Next stop on our journey was Pilsen, Czech Republic, home to Pislner Urquell brewery.
"Urquell" in German or "Prazdroj" in Czech both mean "the ancient source". Pilsner Urquell is the original pilsner and first pale lager beer.
A quick history: Before 1838, there were around 250 citizens that had brewing rights in the city. The beer was bad, and it wasn’t selling, so the officials got together and in 1839 founded a city-owned brewery. A Bavarian brewer, Josef Groll, was recruited and in 1842 the first modern batch of Pilsner was produced. And, a neat fact: Pilsner Urquell is hopped with Saaz hops which is the name of the homebrew club Mike was President of.
The campus of the brewery was massive and we started in the visitors center and was then bussed across campus to the modern bottling plant.
You can imagine that Mike and I have been to a brewery tour or two, and the bottling lines are always my favorite. I love watching them, same with shows like ‘How It’s Made’, those assembly lines get me every time!
The fascinating thing to me is that all the places we visited in Europe, glass bottles are returned, not just recycled, and washed and reused here at the brewery!
We walked through the older mashing tun / copper kettles and through the modern stainless steel ones.
Then we went underground to the original fermenting area, the lagering caves beneath the brewery.
What was unique was they have barrels open fermenting, which is a very tricky process because outside contaminants can’t be prevented. What was even more unique, was the promised beer samples came from these barrel-aged casks, giving us the opportunity to taste the beer unfiltered.
The caves were considerably colder than above ground, which is needed for fermenting lagers, and one way that this was controlled back in the day was by filling these massive rooms with ice.
The ice would be collected from nearby lakes, then thrown down the hole at the top and the room would be filled, leaving a small area on top that would allow air to flow over and cool the rooms below. The ice would remain months after the temperature turned above ground.
Now, it’s a little more modern process with cooling units on the ceiling.
After our tour, we were on our own for a couple hours and Mike and I hit the campus restaurant, Na Splice, and Mike had a starter of pickled sausage with hot peppers and onion, then a pork knee, which was honestly bigger than a softball.
With the sausage and half a liter of beer, it’s wasn’t a surprise that Mike couldn’t finish it.
After lunch we grabbed some t-shirts and headed back on the road, this time to Munich!