Sunday, 4 November 2012

Samson Tmavý ležák

I have an intriguing star for tonight - and it could hardly be a starlet, with a name like Samson. An initially suspect character, who, much like many other beers on the shelves in the provincial Liquor Stores (SAQ), appeared to be yet another brand from a small brewery, bought up by a giant brewing concern and its beer production made more efficient, and then sold all over the world devoid of its original balance and surprises. But at least I found something that seemed to be entirely different than the usual riff-raff off the store shelves: a black lager. According to this website, it is a "Dunkles Lagerbier" - a dark lager - which is also its designation on the label. Better still, a dark lager from the Czech republic, one of the finest nations in the world of beer brewing. Apparently, this is a beer style that in the Czech Republic may come in all kinds of strengths, colours, and sweetness. This specimen certainly came in a distinctive bottle, with a nice tin foil wrapper, regal label, and in an appropriate 500 ml bottle. How seductive, I thought, but I was still suspicious that this would be another beauty turned into a brute.

When I poured this beer, I was a little disappointed by the foam head, which fizzed away relatively loudly at first, then settled, but finally did not sustain itself for long. Soon though, this beer turned me by the palate - there was something that made me think of it as a nice alternative to a porter and maybe even a stout. It had a remarkably complex malty character, one that created a rich sensation of creamy dark roasted barley. At the same time, there was a very sweet overtone at the tip of the tongue that seemed to capture the essence of efficiency gains. Still, the beer was well balanced on the whole, combining a malty mash with very gentle hopping that produced no lingering bitterness and cut the palate just at the right time.

I was intrigued by this beer and wanted to find out its provenance. This proved to be a difficult undertaking, the conclusion of which is ongoing suspicion about this being a brute Samson, not a beautiful Samson. There is a Czech website, in Czech only, from which I gather that what I have savoured is either a separate export brew or, more likely, the Tmavý ležák 12° brand. The website itself is designed in a Western business style typical for other larger or international breweries, with age verification, a responsible drinking page, and description of the brands as well as the generic brewing process. The name on the website is Pivovar Samson, a.s. But when you search for the brewery that is listed as the producer on the SAQ website (apparently misspelled, of course), you find out about an original Budweiser Bier or Budweiser Bürgerbräu Brewery (Budweiser citizens brewery) founded in 1795 by Germans. Oddly, the beer label prominently displays that date but lists Pivovar Samson as the brewer and claims emphatically "original Czech lager." Finally, I found one Czech newspaper article from 2011, which I more or less deciphered with the help of Google Translate to report that the Samson brewery had been sold to a company called JD Beer Invest, which itself is reported to be linked to a Dutch company called Collis. 

This is where the trail ended for me, and I handed the task over to speculation. It is possible that this beer is still made by an independent brewery, given information that they have been exporting to the United States for over a century, and that according to the Wikipedia entry, they were a third company involved in the trade name dispute of the Budweiser name with Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser Budvar. But what about the discrepancies in company names, the marketing style, and the sleek website, not to mention the simple wisdom that if this beer shows up at the SAQ, it is most likely to belong to a major global brewing group? I'd like to think differently, but something is definitely skunky about this story, which is symbolized by the fact that this beer comes in a green bottle.

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