Lager than life in the Czech Repub­lic

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - ADRIAN TIER­NEY- JONES SPEC­TA­TOR SCOFF!

LUNCHTIMEatNaParkanu, a restau­rant at­tached to the Mu­se­u­mof Brew­ing in Plzen (or Pilsen). Aglass of Pil­sner Urquell, served un­fil­tered and un­pas­teurised from a tank be­neath the bar: grace­ful and golden, el­e­gant, spicy, toasty with a bit­ter fin­ish.

On­my­plate: a mas­sive joint of pork knee, skin glis­ten­ing, with fat, wispy strands of steam car­ry­ing the mouth-wa­ter­ing aroma of the cooked meat up­wards; the waitress then plonks down the ac­com­pa­ny­ing bowl of horse­rad­ish, mus­tard and spicy cab­bage. I also have a help­ing of dumplings.

It is all ex­cel­lent, but Czech food is not for the faint-hearted or the fas­tid­i­ous.

The Bo­hemian city of Plzen is at the heart of the Czech lager­lands. Here in 1842 the lo­cal burghers hired Bavar­ian brewer Josef Groll in an at­tempt to put an end to the bad rep­u­ta­tion of the city’s beer (loads of the stuff had been sym­bol­i­cally poured down the drain not long be­fore). The re­sult was a sparkling blonde bomb­shell of a beer, the world’s first golden lager — Pil­sner Urquell. For bet­ter or for worse, this was the beer that would go on to con­quer the world.

Prague has its beery at­trac­tions but few vis­i­tors bother to take the train west­wards to the an­cient city of Plzen. More fool them, as they miss a spe­cial place. The city has a faded el­e­gance: Euro­pean Union money has poured in, but it has not been too pret­ti­fied.

Stag par­ties are also con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence and there’s a ro­bust sense of bluecol­lar char­ac­ter in places (Skoda is one of the big­gest em­ploy­ers).

Then there’s the beer: the Pil­sner Urquell brew­ery is one of the big­gest tourist draws in the Czech Repub­lic. On­my­last visit the place was heav­ing as the an­nual Plzen Fes­ti­val took place on the brew­ery site. Bands play while booths dis­pense Pil­sner Urquell as well as beers from its next-door neigh­bour Gam­bri­nus (SAB- Miller owns both), one of the best-sell­ing beers in the coun­try. This in­of­fen­sive lager tops the league due to its rel­a­tive cheap­ness, rather than qual­ity; this is a point un­der­lined when a guy drink­ing PUblurts out to me when he hears myEnglish: ‘‘This good,’’ he says, point­ing at his drink. ‘‘Gam­bri­nus crap!’’

Pil­sner Urquell’s man­u­fac­tur­ing site is brew­ing Dis­ney­land. Peo­ple pour through the dou­ble-arched stone gate built in 1892 (a dead ringer for the Bran­den­burg Gate), while a makeshift stage fea­tur­ing a didgeri­doo’n’bass en­sem­ble stands in front of the old en­gine shed, which houses an an­cient lo­co­mo­tive. In­side the main brew­ery, the old cop­per brew­ing ves­sels still stand, glis­ten­ing and shin­ing icons, while you can view the cur­rent ones — stain­less steel, mas­sive, space age — from what feels like the deck of the USS En­ter­prise. Gam­bri­nus also has a mu­se­u­mat­tached to its brew­ery. It’s slick and pro­fes­sional, which is the nicest thing I can say about the beer.

As you might imag­ine, Plzen’s pubs and bars are tem­ples to the joy of beer (and dumplings).

Pivo­var Groll is an in­de­pen­dent brew-pub that had the nerve to set it­self up very close to Pil­sner Urquell. Its Lotr 11 is a gor­geous pale lager beer (svetly lezac in the ver­nac­u­lar), bit­ter­sweet with slight her­bal notes; its am­ber is pretty damn fine and goes down a treat with pret­zels.

Fur­ther out of town, USladka is a neigh­bour­hood bar that also hap­pens to brew its own­beer. Enough of dumplings, I wanted some­thing less heavy and meaty.

I should have known bet­ter, as a go­liath help­ing of deep­fried cheese and chips ar­rived: as I said, Czech food is not for the faint-hearted or the fas­tid­i­ous.



Old cop­per brew­ing ves­sels in Pil­sner Urquell’s brew­ery

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