“This is a very typical Czech pub,” said Jan, our guide, as we entered our first stop of the night.
“Unbelievably Czech,” he said, as we walked past a heavily grafittied door and reached the top of a windy flat of steps.
“Worryingly Czech,” he concluded, as we entered a room made of a series of arches and were shown to our table in the corner, my eyes already starting to water a little from the smoke.
But behind the bar, and in the cellar, what was going on was very un-Czech.
|The ironically named ‘Bad Times’ – Zly Casy|
Evan Rail is an American who’s lived in Prague for about a decade. “I used to live in Dresden. One night I had a dream about going to Prague and I told my flatmates I was thinking of visiting, and they said, ‘pack your stuff, dude, you won’t be coming back.'” He’s brought us to Zly Casy (Bad Times – “Named because people used to come to the pub for good times, and now they come to talk about the bad times”) because it’s the centre of a new Czech brewing revolution.
My first beer is Rarasek, a refreshing wheat beer with a definite banoffee character but no spiciness, making it clean and refreshing. The we have an ‘English pale ale’ from Kocour, who’s branding alone tells you whoever owns the brewery has been inspired by Stone, and maybe by Brew Dog – whose livery adorns the walls. Kocour doesn’t taste like an English pale ale, but it does taste absolutely wonderful, delicately laced with new world hops and reminding Young Dredge of Nelson Sauvin-influenced Kipling.
|The Czech take on English pale ale, via the US West Coast, and possibly New Zealand|
Hanz, who owns this bar (“The Germans spell it with an ‘s’, so I spell it with a ‘z'”) sources all the beers himself from Bohemia, and across the border into Austria and Germany. There’s a cross-fertilisation going on between these brewing traditions, taking in elements of Belgian, American and British brewing too. This pub, and a handful of others like it, have formed a collective which seeks to promote interesting craft beer and work hard to serve it in the very best condition. There are 25 taps on the bar here – there’s a pub opening in a few weeks that will have 30.
“All these pubs – they just used to serve Staropramen, or Pilsner Urquell. That was all you could get. Now you’re getting young guys coming in here boasting that they’ve been to Orval or Westverleteren and brining those kinds of tastes back with them,” says Evan.
For our next stop we go to the end of the tramline to Prvni Pivni Tramway, affectionately referred to as a ‘pajzl’, which roughly translates as a dive or a shithole, but in a good way – my favourite type of pub.
|A dive. A dive that has Brew Dog Trashy Blonde on tap.|
As we walk in, the barman rings a loud bell, which I take to mean it’s last orders. But no – it’s an old tram bell, rung ion welcome as we walked through the door. The seats are made from old tram benches, “The kind that are designed to be so uncomfortable that you cannot fall asleep on the tram and miss your stop.” Barcelona v Benfica is on the TV. Brew Dog’s Trashy Blonde is on tap. “None of this existed three years ago,” says Evan, “You simply couldn’t get these beers or beer styles in Prague.”
And finally, it’s back into town to Jama. There are three of these now, all serving great beer.
There’s just one thing that worries me about all this. I love the global craft brewing movement and I love American beers a great deal. But there’s a hint of triumphalism in some of the tweets I get back through the night, sharing this new wave of Czech beers. There’s a certain kind of beer fan who’s never been happy with the fact that a great brewing tradition here was focused around lager, and now there’s perhaps a sense that the Czechs have seen the error of their ways and are embracing the same craft ales popular everywhere else. My worry is that we’re in danger of losing a wonderful lager brewing tradition – I never had a problem with Czech beer. In fact I love it. I thought craft brewing was meant to be about regional and local diversity, and I’m uncomfortable that the same new world hops and beer styles seem to be permeating all corners of the globe. is this the end for great Czech lager?
Evan puts me at ease. “Czech lager brewing is growing alongside this stuff,” he says. “There are so many new Czech style beers, but they’re coming from micros and brew pubs. These other beers only account for a tiny portion of the total. It’s only the giants that are losing out.”
None of us were expecting to see this in Prague, and we’re delighted that we did. In ten minutes we set off for Pislen, via Chodovar, home of the beer spa. Let’s see what’s happening there.
I hadn’t realised Tim Hampson fro the Guild of Beer Writers was here with us too. Between me, him and Adrian, someone needs to be running a sweepstake on who’s the first to use phrases like, “When you get to my age,” with Young Dredge.