The HB&B crew and I recently got to spend a few glorious days being bussed around the Czech Republic. The purpose of our visit was to visit some of the lesser known Czech breweries and indulge ourselves in lashings of světlý ležák – the pale, pilsner-style lager that has earned the nation the admiration of beer lovers all over the world.
Czech – sometimes referred to as Bohemian – lager differs somewhat to that produced by its just-over-the-border neighbours within the German province of Bavaria and its capital Munich. Where Bavarian lagers, such as helles, are light, crisp and snappy with herbaceousness hop varieties such as Hallertau and Tettnang, Czech lagers are altogether more girthy, with a rich, caramel spine of malt supporting the bitter and resinous Saaz hop, which is cultured in the southern Czech region of Žatec.
What’s remarkable about Czech lagers is that, despite them being somewhat ostentatious, they retain the drinkability that makes lager so great to begin with. When you’re served it in the proper fashion from a traditional side-pour tap, with three fingers of tightly packed foam that showcases the gloriousness of the Saaz hop aroma, there are few beers that are more enjoyable. There’s a reason why in the Czech Republic they keep serving them until you politely ask them to stop, by placing a beermat on top of your empty glass.
It makes me very happy then to see a British brewer having a proper crack at a Czech-style pils. And of course it’s Bristol lager maestros Lost And Grounded who have pulled it off in a typically brilliant fashion.
Altogether Elsewhere manages to retain that robust character that makes Czech lagers stand out through the use of decoction mashing (as opposed to the more traditional British method of infusion mashing). Decoction mashing involves running a portion of the wort off from the mash tun, boiling it, then returning it to the mash. This raises the temperature of the mash and also creates complex sugars that yeast is unable to ferment, providing this style of beer with its famously lavish body in the process. Repeating this process twice or thrice is called double and triple decoction mashing respectively.
To taste, that lush, caramel sweet body that makes Czech pilsners so moreish runs all the way through this beer, wrought in with the crack of bitter Saaz hops, which give the foam of the beer an almost oily quality, such is their potency. However, despite these extremes, the true delight in drinking Czech pils is how balanced it is, and Altogether Elsewhere walks this tightrope almost effortlessly.
This beer is a one-off, so enjoy it while you can, but hopefully if we ask nicely enough the lovely folks at Lost & Grounded will make some more for us soon, because we’re very, very thirsty.
Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. To be first to read articles from Matt and our food writer Claire Bullen every month, why not subscribe to our All Killer No Filler subscription box?