The League
Publikováno v Út. 18. září 2012 v rubrice Z TISKU A MÉDIÍ

Last week, I attended the second semifinal round of this year’s První Pivní Extraliga, one of the few beer competitions in the Czech Republic, and perhaps the world, that I really care about. (Those of you who follow the Czech press might have heard about it; its chairman happens to be the controversial political figure Ladislav Jakl.)

PPE was born in 2010 when a bunch of mates who know their beer wanted to see if Lobkowicz Premium lived up to the hype. Launched in late 2009 as their flagship by K Brewery Trade (today Pivovary Lobkowicz), this beer aimed to compete with the biggest names in Czech brewing. It didn’t do too well. In fact, it came last in a blind tasting of 11 světlé ležáku (which confirmed my first impression of the beer)These people kind of liked this exercise and thought it’d be great to do the same thing with the rest of the beers in this category that are available in glass bottles. This brings me to the thing I like most about the First Beer Premier League. At most beer competitions around the world, it is the brewers who send carefully selected samples in ad-hoc bottles. It is done this way in order to prevent the beer from getting contaminated due to mishandling and thus assuring the samples will reach the judges in the best possible condition. It is very sensible, but there are two problems with it: getting a medal at a national or international competition is a very important marketing tool, and it is believed that some brewers are cheating by manipulating their samples. But even if that wasn’t the case, the biggest issue here is that we, the consumers, drink beer from bottles that may have suffered some mishandling between the brewery and our shopping carts. Basically, the PPE are evaluating the beers that we actually get to drink.

The league consists of three rounds. Beers are divided into five groups in the first round, and the best four scores of each go to the semifinals (beers are scored on a 1 to 11 scale, with 1 being the best), which then produce five finalists each. The tastings are taken very seriously. Not a word about the samples is exchanged among the judges. Results are properly and carefully recorded and are published on the webpage and the Facebook page of the organisation. The winners so far have been Zubr Premium in 2011 and Rohozec Skalák 12º in 2010. This year’s final will take place at První Pivní Tramway on Nov. 7thumbnailThough the year-round competition is reserved for beers in the světlý ležák category, they’ve also done tastings of radlers, desítky, wheat and non-alcoholic beers, and there are others in the works.

In these three editions, the competition has produced its fair share of surprises. Braník Ležák winning its round in 2010  (I’ve tried it since with an open mind, and I thought it was awful), the solid performance of some of the brands of Heineken, and, perhaps the biggest of all, Pilsner Urquell never making it past the first round!

After the tasting and the formalities were over, everyone “loosened their ties,” and I stayed longer than I had planned. I  talked with some of the members about beer, brewing and life in general, and had a royally great time. I actually almost missed the last bus home! All of them to the last one love beer and, regardless of what they may think of some of the companies that make it, wish all Czech beer was great, and so do I.

Na Zdraví!

You can read more beer ranting in my own blog Pivní Filosof – Beer Philosopher or on my Facebook Page.