Monday, November 11, 2019

All About Pilsner Beer

The fifth workshop in the series What's Brewing was devoted to beers of the Pilsner type.

While Frank Greeraers was giving the introduction to the event passing in review the past four workshops (Read here about #one, #three, and #four) an American in Prague and co-host, Evan Rail, was attentively watching and listening,

In Evan Rail's beer guide, you not only find the Pilsner Urquell

Evan Rail, the author of The Meaning of craft beer, was the star of the evening. Here is the first information we read in his book, "This sounds unbelievable today, but in 1993 you could actually operate a successful American craft brewery and not serve a hoppy American IPA - or even an IPA of any kind. You could make your bones on the great Pilsner and a delicious Dunkel, with a line out the door on weekends. In its earliest days, American craft beer really did speak with a European accent."

Why shouldn't it? Already in 1840, Bavarian brewers showed to the Americans that a fresh lager tasted different from "warm" English style beers.

Johann Wagner did not call his bottom-fermented beer "Pilsner," as the brewers in Pilsen only learned two years later in 1842 how to make a lager beer. It was again a Bavarian, Josef Groll from Vilshofen, who taught the Pilseners how to brew a cold fermentation beer from a gently kilned and, therefore, very light malt.

Frank called 1840/1842 the years of the Big Bang in beer brewing, Urknall in German, referring to Pilsner Urquell?

In the beginning, the name was protected when, in 1896, German brewers failed to call their lager beer "Pilsner."

Evan even explained the three ways* of pouring a Pilsner Urquell:
*The explanations I found at

Hladinka: the beer is tapped under an approx. 3.5 cm high head. This allows the bitter and delicate aromas and hops notes to be felt more intensely on the palate while drinking, which makes this beer tap a perfect match for meat and fish.

Šnyt: the glass is half-filled* with foam, and then the golden beer is tapped underneath. As the beer is drunk through the head, the malty cereal aromas are particularly intense, while the hop aromas remain in the background.
*In German, we would call the badly poured filling schlecht eingeschenkt.

Mlíko (milk): here, a glass of beer foam is served. The beer is particularly creamy as the froth makes the sweet caramel aromas of the malt more intense when drunk. This tap is a perfect match for desserts.

Let us hope that this kind of fraternization will have its comeback one day
or aren't there any gentlemen anymore?
České Budějovice, in German called Budweis, is a city in Bohemia founded in 1265 by King Ottokar II. Soon after its foundation, the town started to brew Budweiser beer. When in the States in 1876, they named a beer Budweiser a trademark dispute resulted. You may like to read the long story on Wikipedia.

The short story is that in the States, you get US-brewed Budweiser while in Germany, you can buy original Budvar Budweiser, a mass-produced beer made in Budweis.

The beers tasted

Note and taste
the difference
1. Another Civic Brewhouse was founded in Budweis in 1795 by the German-speaking burghers of the Bohemian city. Nowadays, they brew and bottle a quality lager/pilsner beer in České Budějovice that is marketed as Samson.  It was the first beer we tasted.

2. A Pilsner style Benedict Pale Lager is brewed by Piovar Břevnovsky in Prague. They claim to be the oldest monastery brewery dating from 993!

3. Bernard Dunkel Lager is brewed by the family brewery in Humpolec in the Czech Republic This dark beer has a pleasant taste.

4. Raven Waffle Dance Stroopwafel* Ale from the pivovar Raven in Pilsen. A sweet and full-bodied Stroopwafel Ale brewed in collaboration with the Sisters Brewery, Holland.  Wafel dance is brewed with Dutch Stroopwafels and Czech dedication. This brew was simply too sweet.
*a wafer cookie made from two thin layers of baked dough joined by a caramel filling

Here is an article by Evan Rail in the NYT. He was affirmative for Berlin beer, but was it because German craft beers now speak with an American accent?

Besides, when everything fails ...

This falling in love resulted in an increased export of craft beer and a beer pairing dinner in Berlin.

Beer instead of ping-pong diplomacy as, e.g. the ...

5. Bohemian Pilsner brewed by Lemke in Berlin. We brewed it with Bohemian malt and plenty of original wort and then stuffed it with Saazer and East-Kent-Golding hops.

An earlier case of beer diplomacy:
Bill with Czech President Václav Havel and a nearly empty glass in Prague
6. Firestone Pivo Pilsner is inspired by the dry-hopped Tipopils from Italy and brewed by the Firestone Brewing Company in California. Pivo exhibits stylistic influences from Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic with a West Coast dry-hopping twist. 

With all those Pilsner beers, Evan had to explain their differences.
7. A hazy & juicy New England IPA is brewed by Samuel Adams, the Boston Beer company.

The warnings "Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery and may cause health problems" were apparently not taken seriously by US comedian Conan O'Brian ...

... drinking beer the Irish way?

8. Mr. Cinnamon Bun containing cinnamon snail and vanilla extract is mixed by Sudden Death Brewing Company, Timmendorfer Strand, Germany. The motto for the mix, "Hey ladies, what would you like for breakfast tomorrow?"

9. Luckily enough, the last choice was more serious. We tasted the Baltic Porter Woda Portova craft beer brewed by a German-American-Czech group, Yankee & Kraut, and the team from Pivovar Raven.

Here we should not forget the craft beer brewed by the Braukollektiv Freiburg, an American-Australian-German Group, having given more than 28 NEIPAs to the beer connoisseurs in the region from 2014 to 2019.

Here is the final group photo of the Jagdstrecke (hunting bag) of the beers tasted at a well-organized and well-remembered workshop.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Brahe and Kepler in Prague

Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler at Pohorelec and in bronze
Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler were astronomers and astrologers at the imperial court of Rudolf II who in 1583 had moved his seat of government from Vienna to Prague. With this move, he had further irritated the Habsburg clan who already regarded "their" melancholic emperor as blödhäuptig (silly-headed). Rudolf, as Golo Mann writes, "possessed high intelligence when the urge of the moment did not cloud it." He was, in particular, interested in the science of his time like alchemy and astrology.

As the best solution to the Rudolf problem, the Habsburgs considerably reduced his financial support. So the emperor was forced, although a fervent Catholic himself, to pact with the Protestant Bohemian estates. Their quid pro quo was financial support to the court against religious liberties.

Rudolf's Letter of Majesty in the Czech language
So on 9 July 1609, Rudolf guaranteed in his Letter of Majesty to the followers of the Bohemian Confession, the Czech Hussites and brothers in faith, "From this day forth no one ... shall be pushed aside by [his] religion and forced to another faith by force or in any conceived way.”

The document guaranteed the Ultraquists* not only freedom of religion but also the privilege of building churches and establishing schools. Prague University became Protestant.
*receiving the Holy Communion under both Species

©P. Habison
This situation culminated in a fight between two prominent brothers, Empereur Rudolf II and the younger Archduke Matthias. In the end, Rudolf was forced to abdicate.

Brahe and Kepler met for the first time on February 6, 1600, well before the fraternal quarrel, at Benatek Castle, Brahe's residence, located 50 km outside Prague.

Why do I write all this? Red Baron actually spent five days with a group on a guided tour of Prague, and it’s surroundings. When I first read the announcement of ”Tycho Brahe und Johannes Kepler in Prag,” I was all excited. This one-time specialized trip was offered by Studiosus, one of the better German tour organizers.

In the following, I will no longer dig into the historical situation on the eve of the Thirty Years War but rather concentrate on the tour. My German-speaking friends may read the full story and history here.

As usual, Studiosus had all well organized. At times we had three guides looking at the overall organization, explaining the implication of Brahe’s and Kepler’s discoveries for the development of astronomy and showing us the beauties of Prague. The organizer was a man from Budapest speaking fluently German*, the astronomer-physicist was from Vienna, while the local guide was a Bohemian lady from Prague.
*His German was too good that clearly indicated that he was foreign (cf. My Fair Lady the story about the Hungarian professor)

St. Norbert, in his recess, just does not get it.
In general, English was the language to converse in shops and restaurants, but our three guides communicated in the classical lingua franca of the gone by Danube Monarchy speaking German. I was moved.

The beautiful Elbe valley
Coming from the Berlin wedding, I had a night-over at Dresden and took the train along the Elbe river to Prague the following morning.

Distinguish the famous Bastei bridge
It was a pleasant ride along the Elbe valley, passing the famous Elbe Sandstone Mountains.

The train named Berliner originated from Kiel on the Baltic Sea, touched Berlin and Dresden, and had accumulated a delay of only 10 minutes when we reached Prague.

First impression: Prague's Wenceslas Square by night

The following morning started with a series of lectures by Dr. Peter Habison on Brahe and Kepler.

©P. Habison
Tycho Brahe became famous as an astronomer when he discovered and described the supernova of 1572. Its luminosity was so high that he could actually observe the bursting star with the naked eye.

©P. Habison
He also observed and described the comet of 1577.

A sextant
A replica of a Brahe quadrant at Benatec Castle

Brahe actually observed all his astronomical data, including those on the movement of planets with the naked eye using well-adjusted sextants and quadrants.

Commemorative plaque for Smetana above the entry to Benatec Castle
Most people visit Benatec Castle, not because of Brahe but Bedrich Smetana. The composer of "The Moldavia" lived here from 1844 to 1847.

Back to our protagonists. Enter Kepler. He needed Brahe’s precisely measured data badly for the exact calculation of the Mars planetary orbit. Initially, Brahe refused to give those away. You will find the full dramatic interhuman story between those two giants of science on Wikipedia.

Eventually, Kepler got the data following Brahe's death in 1601. He dedicated the publication to Emperor Rudolf.

In 1609 Kepler finally had his Astronomia Nova published in which he, based on Brahe's precise observation data, calculated the slightly elliptical orbit of the planet Mars precisely. In his book, Kepler also formulated two of his laws as there are:

1. Planets move in elliptical orbits with the Sun at one focus.
2. The speed of the planet changes at each moment so that the time between two positions is always proportional to the area swept over on the orbit between these positions.

Only a few contemporary "scientists" understood and
appreciated Kepler's Astronomia Nova (©P. Habison)
Only one hundred years later, Isaac Newton will fully understand Kepler's writings by applying to the orbiting planets in Kepler's Laws one of the basic principles in physics the Conservation Laws, in this case, the conservation of angular momentum.

In the following, I would like to show you some of my photos taken during our guided tours.

A visit to the castle

Approaching St. Vitus cathedral at the castle ground
A look into the choir that was still finished in the Middle Ages
St. John of Nepomuk's drama in three acts shown on one painting in the St Vitus Cathedral:
1. Nepomuk hears the Queen's confession.
2. King Wenceslaus demands Nepomuk to divulge the secrets of the queen's confession.
3. Nepomuk refuses, is thrown from Charles Bridge, and drowns in the Moldavia river.
Crowds of tourists passing the great hall at the castle
on their way to and from the site of the 1618 defenestration.
Recovering with an Apfelstrudel (the best!) at the Castle Café
Changing of the guards at the castle
View from the castle unto the roofs of Prague.
Note in the back the Palais Lobkowicz, site of the German embassy.
Last view on the castle from Wallenstein's Gardens.

An original vestige of Prague's University founded in 1348
Today's entry to the Universitas Carolina
A traffic light at Charles Bridge channeling the crowds of tourists

Muzeum Speculum Alchemiae

Making gold

A problem everywhere: No drinks, no noise?

Library of the Strahov Monastery

"Science is difficult but fertile."
The interior is absolutely impressive ...
... and the view down onto the Golden City too.
Passing the Loreto Church ...
...discovering German street names ...
... and arriving at Tycho Brahe's house in the Castle Quarter, "The Golden Griffin."
Dr. Peter Habison gave an outdoor lecture.

The Klementinum

The National Library of the Czech Republic
Breathtaking views from the astronomical tower (see above) on
Baroque St. Nicolas Church, Tyn's Church, and the Powder Tower
To the west, the Hradčany hill with castle and St. Vitus Church.

Pinkas Synagogue, Old-New Synagogue. and Old Cemetary

On the walls of the Pinkas Synagogue are written the names of all the Czech Jews
 who perished in the Holocaust.
The Thora shrine at the Pinkas Synagogue is flanked
with the names of concentration camps
The Old Jewish Cemetary ...
... of the 15th century.
The oldest tombstone of Avigdor Kara from 1439
Rabbi Loew's tombstone of 1609
Interior of the Old New Synagogue where Rabbi Loew taught.
Rabbi  Loew's seat in front of the Thora shrine, untouched.
The Golden City is a place to visit.