We’ve been rattling out this weekly column of beer reviews for quite a while now, but have yet to sample any traditional lagers for the cause. So this week we’re taking in a drop of booze from, perhaps, the world’s best lager brewing nation: the Czech Republic. But this isn’t quite what springs to mind when thinking of lager and, on first appearances, looks anything but one: it’s black.
As with most black beers it’s densely coloured with a smart, creamy head on top. The smell reminds me of a Munich beer hall (I’ve not been to the Czech Republic equivalent): it possesses a full throttle waft of beeriness, but a very different kind of beeriness to a British pub. There’s a mix of malt, yeast, a touch of hops, and an indescribably familiar whiff of Bohemian drunkenness (my best descriptive effort is a grainy, agricultural, musky kind of aroma which I think might be Munich malt, but I’m not certain of that).
A lagery fizz punctuates the sweet, creamy toasted flavour which is offset with a slight bitterness, coming as much from the roasted grains as the hops. And if you were in any doubt that this was a lager, it’s a few seconds later that a familiar lager malt flavour really catches on. It also induces gassy burps in a way that only lager can.
This is quality stuff. For all the innovation in the current craft brewing scene, and the cherry picking of various beer styles, I’ve yet to taste anything quite like this from outside Germany or the Czech Republic.* It’s probably a combination of where it’s made and years of brewing craft that makes it taste this way. Brewed in a 500 year old castle brewery, and lagered for 70 days in its cellar, is the kind of environment that’s always going to be hard to replicate in a Leeds industrial estate or London tram shed.
We’ll try not to leave it so long before offering up another lager to the review altar, but we’re unlikely to find many that are both as unique and traditional as this.
Brewery: Pivovar Herold, Breznice, Bohemia, Czech Republic
Beer name: Czech Black Lager (it’s also sold as ‘Bohemian Black Lager)
*I’ve enjoyed a black lager from Zero Degrees for years, but it doesn’t quite have that same European quality to it