One thing the Czech people are known for is their love of beer. In fact, per capita they are the #1 beer drinkers in the world, and it’s not even close. The fact that the quality is excellent and prices are among the cheapest in the world might play a part in this. When we stayed in Prague a cheap pint was everywhere. You could get one for just a few dollars anywhere outside of the really touristy places.
So with beer in mind we did a day trip to the town of Pilzen, located about 90 kilometres from Prague. Pilzen is the home of Pilsner Urquell, a world famous beer that, along with the town itself, lends its name to the pilsner style of beer.
To get there we took a train from the main station in Prague to the one in Pilzen.
You need to book a tour in advance to visit the brewery, and since Kim isn’t a beer drinker I decided to do the tour on my own while she explored the town. Since my tour time wasn’t until early afternoon we had a few hours to spend before I left for the brewery. So from the train station we walked a short distance to the old town to look around and grab a bite for lunch.
After that we headed off to the entrance of the brewery for my appointment. The gate at the main entrance is also seen on each label of the beer. I made my way towards the visitors’ centre while Kim went back to the old town.
While I was inside doing the tour, Kim checked out the local sights. Pilzen was quiet and very clean, with the central square area having a number of medieval buildings still standing.
Meanwhile, I had started the tour. In total the tour took a little less than two hours and went through a number of buildings at the brewery.
The tour started in the visitors’ centre in a room full of awards for Pilsner Urquell beer and its many brewers. There the guide explained the history of the brewery.
As the story goes, the local brewers were so angry with the poor quality of the beer in Pilzen they dumped it onto the streets of the main square in protest. Led by a Bavarian brewer, a group of independent Bohemian brewers got together and formed their own collective. This collective built the Pilsner Urquell brewery in the town, using a practical location next to the river and near a well. The original brewery also had excellent cold storage facilities with the extensive tunnels that were constructed. The bottom-fermented beer produced at the brewery quickly became a hit and has been a popular beer ever since.
We left the visitor centre and walked towards the bus that would take us elsewhere on the tour. The brewery is located on a large parcel of land and is spread out across a number of buildings. Our next stop with the guide would be the bottling facility.
The bottling facility was as clean as any building could be. We walked up to the second level to look at the facility from above. The place was humid and noisy from all of the bottles moving around. but the efficiency was impressive–so many bottles were being washed and filled every minute.
We headed back outside to the bus stop to wait for the bus to return. Once we got on we headed over to visit the storage facilities.
We went in rooms that explained about the water, malt, hops and yeast used in the beer and eventually made our way to the rooms where the basic beer ingredients are brought together and it is briefly aged and fermented.
Now it was time to leave the ultra-clean storage area and head down into the original tunnels where the beer is still stored today. Suddenly things changed as we went through the doorway. The walls became rough, the temperature cooled and the air became damp as we went deeper under the building.
The beer is stored here in old wooden oak barrels as it approaches the right temperature from the natural cooling of the tunnels. The beer is even kept open to encourage the natural processes. Pilzen is one of the few places in the world that preserves the traditional brewery craft of coopering. Coopers are skilled craftspeople who make the traditional oak barrels used to mature the beer.
Finally, each member of the group received one glass of unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell. It is something of a treat, as the unpasteurized stuff is only available in a few places worldwide. I can’t say how much better it was then the regular Pilsner Urquell, but at the time it tasted like the best one I ever had!
Of course we had to leave through the gift shop, though I have to admit this one was more enticing than most gift shops I’ve been to.
The gift shop was tempting, but I continued out. Instead, Kim was able to join me at the Na Parkánu restaurant and taproom on the brewery premises for a pint. In the distance a band played traditional Czech music and we enjoyed a refreshing end to our trip to Pilzen. It wasn’t as good as the one down in the cellars, but it was a great beer nonetheless!