Diary of an Odd Dog: – highlights from a Czech Odyssey.
From the moment I met Mike and Jana, who head up our Czech import and distribution operation OddDog www.odddog.cz I knew we were kindred spirits and that this would be a trip to remember. A large Tattooed arm was extended by Mike, by way of a greeting, and I clutched it like the brothers in arms I knew we would become – the game was afoot.
Although we have been trading solidly for several months now, you don’t really get to do business in the Republic without completing a few rites of passage first. This is a country going through a Craft Beer renaissance but that is steeped in a long and proud history of brewing. You have to prove your mettle as Man, Raconteur and BrewDog before they will let you join their Pivo Klub.
And so to the first encounter: - Dinner at the Pivovarský Dům http://www.gastroinfo.cz/pivodum/index.php?content=uvod〈=eng in Prague, hosted by Aleš Dočkal co owner and manager. This is the first and the most famous Brew Pub in the Capital and Aleš is the Top Dog when it comes to Craft Beer clearance – If your name’s not down on his list, you’re not getting in.
The man himself could not be more welcoming - and as a host, in character and visually he evokes the spirit and appearance of Ernest Hemmingway. We toured the brewery, the beer list and the vast knowledge of the man, via several anecdotes and tails from his Craft Beer tainted travels (which often involved sleeping under the stars and singing for the best beer available in whatever hostelry he parked his bicycle outside).
I had only been there for a matter of hours but the bohemian romance of the city and their passion for brewing and imbibing was coursing through me.
The first night also included an interview with Mgr. Tomaš Tullinger Chief editor from http://www.beverageandgastro.cz which will feature in the August edition
We were up and on the road early for our Pilgrimage to the Matuška Brewery, which is widely considered (I never heard anyone come close to arguing the point) to be the most innovative and progressive in the Republic. This was a glorious road trip that took in the winding roads that cut a natural swathe through the hop fields that are indicative of the landscape.
This is a brewery still in its infancy but with a Brew Master that towers above most in terms of experience, passion and that has (by his own admission) just the right amount of madness within. Martin Matuška is a living legend in the Republic and along with his son Adam are creating beer that dances in the pale moon light along with our best. His Raptor IPA bridges a gap between Punk and Hardcore while his Black Lagers are a testimony to what can be achieved by letting the Malt sing higher than the Hop – a revelation.
I was schooled in the art of decoction, before further sampling his Weiss and Pilsner range – all the while feeling somewhat nostalgic at the sight of their bottling machine.
THE MAIN EVENT
With a belly full of beer and a head full of ideas, we made the journey back to Prague for the big show. I had been invited to host a tasting and brewery presentation evening @ the Pivovarsky Klub and while I appreciated the honour, I did not fully understand quite what a privilege it would be until it was pointed out that one of the last UK beer men to hold court there was Michael Jackson.
In a room that resembles the famous Cavern Club where the Beatles first plied their trade, I took to the stage, ably assisted (if not propped up) by Mike’s partner in Life, Crime (and more recently Craft Beer) Jana.
What followed was a translated tour de force through the history of our young company and the beers that define us. Aleš and his amazing staff kept the evening flowing through Trashy, 5am, Punk and introduced an original recipe Cock-a-Leekie soup which was a revelation, as much to me, as it was the packed room of Czech Beer aficionados.
The enthusiasm, generosity and capacity to enjoy beer for what it is, as opposed to the endless ticking that detracts from a tasting, was so refreshing and inspiring to me. I have played many a good gig in my time and pulled off some lightening riffs but never have I felt more in tune with a group of people who are all on the same journey and looking to find the same answers.
...And so it was that we climaxed with a heavy dose of Hardcore IPA on key Keg, bringing the house down with a cacophony of Hop Hedonism.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to drink among you.
So late nights and early starts were becoming the theme but with an ever increasing hunger to learn more about the country and the changing landscape of their brewing culture - I’ll quite frankly sleep when I’m dead or at least on the plane home.
Today’s brewery (and it was oh so much more than a brewery) was to be Kocour, which is the Czech equivalent to Stone; in that it is the established brand at the forefront of the Czech Craft Revolution.
Kocour; literally translates as “Tom Cat”
(I’ll let you come up with your own jokes about Cats and Dog’s and never the twain shall meet etc..)
I was immediately welcomed by the Brew Master Josef and ushered into to appreciate the ongoing development of their brewery and moreover the spectacular reconditioned kettles which have just been installed. These are truly a thing of great beauty and come with a heritage so rich that they will act as an Alter for many an obsessive beer fan to bow down before for years to come.
Kocour is part of a wider family business and the parallels between their outlook and ours are boundless. They have a vast amount of land with which to expand their operation (and not just in terms of brewing capacity) but with the kind of supplementary offerings that will set them apart from any brewery I have been to as yet on my travels: -
3 Annex sheds that resemble BrewDog HQ will be turned into a live music and events space while a sleeper train carriage will be reconditioned, branded and used both as an overnight pit stop for brewers/ revellers and will be dragged along the tracks between towns as a mobile bar and venue.
Beyond their core range of beers which are stunning examples of their form, Kocour apparently have over 70 recipes which they have perfected and have yet to unleash – always thinking ahead.
I don’t know about you but I feel a Rock and Roll collaboration coming on...
After an amazing traditional Czech Lunch in their restaurant (which is decked out like a Truckers Diner) and a Pint of the best of all the great Black Lagers I had the opportunity to sample during my trip – we were once more on the road.
Twice Nightly Ricardo; they used to call me in my heyday and here we were again with two shows booked, in two of the most important venues for craft beer in the Republic. Where the PK is an institution, these two gems are the reinvention.
Kicking off at “The First Beer Tram” and literally rang in the building by the old bell which announced our arrival – I immediately felt at home in a venue which is decked out in vintage music memorabilia, blasts out Zepplin and that has a reconditioned tram carriage as it tasting room.
This was a connoisseur crowd that included The Beer Philosopher; Max Bahnson and Pavel Borowiec to name but a few.
We quickly moved through the core range before moving onto the main event. For this crowd had come to experience the next level of Craft Beer and have no inhibitions about breaking down the doors of perception . As was proved when one table (headed by Max) ordered a round to share that included Paradox, Bashah, Abstrakt 1 & 2, TNP and STB.
...did I mention we had another gig to get to?
And so Mike and I were bundled onto a Tram (that pulls up right outside the door) by our tour manager Jana and as we held on for dear life and made our way across the city, we somehow managed to conduct an interview.
The second of the night and final tasting of our trip was executed in a basement bar called Bad Times and hosted by the legend that is Hardcore Hanz (recently renamed, as you now never see him without a glass of the good shit)
This was a magical mystery tour through our Czech key keg offering (all Core Range) and was an altogether rowdier affair with the evening building and overflowing with enthusiasm.
Martin Matuska’s son was in attendance along with the most beautiful girls that I have ever seen at a beer tasting event. This was how it should always be; about the beer but bigger than the beer.
“When the music’s over...
...turn out the light”
And so, as dawn broke on the final day of the trip it felt clear that we had pulled off something great here, but that this was only the beginning - and through working together with all the various brewers, aficionados, bar owners and bon vie vonts that we could take it to the next level.
I can’t wait for episode 2 in this adventure.
- you will get a high level of knowledge here chenzhou29.07.2010
- Zly Casy (Bad Times), in my opinion, is the best bar in Prague.
25 different beers on tap and great prices.
A must visit.Daniel Rodriguez28.06.2010
- Sounds like a great trip and this was a very well written and entertaining review of it. A very enjoyable read. Adrian28.06.2010
- Great piece Richard. Hopefully catch up again soon Dominic Holt28.06.2010
- nice t-shirt above, why can't WE get t-shirts like that?????????? anarchy99928.06.2010