The birthplace of beer as we know it

Trip Start May 24, 2013
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Trip End Sep 01, 2013


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Flag of Czech Republic  , Bohemia,
Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ah, it's so nice to be away from the crowds of tourists. I'm in Plzen now, caught the train at 9.15am this morning and arrived around 11am.

Coming into Plzen on the train, and then walking to the hostel, I was questioning my choice of places to visit. It was industrial looking, nothing to write home about. But then I walked into the Old Town centre and it's quite pretty, with old buildings and cobbled streets and a large town square. There are beautiful gardens around the perimeter of the old town where the city walls and moat used to be. And best of all, no crowds. Of course it isn't anywhere near as beautiful as Prague.

I walked around the old town for a little and went into the gothic cathedral of St Bartholomew. I also went up the tower for some great views. You can see the hills of Germany from there. From that vantage point you could see that maybe the old town is the only part of Plzen worth visiting. That and of course the Pilsner Brewery and Brewery museum.

I went to the brewery museum first and took a tour of the underground tunnel ways that stretch around the old city. They started off as cellars in the 12th century, and then natural water wells were discovered. Over time these became a network of tunnels, cellars and wells. They used to brew and store beer down there. In total there is about 14km of tunnels. We went through 800m.

I then went through the brewery museum. It was pretty interesting. It has the only remaining section of the old city walls. There is a scale model of the brewery there which is actually a working brewery which can produce 30L of beer. It took the guy 18 years to build.

I'm now sitting in the bar/restaurant adjoining the museum having an unfiltered and unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell. Apparently this is the only place it is sold. It's beautiful. Worth the visit to Plzen alone. I'm just waiting on a grilled pork chop to accompany my delicious beverage. After that I will head to the Pilsner Brewery for a tour.

That pork chop was probably the best I've ever had!

I've just been on the Pilsner Urquell brewery tour. So worth coming here! The tour was fascinating, I wished Jodi was here because she would have loved the production side of it. First we went to the packing house which is 20,000 square meters. Enough to fit 5 football fields. They have four lines. One specifically for recycled glass bottles, the others for new glass bottles, cans and plastic bottles. They can fill and package 120,000 bottles an hour and that doesn't count the cans at the same time.

We then watched a short video on what makes Pilsner Urquell unique and a bit on its history. Basically it revolutionised how beer was brewed by using a new method of bottom fermentation back in 1838. Now days 70% of all beers use this method. We then went through a sensory room where we tasted and smelled the hops and malt. The brewing rooms were next. Again I wished Jodi could have seen it. There were these huge copper kettles that are heated from below and can reach temperatures of 1000 degrees.

Next came the really interesting part of the tour: underground in the cellars. These were used to ferment the beer in big barrels and they were lined up in these underground chambers. There are 22km of these chambers and 27 of these huge ice chambers that they kept full of ice to maintain a cold temperature. There is no ice there now but it was still only 6 degrees down there. We got to have a beer straight from a tap from one of the huge barrels.

The weather has cooled a little to a rather nice temperature. Perfect for sitting and enjoying a Pilsner Urquell. Actually it is still incredible humid.

Another bar and another beer. It is impossible not to drink beer when in Czech. Just sitting near the main square watching people go by and waiting until I get hungry enough to eat dinner.

One observation I have of Plzen is the people. There aren't many around. It seems very quite for a town of this size. I wonder if the locals don't have much need to venture into the old town area. Also, there are a lot of bogans and bums. Every green space seems to have some down and out drinking from a lemonade bottle which sure as hell ain't lemonade. And there are tattooed guys with dogs everywhere, the type that Hollywood would cast for Eastern European gangsters. This must be the throw back of living in the beer capital of the world. Complete generalisation I know, and as I write it I look around and no one of that description can be seen. I still stand by it.

I took a bit more of a walk around town and then I got myself a kebab and a beer, how many is that today - who cares, I'm on holiday, and went and sat on the grass by a little pond and ate my dinner. Now I'm back at the hostel and it is looking like I will have the room to myself. Fingers crossed. My train tomorrow isn't till 11am so I get a sleep in tomorrow too. Luxury.

Summary of Plzen - it was worth half a day for the brewery tour and museum. Any longer and I'd be bored to tears.
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