Saturday, 28 August 2010

David and Goliath in Plzen

Plzen. A festival of beer and rock music, though given the performance from some musicians I would stick to the beer (I relish the awfulness of one flat-haired, bespectacled type who was big in the 80s I am told — he looks like the owner of a hardware store who has left his brown shop coat at home while he plays at being a rock star; his voice is whiny, self-pitying; I haven’t got a clue what he’s singing about but he might be having a go at some woman who doesn’t want to share his dreams of a hardware store empire). So I think a drink would be very welcome. And in the city where golden lager emerged in the 1840s, it’s always going to be easy to find Pilsner Urquell —  a totemic symbol for the city. And yet…before heading out to the Disneyland of brewing that is Pilsner Urquell’s playground (there’s something about trying to be in on the world’s largest toast and then get in the Guinness Book of Records), we go to Pivovar Groll (named after the brewer who kick-started the whole golden thing in the 1840s), which is a small 500-litre operation, squatting on the doorstep of PU. Their Lotr 11˚ is bitter and delicately herby, light and sprightly on the palate, an absolute delight. The brewing kit is miniscule, a veritable diddy David to the giddy heights of Goliath on show next door. There’s an open cooling pan, wooden fermenting vessels (the barrels are cleaned by hand grimaced a brewery chap), and the boil is wood-fired. ‘We keep to the traditions,’ says the woman who takes us on our brief trip. The brewpub’s amber is also a delight, with herbal, liquorice and caramel notes weaving their way through the glass. The last time I came to Plzen I went away with the view that all people drank here was PU. They probably do (and there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m partial to a drop of it), but the appearance of Pivovar Groll and a bar that we later visited (the Small Brewers Club, of which more later) is a heartening sign of diversity and difference.

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