Czech beer

Lokal Beer Draughting School

So we're sitting in a cafe, researching for our US trip, and we get an email from the Ambiente group of restaurants: They are opening a new season of their beer draughting school, two people cancelled just two days before the first session, and we are invited to fill in the vacancies. We did actually want to join a class and promised ourselves we would go after our main season was over, so this was a great opportunity.


Our favorite places in Prague for Czech craft beers

Our favorite places in Prague for Czech craft beers

We know. If you are planning your trip to Prague, you've already heard it all about Pilsner Urquell or Budweiser, the two largest and traditional breweries in the Czech Republic. And the truth is that even the basic products of these two brewing giants are actually very good and definitely worth a try. 


Cestr's Beer Ice-Cream

Oh, the glory of the beer ice-cream served at the Cestr restaurant! We love it so much we even included it in our recent list of the best ice-creams in Prague. You see, some things divide, some unite. Cestr's beer ice-cream clearly falls within the latter category: our guests who do not like beer by itself love the ice-cream, anyway, saying they could easily consume beer in this form. First you get the notes of coffee and caramel, just like when you taste the roasted barley that makes the dark lager dark. Then a whiff of honey. And then it comes. The fantastic beer finish that stays in your mouth for a few moments more. It is fun watching our guests go throughout the whole tasting process.

When we first tasted Cestr’s beer ice-cream, we knew we would serve it to our guests. We actually have a confession to make: we bought an ice-cream maker to recreate it at home. We have used it twice, of course. An we failed: ours came out too sweet. And it has been collecting dust ever since. Until now. We have always tried to get the recipe, secretly, but never dared ask. But still, we have been keeping a mailing list of all of our guests who wanted to be sent the recipe when we finally get it. And that means nearly every guest who has ever joined the our Prague food and culture tour.

Source: Archiv Ambiente

Source: Archiv Ambiente

Well, the time has finally come. The Ambiente group of restaurants, the owner of Cestr (and some other restaurants and cafes in Prague) has published the recipe (albeit as part of a larger dessert pictured above) in its quarterly food magazine distributed within its restaurants, and we have the permission to reprint it! So without further ado, here’s the recipe.

Cestr’s beer ice-cream 

  • 400g (14 oz) caster sugar
  • 400ml (1.7 oz) 33% whipping cream
  • 200g (7 oz) honey
  • 1l (4.2 cups) Master dark lager 
  • 100g (3.5 oz) powdered milk
  • 2 yolks
  1. Put all the ingredients in a pot and slowly bring to boil, stirring occasionally. 
  2. Sieve through a fine sieve and cool down aggressively (either in an ice-cream maker or in the freezer: in that case, mix the ice-cream through every 15 minutes until it is firm).

Did you think it would be harder? We are sorry to disappoint. You can replace the Master dark lager with any dark lager of your choice, preferably from your local small or micro-brewery. Just ask at your local shop that carries beers... and enjoy! In Cestr, they serve the ice-cream with marinated plums, caramel mousse and malt biscuit crumbles. How will you serve yours?


Meet a local: Lukas Svoboda of Lokal

source: archiv Ambiente

source: archiv Ambiente

We met Lukas Svoboda, the man in charge of beers for the ubiquitous Ambiente group of restaurants, at the beer pairing he organized in the Cestr restaurant. We immediately liked him to the point where we started planning his abduction and involuntary service in our apartment. (We do that with chefs or baristas or bartenders that we like - is that wrong?) We have also, for the longest time, thought of signing up for his draughting school at Lokal u Bile kuzelky. Six hours full of nothing but beer and food? Sounds about right. 
 
We met him for the interview in Lokal u Bile kuzelky, his home pub. He was talking to the regulars and clearly in command of the place. It is absolutely clear that he loves beer and his guests, and it is even cleared that they love him back. And why wouldn’t you? Always smiling and talking with a slight Moravian accent, Lukas is the best promoter of Czech beer we could think of. He was, of course, having a glass of unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell from the big 500 litre tank.

When did you taste your first beer?
I may have tasted my first beer when I was fifteen or sixteen. I could not drink at home, so it was with my friends, in secret. I was not impressed. For me, it was the cheapest alcoholic drink. But I was social and alcohol was a thing associated with parties. I preferred Coke or Pepsi. Seemed more interesting. It all changed when I began working at U Pinkasu. I was intrigued by how the bartender pampered the beer and how the beer created a community of regulars.
And then my buddy and I opened Konvikt in Bartolomejska street. I was there for 3.5 years. I managed to take all the good things I learned at U Pinkasu and leave all the bad things there. It created a great community of regulars and friends. And that’s where the inspiration for the draughting school came from: the bartender should be a personality, have a relationship with the customers and have respect for the beer. We want to teach that.

source: archiv Ambiente

source: archiv Ambiente

How did you end up at Lokal?
Mr Karpisek, the owner, had a vision for an honest Czech pub: Lokal. He started looking for people and he heard about me. It was funny: Tomas and his pals were coming regularly over to check me out, just smiling and nodding at me when I worked. He was introduced to me and asked me later to take care of the beer at Lokal. That was in 2009, about five months before the opening. I focused only on beer and on the draughting school. 
I was a young gun, and now I wanted to introduce the alternative pours: the “sweet", the “snyt" and so on. These beers were available only to a few regulars at two or three pubs but not to the general public. The older bartenders did not like it: they though it was just theirs. Now it’s common place. And we keep adding more: the beer aperitifs at Cestr, and now Radlers, or Shandys, at Lokal.   

What is the story behind the draughting school?
When we opened Konvikt, Mr Berka, the master brewer at Pilsner Urquell, really liked it. And he mentioned he would love to see a school where the best bartenders would share their experiences. That was 2007, and the school was opened at 2011. I had no premises at Konvikt, but I do have them at Lokal. Also, Ambiente [group of restaurants] gives me lots of freedom. At first, the school was targeting professionals but then we said no: we would open it to the public. Six hours of beer history, beer pairing and training. 

source: archiv Ambiente

source: archiv Ambiente

Our US guests say the tank Pilsner Urquell tastes completely different than the thing they get there.

When you have a beer from the keg, it is important that you drink it as fresh as possible. We buy Pilsner Urquell for our NYC pub from the local distributor and always make sure it is not older than two months. We want the kegs to be all empty within three months of production. 
What is interesting that the wholesale price of Pilsner Urquell is nearly the same here as it is in the US. The difference is in the markup. Cheap beer is a Czech tradition: for nearly 50 years, the Communists centrally planned beer production and they just made two types of beer in huge numbers with a set price. Just domestic barley and hops, no imports for specialty beers. The production was motivated politically.  
In the 17th century, we had 3000 breweries in the Czech Republic. Tiny ones. Every town had at least one. Before WWI, the number dropped to about 600, and at the end of WWII, we only had 200: the wars really took their toll. And at the end of 1989, we only had 48 huge breweries. Now we are seeing a revival of smaller breweries: we have 46 big breweries and about 240 smaller ones. The funny thing is that we have nearly 300 breweries but only 90 master brewers. :-) 

Besides Pilsner Urquell, what beers do you like?

I love small, craft breweries. I travel around the world and try them. On principle, I like any beer that is well poured. And that’s a problem. We have good beers but the bartenders don’t know how to pour them. Antos is great, and I have liked Matuska for a long time. Well, there are many. I chose Antos for Nase maso because it goes well with the meat. Now they’ll have the 10 degree beer for the summer. It’s great. 

Do you miss any beer on the market?
Many. I still miss high-quality beers. We still have reserves. We can do better. For instance, the cyclist’s 8 at Hostivar brewery is fantastic. 

  source: archiv Ambiente

 source: archiv Ambiente

Your favorite venues?
Whenever they pour beer well. Lokals, of course. Konvikt, Malostranska beseda, Tygr because of the atmosphere, Bredovsky dvur, U Pinkasu for one beer. I don’t have one place that would be my favorite. I like to try new things.    

Your favorite Sunday or Saturday?
When the weather is bad, I like to have a lie down and read a beer-related book, or go see a movie or listen to some music. When the weather cooperates, I do my favorite pastime: downhill mountain bike riding. Otherwise I like to go to the great outdoors, especially when combined with a visit of my family in the Beskydy mountain. That’s great. Oh, and I have actually tried golf for the first time and I think I will like it!
  
Where do you go for beer in Prague?
I only visit venues that treat the beer properly. I primarily watch how the beer is poured, especially with my favorite, Pilsner Urquell. I am very strict about that. In that respect, I like all Lokals, Konvikt, Malostranska Beseda, Tygr etc. and then I like small craft breweries more and more – Strahov, Beznoska, Hostivar… But again, I like to try new things.
 
What are four beers visitors to Prague should taste?
If I were to have my four last beers in Prague, I would have Pilsner Urquell at Lokal, the dark lager at U Fleku – although the place is super touristy, their beer is great! Hostivar 15° at Hostivar – it’s damn good. And finally unfiltered Radegast at Konvikt with the regulars at their table.

source: archiv Ambiente

source: archiv Ambiente