Saturday 10 April 2021
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Tucked way up in the north of the Czech Republic, where it meets Germany and Poland – the region historically known as Bohemia – is the beautiful rural brewery of Albrecht. It’s a part of Europe that’s changed rulers and kingdoms many times over the course of history, and Albrecht has been there for most of it, simply doing what it does best - making exceptional, traditional beer.
Martin Macourek, of the Czech Beer Alliance, which represents Albrecht, says: “We have mentions of beer being made here as early as 1278, originally in the Frýdlant castle. It was owned from 1278 up until to 1948 - when it was nationalised – by a series of noble families, the best known of which was the Wallensteins. Albrecht von Wallenstein was a supreme commander of Imperial armies during the 30 Years War, and was extremely successful in his role. He really loved this brewery. Eventually in the 1600s these guys decided to move the brewery - which was really a tiny, tiny thing inside the castle - to its own larger site just below the castle walls.”
Some 400 years later, the brewery below the castle remains Albrecht’s only facility, with the overall layout of the baroque buildings largely unchanged; a fact that Beer52’s collection driver discovered for himself when trying to manoeuvre his truck into the tiny medieval courtyard.
In 1852, Albrecht’s then head brewer, Josef Danek, wrote the first book on bottom fermentation in Bohemia, further solidifying the brewery’s place in history. And its this heritage of bottom-fermenting expertise, combined with an enthusiasm for new, bold approaches that continues to make it so special in the present day.
“The norm in Bohemia is that you have your historical, traditional breweries, and then your modern craft breweries, with very little overlap in what they’re doing. Albrecht kind of combines both in very old brewery buildings. So nowadays, it’s a highly regarded ale brewery in the Czech Republic, alongside modern outfits like Matuška in Prague.”
One of the reasons for this is that the mineral content of the water in northern bohemia is particularly suited to brewing ale, compared to the water in, say, Pilsen, which is more more suited to very clean, crisp lagers. This is also why Albrecht’s traditional lagers are relatively heavily hopped for the style.
“Like all the breweries represented by the Czech beer alliance, Albrecht is a proudly independent family business, in terms of its ownership and its attitude. All of the ingredients are sourced naturally, with no tweaks to the chemistry, and for ales there’s a maturation process of at least one month, two for the lagers. There’s no way those standards would be maintained as part of a big multinational - that’s why they’ve rebuffed every offer.”
In the box: Czech pale
“We’re very excited about this beer - Beer52 customers are getting kind of a world premier actually,” says Martin. “We’re trying to bring back the original beer that was brewed in Bohemia predominantly before Pilsner Urquel came in with their famous golden lager back in 1842. So before that, we had a beer that was made from malted barley, obviously, but also wheat malt. That exact beer would not appeal to modern drinkers because it’s very, very sweet and has no hops at all.
“Our Czech pale is still sweet, but with understated, underlying hoppy notes from two types of hop: cascade, which everyone knows, but also Kazbek, which has quite a low alpha acid content, with this pronounced noble character. So it’s nicely balanced with cascade.”
Morion Irish Stout
“Stouts in the Czech Republic are getting more and more popular. Basically, the basis of the Czech stout is a Czech dark lager - that’s the heritage, and it’s quite different to German Dunkel. The Bohemian dark lager tastes more like a pilsner type of beer, with a light body and usually quite spicy from the use of Saaz hops.
“So Morion obviously doesn’t taste like a normal Irish stout. This one combines eight different malts, so that’s the predominant flavour: roasted barley and dark, dark chocolate. And on the hop side, it’s just English hops, because we recognised that really these styles really originated from East London and you can’t beat English hops for them, so we used Fuggles and East Kent Goldings.”
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