Among the global beer capitals, Prague wins the hat trick: best pubs, best beers, and the hardiest beer drinkers. In the beer consumption wars, the Czechs consume more beer (138 liters per citizen, per year) than the Irish, the English, and, staggeringly, the Australians, who rank a mere 4th, 5th, and 18th, respectively. Even the disciplined, beer-mad Germans placed a regrettable second and their Austrian cousins showed a pitiable third.
So, is this little postage stamp of a nation just a random collection of loser dudes with way too many hi-def TVs and too much soccer to watch? Actually, no.
The reason is happier: The beer is so artisanal and so precisely curated in even the most ordinary pubs that one practically cannot stop drinking it. Never mind the alcohol. In the Czech Republic, it's about the taste.
For the last thousand years, the hops-friendly, brown-dirt farms around the cities of Prague, Cesky Budejovice (Budweis), and Pilsen (Pilsner Urquell) have been growing the right stuff. According to Czech legend, the Bohemian deity of hospitality, Radegast, invented beer. It's a lie—that claim goes to the ancient Sumerians—but the Czechs have been brewing hopped beer since the 12th century. It shows.
"Pasteurized beer is made to be shipped," notes a discerning Prague friend of mine, "but it shouldn't actually be drunk." Which is to say, forget those bottles of Pilsner Urquell in the local deli. It has almost nothing to do with what is drunk in Prague.
The reason? The Prague pubs that serve their spankin' fresh suds from their own vast tanks are proudly labeled tankovna, and are themselves further categorized by the aficionadi by the length of the pipes to the bar. The beer is delivered by tanker trucks whose drivers hook directly to the pub's basement pipes, as if they're pumping heating oil.
What's behind such keen handling is that Czechs, generally, believe that their beer is alive. Technically speaking, they're right, at least for the unpasteurized tankovna suds. Like any other living thing, beer can be "bruised" by sloppy handling—heat, outright pasteurization, over-refrigeration, and, many connoisseurs think, even by too long of a pipe run to the glass.
For an epic summer evening's crawl, here are five fine Prague tankovna pubs in and around the city center. We've listed the pubs so that you can start up at the Castle—the Hrad—and stroll down through the Mala Strana and across the Charles Bridge to the Old and New Towns. It's a sumptuous historical walk—even without the beer. Since these pubs are popular among Czechs, it's recommended to book.
Under no circumstances should anybody try to drive this. Czech police don't care how drunk you get on foot, but there's zero tolerance for driving with any amount of alcohol in your system.
Pro vaše zdraví—to your health, then:
U Cerného Vola (At the Black Bull) Loretánske Námestí 1, T: 220 513 481
Malastranská Pivnice (Mala Strana Beer Hall) Cihelná 3, T: 257 530 032
U Pinkasu (At Pinkasu) Jungmannovo Naměsti 15, T: 221 111 153
Pivnice U Rudolfina (Beer Hall at the Rudolfinium) Křížovicka 10, T: 022 328 758
U Zeleného Stromu (At the Black Tree) Husova 1, T: 222 220 228
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