Thursday, April 1, 2010

Pilsner pilgrimage

For a very long time I have wanted to take the trip to Plzeň, the fourth largest city of the Czech Republic. Located in the western part of Bohemia, Plzeň (also known as Pilsen) is famous for the pilsener beer style, first brewed by the Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery in 1842. The Pilsner Urquell lager beer hails from this brewery, and all other pilsener beers are made in the same style as this beer from Plzeň.

On the last Sunday in February I was standing on the platform of Prague's main railway station, Hlavní nádraží, to catch the train to Železná Ruda. Well, I was not going all the way to the city near the German border, but this is one of the train routes serving people travelling to Plzeň.

A two hour train ride was in front of me, and as we travelled out of Prague the fields had more signs of Winter than the Czech capital where there were only signs of Spring.
On the train I felt a little bit thirsty, and what else to drink than some Pilsner Urquell? It was refreshing drinking the beer, while thinking that I would try it on the brewery site in a few hours.

The train stopped at several stations. One of them was Beroun, where you can find the Berounský Medvěd brewery and brewpub. The brewery's beers have a good reputation. I remembered from Pivní Filosof's blog post about Berounský Medvěd that the brewery was very near the railway station, and I made a mental note to visit Beroun on a later trip to the Czech Republic.

We got closer and closer to Plzeň, and suddenly we were in the suburbs to the city. There was some industry, and as we were coming into Plzeň's railway station I could see something I knew: The Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery's tower.

I left the train, and starting walking through the railway station. On the ground floor there is a tourist information. I went into it to buy a day ticket on Plzeň's buses and trams. Unfortunately, they only sold one way tickets for public transport there, so I was asked to buy a day ticket at a ticket machine near a tram or bus stop. I found one later, and it cost only 40 CZK.

From the railway station it was only a short walk to the brewery. First I had to go through an underground tunnel, later I found myself on a pedestrian bridge. From the bridge you have a great view of the brewery and its famous gate. The gate is, of course, found on the label of Pilsner Urquell.

I entered the brewery area and walked around it inside the gate. The brewery souvenir shop was unfortunately closed, so I ended up without some of the Pilsner Urquell merchandise I was planning to buy. Instead I had a look at the brewery buildings and surroundings.

Pilsner Urquell had a great success in the 19th Century, and I have read several books that tell that the brewery daily sent beer to Vienna. A Pilsner Urquell railway wagon was on the brewery site - probably to commemorate this.

Then it was time for on-site beer drinking. I went into the brewery restaurant, Na Spilce.

The cellar was cavernous, and there were many people there. The Winter Olympics were still going on in Vancouver, and highlights were being shown on screens all over the restaurant.

It was time for a beer, and naturally I ordered a half litre of Pilsner Urquell. A waitress brought it to me very quickly. It was great! I am a big fan of Pilsner Urquell, and it was a treat to drink it at the brewery. I do not think it has tasted better ever, but of course that view is coloured by the time and place. In the glass it was a golden lager with some carbonation and a medium sized head. The aromas were of grains and flowers. In the mouth there was this fresh and delicious taste with a hint of sweetness combined with lovely maltiness and that great and just correct bitter finish with lots of Saaz hops. Wonderful.

I also had some food. The waitress was not good at English, but I manages to get a Czech speciality that is great with beer: Fried cheese with tartar sauce. I also had some fried potatoes on the side. That was a nice dish to the beer, and I liked having it.

The restaurant also sells other beers than Pilsner Urquell. If you like the darker Master beers, they are available together with the black Kozel beer and the ever present Gambrinus light lager. I avoided all of them, and had another glass of Pilsner Urquell.

Then it was time to leave the brewery. I had more plans for my visit to Plzeň. There were sights to be seen, and there were also new beers to be tasted.

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