December 6, 2009

2JB Interlude: Prague Pints

This recent article in The New York Times reminded me that I have been remiss in posting about the many delightful beers I sampled during an October trip to Prague. It was a while back, but luckily I took notes (and had beers worth remembering).

9/25/09: Our first day in the Czech Republic, and we need to work through the jet lag. After touring the sights in Prague's Jewish Quarter, we stopped to have local fare for lunch. Along with my goulash I had a mug of Pilsner Urquell, the country's #1 brand. For my 1st in-country brew, I choose the one that's a mix of the brewery's light & dark varieties (sort of a Czech black and tan).

I am woozy well before the initial sip, but it's not hard to tell how delicious and refreshing it is. Without this beer, I might not have made it through the time-zone shifts of the day.

9/26/09: While planning the trip, my wonderful wife tracked down and booked an excursion to the heart of it all: the Pilsner Urquell brewery. We woke up early, joined our tour group in the middle of the city and were bussed to the outskirts. When we arrived, it was like the beer equivalent of the Magic Kingdom.

They had displays of all the beers the company makes (it's part of a larger conglomerate you just might have heard of: SABMiller) and even the vending machines dispensed fresh brews.

We toured the facility, and it reminded me what a small operation we run in the kitchen and basement (not that there's anything wrong with that). In the keg room, we got shot-glass-size samples of the regular Pilsner--kind of stingy, but still refreshing and yummy.

Of course, the Pilsner Urquell brewery has an on-site brew pub serving...Pilsner Urquell beers that are fresh as can be. Along the way, I discovered that there was another homebrewer on the tour: Joss, who does his thing in Seattle (Hi Joss--sorry this took so long to post!). I had a pint of Kozel, which is their dunkel/black beer. It was richly flavored but not as heavy as it might look.

Next, we went from the brewery to a nearby Beer Museum. Now, I don't say this lightly...but by the time we got there, I was kind of beer'd out for the moment. Admission to the museum included a token that was good for a beer in the (of course) attached pub. I chose to hold onto it as a souvenir.

9/27/09: Back in the city, we go about our tourist business, visiting museums and historical sights. On our afternoon break, I order up something I'd been looking forward to: a Budvar, aka the Original Budweiser. There's a longstanding chicken/egg dispute between the Budvar and Budweiser brands, but suffice to say it's not hard to guess which one is better. The Budvar Dark I ordered was rich but light-bodied, similar to a porter. I quaffed it at an outside table at the Green Tomato restaurant while the missus hit a museum that didn't strike my fancy. It wasn't a contest, but I totally won.

9/28/09: Our last full night in Prague was full indeed. After lots of touring around, we finally went to a spot near our hotel I'd been eyeing--a little hole-in-the-wall joint with a sign that said "Jazz Bar." I like both of those words plenty, and figured we couldn't go wrong...well, we didn't exactly go wrong, but with no live music (just an iPod-powered sound system pumping out old rhythm-and-blues) and no beers on tap, Jazz Bar was a bit of a letdown. I had a bottle of regular ol' Pilsner Urquell, which wasn't itself a letdown at all, even if the flavor was already starting to seem kind of standard.

9/29/09: We're booked on an evening train out of Prague (headed to Amsterdam...more on that later), so we pack our bags, leave them at the hotel and climb up to the city's top tourist locale, the Prague Castle. While there, we luck onto a terribly terrific little restaurant, and I have the #1 meal of the whol trip: veal schnitzel, potatoes that are mashed w/onions and veggies, and a Krusovich Dark, which tastes a bit like the darker Urquell. At that moment, I'm a pretty happy dude.

But I should note that while the Krusovich was delightful, it's not technically my last Prague brew. No, that would be the bottle of Budvar I bought on the train, which just barely fit into the tiny drink holder in our tiny sleeper car.

In the few days we spent in the ciyt, Prague's beers were not as wide-ranging as what was on offer in Scotland...but not a bit disappointing, either. The Czechs have figured out how to brew a few things very, very well, and brew them often.

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