Many years ago I did the requisite backpacking trek through Europe. While even then I was a homebrewer and had already developed a taste for quality beer I had not yet built up the knowledge base about beer I possess today. I appreciated the beer I drank, but didn’t always understand the story behind them.
A case in point is my time in Prague. In Prague pubs there were two kinds of beer: light and dark. Both were lagers. I have come to recognize the light-coloured offerings were interpretations of the classic Czech Pilsner, with a rounded body and a spicy hop bitterness. The dark were more of a mystery to me.
To compound my trouble, I have not since found a beer that replicates the particular flavour profile of dark Czech beer. Sure, I have drunk many dark lagers, including examples of German Dunkel, Vienna, Schwarzbier, American Dark Lager and so on. While some came close, none matched the particular combination of flavours I remember from my hours in Prague pubs. Czech dark lager may be related to Munich Dunkel, but it is sharper and with a bit more hop note to it. It is like nothing I have tasted since.
Surprisingly, I recently found an excellent example of Czech Dark right here in Edmonton. A small Czech craft brewery called Bernard recently sent a shipment to Alberta. At my first sip I was immediately reminded of my time in Prague.
It is a dark, wood-bark brown with some chestnut highlight. It builds a tight, pock-marked light tan head that lasts throughout the tasting. The aroma gives off dark toffee, milk chocolate, a touch of nuttiness and dark toasted malt character. The first sip reveals toasted bread, toffee, light chocolate, hints of coffee and a generic nuttiness up front. The middle is more subdued, offering a bit of chocolate and pecan. The finish dries out with a touch of hop bitterness and a subtle, understated dryness. Interestingly, the mouthfeel is silky and creamy while the linger is very clean and lager-like.
What I like about this beer is it offers complexity and simplicity at the same time. There are lots of flavours but none dominate the overall clean lager character. It is surprisingly light in body and perfectly balanced. The beer is drier and offers more hop character than a German Dunkel, but not quite as sharp as a North American dark lager.
It is a classic version of a Czech Dark. Ironically, the brewery only opened in 1991, meaning I likely did not sip upon their interpretation during my backpacking. Regardless of its age, Bernard has wonderfully zoned in on the elusive Czech Dark Lager. Much to my pleasure, I must add. V
Jason Foster is the creator of onbeer.org, a website devoted to news and views on beer from the prairies and beyond.