If you meander slowly through the streets, you can make your way through rows of colorful apartment buildings to the classic Starobrno Brewery, loved by some… and also loathed by some… of the locals.
(I was told that to the naive, drinking Starobrno means a fun next day on the toilet. All right, so it’s not craft beer, and it’s not even the best Czech beer, but I don’t think it’s thaaaaat bad…)
The brewery is quite large, taking up a whole block off of Mendel Square, and recognizable by its green logo.
I took a tour with my Czech class, which started with an older guide looking at us sternly while some of the students conversed in Russian, and warning us to only walk within specially chalked lines while walking in the brewery street.
Here, a pipe pours old, used malt into a truck. From there, it’s given to farm animals. Ecological!
When you enter the brewery, you see some large tanks and informative signs explaining the ingredients of beer. Our guide told us that the brewery produces more than 1.3 million hectare-litres per year. Of those, a majority is bottled and sold and the rest is reserve. The brewery has 22 tanks, with a volume of 40,000 hectare-litres each, and it produces 400,000 hectare-litres of beer every hour.
As for its origins, the brewery was founded in the 1870s by Germans. After 1945, all Germans were kicked out, and in the process of Czechifying, it became identified with “Old Brno” (I was not able to get a clear answer on whether the name was different before then). After Socialism, the brewery was nationalized. Capitalists are responsible for modernizing and automatizing production, making the whole process what it is today.
If you’re lucky, you get to peer into the tanks and see the mixture of water and barley mixing together like molten gold, and you can smell a musky, malty, grainy smell.
Starobrno uses local water and hops in keeping with its location. The popular light beer is stored at 3 degrees Celsius. The brewery produces a blue-colored, blueberry-flavored beer called Modré Komety (after the Brno hockey team), but only when they win (so… not that often 😉 and not much is left for the general public because the team drinks it all before they can ship it out.
We walked through the brewery, getting information on the purpose of all of the rooms. I was mesmerized by all of these pipes, which variously transport air (vzduh), carbon dioxide, water (voda), beer (pivo), yeast (kvasnice), and wort (mladina).
Thankfully it doesn’t look like there’s any chance of them criss-crossing.
Walking in between the buildings, you could see all the beer in crates waiting to be shipped, including the many different sub-brands the brewery owns (and in fact, Starobrno itself is owned by Heineken).
The most interesting part could be the packaging room, where many machines wait to form, wash, label, pack, and break down plastic and glass bottles.
There are very few actual brewery workers nowadays because almost everything is automated. And watching, you can see that it’s all unbelievably efficient. It was fascinating, really.
The tour entitles you to two free small beers in the adjacent pub. Other than that, the pub is very expensive (though beautiful – there was an upside-down Christmas tree all made of green glass bottles), so I wouldn’t drink there. However, I did discover some interesting alternates to some very traditional Czech spirits (most made with fermented fruit):
You can buy these at the nearby R. Jelínek spirit store and they are well worth it – they made great Christmas gifts!
I think the brewery tour was worth it too. In large groups you pay a mere 100 czk for entry, and the guide was knowledgeable, although he was prone to tangents about how terrible the Germans were. 😛 If you live in Brno and you like beer, in my opinion Starobrno is passable and contrary to many opinions, it will not kill you. Brewery tours get you a little closer to the heart of the place where you are, and this beer is certainly a city institution!