Tall, Dark and Frothy

Local Breweries are the Harvesters of National Pride

By Thomas Sloan

Pilsner Urquell was the first pilsner beer in the world.Photo courtesy of barclayperkins.blogspot.cz.

Pilsner Urquell was the first pilsner beer in the world. Photo courtesy of barclayperkins.blogspot.cz

For nearly two decades, Czechs have consumed more beer per capita than any other nation folk in the world. In 2011, they consumed 1,779 kiloliters, which would mean the average Czech citizen drank 37 gallons of the stuff per year, which means a little more than a traditional can a day.

But although most visitors to the Czech Republic are only familiar with a handful of its most popular beer brands — Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, Kozel, and Gambrinus — there are over 450 different beers produced in the Czech Republic by nearly 100 breweries.

The first written mention of beer-brewing in the Czech lands goes back to 993 AD at the Brevnov Monastery. Before technology allowed for large breweries to deliver vast amounts of beer throughout the country, families would brew their own. When they excelled at the art of brewery, they would start to share with others. This grew into a source of communal pride for towns and villages in Bohemia, and of course also served as a great excuse to get together and enjoy each other’s company (and beer!). This pride of and love for beer is still present among many Czechs today.

“Other drinks, they are imported, even the water sometimes. But the beer is ours, and it is good, so we drink it.”

In an attempt to discover for myself what makes Czech beer so special, I went to three of the older breweries in Prague, where I sampled their goods and picked their brains.

U Medvidku

The first stop was U Medvidku. Located in Prague’s Old Town and founded in 1466, the restaurant/hotel/microbrewery produces 12 different types of beer. Prmysl Zaruba, the manager on duty, cited pride as the main source for beer’s popularity in the country. “Other drinks, they are imported, even the water sometimes. But the beer is ours, and it is good, so we drink it.” When asked why he thought it was so special, he said, “It’s a natural process. We brew it with our own ingredients, our own process, and our own recipe. It’s been the same process since the 19th Century [the last time that their brewing process changed], so we have a special tie to it. It’s family, it’s community”. When I went on to taste their most popular beer, the Medvidku 1466, I could see what he meant. The beer has a sense of tradition about it, and I knew that it tasted and looked the same as it had almost 600 years ago. The pop­top cap and dark, thick glass add to this unfiltered beer’s raw authenticity. A dark amber color, it pours thick but well and produces a solid head of about two inches. The smell and taste is dominated by the hops, but some fruity overtones and malt flavor combine to make a smooth tasting beer. Definitely one for the cold winter nights, those who enjoy a full-bodied beer will have a good time with this one.  For those who don’t care for stronger beers with defined bitterness, you may want to try one of their other options. Their bottled beers will run you about 50kc a pop.

U Fleku

Next, I went to U Fleku in New Town. In business since 1499, the brewery/pub only serves one beer: it’s renowned dark lager. Yet, perhaps U Fleku is more well know for it’s popularity with visitors to the Czech Republic, as you won’t find many locals here due to the prices — .4L goes for 59kc — and their propensity to house large tourist groups. There, I talked to long time bartender Patrik Dudak, who attributes beer’s popularity to its ability to bring people together. “For the people who make the beer and the people who drink it, it is a nice excuse to get together and enjoy each other.” When I asked him what he made of the Czech Health Minister’s recent comments about attempting to get Czech to consume less hops
in order to improve health, he didn’t take too kindly to. “It won’t affect many people. They will still drink beer, but we’re past that period.  Nobody wants the government to tell them what to do anymore.” And with that, I opted to get a taste of their dark lager. The color is a few shades light of black and the thick, beige head compliments the darkness of the liquid. The taste is a complex mixture of malty sweetness tinged with some chocolate overtones. A thicker beer, a mouthful of the dark lager reveals a smooth and satisfying taste that lingers longer than expected.

Overall, it’s a unique hearty beer that deserves a taste, especially in the traditional beer hall setting for a feel of authenticity.  For those who don’t enjoy dark beers, I recommend you choose one of the lighter options.

Beer is one of the Czech Republic's most prized products. Photo courtesy of www.saveur.com.

Beer is one of the Czech Republic’s most prized products.
Photo courtesy of http://www.saveur.com

Novomestsky Pivovar

The last stop was Novomestsky Pivovar in New Town. Their facility is quite large and covered in beer memorabilia, old brewery tools, and the logo, which is splattered around the restaurant. I talked to Zoltau Orucska, a manager at the restaurant/brewery. He enjoys the small brewery style. He said, “We serve a different beer. We don’t have to make a boring tasting beer like the big companies do.” Despite that, he doesn’t buy into the idea that Czechs drink more beer than anyone else, saying, “Beer has become a tourist attraction here, which is good, but probably makes the statistics a little wrong.” As with the other old breweries, Novomestsky Pivovar’s beer comes in the traditional dark glass with a lever top. Having just sampled a dark lager, I elected to sample the 11 Degree light lager for 38kc. Unlike the previous two beers, this unfiltered beer came in a cloudy, golden color. The aroma was fruity, mostly tasting like banana, and a thin head settled on top before I took my first sip.

Fruity, hoppy, and well carbonated, this beer is fun to drink. The bitterness of the hops played well with the fruity flavors and has a crisp finish. As a more general lager, this beer is sure to please many a pallet, but it’s possible for more experienced drinkers to pass it off as unoriginal.

Thomas Sloan is in the class of 2015 at Wake Forest University. His hometown is Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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Categories: Fall 2013 Issue Number 3

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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