Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The most incredible drinking experience (so far)

We’re underground. Possibly as deep as 12m. It’s less than 7°C. We are just a short way into the 19km of cellars, somewhere amid the 32,000m² of tunnels. It’s dark and cold. There’s a mineral cleanliness to the air, the air which hangs still. The cobbled floors are wet, the white walls are damp, the ceiling arches high above us. Every crossroad of tunnels leads off in new directions, visible only for a few metres before it fades to black. A map shows us the full network, an unbelievable snaking myriad of channels carved out of the rock. We try and work out how far they stretch under the city; what landmarks they lay dormant beneath. How many men have worked down here? What was the beer they made like? What stories can they tell? Our guide is leading the way but we’re only following in a strange not-quite-concentrating kind of way, our legs moving but our minds filled with wonder and awe, open-mouthed like school boys who have just seen the T-Rex at the Natural History Museum. It’s when we pass by the giant oak casks that we all stop and stare. Magnificent and grand, blackened by time, they run along the sides of the cellars, stacked two high, filled with beer, just waiting. I silently say ‘wow’ and a cloud of breath disperses in front of me. Around another corner and the cellar is stacked with casks on both sides, maybe 40 casks in total around us. Two dark figures wait in the middle, slightly hunched. They start pouring beer as we arrive by them, serving them charmlessly without even a hint of a smile. Beer in hand, we pass through the narrow corridor between the barrels and into another cellar where we stop briefly, looking back to where we were served, like the ultimate beer theatre. It’s here, in the cellars underneath Pilsner Urquell brewery, that I have the most incredible drinking experience of my life so far. The beer is unfiltered and unpasteurised and it’s come straight from the oak barrel. We’re deep underground, it’s cold and mesmerising; the stories that this place could tell are haunting. The beer is a cloudy gold with a chunky white foam. It’s unbelievably smooth and rich, there’s a slight sweetness to begin and a herbal, dry bitterness to finish. It’s perfect. It’s unlike anything else I’ve had before. It’s undoubtedly one of the best drinking experiences in the world.

Does anywhere compare with this? Is there a better drinking experience? What’s the most amazing beer experience you’ve had?

The map of the cellars. The tour only walks around a tiny block in the middle, which you can just make out as the white lines are thicker with wear from fingers tracing our route. 


  1. I agree. I visited the Pilsner Urquell brewery in mid-July -- you can read my writeup here.


    I also did a short video in which I reviewed the Urquell made traditionally that you mention. It's edited into a longer vlog, but you can see that video here:


    I start introducing the tasting about two minutes in, and the actual tasting is about five minutes in. I took awhile introducing the segment because I had technical issues on the day.

    Great blog. Thanks!

  2. It is such a pity that regular Urquell is nowhere near as good.

  3. So who gets the good stuff then? I thought it was almost all made in stainless steel now. I recall the tankovna (?sp) in some PU pubs. Is this it?

    It was better than the usual PU, but not great.

  4. Daniel - Great post. It is like Disneyland! It was even more like it during the PilsnerFest! It's a fun tour too.

    Al - I agree!

    Tandleman - I think you can only get the tank beer in the cellars, but I'm not sure. Perhaps the tankovna is the one and they put some in pubs... I don't know. Even still, the 'normal' unfiltered and unpasteurised is good - better than Budvar's equivalent, IMO.

  5. Of course there is a better drinking experience. You could be in a jacuzzi with Alesha Dixon drinking a can of Skol.

  6. Tandelman -- I believe the tankovna pivo is the same stuff as the bottled/canned stuff, but it's simply much fresher from the brewery. In some locations (especially near Plzen) you can get the "unfiltered" Urquell, which is obviously yeastier and in some ways tastier than the regular stuff.

    (I was definitely partial to the regular stuff when I was there, though, so I tended to order that even when the unfiltered was available.)

    The stuff available in the cellars on the brewery tour was, we were told, the only way to get that particular version of Urquell. Tasting it was a bit like tasting a piece of brewing history.

    And I can't speak to the Urquell you guys get in the rest of Europe, but the stuff we get here in the States, even at its optimum, is so far from what I was drinking in Prague as to be unrecognizable. I ordered a pint of Urquell the day after I got back and shed a tear for the fresh stuff I had loved so much when I was in Europe.

  7. Thanks Daniel -A one off in the cellar then. Lucky guys.

  8. Tandleman:

    The good stuff is for the tour groups, the decent stuff is tankove, the bland is pasteurised and shipped abroad and quite possibly that from Poland or Russia.

  9. My best drinking experience so far: the first brew of Brooklyner-Schneider Hopfen Weisse, straight from the tank at the Brooklyn Brewery, poured by Garrett Oliver's own hand. Liquid joie de vivre.

  10. My most memorable drinking experience might be sipping my first Brooklyn EIPA mere hours before I ran the New York Marathon, drunk as a combination of dutch courage and a feeling of not knowing what else to do. Alone and scared in a dirty hostel on West 34th I had a beer epiphany and a better nights sleep than I expected.