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Good Beer Hunting

Apr 25, 2020

Living overseas can give you an interesting perspective on American beer culture. Although I’m originally from California, I’ve lived in the Czech Republic for almost 20 years now. While I miss many of the beers and breweries from back home, I really fell in love with Czech beer, dedicating a lot of my time to researching, writing about, and drinking it.

In recent years I’ve been glad to see North American beer lovers develop much more interest in Czech beer. Since then, many U.S. and Canadian brewers have reached out to me with questions about recipes, equipment, and processes. I can tell that for a lot of people back home, Czech brewing is still rather weird and unknown, whether it’s the “black magic” of a triple-decoction mash, or the strange pours like the šnyt and mlíko, or our rarely spotted “yeast beer,” Kvasnicové Pivo.

One of the standout U.S. brewers who actually gets Czech beer is Chris Lohring of Notch Brewing in Salem, Massachusetts. Chris came through Prague himself, in 2012, doing research on how Czech beers are brewed, served, and drunk. I met up with Chris during that trip, and so did my friend and colleague Max Bahnson, who writes under the name Pivní Filosof. Chris got to visit Czech breweries; drink Czech beers; and observe the Czech process, approach, and culture.

Since then, Notch Brewing has emerged as one of the leading proponents of Czech-style beers in North America. Not only does Notch make a Czech-inspired Světlý Ležák, or Pale Lager (aka Pilsner), but it also makes Tmavé Pivo, or Dark Lager, and Polotmavé Pivo, which means “half-dark beer,” or Amber Lager. At the Notch taproom in Salem, those beers are served from a Czech side-pour (or side-pull) faucet, into a Czech dimpled, half-liter mug. My Czech friends who have visited the Notch taproom said it’s the closest thing to a Czech beer experience you can get in the U.S.

In this episode, I catch up with Chris Lohring when on his return to Prague, along with Notch Brewing’s production manager, Brienne Allan. They were both on a trip that included several hands-on brew days at different Czech breweries. I wanted to ask Chris and Brienne about the differences between Czech beer culture and American beer culture, as well as the differences in Prague since Chris’ last visit seven-plus years ago. I wanted to find out what beer drinkers in the States understood about Czech beer, brewing, and how we drink, and I wanted to know if there were any common misconceptions.

Our meeting takes place over a few beers in a busy Prague café around the corner from my apartment, so there’s a fair amount of background noise—sorry about that. It was recorded in mid-February, 2020, about three weeks before the coronavirus closed off the Czech Republic and made travel here impossible, at least for now. The observations about Czech brewing and beer drinking made by Chris and Brienne, however, feel pretty timeless.

Here’s Chris Lohring and Brienne Allan of Notch Brewing in Salem. Listen in.