Shana had an extra hour off between classes today, so I met her in front of her building at Karluv University for a nice lunch. Which, here in Prague, generally involves beer in some way. I'd seen Minipivovar U Medvídků a couple of times walking to and from the shops downtown, and it's only about a twenty minute walk from the University, so we decided to give it a shot.
The brewery is actually located in a building within a mall area, and only the second floor is actually a microbrewery. Bottom floor contains a bar serving standard fare, which I didn't visit. The topmost floor is a hotel and seems to contain a small standing-room "caberet" with some tables. Walking up we saw a sign advertising "the smallest brewery in the Czech Republic," which I well believe. A small corner, really, with a few long tables. Pretty slow when we got there but with a few well-off locals filtering in and out.
We sat down and checked out the laminated beer menus on the table. The bartender spoke little English (although enough to get by -- I just couldn't really ask her any questions) but pointed out their beer selection. They had a "light," an "amber" which was some kind of half-and-half from her description, a beer with some kind of rose hips added, and their X-33, which is laughably called the strongest beer in the world. (It's listed at 12.6 ABV on their website, which means I could name at least a dozen beers stronger just off the top of my head.) At that strength, it's very likely the strongest beer in the Czech Republic, however, which means something.
I wish I had gotten the camera battery charger earlier so I could have taken pictures, because I doubt I'll go back there before we leave. Shana left it up to me what to order, so I picked a 0.5L serving of the rose hip beer and the light, figuring that anything considered a "blend" was probably not something I'd be interested in. The sweet beer came first, on the nose it had a strong cherry-like aroma with some very slight sour characteristics, reminded me of a very weak lambic. Tasted similar, but with a kind of dry yeasty malt character that was actually somewhat unpleasant. Shana didn't care for it either.
The second, the light, was a much hazier body than the Czech Lager I was expecting, and the flavor was no different. Very yeasty, definitely an unfiltered version of a lager. It reminded me more of someone's homebrew than a commercial beer, a homebrew made by someone still working out the recipe and technique. No fruit characteristics, but still with those faint sour notes....
Then I realized that this pivovar was brewing in open fermentation tanks, made of wood, and very near the serving area. How sterile could this process really be? The slight sourness was very likely due to some spoilage in the wort, which was either intended by the brewer or simply not noticed by the patrons.
How do you rate such a thing? I certainly wasn't a fan of those two beers, although I finished them, and they definitely improved as they got warmer, but can I really say that I know what the brewer intended better than the brewer? Ratings for the place on BeerAdvocate are mostly fairly positive, so did I just arrive on an off day? Did I just not try the right beers? My visit to Strahov was almost like coming home to a brewpub in the States, but this experience was alien and unpleasant. By saying that, I'm not trying to say that I expect all brewpubs to act like American beer-geek brewpubs, but I have drank fairly widely of dozens of styles of beer, as well as making beers of my own, and these beers tasted somehow off to me.
To give the brewery one last shot, I tried the aforementioned X-33. which was better than the other two. Very sweet malt presence, slightly sour (again), with a very slight hop presence that was overwhelmed by the alcohol. This was clearly an experimental beer for the brewery, and again, I felt like the experiment didn't quite work. Everything was a bit too unbalanced, and nothing really stood out all that strongly except that the brewers were clearly trying to brew strong beer.
If this place were in the States, I'd tell people to avoid it, but I can't say that the willingness to experiment is a bad thing for a minipivovar in the center of Prague's Old Town. The fact that locals were eating there led me to believe that this is a very authentically Czech place, rather than feeling like a tourist trap, an if this is the future of Czech brewing I'm definitely interested in seeing where it goes.