Last Updated : 21/10/08
he report for my February trip to the amazingly beery city of Prague with old scooping mate Dean is finally here... don't forget the phots of the trip at the bottom of the page and you can always get the pub and beer gen on my Prague gen page. The main Czech gen page is here and my discussion of all things pivo is here.
This was one last-minute trip! I'd not been to Prague for over four years owing to the country’s loud diesel locos having been fitted with silencers (honest, this is the main reason!) and I’d no real inclination to visit in the foreseeable future – too many other places to explore, too many new cities to visit, too many new beers to scoop... when a chance text from old mate Dean told me that he was off to Prague and my Czech scoop gene began to awaken; wasn't there a few new brewpubs in town? Wasn't Kvasnicové beer all the rage at the moment? Wasn’t it about time I scored some proper lagers? Didn’t I deserve a holiday?
An hour later I returned the text to inform Dean that I'd be coming along if he didn't mind too much me invading his solo trip! Thankfully he didn't seem to mind at all and so that was that, my flights were booked, and for such short notice of just over a week Ł75 wasn't too bad – plus I was scooping an airport, Bournemouth – and I soon had a hotel sorted for us just three doors down from Pivovarský Klub… and that, as they say, is a result.
Friday 1st February 2008.
Our flight was at the ludicrously early time of 08:25 which necessitated a departure from Worcester in the middle of the night – as usual! After a cruise along the deserted M5 and M3 motorways, a welcome change from the A14 it must be said, I arrived in a rainstorm and parked in the worryingly deep lake which passed as a car park hoping that the rain wouldn't engulf the car whilst I was away. I wasn't sure where the terminal was so headed for what I honestly thought was a bike shed, only to find that this was in fact the terminal building! The airport had a kind of prefab feel to it as if it were a temporary structure squatting on someone else's land and might be evicted at any minute, though hopefully not within the next three days...
Dean soon arrived and after the ritual back-slapping and greetings (we'd not met for a good few years) it was time to check-in which was done via a rather primitive taped-off queuing system and check-in desks with paper signs stuck to them... not quite Luton, I mused! This was accomplished ahead of a crowd of normals lurking without a lot of clue what was going on and so off we went to what was optimistically called a café to fester for our flight. Said café had one redeeming moment in that the coffee was “bottomless” and therefore we did our best to imbibe as much as possible in order to jolt ourselves into some kind of caffeine-fuelled high after our respective early starts, although Dean did manage to slosh his all over the floor... or was that me? It was far too early to remember such mundaneness such as who spilt the coffee!
The flight was soon called and I was pleased to see that the plane was a scoop (although I later found out it was rebadged G-ODUS, an ex-easyJet plane I had to Prague back in 2004!) so on we clambered for the two-hour flight over to Czech. On the way we discussed our plan of attack on the city's booming brewpub population and realised that we didn't really have enough time to do the lot, particularly as there were some pubs we really wanted to cover, plus a visit to the superb Pivní Galerie to stock up on “room beers”... already, two days seemed a woefully short timespan to accomplish everything we wanted to do! The landing was wincingly heavy owing to the strong and gusty wind but we didn't mind – let the scooping begin!
We decided that our first call would be a massive one, just to get us into the swing of things to (hopefully) come! Suchdol university had recently built a brewery as part of it's courses (food science, I think) and rumour had it that the beer was for sale in the university's slightly Soviet-sounding “building G”, so once we'd bought our day tickets at the airport's new public transport kiosk – a huge improvement on having to acquire handfuls of shrapnel back in the “old days” by purchasing grim local “chocolate” and other such unappetising crap – it was onto the usual 119 bus to Dejvická; some things don't change!
Not the best of starts...
We then yomped through the subterranean passages of Dejvická, passing a bar on the way selling Rychtář beers from Hlinsko, to the stop for bus 107. We soon found one ready to leave but, predictably, our scooping genes had well and truly kicked in and we flagged the plastic bus in preference for a real one (well, as real as modern buses get) on the 147! We knew the stop name but not how far out the university was and so, after a worrying long trip along suburban roads, we finally arrived outside our goal... now, where the fuck were we going?
A large map at the university entrance was our saviour and from it we worked out where the dubious-sounding “building G” was located so off we went, strolling through a campus which had so much concrete and straight lines in it's architecture it would surely have given Stalin a stiffy, until we passed one bar with only multinational crap advertised on the very useful board outside... not very politically minded, students these days, are they? Building G was then located and so, without a pause to consider whether we needed to pass as students or not, in we went!
The bar wasn't obvious but after a few minutes of wandering along anodyne corridors we found it behind a very ordinary-looking door with a few beery signs as a giveaway! In we marched to find... only Staropramed Granát and Urquell on sale! I asked in faltering Czechlish (it was way too early in the trip to get into my vaguely fluent phase) if the Sokolsky beer was available only to be given the gutting news that no, it wasn't, and the best time for it was early in the week... well, at least we'd found the right place and the beer existed – even if we weren't going to get any – so hoping that this wasn't going to be portentous for the rest of the trip it was back to the bus stop for the ride back into the centre of Prague.
Rather than the 107/147 a random bus arrived but, having ascertained that it was heading for Dejvicka, along with throngs of students we decided that it would do nicely and so twenty minutes later we were at Podbaba tram terminus having scooped nothing beer-wise but with something maybe even more important under our belts, gen as to where we could score the beer in future. A tram soon appeared and so our first move was underway up to the superb Pivní Galerie beer shop to stock up on winners for the evening, hopefully including some whopper breweries and beers!
After studying the shelves for a while we achieved winner overload and retired to the little bar inside the shop to see what we could scoop in there; how many top beer shops have a little room with two draught beers as part of the furniture? No, I can't think of any more either! Nothing particularly interesting was on sale so we settled for a glass each of Chodovar 13° which, sadly, wasn't particularly remarkable and didn't do the rare “holiday” beer category a lot of justice...
Our glasses empty, it was back into the shop to choose some scoops. With the help of my beer list and Evan Rail's guide we managed to acquire ten bottles of which a sizeable percentage were either new breweries to both of us or simply huge scoops! Our rucksacks clinking away merrily, off we plodded to the tramstop for the next tram down to Florenc in order to check into the hotel and take the weight off our shoulders; scoops are very heavy after you've had bugger-all sleep the night before then sat around in an airport and then on a low-cost 737 flight for hours!
You can't have it all your own way.
We'd soon checked in and deposited our scoops – and excess baggage – in our room and so, after gazing reverently at our recently acquired beers for a while, it was time to begin the scooping quest in earnest as we'd a lot to do and not really enough time to do it all...
The hotel had been chosen on the basis of it's reasonable rates but, also, on account of it being three doors down from Pivovarský Klub plus being next door to Florenc metro station and a block from the tramstop; as you can see, it had everything going for it! We wandered along to the tramstop, but on the way we passed a bar which claimed to have “černý višnove pivo” on draught... what was this all about, we wondered, staring at the tiny locals bar which looked as if it might admit a dozen people if Tetris principles were used to get them in there, and so we decided to investigate further when we got back from our scooping travels and so took the next tram into the centre where our first brewpub awaited.
Or, at least, it should have done... U Zlatého Anděla, the Golden Angel, is a famous old hotel close to the equally famous powder tower which has recently been restored at huge cost and, in the original plans, included a micro-brewery and bar. All well and good then, but Dean warned that his last visit had revealed an unfinished mess with no sign of a brewery or it being open in any manner! We soon found the hotel but everything seemed the same as he'd described with nothing obviously beery occurring and the whole place looking rather closed. That was our first brewpub down but plenty more waited for us and so, putting the disappointment behind us, it was a short walk to Pražský most u Valšů, the second new brewpub on my list of “must-do's”.
The location was along a narrow cobbled lane close to the Karlův Most which, should any tourists care to brave the sidestreets rather than trolling along in hordes along the well-worn routes, could stand to make a tidy packet. News on the brewery front didn't look too promising with signs outside for Březňák and Rohozec breweries but, undaunted, in we went as I was sure the website (which is in Cyrillic and Czech only) had mentioned pale and dark house beers...
Seated inside, however, it became clear that this wasn't the case and four commercial beers were on sale. I attempted to ascertain the gen but a combination of my poor Czech and the staff's poor English prevented us reaching a definitive conclusion, so a pint of Rohozec tmavy it was and I couldn't really complain, this being a brewery scoop, although I still felt as if our luck had started badly and was getting worse with regards to Prague's new brewpubs!
When Dean ventured below ground for a piss, however, all became clear as he returned with a phot of a very shiny looking brewplant downstairs. I decided that I needed to examine this too in order to form a judgement if it was for show or simply not being used, so it was my turn to clatter down the stairs and gaze at the coppery delights of this small yet perfectly formed brewery. As luck would have it, a waitress passed by with a precarious tray of glasses and I decided on one more attempt at asking about the house beers as, I reasoned, I could now at least point at the brewery! She informed me that it had recently been installed and was waiting commissioning, with an expected start date of a few months' time. Well, at least we now had the gen and even though we wouldn't be getting the beer this time there was always our next visit.
A scoop for me – at last!
With our tasty mugs of Rohozec drained we trolled the short distance around the corner to U Medvídků, a pub which is famous in Prague but to which I'd never previously bothered visiting as, up until 2006, they only sold Budvar which – in my opinion – isn't the best beer in the world no matter what certain beer writers may tell you; being a national treasure and bastion of anti-Anheuser Buschism doesn't make the beer taste any better as much as we'd all like it to!
It's a strange place is the little bears; the cavernous beer hall is clearly aimed at the same tourists who infest U Fleků and, as an added disincentive for hardcore beer lovers not to bother, only sells Budvar – and not even the unpasteurised version! – although this is on tap next door in the new, smaller bar which also has Budvar dark, standard and also the pub's homebrew, but the best place to sample this is upstairs in the tiny, hidden-away brewpub itself. As Dean knew the gen I sheeped him through the beer hall, politely refusing the waiters' offers of a table, and emerged into what looked like a fire escape at the rear. I wasn't convinced we were on the right track at this point, as would I suspect many others (which is why, I suppose, it's really quiet up there!), but Dean purposefully climbed the stairs and so I followed, wondering what could possibly be up a fire escape – albeit a posh one – signed “ballroom”?
We emerged into what looked like a very old attic where a tiny copper brewplant took pride of place; this was more like it and, what's more, brewing smells hung in the air – result, my first new brewpub of the trip! Dean had been here before quite a few times so he wasn't as whipped up as I was, nevertheless we still blagged the waitress to take out photo in front of the petit coppers before we ordered our glasses of the house beer, Old Gott. This beer has caused all kinds of commotion in the Czech brewing scene as it's unlike any other beer in the country and is probably closest in style to the sour beers of the Flemish North of Belgium, but it seems that more Czech beer lovers are beginning to enjoy the sour, woody complexity of this very special beer so, hopefully, ensuring the future of this very brave and interesting enterprise.
I didn't know what to expect; would it be as sour and acetic as Vichtenaar or as wussy as Bacchus and it's ilk? In the end it was neither, although obviously it owed its inspiration and/or parentage to these styles of beer; amber in colour, it was rich, sweet and malty with plenty of wood and tangy, acetic and acidic complexity, then a long, malty, woody, toffee/honey finish with more barrel-aged flavours. I'd expected more acetic notes as in Rodenbach but, despite the aroma being reasonably so, the taste had very little with more in the way of wood and lactic acid, but all that said it was an interesting, complex beer with loads of character which I'd definitely drink again. The only downside to it was the price; at 49Kc for a 0.4l glass this is getting into tourist extortion territory and this price was, to coin a tacky phrase, a lot sourer to stomach than the beer itself!
Another beer was available and, despite the price of this one being an outrageous 30Kc for a 0.1l measure (that's around Ł5 a pint!), we let ourselves be seduced by it's massive scoopability and ordered one each. Zmenšit Špeciálne was it's name, a prune beer, and I wasn't sure what to make of it at first as it tasted like marzipan and glace cherries! Further sipping (for it was a very small glass) revealed a sweet malty body, peppery fruit flavours, yet still with an overwhelming marzipan character. Very unusual stuff, yet I'm glad we tried it, and as a final bonus point Chumbawamba were playing as we supped (or, in reality, sipped) up and prepared to leave.
Out of town, not out of pocket.
After purchasing a bottle of their strong brew, X-Beer, from what was rather amusingly called an “off license” downstairs (more like a cloakroom with a fridge full of beer outside!), it was off to some of the bars out of town which we'd read about in Evan's guide. As luck would have it, a very rare pair of unrefurbished (without new traction motors, if you really want to know) T3's took us up the superb horseshoe bends of Chotkova, past the Hrad, and finally on to Břevnovský Klášter where we alighted to see if we could score some beer – and food, as we were both starving by this point!
Our first pub was Klášterní Šenk, a restaurant-like place situated in the ancient Monastery which apparently sold, as it's name suggests, the excellent 11° Klášter beers from north of the city which I was looking forwards to as their other beers I'd sampled had been pretty good (I remember, back in 2003, alighting from a train at a tiny station way north of Prague and finding a door behind which lurked a bloke with a keg of beer; this glass of Klášter was one of the best Czech beers I’ve had). As we entered, however, we weren't convinced we'd get any as the place was wedged! It looked as if eating were out of the question and, maybe, drinking too... until we persuaded one of the gloomy waiters (a very Czech trait) that we weren't going to clutter up the last table for long and only wanted a beer each!
Mission accomplished, we sat in front of a roaring log fire and supped our beers gratefully – after all, we'd almost not got them! I soon realised why this table wasn't occupied as the hairs on the back of my neck began to singe from the searing flames but, despite the aroma of charred hair, we stoically carried on supping; after all, these beers were huge winners! The 11° světlý was a pale, quite hoppy beer with some lovely Styrian-like citrus hops and a balanced malt and lemony, grassy hop finish, quite unusual for a Czech beer but very good indeed. Thankfully the 11° tmavý wasn't the normal caramel-laden mess that Czech dark beers can be and had plenty of toasty grain and some liquorice to balance out the sweetish toffee maltiness, although we both agreed that the 11ş světlý had edged it on flavour and out-and-out suppability.
There was no pressure to leave but, mindful that we'd been admitted on trust and not wanting to take the piss out of the hospitality of the staff, we quickly supped up and beat a retreat from the scorching heat of the fire across the road to our next call, U Kláštera, where we'd read a decent choice of beer was available along with cheap and filling food – just what was required!
The pub reminded me of one in Germany or in rural Moravia and was decorated in a rustic style with plenty of wood and central European low-wattage lighting. We bagged a table and studied the menu; I was getting back into speaking Czech by this point and so, with the aid of my menu-reader, we selected our food and ordered that plus, there being no scoops available, two half-litres of Klášter 12ş and sat back in anticipation of the feast to come. Suddenly, the barman reappeared to inform us that our food choice wasn't available and did we want a “koleno” instead? I managed to ascertain, through use of rudimentary German, that this was what the Germans call a Haxe (and we'd call a pork knuckle or knee-joint) so, agreeing to this unexpectedly Teutonic feast, I proceeded to explain to Dean what a Haxe was... I should know, I've eaten enough of them!
Our food soon appeared and I must admit to being suitably impressed by the size of the koleno; I've eaten some big haxes in Germany but this one ranks amongst the hugest ever! Taking a swig of my pivo and feeling that all was good, I conveyed a forkful of shredded cabbage into my slavering gob to begin the meal... only it wasn't cabbage but shredded horseradish, which necessitated numerous hefty gulps from my beer to quench the fire, although the burning in my nose was more difficult to cure! After this inauspicious beginning, however, the meal went very well and the koleno was an absolute cracker, full of tasty meat, and each forkful tasted even better with a tiny portion of grated horseradish... but only a tiny portion, mind, not a whole forkful!
A Klub worth visiting...
Very soon we were stuffed with food and beer yet we were still in the “zone”, the scooping zone to be precise, and so with our glasses drained it was onwards back to the tramstop and thence into the centre for some more beers. With time getting on and both of us beginning to flag slightly, despite being well up for some more winners, it was decided that we should head back to our hotel via Pivovarský Klub which, after all, was only a few doors down the street...
Passing again the little bar by Florenc metro station which claimed to serve what I'd translated as “sour cherry beer”, deciding to do it the following day when we had more time and weren't as knackered, we were soon inside the famous Pivovarský Klub. It was my first visit there and I didn't know what to expect but I certainly didn't think there would be a tiny copper brewery in the window and six guest taps dispensing rare and/or nefiltrovaný piva! We bagged seats at the bar and ripped straight into our winners, Zlatopramen tmavý and Žatec Baronka světlý, which varied greatly in character; the Zlatopramen was a dark brown brew with some decent toasted graininess and a burnt, roasty finish with a touch of sweetness whilst the Žatec was fairly bland, uninteresting and boring despite being one of that breweries' stronger beers.
Up next from the taps were Dům Tokaji and Broumov Opat 16ş but it seemed as if our luck was running out as neither was really what we were after, with the Tokaji beer being too thick and malty for the delicate rich fruitiness which, I presume, came from the Tokaji grapes or grape flavourings and Broumov's effort, despite being kvasnicové, turned out to be a sweet and malty beer with too much cloying sweetness for the flavour to conceal.
With no more scoops on the taps it was back to our hotel, all of three buildings along the road, where despite our increasing tiredness we decided to crack open a few of the scoops we'd bought from Pivní Galerie as it had dawned on us that we had a mere two nights to consume the rather excessive amount of bottles we had purchased... ah well, better get on with it then, so I washed the tiny glasses in our particularly beige bathroom and that was that, let the scooping recommence!
First up was Poutnik special 14ş which, unfortunately, followed the Broumov in being thick, malty and with far too much toffee flavour that was good for it, although it was soon dispatched and we moved onto Krakonos Vánoční 14ş which had a dry and somewhat lambic-like taste which we assumed it wasn't supposed to have! As the last four beers had exhibited a steady decrease in quality we decided that enough was enough and it was time to get some doss... after all, we'd both been awake for 20 hours by this point, and even the appearance of a hellfire permed mullet on TV couldn't persuade us otherwise…
Saturday 2nd February 2008.
Back on the scoop.
A decent night's doss later and we were out again after more winners for our tally, but first we did a modicum of tram bashing plus we scooped the city's funicular railway, something I'd always meant to do but never quite got around to, taking the opportunity for some phots of Prague's red rooftops spread out below Petrín hill whilst watching a red squirrel busy itself in the leaf litter as a woodpecker knocked out his tune above us; so much wildlife so close to the city centre! We then walked down to the mid-way station, scoring a portable toilet which was incongruously sat beside the path along the way for a much-needed piss, before deciding that it was time to commence the day's beer intake with a trip up to another scoop (for me!), Richter, out in the Libeň suburbs.
A more unlikely location for one of Praha's best brewpubs is difficult to imagine; the pub is in a row of terraced houses down a sidestreet off a nondescript highway and I think it's safe to say that Richter is one of those places about which you could safely state “you'll never find it by accident” - unless you were in the habit of walking down every sidestreet in the city and, even if this were the case, I think you'd still take a good couple of months to find it! Nevertheless, as we walked along Buklovka from the tramstop, I was keenly anticipating this visit as most reports I'd seen had nothing bad to say about the beers.
As we walked through the door the delicious aromas of brewing wafted over us and it smelt good – very good indeed! On first impressions we could have been in Vienna or Berlin with the gleaming copper brewkit puffing away in it's corner and wood panelling all around, but the words bristling with accents on the chalkboards convinced me we were still in Prague so, by this point in the day hungry and thirsty, we bagged a table and settled down to consider the menu.
The menu was pretty simple to figure out once we'd found the Gůlaš; ghoulash and Czech dumplings, just what we required to fill a gap! A half-litre of světlý was soon procured to wash the comestibles down and, with the brewery still pumping out it's beguiling aromas and the cosy, homely feel of the pub all around, I raised the foaming glass to my lips... Wow! This was some beer, a hazy blonde masterpiece in Czech Pilsener, with mounds of spicy Saaz hops billowing out of the glass. The flavour was richly malty with all the residual sweetness and honeyed notes I expect of all the best Czech pilseners, yet this also had what many are nowadays missing, a huge dose of bitter, juicy, aromatic hops! They were everywhere, fruity in the aroma, spicy and fresh on the tongue and bitter in the finish, and these hops really made Richter světlý the gorgeous example of craft brewing it is.
Our Gůlaš soon arrived and quite a sight it was; I'm used to food in Czech pubs arriving in large quantities arranged with, let's just say, aesthetic reasons coming low down the list, but this plate was loaded in such a way that the huge slices of knedlícky looked as if great care had been taken in their placement and the pile of ghoulash likewise seemed like it was part of a work of art not just a plate of food! Now I'm not one for poncy food which looks good but fails to deliver on taste, quantity or any combination of the two, but this plate of food was superb, even for Czech pubs which do a pretty decent job of the matter in general, and it was so good that I ended up finishing not just mine but Dean's too... well, waste not...
I doubted that anything could top the delectable světlý but we had another beer to try in the form of Richter Černý 12° and so it was two half-litres of that! With a combination of English and Czech I asked the waitress if any other beers were available... or, at least, I would if I could have remembered the Czech for “other”! “Do you speak German?” she asked to which I replied that I did, a bit, but couldn't remember the word in German either! With a combination of three languages I finally managed to ascertain there were only two beers on that day and so the Černý would do.
The Černý, amazingly, was even better than the near-perfect světlý with a dark brown colour and obvious yeast haze, whilst the stunning aroma contained rich coffee, roast grain, dark chocolate with a whiff of smokiness. The flavour contained all these characteristics plus more subtle flavours such as liquorice, tar and even pipe tobacco... maybe Old Holborn? Sorry, I was a tad facetious there, but the complexity of this beer was amazing and the roast malt, bitter and juicy grain finish was so moreish I wished we didn't have such a tight schedule of other pubs to scoop in or else we both could have sat happily in Richter all day supping the two top-quality beers brewed there.
With far too many pubs to fit into the tortuously small amount of time we had in Prague, however, it was time to move on and sadly we said goodbye and headed off to the tram stop whilst I contemplated if I'd just visited one of the finest brewpubs I'd ever been to... okay, the beer range wasn't as adventurous as, say, 1516 in Vienna, but the cosiness, good food and skilfully brewed beers (with plenty of hops and proper roasted malts!) is a rare combination for a brewpub to get right in my opinion.
Unfiltered in the cellar.
A bit of tram bashing brought us to our next stop, a scoop for both of us, a bar called Hrom do Police (which has nothing to do with coppers but, apparently, more to do with thunder) which sold the rare Polička beers from out in the eastern Bohemian countryside. After a short search we found the cellar bar exactly where my map said it would be and descended the steps hoping it would be better inside than the slightly rubbish exterior promised. Thankfully this was the case and we were soon sat in a virtually empty yet still sociable bar with an almost monastic quietness to it thanks to the insulating properties of it being in a cellar.
A veritable plethora of scoops was on sale from Polička including two kvasnicové beers and a dark so, hoping these brews would be at least half as good as the excellent Richter beers, we began with the 10° Hradební svĕtlý and tmavý Výčepní beers to give us a feel of the brewery's flavour policy. A few minutes later and we were all smiles; these beers were pretty good; unusual, yes, but not bad at all! The světlý had a fresh wort and hop aroma with a similar flavour; now wortyness isn't generally a good thing but, somehow, Czech pilseners can pull it off as the expected residual maltiness in the flavour can accommodate a touch of wort without much problem. As I said, the beer's flavour encompassed malt, wort, resinous hops and a lovely freshness which belied it's pasteurised nature... not a bad start, then. The tmavý wasn't half-bad either without the over-sweet caramel cloyingness usually associated with dark lagers from this part of the world. Instead it had a well-balanced chocolate and treacle toffee flavour, sweet yet not overbearing, with a sociable dark, toasty malt and toffee finish; nothing outstanding but very drinkable and moreish.
Confident that we liked Polička's beers enough to want two more we ordered the two yeasty brews on sale, Otakar 11° and Záviš 12°, which arrived looking very hazy and invitingly frothy in their handled mugs; this is what it's all about, I grinned to Dean, scooping massive unfiltered scoops in a cellar bar for local's prices with no cockney accents demanding a “pint o’ laager, mate” to be heard! Czech kvasnicové beers are undergoing a huge explosion in demand from a populace rebelling against the tasteless pasteurised fluids forced upon them by the multinational conglomerates who own most of the county's brewing real estate, and are similar to German “kräusen” beers in that a dose of unfermented beer (importantly, with yeast in it) is added to the beer before kegging which, in a manner similar to real ale, triggers off a secondary fermentation in the keg.
This style of beer (plus nefiltrovaný which simply means unfiltered although it gets mixed up with the similar yet notionally different kvasnicové) is seen as a healthy drink – similar to weissbier's image in Germany – and in these health-conscious times is something that almost every brewery now produces whether they want to or not. The Jedenáctka (11°) was similar to the ten degree brew yet with more of everything; lots of bready, worty maltiness allied to a fresh, zingy and grassy hop taste made for excellent drinking and led perfectly onto the Dvanáctka (12°) which had even more of everything than the 11°; heaps of maltiness with less wort but more bitterness, the beer was surprisingly dry and with plenty of yeasty malt flavours and a good balancing bitterness along with some hop: these were seriously good beers!
Into the suburbs.
With time now racing on we decided to leave the other two scoops until our next respective visits (both of us had vowed to return in 2008 so much had we enjoyed our trip thus far!) and so off we went via various trams to our next stop, a brand-new brewpub in the southern district of Nusle, where we hoped to score a couple of whoppers that no other UK scoopers at that point had sampled. As we alighted from the tram opposite Nusle's town hall we spotted a tiny bar sporting a Ježek sign; these beers, from south Moravia, are mega-rare this far west and, even better, the pub advertised kvasnicové pivo... sadly, when we enquired about said winner, the landlord apologetically told us that they'd sold it all, surely a sign that if a tiny local's pub like this can sell out of real beer then the “kvasnice” revolution in Czech is well and truly underway?
Past a famous Prajdroz pub we went until, only a short distance from the tramstop, we found our target of the Bašta brewpub which looked spotless and just-opened... which it was! From the outside we could see the extremely cute copper brewkit and row of tiny fermenters so, unless a lot of time and money had been put into a very elaborate hoax, this place brewed... although, thinking about this, Gerbeaud in Budapest has done exactly that and so I'll have to reduce my certainty that Bašta brews to 99%!
Inside everything was new and a symphony in pale wood, although the most unusual thing was the lack of a bar! Okay so they are a bit short on space, but the serving area consisted of a till and some taps mounted on the wall in a manner very reminiscent of some German bars we've been to over the years, although what really mattered to us was the beer and so we ordered both beers available, a světlý and an example of the much rarer polotmavý (half-dark) style, to see how this very new brewpub was setting it's stall out beer-wise.
Very impressively, it turned out; světlý was a hazy golden brew with a rich, solid maltiness, some yeast, a decent fruity bitterness reminiscent of blackberries then a grainy, malt-forward finish with some balancing bitter hops which gave an overall satisfaction rating of “oh yes”! The polotmavý (a kind of Vienna red lager) was even better, with a delicious toffeeish and grainy malt flavour, some luscious sweet apricot fruit and hints of hop, but the best bit was the gorgeous rich, full and mellow malt finish which had toasty grain, treacle and a fresh maltiness which was so moreish we almost had to have another... but with more pubs that we could do in the rapidly diminishing time we had we reluctantly drained every last drop from the glasses, paid up, and moved on to our next beery destination.
... and beyond!
The next one sounded a right treat if the reports I'd read were to be believed; a local's pub out in the wilds of Nusle, on the border with the even further out suburb of Pankrác, which served two unpasteurised beers from the extremely rare Kácov brewery... could this be true, we wondered, as we took the surreal No.18 tram to it's terminus which in itself is very bizarre: the line corkscrews back on itself and, when you alight, you can see where you've passed a few minutes earlier not 100m away! We took the same tram back one stop to the dimly-lit street of Na Veseli where, in common with suburbs in many Central and Eastern European cities, the streetlights seemed to have been designed to replicate the illumination potential of a candle and cast their feeble orange glow over the Stalinist concrete tenements we passed.
U Klokočnika was our target and it soon came into view not 100 metres from the tramstop. It looked very... normal..., so I was slightly sceptical that this out-of-the-way pub, far from the ravages of foreigners demanding unfiltered and unusual beers, would serve up anything we'd want to drink, but the gen had been so insistent that it served Kácov beer so, without further ado, in we went. Inside we found a totally “real” experience; lino floors, drunken locals draped over the bar, air heavy with smoke and everything else I'd expected from a local's pub out in the suburbs! We bagged a small table and, under the impatient eye of the landlady, I perused the menu in the fervent hope that the promised kvasnicové beer would be available...
Being a rational kind of scooper I realised that no English would be spoken this far out of the centre and so, in my best Czech (which tends to get better the longer I’m in the country!), I ordered two glasses of the Kácovské Výčepní 10° kvasnicové beer whereupon, to our intense relief, the landlady nodded curtly and wandered off to pour our beers whilst a few of the regulars eyed us with confusion – as well they might, they mustn't get many non-locals in here although I imagine that's set to change now the pub is included in Evan Rail's new guide and hordes of beer-loving foreigners descend on the place like a Biblical plague to strip it bare of kvasnicové beer!
I didn't know what to expect from this beer as I'm not a huge fan of standard Czech 10° “Desitkas” being, in general, rather characterless and not particularly interesting brews, but would having the kvasnicové treatment make it good? Well, after my first swig, I knew this to be the case – this was a right whopper! A pale gold brew with a slight haze, it had a sweetish peachy fruitiness, subtle hoppiness and lots of maltiness with just enough bitter hop in the finish making a deliciously moreish and suppable session beer plus, as if another bonus were needed, it had only cost us 15 crowns – approximately 40p – making it an absolute bargain as well as being superb.
With out glasses drained in record time owing to the delicious beer it was time for the next step up, the Hubertus kvasnicové 12°, but could that touch the perfect suppableness of the desitka? Yes, was the answer, and it surpassed my expectations by some considerable margin too! Slightly deeper gold, this brew had more of Kácov's peachy fruit on the aroma with a hefty pile of resinous hops which was repeated on the palate yet with a bewitching complexity; peaches, juicy malt, fresh hops, honey, malt sugars and a decent bitterness all melded together perfectly to make what must be one of the most perfect “textbook” 12° Czech lagers I've had for a long, long time. Don't get the impression that I mean by this it was bland for nothing could be further from the truth... this beer was a full-bodied, complex and near-as-damn perfect example of Czech brewing as I’ve tried.
End of the line.
Leaving the pub, yet again with feelings that we should stay for one more, we trudged off along the poorly-lit streets to the Horky tramstop on route 11 where we would catch a tram to an even further out bar, the První Pivní Tramway, way out in concrete suburbia at the end of the line. We soon arrived at Spořilov and I was amazed to see the bar was, by the looks of things, the old tram crew hut; our tram had stopped a mere metre from the door of this bunker-like concrete shed to disgorge it's passengers (namely us and two other customers!) before carrying on around the loop to the departure stop and so, under the looming high-rise panelácky surrounding the station and wondering what the hell was inside this surreal place, we pushed open the door and in we went...
Inside was, to use a modernism, “grungy” and almost entirely painted black, which isn't a bad thing in my book although I can see why others wouldn't like it! Posters for Death Vodka adorned the walls and the whole thing gave the impression of being a proper bar with some alternative leanings... again, nowt wrong with that at all! A quick view of the taps revealed that the guest tap (for this is a rare thing in the Czech republic, a bar that serves a guest beer!) was dispensing the massive scoop of Opat Vánoční (Xmas special) at a whopping 17°; this alone had been worth the trip big-time! We looked around for somewhere to sit and found, in the end room, something which absolutely withered both of us, a mock-up wooden tram body had been squeezed in there and there was space for us to sit in it and sup our beers! This place was certainly as strange as it looked from the outside...
Being hungry by this point we ordered a hellfire Czech staple, roasted garlic soup (česneková polévka) which soon arrived with the customary melting cheese and croutons in it and, just in case Spořilov were infested with vampirical activity, plenty of garlicky bits. The cheese was so stretchy that eating the soup involved stretching our arms well above our heads in order to break the resultant cheese strings but by this point in the day we'd long since given up any ideas of politeness and slurped away happily! As for the beers, Dean's Náchod pšeničné (wheat beer) was very German in character and thus not to my taste at all yet was well-made, whilst the Opat Xmas beer was obviously strong and sweet yet the flavour was sadly underpowered for the high gravity with some dry graininess and sweet malt but not a lot else.
Feeling like we'd experienced something very worthwhile in this most unusual bar, we paid up and trekked across the grassy run-round loop to catch the next tram back into the centre of Prague. Sadly, after a run of excellent bars, our next move was destined to be a blow-out as U Radnice in Žižkov was strangely closed with no sign of life inside and so we were forced – for the first time during the trip – to suffer one of the new plastic Škoda trams into the centre. As we buzzed our way city-bound we decided that we had enough leeway in our schedule to score the Ferdinand beers in U Ferdinanda, situated close to the station, and so it was there we headed, although being back in the busy city centre certainly felt strange after the concrete suburbia of Nusle and Spořilov!
A few nightcaps.
We soon found the bar, which wasn't as impressive as I'd imagined it might be although, after the surrealism of the places we'd visited earlier on, I don't suppose it had much chance of wowing us! It was all rather bland and tourist-friendly we thought, even more so when we saw the menus had English translations on them, but we persevered and ordered two beers anyway. Svĕtlý 11° was an average malty and dryish brew with a decent enough maltiness and fragrant grassy hop finish, whilst tmavý 11° was slightly better with a decent balance between the caramel maltiness and dryness in the grainy, treacly aftertaste; both had been nothing exceptional yet suppable beers which I'd drink again if nothing more “hardcore” was available!
We headed into the main rail station to catch the metro up to Florenc and therefore our final stop of the evening – yet again – Pivovarský Klub At the station I was pleased, in a schadenfreude kind of way, to see that it still houses the various alkies, wierdos and nutters that it has done ever since I first visited in 1991 and we were treated, in the short distance between the entrance, the cake stall (where we invested in some kolač for later) and the metro steps, to several mumbling tramps, a handful of alkies clutching stereotypical brown paper bags and a dancing Ada of some considerable provenance! With it's customary efficiency the metro deposited us at Florenc within a few minutes and there, once again bypassing the little bar with an alleged cherry beer on sale as we'd decided it looked “a bit dodgy”, we walked the short distance to the Klub where we hoped some of the beers on tap the previous evening had changed.
Inside we managed to reach the bar, under siege from drinkers, where we were pleased to see two scoops on sale in the form of Rakovník Bakalář tmavý and Janáček Comenius speciálne, both of which we obviously acquired and began to sup whilst perched at the end of a table occupied by what seemed to a right motley collection of foreigners and locals. As we supped one of the group, hearing we were English, asked where we were from to which I replied “Manchester” as it's easy to explain and a lot of people know it, or at least know of it, from the exploits of a certain multinational brand... oh, sorry, I meant Manchester United. Predictably the questions soon turned to football with “are you a red or blue?” to which the sneering response from me was “neither – I hate football”; cue disbelief all-round, but at least it stopped them talking to us!
The Rakovník was light red/brown in colour with hints of coffee, chocolate, caramel and sweet malt although not enough of any of them to be really interesting whilst the Janáček was a fairly bland pale golden brew obviously made by a large producer and was all strength and no flavour. With the knowledge that we had quite a few bottles left in the room which required consumption by the end of the evening we elbowed our way back through the throng and thence back to our hotel where we prepared to give the bottles some of the old Frosty “bosh – no respect” treatment.
Broumov Opat speciálne was first and, as I'd come to expect from this sadly mundane brewery, it was a pale, malty beer with little in the way of interest although, to be fair, it had a decent enough malty taste with some hints of grassy hop and toffee, it was just that there wasn't enough flavour to interest either of us! Želiv Castulus was next and I had high hopes for this one, brewed by monks a fair way south-east of Prague plus, for an added bit of interest, the beer was top-fermented in the style favoured by the Belgian Trappistes. It was unusual all right but also very strange in a somewhat spicy and medicinal way; the label mentioned honey but I'd lean more towards spice for a wild guess of additives! Amber in colour, it was thick, sweet and malty with the medicinal taste overpowering any subtler flavours and a short syrupy finish; nowhere near as good as I'd hoped it would be, but it certainly hadn't been bland!
We had two beers remaining but, as we struggled to stay awake, only one more was consumed; Vrchlabí Medvěd speciálne was a reasonably sweet brew with hints of honey all through the flavour and then a full, honeyed and malty finish which whilst a touch sweet for me was certainly interesting and flavoursome – plus it was a winning brewery too! The final bottle remained unopened as we dossed out, although considering how many beers we'd drunk during the day and how many pubs we'd managed to get around I'm not surprised we were knackered!
Sunday 3rd February 2008.
A 12.8% scoop for breakfast.
Next morning, after a longer than planned lie-in, we awoke for breakfast and then our first beer of the day, but not any old beer; this was Medvídků X-Beer, their absurd 33° and 12.8% ABV brew, which we both required and so, at just gone 09:00, the day began with the strongest beer brewed in the country! It was dark red with winey, sweet and woody malt aroma, very much like a “proper” Flemish Red such as Verhaege, and the flavour followed accordingly with loads of woody, lambic-like hints, some lactic and acetic notes (which wood-aged beers should have if it's been done properly!) all over a huge, sweet malt body with treacle and toffee whose sweetness is kept in check by tannins, dryness and astringency from the hops and wood ageing, giving a massive beer which was surprisingly drinkable and balanced for it's ludicrous strength.
With an early buzz from this hellfire concoction we checked out of the hotel and headed outside into the sunshine – the first of the trip thus far – and went about doing some tram bashing before a swift crank move on the famous Sundays-only Tanvald train which produced prototype “Grumpy” 749006 and a fair bit of thrash out of Vysočany (if you don't know what all this means, don't worry – it's not beer related!). Deposited to the north of Prague, we set about scooping more tramlines and spent a frantic few hours spinning furiously around the city trying to tick as many routes as possible!
Route 6 surprised us when, after terminating, the tram reversed across a busy road with scant regard for oncoming traffic; I can really see the “Hitler and Stalin” - sorry, Health and safety – tossers back home allowing something like this which has probably never caused an accident in 30 years but must be banned just in case some car driver is stupid! We were then subject to the first (and only) ticket check of our trip when two very young inspectors – one of who looked around 14 – suddenly demanded to see all tickets! In Prague it pays to know that people who claim they are inspectors actually are before handing your ticket over but these correctly showed their brass ID discs before de-tramming an unfortunate kid who'd obviously been caught without a ticket and was being hassled in what seemed a pretty over-the-top manner similar to the TV license Gestapo back here in the UK.
We headed off in an attempt to locate one of the “whiskered” T3 trams on route 3 which, it transpired when we reached it's terminus, only runs weekdays; cheers then! With time drawing on we had time for one more pub before our trek out to the airport and there was only one place in consideration, Budvar's new Budvarka bar out at Dejvická, where we should be able to get a decent feed and, just as importantly, a mug of their rare unfiltered Kroužkovaný “ring” beer with which I decided that I'd finally be able to judge if I still thought Budvar a vastly over-rated brew more famous for it's two-fingered salute to Anheuser Busch than the actual taste of the stuff itself... Obviously, fighting American imperialism is all very well and noble, but when you strip things down to the bare bones it's what the beer tastes like that matters and I've never been a huge fan, even when I've drunk the stuff in České Budĕjovice itself, but would the unpasteurised version be better?
The pub is a mere five minutes from Dejvická metro station and so perfect as a final port of call before the bus back to the airport. It's a fairly new outfit which is obvious by the gleaming brass taps and keen-ness of the staff – this will soon wear off to be replaced by the normal sullenness of Prague's waiters – and the food did indeed look superb, although we weren't sure about the whole suckling piglet! Dean went with a huge steak whilst I decided on the Staročeský talíř Budvarka (Old Bohemian plate), a right old mix containing duck, smoked steaks, sausages, sauerkraut, dumplings and assorted other bits and bobs, and we ordered a large mug of the “ring beer” each just to see how it fared against some of the other beers we’d had during the weekend.
The beers arrived and I took a long swig of the suspiciously clear golden brew and swirled it around; it had a clean flavour with the customary sweetish malty body which had hints of wortyness and syrup and then a subtle dryness appeared to take the brew to a balanced malt and slightly bitter finish. Well, I decided, it's definitely nowhere near as good as many old-fashioned beer critics make out, even in it's unpasteurised version... it was a decent beer, of that there was no doubt, and as if to prove this we had another, but in no way – to me, at least – is it anywhere near being a world classic lager; there are far better examples in the Czech Republic with Svijany, Kácov and Bernard being some which spring to mind immediately as well as most of the city’s brewpubs!
Our food soon arrived and I was slightly alarmed to be handed what seemed to be enough food for a family, and a large one at that, on a single massive plate but when I got stuck into it I realised we'd not really eaten that much in the last 24 hours and I attacked the food ravenously. Of particular note were the dumplings as there were some of each of the major Czech types – potato, bread and bacon – and the pork steak was juicy, tender and full of full-bodied flavour such as you rarely find in the UK. Our second beer washed down the food a treat and so, ten minutes later, we both sat back in our chairs utterly stuffed yet happy.
All that remained of our trip was to get to the airport so we paid the bill, wandered down the hill to Dejvická and caught the first bus out to Ruzynĕ airport where we found our flight was over an hour late; cheers then, we'd reached the part of the trip when all we wanted was to be teleported back to Bournemouth (or, ideally, home) and a delay on the flight wasn't helping. The pace of three days of frantic scooping, eating and a general lack of sleep was catching up with me and so I invested in a can of the amusingly-named Czech energy drink “Semtex” which never fails to make me smile; I always imagine the customs men asking “What's in your bag, sonny?” and me replying “Only a can of Semtex, chief...” but, as I want to get home, I’ve never yet tried this out!
For something to do I trawled the shops but, predictably, found nothing worth buying so with nothing better to do we lurked around waiting for check-in to open as, with Thomsonfly, there's no on-line check-in and so we needed to do things the traditional way and register manually. Eventually our plane arrived (this time a winner!) and we boarded, finally leaving just over an hour late, although there was one more amusing matter when we landed back at Bournemouth in heavy rain and a gusty wind as the plane hit the runway with a hefty crunch and various normals, obviously not having previously landed in bad weather, began screaming in an “we're all going to die” manner – superb!
Of course we didn't die, or you wouldn’t be reading this, and Dean and I were soon squelching across the lake which doubled as a carpark to retrieve our vehicles and head home. After our goodbyes, when we vowed to do something like this again as soon as we could, off we went in opposite directions and, as I drove away from Bournemouth in the pouring rain, I knew that I'd be back in Prague a lot sooner than the four years it had taken me to get back since my last visit in 2004... I'd forgotten what a fascinating city it was and was happy that I'd shared my re-enlightenment with an old mate who appreciates the same things as I do.
It's strange how the passing of time blurs things, but it's true that I'd forgotten just what a superb city Prague is; for a start there's the obvious stuff like the amazing architecture almost untouched by war, but then there's the bits I like even more such as the superb tram system, the ever-growing brewpub scene and now the new phenomenon of kvasnicové beer which seems set to take over the city's pubs in a yeasty tide. Make no mistake, the quality beer scene in Prague is bigger than it has been for years and is growing with the influx of visitors who want good beer as well a seemingly general shift towards more healthy food and drink amongst the general populace as we're seeing in Europe as a whole.
On my last visit there were four brewpubs in the city and now there may be double that number plus, maybe more importantly, bars which sell guest beers from breweries near and far which is a thing not often seen in a country where the multinational companies have most pubs sewn up tight with regards to what they can sell. As I mentioned above the surge of interest in more healthy foods has meant that unpasteurised and yeasty beers, for years seen as healthy by Bavarians, is catching on in Prague and many bars now sell unpasteurised beers; it shows just how big a thing kvasnicové beer is when SAB-Miller, one of the biggest multinationals and not generally known for their following of anything that may “impact their margins”, has flooded Prague with bars selling a more natural version of their beer – look for pubs claiming “tanková” (which means just what you think it means) and you'll at least get something remotely worth drinking.
Some of the beer we had this visit was simply stunning and I'm so pleased that we managed to get around as many of our target pubs as we did. Special mention must go to Richter's classy yet traditionally flavoured brews, the very promising brewpub, Baša, in Nusle, the different yet deliciously tasty wood-fermented beers in U Medvídků and also the stunning unpasteurised Kácov beers in U Klokočnika although we had many other tasty, well-made beers and I can honestly say that the beers on this trip outstripped even my most optimistic hopes for what I'd find there. Basically, there's a whole load of excellent beer in Prague, you just need to know where it is... which is where my pub guide, plus Evan Rail's excellent first effort, come in.
So, summing up, if you're a Euroscooper and haven't yet been to Prague then, basically, you need to get there as soon as possible in order to appreciate just how good the beer scene is there at present. There's a wealth of brewpubs and bars with quality beer, easily enough for a long weekend, and to put things into perspective we didn't manage to get to Pivovarský Dům, which has been my favourite brewpub in the city for years, due to lack of time as we were off scooping new stuff instead – if you know how much I like the standard beers in Dům (which are classics of their respective styles) then you'll see just how much the city has come on during the four years I was away on “other business”.
Well, I'm well and truly re-converted to Prague's charms again, so much so we are due to visit again for an epic 6-day visit in November this year, and I'd urge anyone who thinks all lager is fizzy and tasteless to visit the city and, after drinking Richter's 12°, tell me the same opinion. The best time to visit is from November to March when the Ing-er-Lish stag knobheads are thin on the ground, but even so don't believe people who tell you that beer in Prague is over Ł2 a pint... yes, if you're a fuckwitted tourist who drinks multinational crap in an “Oirish bar” in the central tourist are you'll be parting with Ł2 – and in some cases a lot more – but, stray a short distance from the centre, and you'll find a city full of character with some of the best pubs and beer in Europe and, the best bit is, you can get great beer for next to nothing.
Best beers of the trip.
This is a difficult one seeing as we had so much good stuff there, but here's a stab in the dark... see my Prague gen page for all the brewpub and bar gen.
1) Kácov Hubertus 12° kvasnicové in U Klokočnika. A near-perfect example of how the Ležák style should taste, full of peachy fruitiness, honey malt and a good hop character, this is a classic brew.
2) U Medvídků Old Gott. More Flemish than Czech but a very interesting and brave example of craft brewing.
3) Klášter 11ş Svĕtlý. Pure and simple, this deliciously classic brew proves how the sum of the parts can, sometimes, trump the individual tastes.
4) Bašta Polotmavý Kvasnicové. A deliciously toffeeish and soft malty brew, like liquid honeycomb!
5) Richter Černý 12°. A rare thing in Czech these days, a properly-brewed dark lager! This one is bursting with enough black and roast grain to satisfy anyone.
Best pubs of the trip.
We visited some absolute crackers but, more interestingly, many very different styles of bars from traditional Czech tap rooms to posh brewpubs – plus the outrageous První Pivní Tramway out at Spořilov! Choosing a top five is difficult but here's my musings... see my Prague gen page for all the brewpub and bar gen.
1) Pivovarský Klub, Florenc, for it’s superb beer range and for being Prague’s best scooping bar.
2) První Pivní Tramway, Spořilov, for it’s eccentricity and the guest tap!
3) Bašta, Nusle, for it’s modern yet traditional décor and cracking brews.
4) U Medvídků X-Beer bar, hard to find, quiet and with some of the most interesting beer in town.
5) Richter, Libeń for it’s Austrian-esque quality for both beer and food.
© Gazza 21/10/08, V1.0.
|Ing-er-land pub stand at Prague airport - just what you want to see!||Building G at the Zemědělská univerzita, Suchdol.||The superb Pivní Galerie.||Not yet used plant in Prazský most u Valšů.||Old Gott in U Medvídků.|
|Gazza and Dean in U Medvídků's X-Beer bar.||Wooden fermenters in U Medvídků.||Pražský most u Valšů brewpub, well it soon will be..||Gazza with a massive Koleno in U Kláštera.||Bar in Pivovarský Klub showing the six guest taps!|
|Little brewery in Pivovarský Klub.||View over the Vltava||The Richter brewery, pity you can't smell how it did when we were there...||Richter pub outside||Dean with the spent mash from Richter brewery, it was still warm too!|
|Hrom do Police, and it's a lot better than it looks!||Taps in Hrom do Police, everyone's a winner...||Gazza scoops the Kvasnicové at Hrom do Police||Inside the new Bašta brewpub.||The cute little plant in Bašta.|
|Pivovarský Klub.||Prvni Pivni Tramway at Sporilov||Dean in the tram at Prvni Pivni Tramway at Sporilov||Gazza in Klokocnica bar||Budvarka at Dejvice.|