Friday, 21 September 2012


The brewkit at Minipivovar Labut 

Three brewpubs in northern Bohemia in one day and they all share something that strikes me: the use of the brewing kit as a showpiece for the drinkers and eaters. Instead of a band making a racket, there’s a copper faced stainless steel kit taking centre stage in the bar or the dining room, and when the brewer works the drinker or diner can amuse themselves by watching someone make the beer, the ancestor of which is already in their glass. At Minipivovar Labut in the beautiful town of Litoměřice, the kit is behind the bar, a silent irreproachable presence as the barman pours glasses of the two-year-old brewery’s fulsome 10˚ pale lager and its bounty of banana custard and bubblegum that is their Weiss. Onwards to the edge of town and the Hotel Koliba and Pivovarek Koliba, where the kit stands in a dining hall that has been turned into a hunting lodge where antlers and horns and stuffed game birds (as well as the odd agricultural equipment) decorate the walls as if the room was vying to be some sort of homage to St Hubertus. It’s a small kit, producing 200 litres at a time, but what brings a smile to my face is that as it stands on one side of the room, its presence reminds me of a drum kit or even a strangely perverse organ, at which the brewer/musician entertains people while they eat and drink. ‘Do people come and ask about the brewing,’ I say to the brewmaster Ondrej Klir. He nods as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. We escape this Valhalla to taste his beers in the fermenting room beneath and I find his Czech-American Pale Ale a striking mash up of bright hop notes and floral aromas and one of the better pale ales I’ve had in the current climate of Czech new wave brewing (at tomorrow’s Slunce ve Skle festival at Purkmistr in Pilsen we shall find out how far this new wave has come). And finally we end up at the town of Usti nad Labem at Na Rychte, a traditionally boisterous restaurant and brewery where the kit stands like a rock opposite the bar, a rock on which the voices of the roistering drinkers and diners crash upon like waves upon the shore. This is a 1000-litre kit on which the brewer Martina Valternova produces several excellent beers including a superb 12˚ pale lager, which is as good an expression of the Saaz hop as I have had for a long time. There’s caramel sweetness on the palate and a ringing singing tingle of bitterness and dryness wrapping up the finish. I found that it’s the perfect chaperone to a plate of roast duck, red cabbage and peculiarly cone-shape dumplings that are a speciality to the region I am told. And while we eat, the kit stands sentinel in the dark wooded beer hall ambience, ready and steady for the next brew. Ready for showtime. Who needs musicians, magicians or a comedian when you can have a brewer weaving their own particular kind of magic?  
The cones, the cones

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