After living for 2.5 years in CZ, it was time to visit Plzeň (which I’ll refer to using the English name Pilsen), city of the most famous Czech beer and puppets galore. I was so happy to finally make it there with Ondra, on a bright sunny day:
Pilsen is the home of Pilsner Urquell, a “national” Czech beer (along with Starobrno) that is exported all over the world. The brewery Plzeňský Prázdroj is responsible for a lot of the tourism to this city of 170,000, which was also the European capital of culture in 2015. I heard they were pretty proud of that 🙂
A main focal point of the city is the beautiful Republic Square. Its three golden statues also function as fountains in warm weather, and they take the shape of the three city symbols; an angel, a greyhound, and a camel, which are connected to the legend behind the city’s founding and are on its emblem. I’d guess (from left to right): dog, angel, camel – though I could have sworn the first one was the Hebrew letter gimmel (ג) and the third one looked a bit like a shortened chet (ח).
Meanwhile, dominating the center of the square is the Cathedral of St. Bartholemew, which dates to about 1295. It was made in the Gothic style and has the tallest church tower in CZ!
Moving right along,
America may run on Dunkin…
But Czechia. Runs. On. Pilsner.
A lot of Czechs (at least the Moravians I know) will disagree with that. They think Pilsner is too mainstream and expensive (mainly expensive) and that the taste doesn’t justify the price.
Ale podle mého názoru… That’s because you didn’t drink it in Pilsen! 🙂
Unmasking Beer from a Famous Czech City
Most people who order a beer just want a beer. A nice refreshing golden drink, a casual drink with friends, maybe with some foam on the top to supplement your mustache, or to pretend you have a mustache, as the case may be. But you are missing out on the finer details, the many different ways a beer can be tapped. Czechs are beer connoisseurs and they like to have choices (just kidding, if you get anything less than the typical half pint hladinka they will probably think you are a wuss – real men never get 0,3L!). But, for example, if you can’t drink or you just want a taste of the foam, you can get mlíko (“milk”) – a pint glass of foam – or šnyt – a half glass of foam. These informative charts were in menus all over the city; they really care about the education of their tourists! 😀
Part 1: U Mansfelda
U Mansfelda is a well-rated restaurant and winery in the center of Pilsen. It’s also expensive – and delicious – as hell.
On the left: an assortment of pork meat with škvarkový dumplings. On the right: pork knee with seasoned mashed potatoes. Czechs have a superpower which allows them to leave no sauce on the plate.
One thing that’s always inexpensive is beer, so we settled down for our first try here and ordered the classic Pilsner and a tmavý (dark) Master, another option from Plzeňský Prázdroj.
Side note: While bottled beer lists the percentage of alcohol, Czech beers are actually measured by “degrees.” Take it from the Czech Beer Guide:
The strength of your lager is measured in the Balling or Plato scale and is expressed as a weight percentage of sucrose and is used to indicate the percent by weight of extract (sucrose) in a solution. A 10 degree states that a wort is 10 degrees Plato (or Balling) and it means that if the extract in solution were 100% sucrose, it would be 10% of the total weight. Not that easy to grasp but a 10 degree beer is about 4% alcohol and a 12 degree is about 5%. These are by far the most common but not the only types. Primator’s Exclusive 16° is 6.5% alcohol and 19° Porter from Pernštejn is 8% alcohol!
So the classic Pilsner is about 10 or 11 degrees, while the Master was 18!
Ondra is not a Pilsner fan, and I am. He was completely surprised by the taste of fresh tapped Pilsner and we both agreed it was somehow better – sharper and slightly more bitter. Meanwhile, the darker one was light and caramelly.
I loved the restaurant decor. The walls were plastered with newspaper clippings from Czech history and specifically news related to beer and the Pilsner brewery. This was my favorite:
This advertisement touts all the benefits of beer – sugar for energy! Yeast with Vitamin B – sooo important for strength and growth! Get the most for your money! And it ends with a nice catch phrase: “Proto – není nad pivo.” There’s nothing above (better than) beer.
Part 2: Lokál
This is a Czech chain which as far as I’ve seen can be found in Prague, Brno, and Pilsen. However, the atmosphere is consistent no matter where you visit it. Glossy wooden tables, spare and geometrical design, pop culture references. In the Pilsen location, the walls show funny, messily-drawn cartoons about various topics.
Our tab had a section for large and small beers, which the waiter checks off as you drink. But our two-beer tab was disappointingly un-Czech. We were not content to sit and brew; we needed to hop around, so to speak…
Though I think this was the point that Ondra started to rethink his new Pilsner Renaissance (a bit too much of a good thing?), I thought our Pilsners were the perfect complement for a couple rounds of cards.
Part 3: Brewhemian
This “pivstro” has a mascot of a crowned lion on top of a hop. The cuteness drew me to it, along with the similarity to the name of this blog (obviously I got there first)…
We also wanted to try some craft beer in Pilsen and we picked the perfect place for IPAs, one red and one golden. They even made their own fish and chips with home-cut fries and curry mayo – way better than anything I had in London 😛
Beer is used to balance greasy Czech food, and it couldn’t have done a better job. I have to admit, living here has made me love fruity and bubbly IPAs even more.
Part 4: Plzeňský Prazdroj
The entrance to *the brewery itself* looks very royal:
The uneducated pseudo-European in me was like BRANDENBURG GATE! –groan–
And something I found really cool, the entrance to the Pilsner Urquell visitor’s center is the name of the brewery lit through a wall of green beer bottles:
Checking out the brewery grounds, we waited for our tour to start.
Our tour took us on a journey of the brewery’s history to the modern day, starting with the components of beer (a refresher course is always good), including water, barley/wheat, hops, yeast, malt.
We got to taste hops, which are incredibly bitter. Well, what would you expect?
The gigantic rooms of defunct brew tanks:
I did try, in vain, to pull open the doors and turn the ship captain-like wheels.
The processing facilities:
It was an enormous room with tons of equipment – industrial conveyor belts and futuristic flumes criss-crossing here and there. We watched recycled bottles be washed and sorted – it was hypnotizing! – and here are bottle caps making their way through sorting. In my next life I want to be the guy whose job it was to wear goggles and take off soggy labels that didn’t fully come off the washed bottles. So relaxing and mindless, and I bet it involves free beer.
Not difficult to be claustrophobic there.
While it had the classic golden color, this unfiltered beer had a different taste – full and sharp, definitely a contrast to the milder bottled version. We would have stayed for a few rounds, but only one beer was on the house here before we were ushered up from the cellars. I think Ondra and I both agreed this was the best version of Pilsner – secret and taboo things are always more exciting.
Before we left, we ate lunch at one of the largest restaurants in Czech Republic: Na Spilce! It’s right across from the brewery. Opened in 1992, it was built in former fermentation cellars and has 550 seats, all made out of beautiful dark wood and placed close together in a big dining space – you feel crowded and in an island of your own all at the same time. Also, when you take a brewery tour, you get a voucher for a free beer.
So yes, we started and ended our trip with Pilsner, and the taste was nicely carbonated and consistent with our first try.
I say this a lot, but I swear that my meal here was one of the best I have ever had. I went all the way to the website to retrieve the description again: Spaetzle (which I think is technically German) with shredded duck, carrot, celery and spring onion. The waiter said that it’s cooked in broth, which accounts for the intense savory flavor. MŇAM.
And yes, Ondra was very embarrassed by me taking pictures of my food. But I couldn’t help it.
Czenglish bonus! You can’t even relax with some coffee and cake without noticing some language faux pas. Try to spot it 😛
What do you think of Pilsner Urquell?