The already-busy Porterhouse festival calendar has a new date on it: last Thursday saw the opening of a ten-day celebration of Czech beer to mark 21 years since the Velvet Revolution.
When my shiny new camera and I went along for a shufti, the bottles hadn't arrived yet and it turned out we're not getting one of the highlights (Budvar yeast beer) at all in Ireland (booo!). Some interesting alternatives on draught, though: Bernard Dark, Budvar Dark and some strong pale fellas from Žatecký Pivovar.
Baronka looks quite innocent: a rich shade of gold, maybe a little bit darker than you might expect a typical pale lager to be. The aroma is the first sign that we're beyond plain pils territory, heady bananas and zingy peaches were my first impressions. It's mouth-coatingly full-bodied -- sitting cosily in the stomach and radiating a gentle alcoholic warmth, though it is only 5.3% ABV. The flavour starts by mixing these warm and fruity elements but the hops don't lag behind and there's an early smack of tangy, grassy Saaz. The finish is all hop too. A beautiful, balanced, complex winter lager this.
Two taps over they'd stuck up an innocent looking Žatec badge and biro'd in the word "Strong" beneath. In Czech terms Žatec Strong is an 18º lager -- 7.3% ABV to you and me. I only had a sample but could see it's a beautiful dark honey colour, and virtually headless. While it tastes all of its strength and more, it's not overpowering. There's no trampy cloying sweetness about it: I'd say this is all malt and lots of it. Maybe not exactly brimming with character but very smooth and a lovely sipping lager.
The plan is to get back in for a go of the bottles before the festival ends on Sunday.