Plenty, it seems. A lot of times, people from around the world have a reason to visit a destination. For some, it is a chance to reconnect with their past including family and friends. For others, it is to relive a magical moment from a long time ago. Plenty others visit to experience the sights and sounds of a city or country, one they haven’t been to before.
As for me, all I wanted to have was a pint of beer. Specifically, a Pilsner Urquell beer. To be more specific, a pint of Pilsner Urquell beer at the Pilsner Urquell brewery, in Pilsen. There, you have it.
When a friend embarked on his first solo trip, he chose Vienna and Prague as his destinations. Once back to base, all he gushed about was his trip to this brewery in a small town called Pilsen. We promptly proceeded to scour the local booze shops and bars looking for this beer that had so impressed him.
Copious amounts of research and beers later is when it finally dawned on me that there is a difference between lager and pilsner. The history of this beer in an obscure town I’d till then, never heard about, intrigued me. That’s when I knew, if I ever made it to Prague, among the first things I was going to do was make a special pilgrimage to the beer mecca of the world – Pilsen.
Sure enough, a few years ago, when I had the opportunity to get out for about 10 odd days, I chose to head to Prague. As is the norm, I spoke with my friend, and travel companion on most of my travels, to join in. At this point, he was midway through a monumental tour of Europe, extensively eating his way through Spain and drinking in the charms of France. He would meet me in Prague after all. And then onwards on a train journey through Bratislava and Budapest. Thank goodness for the Schengen visa, I say.
On one of those evenings in Prague, as we sat ourselves at a local bar, savouring a delicious plate of goulash washed down with a pint of Pilsner Urquell beer, we decided to head out and visit the brewery, me for the first time, while it would be the second time for him. A lip-smacking meal and a few more pints later, we decided it would be the next morning, hangover or not.
Pilsen, or Plzeň as it is spelt in Czech, is a small town, about an hour and a half from Prague. You can hop onto a train or catch a bus. Both take approximately the same amount of time. We chose to go by bus. Getting directions to the brewery from the bus station wasn’t difficult at all, nor was it too far. Turns out, if you ask anybody from Pilsen, they will vouch for the fact that the heart of the town’s identity was and continues to be Pilsner Urquell Brewery.
Beer may have been around for ages. However, it was never a pleasant sipping experience that we know it today. Then, in October 1842, brew master Josef Groll, who had had enough of being served bad beer, went about creating a revolution of sorts and proceeded to create a unique style of beer; one that would bear the name of its birthplace – Pilsner.
As you walk through the arched gates, among the first sights that greets you is an old coal locomotive and truck that date back to the 1930s. As a transport enthusiast, I couldn’t help but marvel at how well they had maintained these bits of history. However, right now, my mind was on focused on other worldly pleasures.
For a fully immersive experience of the brewery, you must join one of the daily guided tours. And that starts at the Welcome Centre, immediately after you have entered the gates of the brewery. Choose a tour where they speak your language, and in a few moments, you are ready to explore. The tour itself revolves around three main activities.
These include a walk through the modern brewery where you can watch bottles zipping by on conveyor belts as they are washed and filled up with this delicious beer. From there, a walk through the museum reveals the old copper brew kettles, still in immaculate condition. Then it is downstairs to the underground cellars that feels damp at times.
The highlight here is of course, a small pint of unfiltered, unpasteurised beer that everyone is served, directly from the wooden casks. Interestingly, this beer isn’t available in many places outside the brewery, and never outside the Czech Republic. So, make sure you savour every drop of that special beer in that little plastic cup. It is history that you are imbibing, after all.
Once we were done with the tour, I came out feeling like I had graduated from university with a degree in the craft of beer. And there’s no better place to celebrate this special graduation than at the restaurant within the premises itself. It serves an excellent selection of traditional Czech cuisine and yes, Pilsner Urquell beer.
Is it worth your time to travel to Pilsen, just for a chance to savour a bit of fresh history? Well, if you are a beer lover like I am, then absolutely. Think of it as Disneyland, with a delicious twist. Sure, the country may have the highest consumers of beer per capita in the world. However, let that not stop you from adding to that statistic. After all, it’s not every day that one gets to visit the home of Pilsner Urquell and the birthplace of pilsner beer.