Beer lovers making a pilgrimage to one of its historic heartlands, the Czech Republic, would be recommended to tour both its famous breweries and its burgeoning culture of microbreweries.
Historic Pilsen and Budweis
Two destinations that are a given on any Czech brewery tour itinerary are Ceské Budejovice (Budweis in German) and Plzen (Pilsen) the respective homes of the original Budweiser – now more famous as the classic ‘American’ beer – and the “world’s first pilsner” Pilsner Urquell.
Ceské Budejovice is a picturesque south Bohemian city with a large 19th century old town square and two big breweries in Budweiser Budvar and Budweiser Bürgerbräu. Both producers have been involved in legal battles with Anheuser-Busch over the rights to the name, and a taste testing on one of the brewery tours should help you decide who best deserves the title.
A less contentious and arguably more important destination is Plzen, the historic home of pilsner beer. It was here in 1842 that German brewer Josef Groll pioneered the golden lager that became the blueprint for lagers ever after. A vast visitors centre caters for the floods of tourists that recognise and revel in its significance. It is recommended that in addition to sampling the brew at its ‘source’, visitors try the special sweeter, sharper and more aromatic unpasteurised version that is only available in the Czech Republic and can be found at special ‘tank’ pubs.
Bernard and Primátor
For an independent big brewery experience then two noted choices are the Bernard family brewery in Humpolec and Primátor in Náchod. On the edge of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands, Bernard specialises in high quality unpasteurised natural beer including a highly regard dark lager. The innovative and celebrated modern brewery Primátor has helped diversify the Czech beer market with its own wheat beer and stout.
Microbreweries and Brewpubs within Prague
Any faithful Czech brewery tour should present the flip side to its mass market beer production, namely by experiencing the burgeoning microbrewery and brewpub scene, which is where the touring beer taster can sample some of the best, purest and most diverse beer modern Czech Republic has to offer.
Prague is a good place to base an exploration of the region’s more homegrown beer production by both showcasing a wide selection of celebrated brewpubs and in being a perfect jumping off point for trips out of town to the microbreweries that dot the surroundings. Most of these microbrewery establishments serve up their own unique unfiltered pale, dark and amber beers, as well as speciality variations. Decent homely meat-heavy Czech fayre is also a common accompaniment and is perfect for soaking up the slosh.
Some of the city’s noted local brewpubs include Pivovarsky dum, a Nové Mesto microbrewery, the recently founded – and non-smoking – Pivovar Bašta, Richter Brewery at the Pivovar u Bulovky pub, Pražský most u Valšu and the old town’s tiny restaurant and brewery U Medvidku.
The City Limits and Beyon
Once the whistle has been whetted in the capital it is essential to explore some of the array of small regional breweries on its outskirts and beyond; of the 100 plus breweries in the Czech Republic only the brews of around 25 are available on draught in the capital.
Some recommended destinations on the outskirts of Prague include Pivovarský dvur Chýne near the city airport, with its excellent honey-like golden lager and three copper kettles proudly displayed on a stage, and the rustic Berounsky Medved in Beroun, tucked away inauspiciously amongst abandoned military vehicles in an old railway yard.
In Northern Bohemia, the brewpub of the Novosad Glassworks in Harrachov offers the intrepid visitor sterling unfiltered beer made from local spring water in addition to glass-blowing demonstrations, and up in the mountains near the Polish border is the tiny pleasingly primitive Vendelin that uses coal-fired brewing kettles to brew its sugary and fruity beer sourced from water from an on-site spring.
Historic Microbreweries and Unusual Beer Styles
For a sample of historic small scale breweries then visits to the 18th century establishments of Pernstejn Pardubice, 65 miles west of Prague, and the vast Nova Paka brewery to the north-west, will not go amiss. Pernstejn Pardubice is renowned for its classic dark brown super strong porter while Nova Paka brews an unusual hemp beer that has a heady marijuana-like aroma.
For even more beer types visit the Dalesice microbrewery for a rare taste of yeast beer and the new microbrewery Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf which brews several top-fermenting beers, including an English pale ale, an IPA and a Rauchweizen.