Prague Revisited

In December 2005 I wrote an article on brew-pubs in Prague and, having been back to the Czech Republic a few times in the last two and a half years, I hope that you might be interested in this update.

There have been a number of changes and developments most, I would suggest, for the good but one that is most certainly to the detriment of British beer lovers seeking out some of the Czech Republic’s marvellous beers!

Exchange Rate;This is the bad news! In December 2005 the exchange rate was around 45 Crowns to the Pound but it now hovers around 30. Spare a thought for a retired English chap I know living in Prague who has seen his UK state and private pensions depreciate in value by some 33% in less than 3 years. On the brighter side, what goes down must, hopefully, at some stage come back up and excellent Pivos can still be found for between 60 and 70 pence for a half-litre.

Ticket Inspectors; Do not, under any circumstances, be tempted to “ fare dodge “ on Prague’s public transport system. The fine for not having a valid ticket is now 900 Crowns, the best part of £30, although this is reduced to 750 Crowns if payment is made direct to the ticket inspector. Note that fines can also be levied for luggage. Travel passes remain good value at 100 Crowns for 24 hours, 330 Crowns for 72 hours and 500 Crowns for 5 days. The 119 bus to Dejvicka metro station is still the most economic way of travelling into Prague from the airport. If you are unfortunate enough, like me, to have to buy a LT season ticket in London you will wish that the prices were similar to those in Prague – 4,750 Crowns (£160) for a year and 550 Crowns (£18) for a month for the entire network.

Information about beer in the Czech republic; Now this is where things really have improved. The second edition of The Good Beer Guide to Prague & the Czech Republic was published in 2007. Written by Evan Rail, an ex-pat American journalist living in Prague, the guide is both informative and comprehensive and has lots of excellent photographs.

Any guide book, beer related or otherwise, is going to be out of date in some respects as soon as, if not before, it is published and as highlighted by Evan Rail the Czech brewing industry is going through a period of rapid change. There are a great number of beer related web sites on the Internet, the quality of which vary considerably, and how often are many of them updated? A superb blog, recommended to me by an English and Spanish speaking Czech friend and beer aficionado, that is up-dated on a regular basis is The blogger, an Argentinean teacher who lives in Prague, has an excellent command of the English language and his enthusiasm for Czech beer is evident from the numerous postings on beer, pubs and breweries from across the Czech Republic. Spanish speakers may, should they wish, choose to read the blog in the pivni filosofer’s native tongue.

Anyone interested in Belgian beer finds it difficult to understand why Jupiler and Maes are Belgium’s best selling beers. The Argentine pivni filosofer is clearly puzzled as to why Gambrinus, Radegast, Staropramen and Krusovice beers are so popular in the Czech Republic but with the help of his blog, and Evan Rail’s book, a beer connoisseur can avoid the bland offerings from the big multi-national brewing companies and sample some truly exceptional Czech beers!

Two major developments; In my opinion the two biggest developments in the Czech beer scene over the last couple of years are first, the much greater range of beers that can now be found in Prague – Svijany, Primator, Bernard and Cerna Hora to name 4 of my favourites are all readily available – and second, the increasing availability of kvasnicove pivo – yeast beer. Yeast beer, as detailed in Evan Rail’s book, is standard pilsner –style lager with a dose of young beer – fresh yeast and wort – added after lagering. These “ living “ beers are not to be missed!

Where to drink? Any beer lover visiting Prague is now in the happy position of being “ spoilt for choice “ when it comes to pivnices / hospodas that are well worth visiting. Here are details of four establishments I would suggest that you consider trying out;

1. Pivovarsky klub

Situated at 17 Krizikova, and a only a couple of hundred yards from the Florenc metro station, this fine establishment offers bottled beers from around the Czech Republic, and other parts of Europe, together with 6 ever-changing draught beers including one from its sister establishment, the Pivovarsky Dum. On a recent visit I sampled an Opat 12 and an excellent Podkrkonosske Tmave (dark) for a far from unreasonable 33 Crowns for a half-litre. The food is good and there is an English language menu.

2. Pivovarsky dvur Chyne

This superb brewery is not actually in Prague but I would strongly recommend that you make a trip out to Chyne to try some of the excellent beers on offer at the brewery “ tap “. Take the metro to Zlicin, the western terminus of line B, and then hop on a 347 bus. The buses leave Zlicin at 15 minutes past the hour, but not at 12.15, and it’s 5 stops to the brewery. Note that the buses back to Zlicin depart from the same bus stop!

The head brewer worked in Vietnam for a year, at the Hoavener brewery in Saigon, and has recently hosted a visit from some brewers from the Philippines. He brews a number of seasonal and speciality beers but on a recent visit I sampled the 3 regular beers, these being the svetle, polotmave and cerny. The svelte is pale gold in colour with honey tones, the half-dark polotmave has caramel tones and the outstanding cerny has a smooth texture and a soft, hoppy body with a lingering coffee after-taste. The food is excellent, at 11.40 am on a Tuesday morning in August 2008 the restaurant was three-quarters full, but a menu-decoder would pay dividends unless you can read Czech.

My Czech is rudimentary at best but, roughly translated, the photograph of the sign outside the pub details the opening times, the cost of a set menu and the offer of 1.5 litre take-outs for 50 Crowns. Given that a half-litre in the pub is between 35 and 39 Crowns the take-outs represent exceptional value. A second photo shows the copper brewing vessels.

3. Prvni Pivni Tramway.

Make full use of your travel pass by taking Tram 11, which can conveniently be boarded outside IP Pavlova metro station, down south to the terminus at Sporilov and head into the adjacent Prvni Pivni Tramway. Alongside Gambrinus and Pilsner Urquell you will find Primator’s Hefeweizen – also served at the friendly U Sadu in Zizkov – and one guest pivo. It’s an unusual place, without many tourists, but well worth the journey. Also, if you’re interested in Czech wine as well as Czech pivo take a walk round the nearby lake and you will find an inviting wine lodge offering a variety of interesting Moravian wines at very reasonable prices.

4. Richter Brewery

A little bit off the beaten track at 17 Bulovka, take trams 10,15,24 or 25 to the eponymous stop, but you really must go to the PuB – Pivovar u Bulovky. There is always something different on offer, on a recent visit I tried an excellent ale with a 6.0% Abv and a high carbonation that tasted, without being overly sweet, of strawberries. This was followed by a fine weizen and a decent polotmave. The pub’s flagship beer of Richter lezak, a dark gold lager, is always available and highly recommended. The pivos hover around 30 Crowns for a half-litre and, once again, good food is available. Another exciting photo shows the copper brewing vessels.

So, in conclusion, don’t worry about the exchange rate, Prague beer prices are still more than favourable in comparison with those in West Middlesex, bookmark the pivni filosofer’s blog and make time to travel out to the Czech Republic and try some really excellent pivos!

John Bush -Aug 2008