Brewing beer. For some people it’s a hobby, for others a business. In the case of Pivovar Zhůřák founder Chris Baerwaldt, it’s a bit of both. I corresponded with Chris recently to find out more about his small microbrewery near Plzen, which hopes to find its place in a market dominated by commercial beer.
Zhůř is a small village south of Plzen home to approximately 50 residents. Until recently the most notable landmark in town was an exceptionally large oak tree, known for its size, age and aesthetic value. These days, Baerwaldt is hoping to put Zhůř on the map as the source of quality ales.
Baerwaldt, a California native, ended up in Zhůř about five years ago with his wife. They wanted to find a quiet, cozy place to settle down near her Czech family. Not surprisingly, Baerwaldt’s lifelong passion for homebrewing followed him there. He began brewing beer at the tender age of 17 in California, where it is apparently legal to buy ingredients and brew beer four years before you’re allowed to drink it.
When Baerwaldt first started making beer in Zhůř, it was merely a hobby to enjoy with friends. But the more people tried it, the more they liked it, and some of his friends started persuading him to open his own brewery. There was likely little arm-twisting necessary. After about two years of homebrewing, Pivovar Zhůřák was born last year with humble beginnings.
Baerwaldt’s brewhouse is relatively small, and his monthly production of 500-1,000 liters is lower than most other Czech breweries. As a result, most of his different beers are only available periodically and can only be found at a few locations in Prague. On the other hand, having a small operation allows him to experiment a bit more with different styles.
One major thing that sets Pivovar Zhůřák apart is they only produce ales, which is a refreshing change of pace in the lager-loving Czech Republic. Throughout the year, Baerwaldt brews approximately ten different ales, from the more easy-drinking 12° Světluška Blonde Ale to his Černá Vdova (Black Widow) Porter, a dark, smoked beer which took first prize at a recent beer festival in Zvíkov. Each of his brews use different kinds of malt, hops and yeast from around the world, resulting in an experience quite different from a glass of Czech lager.
I recently visited Kulový Blesk to sample two different offerings from Zhůřák. The first one, called Hoppy Saison, was quite unique, although unique doesn’t always mean pleasant. This Belgian-style beer was made using saison yeast and some spices, which gave it a somewhat sour taste. It was indeed hoppy and full of flavor, and although it was a bit much for me, fans of Belgian ale might enjoy it. According to Baerwaldt, the Hoppy Saison was more of an experimental beer different from what he usually makes.
The second beer I tried was the Red Shorts IPA, a 15° half-dark India Pale Ale. Checking in at 6.5% alcohol, this one was more similar to the ales I used to drink back home. Its color is worthy of the name, and this dark reddish beer uses a mix of American and Australian hops to create a subtle, hoppy aroma. The beer itself was somewhat bitter, pleasant but not overpowering. Overall, it was a pretty solid IPA, and one that I’d like to have again someday.
You can occasioanlly find Zhůřák beer at specialty beer pubs Kulový Blesk and Zlý Časy as well as small beer festivals including the upcoming microbrew fest, Slunce v Skle. Keep in mind that their stock rotates throughout the year so check in advance to see what beer is available. For more information, visit their Facebook page.
What’s your favorite easy-drinking summer beer?