170 years ago a brewing revolution took place in the ancient Czech town of Pilsen, a revolution that changed the world of beer forever. A group of dedicated brewers put their skills and their ambition together to create the world’s first ever golden beer, the original Pilsner lager, a beer that still sets and defines the standard for 70% of the worlds brewing output today.
And so it was that a team of colourful personalities from Toronto banded together for a sud sloshed ride from Pilsen to Prague with Pilsner Urquell. I was thrilled to be a member of #TeamPilsner, joined by Franco Stalteri Mr. Charlies Burgers, Stefania Yarhi fashion blogger at Textstyles, Amanda Blakley fashionista and co-founder of The Society Global, Chuck Ortiz Editor in Chief at Acquired Taste, David Ort author of The Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook, Anton Potvin sommelier extra-ordinary and Chef Grant van Gameren from Bar Isabel recently awarded the fine title of Canada’s Best New Restaurant by enRoute Magazine.
The group arrived in Prague in the mid afternoon, groggy after a redeye via London Heathrow. We were greeted by an Autumnal Bohemia featuring cool breeze, ominous grey clouds and looming timber. Hopping into a private van we jostled and jolted along the highway bound for Pilsen. Moments after sitting in our chairs we were offered ice cold cans of Pilsner Urquell by our cheery and chipper local guide. Non-stop sips of the nation’s most acclaimed beer would become a hallmark of the trip, also popping up during restaurant feasts, brewery tours, hazy beer halls and late night dance-tastic discos. Upon arrival we checked into the Angelo Hotel conveniently located directly across from the Pilsner Urquell Brewery. After a quick “freshen up” the epic Czech beer tour had officially begun…
Pilsen (known as Plzeň to locals) is the Czech Republic’s fourth-largest city. It’s gritty suburbs sprawl across surrounding hills while a lively student population ensures that local pubs provide plenty of opportunities to sample Pilsen’s heritage as the original fountain of eternal golden froth. Our time in Pilsen would be short, a 24 hour whirlwind and beer lovers delight.
We were given a warm welcome by Vaclav Berka, Pilsner Urquell’s Brewmaster who acted as our Czech beer spirit guide. He greeted us with frothy pints of Urquell and walked us through the breweries museum which featured antique brewers pots and loveable mannequins slurping faux beer, a perfect photo op. Our first feast would be a memorable dinner at the breweries on site Restaurant Na Spilce.
The following morning we rolled out of bed and slipped into bar stools. These waking hours were spent under the tutelage of Brewmaster Emeritus Pavel Prucha who demonstrated to the Pilsner Urquell Pour Trilogy which includes: Hladinka (smooth), The Na Dvakrat (crisp) and most unusual Mliko (milk) which offers connoisseurs a pint filled with 100% blanche beer suds.
I squealed with delight, teeth clattering during a horse drawn carriage ride which jostled along cobblestone streets in search of the breweries heritage Water Tower where Pavel enthusiastically explained the importance of quality water obtained “from the source” which helps create the beers superior mouthfeel and flavour profile.
Seeking refuge out of the cold, we warmed up during a quick visit to the breweries on site Cooperage where the countries most skilled Coopers work and play. These gents proudly sport epic moustaches and wield massive lump hammers as they assemble the massive cask barrels used to store Pilsner Urquell deep underground.
Next up we skipped through the Pilsner Urquell’s state of the art brewery where petite antique copper kettles meet their match with their colossal steel neighbours. Heading underground, we marched through the breweries complex system of tunnels hewn from the soft sandstone beneath which serves as storage cellars and ice cave so that the cool temperatures necessary for bottom fermented lagering are available year round.
Our tour of Pilsen concluded with a hearty lunch in a petite workmen’s dining hall located within the underground tunnel system. We were greeted with massive copper jugs, filled with cloudy, fresh unfiltered beer which paired perfectly with the steaming plates which soon spun under our noses. We spent the next hour devouring a traditional feast of Czech dumplings (knedliky) served alongside braised red cabbage and crispy roast duck leg. In between gleeful moments of munch and crunch we swigged our suds and on the odd occasion, paused for a breath of fresh air.
We arrived in Prague after dusk, just as the sun had set and cities pedestrian friendly bridges filled with lovers skipping arm in arm. Our van jolted along cobblestone streets, forcing a jaw drop as we whizzed along the River Vltava. The waterways black mirror like surface first appeared cool but upon further reflection offered up a warm twinkle of lights courtesy of moody Prague Castle. With just under 48 hours in the city, we hit the ground running…
- We spent the next two evenings sleeping soundly at the recently launched boutique design hotel, The Emblem which features a stunning spa offering rooftop views overlooking the city, spacious dining room and funky lobby meets comfy chic living room.
- Tourist Treats: A stroll along the spectacular Charles Bridge, boasting a gallery of 30 statues and originally completed in 1402. Jaw drops at Old Town Square home to the gothic, House at the Stone Bell which will have you wondering, “does Dracula live in that spiney spire?” An afternoon at Prague Castle, a hilltop fortress filled with impressive palaces, churches, galleries and gardens.
- Decadent Feasts: a fine view of the river and Charles Bridge from Kampa Park, feasting at Prague’s iconic and bustling Cafe Savoy and pretty plates at La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise.
- Sipping Suds a la Nighthawk: Prague is best explored after dusk when locals spill into the cities calamitous beer halls, portly pubs and roaring discotheques. My memories of Prague Late Night are a bit blurry of course but one can expect to encounter smoke filled spaces (yes folks, in Czech you can still legally light up indoors which totally feels like a timewarp) where Pilsner Urquell, bottles of absinthe and shots of the local spirit Becherovka help blur night into day.