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IN HIGH SPIRITS Outside a brewery in Prague
IN HIGH SPIRITS Outside a brewery in Prague

Czechs love their national drink, which has a history that’s as old as their country

When in Czech Republic, drink like the Czechs do. For Czech nationals, beer is as integral to their daily lives as is their daily bread. No meal, or snack, is complete without a tall glass of beer. Beer is their national drink, or as some call it, “liquid bread”. Czech Republic is one of the largest manufacturers and consumers of beer in the world. If you don’t take our word for it, here’s some statistics that do the talking: consuming 141-161 litres of beer per person annually, Czechs are the largest per capita beer guzzlers. T-shirts urge you be part of the “Czech drinking team” or simply “Save water, drink beer.” Volumes on Czech beer occupy as much shelf space as books on Prague’s history in book stores across the city. Prague’s book stores are perhaps the best place to find scores of copies of Roger Protz’s “300 beers to try before you die.”

The maze of bylanes teems with an assortment of eateries – Italian, Mexican, Czech, Mediterranean, Indian, Chinese and others. Walk into any of them and expect to be treated to some of the finest, lightest beers. Most eateries swear their loyalty to one particular brand and refrain from stocking up on the other. A few fast food joints serve non-alcoholic beers.

A serving of 500 ml beer, anywhere in Czech Republic, will cost you between 20 and 60 crowns (Rs. 40 to Rs. 120) while the same beers, exported to the rest of Europe and the US, are priced much higher.

The Czechs brought out the first textbook on brewing, built the first beer museum and brewed the first Pilsner Urquell and Budweiser or Budvar. Former President of the nation, Vaclav Havel, even penned a play (in 1974) based on his experience of working in a brewery for a short term. Hops, barley malt, yeast and water are the prime ingredients of beer like in other nations. What works to the advantage of Czechs is the ideal conditions for growing hops in their lands. In fact, historical records state that hops were exported from Bohemia in the early tenth century AD. The list of must-visit destinations from Prague is incomplete without the mention of some of the famous breweries in the Bohemian and Moravian regions of Czech Republic. Of these, the most popular are the visits to Konopiste Chateau and the Pilsner Urquell brewery and Koneprusy caves.

The Konopiste Chateau, once home to Franz Ferdinand dEste, who was the successor to the Habsburg throne, still houses an enormous collection of armoury . A fanatical hunter, Ferdinand is said to have killed at least 3,00,000 animals and some of the trophies – including the great Indian bison – have been preserved for posterity. The swords, daggers and guns decorated in ivory, mother of pearl, wood and gold speak of Ferdinand’s passion for hunting. For the uninitiated, it was Ferdinand’s assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 that triggered World War I.

Pilsen, or Plzen, is the town best known for Czech’s favourite Pilsner Urquell beer. Ardent Pilsner lovers consider visiting the Pilsen brewery a pilgrimage and the Pilsen beer museum is a good place to get to know the history of the Czech beer industry. While there, also take time off to visit the Koneprusy Caves, which will allow you to walk through 600-m long caves formed of lime stones.

Walking through Prague, you’re left wondering how Czech nationals don’t seem to be plagued by the obvious side effects of beer – an unflattering beer belly. Obese or even overweight Czechs are rare to find.

Perhaps, the answer lies in their popular method of commuting – long walks on the cobbled stone streets.

SANGEETA DEVI DUNDOO

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