I made it my new year resolution to make more use of Pifko, the Czech pub on Dublin's south quays, a place which has been quietly stocking more interesting Czech beers alongside the Urquell, Herold and Kozel. I recently found myself with a bit of time on my hands and a need for some hearty food so I dropped in for some roast pork on bramboráky and a nosy at the taps.
Three beers were advertised from the "Slaný Brewery" which, following subsequent research, turned out to be Pivovar Antoš, a brewpub in the north-western Czech Republic. It produces a broad range of beers in both Czech and foreign styles.
With my starter I got a mug of Bohemia Pale Ale, a darkish gold and looking for all the world like a classic světlý ležák. And the first taste goes along with this for a moment or two, a rich golden syrup malt character, enough to make me wait for the grassy burst of Saaz hops. But grass came there none and instead the hop contingent is an odd, harshly bitter, lemon rind twang. This becomes unpleasantly metallic as it fades out. But good brewing practice covers its faults: there's a clean finish and a soft texture, both working to make it a drinkable, enjoyable beer overall. I get the impression of a lager brewer trying to be clever and not quite managing to pull it off. But if you want a pale ale whose best bits are like pilsner, this is your man.
My pork arrived, and with it the beer advertised as "Slaný Amber Ale", a 6%-er which I think is Antošův Amber Ale. Going on the previous I was expecting some sort of hacked polotmavý but it's not that. There's a big Cascade aroma, full of the earthy, spicy pine of that hop, while the flavour is convincingly American. It has that sweet fusion of fudge and marzipan typical of the style, spiced up with citrus trills and dank bass notes. There's definitely no quick finish here: this time the metallic bitterness hangs around on the palate for ages. Overall, it is a little harshly hopped, and rather heavy going to drink, but it's wholesome, filling, and complex, and pairs quite adequately with a big chunk of Czech meat, mushrooms and deliciously over-garlicked potato pancakes.
Dessert was Choo Choo, which I lazily assumed to be some sort of chocolate porter but is in fact a beast of a black IPA. It's 7.8% ABV, black as sin and with a very burnt bitter flavour. There's more than a hint of tmavé about it: it has the same sort of liquorice bitterness you find in many Czech dark lagers, just concentrated intensely. Extra bitterness comes from a quadruple-espresso roast edge. There's no fruit character coming from the hops and the end result is a beer that's very big, grown-up and a little bit of a chore to drink even a small glass of. But if you're looking for a challenge and are bored of a million IBUs of grapefruit, this certainly offers something different.
I look forward to the taps at Pifko rotating around to something else as interesting as this lot. It is very pleasant to get the cutting edge of Czech craft brewing delivered almost to my doorstep.