Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
The Czech Republic has been topping the charts of beer consumption for years. On average, it is a 33-centiliter beer bottle that is drunk every day by every woman, man and child in the country! Actually, ordering a pint is very often cheaper than a coffee or water to the point that now restaurants and bars must propose a cheaper non-alcoholic drink by law. However, the beer culture in Prague goes way beyond cheap beer enjoyed by locals and tourists in one of Europe’s top destinations for bachelor parties. Keep reading to find out how to experience it through authentic and unusual experiences!
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The beer spa
While Finland and the Baltic states are often associated to a deeply rooted sauna and spa culture, the Czech Republic is more popular for its beer tradition. Still, spa goers have unwound for centuries in the hot-spring towns of Karlovy Vary, Teplice and in the Bohemian Spa Triangle. Apart from the mineral-rich waters of these thermal towns dotted with architectural marvels, beautiful fountains and picturesque forests, visitors of Prague can enjoy a 2,000-year-old tradition: bathing in Czechia’s most enjoyed drink in order to soak up its beneficial properties: beer!
The city is full of underground surprises I think when Anna walks me down the stairs into the 19th century vaulted brick cellar in the heart of the Czech capital. There, three large oak bathtubs take a prominent space only separated by beer taps. In the corner a sauna, in the other corner oak buckets filled with cold water and in the third corner, a wheat hay bed set the stage. Clean sheets and plenty of pillows instantly invite me to try it out after a long day of exploring the city centre with its secret underground passages and many towers.
Anna grabs my attention when she starts preparing our original beer spa experience. “To make the perfect brew to bathe in I am adding a large ladle of brewer’s yeast to the bucket containing fresh beer”, she explains. “Yeast is a fantastic source of nourishment for the skin, it smoothens wrinkles and hydrates, while providing iron, essential amino acids, carbohydrates, enzymes, B vitamins and a lot more!”, she adds. Indeed, bathing in beer has been a millennial-old tradition in folk medicine. Actually, brewer’s yeast is made from the one-celled fungus saccharomyces cerevisiae which has been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times and is today sold as a healthy food supplement, promoting digestion and metabolism, regenerating intestinal microflora and helping fight cardiovascular disease and inflammation. Anna grabs another oak bucket filled with a green powder. “I am adding the same amount of Czech-grown hop for an extra smoothing effect and to purify your skin”, she states while she vividly stirs the mixture of beer, yeast and hops and throws it in the 1,000-liter hot tub. “I advise you to soak in while I start the bubbles, take a sauna afterwards and rest in the hay”, she suggests. “And please help yourself to as much beer as you would like to drink: Krušovice is one of the top five most popular Czech beers!” she adds pointing to both taps and pint glasses next to them: one for the blond Crušovice 10 beer and one for its darker and sweeter version. The digit corresponds to the density of liquid in the Balling scale – in a nutshell, the greater the digit, the more sugar and the more alcohol content. The typical 10-12 found in many brews here in Czechia corresponds to 4 to 5 percent alcohol and I am glad to see some toasted homemade beer bread to accompany the drinks.
Eager to try the bath, I carefully lower myself in the warm waters which odours remind me of beer brewery visits. I feel my stress levels go down instantly when I close my eyes. This may also have to do with the pint of pale lager that I have just poured for myself! Not being too used to it, I look like an old-school Czech beer drinker with my glass almost half-full of foam!
I soak my head in and let the medicinal properties of the brew do its job, simply relaxing in the whirlpool bath. After a good 25 minutes I feel that my skin is significantly softer, and it seems like the perfect time to get into the sauna and absorb the heat. I remember the words of Doctor Leena Larva stating firmly the importance of resting after any sauna and with the inviting hay bed next to me I soon find myself dozing off for a few minutes to then repeat the whole cycle again.
When it is time to head back to the hotel, I feel rejuvenated yet up for a good night sleep to continue to explore more of Czech’s hidden gems and secret places.
The best place to taste craft beers: the Strahov monastery [Pivovar Sv Norbert]
Czechia is not only the country of Pilsner beer (originally, beer from the city of Plzen) and Budweiser (this is actually the German name of the beer made in České Budejovice – called Budweis in German – that the German brewer Adolphus Busch used after emigrating to the USA, resulting in years of lawsuits between the worldwide beer conglomerate and the České Budejovice-based Budvar brewery). If the market is dominated by big names such as Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Budweiser Budvar, craft beers are becoming more and more popular. The best way to experience them is at the Strahov monastery, a stone’s throw away from Prague’s castle.
Walking through the monastery grounds of Strahov feels like going back to the origins of beer in the Czech Republic. The Benedictine monks were the first to brew beer in the country in the monastery of Brevnov in 993, not too far from here. At Strahov, Premonstratensian monks started brewing beer in 1142. Since 2000, the Strahov Monastery Brewery has been continuing this 600-year-old tradition with Saint Norbert beers.
In this family business, the most important point is that the master brewer crafts beers as he likes them, ensuring they will instantly become locals’ favourites. With carefully selected hop, most of which grown in the Czech Republic especially for the lagers, the beer production is limited to about three dozen of recipes, and the small unfiltered and unpasteurized production of the brewery can only be consumed onsite.
Brews also change based on the season. In the summer, the refreshing anniversary lager, a 4.6% pale lager with delicate herbal and hop aromas and the Weizen, a 5% fresh and light white beer with a wide palette of aromas are a must-taste. In the winter, stronger and darker beers are brewed such as the antidepressant beer with special hops which oils have a calming effect.
If there are more women enjoying beer, the main consumers remain men as tables by the coppers get filled with groups of friends and the taps keep flowing. “It is quite funny,” explains Marek Kocver, the manager of the Strahov Brewery. “In the medieval times, gruit – a combination of dried herbs – was used to make beer instead of hop, and it made the fortune of places such as Bruges. Here, brewing out of wheat (as barley was too expensive) was a woman’s household task. It is only the introduction of hop to the brewing process that allowed for beer to be stored and shipped that large-scale production developed, to this day dominated by men,” he concludes.
Whether brewed by or a man or woman, it’s the quality that matter and it is time to taste some of the best sellers of the inhouse master brewer. The locals favourite Amber Lager, a 5.3 percent, medium malt bodied feels sweet for a few seconds leading to a crisp and enjoyable bitterness that lingers afterwards. The award-winning dark lager, a 5,5%, well-hopped malty beer with hints of coffee and a roasted malt aftertaste still has the nice hop flavours on the palate.
We take a look around and do understand the beer consumption in this country. With such beautiful products at hand, one needs to keep tasting and sharing these moments with friends.
Derived from the German word “biergarten”, beer gardens are popular in the Czech Republic! The first beer gardens developed in Munich around the 19th century and till today have not changed much: they are composed of many wooden tables and benches that are placed closely together underneath shady trees to keep it all cool! Strangers share tables so that people can meet and discuss over a pint or two… or more! Apart from ticking all these boxes, the Letna Beer Garden strikes us when we approach it. The garden boosts incredible views on the Vltava River and the Old Town of Prague.
The atmosphere is friendly and joyful as people of all ages gather and socialize. “Na zdraví!” (“to your health” in Czech) echoes as pints of beer in plastic cups are raised at every table. The fumes of the barbecue on this warm spring day make us hungry and the roasted chicken, sausages and typical sour bread are the ideal simple dishes to go along a fresh pint. To the sound of people chatting and birds singing, we make new friends while watching the spires, domes and towers of Prague being bathed in a warm hue of the setting sun. The perfect way to conclude another lovely day in Prague and an ideal break away from the packed city-centre while experiencing Czechia’s beer culture that has been submitted to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage.
- In order to live this experience, make sure to book your bath at the award-winning Original Beer Spa that has developed an excellent standard of service and quality as well as a certified natural beer bath formula.
- To taste the best special beers in town, make sure to visit the Strahov Monastery Brewery just a stone’s throw away from the Prague Castle.
- To enjoy an incredible view on Prague over a beer, make sure to put the Letna Beer Garden on your map. No bookings needed, first come first serve!
- To stay in style, consider the music-themed Aria Hotel Prague. With a private access to the UNESCO Vrtba Garden and a wonderful rooftop terrace, this is the ideal location to explore the city.
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area (short tutorial)! The black pins will lead you to other articles: