Another hard to pronounce beer from Notch!
Our Notch Polotmavy is a brand new beer from us, and a limited release available in draft and 22 ounces bottles (specs and deets here). It’s yet another style from the Czech Republic that gets very little exposure in the US, and is a wonderful alternative to the sweeter Oktoberfest lagers or spiced up pumpkin beers that hit this time of year. As usual with our beer releases, there’s a fair bit of history and back story on the style and how we decided to brew our own interpretation. Hang with us, or just look at the pics, this is long. And as an aside, the diacritical marks in this post were removed, as my blog has a hard time with them.
The Czech word Polotmavy translated to English is “half-dark” or what we know as amber. As with all Czech styles, brewers categorize by color and strength, so a Polotmavy can range from 4% to 8%. Ours is a Polotmavy Lezak, on the lighter side of amber, and 4.4% ABV. Check out the interminable brewing historian Ron Pattinson’s quick guide to Czech beer, and then realize everything you’ve been told about Czech beer styles is false.
Notch’s Polotmavy lies firmly on the drier side of the style, with a good smack of Czech Saaz for balance. And at this point I need to warn those who equate hoppy with citrus, pine and juicy fruit – this beer has none of the hop character you’ll find in hoppy US beer styles. Notch Polotmavy is 100% Saaz, from the first wort hopping all the way through to the dry hopping, and the result is a classic Saaz hop character (herbal, grassy, floral). It is certainly hop forward, but balanced, and the malt comes through beautifully. Notch Polotmavy is a subtle beast, if that makes any sense.
And the malt! The malt is equally the star of this beer. But more on that later. Let’s start with our trip. Those who follow us on Twitter and FB may have seen our posts from Europe this past spring where we visited the Czech Republic (again), with side trips to Bamberg and Munich. Our two favorite beer brewing and beer culture nations would serve as the backdrop for beer inspiration, and Polotmovy was top of the list, so we’ll focus on that part of the trip.
In Prague, we met up with Evan Rail, a travel and beer writer for the NY Times, and set out for an afternoon of beers and wide ranging discussion (the two should go hand in hand, and Prague’s pubs, they certainly do). We first hit the new Three Roses brewpub (Pivovar U Tri Ruzi), and Evan got us a tour of the new facility. Money is pouring into Prague, and it shows in this brewpub. Not a single brewer’s hose that I could see, as everything is hard plumbed, and everything controlled by pneumatics and solenoid valves. This is rare in a US brewpub. This is rare in most US craft breweries. It certainly made me curious about the beer.
We tried a little of everything at Three Roses, and on the menu was both Polotmavy Lezak and Vienna Lezak (both 13 Plato). This surprised me, as Polotmavy is a distant cousin of Vienna, but it also excited me, as it clearly shows the Czechs view Polotmavy as a distinct style. The Polotmavy was a bit sweet to my taste, low IBU, but a solid beer and well brewed.
We walked back up the road to U Medvidku, where we were staying. On the first floor of the hotel is a Budvar beer hall, but recently a brewery was built in the basement of the hotel (when we last stayed at U Medvidku in 2005, the brewery was under planning). We followed Evan through the first floor beer hall, past the back rooms, down some stairs, though another smaller hall and then finally through to the new brewery, which sits right next to long communal drinking tables. The brewery set-up is fantastic – decoction brewhouse, cool ship, open wooden fermenters and wooden barrels for lagering. All of this in about 750 sq/ft, and I’m guessing it’s a 5 hectoliter system. Time for more beer.
I started with the house Svetly Lezak (A light lager beer, what the US incorrectly calls a Pilsner. If it’s not from Plzen, it’s not a Pilsner). And I was reminded quickly that what we view as monolithic beer style country (light colored lagers all tasting the same) is really a country that has a wide interpretation of each beer style. This Svetly Lezak screamed of individualism, with a complex malt and assertive hop profile. It also had, gasp, a fair bit of diacetyl, which is a common and expected part of the Czech lager profile. I liked the beer, not too sweet, not too dry, but right down the middle in terms of balance. The next beer up was the Polotmavy, but a stronger version (forgot the plato, but maybe 14 or so). A wonderful beer, but certainly not a session beer. But much to learn from this beer, especially in the big, sweetish malt profile. I really loved this brewery, and the respect they have for tradition. They even ship their lagering barrels to Plzen to be re-pitched!
We found Evan to be a great host, but more so a great person to grab a pint with. Before we knew, beer talk was gone and we were onto music. My kind of beer drinking. Our day wrapped up as Evan needed to head home to the family, so we made plans to meet up later in the week and said our good-byes.
The next morning we met up with Petr Pinkas, a beer blogger (http://pivnirecenze.cz/) and soon to be professional brewer (he supplied some of the photos below). Petr is from the Czech town of Brno and represents the younger, new wave of Czech beer fans and brewers. He has a lot of respect for Czech brewing, but also wants to push past the lager dominated offerings on the market and offer wider variety (sound familiar?). Our first stop was at Strahovsky Pivovovar, just past the Prague Castle, for lunch, beers and a tour of the brewery. This is a newer brewery with a small beer hall and small beer garden (patio, really), that seems to be very busy. On that day we watch a wedding ceremony of some sort in the brewhouse at the same time beer was being brewed! Also, I took a photo of the brewer’s desk, something about them draws me in, maybe I’m looking at my own habits.
I really like the set-up of this brewery (more modern than U Medvidku, but without the automation of U Tri Ruzi), and the beers really shined. I started with a Cerne Pivo, and Petr and I got to talking about this style. There are two paths currently with Cerne Pivo in the Czech Republic, the old school, lower IBU, slightly sweeter versions, and the new school, high IBU versions that dry the beer our a bit. This was firmly in the new school, and it had great character and drinkability. I was quickly on to the Polotmavy Lezak, and found this to be the best example in Prague. A real stunner in my book and everything I was hoping Polotmavy Lezak to be – wonderful complex malt character balanced by a good dose of hop bitterness and flavor. The bar had been set, and it was pretty high.
I discussed recipes of both Cerne and Polotmavy with Petr, and he explained that the malts for both are usually the same – Pils, Munich, Crystal (or a type of Caramalt), and a dark roasted malt – but in different proportions. This is similar to my Cerne and Polotmavy recipes, except that in each case I dropped Pils malt altogether.
Our day with Petr and his friends was a long one, filled with much beer drinking and much more fun. I got schooled on food, culture and some much needed Czech language pronunciations! There is much more to our Czech trip, but that will be saved for another day, including our fantastic trip with Max Pivero to Uneticky Pivovar. I also sampled many more Polotmavy from Czech brewers small and large. It’s a wide ranging category of beers, and hard to call a style unless you designate a strength to it. Saison anyone?
But I promised the malt! I used Weyermann Vienna malt as the base malt for the recipe, and this was inspired by my visit there while in Bamberg. I try to use local ingredients whenever feasible, but for this beer, there really was no substitute for what I was trying to achieve. Like the Saaz hops, if you ever want to understand how Vienna malt tastes or smells, Notch Polotmavy will give you all you need to know. No photos are allowed inside of Weyermann, so here’s some outdoor shots of this beautiful facility.
Prizes for anyone who made it to this point. While my blog frequency has gone done, the length has gotten a bit out of hand. You should see Notch Polotmavy hit the shelves by the weekend (Aug 24), and then draft next week, hopefully. We’ll post locations on where you can find Notch Polotmavy as they happen. Na zdravi!