Beer Sherpa Recommends: Únětická 12°
Image Source: Prague Beer Garden
The following post should be treated something like a public service announcement for travelers to the Czech Republic. The beer I'm about to recommend can't be had for any price in the US, and isn't entirely easy to find even in Prague, near to where it is brewed. And yet, should you find yourself in Prague, this is the beer you should seek. Others might guide you to Klášterní Strahov or Kout na Šumavě (or any of a dozen or more reasonable candidates), and I enjoyed those, too--enormously. But in the end, the one that kept calling out to me--the one that still calls out to me--is a 12° pale lager from a little brewery about 10 miles north of Prague.
The Únětický Pivovar is housed in a building where monks from Prague started brewing beer in 1710. Brewing activities eventually stopped, but in 2010, local businessmen in the town of Únětice decided to turn it back into a brewery. The first beers were brewed in 2011, and were instantly popular. When I visited Prague back in 2012, Max Bahnson took me out to the brewery where we had lunch and a quick tour. I was incredibly sick and nursing a sore head from the previous day's tour with Max, and sort of shuffled through the brewery tour. But then we emerged into the restaurant to have lunch, and I sat down and drank a glass of the stuff. (In the classic Czech meal, you get a meaty entree drenched in gravy and a row of thick, doughy disks which are called, curiously, dumplings. They're unlike dumplings as we imagine them, but they're spectacular for soaking up beer and gravy. And, it turns out, battling the flu. I instantly put them to work that day.)
Production is small enough that they were still at the grain-sack stage in 2012. What followed was one of those clouds-parting-and-sunbeam-shining-down moments of transcendence that beer drinkers experience only on very rare occasions. I think I was actually drinking the 10° that day, though I've since had more of the twelve. It's difficult to describe exactly why this half-liter had ascended into that rare upper atmosphere of specialness. There wasn't anything particularly unique at play: it had the same homey, fresh-bread malt base and tangy Czech-malt zing that the bestsvětlý ležáks have. It was just better
I've come to recognize Únětická 12° by a rusticity that has something in common--at least in spirit--with saisons. When the brewery first made the beer, they only let it lager about three weeks in order to get product out to people. It was unfiltered and had a shimmering haziness. Through Max's translation, they told me “We realized that if the 12º lagers for longer than a month, it will get too clear and in the pubs they will complain that it is too clear. They want more yeast.” As a consequence, they now lager it only three weeks. Perhaps one of the things going on is that the elements are not quite as smooth as they are in beer lagered over a month--the malts are a bit grainier, the hops a bit more vivid. The beer is very dry and there's a hard-water mineral note that sharpens those hops. The best beers have an ineffable (and indescribable) character of harmony, and that's the final element of Únětická 12°. For my money, it's the best beer in the Czech Republic.
Look for it if you go to Prague.