Every week in The Man Who Invented Beer, Adam Cowden runs down the latest in craft beer, domestic and otherwise, with a history lesson for flavor.
Winter is coming…
Scratch that—it’s here. Last night we broke below 32 degrees, and millions of Chicagoans began to brace for the upcoming five months by donning their heavy coats and permanent scowls, forgetting, apparently, that beer is the only all-natural antifreeze. No scowls required.
In addition to the cold weather, winter is also the domain of the dark beers. The Witbiers have all flown South, so say hello to Winterbiers (along, of course, with the porters, stouts, and other robust seasonal ales). This week, we’re going to ring in the season with (say that 10 times fast), an unexpectedly delicious dark lager from the Czech Republic.
What’s the story?
In 1795, a brewery was founded in the town of Budweis in the modern-day Czech Republic (then called the Kingdom of Bohemia). Can you guess where this is going? If you answered, “Bohemian brewer produces great beer, Bohemian Brewer exports it to America, American brewer arrogates Bohemian brewer’s beer name and style, American brewer becomes one of the few to survive Prohibition and dominates the world beer market by producing a watered-down version of the original beer, crowns new beer “the king of beers,” and then merges with a giant Brazilian beverage conglomerate,” you guessed right.
Yes, (originally Budweiser Bier Bürgerbräu), the brewery that produces Praga Dark Lager, are also the inventors of Budweiser beer, and thus the rightful heirs to the throne. Unsurprisingly, their brew is far more worthy to reign than modern-day Budweiser. The Praga line of beers is not listed on Pivovar Samson’s site, and information on Praga Dark Lager itself is scant aside from what can be found on on the Global Beer Network (the company which imports and distributes the beer).
Where can I drink it?
Hey, check it out: I can actually fit all the places serving Praga Dark Lager within a reasonable distance in the body of this article! That’s how you know its good.
15oz. Draft for $6.00
22oz. Draft for $6.50
16oz. Bottle for $7.00
Those of you with keen eyes might have noticed that you can get 22oz. of Praga Dark Lager for nearly the same price as 15oz. at Dusek’s and for less than 16 oz. at One-Eyed Betty’s. It’s a bit of a hike, but trust me — it’s worth it, and not just for the value. The restaurant looks nearly identical to the Bavarian hunting lodge in which the song “Gaston” takes place in Beauty and the Beast, and drinking there is also nearly as fun as it looks in the movie. I’ve been there twice, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite places to drink in Chicagoland. If you’re really into beer, you really shouldn’t miss their gravity-dispensed cask beers available each “Firkin’ Friday” or their rare release kegs every Saturday.
What does it taste like?
Praga Dark Lager pours deep mahogany that is just a shade lighter than Guinness, with a medium-sized, fluffy, off-white head, which quickly dissipates into a film of tiny coca-cola bubbles. You’ll almost be able to taste the sweetness on the nose, which is very crisp and full of roasted, nutty malt and a touch of those earthy Saaz hops. The taste follows the nose almost to a “t” and is replete with molasses sweetness and roasted, chocolatey (as opposed to caramel-y) malt. As with most lagers, the finish is crisp and clean, but there is almost zero trace of lingering hop bitterness here…just enough to balance the sweetness in the body.
Praga Dark Lager is lightly to moderately carbonated, and feels smooth but pleasantly fizzy in a soda-esque way. It’s also light, but not watery like Dos Perros. As with last week’s , I was shocked when I researched the ABV of the beer. Only this time, I was shocked to learn how low it was. Praga Dark Lager comes in at a cool 4.5% ABV, which is actually less than— you guessed it — Budweiser. “Wait you mean to tell me that I can drink more of these beauties than of a watered-down imitation beer?” Most things that sound too good to be true are, but thank God, this isn’t one of those things.
Should I try it?
It’s difficult for me to review beers like Praga Dark Lager. Difficult not because they are not up my alley, but rather because they are too up my alley. Praga Dark Lager isn’t just up my alley — it’s right across the street from me in my alley. It’s everything I like about beer, in almost perfect proportions. Good reviews, however, should include an element of objectivity, and objectively, it’s not an ideal beer for everyone. It’s hard for me to imagine a beer that I would rather enjoy than Praga Dark Lager, but it’s not hard to imagine why other folks might not be as crazy about it. Praga Lager is a one-trick pony — dark, enormously sweet, and crisp, but not much else. What Praga Dark Lager is not is bitter, hoppy, strong, bold, unique, experimental or complex. It also doesn’t have the name recognition, history, or “experience” factor of brands like Hofbrau or Guinness.
Bottom line: Praga Dark Lager won’t change the way you think about beer, but if you find yourself drawn to the sweet, malty, dark side of brewing, you’ll be reminded of why you love beer in the first place.