Pilsen, a paradise for all beer enthusiasts – World Meanderings (n°63)
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
It will only take you a one-hour drive west of Prague to get to Pilsen, the Czech capital of beer. Beers have been brewed here ever since the town was founded in 1295. It also is the city where the world-renowned Pilsner lager was created in 1842 and Pilsen has now become a synonym for similar beers made all over the world. When in Pilsen you will drink beer, eat beer and even bath in beer! Lets discover all the beer experiences offered by this lovely town.
Czechs have a strong reputation of beer drinkers and in a country where beer has been drunk since time immemorial and seems to be written in the Czechs’ DNA, it comes as no surprise that they hold leading position in beer consumption rankings! Beer drinking goes far beyond quenching thirst, it is an irreplaceable part of Czech culture and society and countless Czech novels, movies or songs refer to it.
Until the 19th century Pilsen’s brewers made beers of very inconsistent quality and some of them were even declared unsuitable for consumption and harmful to health. In 1842 a bunch of Pilsen’s burghers decided to work together, founded a new brewery and summoned a master brewer from Bavaria, Josef Groll, to elaborate a new process insuring safety and taste. It’s hard to know today whether the delicious golden beverage created in 1842 was the result of this brewer’s skill or of local conditions or of a stroke of good fortune, but the resulting beer was an instant success, not only in Pilsen but also far beyond the country’s borders. Soon this new type of beer was imitated all over the world and wherever you drink a pils, pilsner or pilsener-style-beer you will know for sure that it was inspired by Josef Groll’s creation.
It takes only four basic ingredients to make beer: water, malt, hops and yeast. Water is far from being the less important one of them. In Pilsen’s area there are dozens of natural springs and their different characteristics and qualities affects the final taste of the beverage. The crucial secret of the Pilsner’s beers might well be this unique water. Pilsner Urquell Brewery is the birthplace of Pilsen beer and the largest brewery in the Czech Republic. Eleven million hectolitres of beer are brewed here each year and travel to more than 50 countries worldwide. The brewery is located in the city centre and is open to the public. Guided tours will tell you everything about the local beer, its history and its making process. The visit ends in an impressive underground labyrinth of hand-hewn historical cellars filled with oak fermentation vats and oak lager barrels from which you will be served a fresh glass of unfiltered and non-pasteurised Pilsner. Beer at its best! www.prazdojvisit.cz
You can also enjoy an unfiltered and non-pasteurised beer in local beers and restaurants. The “Klub Malych Pivovaru”, the “club of small breweries” offers 800 different beers from 250 micro-breweries from across the Czech Republic and 100 more from all over the world! The “place to be ” for all beer lovers! “U Salzmannu” is the oldest pub in Pilsen. It’s been serving beer since 1637 and still has a unique “historical” atmosphere. “Pivovarsky Senk Na Parkanu” is located in an ancient brewing house and is directly connected with the “Brewery Museum”. This 15th century brewing house has been preserved in its original form and you will discover a unique late-Gothic malt house, the so-called malt kin, roller and the original cellars. The house is also connected to the “Pilsen Historical Underground” whose 19km rank is among the most extensive underground system in Europe.
These bars and restaurants also propose Czech cuisine and are a nice way to discover hearty Czech specialities such as the “beer-soup” made with beer and bread, the “beer Goulash” made with beef, red paprika, potatoes and dark beer and even a “beer sponge cake” made with walnuts, honey, cinnamon, lemon zest, flour, sugar and… beer!
Beer spas were born in Germany in 1997 but our ancestors have long known the bliss conveyed by the combination of a hot beer bath and a cold beer in a glass. Thanks to the vitamin B, hops and malt extract, beer can be of great benefit to our skin. In Pilsen you can go to “Purkmistr Spa” and relax in larch tubs filled with hot beer or enjoy a beer massage (www.purkmistr.cz). Sixty five km away from Pilsen the ancient “Chodovar Brewery” was the first beer spa opened in the Czech Republic in 2006. Indulge yourself in a genuine beer bath in the homemade beer or in a hop bath or many other wellness facilities (www.chodovaplana.info). You can also visit the brewery and have lunch in their traditional restaurant.
But Pilsen is not only all about beer! It also is a picturesque city with many interesting sites to visit. The “Republic Square” is one of the largest squares in Europe and is lined with interesting medieval, Renaissance or Rococo houses. Don’t miss the beautiful facade of the Renaissance city hall, one of the most beautiful ones in all Bohemia. You can also climb up the 102-metre high tower of St. Bartholomew cathedral and get a wonderful view over the city. The fifth largest synagogue in the world was built in Pilsen in between 1888 and 1893 and is a living testimony of the once prosperous and large Jewish community of the city.
During the very first decades of the 20th century, successful Jewish entrepreneurs hired Adolf Loos, a famous Austrian architect of the time, to build and designed houses and apartments for them. From 1907 until his death in 1933 he created at least 13 apartment interiors, eight of which have been preserved until the present day. Four of them have been restored recently and are open to the public. Adolf Loos radically denied artificial decorativism in architecture and was the very first architect who liberated buildings from decorative feature both in their exterior and interior. The apartments have been refurbished with careful attention and during your visit you will be able to make yourself comfortable in true replicas of the original furniture. You can book a guided tour via www.adolfloospilsen.cz
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Text & Photos ©Annick Dournes and courtesy of Pilsen Tourism Board