The most memorable beer weekend from this year was the one I spent in Prague and Pilsen. It was my introduction to lagers; it was me discovering just how good beer could be. I’ll never forget that first pint when we arrived in Prague; the beer from Pivovar Groll which is brewed in the heavy shadow of Pilsner Urquell; the unfiltered pilsner in the cellars under the city, and so many other golden pints with rocky white heads. It’s left me craving the beers ever since.
I arrived home on Christmas Eve to find two bottles of Monsieur Rock, a collaboration between Stuart Howe at Sharp’s Brewery and Jean-Marie Rock from Orval, which is the unlikeliest of dream brewing teams. The beer is 5.2%, fermented with a lager yeast and dry-hopped with Saaz for two months of cold maturation in a lagering tank. And having followed the progression of the beer on Stuart’s blog, this was the best of early Christmas presents.
Monsieur Rock is as good as any lager I’ve had this year – as good as any beer I’ve had. It may very well be the best beer of the last turn around the sun. Every mouthful had me in suspense, in excitement, in awe, in love. Saaz hops are wonderful, beautiful things and in this they come together to create a masterpiece. It’s got the subtle olfactory shadow of a fruit bowl in it, orange peel, ripe peaches, tangerine, something floral and fresh like a spring morning (cut grass, blossom, a herb garden awakening, sunshine). There’s a playful bitterness – the perfect amount to make you go straight back for more – and it’s so smooth and clean and damn drinkable; the flavours aren’t squashed against one another and fighting for attention. This beer rocks.
The joy of lager is the simplicity of it and a good one should make you want to drink pint after pint while talking with friends. But scratch beneath the simplicity and you get, if you want to find it, an amazing depth of flavour; a lesson in subtlety that leaves you chasing the come-get-me complexities around the glass. Why could it be the best beer I’ve had this year? “It’s one of those beers which it almost physically hurts to stop drinking,” says the ever-modest Stuart. Zak Avery says something similar: the beer skips across the palate “in a manner that made you think 'hang on, did that really happen?' And so you have another drink, and another. And then your glass is empty.” It’s flawless, delicious, interesting and I didn’t want my glass to empty. My true test of a beer is whether I’d buy a case of it... I immediately wanted to buy a slab of Monsieur Rock and drink the whole thing. And I wanted to phone my friends and tell them to do the same.
For me, 2010 is notable as being the one where I discovered great lagers, whether Czech, German, English, Italian, American or beyond. Monsieur Rock ends my year with a perfect pint and a beautiful ode to the sublime Saaz hop.