03 July 2010

Brewpubs and a Walking Tour

Who would have thought you could find a really great American IPA in Prague?

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Yesterday I woke up at about 1:00 AM, having slept since about eight the previous night. Jet lag, I suppose. I'm composing this post at 4:00 in the morning local time, so it's not out of my system yet. Dammit.

Anyway, woke up and read for a few hours. Alastair Reynolds' House of Suns was what I was reading in the airport, so I'm finishing that before starting anything else. I do have some Kafka here and Shana has been talking up Unbearable Lightness of Being, so I will get some more locally-sourced literature before I leave. I read for a few hours, then slept from about 5 AM to 7 AM before getting up, showering, and eating the free breakfast provided by the dorms. Basically lots of cold cuts and bread, but I had a couple of cups of coffee and it did a nice job preparing me for the day. Isn't peasant food awesome?

After breakfast we wandered around a couple of blocks nearest the dorm, just generally scoping out the area. We found a couple of little markets where we'll be able to buy some basic groceries and, of course, beer. Shana picked up some bar soap and a couple of other items, then we sat in a park for a few minutes. Basically just a lazy morning.

We headed back to the dorm around 10, where Shana took a nap (she woke when I did yesterday, and didn't get the nap like I did) and I composed yesterday's post and caught up with email. Around that time a few of our friends started showing up in the dorm, including John and Katie, which was cool. Around 2:00 we were getting hungry, and Shana and I had talked about trying one of the brewpubs in town for lunch, because one was located about five minutes' walk from the dorm.

Originally I think it was just going to be she and I, but it ended up being a bit of a production because maybe eight or nine people decided to follow us for lunch. Some people we've known for a couple of years, but mostly new people, so I was a bit apprehensive about taking people to a place I've never been in a city where they speak a language I don't.

I figured out how to get to the place on the map, and pretty quickly ended up in Klasterni Pivovar, otherwise known as the Strahov Monastic Brewery. Where they had not only the expected Czech lagers and dark lagers, but a German-style Weizen and even an India Pale Ale on the chalkboard menu outside.

Obviously, I was intrigued. Our motley crew found a table and checked out the menu. Great prices, very decent-sounding food, and the aforementioned beers. The weizen and the IPA were both seasonal, but they were on-tap. Great. I decided on the weizen, as it was getting up in temps and I always love a good German-style wheat beer on a hot day.  Shana got the IPA.

One sniff and I knew my hefe was great. Lots of cloves and banana, very much like Schneider Hefe. Tasted very authentically Munich.

But how good could an IPA made in Prague be? Would it be watered down for a market not used to hoppy beers? Would it have crisp hop floral qualities, or be a mushy mess? I have to admit, I would have bet on a fairly lame interpretation of style, not because the Czechs don't know how to make beer, but just because the English Ale tradition from which modern IPAs come from is just very out of the general comfort zone of the region. There's no doubt that the Czechs make great beer, but could they make a great IPA?

The IPA and the Weizen. I want one of those glasses, too.
I have to admit, yes they could. Poured rich orange, left significant lacing, and smelled sweet, grapefruity, with a very good hop profile. I was in a social setting that didn't really encourage note-taking, but I'll definitely go back for a full review of both beers, which were excellent. I finished off the session with a serving of their Dark, which was also quite good. Definitely recommended to anyone looking for a great pint in Prague, although I know the weizen and the IPA are summer beers only.

Along with the beers, we had a bit of food. I had the chicken schnitzel with potatoes and chives, and Shana had goulash with some bread. Very nice comfort food, and pretty inexpensive.

After lunch, we had a walking tour scheduled with a local Czech professor of architecture and art. His name is Milos, and this was far from the dry, stuffy tour that you might imagine. Milos was personable, clever, willing to explain even the simplest concepts without condescension, and just an overall fascinating guy. He's lived in Prague his whole life, and told stories about his own history during the Communist era alongside the architecture lessons. Also a bit of a music geek, he claimed he started to learn English by listening to the Beatles, and told emotionally-charged anecdotes about the importance of Western culture, most specifically music, to the people of the Czech Republic during the period he described as "a half-prison." I'll leave it to Shana to give details of the tour, as she took lots of pictures and remembers a lot of it better than I, but suffice to say that we enjoyed the tour so much we're probably going to take it again today at 10:00, because Milos said that he likes to vary up the route between the two sessions, and while much of what we see will be the same, I'm sure we'll learn even more the second time.

I drink my first real Pilsner Urquell.
Plus Milos is just an awesome guy. After a fairly extended rant about the way tourism has destroyed what he loved about Old Town in Prague, he asked, "Is anyone ready for a beer?" Oh, hell yeah Milos. He took us into one of the bars just off the touristy strip and told us not to buy food, because it's outrageously expensive, but that they had the cheapest drafts of Pilsner Urquell in town, at only 29 karony. That's a little over a buck US, and let me tell you that's a steal. Urquell in the states is usually lightstruck and old, but fresh from a keg a few dozen miles from the source, it's amazingly fresh, hoppy, grassy and green -- just an amazing beer. I'm definitely going to try to get a video review of the stuff while I'm here, even if just a can or bottle, because it's worth it.

After the beer we completed the tour, then Milos showed us how to ride the tram. Before coming here, we each paid about fifty dollars for tram passes that allow unlimited rides for a month, and this looks to be our primary way of getting around. Public transport here is great; I'm not sure I'd even have a reason to own a car if I moved to Prague.

After the tour we went out with our friend Laura to buy some stuff at Tesco and to try this amazing gyro place she knew about near there. Except it turned out that Tesco closed at nine, and the metro stops have changed since last year, when Laura was here for the same program. It was a bit of an adventure getting back, but only because we were all tired and it was getting fairly late. Decent gyro, though.

The laptop is starting to die on me, so I'll wrap up for now. Hopefully Shana will post more details about the walking tour, because it really was amazing. You can view her photo album here, from which all the photos in this post are taken.  

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