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Are You Tasting the Pith? - 20th July 2008

A Year of Beer #15 - Budvar & Pitfield Organic Lager

Another part of our (hopefully) year-long video project, A Year of Beer. looking at the idea of beer and seasonality - how different styles of beer are more appropriate to different seasons, weathers, festivals and so on. There will also be a bit of beer and food matching thrown in because, hell, we love to eat as much as we love to drink.

This week: Budweiser Budvar vs Pitfield Organic Lager

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Budweiser Budvar vs Pitfield Organic Lager

A bit of an odd one for this instalment. I was staying with some friends in London, prior to judging the first round of the 2008 International Beer Challenge, and they sprang on me that they had some beers for me to try. Well, not just try, but to blog on. They had thoughtfully sourced some beers from the ever-excellent Pitfield Brewery, and gave me a choice of their Organic Lager or the 1872 IPA. We were drinking Budvar at that point, so I thought that it might be nice to compare and contrast the two. Happily, I had my trusty recording equipment with me, and so, hey! I put on the show right there.

Budweiser Budvar, the original Budweiser, is a classic of the style. It is a large volume, good quality pilsner, coming from Budweis in the Czech Republic. The brewery itself is quite unusual in that, at the time of writing, it is partly state-owned. In time when everything seems to be gleefully sold off to the highest bidder, it's refreshing to see the state taking a sensible approach to the production of the greatest national asset. Sadly, it seems almost certain that the Czech government is gearing up to sell its share of the brewery in a few years, placing its proud heritage in jeopardy; who knows where the shares will end up, and what the consequences of this might be.

The Pitfield Brewery is a somewhat smaller affair, but no less excellent. London-based beer fans will have shed a tear when Martin Kemp was forced to close the legendary Pitfield Beer Shop in Hoxton by a scalping landlord and his evil capitalist scheme (I'm reading between the lines a little here). Martin is also the brewer at the Pitfield brewery, and produces many different styles of classic beer to traditional heritage recipes. The beers are all great.

So how do these two lagers compare? Budvar is a golden, clear beer, with a noticeable hint of grain and vanilla on the nose, leading to a crisp, slightly sweet palate, and a good length of finish that just tips slightly into sweetness from a gentle hoppy prickle. It's got huge commercial appeal, and there's nothing wrong with that; it's definitely at the good quality end of the spectrum.

Pitfield Organic Lager is a whole other kettle of grains and hops. It pours hazy, nay, cloudy, and I'm guessing it is bottled completely unfiltered. It has a classic "noble hop" nose; appetising, but at the same time, slightly catty and almost dirty. If that sound unappealing, well, some of the best things to eat and drink have an element of filth to them. On the palate, it makes an engagingly boisterous entrance, a bit like a group of slightly soused Czech artists bursting into a bar; you know there's a new type fun to be had here, but it's the sort of fun that might leave you a bit ragged around the edges the next day. It finishes with a fanfare of spiky hop flavours, and has a sort of nourishing quality that you only get from really great unfiltered lager. Certainly a less commercial proposition than Budvar, but perhaps truer to the original pilsner style, and a great beer to boot.

And yes, I should've peeled the price label off the Budvar before taking a photo of it. It was 1.39, excellent value for London, I'm sure you'll agree.


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