Harley Zipori – Travel Warning: Craft Brewers have taken over Prague
Who would have thought that craft beer would take off like it did in the Czech Republic.
When I give it some thought, I imagine that some people were not surprised. I mean let’s be honest, what do I really know about Czech beer drinking habits. It was hard for me to grasp that the Czech people would be willing to pay more money for a better version of what they have been drinking their whole lives, much less beer that tastes completely different. After all, this is a country with very inexpensive but good quality beer. The country that invented Pilsner, the most popular beer style in the world.
My previous impression of craft beer culture developing in Europe was that countries without a strong beer culture were ripe for the boutique craft beer explosion. I discovered this in Sweden and blogged about it a few years ago
I visited the Czech city of Brno back in 2013 and wrote about that visit where I saw the seeds of the craft brewing movement. Recently I returned to Prague, the Czech capital, attending a professional conference and exploring the city in my spare time.
Of course beer was at the top of the list and even before I arrived I had planned on taking the visitors tour of theStaropramen Brewery. The tour was very high-tech and entertaining, exploring the history of the brewery and how Staropramen beers are made. They even had a bag of dried hops that you could rub between your hands and breathe in the fragrance.
The tour ended at the brewery pub and we all got a half liter of one of styles served in the pub. I chose the Granat, an amber lager in the same category as Israel’s beloved Goldstar but at a completely different level. I asked the friendly barman Lukas to take a picture of me in front of the bar. A selfie just wouldn’t do it justice. The pub seems to operate at all usual hours and has a food menu. Given that there were at least 5 or 6 beers when I was there, it is worth multiple visits.
Staropramen Premium lager is available in Israel both in bottles and on tap at some selected pubs and restaurants. It is clean and refreshing and a good representative of the classic Czech Pilsner.
I was staying in the Andel area in the Prague district called Smichov. Andel is across the river from the Old Town of Prague and a bit south of Prague Castle. It used to be heavily industrial but today the only signis the Staropramen Brewery. They tore down some factories and built a modern area with a hotel, offices and a large mall, the Nový Smíchov. The older houses surrounding the area seem to have been refurbished and the area has shops, restaurants, pubs, clubs and lots of people. It has good transportation to other parts of Prague.
Walking back to the hotel from the brewery tour I saw “Beertime” written on a sign in the entrance to an interior courtyard. There I found my first great discovery in Prague: a lovely craft brew pub and restaurant. Beertime has 14 beers at any time. The menu changes on a daily basis. When I looked at the menu online and compared it to the first time I was there, I saw only 4 beers were the same.
The motto of Beertime prominently written on the wall by the bar is “Any time is beer time”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Given that Beertime was a 2 minute walk from the hotel, I found myself going there as often as I could. I took Karol, a friend from Slovakia, who could explain the Czech beer styles. He agreed that the beers there were quite good and we went back the next night with some colleagues from Prague.
The Beertime menu is a good example of what you can find in the Czech craft brew scene. The craft brewers are equally dedicated to producing their versions of traditional Czech beers and styles made popular by craft brewers in other countries, especially the American Pale Ales and India Pales Ales. My last beer at Beertime was a classic German Weisse made by a brewery called Hoppy Dog that caught the true spirit of the German Weiss beers.
And all that was just the first day…
Actually I left something out from that first day. When I arrived and before the Staropramen tour I needed lunch. So I went to Bernard Pub Anděl. I had visited the pub back in February during a very short trip to Prague that didn’t allow any personal explorations. So heading back was a logical move. Bernard is a small Prague brewery and the pub features their own beers. They are the classic Czech styles in a friendly pub environment. The beers are tasty but to my somewhat undeveloped tastes, not very different than other Czech beers.
A few days later when exploring the old part of Prague, I stumbled on the Fat Cat Pub and Brewery. This is a large, airy restaurant pub with a small selection of craft beers. Two of these brewed for the pub. There I tried a Fat Cat Ale which was a nice American style pale ale and a Fat Cat Summer Ale, which was a lighter beer suitable for nice Prague summer day, which it definitely was.
The fact that craft beer was taking over Prague was beginning to sink in.
The next day, I went to lunch at the Globe Bookstore and Café. There, with my breakfast burrito, I ordered the American Pale Ale they offered. It was very nice and turned out to be brewed by a venerable small Prague brewery, the Vinohradský Pivovar. Pivovar is Czech for brewery which you learn very fast when looking for craft beer in Prague.
But wait, I’m not done! At the Globe I saw a local English language tourist magazine. There I found I had missed the Zizkov Beer Harvest festival the previous week. There was also a Microbrew Festival at Prague Castle that night that I knew I had to pass on. Such is life.
The magazine mentioned the Naplavka food market on the river not far from the Globe. So I went on down there and just by chance arrived during a beer festival. A rather large one. It was the kind of festival that requires paying for a special glass before you could buy any beers but I would guess there at least 30 breweries with on average 4 to 6 beers per brewery. It was overwhelming. I had to pass on the festival and just wander up and down the booths marveling at the varieties of beer offered.
I had an agenda for my last day and a tight schedule so I went off to explore the less visited areas of Prague with plans to end up at the Zlý časy. This had been advertised as having 48 types of craft beer on tap. I mean, how could I NOT go? The pub is divided into two bars three floors with different taps at each bar. I tasted 2 beers at the smaller bar: a rauchbier made with smoky malt and a Kellerbier, both from small breweries in Germany. Both were excellent examples of middle European beers.
By the end of the day my head was reeling with thoughts of the beers I had tasted, the sights I had seen and mostly by the hundreds of beers I had not been able to taste.
I have decided to revive a Facebook page I created years ago and never did anything with. I call it after the name I gave my beer for the Samuel Adams Longshot Festival a few years ago: Maof Beer. I will fill out the info on the page and post my blogs there. I will also use the page to write short updates in real time about my beer discoveries.