Ah the annual Orbit Beers brewing & pubs pilgrimage. Previous years have taken us to Brussels, Southern Franconia and the region around Bamberg and of course Köln and Düsseldorf (twice),
The year in late January, having embarked an early morning flight to Prague, we set off on our very own Pilsner Trail. In honour, not of Mark E. Smith and The Fall, but the fantastic pale lagers of the region.
Arriving in the centre of Prague we headed straight to U Medvídků for lunch. We immediately filed downstairs to snatch the obligatory glimpse of the oldest, original Urquell tap in the city, before settling in around a cramped table in a mid-floor room we had entirely to ourselves. A frosty response from waiters is so much a par for the course for non-Czech speaking tourists in these traditional spots that it sometimes seems as though it’s part of the attraction. Though perhaps it was because we arrived for lunch at gone 2pm, anathema to locals?
The first pints of soft, luxurious Urquell were quickly (if not quite quickly enough for our host) consumed along with some standard-fair Czech cuisine - pork, pickles and dumplings abound. Urquell is of course from nearby Plzen, rather than Prague however the beer is near omnipresent in the Czech capital, hence we homed in on half litres of this time-honoured classic of prominent spicy hops and silky smooth texture in one of it’s oldest outposts. On form, it’s a great beer. Add in the woody, atmospheric surroundings rich in the history and culture of pubs and beer, the local cuisine and good company and this, to many, is what drinking beer is all about.
We’re a mixed bunch of beer lovers at Orbit though of course and so our next stop took in a more modern, stylised approach. DVA Kahouti are on the edge of the chic Karlin district of the city. DVA is part-owned by Matuska (famed for their hop-forward approach to brewing), and head brewer Lukas invited us to have a look around the brewery/restaurant/pub and have a few beers with him. That we did, listening to him talk about their process and techniques, whilst enjoying his range of 2020 style Czech beer. New world hops and ale yeast strains abound, but in true Czech style, decoction mash techniques are retained. Lukas was a great host, even getting us behind the bar to talk us through the various different methods of dispense that the Czechs are famous for - Mlíko anyone?
Lukas demonstrates some serious technique to Danny.
Paul takes care of a Milko poured directly from the tank.
The Sunday after our visit saw the place host a hog roast and stay open all night for a Super Bowl party. Another great example of how DVA Kahouti marry Czech beer customs and traditions with influencers from further afield.
For at least a small percentage of us at Orbit (1/9!), no visit to Prague is complete without a visit to the Dlouhá branch of the Lokal chain. No doubt this place is on every tourist trail, no doubt you can get better food and beer elsewhere in the city, but somehow that all misses the point. This long narrow restaurant with a simple bar (two taps, light and dark/Urquell and Kozel, thank you very much) is always packed with tourists and locals alike.
Book in advance, weeks in advance. Lokal specialise and pride themselves on the knowledge and understanding of their tapsters/servers. If we learnt the techniques of different Czech pours from Lukas at DVA, we came to Lokal to drink them, in abundance. Suspicions abound that the key to the fantastic atmosphere here is the rate at which the beer continues to flow.
For the real pub nerds among you, take some time to study the tapsters and their teams in Czech pubs. From the specific storage of the empty glasses to the distinction in different types of pours and how that relates to the distance between tap and glass, to the particulars of how each and every glass is washed, rinsed and allowed to air dry. There will be no bubbles clinging to the side of your thick-rimmed tankard here, trust us.
For all this love of pubs and wider beer culture, the purpose of our trip was of course primarily to absorb what we could about the finest examples of Czech lager that we could find. And so, eschewing the more well-trodden hour train ride out to Plzen to visit the big brand owned Urquell, we instead headed north of Prague to check out Únětický Pivovar.
This brewery situated in the hilly village of Únětice is famed for their light, 12° lager. All beautiful satin texture, spicy noble hops and crisp finish, this is how beer is meant to be (did I say that already?). We whiled away a few hours over lunch discussing how we might return to Orbit and brew something approaching this elegant tipple. Before being distracted by an enormous wedding party! A hundred or so folk were full or quiet, polite decorum inside before bursting into life around the young bride and groom in the courtyard, singing and clapping as we waited for our ride back to the city.
We wrapped up the weekend with more visits to pubs and bars, modern and traditional alike. To those that know Prague for its beer and pubs, names like Beer Geek Bar, U Sadu, Hostinec U Vodoucha and Restaurace U Pinkasů may be familiar, the Horror Bar perhaps less so...
What of the consequences of this journey for Orbit Beers? Well, we returned to London to brew a beer in its honour of course!
WLS040 is our interpretation of a classic Czech pilsner, inspired in equal parts by the beer(s) we know from Plzen, and the beers we drank on our trip to Prague.
Brewed in late March to 13° Plato, we lagered it for fully seven weeks ready to launch along with our webshop in the first week of June. Deep burnished gold in colour with a fluffy white head and soft carbonation. Pronounced woody & spicy hop character, with floral and lemon background notes. Bready malt with a touch of caramel and delicate fruity yeast esters are all in evidence. Smooth and rich mouthfeel, balanced with an upfront and present hop bitterness. Welcome to the results of our weekend in Prague.
Check out Sarah's Playlist just for this beer.