“Czech Out These Beers!"

In the five years that she has been working for
Continental Airlines my wife has visited more than thirty
foreign countries. Her globe trotting knows no bounds
but many of those destinations are places I wouldn’t go
on a bet. (India and China, for example).  However, I am
always induced to accompany her when the destinations
are those that have a decided “beer culture”. So, when
she suggested Prague, in the Czech Republic for a brief
getaway, I put aside my hatred of flying and eagerly
looked forward to five days in the biggest per capita
beer drinking country in the world.

The trip started off badly when we were unable to get
standby seating on the flight to Frankfurt from where
we were to connect to Prague, but quickly took an
upturn when we obtained business first status on an
Amsterdam flight with a wide open connection to Prague
on Czech Air which offered a free Gambrinus Pils from
it’s beverage cart, my first introduction to Czech beer.

Czech breweries have nowhere near the variety of
American, English or even German beer, mostly just
offering the choice between svelte(light) and tmave
(dark) with the occasional polotmave(amber) and cerne
(black), but they all are uniformly excellent: refreshing,
full bodied and most importantly sessionable. Almost all
of the twenty or so Czech beers I tried are in the 4.1%
to 5% ABV range, so while walking around the beautiful
city of Prague it’s possible to frequently pop into one of
the thousands of pubs and have a quick pick-me-up
without ever obtaining a buzz.

The Czechs DO like their beer. The first couple of
taverns we tried didn’t even give you a chance to order.
The Zlateho Tygra (Golden Tiger), highly recommended
as an excellent example of an authentic Czech pub,
quickly taught us how things are done in the Czech
Republic. We entered and were instructed to find two
empty seats at the long tables, which we did, and as
soon as we sat down two half liters of Pilsner Urquell
were set in front of us with two pencil marks slashed on
the place mat and the waiter rushing off to serve some
more thirsty patrons. My wife doesn’t drink beer so I
stoically (yeah….sure) vowed to down hers as well.

Only after two more steins were delivered  and two
more slashmarks made by the disappearing waiter did
we figure out that if your glass is empty it sends out a
signal for an unsolicited refill unless a coaster is placed
on top of the stein!

Now that we knew how things worked we headed for
dinner at the U Fleku Pivovar (brewpub) and Restaurant,
oldest brewery in the Czech Republic, brewing beer at
the same location since 1499. Again the long communal
tables and again a “beer guy” whose only job is to walk
around with a huge tray of half liter steins of Flekovsky
Tmave Lezak (dark lager) and place them in front of
you, whether you want one or not.

Now being a seasoned Czech drinker, as soon as he
slammed one in front of me I raised my hand to stop
him and requested a white wine for my wife just as he
was about to force feed her a Flekovsky . Success! She
got her wine.

The dinner was excellent and the ambiance of this 500
year old pub was European perfection: an accordion
player accompanied by an enthusiastic and athletic tuba
player (he would occasionally play a few bars with the
instrument upside down) playing Czech folk songs as
well as The Beer Barrel Polka and Cielito Lindo with the
patrons raising high their steins, singing and rocking
back and forth to the music. It simply doesn’t get any
better than that. Just outside the pub is a large public
pump. I’ll let the reader imagine what is dispensed when
the handle is activated.

The next morning we entrained for Pilsen and a tour of
the Pilsner Urquell brewery. Unlike American brewery
tours this one is not free but the small charge is
justified by the exhaustive tour which includes a movie,
bus ride and walking tour of the entire facility, from
mashing to packaging and ending with a trek through
the damp underground tunnels leading to samples of
unpasteurized, unfiltered Pilsner Urquell poured directly
from a huge wooden cask. Having a wife that doesn’t
drink beer comes in handy, not only for the occasional
need for a designated driver, but especially during
brewery tours when her samples get tasted by yours
truly.

After a walk around Pilsen’s Easter market we had a late
lunch at believe it or not….a brewpub, which we could
see from the bridge above it, but couldn’t access
because of all the building going on around it. It was
only after circling the construction site a few times that I
found a break in the fence which enabled us to enter
and get a couple of seats at the outdoor tables.

All the walking made for a powerful thirst, so the Lotr
Helles, Lotr Dunkel  (made on premises) and
Waldschmidt Weissbier were welcome thirst quenchers
and excellent compliments to the “Brewer’s Platter”. This
entrée was presented on a large wooden board and
consisted of four or five kinds of wursts, pork, ham, red
cabbage and what I thought was some kind of cole slaw,
but which, after I swallowed a huge forkful, turned out
to be shredded fresh horseradish. Thank God the
Waldschmidt Weissbier was handy!

The next morning found us back in Prague and
ascending the side of a mountain to get to Prague
Castle, overlooking the city. Also on the mountaintop is
the Strahov Monastery and Pivovar. Although the
resident monks at one time did their own brewing, the
wonderful St. Norbert beers are still made at the
monastery but by a commercial brewer.

With lunch I had an excellent polotmave (amber) and
tmave (dark), but I especially loved the Easter beer
which is only available during the week before Good
Friday. An anomaly to traditional Czech beer, an IPA
which I eagerly ordered, had kicked only that morning.
The waiter assured me that another batch would be
ready in one week’s time, but since we were leaving in
two days that information did me no good. Now I have a
valid reason to return.

The Easter market in Prague offers booths purveying all
kinds of Czech fare from wurst to goulash to beer and
some kind of delicious rolled pastry which unbelievably
seemed to called “turdlos”. In addition there were
stands selling local craftware including the ornately
decorated Czech Easter eggs. In the Czech Republic
they are still “Easter Eggs” and not “Spring Spheres” as
some politically correct jackass in Ohio decreed that they
be called. Also in the politically incorrect vein, another
entrepreneur was selling beautiful toy tank trucks,
entirely made of wood except for the tanks, which were
fashioned from Staropramen, Budvar, Kozel and Pilsner
Urquell beer cans. I can only imagine what MADD would
have to say about that in the good old USA.

Spending hours walking around the market and
sampling suds from the various stands eventually
generates the need for a head call. As is usual in Europe
these calls are not free, but the Czech Republic, which
outdoes other countries in outrageous charges for the
use of its facilities, does offer a nice alternative to the
usurious costs. Just off the market square is a public
toilet staffed by a mean looking woman seated in a small
booth with windows on either side like a priest in a
confessional. One side for the ladies, the other side for
the gents and a sign listing the “menu” as it were: 50
kroners for the ladies, 20 kroners for the gents, unless
the gent requires a seat wherein the price escalates to
50 kroners.  

I stepped up to the booth, was slid a pad of what
appeared to be sandpaper, and had 50 kroners
demanded of me. When I protested and explained that I
only needed to stand, the sandpaper was withdrawn,
the price was lowered to 20  kroners, admittance was
gained, and relief was achieved. But here’s where the
pleasant alternative presents itself. The average price of
a beer in a pub or restaurant is anywhere from 40 to 80
kroners, so for approximately the same cost as a public  
toilet you can get a brew with free “tinkling” included!
Perhaps this explains why the Czechs drink more beer
than anywhere else. It’s a sort of self perpetuating
proposition.

The last pub stop of the trip was the Novometsky
Pivovar where some tables are actually adjacent to the
wide open brewhouse. The hop vines on the ceiling
coupled with the overwhelming aroma of freshly boiled
hops and the liter steins of svelte beer make this place a
paradise for beer lovers.

One place we didn’t have time to visit was Chodovar,
about a two hour train ride away, which is, for lack of a
better description, a “beer spa”, featuring beer baths
into which you can submerge while being served a cold
one. Along with the St. Norbert’s IPA I just missed,
Chodovar gives me TWO reasons to go back and Czech
out more beers!

Cheers!



Dan
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