IPAs may be the current rage, but the King of Beers worldwide is still Pilsner. In my opinion, the Kingdom of Pilsner is still centered in the Czech Republic, which I believe still tops all European counties for beer consumption per capita. I have been lucky enough to travel to the Czech Republic enough that I’ve nearly lost count… six times I think. The first visit was early in 2001 when I went to write my second novel in Prague.
I immediately fell in love with Prague—the city, the food, the streets, the beer, the bars, and being 29 at the time, the beautiful women everywhere. I stayed a month in an 2 room apartment with a kitchen that was ridiculously cheap–something like $600 for the month. I went again three or four years later for a few weeks, then again with my wife still later, and then multiple times to Prague and Brno on our journey to conceive.
There’s just something about Prague (minus the crowds of course) that hits me dead between the eyes, and if I could live there 6 months out of the year, I think I’d be all for it. I could go on and on about what I love about the Czech Republic, but this being a blog about beer and literature, let me focus there.
In Prague, I primarily drink/drank Staropramen, Kozel dark, and Pilsner Urquell. I’ve been to U Flecku and do love their dark lager, but the experience of going to that brewery is something you have to be up for. The beauty of drinking in Prague is the little tally sheets on the table that are marked for each round. Here, beer is a staple like bread (oh God their rye bread… at least that I feel like I’ve come close to replicating (see below)), so anything less than three marks and you’re starving yourself. In Brno I do like Starobrno–both the pilsner and the dark lager a lot. The dark is like a smooth, slightly sweet, malty beverage with just the slightest hint of dark malt roastiness. I’ve also had beers by Gambrinus and Zatecky, as well as perhaps several others I was in no state of mind to remember.
Now, The Czech Republic being a 14 hour flight, that leaves my access to these beers limited. And how the bottled imports truly compare to being enjoyed fresh on draft, well that’s like comparing Guinness on draft in Ireland to the cans here on the grocery store. But, still, there are a few choices here in the U.S. you may be able to find.
Pilsner Urquell is the easiest to find, and still really delicious. On occasion BevMo (or your decent local beverage “superstore”) will carry Staropramen in the 16oz bottles and six packs. My favorite beer bar Hamilton’s once even had a keg of Staropramen, but living in IPA country, who knows if they’ll ever have it again. Perhaps my favorite Czech pilsner available in the U.S. is Krusovice, typically sold in the 16oz bottles at BevMo. To me, this one is fittingly capped with gold foil—an Imperial pilsner that is deep gold, creamy, and with a distinct Nobel hop bitterness and flavor. At about $2.50 a 16oz bottle, it’s also relatively affordable. As for Czechvar and Budvar, I’ve had them in the past but I prefer the big three: Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Krusovice.
To complete the fantasy of a visit to Prague in the comfort of your own home, this is what the benchmark is: roast pork, stinky cheese, rye bread, and of course, the beer.
But, I’m usually settling for less. I like a slice of beer cheese shipped from Bavaria Sausage Shop which is about as stinky as you’ll find, and I bake a loaf of Czech rye bread. Going the extra mile would need to include some roast pork, and perhaps some Slivovice, Becherovka, and Fernet Stock.