When touring the Czech Republic’s beery destinations, everyone goes through Prague and Pilsen, and heads for the renowned brewpubs and bars such as U Fleku, U Medvidku, U Zlatého Tygra, U Parkanu, etc. The first time around, one cannot help but try out these immemorial drinking venues and see what they are really all about, right? That’s what I felt compelled to do a few years ago anyway on my initial visit there, and I predictably fell in love with this beer culture. This time around though, I’d like to take you to areas of Bohemia you probably wouldn’t step foot in if there weren’t news of a potentially-great brewpub operation. The following articles will thus feature highlights of my crew’s favorite brewpub and bar experiences in Bohemia last March. Some of them are not even close to the beaten path, but some are hidden in urban sprawls you might already be familiar with. All of them were as exciting and deserving of gambrinal visitors as the classics you’ve already read about. Let’s start with the countryside:
Domácí Pivovar Velkorybnický Hastrman, in Velky Rybnik
Upon approaching the brewpub door, we noticed a little boy was staring at us from the closed terrace window, face squished for a better distorted view. He swiftly ran back inside yelling as soon as he understood we were going inside. Sure enough, mama was waiting for us. A few other patrons looked at us dumbfounded, perhaps with reason. We stared around a few seconds, as this obviously new building and venture offered a sharp contrast with that of most brewing establishments we had visited throughout Bohemia. But the homely feel made us lay back and order rather efficiently. To our astonishment, this lost hamlet brewpub had 8 taps!! That’s perhaps 4 times more than the usual bar in these parts, in case you didn’t know. They had 4 of their own, which is already amazing considering the number of visitors that must go through here, and 4 from Pivovar Cerna Hora, which has been expanding its horizons far out of their native Moravia in the past few years. Oblivious of the room right in front of me which would yield answers to most of our arising questions, we eagerly dipped our noses into the pints which we had just ordered. Sure enough, their 4 lagers were all in fine, fine form. There was an 11-degree Světlý Ležák, called Česká Klasika, a 12-degree Světlý Ležák (with no particular name), a 13-degree Polotmavý, and a special which is brought out only on Easter and Christmas, Puškvorcový 14°.
The Česká Klasika was the first pint I had and the one I would go back to before leaving. Its inspiring balance of honeyed hay and herbal hop minutia graced a chewy yet poundable mouthfeel intrinsic to many unfiltered Bohemian Pilseners. Simply glorious, effortless drinking. A pint Bohemian dreams are made of.
Meanwhile, impressed, my pal Dany got up and tried to grab one of the many glasses with the brewery logo which was sitting on a shelf high above our table. For closer inspection, you see? He didn’t get very close. With a terse blare, the matron convincingly commanded him to sit back down. Dany immediately complied, a scared puppy fearing the worse. This woman knew how to run the place.
Back to our mugs, the Světlý Ležák 12° proved to be the setting for a stylish waltz between dryish pils malt cookies and lovable peppery, spicy hops. This was another charming quaffer, but perhaps not as personable a pint as the Klasika. I had fallen in love with the latter, so I guess it was hard to take me out of that amorous daze.
That’s when we finally noticed there were a few pots in the room in front of us. Homebrew-size pots, that is. We asked if we could check out the brewery and the landlady gladly accepted.
Back to our table, and having obviously pleased the matron with our interest and thankfulness, I got to work on the Polotmavý Speciál 13°. It had biscuity almonds and caramel-laced vanilla hugging the surfacing spicy, wooden hop finish for a complex and ever-so-friendly quencher. Yep, this was another superbly crafted lager in tip-top shape.
Normally, these are the 3 beers being served at Velkorybnicky Hastrman, but it was Easter weekend and so we were lucky enough to get a fourth brew. The Puškvorcový Velikonoční Speciál 14° was a subtle and cozy pint of Světlý Speciálni which provided honeyed hay maltiness once more gently overshadowing a wooden hoppiness. We were expecting nothing less than high quality now, and this Easter special delivered. Unfiltered, unpasteurised, clean, balanced, humble, and authentic. All Velky Rybnik brews fit this description admirably.
A few PET bottles and a few glasses to go, and we were off to another adventure: finding the train which would take us back to Karlovy Vary. We knew there were no buses left at this ungodly hour (oh...7pm?), and that the train was the only option left. Dany made a crude drawing of a train on a slip of paper and his half-drunken choo-chooing completed the picture for the locals. They simply had no choice but to help us. So off we went in pitch darkness to the sound of distant howling dogs on otherwise silent rural roads to find the place where the train would pick us up. The locals had warned us though: we had to signal the train that we wanted to get on or else, it would not stop for us. After finding the tracks, walking along them to find the train stop (and in my case, stepping into a deep mud puddle), we understood why we had to wave the train down. There was no light at all at this train stop! We started jumping up and down when the train’s nose appeared on the horizon. We stopped bouncing when the train creaked to a full stop. A memorable visit from beginning to end, this Velkorybnicky Hastrman was.
<U>How to get there:</u>
Take a bus from Karlovy Vary heading for Hroznetin, not Ostrov. Even though the brewery address might lead you to believe the brewpub is in the town of Ostrov, you will not be able to get off anywhere near if you decide to take a bus to Ostrov. On this ride to Hroznetin, pay attention to the buildings on the right-hand side. 25 minutes or so after departure from Karlovy Vary’s Dolni Nadrazi, you should see the brewpub’s pale yellow façade.
There is a bus stop literally three steps from the brewpub’s door (the stop’s called Velky Rybnik). Oh yeah, make sure you know when the last bus or train can take you back home...
This one-man operation lost in the Bohemian countryside is a wonder to behold. If there weren’t such a quality brewing tradition in this country, you could easily worry about the beer that comes out of this homebrew-style contraption. Its homemade sink-style mash tun and its accompanying direct-fired brew kettle, both built into a counter, send the nascent brew to a huge rusty fermenter of Polish origin which seems to have survived a few bombings.
As if these smoke-stained, garage-like surroundings (with involuntary bathroom air conditioning provided by a broken window) weren’t grim enough, their owner/brewer/server, Bohuslav Novak, might even enhance this impression and appear gruff at first glance. His persistence in trying to communicate with us though and his generosity sure made up for the somewhat intimidating appearances. And the beer...oh, the beer! There is only one available, and is it ever good. Bohuslav brews a 10-degree Světlý Výčepní which lots of people in this hamlet seem to adore. Although there were few people in the unheated blue-collar pub watching the playoff hockey game, patrons kept coming in with empty PET bottles to get them filled with liquid goodness. Understandably, this 3.7% abv výčepní simply insists on becoming a staple of your daily diet. Its heroic pilsener malts shape a fascinatingly sustaining body for the citrusy, herbal hops to groove with. This unfiltered lager is so fresh and quaffable, one just cannot get tired of it. One more look at this environment is enough to remind you that there is a lot more to brewing quality than state-of-the-art metal.
Bohuslav also brews a second beer, a Tmavé, but only for the Christmas season. But with such a masterful výčepní, this pils-lover admits he does not see the need for a second regular beer at Minipivovar Velichov. The 1.5-liter PET bottle we took back to the hotel didn’t even survive the bus trip...
This brewpub is also easily reachable from Karlovy Vary’s Dolni Nadrazi. A 35-minute bus ride follows a gently sinuous river surrounded by a tall tree mix nearly all the way to the hamlet of Velichov. From the town’s main bus stop, you should see a closed Mexican-style restaurant in front of you. There aren’t that many landmarks here, so I hope it’s still there for you. Take the unnamed street on the side of this old diner and you should see this:
The little card in the window says “Minipivovar Velichov”. Like Velky Rybnik, make sure you know what time the last bus can take you back to wherever you are staying. The last buses are usually very early in the evening (7pm-ish). And there are no trains to save you here...
I am not even going to CZ anytime soon and I enjoyed this article as a virtual beer travel companion, one in which the nagging of the dragged-along female companion has the luxury to remain virtual as well!
Just noticed it as you posted so many CZ IPA’s - can’t believe no-one has taken the trouble to comment in nearly 5 years...