Breakfast is at 08:30 again. I'm down before that. Last night was the latest I've stayed out so far. It must have been getting on for 11 o'clock when we left the last pub.
After eating, there's enough time for Jim and I to take a look at the Staropramen brewery. The older bits of the brewery are quite impressive. I get another chance to stare longingly at a brewery yard. Unfortunately, we're a little too early for any of the neighbouring pubs. They don't open until 09:30. At least I get some photos of the brewery. No idea what I'll do with them, but I have them.
We're aiming for the first English-language tour of the day at Pilsner Urquell. The drive is our first taste of motorway in since Germany. It's no more palatable than usual. There's no great distance between Pilsen and Prague so it doesn't take long.
Pilsen - Na Spilce
U Prazdroje 7,
304 97 Plzeň.
Tel: 377 062 755,
After parking and buying tickets we still have a while before the tour starts. Luckily, the pub is open.
You remember me saying that beerhalls come in a variety of sizes? U Spilce is at the large end. F*cking enormous. And shinily new. They have a decent selection of beers on draught, including the two new Master beers - 13º amber and 18º dark. I go for the latter. It is 11:00 and it only comes in 40 cl glasses. There's time for three and a snack before the tour starts. I'm later glad that I had those three strong beers.
Master 18º Tmavé: very dark brown colour, sweet taste, toffee, liquorice and dates flavours. I'm surprised at how good this beer is. It's a decent try at a Doppelbock. I give in 62 out of 100.
A group of about 200 Chinese comes in. There's still plenty of seats left after they sit down. I told you this place was big. None of the Chinese seem to be drinking beer, which is a bit odd in a brewery. Then I spot a couple of the children - they can't be more than 7 or 8 years old - struggling with a half litre pot of Prazdroj. Very odd.
I'd been a bit worried at the entrance to the ticked office. There was display of beer bottles called "The World of SABMiller". A whole wall of dull lagers. It's not the sort of world I want to live in. Why such obtrusive corporate imagery? This is the home of pale lager. Shouldn't they be celebrating that rather than how well the parent company has played beer monopoly across Eastern Europe?
Pilsner Urquell tour
The tour begins with a film. The alarm bells start ringing (in my head) when it refers to Pilsner Urquell as a brand rather than a beer. Let's hope that's the end of the corporate bullshit. A bus takes us to the bottling plant. While waiting for the bus, I ask our guide if there's still a separate Gambrinus brewhouse. His answer is long and as clear as mud. At the end, I'm non the wiser about where Gambrinus is brewed. From the guide's hand gestures, it takes place somewhere in a far distant corner of the site.
The bottling line is in action and is an impressive sight. For 2 or 3 minutes. Unfortunately 3 Americans in another group ask the guide questions. Lots of questions. I'm not sure exactly what about, because they are stood some distance away and it's pretty noisy, what with the rattling of bottles and all. Twenty minutes later and they still have bottling questions. Pressure is starting to build in my bladder. I wonder if there's a bog close by?
Another 15 minutes and the Americans haven't run out of bottling questions. Something is about to run out of my bladder. I need a toilet and quick. We move on just in time. By the entrance there are toilets. Relieving myself is the biggest thrill of the day so far. It's going to be one of the highpoints of the next two hours.
Next it's the historic brewhouse. They stopped brewing here a couple of years ago. "Is Pilsner Urquell only brewed here?" Andy asks cheekily. "Yes, all the Pilsner Urquell in the Czech Republic is brewed here." "What about Poland?" "It's brewed there under license. But Czech Pilsner Urquell is only brewed here." "And Russia?" "It's brewed under licence there, too." So Pilsner Urquell is only brewed in the Czech Republic. Except when it's brewed in Poland or Russia.
We see another film. It repeats quite a bit of what was in the first. Loads more references to brand in place of beer. My feet are starting to ache from all the standing around. "Pilsner Urquell is brewed in exactly the same way as in 1842." says our guide proudly, "The process takes five weeks." Mmm. Didn't they used to lager it for 3 months?
The next multimedia installation is undergoing repair. A workman is painting a sign on the wall. I watch him for 5 minutes. It's more interesting than the rest of what's going on. I'm relieved to hear that the renovation means we'll have to skip the next film. What a shame. I was looking forward to hearing more about the Pilsner Urquell brand.
After the historic brewhouse we drop by the "working brewhouse". It looks no more lively than the museum one. Sorry, but I don't believe any brewing goes on here. This is a workday, but there's no evidence of any activity. It's also way too small to be brewing the quantity of beer they churn out. It dawns on me that the bottling line is the only real part of the brewery we're going to get to see.
I'm roused out of my torpor by an interesting nugget of information. They use directly fired coppers and the slight amber colour is the result of caramelisation. My day hasn't been totally wasted. Not quite. And until 1900 they got their yeast from Weihenstephan
The tour is becoming like a frustration dream, except there's no possibility of me waking up. Falling asleep, now there's a chance of that. "Stonch recommended this tour?" I ask Andy. "Yes. He must have had a babe showing him around and spent his time drooling over her." That turns out to be a remarkably accurate assessment.
Just two hours in and we finally get to the old lagering cellars. With only the occasional barrel remaining, they're quite a sad sight. Time for a beer finally? No, time for another bloody film. Great.
The beer used to be down here for three months, our guide says. Didn't he, what seems like several weeks ago at the start of this endurance test, tell us that the beer has always been made in 5 weeks? We see some of the old open fermenters, but it doesn't look like they are ever used. Finally we get to a cellar with some full barrels. A cellarmen serves us beer straight from one in plastic cups. I go back into the queue to get a second, as does Keith. We deserve it. In fact we deserve half the barrel. After what we've gone through.
It's cloudy and the guide tells us it's 6 weeks old and three quarters of the way through the lagering process. So it's lagered 8 weeks? Get your bloody story straight. That's the third different lagering time we've been given. This is the beer made on the old equipment. "Does it taste the same as the beer made the new way?" I ask. The guide spends the next 5 minutes giving me an answer that doesn't answer my question. The beer is a good bit better than what we drank in Prague yesterday. But it still isn't as good as I remember Prazdroj being in the 1980's.
By the time the tour finally draws to a close, I've been contemplating suicide as a method of escape for almost an hour. "I'll never take anyone on that again." says Andy. "Bloody Stonch."
Šenk Na Parkánu
Tel: 377 235 574
We head for the brewery's museum pub, Na Parkánu, which sells unfiltered Urquell. It's a pleasant enough pub, with a couple of wood-panelled rooms. We each order an Urquell. Except Andy, of course. Still coffee time for him. The beer isn't bad and helps quell my anger a little. Not completely, but a little.
I would describe the pub more precisely, but that tour has taken away my will to live. Look at the photos. Unless my camera gets nicked before I get home. In that case you'll have to use your imagination.
Unfiltered Pilsner Urquell: hazy golden colour, bitter taste, butter, pepper, honey, resin and grass flavours. Quite nice, with lots of hop character. I score it 68 out of 100.
I have another snack. This time it's a klobasa. I had one in U Rotundy, but this one is a good deal classier.
On the way back to the minibus, I snap a couple of trams. For Andrew. He likes tram photos. The day hasn't been a total waste.
I do finally discover a way of getting rid of my extra crowns. I sell them to Andy. He'll be back again soon. Lucky bastard. Assuming he avoids the Urquell tour.
Seriously... - And that's as political as we're gonna get here. (It's a joke, BTW.)*Boy, it's dusty in here. * Hard to believe I used to post every day, for four years. T...
12 hours ago