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Classic Beer of the Month February 2010: Budweiser Budvar

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Budweiser Budvar, 5% (Czech Republic)

Back in the 1970s, a great standby in a British pub that only offered a poor selection of draught beer was always Worthington’s White Shield. It was a bottle-conditioned beer of supreme quality that stood out like a beacon against its bland, stale-tasting keg housemates.


Budweiser BudvarThese days, in many pubs where only dull international lagers line the bar, there is thankfully a new bottled saviour. That beer is Budweiser Budvar.

Budvar is not bottle conditioned, of course. In fact, it is pasteurized. But, such is the quality of the beer, it not only copes with these restrictions but trashes the draught competition along the way. Why this should be so owes much to the patience with which the beer is brewed.

The Budvar brewery stands in the southern Czech Republic town of Ceske Budejovice. Its origins lie in the end of the 19th century.

The town, for a long time, had had a strong German presence – hence its alternative name of Budweis – but the indigenous Czech people now decided to press for more influence in local politics and commerce. They started up businesses and banks, and inevitably a brewery also came on the scene. It opened in 1895.

State Control

The business has meandered through various ownerships as dogma and war have ravaged the country. Today, Budvar is still owned by the state, a throwback to Czechoslovakia’s Communist days, but it is a link that has saved the brewery so far from being swallowed up by one of the big global brewers.

The last quarter-century has seen the business progress significantly, with a new brewhouse in 1985 and a new visitors’ centre 20 years later. The investment has included modernization of the brewing equipment, but – crucially – cherished and proven traditions have not been thrown out of the window. Wooden casks and open fermenters may have been cast aside, in favour of stainless steel kegs and cylindro-conical tanks, but not principles that govern the use of such equipment.

Most importantly, Budvar clings loyally to a long maturation period. Whereas other Czech brewers, now in the grip of foreign accountants, look to speed up cash flow by trimming back the all-imporant lagering period (and claiming in doing so that modern methods do not require such old-fashioned, time- and money-consuming techniques), Budvar stands firm and retains true lagering as the centrepiece of its process.

The Budvar you find on the shelf of your bar or off-licence is matured for a full 90 days after primary fermentation has ended. Book a trip to the brewery and marvel at this integrity.

Take a tour of the vast cellars and stand in awe of the rows of vast, horizontal lagering tanks that keep the beer at near freezing temperature for three months, allowing the yeast to keep nibbling away at its rougher edges.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be drawn a glass direct from the vessel. This is beer at its freshest and purest, before it has ventured anywhere near the pasteurizer, which adds the only blemish to the beer’s virgin complexion.

This long maturation really gives the quality of the beer the chance to shine through. Already the choice of ingredients has been careful.

Local Moravian malt has been cured to the exact specifications demanded by the head brewer. Water is drawn from the brewery’s own well, and is so pure and soft it needs no treatment before joining the malt in the mash.

Budweiser Budvar brewhouseA decoction system is employed, whereby batches of the mash are temporarily transferred to a second vessel and the temperature raised to help extract the best of the barley, before returning to the mashing kettle. In the copper, whole-leaf Saaz hops infuse the wort with rich, smooth, herbal bitterness.

Then the Budvar yeast works its magic, aggressively for 12 days in the primary fermentation, then more subtly during that lingering maturation. Finally, the beer emerges bright and golden, loaded with flavour and offering a satisfying 5% smack of alcohol.

Budvar at its best is a stunning beer. Its golden colour seduces you even before you raise the glass to your lips and savour the clever combination of silky, sweet malt, a hint of vanilla from the fermentation and the rounded bitter balance of tangy, herbal hop notes.

The only fly in the ointment to enjoying Budvar – apart from its being pasteurized for export – is that sometimes it’s not sold under its own name.

Despite the term ‘Budweiser’ meaning ‘from the town of Budweis’ in German, court judgements obtained by the brewers of American Budweiser prohibit the sale of the Czech beer under that name in certain countries. In the USA and Italy, for instance, you’ll therefore discover the beer labelled up as Czechvar.

Just remember what Shakespeare said: ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.






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