As soon as lockdown is over I’m booking tickets to Prague and spending a couple of days absorbing as much světlý ležák as the Czech capital will allow.
I’m fortunate in my life that I’ve been able to travel around much of Europe, but despite my love of travelling, I am an uneasy tourist. In all honesty, I’m a control freak, and being in an unfamiliar place leaves me at odds with myself, despite my inherent wanderlust.
Prague, though, is different somehow. Although I’ve only been there a handful of times, it’s never taken me too long to settle in. There’s something extremely comforting about heading straight from the airport to a bar where they won’t stop serving you glass after glass of fresh Pilsner until you, quite literally, tell them to stop. There are few better acclimatisation processes, and this applies to pretty much any country in the world.
Except, no one does beer quite like the Czechs. Or at least that was true until recently, when a host of modern breweries – from Notch in Salem, Massachusetts, to Utopian Brewing, right here in Devon – embraced the double decoction mashing and intense lagering regime that makes Czech beers so special.
I’ve already been wowed by Utopian’s beers – the brewery’s British Pilsner and 10º Czech-style pale lager are particular highlights. This new Černé Speciální is a positively delicious beer, the combination of slightly sticky molasses with an earthy, herbal hop hit that cleans up every sip is a delight. However, it didn’t quite remind me of classic Czech Černé. That’s because Utopian is dedicated to using British ingredients in order to promote sustainability within its beer production, and the oily, spicy Saaz that is usually used in making this style is instead replaced with Fuggles – a misunderstood hop, unloved by beer geeks.
Which is why I’m so excited about this beer. Fuggles is a genuinely wonderful hop when used correctly – and in the voluminous hopping of this dark larger, the hops’ inherent herbaceousness brings this beer towards stout or porter territory. Consider this the best of both British and Czech sessionable dark beer, merged into something not quite the same, but inherently whole.
I might not be able to get to Prague for a while yet, but I can enjoy this delectable beer from one of the UK’s most exciting new breweries and dream of yet more ležák in my future.
Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. Sign up to our All Killer No Filler subscription box and you'll find incredible beers like this every month plus more great writing from Matthew and our food writer Claire Bullen...