All photos by Keith Allison.
“The Czech people love beer,” my cousin, a Czech Republic native, said when I told her I was soon bound for Prague and would be seeking out its drinking culture. “They’re very proud of the beer they make there. You’ll have to drink a lot of Pilsner Urquell, but don’t worry; it’s better there than it is here.” And everything she said was true. The Czech Republic is the largest consumer of beer in the world, with the average adult consuming on average 1 liter of beer a day. And the beer is inexpensive, almost ridiculously so. A half-liter mug will set you back somewhere in the range of CZ30 — about $1.50, less if you get away from central Prague. However, most of that beer will be from one of the country’s big breweries: Gambrinus, Staropramen, Krušovice, Budvar/Budweiser (nothing to do with American Budweiser), and the king of them all, Pilsner Urquell. It is common for taverns and restaurants to serve only one beer, and though it will be very good, if you are, like me, obsessed with variety and craft brewing, you might start wondering if there’s not a little something more to be had amid that sea of Pilsner Urquell umbrellas and Krušovice window signs.
Don’t worry. There is. And you can get most of it in a single place: The Prague Beer Museum.
Small and welcoming, and tucked into the outskirts of Prague’s main concentration of tourists, The Prague Beer Museum is the city’s premiere destination if you are looking for a Czech beer experience beyond the macro-brews. The bar boasts some 30 Czech craft and micro-brews on tap, and sitting down in front of that long row of mysterious and enticing names can be a bit intimidating. Or it could be, if it wasn’t so easy to just plunge in. You can go with quarter or half-liter mugs, or you can opt for one of the flights — of five or ten beers. The grimoire of a menu (in both Czech and English) also gives you the details of each beer and brewery, and on multiple visits I never encountered a bartender who wasn’t more than happy to help me make some choices, based on what I liked in American, British, or German beer. In addition to pilsners and dark lagers, you can find beers that run the gamut, from Indian pale ales to English pale ales and wheat beers, and even fruit beers.
After settling in at the bar one afternoon (it’s pretty empty during the day, though if you are going at night, you should consider making a reservation, as the place gets packed — and very smoky) and having the bartender give me a hand selecting from that wall of almost entirely unfamiliar beers, I kicked off my Prague Beer Museum adventure with a Ferdinand Sedm Kuli amber lager that tasted of black pepper and caramel and a pinch of anise, with lots of malt and vanilla and a slight bitterness. It was exactly the beer I wanted, but not the only beer I wanted, so I went in for a five-beer flight: a Baronka Premium from Žatecky Pivovar (malty, hoppy, maybe even sweet corn), Pivovar Vysoký Chlumec’s Demon which is brewed according to old an Munich monastery recipe from 1420, Černá Lavina cream stout from the Bernard Family Brewery (dark chocolate, roasted malt, bitter, with nicely balanced hops), Merlin Černy from Mestsky Pivovar Platan s.r.o. (just as I will drink any English beer named after WWII weaponry, I will drink any Czech beer named after wizards and stuff), and finally another recommendation from the bartender, a dark ale called Xantho from the Zatec brewery (toasted malt, cocoa, and surprisingly light and fresh).
There wasn’t a bad beer in the bunch. Prague Beer Museum serves their beer fresh and unpasteurized (which is increasingly common in Prague, where “tanked” versions of even the macro-brews are helping redefine how much better even already good beer can taste), and the taps change out frequently. As people gathered around me — two guys from London, a German, and two women from Amsterdam (English is spoken all around — and in fact, Prague Beer Museum takes payment in Czech korunas, EU Euros, or American dollars — but no credit cards) — we all compared notes and decided, all of us, that we could spend an awful lot of time at this place. But not an awful lot of money. After all the beer and food on top of that (grilled sausages, pretzel, dumplings and gravy, sauerkraut — all fine, but don’t come to this bar for the food), I had barely spent $15.
It was no surprise then, that two days later I found myself back at the Prague Beer Museum, walking in just in front of two Australians who seemed confused that it wasn’t an actual museum. For round two, I went with Bakalar Honey from Pivovar Bakalář (sweet, nutty, honeyed, and perfect for the chilly day we were having), the Kout Tmavy black lager from Pivovar Kout na Šumavě, and to measure a craft brew up against the big boys, Prachenska Perla, a classic Czech pilsner style from Platan.
To be honest, if you are a beer drinker, there is no losing in Prague, and my affinity for the strange and the obscure is not meant to be a slight against the beers that lead the Czech pack. Lord knows I drained more than my fair share of Pilsner Urquell and never went home unhappy. But it would be a shame for a beer traveler to come to the Czech Republic and not be able to venture into the Bohemian obscurities. Which means you will find yourself at Prague Beer Museum, possibly more than once, and for very long stretches. When it comes to Czech craft beer, it’s the best place in town and an absolute must-visit.
Prague Beer Museum
Dlouhá 46, Prague 1