When I was 17 I drank some very good beer I drank some very good beer I purchased with a fake I.D. My name was Brian Mcgee. I stayed up listening to Queen. When I was 17…
So what is the Czech Republic well known for and one of my passions? Beer. That should come as no shock to anyone so in continuation of my love of Brewery Tours today I was off to Plzen for one Czech-style. This wasn’t just any brewery tour though. This was the Pilsner Urquell brewery tour. Pilsner Urquell is THE Pilsner. They invented and it is no coincidence that it has a name similar to the city from which it comes from. To get to the brewery it is a 2 hour train ride which I managed to conquer with no worries. I am being well trained in Czech train travel and am even able to order a ticket using some Czech words. I made the most of the two hours though…and slept 😛
Once I left the train station I had a few random brown signs to follow (Who designated Brown as the universal tourist sign colour anyway?) as well as some fuzzy instructions from Justin. It wasn’t that easy to find the brewery as my sense of direction is a little weak when I am brand new to a city but I was able to guide myself by my senses. The sense of smell in particular as that gorgeous brewery smell of malt and hops draw me to the brewery. That smell is so good it is almost sexual and I swear if it is released in cologne or air freshener form I would buy a case of it. I had planned my times well with the help of the internet so I just had a short wait until the 12:45pm english tour, one of three, started.
Our guide was Michael and he had a pretty good grasp of English. Justin had said that on his tour it sounded basically like he only knew the script but good ol’ mike seemed to be able to actually converse in English. Even though his pronounciations were far from perfect, he did a great job. The tour starts by everybody being driven in a bus to the bottling plant. The bottling plant is just a few years old and is MASSIVE there are two bottle lines (one for new and one for recycled bottles) and one for cans. You watch as they bottles fly around and it all happens so quickly that it is a blur and you can’t quite imagine that the bottles are even getting filled, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time. I took a couple of sneaky photos (you had to pay a charge with your ticket to do this and I wasn’t told when I bought my ticket) because when Justin went the plant wasn’t running. It is also interesting to note that in one hour they fill about 100,000 cans or bottles – that is about 1 lifetimes worth of drinking for your more than average beer drinker. Incredible.
You are then thrown back on the bus and head back to the old brewhouse. Here you go into an entrance hall, which turns out to be the world’s biggest elevator lol and you are taken in to a thearte. Here a video on the basic history of Pilsner Urquell and the brewing method is shown. It is a really well down video. It is entertaining and even funny in parts. You are even standing on a platform that rotates around slightly to focus your attention on different parts of the massive curved screen. A fair bit of money must have been put in to putting together this tour. From what I can pick up, the unique part of Pilsner Urquell from other beers is that it has a triple brew method. Everything seems to be done in 1/3rds and repeated 3 times. After many brewery tours is amazing how these little things affect it so much.
You then have the bits of a brewery tour that are always present. You get to see how the 3 beer ingredients are grown or gathered (Hops, Malt and Water), taste them (I love the malt even in grain form although hops is quite bitter) and then explore through the old brewhouse. What makes this tour slightly different is that it is well organised, once again it shows there was some investment in to the different displays and restoration work and also the fact the old brewhouse only stopped working in 2004. Our guide also stressed (probably a little too much) the process of brewing beer both originally and the slightly changes that have been made for the 21st Century. It was then time to see the new brewhouse. It was similar in look to the old brewhouse but it was much bigger. Almost double the capacity. Also it was mid-brew so there was a heat and a smell that filled the room. Just imagining the amount of beery goodness in those massive copper kettles has to make you drool slightly.
You then go through a room with artifacts from the history of the brewery before hitting the cellars. Underneath the brewery there are 9kms of cellars where beer used to be fermented first in big open topped oak vats for 12 days and then in barrels for 30 days. As they are a fair depth underground the temperature drops suddenly to about 6 degrees Celcius. I’m glad I was wearing a jumper. The freaky thing about the cellars is that they were 1) hand dug and wow that is an effort and 2) were cooled year round with ice but as ice wasn’t able to be artificially made back in the mid 19th century they would collect a HUGE room of ice during winter and that would cool the cellars until the next winter. Quite a different operation than just turning on the fridge.
It was in the cellars that we got to taste the unfiltered and unpasteurised beer straight from the barrels. They make small quantities of beer “how they used to” for the tour and it was amazing beer. The taste lingers in your mouth for a while afterwards and it was just perfectly balanced. Definitely better than the filtered/pasteurised stuff of today IMO, even if a little gritty. The one thing I didn’t understand is that for this free tasting there was small and large glasses…who would take the small one when it was free?! haha
Anyway, with that it was the end of the tour. As the brewery is a slight walk from the rest of Plzen city I ate and had another beer at the brewery restaurant. My Pork and Dumplings (a very Czech dish that I have grown to love) were pretty well cooked which in the up and down world of Czech Restaurants was a good result. It was then time for another 2 hour sleep on the train ride home before catching up with Justin and Matt for dinner at TGIFs and doing some shopping.
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