My Life with Pale Draught Beer *) or How to Perceive Both Authentic and Modern Beer Styles

I was born in Prague and was growing up in a street called Jaselská many years ago. To this day, you can find this street in Dejvice, a district distant from Prague Castle only a fifteen-minute walk. When I stepped out of the house those days and looked around, I could spot a pub on both the left and right corners of our street. When I reached either of the pubs at the intersection with another street, towards the left I could gradually see other nine pubs, and towards the right there were 21 of them. Each of the pubs had pale draught beer, or the 10 beer, on the tap. The “10° tap beer” is a popular name for original gravity beer which according to the Czech state standard is called pale draught beer and according to EBS classification it is called Bohemian-style session lager. It is a beer style thanks to which the Czechs have been the world leaders in the number of liters consumed per capita for many years. No wonder; each of the pubs I would pass by back then was usually totally packed and the beer consumption was just huge.

It is undoubtedly an authentic Czech beer style, because it has come into existence thanks to the perfect mastery of the brewing craft by Czech brewers. In the last century, it has even become a test of their abilities. While the Czech lager oscillating between Budweiser Budvar and Pilsner Urquell, has always been and will remain the royal discipline in the Czech Republic, the real test for a Czech brewer will always be the Bohemian-style session lager. Why? If you brew a Czech lager, the beer needs not be as precisely balanced as a draught beer (the 10° tap beer). You can only use a very measured amount of hops and you can't do without live yeast, so there is no chance to cover up any flaws in the harmony of this beer style. In fact, its mantra is drinkability which must be almost perfect. So far, we stick to a completely authentic (original) style, so it does not have a complicated flavor profile. The slightly sweet malt flavor comes from the medium fullness of the beer and blends with a subtle bitter aftertaste. The difficulty of the brewer's task lies in the perfect blending of these two basic flavors, the complete absence of off flavors and the taste freshness of the beer which has about 4% alcohol by volume (ABV). Its main advantage remains the fact that the next day the consumer feels as if he has not actually drunk anything. That, however, would be impossible, had he spent an evening of intense encounters with lager. This brings us to the very modern dimension of this style which can take the form of light, dark or blended beer. As a rule, beer is never brewed as a semi-dark beverage in Bohemia. If a brewer in any place all over the world decides to brew a Bohemian-style session lager, he will need exclusively Czech ingredients, but he is allowed to surrogate. What he cannot do without, is the knowledge of the traditional Czech brewing craft, in particular decoction, and if the beer is to really stand out when served, it should be tapped from a cask by a tapper who knows what Czech beer culture is all about.

Pavel Borowiec,

former Editor In Chief Pivo, Bier & Ale

*) Translator’s note: Pale Draught Beer (about 4% ABV) is in the Czech Republic also known as and frequently referred to as the “10°Tap Beer”. The name comes from the so-called degree scale expressing the weight of extract (sucrose) in a solution.

Draught Beer (10° Tap Beer) As Every Brewer's Touchstone

I have lived with beer and around beer for almost half a century. Out of those almost fifty years, I spent 18 years in the brewing industry of a socialist country - from my apprenticeship to my job with the Research Institute of Brewing and Malting (VÚPS). My experience with the production and quality of beer back then, whether consumer or professional one, is perhaps sufficient to allow me to compare it with today. Under socialism, when the 10° tap beer was sought for primarily by workers (the beer was sometimes dubbed as the worker’s bread), the producers skimped on it as much as they could. They skimped on raw materials, technological parameters and even the resulting quality. The draught beer literally suffered, the quality was not taken into consideration; the most important thing was the volume of production achieved. Lager beer, on the other hand, was every brewery’s showcase. Lager beer showed what a brewery could produce if it had favorable conditions. Better quality raw materials were selected, prescribed lag times were maintained and each brewer would pamper its lager beer to show what he could do if only .......

After 1989, the situation has changed radically. Breweries were no longer centrally exploited; they invested in production equipment and started to buy quality raw materials, because only high-quality beer can succeed in a saturated market. And this is where it started to become apparent that the 10°beer is really the touchstone of the Czech brewers. The draught beer is made of fewer raw materials than the lager, so mistakes in its production cannot be disguised by a higher fullness or bitterness.

Above all, a good quality draught beer must be balanced and highly drinkable. This means, above all, a clockwork precision work with the ingredients, their careful selection and control. When it comes to malts, the choice is still relatively simple, as our malting plants (malt houses) produce high quality malt. However, when it comes to hops and in particular yeast, it is much more complicated. The combination of hops needs to be chosen with a view to a subtle, intense bitterness that is not dampened by the residual extract. It should neither be too fine and weak, nor too strong and coarse, either. Simply and clearly well-balanced. Yeast need to be well cared for in order to keep them in a good condition. Great care and attention must be paid to the collection and storage of yeast. The yeast need to be amassed, carefully washed, stripped of sludge and CO 2 , stored in the cold and then deployed, perfectly homogenized and aerated. The quality of the brewer will be reflected primarily in his work with the yeast and in the control of the main fermentation process. The brewer needs to make sure that the beer in the cellar does not go flat, that there is enough extract left for final fermentation and CO 2 production to ensure naturally the fresh and refreshing taste. Above all, however, the brewer should keep all these things in mind and continuously react to changes in raw materials, such as seasonal fluctuations in malts and hops. Quite simply, a good draught beer is a real test of the knowledge and experience of any skilled brewer.

Thanks to its lower alcohol content and residual extract, the draught pale beer (traditionally called the 10° tap beer) is becoming a state-of-the-art modern beer. Microbreweries which initially hesitated to brew it seem to have
re-discovered it. Unsurprisingly; a well-drinkable and well-balanced draught beer is a guarantee of good quality work and a high standard of technology used by the relevant microbrewery. And that's why today in microbreweries I rather order a draught beer in order to assess how they take care of beer there, and in order to learn how skilled the brewer is. For me, good draught beer (10° tap beer) simply means we can brew good beer here.

Jan Šuráň

Brewmaster and President of the Czech-Moravian Association of Microbreweries (Českomoravský svaz minipivovarů – ČMSMP)


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