The city of Plzen (pronounced Pilzen) holds a particular attraction for beer lovers, as it is the home of the first true pilsner beer Pilsner Urquell. The Czech name for it is Plzensky Prazdroj, which literally means “original pilsner”. It only contains four ingredients (water, barley, hops, & yeast) and was first brewed here in the mid 1800’s when it became a smashing success for the town. However, do to both it’s popularity and the unfortunate business oversight of not trademarking “pilsner” soon enough, the word pilsner began to be used to describe lesser-quality beers that carry similar characteristics but none of the unique flavor of the original. For instance, the American Budweiser (brewed with rice, of all things…) is called a “pilsner” but has very little resemblance to its great-grand daddy.
The tour of the brewery was interesting, not so much in what we learned, but in how proud they are of their beer. We walked through a multi-thousand dollar exhibit dedicated solely to the water they use to make the beer. (It’s water. You need it to make beer. We get it.) The video room where they tell the story of how they make the beer has a 270 degree screen that you watch while standing on a slowly rotating platform. They’ve really put a lot of money into convincing you that they are something special.
As for myself, I was convinced that they’ve got something special before I went. Of all the “pilsner” beers that I’ve ever had, Pilsner Urquell has long been a favorite. The best part was going down into their cellar where they originally stored the beer while it was fermenting. They have over 9km of cellar tunnels and rooms in which they used to age the beer in giant barrels. What’s great is that they still use the cellar for small batches to test and make sure that the current modern process matches the quality that came from their roots. So, they still age small batches in huge barrels which you get to sample on the tour. I have to say that unfiltered, unpasteurized pilsner is wonderful.
There is much more to Plzen than it’s beer… it has a somewhat interesting history with respect to WWII (they have a museum dedicated to General Patton that we visited) and the ubiquitous cathedral (St. Bartholomew in this case, which has the tallest spire in the country).
All together, it was a great day trip which ended with a relaxing evening back at Andrea and Greg’s place. Andrea and I cooked dinner for Andy’s birthday, and celebrated with pieces of a Czech desert (
I forget the name at the moment Medovmik) which is a slightly-sweet honey cake.