Last Updated : 30/08/10
aving not been to the Czech Republic for four years I now find myself having been twice during 2008! This isn't a bad thing as I've reacquainted myself with a country I like immensely and scooped a whole load of beer into the bargain including a decent percentage of the new brewers which are popping up all over the place in Czech at the moment.
Rather than write another report for Prague which wouldn't be that different as we went to most of the same places again, I'll concentrate on Plzeň which I haven't written about before so as not to bore you all too much! The latest Prague beer gen is on my Prague gen page, my Praha Google map is here and the Plzeň one here, the main Czech gen page is here and my discussion of all things pivo is here. This superb site will tell you all you need to know about the pubs in the city - as long as you speak some Czech!
For quite a few years we’ve fallen into the the habit of spending our November somewhere in Germany as both Sue and I think the grey skies and chilly temperatures somehow feel at home with many of the cities, especially Bamberg and Berlin, as glorious sunshine doesn’t suit a city such as Berlin with it’s accumulated years of misfortune and destruction. This year, however, we’d decided that it was time to take an extended visit to one of my favourite countries, the Czech Republic, and spend a decent amount of time in Praha and Plzeň in order to really get under the city’s skin and immerse ourselves in the burgeoning beer scene in the country.
Apart from Belgium – which I’ve visited over 20 times – Czech must be my next-visited country with at least a dozen distinct visits although, as I stated in my report for the trip with Dean in early 2008, a gap of four years had passed and I’d been amazed by the eagerness the population was showing towards kvasnicové beer and craft brews in general and I wanted more time in Praha to see how the pivo revolution was coming along and, rather than five days in Germany drinking identikit pils and the standard brewpub weiss-helles-dunkel bland trinity, we decided that a shedload of unpasteurised pilsener was just what we needed!
As my last visit to Praha was only six months previous to this one I shan’t bore you to death (and myself) by writing pages about stuff that hasn’t changed that much so, instead, I’ll concentrate on our day trip to Plzeň as this hasn’t been covered on Scoopergen previously. Also, I’ve written a piece on Suchdolský Jenik for the “My rarest scoops” section which was basically the most interesting bit of our first day in Praha – apart from being accepted as regulars at Pivovarský Dům and being allowed to stand at the bar supping half-litres of their gorgeous beers – so that’s even more of this trip covered for those hours when you really have nothing better to do than to read the gibberish on here… enjoy.
Thursday 27th November 2008.
We were staying at the marvellous DaVinci hotel just off I P Pavlova and so, despite the early start required to enable us to give Plzeň the time required, we were able to scoff a quick breakfast in the vault (the hotel is a converted bank with the breakfast room in the old vault still complete with huge metal door!) before catching the metro a couple of stops down the hill to Hlavní nádraží. As we’d been in the city for a few days my Czech had reached it’s maximum competence – which isn’t really that competent – and, therefore, I was able to buy two returns to Plzeň from the ticket window without any cock-ups whatsoever for a very reasonable sum.
Despite the continuing refurbishment of Praha’s main station we managed to find the correct platform eventually and bagged ourselves a compartment which we managed to keep to ourselves almost the whole way into Plzeň only being invaded by a normal at the penultimate stop. The trip isn’t the most exciting in Bohemia, certainly not as interesting as some routes in Moravia, but I watched idly as we followed the river westwards past a procession of grey towns and gold-topped churches across a vast fertile plain interspersed by occasional forests and hilly bits until I drifted off to sleep somewhere around Beroun and therefore missed seeing the brewpub and it’s armoured cars yet again!
We were soon pulling into Plzeň and, it must be said, that whilst the centre of the city is a deliciously ornate main square, the place was obviously built on heavy industry – such as the Škoda factory and steelworks – and much of it is still extant on approach to the city although there’s plenty of dereliction and industrial blight as with much of central and eastern Europe where the old industries have been hit hard by the countries’ integration into the EU and world markets.
The rail station in Plzeň is a fair way from the centre and, although the trams pass along the main road in front of it’s unusual yet impressive façade, they don’t actually stop there making a trek through a characteristically grey Czech concrete underpass a necessity. We tried to buy our day tickets at a convenient tabac although the woman therein either didn’t have any or couldn’t work out what I wanted so we headed for the tramstops where the machines on-platform reluctantly swallowed our motley collection of coins and, after a delightfully old-fashioned dot matrix buzzing noise, spat our tickets out onto the platform! Now that’s customer service…
Trolleybuses of confusion.
With only a handful of tram routes we decided to scoop the lot and so, armed with our validity, we took the first tram that arrived to it’s terminus and went from there! A couple of hours later we’d seen enough faceless paneláčky (Communist-era prefab tower blocks) to last us years and so it was time for a change of scene as we had a look at the admittedly very attractive city centre and what must be one of the biggest town squares I’ve ever seen! The contrast between the gabled merchants houses ringing the square and the industrial wastelands or miles of grey concrete of the suburbs seemed more obvious here in Plzeň than the majority of cities I’ve visited in the region and it didn’t seem out of place when the sun suddenly came out to illuminate the pastel coloured houses, although I doubted it ever showed it’s face in the grey suburb of Světovar…
One withering thing happened as we walked around the expansive main square when a convoy of trams appeared all at once, far more than should have appeared on the two routes, and we saw that some of them were obviously working from the depot and getting onto route 4 via a “rare curve” which has no booked workings on the tram map! Well, it obviously does, as instead of running empty from the depot the trams were blatantly in service although by the time we’d worked out what was going on they’d lumbered off up the road and we were denied a total network clearance… d’oh!
As much as I enjoy pretty townhouses it’s still, somewhat strangely, the grey concrete and rusting factories that I associate with more and we were soon back out on the public transport system, trolleybuses this time, which would take us out to the first beery visit of the day namely the Purkmistr brewpub out in Černice to the south of the city. First, however, we indulged in a bit of trolleybus route scratching although we misjudged one route change and ended missing a stop and overshooting the junction by a good distance before we could get off; when we finally managed to get the bus to stop we found ourselves outside yet another part of the Škoda empire, although it wasn’t until we saw brand-new trolleybuses emerging from the gates that we realised it was the tram/trolleybus factory!
Luckily, we managed to retrace our steps within a few minutes and were soon back on track towards Černice. As we left the city boundaries the industrial dereliction suddenly gave way to expansive green fields and villages and it struck me as strange that a trolleybus route had been constructed all this way out into the hinterlands, although I suppose that’s the capitalist indoctrination in me speaking as, cost and pollution-wise, trolleybuses are much cheaper to run once the infrastructure is in-place. After what seemed to be much further than the map had suggested we finally arrived at Gen. Lišky where we alighted and, once the trolleybus had swooshed away, everything was quiet and peaceful; this was out in the sticks, alright!
Standing out in this quiet village was a total contrast from the busy city centre and, for a moment, I wondered if I’d cocked up royally in my brewpub locations; after all, it wouldn’t be the first time! We soon confirmed, much to my relief, that we were in the correct place although when we attempted to walk towards our target we found the whole road being re-laid by gangs of orange-clad workers and deafening machinery; cheers then, I fumed, how were we supposed to reach the brewpub now with no other obvious route?
Cursing my lack of foresight in only printing a map of the immediate locality of the brewpub we followed our intuition and struck off along a quiet residential road which, we reckoned, would intersect the road we should have been walking down close to the pub, although I didn’t want to think about what we’d do if we were unable to rejoin our way there! The road was flanked by new and fairly westernised houses but what we both noticed was the total lack of any sound or movement whatsoever with not a cat, dog, person or car moving anywhere; this was very strange, I thought, as we stomped along the curiously quiet street, our footsteps echoing off the walls like the thumps of heavy industry disturbing the eerie calm as we progressed towards our target.
We’d been correct in our guess and we soon arrived at our original road and I was relieved to see that the roadworks finished there so we could rejoin it, although the cacophony of noise coming from the heavy machinery was like another world compared to the deathly silence of the estate we’d walked through to get there! All our road-related issues were soon forgotten, however, as we walked into the village centre where a small church sat opposite the brewpub which, judging by the size of the exterior, was ever so slightly oversized for it’s location in this quiet village! After the obligatory phots next to the brewery logo painted on the wall we pushed the glass doors open to be confronted by a large yet cosy room with two coppers lurking to one side and the deliciously sweet smell of brewing hanging thickly in the air; that, then, answered my question about their brewing situation!
A table was selected as close to the sweet-smelling coppers as we could where we studied the menu as, immediately we’d smelt the brewing and food, we’d realised that we were starving! The range of beers was certainly extensive and seemed to involve “normal” brews such as pale, dark and half-dark plus a whole plethora of flavoured beers – presumably the standard světlý with additives – which were sensibly obtainable by the 10cl glass, although I couldn’t read enough of the notes to work out which were currently available! A waitress was quickly over and seemed relieved that I could speak enough Czech to get by; it’s all well and good people saying that “everyone speaks English in Prague” but, out here in a suburb of Plzeň, the opposite is very much the case!
Our food ordered, I kept a close eye on the bar but it seemed as if the flavoured beers indeed came from different taps and weren’t concocted at the bar as I’d guessed; what an old cynic, you may think, but my cynicism has been honed over many years of scooping and is right much of the time although, happily, not this one! We received the two on offer that day, Borůvkový (blueberry) and “cannabis” (apparently without THC!) which, owing to the tiny glasses and thirst worked up by our extended trolleybus bashing, didn’t last long; Borůvkový was bitter, fruity and astringent, tasting like real fruit had been used, with a purple colour and more fruity astringency in the finish whilst the cannabis tasted – strangely enough – a lot like the hemp beers of Vienna with a herby, spicy and bizarrely fruity flavour with more of a sage-like herbal finish.
Our food arrived on plates large enough to surf on so, to help it on it’s way, I ordered the two standard beers in more gluggable sizes. The světlý was hazy amber with a rich maltiness followed by the expected sweet wort before a spicy hoppiness and a malty, somewhat bitter yet herby finish; I wondered for a minute if this was the cannabis beer being as persistent as agent orange but, after a gobful of knedlický and whatever sauce I was using it to mop up it still tenaciously tasted the same! The tmavý was more of a benchmark Czech beer with no quirks yet was one of the best dark lagers I’ve had in many a year with an excellent roasted grain taste alongside plenty of full-bodied maltiness and it ended with a cacophony of coffee, toasted malt and even some liquorice; this is very rare in a Czech tmavý as they are generally of the toffee persuasion rather than roast, but was I complaining? No chance, and I’d even go as far as to say it was as good as the dark beers from Dům and Richter and Ů Fleku (on a good day).
Back into town.
The meal was some of the best pub food I’ve had in Czech and after a ten-minute feeding frenzy we pushed our chairs back, replete and belching contentedness. My desperation gene had well and truly kicked in by this point and so, casting an eye over the bar during a trip to the bogs, I noticed that there was another beer available so this just had to be scooped in; after all, we’d travelled miles out into the country on trolleybuses and navigated through streets as deserted as the Kalahari desert to get here so I was determined to harvest every scoop possible from this brewpub!
Ten minutes later and we were ready to leave. The Polotmavý had tasted more like a Režaný (mix of pale and dark) rather than a properly-brewed example on account of the same herbal, spicy hops present in the světlý and a hint of the tmavý’s coffee-like roastiness, but it had worked fantastically and, anyhow, it hadn’t been done from the bar taps so even if it was a brewery mix it was still a legitimate scoop! There then followed the usual pantomime in trying to pay before leaving whereby every waitress simply vanishes into thin air (or a huge crowd of customers comes in) the second your wallet emerges from it’s pocket meaning a frustrating wait until someone reluctantly comes to take the money; I’ve often thought that, if you made a move for the door, you’d get a much better standard of service than simply sitting there like a prick waving money about but we’ve yet to test this theory…
Eventually we were relieved of some money – a very reasonable amount for what we’d had, I thought – so we trooped back through the deserted streets to the trolleybus stop with still not a sign of life anywhere; it felt like walking through a derelict wild west town and I almost expected to see a creaking saloon door and hear a doleful bell atop a timeworn belltower! Nothing so exciting happened, however, and we were soon sat in the bounding trolleybus as it hurtled for the city centre with the driver, presumably, desperate for a dump or to go home!
We changed from road to rail at Slovany NMH – tram 1’s terminus – for a final bout of railriding up to the northern terminus of Bory and back to the stop where we’d find our next beery target, the U Rytiře Lochoty brewpub, although on passing where my map said it should be we didn’t see a thing! To be fair, however, we weren’t helped by darkness having arrived; maybe it had closed, I thought, although the gen I’d read had been pretty recent and so I decided that we’d better check it out anyway.
We alighted at Sokolovská and took stock of our situation: we were in the middle of a dual carriageway in rush hour and it had started to spit with rain, plus we weren’t sure if my map had the pub in the correct place or not so we might – or might not – be within 100 metres of it. Despite this unpromising prognosis I’d soon located a likely looking candidate just down the hill so we trooped across to see if this was our target; as we got closer the building magically transformed into a low-slung roadside bar although it was fronted by an impenetrable-looking hedge which had been the cause of our failure to spot it from the passing tram earlier, but all that was now forgotten as we stomped up the wooden steps into an unexpectedly spacious interior full of people partaking of the bar’s victuals.
There was no sign of a brewery in the room but this didn’t mean there wasn’t one, after all I’ve never seen an electron but my computer still works! This may seem a bit of a cop-out, taking a pub’s word on things as important as a brewery, but having seen where some brewplants are located I’m ready to believe them as long as there’s sufficient evidence to back up the claims and, in this case, there seemed to be plenty of that. Two beers were on sale, ležák and speciál, so a glass of each was procured and got into the big orange book double-quick as we still had another brewpub to do as well as a visit to Pilsener Plzeňský Prazdroj’s famous Na Parkánu bar where I hoped to score the only unfiltered Plzeňský Prazdroj in the world apart from in the brewery itself.
Our two beers didn’t last long, approximately long enough for us both to use the toilets and then we were off! Both were fairly similar with an amber colour, a hint of dryness from hops, some maltiness and a suggestion of spice in the balanced finish, the special being a meatier version of the ležák, neither had been anything like as interesting as the beers at Purkmistr but, then again, they were scoops from a roadside brewpub in suburban Plzeň that not a lot of people have been to so they just had to be done… after all, the golden rule of scooping is that you need to try everything just in case it’s the best beer in the world: your next beer could be the one that is your version of nirvana and allows you to retire from ticking and drink that beer for ever!
Back on the tram it was, then, for a trundle back into the centre of Plzeň. Our next brewpub was Pivovar Groll (Mr Groll was apparently the original brewmaster at Plzeňský Prazdroj back in the 1800’s) which made a beer that – most confusingly – went under numerous names such as Lautensack, Na Rychtářce and Lotr (which means “rogue”, apparently). This was a new brewpub which produced only one beer yet was still on my Plzeň “must-do” list on the simple premise of it being a brewpub producing a scoop; my criteria for including somewhere in a beer crawl are rather predictable, it must be said! Owing to it’s newness I wasn’t totally sure where it was and so we walked from the main square, past Na Parkánu, towards the vague area where our target might just possibly be located in the hope we’d see something resembling a brewpub.
On the way into town we’d debated whether to alight before a bridge over the big river as it seemed the closest stop to our target but now, looking at the bridge, we realised that there was no way off – apart from jumping, and that’s not my style – and so had we bailed before the bridge we’d have had a much longer and far more annoying walk than we now had! As we crossed the Tyršova dual carriageway I noticed, amongst the wasteland and carparks, a brightly-lit building in the general area of where we were heading and as we got closer we saw “Pivovar Groll” painted in huge letters on the side… this was it, and finding it had been a lot easier than we’d made it seem!
We walked through the door, expecting to find a busy beer hall full of smoke, chat and other beery noises but instead we found a deserted corridor! “Okay, it must be around here somewhere” was the common consensus, so we followed the corridor through a door at the opposite end whereupon we were in a courtyard with still no sign of anything remotely beer-related… there was one obvious door to try and so we did whereupon it was clear we were getting close as clinking of glasses and a buzz of conversation could be heard upstairs; this was all well and good, but surely people who just wanted a quick pivo would have given up by the second door? This was all very strange…
Upstairs we went, the general pub noise getting louder as we did so, until we burst into a long room with a beautiful pair of green tile-clad copper kettles at the far end leaving us in no doubt that we’d found the brewpub – at last! We settled into the nearest table and were soon in possession of glasses of the only beer produced on the handsome brewkit, Lotr 11°, but when beer is this good you don’t really need barrel-aged, dry-hopped, fruit-infused imperial gibberish! Hazy amber, it was mellow and malty in the true Czech style with delicious hints of spicy Saaz, some bitterness to counteract the malt although the finish was pure honeyed, juicily grainy malt with just a dab of the bitterness remaining to give it some bite.
Amazed by how tasty and traditional this brew was, we studied the coppers where the brewer – I presume – was pleased by our interest and happy with my liking of his beer although he couldn’t quite work out why we’d come to town just to drink beer and bothered to find his bar! He mentioned Plzeňský Prazdroj and laughed when he saw the look of disgust on my face although I did say that, in the spirit of research, we were going to try the kvasnicové version next… he simply smiled and I got the feeling that he knew, and I already knew, that the beer I was drinking at that moment was superior to anything emitting from the SAB Miller factory just down the road!
How the mighty have fallen.
With a short (and getting shorter very quickly) amount of time left in town we sadly couldn’t indulge in any more of the delicious pivo but promised to return next time we were in the country and, with the taste of freshly-mashed malt still sticking to my teeth, we clattered down the stairs and retraced our steps back to Na Parkánu where we’d get to try a beer I’d loved in 1991 on my first visit to the city but had been horrified by on recent tastings in various places; what had they done to this masterpiece? How could a multinational company have been allowed to buy the “family silver” of the Czech Republic’s beer heritage and tarnish it so badly, so intentionally, in the name of a fast buck and cost savings?
Just in case you didn’t know, Plzeňský Prazdroj used to be lagered for around 3 months – the standard Czech length of time – then, after fermentation, matured in huge pitch-lined oak tuns lined up in the miles of underground passages under the brewery to reach a spicy, bitter perfection. Once SAB Miller got their grubby capitalist paws on the place, however, this was bound to change and it didn’t take them long to rip out years of history, tradition and quality and replace the wooden casks with steel conical fermenters which could lager the beer in a fraction of the time it needs. As I said, how could the Czech government have allowed this to happen to the first ever – depending who you believe, of course – golden lager? It’s nothing short of treason in my opinion although their plans to do the same with Budvar may have been scuppered by AmBev’s decision to retreat from Europe.
Nowadays unpasteurised Plzeňský Prazdroj (it’s called Pilsner Urquell in German, by the way, so I won’t be calling it that here as this isn’t Germany) is everywhere via their admittedly laudable tankovná bars, although this beer is still filtered and I wanted to try it as close to the source as possible and, more importantly, to try it unfiltered as well as unpasteurised to give it the best chance of a decent score. Never being one to hold back on opinions I don’t mind going against the grain of many beer lovers (most who never tried the “real stuff” and are afraid to criticise the present pastiche) when I say that Plzeňský Prazdroj isn’t much cop these days; I’d sunk a half-litre of the stuff in the brewery bar back in 1991 on my inter-rail visit to Plzeň and had been impressed, but that had been 18 years ago and this was now…
We arrived at Na Parkánu but, upon entering, a waiter immediately pounced and asked if we had reservations. I admitted that we didn’t but we only wanted a swift – and it would be swift, I thought, looking at my watch – beer and then we’d be off and stop cluttering the place up and wasting space that could be taken up by richer, higher-tipping foreign tourists who believe it when they’re told this is still the same beer it was 50 years ago. Despite looking at us like he thought we’d make a dash for it with the glasses, two spaces in the tiny bar area were soon grudgingly allocated to us for the consumption of the two scoops on sale, although this rampant commercialism and “conveyer belt” customer service felt a million miles from what we’d experienced all day up until this point and this was rammed home as our glasses of Plzeňský Prazdroj kvasnicové and Master Polotmavý soon appeared, banged down with a little too obvious disdain for my liking by the waiter who just knew he wasn’t going to get a tip from us!
Right, I thought, trying – I did, honestly, I’m not just saying this – to expel all prejudices and evil thoughts against SAB Miller from my head as the glass rose to my nose… well, it smelt OK, that was a start! Spicy, leafy hops were noticeable atop a sickly cereally grain base that obviously wasn’t all-malt, but that was the high point and it was rapidly downhill from there; some leafy hop remained in the taste but the hop character became harsher and more astringent as if it were hop extract or high-alpha hops being used and certainly didn’t taste like pure Žatec hop to me! The grain base was also becoming more syrupy, industrial and toffee-ish and the final impression was of an industrially-made beer of much less than 100% malt and a questionable percentage of Žatec hops… honestly, I did try and be objective, but although it began with promise the beer’s disguise fell away as I drank revealing a cheap, industrial brew masquerading as the real thing.
Disappointed, but not really surprised, I quickly polished off the dull, toffee-ish, sickly industrial abomination that was Master Polotmavý before we vacated our space and headed out of the door for one final stop before our train back to Praha. I’d a list of six more bars which we could have visited but one stood out, Žumberská Stodola, on account of it selling Kout na Šumave nefiltrované on tap plus a guest beer; Kout was one of the brewers I’d got on my “hit list” to try and so the ultimate expression on tap couldn’t really be refused, could it?
We reached the address where the bar should be but it didn’t look good: bright lights, thumping music and a bartop bedecked with fonts blazing out their multinational parentage for all to see… this wasn’t right, I mulled, but maybe the bar had closed or I’d got the address wrong? With the lure of Kout nefiltrované boosting my bravery levels I asked at the bar if they stocked the beer, only to be met with a look of total incomprehension akin to asking if I could possibly have sex with the barman’s household pets, a firm shake of the head and gesture at the fizzy chemi-slops that passed for beer on the headache-inducing million kilowatt illuminated taps.
That was that, I thought, trailing sadly back out onto the street already thinking about our next beery option. Once outside I studied my map but, before an alternative plan could come to fruition, Sue pointed at some stairs alongside the tat bar and I saw, following her finger, a well-hidden sign proclaiming that this was the entrance for the “music club Žumberská Stodola”… result! So, for the second time that day, we clumped up a flight of stairs in search of beer!
Upstairs we found a brick-lined room with wooden beams aplenty and loud rather crappy music being played but the most noticeable thing was that, apart from a dodgy-looking geezer sat at the bar and a couple eating each other, we were the only customers at 20:00 on a Thursday evening! Our surroundings didn’t really concern us, however, and if you ever went to Peaches “nightclub” in Stockport during it’s alleged brewing period then you’ll know that we’re not proud when it comes to ticking beers, we’ll sup ‘em anywhere! (In case you didn’t go to Peaches just imagine the crappiest, naffest disco – mirror walls and ball et al – then treble this vision, stick it in the cellar of a Victorian building in a provincial backwater and you’ll come some of the way to understanding just how low we’ll go for a scoop!).
I was impressed to see Kout on tap and so asked for a glass of that only to be told the dreaded word when scooping in Czech, “Nemáme”! Absolutely gutted to have come close enough to touch the tap and yet be denied I asked why they didn’t have any to be told that it was “too lively, the glass is all foam…” cheers then, the downside of unpasteurised beer had denied me this massive scoop! My pathetic attempts to convince the barstaff that I’d settle for an inch of beer in a glass were politely turned down so I settled for the other guest beer, Chýně Pivovarský dvůr’s Kouřové Polotmavý, which was admittedly a quality brew with plenty of rich maltiness, slight toasty hints with molasses and grain before a full malt finish, but I was still gutted to have missed out on the Kout...
Topping up the tally.
With a very productive day’s scooping at an end it was finally time to get ourselves back to the station for the penultimate train to Praha. We took a tram from the main square which displayed “X” on it’s headcode, presumably meaning it was a depot working or similar, and found our train waiting time in the platform so we piled aboard and bagged an empty compartment near the back which we managed to keep to ourselves all the way back. It was too dark to see the armoured vehicles at Beroun (which one day I’ll manage to view!) and consequently the journey dragged with nothing to gaze at although a spot of doss soon solved that!
Back at Hlavní nádraží we took the metro back to IP Pavlova to save the dispiriting yomp uphill through the seediness of Václavské náměstí (Wenceslas square). After a brief time check it was reluctantly decided that we didn’t have time for our by this point traditional nightly visit to Pivovarský dům (where we’d become a fixture propping up the bar, gibbering to the staff in bad Czech whilst consuming large amounts of the superlative house beers) so after acquiring a pizza from a decent little place opposite the tramstop we headed back to our hotel for a handful of room beers to bump up the day’s tally to a respectable level.
Náchod’s English Pale Ale had intrigued me immensely and I was both relieved and disappointed that it didn’t resemble one at all! Relieved in that we didn’t have to suffer a bland, crystal malt-laden hopless sweet infected cardboardy mess yet disappointed that they hadn’t made a better go of a style of beer which even the English struggle to get right! Amber in colour, it had a toffee-malt flavour with some cardboard (they got that bit spot-on…), malt and sweetness yet not a lot else. Svijany Máz 11° was next and my admiration for their well-made, tasty beer was found to be on the money with a malty, slightly fudgey and worty body that dried out to a bitter, malty aftertaste and made for good drinking.
Finally, Novopacké’s Podkrkonošsky Speciál Tmavý was cracked open and this was a strange one alright… Both sweet and dry at the same time, there was little hint of the 6.3% alcohol although everything was drowned in a tide of tarry, burnt caramel and it finished still caramelly yet thin in a non-malt kind of way; not the best end to a day which had yielded some cracking beer although draught beer is (almost) always better than bottled in Czech so I can’t complain that much really… and we had two more evenings in Pivovarský dům to look forwards to!
Plzeň may be the original home of golden lager – and it may not, depending who you believe – but there’s no denying that it’s an interesting city with plenty for everyone to enjoy. This may sound unbearably cheery-beery and you may have suspicions that I’m in the pay of the Plzeň tourism authority but you’d be wrong! Okay, so the endless Soviet paneláčky blocks aren’t the best approach to the city, but you get this in almost every other former Soviet country so it’s a good idea to generate a liking – or, at least, a tolerance – for the things. There’s also a surprising amount of heavy industry in the area, mainly the Škoda tram factory and accompanying steelworks, although this adds to the city’s appeal in my opinion as Plzeň is an unashamedly down-to-earth city which still majors in making useful things out of metal, an industry which we in the UK have largely farmed off to countries around the world where labour – and the health of said labour – is cheap.
The city centre is impressively ornate in a very central European way with a huge main square surrounded by gabled townhouses and wouldn’t be out of place in several cities in Poland with much higher “footfall”, although this prettiness is restricted to the central area only and outside that you’ll find the usual Czech staples such as busy dual carriageways, endless lines of paneláčky, industrial-strength tramlines and bland concrete 1960’s constructions. That said, there’s still a fair bit too see and it’s a pretty safe bet that those conning other halves into visiting on the pretext of “let’s go here, it’s nothing to do with beer at all, honest” won’t end up sounding like complete liars.
The beer scene is dominated, as you’d expect, by the huge SAB-Miller factory which produces all kinds of dross plus a vague approximation of what was once a world-classic beer, Pilsner Urquell, or to name it correctly “Plzeňský Prazdroj”. Most bars in town serve the stuff although if you really want to taste it I’d either visit Na Parkánu where you’ll find a kvasnicové (yeasty) version or, if you’re into being ripped off and lied to in general, then maybe you’d like to try the brewery tour itself where you can sample some beer allegedly matured in wooden casks (the way it ALL used to be lagered before the multinational scum destroyed it’s heritage). The city’s three brewpubs are spread out with only Groll being central and the other two a fair trip out of town, although the excellent transport system will take you to within a few metres of both. There are also some bars worth a look although, due to time constraints, we only managed to visit one and so, if you visit any of my recommendations or find anything new, please let me know!
Plzeň isn’t really a long weekend kind of city but its close proximity to Prague (around 100 minutes by regular, cheap train) means that it can easily be worked into a visit to the capital. There’s plenty of beer to scoop and three brewpubs to experience, plus it’s a city which is nothing like Prague whatsoever yet manages to make you feel as if you’re exploring parts of a country not many visitors reach and not just wandering around a tourist hotspot. So, next time you’re in Prague, do yourself a favour and set aside a day for a whirlwind scooping frenzy in Plzeň to see a different – yet endlessly likeable – side to a country you thought you knew.
Getting there and getting around there.
For those who like public transport – and, let’s face it, what saddo reading this website doesn’t? – the city is home to the Škoda tram works, a small yet interesting tram system plus a rare trolleybus network as well as a beautiful station right out of the era when rail travel was a thing of pleasure not pain. There’s no airport in town (although there is a tiny one in Karlovy Vary not too far away) so most people visit on a day-trip from Prague and there are several options to consider in reaching the city, namely train, coach or bus. This link is great for calculating journeys in Czech and gives all options including buses and trains plus will (sometimes) work out the fare for you!
By train it’s easy; take the hourly services from Prague’s main rail station, Hlavní nádraží, and alight at Plzeň’s main station approximately 100 minutes later; make sure you use the express trains (the train number is prefixed by an “R” in timetables) as these stop less frequently than those marked “Os”; the return journey, depending on train, costs around Ł8 or even less. Most trains stop at Beroun where there is an additional scooping possibility in the shape of a brewpub situated close to the station; I’ve not been and hear varying stories about the place, but basically it’s in the factory complex just under the road bridge on the Plzeň side of the station and, apparently, has several armoured vehicles parked around the place although it’s always been too dark or I’ve been asleep when passing…
Czech’s railways – ČD or České dráhy – are still under national control so, consequently, they don’t paint the trains as much as our beloved privatised railways do but, as we in the UK have learned to our cost (both figuratively and literally), the service they do run with these old-fashioned trains is better, cheaper and more integrated than that run by private operators, although as almost everyone in the west is obsessed by shiny things and not actual quality this doesn’t matter to us and we’d rather have a brand-new shiny train which rarely runs because it looks nice; after all, as all good capitalists know, “shiny shiny=happy happy”.
The other option is via Student Agency coaches whose bright yellow vehicles depart from Zličín metro station every hour on the hour. The positives of this option is that the journey only takes an hour with no stops and is a mere 95Kč single, but when you realise that the coaches leave from the very far end of a metro line which entails a lengthy trip out there (although if you’re going straight to Plzeň from Prague airport you can catch the 100 bus straight to Zličín) and so might not be worth the hassle. I’ve never done the coach but have seen them and they look modern and comfy, but call me old fashioned for thinking that a train is far more comfortable than a coach! It all depends how much you value convenience of arriving and departing centrally and the time taken to travel (and get to the departure points) as well as the cost as to which you choose. There are also ordinary buses linking the cities if you’re a real masochist!
Plzeň’s transport system is comprehensive and cheap with a system of trams, trolleybuses and diesel buses covering the whole city. It’s run by PMDP (Plzeňských městských dopravních podniků, Plzeň city transport company) and a day ticket (one calendar day, not 24-hours) is a bargain at 40Kč, especially when compared to Prague’s ludicrous 100Kč! This can be bought from kiosks showing the yellow PMDP logo or machines at tram stops; see the full price list here. There’s a little-known rule observed by most Central and Eastern European transport systems (including this one) that deems luggage larger than 25x40x60cm liable for payment (usually a separate ticket) but you’d need to be pretty unlucky to get chinged up for this so I’m only saying it for amusement value! A pageful of maps for the system is here for you to print off and mark off as you scoop the lines…
Beer and Pub of the trip.I was surprised by the quality of beer we drank during our day in Plzeň although I suppose, being a regular in Czech, I shouldn’t be especially with all the new-found enthusiasm for unpasteurised beer. The brewpubs are scattered about but all worth a visit – as are most brewpubs – although there is much more in the city to explore which we didn’t get time to do!
Pivovar Groll Lotr 11° - A properly brewed Pilsener with a mellow maltiness, lots of spicy Žatec hops and a rich, juicy, honeyed malty finish with balancing bitterness and hopflower; this blew Plzeňský Prazdroj’s pastiche of a beer out of the water.
Purkmistr Pivovarský Dvůr Polotmavý 11° - The best of five beers we sampled at the brewpub, this delicious amber, fruity beer had toffee, grain and juicy wortiness tempered with a substantial spicy bitter hop smack.
Chýně Kouřové Polotmavý – Scooped at Žumberská Stodola, this was a succulently treacly, malty brew possessing an impressively characteful toasted malt flavour with hints of sweetness.
My favourite bar of the trip isn’t as easy but for making the effort with guest beers and having micro-brewed lager in a music venue – despite us being unlucky with the Kout – Žumberská Stodola takes some beating, but for sheer volume of scoops, great food and a relaxed, countrified vibe I’d recommend the Purkmistr Pivovarský Dvůr brewpub out at Černice as the best scooping bar in town. The standard beers are good to very good and there’s always at least a couple of their flavoured beers which range from the interesting to the bizarre; it’s well worth the jolting around on a trolleybus for half an hour to get there!
My map of the city's beery delights is here.
U rytíře Lochoty, Karlovarská Třída 103. ()
Tram 4 to Sokolovská then walk back down the hill 50 metres and it's on your right.
Roadside brewpub with two
beers usually on sale plus good-looking food all set in a vaguely rustic large
Purkmistr Pivovarský Dvůr, Selská Naves, Černice. ()
Take trolleybus 13 to General Lišky, follow Ke Kači Louži (on your right in the direction of the bus) downhill until you reach the village centre and you can't miss it!
New multi-function hotel/brewpub/health club and the rest in the sleepy village of Černice south of the city. The coppers in the main bar produce some good standard beers plus there's usually a couple of flavoured oddities to try such as cannabis and blueberry on our visit!
Pivovar Groll / Na Rychtářce, Truhlářská 10. ()
Bus 28 stops at Na Rychtářce within sight of the pub or it's a mere 5 minutes' stroll from Náměsti Republiky via Na Parkánu.
Strange place which seems as if it's been there for years but only opened in 2008. The brewplant is bedecked in green tiles and produces solid, tasty and traditional beer. The building has various rooms but to find the brewpub itself pass through the entrance, out the other side, enter a door on your right, up the stairs and you can't miss it!
Klub Malých Pivovarů, Nádražní 16.
A very short walk from the station almost opposite the tramstop.
Cellar bar which stocks four Czech micro-brewed beers and sounds very good indeed.
Na Parkánu, Veleslavinova 4. ()
Head east out of Náměsti Republiky on Pražská, first left into Perlová, then right into Veleslavinova and the bar is on the left.
Famous old bar which is the only place to serve unfiltered Urquell in the world. They also have the Masters beers, although it's all fairly expensive and feels like a tourist rip-off to me... if you want to be a completist and drink a version of Urquell allegedly matured in wood (just like they used to with all of it...) then go to the brewery museum.
U Svatého Rocha, U Svatého Rocha 1.
Buses 20, 33, 39 and 40 stop just down the road at Otýlie Beníškové.
Proper locals' bar with the rare Bakalář beers from Rakovnik on tap and in bottle.
Vinárna Hrozen, Palackého 8.
Trams 1,2 and 4 stop nearby at Sady Pětatřicátníků.
Apparently a restaurant/bar serving a couple of guest beers? Reports please...
Žumberská Stodola, Bezručova 14. ()
Take tram 1 or 2 to Náměsti Republiky and the bar is one block south of the main square upstairs above a crap pub. Look for the signs on the stairs!
Hard to find, this bar is upstairs above a crappy loud place - look for the sign on the stairs! They sell some guest beers on tap including Kout's yeast beer and Chyne brews too. Well worth a look, but a bit like drinking in a 90's disco...
Plzeňský Prazdroj (SAB Miller), U Prazdroje 7. ()
Buses 10, 11 and 28 stop nearby at U Prazdroje or take trams 1 or 2 to the main station, Hlavní Nádraží, and walk back. You can't miss the brewery, it's feckin' massive!
The tasting room of the brewery is Na Spilce. Some people come for the "wood fermented" beer (only available during the tour itself) which is a blatant publicity stunt as it all used to be like that - although the barrels were pitch-lined then - and it's now done just for American beer tourists to say how "awesome" it is. It costs loads to get in and extra - yes, extra - to take photos.
|Gazza in Pivovarský Dům Prague||Gazza scoops Suchdolsky Jenik in "Klub C"||Suchdolsky jenik is on in Klub C!||Kocour english pale ale in Tlusta Koala Praha||Purkmistr coppers Cernice Plzen|
|Nov 08||Nov 08||Nov 08||Nov 08||Nov 08|
|Gazza at Purkmistr Cernice Plzen||LOTR brewpub coppers Plzen||Gazza at U Bezouska Pruhonice|
|Nov 08||Nov 08||Nov 08|