In recent years, beers from smaller breweries have grown in popularity in the Czech Republic – a trend that is finally being reflected in Prague’s pubs, where for a long time, the big brands enjoyed a virtual monopoly. Fortunately, it is becoming easier to find microbrews on offer in the capital. One pub that pours beers from all over the Czech Republic and is a bit of a living museum is the aptly named Prague Beer Museum, located right in the center of Prague.
Se Padilla, owner of the Prague Beer Museum in the heart of Old Town, shows me which brews he currently has on tap. Most of the beers come from smaller breweries, and often, they are not available to buy in bottles and therefore can be difficult to find in the Czech capital. He shows me some of the rare brews he has on offer.
“For example we have one here from Starokladenský, it’s made in Kladno, by a very small brewery run by a father and his two sons. This one is an 18 degree beer called Mazlíček, sweetheart, it’s an amber lager, absolutely beautiful, much stronger than your usual Czech lagers; those come in about 12 degrees. This one is 18 degrees, and it’s absolutely beautiful.
“The same brewer is making our own beer now, I gave him our recipe and he is making our Real Deal Ale for us, which we have on tap here at the beer museum. It’s a 13 degree, very California-style ale. I’m from California and I love those ales, and he said that he is actually getting a huge, huge positive response from it in Kladno as well, he is selling it at his little pub, so it’s nice to see, again, people really liking different types of beer.”
Se Padilla offers 30 beers on tap, and tries to change about five or six of them every month to create greater variety. Listening to him describing what he has on offer, it becomes very obvious that the owner of the Prague Beer Museum has a great passion for brews, which he says he acquired in the Czech Republic.
“My initial interest was wine, I grew up in Napa Valley, so I wasn’t really a beer drinker until I moved out here. I got out here about ten years ago, and started getting exposed to the great Czech beers, and over the years, got to sample more and more of them.”
Out of this appreciation for the country’s many beers he got the idea to open a place in Prague where they could be sampled. In September, Se Padilla opened the Prague Beer Museum, a pub with a mission as well as a curious name, as he explains.
“Museum popped into my head and I thought it was a great, catchy name, and I thought it described what I was trying to do – trying to showcase all of the Czech beers in the country in one place.”
Would you say that your mission in this way is like that of a museum?
“Not in the traditional sense of a museum, but more that of a ‘living’ museum. We have more and more information being put on the walls about the history of the beers and breweries of the country, types of beers that they make, where they are from, the families that own and used to own them, etc. etc. But the focus is really on the beers themselves, not so much the stories behind them but the new, up and coming breweries of this country.”
While the beers are the main stars at the Prague Beer Museum, beer memorabilia and informative posters on the wall provide interesting insights. Those who want to learn a bit more about the country’s breweries while sampling some of their newest brews are sure to find a visit to the pub educating. Se Padilla shows me some of the items on display in the pub.
“Also, along with the photos, we have information about the history of some of the breweries, Nová Paka, here in front of us, and Bernard. Bernard was a brewery that was shut down for years, it was just in disrepair. And Mr. Bernard came back and revived it, brought it back to life with his family name. It’s a beautiful brewery now, and he’s making some beautiful, unpasteurized beers that are just phenomenal.”
Among the regular visitors of the Prague Beer Museum is Maximiliano Bahnson, who is better known as pivní filosof – the beer philosopher – a pseudonym under which he writes his English-language beer blog. He also has recently published an unusual guide of Prague’s pubs.
“It’s called Prague: A Pisshead’s Pub Guide and it’s basically a series of pub crawls. Each pub crawl includes four to six places, and it’s not only a guide about pubs. I speak about the city, my relationship with the pub, why I like it and why I think they should go.”
Maximiliano Bahnson, who is a connoisseur of Prague’s multifaceted pub landscape as well as of Czech and international beers, says he welcomes the proliferation of places like the Prague Beer Museum, where guests can explore brews beyond the big brands.
“I like that this place is right here in the center. I think that the center of Prague needed a place like this. As Se said, there are similar places in Prague with over twenty beers on tap, but they are out of the center, in neighborhoods, this place can expose more people to the variety that is being produced right now in Czech brewing. And I think it’s a great idea and I am glad that he is successful with that.”
The beers on tap here are unpasteurized. The initial concern that some kegs of less popular brews might go bad has proven futile: due to the high demand, the longest a keg has lasted Se Padilla is three days. After decades of a market dominated by big brands like Plzeňský Prazdroj, Gambrinus and Staropramen, is the international trend of microbrews finally taking off in the Czech Republic as well? I put the question to Se Padilla.
“Absolutely. I think it hit the US maybe 20 years ago, and it saw a huge boom there, in North America and in Canada as well. And now you see it happening it here. It’s obviously down the road, but I think it has legs; it’s a very strong trend.
“It’s happened worldwide, and it is growing very rapidly. And it’s great to see, because there is so much brewing talent in this country, and so much tradition about it. It’s really nice to see it growing and turn back into what it used to be years ago, with all the varieties now available.”
And so it comes as no surprise that amidst sharply falling beer sales that have hit the big brands – in 2010, overall Czech beer exports fell by 12 percent – the country’s microbreweries are doing better than ever, while big brewers are faced with a new market reality, as Maximiliano Bahnson explains.
“The people who are starting to appreciate taste, to pay attention to what they have in their glass, are moving towards regional or microbreweries. And the people for whom price is the only important thing are moving towards the cheap Polish imports. And that leaves them in a position where they don’t know what to do, because for the last twenty years, they have enjoyed a virtual monopoly.”
For the more discerning drinkers, the Prague Beer Museum offers a great opportunity to sample a number of hard-to-find beers, learn about the country’s brewing tradition and maybe even talk beer with other lovers of the Czech Republic’s national beverage.