“Here the beer is packaged into bottle, can, keg and tank.”
It’s now that I lose focus on what Pavel is saying as he shows us the packaging plant at the Pilsner Urquell brewery.
The idea of giant army tanks filled with beer is stuck in my head. An image of a great fountain of pilsner powering out of the barrel of the tank’s gun is just far too exciting to take my concentration back to the unending grind and tinkle of the bottling line.
Tanks filled with beer.
|Perhaps the PU tank would be deployed to fight this beer-stealing T-Rex...|
It’s only later, once I’ve passed through the schoolboy thoughts that bring a new meaning to ‘Beer Wars’, that I discover that these tanks aren’t the military sort. In fact, it takes much longer than it should for this to sink in. Happy in my naivety, I walked through Prague hoping to see one of these tanks charge through the city, a Pilsner Urquell green with the red seal of approval. I kept my camera in my pocket ready for the photo opportunity.
It’s in Lokal that it finally makes sense. Walking in, the first thing we see is a bar made from glass with two stainless steel tanks beneath and a barman pouring pint after pint of golden beer with that gorgeous thick foam on top. Tank beer.
|Picture from here, plus Evan Rail explaining tank beer|
While most Pilsner Urquell is pasteurised and filtered, it is possible to get the unpasteurised beer in around 500 pubs within a four hour drive of the brewery (if you’re in a four minute walk of the brewery you can also get the unfiltered stuff). This unpasteurised beer is packaged in ‘replaceable, polyester-film sacks’ which then go into ‘sealed, steel tanks’ (see Evan Rail’s Good Beer Guide Prague for more – most of this paragraph is nicked from that great book) where the beer is drawn from. It’s pumped from increased air pressure within the tank, so doesn’t come into contact with oxygen. If you see tankovna then you are getting tank beer.
Tank beer is generally a sign of a decent bar because Pilsner Urquell are strict on where the tanks of unpasteurised beer goes. The bar need a fast turnover of beer, very regular line cleaning and they are taught the perfect way to pour. So in tank pubs you are getting fresher beer, served better – the drinking difference between the pasteurised and unpasteurised is that the tank stuff has a bolder, better aroma and a fuller body.
In Lokal the tanks are visible and the distance between the tank and the tap is one of the shortest around. Here they also serve the beer in a few different styles, which is why it was recommended to us that we visit. You can get it normal or you can order it Snyt or Mliko.
|Snyt on the left, Mliko on the right|
Snyt is half foam and Mliko is full-foam. Normal is just normal (but you still get a massive head of thick, handsome foam*). Served in a pint glass, you pay for a half, but you don’t order it this way because you want the beer, you order it this way for the creamy, aromatic, gorgeous foam which has trapped all that Saaz hop brilliance within it. It’s so soft on the tongue but you still get the full taste of the beer as you speedily suck it down before the foam falls away. Mliko was the one we preferred – it’s so light to taste yet so deliciously different. It’s not called Milk for no reason.
Tank Pilsner Urquell is good. Having it poured Snyt or Mliko is strange and wonderful and it’s definitely a beer to experience if you get the chance. But just imagine the look on the locals’ faces if you poured a pint like that in Britain...
*One of the greatest joys of a pint of Pilsner Urquell is the way it looks. Those first few seconds after it arrives in front of you are beer perfection as that golden pilsner sits below a pillow of thick white foam. As Mark from Beer. Birra. Bier. said while we were drinking it, one gulp and you ruin it and just want to order another to get the full, crowning pint. It means you end up drinking a lot more of it.
Top tank picture from here.