No trip to the Czech Republic would be complete without making a pilgrimage to Plzen, the beer capital of the world's biggest group of beer drinkers. Plzen is the home of both the Pilsner Urquell brewery, established in 1898, and the Pilsener style beer. How much does beer mean to the city? Well, history indicates that beer has been brewed since the establishment in 1295. Indeed, one of the first things I saw while walking in the heart of Plzen was a huge banner advertising for the beer museum. Yes, a museum chronicling the history of beer. More on this later!
One of the highlights in Plzen is a tour of the aforementioned Pilsner Urquell brewery, which was fantastic. The student entry fee was roughly $5, which was reasonably priced; it was about $7 for adults. My group's guide spoke excellent English, enhancing the 90 minute tour. To start out, we walked through the facility where they can the bottles and kegs. I want to say they pump roughly 285, 000 gallons per day, but I will have to double check my notes-the guide spoke a bit too fast at that point. Either way, the brewery pumps a significant amount of beer everyday. When we came back from this facility, we saw several trucks ready to ship kegs to their destinations all around the wonderful Czech Republic. Along the way, we saw a brief five minute video about the materials behind the beer. The tour culminated in a treat: we got to sample beer straight from the taps! This was the purest form of Pilsner Urquell, meaning the brewery is the only place in the world where you could get it. We were underground, so the beer was cold-perfect for the 90 degree weather outside! With the conclusion of the tour, we were free to peruse the gift shop.
One of the fun facts I took away was how there used to be a mini city of sorts within the brewery's premises! Post-World War 1 saw housing, schools, and even a fire department spring up, reinforcing that beer is a serious business in Plzen. When Czechoslovakia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand paid a visit, and his signature still remains (albeit it's now framed) in the guestbook.
Finally, the beer museum. It was about a ten minute walk from the brewery, and both are in the heart of the city. My hostel, through a combination of luck and skill, was five minutes away from the museum. However, it was a bit unassuming since it was located right off of the street. Admission was ~$3.50, and I walked through the entire place in 30-45 minutes. I thought it was neat because it traced the origins of beer, which is derived from the Germanic tribes roaming in the area. Beer came to Britain in the first century via the Roman legionnaires, given their contact with the Celts and the other tribes.
Other memorable tidbits were the beer glasses found over the years, and the hilarious yet informative facts pertaining to the Czechs and beer. For the former, it was a walk through history by seeing how the Czechs figured out to maximize the beer consumed. And for the latter, some of them included: a man setting the world record for most beer keg bench presses, a man drinking a certain amount of beer while submerged underwater, and a car being supported by enough beer steins. Only in the Czech Republic, right?
Important note, for beer aficionados: you get a voucher upon the end of your tour at both the brewery and museum for a free 0.21 liter (dark or light) beer at participating restaurants.
Pilsner Urquell Brewery tours are open Mondays through Sundays and tours in English run three times a day: 12:15, 2:15, and 4:15. More information can be found at http://www.prazdrojvisit.cz/en/prohlidka-pilsner-urquell-pro-verejnost/