Like Kafka and Prague Castle, Czech beer is one of these things you can’t miss when you visit Prague and a matter of national pride. Let me invite you to this little quirky beer adventure around town.
Our journey begins in Bulovka, some fifteen minutes outside the center. Besides living here, the only two other reasons to be here are the hospital and the pub. But in fact this isn’t just a regular pub: Pivovar u Bulovky, also known as Richter Brewery, makes their own beer. As you walk in you are welcomed by two big copper vats that reflect a red light on everything in the room; this is where the magic happens.
A little blackboard on the wall lists the beers of the day. I pick the first: it’s a lezak, a typical blond beer at first sight but with elegance and grace that could challenge champagne: a gentle bitterness fills your mouth at the first sip while the light foam caresses your palate. If Czech Republic wasn’t beer heaven I’d think I’m dreaming.
The next beer I’m served is a typical weiss, or wheat beer. The color is cloudy and the taste fuller, yeasty, with some refreshing citrusy notes. Certainly a good representative of the typical Bavarian style beers and great in the summer.
The last beer I taste at Richter Brewery is the medova, a light amber beer enriched with honey. The taste is full and perfectly complemented by a velvety smooth texture.
Mr. Richter must be a perfectionists as the serving temperature strikes a mighty balance between the need for “freshness” and that of being able to catch the subtle nuances of his beers: a little colder and the flavour would be flattened, a little warmer and they’d be less drinkable. Chapeau!
The next part of our beer journey brings us back to the center, to Lokal, the new venue opened under the very successful Ambiente franchisee. The word of the street is that this is now the best Pilsner in town. The place is busy and the sound of glasses clinking fills the big, long hall. Despite the size, the atmosphere is good: it must be the beer.
What makes this place special is that it serves tankove pivo, freshly brewed unpasteurized beer that Plzensky Prazdroj (the maker of Pilsner Urquell) trusts only the best pubs with. But this alone doesn’t make the place unique and perhaps the gist of it is just that the beer-master, Lukas Svoboda, that dared enough to put his name on the menu, might have just found the zen of Pilsner.
Sitting at my table I start with by ordering a mleko, a milk beer. The waiter brings me something looking like a cappuccino in a beer glass; people sitting at the next table stare amused. I give it a sip and I’m lifted up while the roof opens up the and angels start singing. Is this how clouds taste like? Yet this is simply a foamy Pilsner, just so much more divine and fun to drink.
As I land back to the ground I order a normal Pilsner. The color is a bright amber-gold with a medium bitter flavour but it tastes remarkably neater than its sisters served around Prague. Classic.
As if they needed to prove their commitment to Pilsner any more the same beer is served in yet another style: this one goes by šnyt or cut beer. While the milky one is all foam this is just half foam: the difference in taste is hair-splitting but probably of great importance to Czech beer philosophers.
As a dowser searching for water with his rod, the beer vibrations bring us to a little known pub in Prague’s Zizkov neighbourhood: U Slovanske Lipy, one of the few places in town to serve Kout na Sumave that Czech beer expert Evan Rail went on record suggesting it might just be the best beer on this planet. Too bad even the Czechs often ignore it. The bold claim is somehow substantiated by a framed award hanging near the entrance: Best 12° beer in Czech Republic in 2010. Still, winning the Premier League of beers isn’t something to belittle.
The pub itself looks like it stayed the same since the sixties with cork tiles on the wall and a Jimi Hendrix poster. Interestingly the menu sports a degustation flight of all the five beers they have, served in small glasses; I go for that. The range of beers offered goes from the lighter 10° to the heavier dark porter-style beer. The beers here are all unfiltered; the 12° is remarkably good and maybe suggests that the key to understanding this brewer is the low-scale production together with the quality of the ingredients. The porter boasts coffee notes on the nose: an opulent beer and a ladies’ favourite.
Our little beer adventure is sadly coming to an end. The last place we visit is just a short stroll from Prague Castle, inside a monastery. Welcome to the Klasterni Pivovar Strahov.
The first beer I try here is the Amber beer: this is like a stronger Pilsner lost midway to a Belgian-style. This brewery strives to keep it interesting as the next beer I am served is an Indian Pale Ale that hits all the high notes. During the year the Klasterni Pivovar rotates a few seasonal beers: Autumn, Christmas, Easter and Summer all have their special beers. I’m lucky I get to taste the last barrel of the Autumn Dark beer made of freshly harvested hops, like a Beaujolais of beers.
Of all the places visited this is the most expensive but as some recently said, beer in Czech Republic still costs Monopoly money compared to Western Europe. In Prague expect to pay between 30 Czech crowns and 60 for a pint.
Every nation and every country is like a prism with many sides. Beer happens to be one such side of Czech culture and we hope this little guide will help you enjoy an additional dimension to your stay in this beautiful city that is Prague.