Published on July 7th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Hop it to Bohemia
Libor Vojacek, aka CzechBeerMan, invites readers to join him at a long‑running festival
My dear British beer friends, today I would like to take you for while to the world hop capital and tell you about that region and that city.
Every year, on first week of September, there is taking place – from Friday to Sunday – the Docesna, the pure hop festival in Zatec (Saaz) City in North West Bohemia in the Czech Republic. I am always visiting this beer event, the fifth biggest people’s event in the country with some 15,000 visitors attending.
Hop breeding in Zatec (Saaz in German) has more than a 1,000-year-old tradition in Bohemia. In Zatec itself there is 700 years of hop cultivating history. Personally, I still remember both my late grandmas who went there together with many other pensioners in order to earn some extra money for hop picking by hand.
But that was back in the 1970s when I was a young boy playing in hop-garden there and waiting about noon eagerly for the tractor that signalled that lunch would be served. Oh my God, what a beautiful taste it was for me in the middle of real nature, amongst the pleasant smell of hop.
The food was not even good and it was very, very simple, but it tasted better than a five-star hotel delicacy. Really. And tubs of hand-picked hops were rewarded by 3 CZK (0,07 GBP). Those days will never come back and hand-picked hops are not available any more, but if they were they would probably be served for a huge price to VIP customers who asked specially for them.
Hops are grown in many places in the world, but only the Zatec area has the combination of natural conditions such as location, soil and climatic conditions that lead to the finest hops around. Yes, Saaz´s hop cone is a Mr Noble because of its unmistakable aroma. Just because of that. Aroma is everything and every brewer around the globe knows it.
Saaz hops account for more than two-thirds of total hop production in the Czech Republic and they are exported worldwide to 70 countries (by the way, for a “noble” price). A Hansa Pilsener brewed in South Africa proudly says on its bottle label that this beer “is brewed with Kiss of The Saaz Hop”. Nice, is it not it? It is touching my patriotic beer heart. I guess that the hop is sometimes maybe a better ambassador than some real diplomats spending our tax money abroad. (Smile.)
Docesna translates in English something like “Last Cone Of Hop Is Picked”, yes, something like that. It is popular folksy entertainment for all sort of people, from kids to elderly ones. It is a real folky celebration of beer, of hops and of life where you just have fun, have a beer and forget for while your daily troubles.
Two or three big stages for live music are assembled and small hop plant offering free hop lianas as a gift or decoration. There are countless attractions – food such as sausages and grilled meat, dancers, handmade products like beer shampoo and soaps, while many competitions are taking place – beer drinking, a Miss of Hop is voted for, and of course, beer and beer again, literally everywhere.
Regularly some 15 to 20 or more Czech breweries have their own stands there, some with special brews for this event, and some two or three microbreweries are also participating. You also you can see guest breweries from abroad from Slovakia, Bavaria, etc. You can also take part in a tasting (degustation) competition and you should cast your vote for your favourite one.
Simply, as a beer lover, you will not be bored and disappointed when being part of the Docesna festival. You can take a guided tour of the local Zatecky Pivovar (brewery) owned, by the way, by a British citizen*.
You can visit local microbrewery U Orloje – and do not miss the Beer Astronomical Clock – and visit also Chram Chmele a Piva (Temple of Hop and Beer), a kind of museum and worth to see.
So, Vitej V Zatci – Welcome in Zatec – and this year I wanna see you there personally and have a cup of good unfiltered beer with you.
Be there, merge with the crowd, get a kiss of Saaz.