Earlier this month, Pavel Hrnčíř, the Czech Republic‘s Ambassador to Canada, visited the Maritimes. During the Fredericton Craft Beer Festival, our own Chris, along with Phil and Tony from the 902 BrewCast, were able to sit down with His Excellency, to learn more about the great history of beer making and enjoyment in Czech Republic, their local farming industry servicing the breweries, and how life in Czech Republic is the same, and different, from Atlantic Canada. They were joined by John Steinsky of Bines & Vines, a new company specializing in the importation of Czech malt and hops, as well as wine, to the region. The five spoke for more than an hour, and part of that discussion is being released as part of 902BC’s March Tasting Episode being released March 22nd, so be sure to listen in when it goes live at midnight!
Ambassador Hrnčíř speaks with fondness as he recounts the story of the Budějovický Budvar, the Original Budweiser, from the Czech town of České Budějovice (known as Budweis in German). Sold in Canada as Czechvar, the beer uses Moravian barley and Saaz hops and water from its own artesian well, for a truly local beer. And the Pilsners that we know and love originated in the Czech town of Plzeň, known to many of us from the famous Pilsner Urquell, believed to be the world’s first pale lager.
As breweries in North America begin to re-embrace “drinkability” as a key part of the equation (hence a recent uptick in soft-malt and -hopped lagers), this is a way of life in the Czech Republic, where going for one beer means “one last beer” at the end of a session! In a sense, what is old is new again.
As a first generation Czech Canadian, Steinsky knows the beer scenes in both countries quite well, and found himself looking for more Czech lagers here in the Maritimes; however, the process of shipping the beer over from Europe can greatly affect the flavour and aroma, as packaging, storing, and shipping beer all takes time. Much like in our region, there is a cooperative of Czech hop growers named Chmelarstvi, cooperative Zatec, which pools and shares resources to service the Czech hop producers. In addition to the immensely popular Saaz hop (which originates there in the town of Žatec), there are dozens of other Czech hops that can be used in lagers and ales in bittering, flavour, and aromatic roles. Hops like dual-purpose Sládek with medium-low alpha acids (bittering) and essential oils (for flavour and aroma); Rubin, with a higher bitterness and herbal and spicy aroma, often featuring 10% alpha acids and 4.0 g of oils per 100 g hop material; and Vital, topping the scale at up to 15.0% alpha acid, for a good boil hop to impart bitterness. Steinsky is also working with Dr. Josh Mayich of Darlings Island Farm in the Kennebecasis Valley to grow Saaz is this region.
Talk of beer tourism came up, which all parties agreed was a great way to be introduced to a new region. Living with his wife in Ottawa, Ambassador Hrnčíř spoke fondly of their biking out to Dominion City Brewing to the East of town, and enjoying a pint in their taproom. Chris recounted his trip to U Flecků, a Prague brewery dating back from 1499, where every night was a party complete with accordion player and a hearty and nice light meal of beef dumplings, potatoes, and sauerkraut. The expansion of breweries into smaller towns is something that both the Czech Republic and Atlantic provinces have in common, after many shut down due to government control or the fact that people were abandoning small towns in favour of jobs in the larger cities. Be sure to book your trip to the Beer Spa today!
For those Atlantic Canadian breweries looking to try their hand at brewing Czech lagers with authentic Czech ingredients, be sure to check out Bines & Vines website for the full list of hops and malts available. They have also teamed up with Czech Brewmasters, a consultant group of brewery owners who assist with recipe and process development to ensure authentic results on this side of the Atlantic.
Grab the 902 BrewCast episode with His Excellency Pavel Hrnčíř and Bines & Vines’ John Steinksy tomorrow morning, which also includes short interviews from the FCBF exhibition floor with Geaghan Brothers, Holy Whale, and O’Creek Brewing. Tune in, we hear there’s some big news coming in this ep!