Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Afternoon Club

"To beer! The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems"
-Homer Simpson

The other day, my distinguished colleague was excited because she got to write about fried cheese for this blog. Well, after a long week, I’m excited that I get to write about beer.

The Czech Republic has a long and distinguished history of beer making. It is believed that beer production began in the region as long ago as 859 BC. Part of this had to do with the fact that exceptionally fine hops thrived in the region. In the 13th century, King Wenceslas (the one of Christmas carol fame) convinced the Pope to revoke the ban on brewing beer in the region. The king also took action to protect the production of hops by banning the export of the hops plants so that the Slavs would retain their corner on the market.

One of the centers of hops production was the town of Žatec, a town approximately 100 miles northwest of the city of Prague. Hops have been grown there at least since the year 1004. Beer has been brewed there in some form or another since that time. Because of its hops production, Žatec was regarded as a wealthy, Royal town for many years. Hops are and were big business there. Official designations and regulations have continued there since the days of King Wenceslas and continue today. As recently as May 8, 2007, the European Union has protected hops from the region with the Protected Designation of Origin status of Žatecky Chmel.

According to Wikipedia: “Nearly all beer brewed in the Czech Republic is lager. This varies in color from pale (Světlé), through amber (Polotmavé) and dark (Tmavé) to black (Černé).” The four basic categories of beer spelled out by Czech law include lehké - a "light" beer brewed below 8°, výčepní - "tap" beer, though it can be bottled, brewed between 8° and 10°, ležák - "lager" beer, brewed between 11° and 12.99° and speciál - "special" beer, brewed above 13°.

The cornerstone of the current site of the Žatec brewery was laid in 1800 inside the town’s castle walls. For years the beer was regarded as one of the finest in Bohemia. During the years of Communist rule, the quality and availability of the beer declined greatly. By the late 1990s, the beer was barely available inside the Czech Republic, much less available abroad.

However in 2001, a Czech businessman bought the brewery and began revitalizing Žatec’s great traditions. Today, the beer is once again created in the old lagering tanks originally installed in 1835 - this takes place 80 feet underground, guaranteeing the ideal cold brewing conditions. The process takes 45 days. All carbonation comes from the natural fermentation process. The brewery does not use CO2 to create those bubbles. The beer uses home grown hops, Moravian malt and local water. The beer is now available throughout Europe and is being brewed for export. It can be found locally at many specialty retailers and bars specializing the imported beers.
There’s much more information available on this history and process of Žatec beer available at their website. Additional information about the city of Žatec and the surrounding region is available at this website.

So fine, what does it taste like?

I’m not an expert - I’m trying to drink a beer and frantically copy stuff off the internet after all - but based on what I’ve read, I would say that this beer would qualify as a Světlé or a light beer. It has a very light and refreshing taste - perfect for the warm summer evening when I’m enjoying it. There’s no bitterness. The company’s website describes the taste as “fruity” and I would agree with that. I could imagine this beer going well with a dessert made of baked apples or plums. I don’t mean to say that the beer is sweet - it’s not. But that warm comforting type of food would compliment the beer very well. I could also see it being a great match with a sweet, smoky barbecue sauce. The beer is very rich and well-rounded - but not heavy. The beer went very well with the pizza I had for dinner. Definitely worth the time to seek it out and give it a try, I would say.

There’s a lot more information about Czech beer at this helpful website.

-Rex Fuller, Opera Colorado Director of Marketing

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