It is really the Good Beer Guide Prague and the Czech Republic that CAMRA recently published by our own correspondent Evan Rail - OK, ours and The New York Times. But there is only so much space up there to fit in the key information. If Evan ever moves further east and decides to write the Good Beer Guide Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, well, I don't know what I will do with the post title.
But I doubt he will move - because if a man has ever found his paradise, it appears to be our Evan in the western bit of the old Czechoslovakia. Having lived in eastern Europe myself for a time, I have some sense of both the sweet ups and frustrating downs of the culture that Evan describes. Which is, after all, what he does. Like the best beer guide writer I have ever read, Lew Bryson, Evan gives us a thick practical slice of Czech culture in this compact work. Through a whirl-wind history, anecdotes in sidebars, gorgeous photos, and useful recommendations as to where to stay and, of course, drink, Evan describes the experience of a Czech-based beer lover and not a list checking beer tourist. You can see some more of the photos from the book at this post which give you the sense that you are learning from the view of one seated in the corner of the snug...or whatever they call that in Prague.
Beyond that, through this book, Evan provides us with a lexicon for lagers. While I have tried a bit of a bit, it does not take a very careful eye to note that my life with beer is limited in its virtual lagerlessness. Because of the experience I had in Poland I am more likely to look to the south Baltic in a pinch than to pilsners but I am not likely to turn there at all if we are all honest. As a result, I am literally lost for words when facing a lager deserving the respect I cannot give it. Evan, however, is something between the cure and a quick fix for in his descriptions of the over 400 beers he does review there is consideration and accuracy and, in their collective aggregation, a methodology to take up if need be. It may just be that Evan's given topic (compared to, say, that of Steve Thomas in his Good Beer Guide Germany and the 7500 beers referenced therein) allows him the scope to give us another level of familiarity with lagers but whatever it is it works.
You should buy this book even if you never plan to visit the Czech Republic. It may make you. Myself, I now yearn to be in Stary Harcov and sit at a picnic table outside Vendelin, a brewery that makes just one hectolitre a day - or about 50 six packs - of a beer that Evan describes in this way:
A Honey-coloured, slightly cloudy lager with a fragrant nose reminiscent of apricots and yeast dough. In the mouth, extremely low carbonation with a sugary, fruity finish. Spectacular.Best of all it is made with coal-fired brewing. Excellent. All so excellent.