When I grew up in Germany, I knew about the original Budvar and Pilsner Urquell. Those pilsners are still some of my favorite beers; simple malt bill, a clean yeast with some stinky residuals, and the wonderful zesty aroma and bitterness of Czech Saaz hops.
It wasn't until I started brewing, though, that I stumbled onto the animal known as Czech Dark Lager. Similar in malt bill to a Munich Dunkel, the Czech Dark uses Czech yeast and Czech Saaz hops to provide something just a little different.
I actually had a couple of versions of this style, one was from Trader Joe's, and I actually had the same one not knowing it was the same brand (only the style was listed on the menu), at a local restaurant. I wasn't too impressed by these - they had the same kind of maltiness akin to a brown ale, not necessarily a bad thing, it's a personal preference, and while I've had some nicely made brown ales, the style itself does not excite me.
Then, a couple of Januarys ago, I was dropping off some beer to be judged in Aurora, Illinois. The family came with, as we decided to make a day of shopping, and we stopped into a Gordon Biersch Restaurant/Brewery, and the seasonal special was a Tmave Vycepni. I asked the waiter to pronounce it, and he asked me to please not make him say it. The description, though, was obvious - this was a Czech Dark lager. It came in what appeared to be a glass shaped like a Weizenbier glass. It smelled of roasted malts and, surprisingly, citrus. It tasted a bit chocolatey with orange/citrus overtones. I decided right then that I wanted to make one of those beers one day.
After doing some research, I came up with the following recipe:
Batch Size (Gal): 6.00
Total Grain (Lbs): 10.69
Anticipated OG: 1.049 (12.09)
Anticipated SRM: 16.6
Anticipated IBU: 35.0
Brewhouse Efficiency: 75 %
Wort Boil Time: 90 Minutes
6.00 lbs. Pilsener (FB)
1.50 lbs. Caramunich II
0.19 lbs. Carafa III (Dehusked)
2.00 oz. Czech Saaz (3.5%AA) First WH
1.00 oz. Czech Saaz (3.5%AA) @ 15 min.
Wyeast 2782 Staro Prague Lager
Some notes: First of all, I missed the window on the limited edition Staro Prague yeast. Instead, since I had never used it before, I decided to try the Bohemian Lager yeast. While the yeast made a good beer, I think I would prefer a more stronger aromatic strain, like that of the Budvar yeast or the Staro Prague. I've made great beers with both of those yeast, and I think that I'd like to make the Budvar my Czech Lager yeast of choice. The Staro Prague (which I believe is the Staropramen yeast) imparts a clean aroma with a tiny bit of sulfur. Some people claim that this is a flaw. It doesn't smell like a recently lit match, it's more of a hint, and with the Czech Saaz hops providing a nice, grassy smell, it's truly a fine thing.
The beer itself, depending on the glass, is a dark brown with some red highlights around the edge of the glass. It smells of roasted malt and the "clean" yeast smell you get from lager yeasts. There's not really any aroma of Czech Saaz in this one - could be it's masked by the malt and yeast smells.
The taste is similar to other dark beers - a nice roasty graininess with just a perfect hint of astringency - not burnt tasting like in some stouts. The hops add a slight zestiness, and provide a nice amount of bitterness - they don't punch you in the face like a Czech pils.
I utilized this recipe for U Fleku for inspiration.
The name was inspired by a Loudness song from their "Disillusion" LP. I thought Esper was some kind of ghost, but it turns out it might mean a person who has ESP, or "ESPer". I have no idea. The photo I found for the label was sort of cool looking, though.