Last month, KALTBLUT was invited to visit the Czech Republic by the local brewery, Budvar. Budweiser Budvar is a brewery in the city of České Budějovice, best known for its original Budweiser or Budweiser Budvar pale lager brewed using artesian water, Moravian barley and Saaz hops. As part of the trip, I got introduced to three women: Johana Potužníková, Jitka Ilčíková and Magda Hoppova.
Mikulov – In conversation with Jitka Ilčíková
On the first day, we met Jitka in Mikulov – a scenic little town just about an hour’s drive from Vienna. The Czech Republic is known for a country that loves their classic lagers, Jitka, however, went into another direction. Her brewery, Wild Creatures, exclusively produces spontaneously fermented beers flavoured with local fruit. After our visit, I asked Jitka a couple of questions regarding her work as a brewer and why she went into this specific flavour-direction.
KALTBLUT: What made you want to pursue brewing beer as a career and how did you find your unique taste?
Jitka: On the very beginning there was an idea of my husband to set up a brewery. When I realised that we really will have a brewery, that it is true.. I said that I want to produce lambic. I knew this beer and I always loved the taste. The philosophy of the production is very familiar with me and reminds me wine production in my region. Everything is different compared to lager.
Where did I find my taste? It was long-term process. Until today I travel a lot and teach and tune my taste buds – mostly in Belgium. When to learn, it is good to learn from the best…
KALTBLUT: You’ve said during our visit that during the communist regime, dissidents were put at border regions so the state could monitor them easier. What role did this past and these restrictions play on brewing the beer?
Jitka: This is very hard to replay. I was very young when Velvet Revolution 1989 came. We started with the brewery in 2011. During communism no ventures was possible. Everything was illegal.
But it is true, that that days people grew vineyards, produced wine for their own usage. That was how I learned how to produce wine with my grandfather and father. And I use a lot of information till today.
České Budějovice – In conversation with Johana Potužníková
The second day of the trip was centred around Budvar and their iconic, traditional brewery in České Budějovice. After a special tour of the impressive Budweiser Budvar brewery led by Aleš Dvořák, Budvar’s flying brewmaster, who has been dubbed a “walking encyclopedia about the development of Budvar over the last 30 years”. KALTBLUT had a chat with Johana Potužníková, who heads up craft partnerships for Budvar.
KALTBLUT: How does Budvar differ from other beer brands?
Johana: Authenticity would be the word that fits the most, I believe. This beer is exclusively brewed in České Budějovice in southern Bohemia, uniquely from local ingredients and using the same recipe from more than a hundred years ago. And despite technological advancements that we implemented, we continue to use the same traditional brewing processes, setting us apart in today’s beer industry.
KALTBLUT: How important is the local aspect for the brewery?
Johana: Extremely. Our beer is made in one place only: our brewery. No matter where in the world you enjoy it, it was brewed in this brewery in České Budějovice. The water we use is sourced from wells that are over 300 metres deep below the brewery and it cannot be replaced.
Prague – In conversation with Magda Hoppova
Our last stop in Czechia was obviously in Prague, where we met Magda again after she showed us how to tap beer the day before in the brewery. Side note: It’s harder than it looks – I failed miserably. Magda works at one of Prague’s most iconic pubs, PULT – the only place where you can taste perfectly treated Czech lager from six different breweries. I asked Magda, why she wanted to pursue tapping as a career and how to actually tap the perfect beer.
KALTBLUT: What made you want to pursue tapping beer as a career?
Magda: Well, to be honest, it wasn’t planned. It started as a summer job, but I liked it so much that I stayed in it for four years so far. Before, I learnt how to brew a beer at home by myself, and because I see beer as a complex product from brewing to drinking, the next stop for me was learning how to pour it properly and how it looks and tastes when it is in a perfect condition.
During the years behind the tap, I also learned much more things than I expected at the beginning, some technical things (how to clean and sanitise the tapping system, how to repair it and so on), I learned a lot about beer sensory and so many other things.
KALTBLUT: How diverse is the beer scene in the Czech Republic? Are you usually surrounded by other women when attending competitions?
Magda: To be honest, I never attended any competition…so far. But it is true that more and more women are becoming tapsters in the Czech republic. Not only in our Ambiente group of restaurants or in Pult, but all over the republic. There are few possibilities for competing in tapping, and more and more women are being part of it every year. About beer diversity, I think that the craft breweries are watching the world scene and also go with all the flows so you can basically try any beer style made but some Czech brewery.
In Pult, we want to make it attractive for our customers, so beside six czech lagers (which we have on the tap menu for a year) we pour also three “specials”, basically other beer styles (not a lager-style beers), which are often “new arrivals” on the Czech scene, and from time to time we also offer some beers from abroad (Germany, USA, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Bulgaria, Denmark and so on.).
KALTBLUT: How do you recognise a well-tapped beer?
Magda: By many points. I think that most of the tapsters can recognise a well-tapped beer just by the look of it. You can predict it just by how the bar/the tap looks like, if it is clean around, how the pub stores the beer glass and how they take care about the glass. The beer glass is very important. It must be cleaned and rinsed (there are a few steps on how to do it properly), cold and wet. If so, you would not see any bubbles on the walls or in the foam.
The beer must be cold, so you can enjoy it until the last sip. Cold glass will help the beer stay in that condition for a longer time. Cleaning the beer pipes will help the taste to be perfect, because if not cleaned regularly, you can taste some sensory defects in it.
And of course the tapping method. A rich foam base, which is smooth, kind of sweet, tastes good and helps to protect the beer from oxidation and “not becoming flat” in the taste. Then pouring the beer under the foam and trying to make it all compact, all in the glass, no leftovers over the beer glass. Then you can enjoy the taste of the perfectly tapped “hladinka”, as we call it in Czech.