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Monday, July 30, 2012

Czech Treasures?

In October I return to Europe for what will be part two of a dream journey through the legendary breweries of Germany and the Czech Republic.  After Czech, I head to Italy to survey what is by all accounts the most interesting new scene on the planet.  (Cantillon's Jean Van Roy, apologizing, said he felt it exceeded the US.)  So far I have the first leg coming together: landing in Dusseldorf and visiting Uerige; zipping south for Kolsch country; down to Kelheim to see Schneider; back north to Bamberg and Franconia; and finally to the cradle of Munich.  Italy also looks to be coming together--or looks, anyway, like it will come together when I start matching breweries and dates.

In between is the Czech Republic, which remains a bit of a cipher to me and most Americans.  We know Pilsner Urquell and Budvar, of course (those are on the list mos def).  We know Prague.  But here's a little test: name me five Czech breweries.  I've spotted you two, but my bet is that you'll find it very hard to fill out the list.  The truth is, one of the world's greatest brewing country remains mostly hidden from American eyes.

I will be very fortunate to have the estimable beer philosopher, (Pivní Filosof) Max Brahnson, do a little pub-and-brewery crawling with me when I'm in Prague.  I've also studied his Pisshead's Guide to Prague to bone up on my vycepni pivos and my tmaves (since I'm working in Blogspot and am lazy, all diacritics have been left in the cupboard).  Because, of course, there's a lot more to Czech beer than just "Bohemian pilsner."  (There is, in fact, more to the Czech Republic than just Bohemia.)  All of that will be enormously useful to me.

But since we do know so little, and since I'm still waiting for my copy of Evan Rail's now somewhat outdated Good Beer Guide to Prague, I'll throw this out to the hive mind.  What small treasures, invisible to American eyes, await me if only I know where to look when I visit the Czech Republic?  I'll be in a car, so it doesn't have to be in a big city. 

Help me, hive mind!


  1. Jeff, enjoy your time there, it was one of the best beer countries I've been to! The tmavy dark lagers are incredible as well as the unfiltered pilsners. You'll definitely come away with a love for the maltiness of their beers from the floor malting and decoction mashing. Good luck with the language and street names.

  2. I've got a couple of things in the works already, floor malting included...

  3. Max, these are breweries in the Prague area? (It's amazing how little is available in English about Czech breweries online. 90% of it comes from you.)

    Pardubicky it is, Beer Nut.

    And Derek, I'm suitably alarmed about the language. Max writes that you should at least be able to say a few words so as not to look like a total jerk, so I'm practicing.

  4. I'd be happy to provide a Czech lesson or two or three, say, at the County Cork, or is there somewhere in Portland that has good Czech beer on tap? (I have never had properly fresh Pilsener Urquell, aka Plzensky Prazdroj, on this side of the Atlantic, well, not outside of the Czech Republic, in fact.) I may be able to set you up with a local contact or two, too. When I lived there, years ago now, Radegast was another good brewery, I think I remember that Staropramen's 12 was worthwhile, the pub downstairs from one of my flats, U Broucku, served several beers from another brewery, some of which I liked... ach, jo!

  5. Still in the planning stage, but I can arrange a visit to U Fleku, a tourist trap, but, one with great beer and more history than can poke a stick at, not to mention a great Brew Master, maybe another brewpub or two in Prague and around and a couple of breweries out of Prague, but not too far.

  6. You don't mention where you're going in Italy, but I had a great night at Bir & Fud in Rome. They had, seemingly, only Italian craft beers on tap and also owned a bottle store for after hours drinking in the piazza. The beer was excellent too.

  7. I enjoyed a glass of two of Hubertus at Kacov’s brewery tap, lovely spot, lovely beer and if you do go to Milan La Ratera is a brilliant beer and food restaurant and Birrificio Lambrate’s brewpub tap is well worth a visit too.

  8. For local expertise, try the Pivni galerie, U Pruhonu 9, Praha 7-Holesvice. It's an off license that stocks beers from all over Czech Republic.


  9. If memory serves, the beer cultures in both Germany and the Czech Republic are described in Pete Brown's "Three Sheets in the Wind", ISBN: 0330442473. An enjoyable and informative read; likely good background.

    Are you including Sweden is your second European beer tour? There seems to be a market for American craft beer there.

  10. Bara, thanks. Let's see what Max comes up with and then talk.

    Matthew, still firming up Italy, but Baladin, Como, Lambrate, Del Ducato Cafe Pausa, LoverBeer, Montegioco, Panil, Toccalmatto, and Italiano are all on the wish list.

    Adrian, Kacov looks like it's sort of on the way between Ceske Budejovice and Prague, so I'll put it on the list.

    Helen, will do--thanks.

    Jack, no Scandinavia, sadly. It's on my wish list, but time/money mean I have to skip a few places that deserve to be visited.

  11. I hope that this will turn out better than your trip to Belgium, where, after speaking with three brewers, you seemed to think you knew all about the beer culture there. Brewers know how to brew beer (well, some of them do) and are not necessarily experts on local beer culture. Plus, three does not a country make!

    I see you'll also be looking at this with American eyes ("I'll be in a car, so..."), when it would be a lot smarter to at least try to be neutral.

    With Max as a guide, I'm sure you'll at least have a fighting chance of understanding something about Czech beer culture, but, if you're own your own the rest of the trip, I'm not too hopeful.

  12. Ah Mike, my house troll. I actually toured ten breweries over the course of two weeks, but who's counting? Incidentally, I'd be interested to hear which brewers you've spoken to who you'd call ignorant of Belgian culture. Since you're casting stones and all.

    As for driving, don't Germans and Italians have some connection to cars? Or have I confused them with some other countries?

  13. So. Either one subscribes to your POV or one is troll.

    I've always taken "beer culture" to mean how a community or society relates to beer. To me, that's always meant pubs, not breweries.

    What do I know about Belgian beer culture? Well, for one thing, I've been going to Belgian pubs possibly for as long as you've been old enough to drink. I speak the same language they do, so I don't need to limit my sources to English only. Amazing that you were able to so far surpass my decades of experience in only two weeks.

    As for driving, yes, I've never been in a country in Europe that doesn't have cars. But, the US is number one (in the world) in terms of driving:

    The point is that in Europe we have public transport systems that are far cheaper and more efficient that personal autos. I've toured Bavaria for several years without a car and never had a problem reaching even small villages. Of course, it's probably more difficult to find information about this if you don't speak the language. But as long as you've got Hertz, you don't really need to learn another language or even think about alternate methods of transport, eh?

  14. Perhaps you've already found this December 2009 Evan Rail article in the travel section of the New York Times, including a number of helpful links?

  15. On the lighter side, an unrelated search revealed
    Brewery Lobkowicz
    Vysoky Chlumec, Czech Republic
    82 km south of Prague
    90 km west of Pilsen
    Three bottle beers were, one each, rated by the Alström Bros as: World Class, Exceptional, Good.

  16. Bara, yeah, I've pretty much scoured the net for all English-language info, plus some semi-English and Czech language sites, too.


    "But as long as you've got Hertz, you don't really need to learn another language or even think about alternate methods of transport, eh?"


  17. I went to Prague in June. I highly reccomend Pivovar Strahov at the Strahov Monastary and Les Moules Belgian beer bar. Have a blast!