The Czechs will tell you that beer is to them what water or bread is to others. Beer is often cheaper than a sparkling water, and there is little that the Czechs could be more passionate about than their beer: It appears in their literature, their history, their everyday lives, and accompanies their heated political discussions. Let's face it; beer is an important part of the Czech soul and psyche.
We set off on a tour of some of the most important Czech breweries. In each, you are given a walk-through of the brewing methods, and even get a tasting of their premium brew. There is nothing like the distinct smell of brewing beer or meandering walks in centuries-old beer cellars.
One of the oldest breweries of the Czech Republic, established in 1517, is the Královsky Pivovar Krusovice (Krusovice 1, Krusovice; tel. 420 313 569 201; www.krusovice.cz; 50 kilometers north-west of Prague). The brewery had its origins when the aristocracy was given permission to brew beer on their own farms. In the sixteenth century Jiri Birka became legendary for brewing good beer, and guests were said to have drank day and night here. During the communist era, the Krusovice brewery became state-owned, until 1993 when it was privatized and it became a part of a multinational consortium. The investor pumped over €100 million into the brewery to modernize it. The tour here takes you through the impressive brew-house, storage cellars, bottling and canning areas. Noted Krusovice beers are Imperial, Dark, Light and a unique Musketeer lager. At the tasting, don't miss the special blend of two beers -- an Imperial dark and Musketeer poured into one glass that mixes to make a beautiful sight.
The Pilsner Urquell Brewery (U Prazdroje 7, Plzen; tel. 420 377 062 888; www.prazdroj.cz; 88 kilomeers south-west of Prague) and adjacent Brewery Museum represent one of the most important breweries of the Czech Republic, both in historic, and in real terms. The development of this beer came about when in 1838 the citizens of the town, fed up with poor quality beer being produced at the time, simply dumped 36 barrels of the brew in front of city hall in protest. The town's brewers united resulting in the establishment of this, the "citizens" brewery. Pilsner, the original pale lager, emerged and is today emulated throughout the world. A tour of this immense complex includes a movie about Pilsner Urquell at the visitors center, the brewery itself, and a peek at the impressive 9 kilometre granite-tiled sandstone fermenting cellars under the brewery. Here, a small amount of beer is made using the same process as when it was discovered in 1842.
The tour at the Zatecky Pivovar (Zizkovo námêstí 81, Zatec; tel. 420 415 710 781; www.zateckypivovar.cz; 60 kilometres north-west of Prague) reveals a rustic traditional brewery, and is less of a sight than the town's nearby hops museum. Housed in a former hops storage and packaging plant, there is an informative exhibition on the history and importance of hops which was an important source of revenue for the town from the middle ages, until the 1950s. The museum exhibits the agricultural equipment used in the cultivation of hops, the dried flower of which is used in the brewing process.
Tours at the Staropramen (Nadrazni 84, Prague; tel. 420 257 191 336; www.staropramen.com) begins with a short history of brewing beer in Bohemia, then the history of Staropramen itself, which dates back to the year 1869. Visitors are shown the process of brewing beer, the mashing of tun to the hopped wort, then sent to the heating vessels. Tours last 60 minutes, including beer tasting. In English, German and Czech languages, as well as other languages on demand.
After you've traveled around the Czech Republic, visiting breweries and tasting the variety of beers that the country-side produces, return to the capital where you can get a wide variety of both traditional and colorful micro-breweries that produce a variety of beer, from traditional brew to more creative coffee or vanilla types.
One of the most notable micro-breweries of Prague is U Fleku (Kremencova 11, Prague 2; tel. 420 224 934 019; www.ufleku.cz; Metro: Narodni trida). Founded in 1499, this is one of the most popular micro-breweries in Prague. Let a colorful Milos Ekstein, who claims he is as "old as coal" and U Fleku beer increases your virility, take you on a tour of the brewery that is decorated with small sculptures, frescoes and wall drawings.
Our favorite Czech beer (and this is after downing many a good Czech brew during our stay) is from the small historic monastic brewery Klasterni Pivovar Strahov (Strahovské nádvori 301, Prague 1; tel. 420 233 353 155; www.klasterni-pivovar.cz), located a twenty minute tram-ride from the center of Prague. Twenty-something Marek Kocvera, who represents the young generation of Czech brewers, manages this micro-brewery which includes a traditional beer-hall, as well as a more youngish, stylish café-type area. This beer has a piquant, aromatic fruity taste.
U medvidku (Na Perstyne 7, Prague 1; tel. 420 224 211 916; www.umedvidku.cz) is a centuries-old beer hall, and the first to serve Budweiser, Budvar on tap. A century ago the brewery was converted into the first Prague cabaret, and then the biggest beer-hall in the capital.
If you are a more adventuresome sorts, try Pivovarsky Dum (Lipova 15, Prague 2; tel. 420 296 216 666; www.gastroinfo.cz/pivodum) which prides itself on the unusual. In addition to traditional Czech-style classic lager, light or dark beers, you will find such oddities like home-brewed banana beer, coffee, vanilla or sour cherry beer that will likely shock traditional Czech beer lovers!
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