The Czechs are justly proud of their beer and the big breweries around the country all have visitor centres and offer tours. We’ve been to the big three (and a few smaller ones) to compare and contrast.
Taking up a large part of Prague’s Smichov neighbourhood riverside is the massive Staropramen brewery. Owned by Molson-Coors, its beers are exported worldwide. Czech Beer lovers tend to look down on Staropramen as inferior to the other big two and in the case of their tour, that’s definitely the case. Rather than tour the actual brewery, you visit a ‘multimedia experience’ and the closest you’ll get to the beer is the glass of it you have in the ‘pub’ at the end of the tour. This is primarily a video-driven tour without a guide, with some of it in what may be a reconstruction of a brewhouse – it’s certainly no longer functioning. There’s a model of a bottling line too where the bottles clink along slowly, not being filled. You’ll feel rather unfulfilled by the tour too. The best thing about this brewery is its proximity to the centre of Prague. The main on-site restaurant, Na Verandach is probably the best place to try Staropramen though – it doesn’t travel well.
JayWay Rating: 4/10
Truly the original Pilsner beer, they’ve been making it at the brewery since 1842 but the town has a much longer beer tradition than that. If you’re a lager style beer connoisseur then this is your mecca. The brewery tour here consists of a visit to the almost art deco old brewhouse, the shiny new bottling plant and the catacomb-like cellars beneath the brewery where small batches are still brewed the old way and a tasting of this concludes the tour. A very slick tour with knowledgeable guides and tours running several times a day. If your thirst isn’t sated there’s even more beer-tourism to be done in Plzen…
As well as the Pilsner Urquell brewery itself there’s also the neighbouring Gambrinus brewery (also owned by SAB Miller, Gambrinus is a ‘working man’s beer compared to the more premium Pilsner Urquell). In the town centre you’ll find the brewery museum, which takes a look at the history of brewing in the town over many centuries. We can arrange a private day trip to Plzen with your own driver or if you prefer take the train, it’s about an hour and a half from Prague’s main station.
JayWay Rating: 9/10
Still a ‘National Company’, the Budejovicky Budvar brewery produces the real Budweiser beer that Adolphus Busch liked so much he named his own brew after it (and subsequently Anheuser Busch have claimed the right to). The Czech government have passed on many opportunities to privatise or sell the company and its success is a matter of international pride. The tour route here is not dissimilar in format to the Pilsner Urquell: old brewhouse, bottling plant, cellars and a tasting. In this case of an unpasteurised ‘young’ beer, which is rather pleasing. Tours for individual visitors run daily at 2pm. Being located in Ceske Budejovice, South Bohemia means that this isn’t really too practical as a day trip from Prague but best visited as a stop on a one-way tour from Prague to Cesky Krumlov when you could also make a stop at the lovely Hluboka castle on the way.
JayWay Rating: 8/10