Thursday, 29 October 2015

A Few Prague Brew-Pubs

My recent trip to Prague (the second one this year), represented my sixth visit to the city. I can therefore say I know the Czech capital fairly well; particularly the main tourist attractions. On this visit I was accompanied by my son; unlike May’s visit, when I was travelling alone. We stayed at the same hotel that I had used back in the spring, and like then, on the first evening, we caught a tram into the city centre and alighted at the Národi Třida metro stop, virtually right opposite our first intended port of call.
Beer hall - U Medvídků

U Medvídků, (at the Little Bears), is one of Prague’s best known beer halls, but it is also much more than this as the establishment is home to a micro-brewery (more about that later), a beer bar, plus a boutique hotel. Unlike our visit, back in November 2013, when the beer hall had been bursting at the seams, the place looked half empty, and we had no problem in finding somewhere to sit. We chose a table at the end nearest the main entrance, as this gave us a full view of the rest of the hall. U Medvídků is tied to Budvar, and serves their 12˚beer in un-pasteurised form, straight from cellar tanks. I feel it doesn’t quite have the hop character of Pilsner Urquell, but it is still a fine beer, and was definitely tasted all the better for not being pasteurised. We drank our way through two half litres of the stuff as the accompaniment to our meal; pork steak in cream sauce for me, and goulash with bread dumplings for Matt.
U Fleků

The hall had started to fill up by the time we finished our meal, so we decided it was time to move on. Although I had a list of some of the brew-pubs which had sprung up in the city in recent years, we instead decided to pay a return visit to U Fleků Prague’s original brewpub; an establishment which also claims to be the oldest brew-pub in the world. I am well aware that many beer writers regard U Fleků as something of a tourist trap, and whilst there may well be more than a grain of truth in this, the pub still produces what can only be described as “one of the world’s finest dark lagers”, and a definite world classic.
U Fleků

I had visited U Fleků on each of my five previous visits to Prague, so was determined not to break this record. I have fond memories of my first visit to the pub, back in 1984, when I was a participant on an early CAMRA trip to what was then Czechoslovakia. The place has obviously changed quite a bit since then, and is an obvious port of call on most tourist itineraries, but it still pervades an atmosphere of old world Prague, and its wood-panelled halls, and stone-flagged corridors, convey the visitor back to a bygone age. Also, as stated earlier, the beer is really good and seems to have become much more consistent, losing the slight lactic tang it had at one time.
U Fleků Courtyard 1984

We wound our way to U Fleků, through the maze of back streets, and although the pub was busy, as expected, we decided to escape the crowds by sitting out in the rear courtyard. The courtyard is my first memory of U Fleků, as it was there that my fellow travellers and I arrived 31 years ago, almost to the day, on a similar balmy early October evening. Then the courtyard had been full of locals; most of whom appeared to be students. Instead of the bench seating, present today, there were some rather rickety looking tables and the chairs were the metal-frame variety that people of a certain age will remember from their school days. Money was obviously tight back in communist times but, on the plus side, U Fleků was much more a local’s pub, rather than the major tourist attraction it is today.
World's oldest house-brewed beer

Back to the story; my son and I sat out chatting and enjoying a couple of mugs of the house-brewed U Fleků beer. We successfully brushed off the waiter offering “shots” of Berechovska (a herbal liqueur), basically by telling him to “go forth and multiply”, as this one was certainly more persistent than most. Apart from the purpose of ripping off visitors, I really don’t know why the management of what is otherwise an excellent establishment, persist with this practice. Having said that I noticed the price of the beer had crept up to Kr 60; more than I had paid in May, and now at a level which easily makes it the most expensive beer in Prague. Still, Kr 60 is still below the £2 mark, but it should be noted that for some years now, U Fleků  has served its beer in 40cl glasses, rather than the more usual 50cl.

So what about some of the other brew-pubs in the city? There are two, virtually next door to each other in the grounds of the Strahov Monastery, just along from Prague Castle. I visited the newest of the two back in May, and we stopped for lunch at the longer established one this October. The latter is called Klášterní Pivovar Strahov, and I understand it was one of the first of the wave of brew-pubs to have been established in Prague, following the Velvet Revolution. Klášterní Pivovar brew several English style beers (IPA and Porter), alongside traditional Czech styles, such as pale, amber and dark lagers. I first popped in back in 2009. That trip was right at the end of December, and after trudging round the castle, cathedral and palace complex, I was glad to find somewhere warm and out of the cold. I liked what I saw and have returned a couple of times since; most recently this October with Matt. We sat outside, glad of the opportunity for some al fresco eating and
Beers - Klášterní Pivovar
drinking this late in the year. I tried a half of amber followed by one of dark; both going well with the goulash soup.

Virtually next door is Velká Klášterní Restaurace. I stopped off there back in May, even though my original intention had been to visit Klášterní Strahov. It was a baking hot day, so I sat outside under the shade of a parasol. Whilst enjoying my beer, along with my lunch, I got chatting to an American visitor who was sitting at an adjacent table. Like my brother-in-law, he was a former US Airman. He told me that during the Cold War he was stationed right up close to the Czech border in what was then West Germany but, given his status, was forbidden to enter the country. This was his first visit to Prague and he was really enjoying the city.  I recommend a few places (pubs, of course!) for him to visit and before parting company we swapped names and home towns and agreed to look each other up on Facebook. I sampled both the light and the dark Matuska beer here. They were both good, but on the dear side. I understand they are sold elsewhere in Prague, but I didn’t come across them on either trip.
Matuska beer- Velká Klášterní

I have since found out that whilst Velká Klášterní Restaurace advertises itself as a brew-pub, it is no such thing. Instead the place is trying to capitalize on its location and all the people headed to Strahov. Well you can’t win them all, and despite this deception I enjoyed my visit and meeting up with Ray from Michigan.

There is another fairly recently opened Brew-Pub in the city which I visited both in May and October. On the first occasion the pub afforded a welcome escape from the baking hot sun; whilst the second time it was somewhere to escape from the rain. U Tří Růží is located right in the heart of Staré Město – Prague’s Old Town, in a maze of narrow streets. It is so well hidden that my son and I failed completely to find it on the evening of our second full day in the city.
U Tří Růží

U Tří Růží is larger inside than it looks from the street. The copper brew-kit is on your left as you enter, and then the pub opens up to the right of the central serving area. There are even some more rooms upstairs. On my first visit I enjoyed a small mug of both IPA and Dark beer, whereas most recently we opted for the Fest Bier, brewed in honour of Oktoberfest, which had just come to an end in Munich. I have to say we were unimpressed; the beer had a Belgian yeast taste about it – nothing wrong with that per se, except it was not the clean-tasting beer we were expecting and I wonder whether the brewer intended it to taste that way either. Thinking about it later, I considered the possibility that the house yeast may have cross-fertilised with a wheat beer strain (U Tří Růží does brew a Weiss Bier).
Brew-plant U Tří Růží

We were also somewhat disappointed with the welcome we received, after being more or less told to find a table upstairs. We climbed the steps, but the music blasting out from the speakers was far too loud for my liking, so much to the waiter’s annoyance we promptly descended and grabbed a table opposite a group of visiting and rather hungry, Russians. This experience rather put my son off the place, but I explained that being in the heart of the Old Town means having to cope with hordes of bewildered tourists day in and day out. The waiter relaxed his somewhat frosty manner, after we had ordered some food, so I expect my summation above is correct.
1466 lager - U Medvídků

We visited three other brew-pubs which are worthy of a post of their own, but before finishing I mentioned earlier the micro-brewery at U Medvídků. We called in on our second evening in Prague. The brewery is situated right at the rear of the premises, and on the top floor. To access it you have to walk right through the beer hall, and then climb several flights of concrete steps. Once there you can see the brewing equipment through a glass wall.

There are tables and benches, and as well as being able to sample the range of “house-brewed” beers, you can also order a meal.  We didn’t bother with the latter as we had already eaten, but the menu looked the same as what is on offer downstairs. It feels a little cramped up there, as it is literally up in the attic of the building, but it is worth the climb in order to sample the beers. We tried the 1466 lager, 6.1% ABV, which is unfiltered and un-pasteurised and the Oldgott 13° semi-dark lager 5.2%, which is also unfiltered. The latter beer is fermented and later undergoes secondary fermentation in large oak barrels. We could see these behind the glass wall.
Brew-plant- U Medvídků

If you are feeling really flush, you can also stay the night here, as U Medvídků offers a number of comfortable rooms, all fitted out in an historical style. For a central location, I can think of few places better to stay in Prague than this.

To be continued...........................


Stonch Beer said...

All the obvious ones ticked off there so you didn't waste your time! You should add a really good PU tankovna in next time (they aren't all created equal, the best is one in an inner suburb, forget the name but it'll come to me, and the Lokal places serve great tank PU if lacking in ambiance and having a strange food offer).

To be fair to Velká Klášterní, who are indeed trying to piggyback off the brewpub next door, they do (or at least did when I last visited two years ago) have several taps and they serve micro beers. They were the most reliable place in the centre to get Matuska when they first started out.

Paul Bailey said...

Yes the pubs were the obvious ones Jeff, but still pretty good in the main. There are a couple of less well-known ones in the follow-up post, including one which I doubt few UK drinkers will have visited.

I found good tankovna Pilsner Urquell, back in 2009, at Bredovský Dvůr; a stone’s throw from Wenceslas Square. It wasn’t quite as good when I returned with my wife, four years later. She liked it though as she could light up in the pub!

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for a good read. Many good places mentioned here. But as a frequent beer traveller to Prague (20 times the last 10 years), I can tell you that the .4 Flekovske pivo has cost 59 CZK since I first set foot in the Czech capital in Summer 2006. And it's not the most expensive in the city either; the Matuska at the place in Strahov costs a lot more, and the prices at Klasterni Pivovar is also quite similar to U Fleku's.

Keep up the good work. I always appreciate reading your blog.��

All best,

Lasse Nordheim, Norway

Paul Bailey said...

Now you mention it anonymous from Norway, the Matuska beer was rather expensive at Velká Klášterní Restaurace. I must admit I haven’t been taking that much notice of the beer prices at U Fleků; they just seemed dear compared to other places in Prague.

You must like Prague very much to be visiting it twice a year, although I can fully understand this. I have always found something new and something different, each time I have visited the city.

Glad you’ve been enjoying my blog by the way.

Stonch Beer said...

The Viking's right, the prices haven't shifted for the best part of a decade. When I first visited U Fleku in 2003 (I lived in the next street but only went when I had visitors) it was 49Kc for a beer. That was particularly pricey then, as a pub I was a regular in - the now closed Radegast pub near the Muncipal House - was 20Kc a beer and it was unusual to be asked for more than 30 Kc, even for Pilsner Urquell which tended to be in the high 20s. Other prices have caught up on Fleku, basically.