City built on beer

The Press - Escape - - CZECH REPUBLIC -

wa­ter source, pump room and even lo­co­mo­tives. Each of th­ese helped sus­tain the city through Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion and each is still present in some way. The pretty old wa­ter tower, the high point of the site, is home to a con­fec­tion of bub­bling glass ves­sels, re­fur­bished for show. The pump house (not part of the stan­dard tour – we got lucky) has been re­pur­posed as a work­ing cooper’s shed, where nearly 300 wooden bar­rels are crafted by hand each year.

Most of the wooden bar­rels are es­sen­tially pro­mo­tional items, filled with un­pas­teurised beer and dis­patched to pre­mium bars around the con­ti­nent. But the gi­ant lager­ing bar­rels in Urquell’s net­work of cel­lars play an in­trigu­ing role in the way the mod­ern brew­ery op­er­ates. They con­tain beer pro­duced in par­al­lel with the bulk brew in the tow­er­ing stain­less steel lager­ing tanks, act­ing as a con­stant lo­cal ref­er­ence for the in­ter­na­tional prod­uct.

Else­where on the site, the old sum­mer pav­il­ion built for the VIPs who flocked to the brew­ery in the 19th cen­tury is both the em­ploy­ees’ pub and a stop on the tour.

‘‘The brewer brews the beer – but the guy be­hind the bar makes the beer,’’ in­toned pour­mas­ter Vojtech Ho­molka as he took us through the three styles of pour: Na dvakrat (crisp), which New Zealan­ders would recog­nise as clos­est to the ‘‘nor­mal’’ way to pour a beer; Hladinka, with a tall, creamy head and less car­bon­a­tion in the glass (the favoured style among Czechs, and yours too if you have any sense); and Mliko, which comes off the tap look­ing like a big han­dle of milk, then set­tles as it’s con­sumed.

They should all con­tain the same quan­tity of beer – and, in­deed, the gov­ern­ment em­ploys in­spec­tors who visit bars and sit on their drinks to make sure that’s the case. All of our group took a turn at pour­ing: it’s trick­ier than it looks.

The tour passes through the big, mod­ern bot­tling plant and a mul­ti­me­dia ‘‘ex­pe­ri­ence’’ show­case of the brew­ery’s his­tory be­fore it cul­mi­nates in a visit to those dank cel­lars and a gen­er­ous sampling of the un­pas­teurised beer. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing taste ex­pe­ri­ence: fresh, sup­ple and lit­er­ally alive.

Part of the orig­i­nal cel­lar com­plex has been re­pur­posed as Na Spilce, the on-site restau­rant which, when an ad­ja­cent dining hall is lit up (typ­i­cally when there’s a big match on at the ad­ja­cent Doosan Arena foot­ball sta­dium) can seat 700 din­ers.

The fare at Na Spilce is as ro­bust as the sur­round­ings. Cen­tral Euro­pean food some­times gets a bad rap, but this is the most com­fort­ing of com­fort food. Dumplings, duck con­fit, goulash, smoked pork and crack­ling spread ar­rived at our ta­ble, along with the best-pre­sented steak tartare I’ve ever had served to me. There are fewer de­lights for veg­e­tar­i­ans, and smok­ers can still smoke where they please, but as a place to sit at long ta­bles and eat your­self into a happy stu­por, it’s hard to beat.

Urquell isn’t the only beer tourism stop in town. The city’s Brew­ery Mu­seum, in a 15th­cen­tury build­ing in the old town, show­cases the re­gion’s brew­ing his­tory and takes in an old Gothic malt house and a tour through the labyrinth of tun­nels and cel­lars built un­der the city from the Mid­dle Ages. You can lit­er­ally bathe in beer (with as many as 16

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