The Czech Republic is rich in brewing traditions and is actually the country with the highest consumption of beer per capita in Europe. Each place here is proud of its beer, which was made according to customs and rules created in the Middle Ages. Everyone heard about Budweiser from the city of České Budějovice or Pilsner from Plzen, and Europeans have been drinking for years Staropramen, originally produced since 1869 in the Smihov neighbourhood of Prague. However, it is quite a special experience to spend time in Prague by exploring various breweries that have their own tradition of production.
The Czechs drink 165 litres of beer per capita annually, placing them at the world's top. Brewing in Bohemia has a long and important history. Some pubs are known to have existed in the city of Brno in 1118, and České Budějovice and Plzeň have a tradition from 13th century. Hop has been bred in this area for a long time and has been used to produce beer since the 12th century. In all likelihood, such a beer was not similar to today's concept of this drink. It was not until 1842 that standard beer was brewed in Czech Republic, thanks to a German baker, Josef Groll, who was employed in a brewery in Plzeň. Thanks to his experience and knowledge, Pilsner was born, the first light beer ever produced. This beer became instant success and was started to export immediately. There were even special beer trains that took Pilsner from Prague to Vienna and Paris!
The beer, known to everyone, consists of four main ingredients: water, hops, yeast and barley (or wheat in the case of German Weissbier). In keeping with German beer purity laws (Reinheitsgebot), everything looks very simple. Of course, it is not. As it is not even a walk to the main Czech town after a few beers. However, Prague has to be met on foot, from pub to pub. There are a lot of them, divided into microbreweries, pubs, bars and beer gardens, each with their own atmosphere. Winter weather is a special time for visiting a brewery because the friendly pub environment is best understood when it is full of guests.
U Medvídků - An Old Brewery Heritage
The Prague breweries have the same old tradition and are one of the gastronomic most interesting parts of the Czech Republic. Among the most popular are pubs that have a small brewery as an integral part. One of them is also the oldest preserved brewery in Prague - U Medvídků. The roots of this brewery date back to the 15th century. Jan Nedvidek opened the brewery in 1466 and his family produced beer until 1898. They could no longer compete with the big breweries and the family retired, but its last brewer Karel Vendulak took over the brewery and opened the first Tingl-Tangl cabaret. Socialism has almost destroyed the building and nationalized ownership, but in the 1990s the brewery was returned to the original owners and to their full glory. U Medvídků you can see the entire production process of Czech beer, as well as equipment that is no longer used, such as open fermenting tanks, wooden barrels and manual packaging in bottles with an original patent.
However, not to destroy all traditions, the brewery decided to continue producing Oldgott Barrique, which is kept in wooden barrels and is 13 per cent stronger. Usually, in the Czech breweries you will often find the question 10 or 12 per cent. It is not, as is usually the case, about the percentage of alcohol (it would be very cheerful in the Czech Republic to drink such beers!). It is so called Balling scale that determines the amount of malt before fermentation. Ten per cent with less malt, and 12 is reverse. However, you can calculate approximate alcohol level if you divide the percentage with 2,5. Thus, 10 per cent beer has some 4 per cent of alcohol. Too many maths? After a couple of Oldgotts, it does not matter anymore! After all, sometimes you can try X33, the strongest beer in the world, which is recommended as a digestif.
U Medvídků, you can enjoy excellent beer tastings, starting with an incredible champagne beer, or a sparkling beer obtained by connecting winery techniques with beer liqueur! Then it is great to try Medvídkovské bílé, a light non-filtered wheat beer that is made according to the medieval recipe and contains 4.7 per cent alcohol, or beer "1466" (called by the year when beer started to be brewed here) which is unfiltered and unpasteurized and especially bitter beer with 6.1 a per centage of alcohol that matches well with various cheeses and toasts. Then you can order Oldgott or Blackgott, especially dark beer with additional fried barley. These are the beers for a strong Czech main dish, such as a pork neck marinated in dark beer. The end goes to the X33. U Medvídků there are also special kinds such as Autumn Beer (dark beer with plum flavour, 6.5 per cent alcohol), Kestenovo beer (especially for Christmas, 6.6 per cent alcohol), Růženka (light beer for summer months, 3, 9 per cent alcohol) or Valentýn, for which people say it is a beer of love. The brewery also has its own hotel above the pub, which for some reason is particularly popular among Russian guests.
U Fleků - beer, Becherovka and Croats
Every Croat that visits Prague will at least try to go to the very famous and important brewing institute U Fleků. The reason is not great food, own beer or live music, but the Split football club Hajduk. Namely, in this place, probably in a very happy atmosphere, in 1911 was founded the Croatian football club Hajduk Split, which was honoured in 2001 with plaque located in the beer garden. But even if you do not like football, U Fleků is a great place to taste Czech food and beer.
In the halls of this pub you can feel almost royal, which is not without a historical reason. The first written documents about this site date back to 1499 and this is the only brewery in Central Europe that has been working for over 500 years. It was nationalized during communism, but the Brtník family returned their property in 1991 and continued to work. The beautiful interior of this historic house was a meeting place known in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the names of the halls say for themselves: the hall with large glass windows is Václavka, and there is also a Knight hall that exudes a romantic style. On the other hand, there are quite "basic" names such as Jitrnice (sausage) or Kufr (suitcase). All in all, eight halls and one large garden can accommodate 1200 guests.
They enjoy a restaurant that offers old Bohemian dishes, all of which are rich with meat. If you are not overly hungry, you can easily order some cold appetizer, which often consists of pickled vegetables, including pickled sausages! U Fleků offers potato soup and garlic soup, which can be good at the end of the gathering, especially if you drank some glass more! Huge portions can influence you to share your meal, even if it's a great roast duck with cabbage, followed by bread, potatoe or bacon dumplings, which is a typical Czech dish!
The mentioned dumplings are a regular addition to every dish you can come across in Prague. They go well with goulash, beef with cream (svíčková na smetaně, you cannot go more Czech than this), classic pork roast or roasted sausages. But U Fleků you will feel great if you order a roast pork knuckle with vegetables, which is always served with a large knife stuck in the meat. And if you do not know what to choose from all these meat delicacies, it's best to have a home specialty: roasted duck pieces, pork and sausage, white and red cabbage, and bread dumplings and potatoes. But what about the beer?
U Fleků it's all very easy! You do not need to think over too much choice, as there is only one beer, Flekovský ležák 13 °, dark and excellent beer that easily blends with all the food in the restaurant. The beer is compulsively combined with some hard drink, mostly becherovka or some brandy. The recipe is simple: a lot of beers, which are cut with a shot, to get a lot of food, and again from scratch. It can save you not to crawl on all four from U Fleků when drinking ends! There is also a wine ticket, though no one remembers when somebody ordered wine here. The pub has organized tours and there is a beer museum where you can get acquainted with the history of the brewery in Prague and the Czech Republic and see numerous brewery tools. During your stay, you will often hear live music; if nothing else, having fun will harmonize you, and every contribution to his effort is, of course, welcome. And remember, the beer comes one after the other until you put the beer mat on the cup: it's a sign that there’s been enough of drinking!
Konvikt Pivnice - an abbey brewery
While the former beer bars are likewise popular among the Czechs and their guests, Prague has dozens of smaller and relatively unknown breweries, such as the Konvikt Pivnice. Do not be afraid, the name is not related to the convicts, but faithfully follows the original meaning of the word. In Latin, convictus means living together and refers to the times when the young Jesuits lived and ate together here. This place is extremely rich in church history. In the 12th century here was the church of St. Bartholomew, why the street is called Bartolomejska.
Here you can try the classic Pilsner, but the food is phenomenal. It is best to start with a mixed bowl of pickles, and here you can try varied and interesting dishes: old-fashioned smoked sausage with mustard, horseradish and fresh bread, sautéed sausage with spinach and onions, homemade snacks, noble cheese marinated with hot peppers, garlic, caramelized nuts and cranberry sauce, and you should not forget those gorgeous thinly sliced pork chops, served with horseradish, mustard and sour cucumbers!
For the main dish they have an excellent pork knuckle with cabbage, mustard and turkey or a lightly roasted chicken breast, which is offered with hot peppers, potatoes and sour cream. If you are not accustomed to large amounts of heavy food, it is best to split a meal, or take soured sausages roasted in a dark beer.
Of course, these are three randomly chosen pubs among many others in Prague. We visited them as part of the Prague Beer Tour, organized by a tourist agency bearing the same name.
Photos by: Taste of Adriatic, U Medvidku, U Fleku & Konvikt Pivnice