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Beer Destinations: Prague

Beneath a fairy tale skyline of spires, domes, and towers, a modern city of industry and commerce sits upon cobblestone streets and ancient bridges.  Prague is a maddening riddle.  Brilliant minds like Franz Kafka and Bohumil Hrabal relied upon surrealistic visions to make sense of it.  Despite the city’s complex and frankly tumultuous history, there’s a millennia of brilliantly preserved architecture, miraculously spared the devastation of fire, war, and tasteless modernizations that have continuously reshaped many European cities.

Located between the noble hop fields of Žatec (Saaz in German) and Moravia’s cascading barley fields, Prague is within easy reach of the ingredients to needed to sustain a vital brewing scene.   However, the city was not spared the 20th century’s assault on local beer culture.  In the early 1990s, international breweries monopolized the city’s tap handles.  Brewpubs were mostly forgotten, a novelty for tourists, at best. This Prague earned a reputation for drinking holidays notable for cheap light lager and beautiful blonds. 

Today, the city of a hundred spires offers quite a bit more for the discerning beer drinker.  Prague even has a proper beer festival. Entering its fifth year, The Czech Beer Festival fills two weeks in May with a celebration of traditional Czech food and regional Czech beers.   Brewers inspired by both tradition and travel are opening pubs and microbreweries maintaining traditions of brewing and innovation.  Yes, it’s true that many of the city’s pubs and restaurants remain divided among big breweries, like cola-war spoils, with only two or three draft lines.   Interesting beers crafted in seemingly forgotten regions of the Czech Republic are poured in downtown Prague from a “fourth pipe”, or čtvrtá pípa”.  This tap has become a symbol of the burgeoning craft beer movement.   A few adventurous publicans offer broad ranges, and grace the city with truly world class beer bars. 

 

Zlý Časy

Čestmírova 5, Praha 4

The name Zlý Časy translates as “Evil Times”. Troubles are left at the door of this subterranean pub with charming bier garden.  The staggering scope of the draft is best appreciated standing back from the small bar, trimmed with full-page, hand written infosheets for each of the 20+ draft options.  Only a few well-curated international selections punctuate the list of regional craft masters like Matuška, Opat, and Chodovar.  The impressive globe spanning bottle list offers more Czech beers, plenty of treats from the continent, and even Founder’s and Green Flash.

Pivovarský Klub
Křiľíkova 17, Praha 8 - Karlín

Beer bar meets bottle shop at Pivovarský Klub.  Dine in an airy street level space among walls lined with shelves stocking many Czech and international bottled beers, or the additional seating in the boisterous basement bar.  The six draft options are always fresh and change frequently.  It’s a great spot to try Primator Weizen, and take home a bottle of Pardubice Porter.  

Pivovar u Bulovky
Bulovka 17,  Praha 8 - Liben

Located a bit off the tourist track in a residential neighboorhood, the Richter Brewery at Pivovar u Bulovky showcases a variety of styles.  A chalkboard listing of the available drafts will show Czech and German lagers, alt biers, wheat beers, and English ales.

Prague Beer Museum
Dlouhá 46,  Praha 1

Smoky, loud, and a little bit obnoxious, the Beer Museum seems is anything but a collection of dusty relics. This vibrant 30 tap laboratory encourages experimentation with samplers of various sizes and traps both tourists and locals alike.  Enjoy regional beers from the likes Krakonoš, Ferdinand, and the American microbrewery inspired Kocur.

Les Moules
Paříská 19/203,
Praha 1

Belgian beer is at home everywhere, even in heart of lager land.  This seafood café has a small dining room, and wonderful alfresco seating.  The street corner setting is perfect to people watch at the juxtaposition of high end retail and historic synagogues.  Eight taps include a few beers brewed specifically for the restaurant, big ticket Belgians, and Staropramen lager from Prague’s Smichov neighborhood.  Find the perfect pairing for each flavor in a series of an all-you-can eat mussel pots from a bottle list that reads like Belgium’s greatest hits.
 

Pivovarský Dům,
Ječná/Lípová 15,
Praha 2

New Town’s Pivovarsky Dum opened in 1998 and helped usher in Prague’s beer cultural renaissance. Eight beers range from strictly traditional, to perhaps overly enthusiastic exhibitions of unusual ingredients like nettles, and coffee.  Štěpán, the unfiltered house lager is delightful.

U Pinkasů
Jungmannovo Náměstí 15/16
,  Praha 1

The first pub in Prague to serve Pilsner Urquell retains an air of history while tastefully restraining the trappings of nostalgia.  The modest décor remains traditional to the 20s and 30s.  U Pinkasů was a local frequented by politicians including T.G. Masaryk, the first president Czechoslovakia, and authors like Bohumil Hrabal. 

Restaurace Jáma
V Jámě 7, Praha 1

This American themed pub, looks a bit like a Hard Rock café. Primarily German concert posters nearly paper the walls.  Ten taps highlight beers from Lobkowicz, and Rychtář among others.  A few TVs in a back room offer ex-Pats a chance to keep track of sports back home.

Klášternípivovar Strahov
Strahovské nádvoří 301, Praha 1

This charming brew-pub is situated in the north east corner of the walls of the Strahov monastery.  A relaxed bier garden, decorated with a brewing process map painted onto stucco, separates a large banquet hall from the copper clad pub/brewery seating area.  Typically, four beers are on offer – two or three regulars and a seasonal.  The brewery’s take on an English style IPA is interesting, and the tmavý (dark) lager is a must try.  If you happen to visit in December, seek out the Christmas dopplebock.

U Fleku
Křemencova 1651/11, Praha 1 

The sing along atmosphere of the shamelessly touristy U Fleku beer hall is an essential experience.  Claiming more than five hundred years of continuous brewing, the beer hall pushes one delicious dark lager, presumably perfected over that lengthy span.  It’s an excellent complement to a plate of goulash and dumplings

Pivovar Basta
Táborská 389/49, Praha 4 - Nusle

The simple Czech country décor of Pivovar Basta, with knotted wood trim on white walls is quite relaxing and a bit of a rarity in Prague.  The house beers are similarly crisp and traditional, reflecting a Viennese influence. 

Where else but Prague could one find a place simultaneously boasting the city’s largest beer hall, and smallest brewery?  “At the Bears’” main rooms serve typical Czech cuisine and tank Budvar. The real attraction is tucked away in the back, upstairs. The nano-brewpub pursues a manic balance between tradition and innovation.  Sessionable beers with rustic character are crafted with historic techniques and equipment including a tiny coolship, open fermentation and wooden barrels.  Those same techniques are pushed to the extreme to produce what the brewery claims as the world’s strongest lager: a beer with an original gravity of 33 degrees Plato. 

Pražský Most U Valsů
Betlémská 5, Praha 1

Convenient to the Charles Bridge, Pražský Most U Valsů offers patrons simple refreshment within a carefully designed restaurant.   Unusual angles, and touches of wrought iron modernize otherwise plain wooden tables and chairs, that otherwise might seem original to a room defined by medieval vaulted ceilings.  The two house beers are supplemented with a pair from Pivovar Rohozec.

This piece originally appeared in BeerAdvocate magazine, issue #62.

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