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Published: November 3rd 2011
Czech Republic – the land of big beers, beautiful women, and words with too many consonants. A lot like Wales in that respect, except there it was big women and beautiful beers.
In particular, Plzen. Or Pilsen. Whichever you prefer and can pronounce.
The campsite at Pilsen was by a lake, and it had all the best that Eastern Bloc style had to offer – nuclear-atack-solid amenities blocks complete with parcel shelf toilets and communal showers (although not prison style – there was at least dividers between the showers. It's just not the Australian way to get nekkid in front of others, prudes that we are, not when sober anyway).
The site backed on to a nice bit of forest, and I utilised this part for the dunny, as per usual. You couldn't walk in too far, though – I only narrowly avoided contact with head high stinging nettle.
But there was one main reason to come here, and it was a bloody good one. Pilsner. Cerveza. Biere. Biru. It's about the beer, and the beer was good.
The first thing you noticed about the Pilsener Urquell brewery was the smell. Ahh, that sweet smell of hops
and barley and water and yeast being transformed into something better. Then, the gate, and a good gate it was too. I stopped to take a photo and came reasonably close to being run down by someone that had the nerve to actually use the road.
The English brewery tour started at 12:45 and we had arrived in plenty of time, enough time to watch the latecomers jostling for position. An older German couple had some harsh words to a young hipster couple they believed had pushed in front (they hadn't, but you gotta give these old folk some leeway) – they take their beer seriously here.
A good tour – and it shaded the XXXX tour by more than a bit.
Out of the four of us, I, unsurprisingly perhaps, found the tour most interesting. Triple mashed? Really? That's great! Copper mash tuns, then transferred to stainless steel – well, of course, the heat properties of copper make this a given....and so forth.
The bottling floor was also a spectacle, at least in part due to the excellent moustache sported by the returnable bottle inspector. Resplendent in sleeveless camo, nicely tucked into black jeans, he
was a machine, quality controlling those bottles like there was no tomorrow. Like a ninja he would spot a suspect bottle and BAM!....it was a goner, ripped off the line like yesterday's prawn heads.
The sheer amount of returnable bottles was impressive, too. Wow, who'd a thunk, you can make bottles of slightly thicker glass and wash them and...use them again! Whoa, steady on, that's crazy talk. Made you just a touch embarrassed to be Australian with our ridiculous twist top disposables pieces of poo. Terrible for home brew, too – the bottles in Europe would be brilliant. I digress.
From the bottling plant, where we had been impressed with all the awesome figures for beer – more beer gets bottled here in a single second than there is it is possible to drink in a billion years!!!!!, or something like that – we were whisked, or bussed, really, there being no whisks involved, back to the front of the plant to get in the largest elevator in the Czech Republic.
Suitably impressed, we alighted, all 70 odd of us (the elevator had actually been pretty big) to find the brewing area. Awesome. Giant copper tuns as
far as the eye could see, or at least as far as the back wall. A bit of lecturing, then we got to taste the raw ingredients – barley, which was good. Then for some reason everyone tasted the hops. Not sure why – as any home brewer knows it smells excellent, but it tastes like crap by itself. And the water, which, in this region is super pure, or special or something – it tasted like water.
Then, into the cellars. This was pretty cool, too. The whole city of Pilsen is cris-crossed by tunnels, something like 20km of them, and we had a short tour through the ones under the brewery. Here we finally got to the main event – beer tasting. It was actually not that great, being pretty green, but it was still better than a lot of beers that dare to call themselves so.
Tour finished, we headed to the beer hall on the premises for lunch. The giant beers we got there were excellent, and cheap, and the ten sausages I got for lunch sat ridiculously heavy combined with 2 litres of excellent beer. Then the obligatory visit to the souvenir shop
where we found....stubby coolers! Seriously the only ones we'd managed to find in 8 months of travel. We bought a couple (you're welcome Pete) and I got an excellent giant stein.
But there was more to Pilsen than the brewery. We found it to be a nice town – parks, canals, koi ponds, and trams. Easy to get around, and always a place to get a beer and a great feed somewhere in your view. The cathedral was actually different to the myriad others we'd seen. It was sort of plonked in the middle of the main square, and the architecture was quite different from the Western European churches. It dominated a square surrounded by other beautiful buildings, and was itself surrounded by strange fountains which, I think, spelled something out in a language I couldn't understand.
There did seem to be a strange fascination with things Australian. We happened upon a pie shop, called SkipPie, which featured various Australian foods, including some things I'd never heard of.
Then, up the road, a shop called Bushman which sold Aboriginal flag t-shirts and boomerangs, among it's 'Bushman' brand of clothing.
We came back to the camp to find
we had been surrounded by Swedes with giant mobile homes, but they were friendly enough. Very impressed with my new stein it has to be said.
And we missed PilsnerFest by a week or so. Dang it.
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