Beer is an important part of Czech culture. Czechs love to drink beer and the country’s numerous pubs are veritable hubs of social activity, where Czechs grumble about politics, talk about the weather and discuss the hot issues of the day over several pints of beer. In a new mini-series Radio Prague will take you to some of Prague’s famous pubs.
The Strahov Monastery Brewery is located not far from Prague Castle in the building of the Strahov Monastery, which was founded in 1142. The first written mention of a brewery on the premises of the monastery comes from the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. But it was not until 1628 that the Premonstratensian order built a proper brewery to make beer for its own consumption and as a means of additional income. The brewery served until 1907 when it was closed down and it was only restored in 2000, during an extensive reconstruction of the entire compound. The current Strahov Monastery Brewery offers visitors seating arrangements for 350 people in three specific environments: the brewery itself, St. Norbert restaurant which is part of the compound and the brewery courtyard. Marek Kocvera, manager of the Strahov Monastery brewery, says Czechs have yet to appreciate the character of monastery breweries.
“As far as Czech consumers are concerned I do not think it makes much difference to them whether they are drinking beer in a monastery brewery or a regular pub. However if you take into account the beer-making tradition then monastery breweries were extremely important because in their time monasteries served as centres of education and the recipes for beer brewed there were carefully preserved and improved upon. So unlike family breweries which were often forced to close and the family recipe was lost, monastery breweries maintained the beer-brewing tradition in these lands. This is generally recognized but because the tradition of monastery breweries was severed for decades by the communist regime monastery breweries do not enjoy the kind of respect they have in France or Belgium.”
According to archive materials, the Premonstratensian Order at the Strahov Monastery used to operate two breweries, a small brewery which served the needs of the monastery, and another which served as an additional means of income. The present day brewery at Strahov stands on the site of the bigger brewery which made beer for sale. Its trademark beer was named St. Norbert.
“Our beer is named after the founder of the Premonstratensian Order St. Norbert whose remains are buried here in the Church of the Ascension of the Virgin Mary. He is our patron and so naturally all our beers are named after him.”
Although the monastery brewery and St. Norbert restaurant take pride in the beer making tradition of the Premonstratensian Order they have developed their own beer recipes and technological processes in beer making.
“We make both traditional and modern brews, there is no age-old recipe to boast of that we found hidden in an attic. Frankly, even if we had, much has changed since those days and beer made by the medieval beer recipes are not something people would willingly drink today. Tastes have changed and so has the technology. The oldest recipes we use go back to the beginning of the 19th century but even those have been modified and tailored to present-day tastes and present-day technology.”
Czech hops are often described as the country’s “green gold” but Marek Kocvera says that the varieties grown in the Czech Republic alone are not sufficient for the brewery’s needs.
“For Czech beers we naturally use Czech hops –the traditional varieties or newly developed ones, but for British type ales we use different kinds of hops imported from New Zealand, Australia, or the US and we are hoping to see Czech hop growers develop some new varieties as well. There are hops that have a tang of citrus fruits and their fresh taste is what gives these ales their specific character which particularly younger customers appreciate.“
Today the Strahov Monastery brewery offers visitors a tour of the brewery with beer tasting, team-building events, family and wedding celebrations with live music or simply a moment’s respite and refreshment in the brewery’s tastefully reconstructed interior.