Pint-Sized Reviews: Drinking in Prague – The Beers (Pivo)

As most of you all know, I've recently returned from spending about 9 weeks in Prague. This is going to be a two-part review of my drinking in Prague, which will cover the different beers I was fortunate enough to consume. Part II, sometime next week, will cover my favorite drinking establishments.I've broken the beers down into rough categories. Of course, your opinion of the beers may differ.

King of the Hill
Pilsner Urquell - If you are drinking in Prague, there's a better than 70% chance the bar you are at will be a Pilsner bar. This is the beer people think of when they think Czech beer. These days it's brewed by Plzensky Prazdroj*, a subsidary of SABMiller, but that doesn't mean it's crap. If you have the chance, do the brewery tour in Plzen**. When you're at the brewery, you get a sample of Pilsner that is unfiltered and unpasturized. To say it was quite good would be an understatement. If you're in a bar paying more than 35-40Kc for Pilsner, you're doing it wrong (more on that tomorrow).

The Duke of York
Gambrinus - Also brewed by Plzensky Prazdroj, you will find this at almost any bar that also serves Pilsner. It's a perfectly decent beer, and tends to be about 75-80% the cost of Pilsner. So if you're going for more than one or two (and in Prague, "I'll come for just one" almost never ends up going to plan), this isn't a bad option for the price-conscious consumer.

Other Plzensky Prazdroj Offerings
Kozel - This is a darker beer from PP, something a little like a Newcastle in color. You'll recognize it from the ram on the labee (Kozel is "male goat" or "billy goat" in Czech). Not good for a long haul, but does go mighty well with a burger or guláš.
Master - The Master I had was Master tmavý 18°. tmavy means "dark" and 18° indicates how much malt was used and how hot the wort is boiled, and thus by extension how much alcohol results. For reference, Pilsner is 11° and most beer is 10-12°. A bit more expensive

Staropramen Offerings
Staropramen means "The Old Spring", referring to the water source in Prague 5. I sampled three of their different varieties:

Staropramen - If you aren't at a Pilsner establishment, chances are it's a Staropramen joint. Personally, I don't care for it, but it's not really bad per se, just not my cuppa tea.
Staropramen Nefiltrovany - Unfiltered Staropramen. In Czech, ne means "no". If it's used as a prefix, it means "not". Hence "not filtered". Most negatives are formed this way. You may also nealko on a beer or menu. This means "non-alcoholic" and can mean things like juice or pop, but also non-alcohlic beer. More on those later.
Staropramen Cool Lemon - Just what is sounds like, a shandy-esque beer. A lot better than Bud Light Lime, for what that's worth. Probably my favorite of the Staropramen brews.

NB: You should call Staropramen by it's full name. Shorted to just "staro" it means "old", so you might be asking for an "old beer".

Specialty Beers
This is sort of a catch-all for beers that are seasonal or house brews

Poutnik 12 and Herold - My notes on these two aren't very good. It was a "I'll come for 1" kind of night. These, as far as I know, are only available at a place called Bio Oko. One was a Belgian White and the other was a standard lager. Both were good.
Speciální 13° Svatomartinské - Special Saint Martin. Brewed once a year in time for St. Martin's Day (November 11th). Traditionally, a goose dinner is prepared for this day, as it marks the beginning of the snowy part of the year. It has a distinct Oktoberfest style to it. Very good, but pricey. I wouldn't suggest more than one.

Perfectly Fine Beers
Bernard - This comes in a bottle with a stopper, like Grolsch. The only thing I can say about this beer is it exploded when I opened it.
Breznak - This is the cheapest beer I ever had at the pub, and it was still quite good. I think the bar I had it in came to be one of my favorites.

Surprisingly Good for How Cheap It Is (a/k/a "How to get hammered on the cheap and not mind the taste too much")
Bertold - This came in two styles, ležák ("lager") and světlé (roughly "light). The světlé came in cans for 8Kc, about $0.50 for 500mL. For that price, I wasn't expecting much, but it was perfectly suited for the task.
Branik - This comes in plastic 2L bottles for about 35Kc, or $2.10. It gets a bit gross at the end if you try to drink it all yourself, but if you and the lads are playing cards and watching a bit of football at someone's place, grab a few of these. They're essentially pitchers in a bottle, great for get-togethers.

Don't Drink These
Deep - I found this at Lidl, a low-cost grocery store (The RyanAir to Tesco's Aer Lingus). It was 6Kc. I bought it specifically because I wanted to try the cheapest beer I could find. When I started recording my beers, I intended to rate them all on a 0/5 scale. I never got around to rating most of them, but this is one I did rate. My notes simply say "0/5 SHIT"

Check back some time next week to find out where to drink these find brews and where not to. Also, apologies to any Czech speakers who come across this and notice my lack of accent marks in places. I can't always remember where they go, or be arsed trying to copy/paste or remember the HTML.

*You may also see this on the menu instead of "Pilsner Urquell". They are the same beer, just different languages.

**To get to Plzen: Take the Yellow/B Line to the terminus at Zličín. From there, get the Student Agency bus to Plzen. They leave Prague on the hour and take about an hour to get there. The return ticket station is just outside the main bus hall. It'll cost about 100Kc (~$5.50) each way, plus Metro fare.

6 thoughts on “Pint-Sized Reviews: Drinking in Prague – The Beers (Pivo)”

  1. Semi-obscure (to foreigners) Czech beer anecdote:

    After the government banned him from working in the theatre, dissident playwright Václav Havel worked as a laborer in the Trutnov brewery. After serving several years in prison, Havel eventually went on to become the last President of Czechoslovakia, and was subsequently elected the first President of the Czech Republic, serving two terms. He died last month.

    1. Speaking of Havel, here are some pics from the memorial that sprang up at Vaclavske Namesti, site of the Velvet Revolution.

      Click to embiggen. Sorry about the quality, these are from FB. I can't get to my camera right now (read: I'm too lazy)

  2. I bought a liter bottle of something at a grocery for 8Kc (I believe the exchange rate was about 24Kc=$1 at the time, so about $0.35).
    I left it outside my hotel-room window on the ledge to let it cool (it was January). When I drank it, it was so cold, I really couldn't taste anything. If only Coors had invented its "is it too cold to drink?" technology earlier.

    I think this was also the night after U Flecků, what with their Flekovský Tmavý Ležák 13° (which was great), and shots that the waiter told us were "spirits" (either a fernet, or something like Becherovka). So I might not have had a objective opinion had I been able to taste it.

    We had a beer similar to U Flecků's in Vienna, and were told that the dark beer was Czech. We hit this bar, something like the "Happy Monk", every night there. I had turned 21 only 14 months earlier and back in the states was just getting my feeling for beers like Summit EPA and Guinness that were not American Pilsners. These dark, malty beers were right for me and for the cold weather.

    The dark beer in Vienna was served in faceted glass mugs with a capercaillie on it. Google and wikipedia tell me that this is the logo of the German beer company Hasseröder, which makes a lager. I'm disappointed to find out that the cool capercaillie logo did not go to the cool dark beer, and also that I now have no idea what that beer was.

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