When in Prague, beer lovers and history buffs alike shouldn’t neglect to take a day trip to Plzeň, where one can marvel at glass blowers, photograph Gothic and Renaissance architecture, go deep underground and, most famously, drink the tastiest Pilsner Urquell around.
The town of Plzeň has been brewing beer since its founding in the 13th century but only became the home of Pilsner Urquell, a game-changing beer that has been unsuccessfully imitated innumerable times since, in the early 19th century. This special beer stakes its claim on the title of first pilsner right in its name; roughly translated, “Urquell” means “original source” in German. While the bittersweet brew is available all over the Czech Republic and the world, a Pilsner drunk in Plzeň is unlike any other. Locals claim it’s the water, but the use of prized Bohemian hops definitely helps.
After buying tickets in an old malt house, start your day right: by exploring the brewery. The tour begins with a video presentation telling of Plzeňský Prazdroj‘s storied past. You are then invited to a room overlooking the bottling area. Here the guide describes the packaging process and the factory’s impressive output. A little more history is provided in the “Hall of Fame,” which displays a portrait of the brewery’s first brewmaster Josef Groll alongside the multitude of awards and honors Pilsner Urquell has won in its lifetime. Next, guests are led down into old cellars where wooden casks of fermenting beer are housed. At this point unpasteurized beer samples are available, drawn straight from the barrels that line the cellar walls. Richly bitter, the samples suggest the smooth sweetness of filtered pasteurized Pilsner Urquell.
After the tour its time to grab a fresh pivo (beer). Na Parkene Beer Pub may be the perfect choice. This old-fashioned Czech pub not only offers more of the deeply hoppy, almost grassy, unpasteurized Pilsner but it also serves the very freshest half-liters of Pilsner Urquell.
You order beer and, seconds later, it sits before you. Like any pint of Pilsner Urquell, it has a radiant golden color and a thick, mother-of-pearl head. Raising a glass, the tour guide calls out, “Na zdraví!” (Cheers!). You follow suit, then lift your beer to your lips. Out from beneath the creamy head crawls a smooth, crisp lager that is simultaneously faintly grassy, subtly sweet, and packed with a welcoming bitterness that kisses your waiting lips. An intensely clean and malty finish begs for another gulp.
This flawless first glass may be enough to distract you from your growling stomach but you don’t have to give up great beer to enjoy a good meal. Simply head to Na Spilce, the brewery’s resident restaurant. Here, you can not only quench your thirst for the Czech Republic’s most notable beer but perfectly compliment your beverage with stick-to-your-ribs Czech classics.
If your time in the Czech Republic is limited and you just can’t stand to leave the stunning capital city of Prague for a day (an understandable quandary), you can still try fantastic versions of Pilsner Urquell. Some Prague pubs that can be trusted to deliver the best possible versions of Pilsner include the aptly-named Pilsen Restaurant, the old-fashioned U Glaubiců and Hrabal’s working-class haunt, U Zlateho Tygra.
Photo courtesy of pawelbak/ Creative Commons