Thursday, 30 July 2015

Two Fine Czech Brew-Pubs

There are now over 20 brew-pubs in Prague; I’ve visited just under half of them, which isn’t bad going, and the list includes, of course, U Fleků – the world’s oldest brew-pub. However, whilst one might expect the capital of the world’s greatest beer drinking nation to have a good sprinkling of such establishments, I was very impressed by two excellent brew-pubs I visited, in the Vysočina Region of the Czech Republic. This area is some distance from Prague, so is unlikely to be directly influenced by what is going on in the capital. It was therefore all the more satisfying to find these two places which were unashamedly ploughing their own furrows.

The visits to these pubs took place as part of the trip I made, back in May, with a group of friends from Maidstone CAMRA. We were based in Jihlava; a city which is almost in the geographical centre of the Czech Republic, close to the historic border between Bohemia and Moravia. I have covered the trip in some detail in previous posts, but a look back on the trip, plus a spot of on-line research, made me appreciate just how good these two brew-pubs really were.

We actually visited both establishments on our first evening in Jihlava; the first was in the town of Třebič, which was a 45 minute bus ride away, whilst the second was in Jihlava itself. We had journeyed to Jihlava earlier that day, by bus from Prague, and after checking into our respective hotels (given the size of our group we were split between three different ones), we reconvened at the bus station in time to board the 17.15 bus to Třebič. Due to road works the bus was forced to detour down some rather narrow roads and into a wooded valley, so the journey ended up taking slightly longer. I was in no hurry, as the ride opened my eyes to the attractive local countryside with its rolling hills and winding roads, lined with fruit trees, in this area, known as the Czech Moravian Highlands.

Eventually we pulled into Třebič, a largish town with an interesting, but rather tragic history. Like many towns in the region Třebič had a thriving Jewish community, but as with so many others in Central Europe this was virtually wiped out in WWII during the Nazi occupation. The Holocaust was obviously an act of pure evil, but the Nazi’s other poisonous legacy was the stirring up of hatred between the Czechoslovak and the German communities in the country; communities which, with their Jewish neighbours, had peacefully co-existed  for centuries.

At the end of the war the Czechs and Slovaks took revenge on their German-speaking neighbours, who they accused of assisting with the Nazi occupation; forcibly expelling around 3 million people of German descent. Many of these folk had been their neighbours prior to the war, and many were from families who had lived in Czechoslovakia for hundreds of years. Today, as in much of the country, there are few traces of these former communities, but in Třebič the Jewish Quarter and the Jewish Cemetery remain, and are included in the UNESCO list of world cultural and natural heritage sites.

Exterior Podklášterní pivovar Třebíč
The main part of the town lay across the river; on the opposite bank to the bus station, and it was here, on a hill in a semi-rural setting, that the Podklášterní pivovar Třebíč  Brew-Pub complex was situated. It was a bit of a hike up to there, but I was just following the rest of the group. Fortunately our tour organiser had done his homework in advance, and we arrived at our destination without any trouble. It was a pleasant evening for walking and as we ascended the hill, we turned off up a path and eventually came to what had once been a monastery. The brew-pub was just up from there; one of several buildings overlooking the former-monastery.

Across the courtyard was what appeared to be a car showroom, with some very impressive looking vintage Jaguars on display. The whole set up looked a rather incongruous and definitely out of place in this semi-rural setting. Looking later at one of the beer mats I picked up in the pub, I noticed an advertisement for Jaguar cars on the rear. I later discovered, from the Podklášterní pivovar Třebíč website, that the place was actually a Jaguar museum.  However, beer rather than cars was on the minds of most of the party, so we entered the pub, through a lobby, and found ourselves in a spacious building with a high ceiling. I suspect the building had once been a barn, but it had been converted to house a beer hall with a small bar in one corner.
Interior Podklášterní pivovar Třebíč
We sat down at three adjoining tables situated along the far wall of the pub, and here we were given menus (in English). Fortunately our tour leader spoke sufficient Czech to get by, but as we were later to discover, German, rather than English, is often the second language in this southern part of the Czech Republic; a legacy perhaps of pre-war days, although more likely due to the area’s proximity to the border with Austria.

Apart from our relatively large party, there was a handful of locals in the pub which, given its isolated setting on the edge of town was slightly surprising. People would have needed to walk there as it didn’t appear to be on any bus routes. Still, I know quite a few Biergartens in Munich where arrival on foot or by bike are the only options, and given the liking for beer which the Czechs have, surpassing even that of their westerly neighbours, I am sure a stroll up the hill in order to enjoy a few tasty mugs of beer at this excellent brew-pub, would be no great hardship.

Podklášterní pivovar Třebíč sells its beers under the “Urban” trademark. The regular beers are 11° Světlŷ Ležák “Urban”, 12° Světlŷ Ležák “Urban”, 13° Polotmavŷ  Ležák “Urban”, 12° Red Ale “Cornel”, plus various specials brews. I tried the 12° and the 13°, and both were excellent. One member of our party spotted a Rauchbier as a “special” on the beer menu, but unfortunately there was insufficient time for me to sample it.

What I particularly liked was the efficiency of the pub. There were 13 people in our party and yet the food all arrived promptly and the beer flowed freely. Like the beer, the food was excellent, and I really enjoyed my meal of pork steak and chanterelles with tagliatelle.  I would have been more than happy to have spent the whole evening there, but the last bus back to Jihlava left at 8.15pm and unless we fancied spending the night in Třebič, it was essential that we were on it.

The bus ride back to Jihlava was basically the outward journey in reverse, although by the time we arrived back it was dark. Our beery evening was set to continue though with a visit to Jihlava’s own brew-pub, Radnicni Jihlava, which forms part of an up-market restaurant overlooking the town’s main square. The actual brewpub is situated in an old cellar, in the basement of the building, but primarily because of the loud music being played down there, we decided to remain upstairs.

Radnicni Jihlava
Over the course of our stay in Jihlava we managed to visit this establishment on three nights out of four, and ended up trying virtually all the beers. Like its counterpart in Třebíč, Radnicni Jihlava was also quite innovative, with a core range of beers which were complemented by occasional brews. The latter were available in bottle form, rather than draught, and one evening we managed between us to clear out the restaurant’s entire refrigerated stock of Radniční speciál: IPA 15°. The fridges had been replenished by the following evening, but the waitresses got the message that we really liked this Czech interpretation of a traditional British beer style.

We ate at Radnicni Jihlava on our second evening in Jihlava, and I have to say my Schnitzel with potato salad was really good. The regular beers were Ignác - světlý ležák 12° (Pilsner) and Zikmund - polotmavý speciál 13° (Semi-dark).They were complemented by a quite bitter-tasting, single-hop ale. A look at the brew-pub’s website (Czech version, as the English language site is very basic), shows the brewery produces an extensive range of different beer styles, including Porter, Biére de Garde, Oatmeal Stout, plus various single-hop ales. On our last evening in the town, we tried the bottled Radniční speciál: Maibock 15°, which was excellent.

Both these brew-pubs demonstrate an astonishing degree of innovation and an impressive range of different beers and styles. This is light years removed from the usual (German) model of a light (Helles), a dark (Dunkles) plus a wheat beer (Weizen), which characterises most European establishments. The local Czechs are certainly lucky to have such places.

As I said at the beginning, I don’t think any of us realised just how innovative these two establishments were. I hadn’t done any of the pre-trip research I would normally do, as this tour wasn’t my pigeon. Instead I was relying on our party leader who, it must be said, did a really good job in organising the accommodation and transport arrangements. I was just content, for once, to go with the flow. However, if I ever find myself back in the Vysočina Region of the Czech Republic, I will certainly make a point of returning to these two excellent brew-pubs.

No comments: