.

This fancy degree scale is known as the the Plato Scale. It’s a hydrometer scale that measures the density of beer wort vs. the percentage of extract by weight. You have Karl Balling, Simon Ack, and later Fritz Plato, who merely improved it, yet the scale has since been renamed after him, to thank for this. I’m not going to get into formulas because I’m not really a mathy kind of person. (I’m more of a beer-drinking kind of person, obviously.) To make a long story short, the degree on the beer is tells you how much sucrose by weight is in the beer.

Now, I’m also not a chemistry major either, so I don’t completely understand the relationship between alcohol content and sucrose and I’m not about to say that sucrose is the stuff that  makes you text your ex at 2 in the morning in a moment of desperation either. However, I do have a general knowledge of the actual alcohol content in the standard Plato Scale measurements. A 10-degree beer is merely 4% abv. That is certainly stronger than American light beer, but relatively weak given a Beck’s has about 5%. I was advised to drink at least 12-degree beer, which is also considered light, these beers being equal to Beck’s in alcohol content. There are also 14-16 degree beers, which are between 6.5-7.5% alcohol. There are even beers with 19- and 24-degree alcohol content (8 and 10% alcohol).