This is the eighth in a series of blog posts about our recent epic trip to Germany and the Czech Republic in search of food, castles, and of course beer.  My travel companions included my wife Sarajo (Sj for short), as well as Jim and Lori Stroner.  Jim is a seasoned beer geek (and part owner of Tin Whisker’s Brewing in St. Paul) as well as a great photographer.  He did most of the organizational work for the trip, so he gets extra kudos!  Our hero’s journey continues now with day 8…

Czech It Out!

Ok, I know that was a bad header but I can’t stop myself.  Sorry I’m not sorry!  On day 8 of our trip, and our last in Germany, we woke up early and had our breakfast at the hotel.  Ready to face the day we bundled our too-much luggage into the too-big SUV and headed out for the the Czech Republic.

This drive was a bit more highway-centric with only a few detours on goat paths and logging roads.  We expected some serious border control “papers please” and body cavity searches but just sailed across the border from Germany into the Czech Republic without any to-do at all.

We arrived fairly early in the day to the picturesque little town of Loket and I was immediately blown away by the beauty.  On the hill overlooking the town perches Hrad Loket (Loket Castle), with a calm river flowing by in the valley below.  Our hotel was right in the old downtown area, just steps from the main bridge into town, and hosting an excellent view of the castle.

Our hotel Svaty Florian was also a brewery (that Jim knows how to pick them!) and we were able to check in early to drop our bags off.  We shared some beers over a decent lunch at the brewery, settling into our new country.  The helles was a bit cloudy like a kellerbier but refreshing in the heat.  The Tmavy Lezak (dark) was a bit thin but still worth drinking.  The Tmavy Vzeny Special was a smoked beer and not much off from the rauchbiers we had been drinking the past few days in Franconia.   Luckily at least one of the servers spoke English well, since the language here was much tougher to suss out than German!

After lunch we wandered the town a bit, getting a feel for the place.  It was still pretty and medievil looking but had a bit more wear and tear on it than most of the German towns and villages we’d visited.  Metal work and doors were more utilitarian than decorative, bars on windows stronger and more effective.  Paint was a bit more faded, stucco a bit more cracked.  This was something we would see in much of the Czech Republic: a bit more hard-living had been done here, especially under communism, however we also saw much building, repairwork and renewal during our trip which points to better times and more stable infrastructure.

Not far from the hotel we sat down in a small street-side cafe and shared our first Pilsner Urquell beer which certainly tasted better than the elderly dusty bottles I’ve had in the States!  So cold and refreshing and cheaper than water.

Our hotel had a brewing museum as well as a huge collection of spa cups to look at, so we expored the bowels and rafters of the large old building a bit before heading out to check out the castle itself.

 

Spa cups in the museum

Hrad Loket

 

We hiked up the hill and paid our way into the beautiful 12th century castle.  We spelunked down in the cellars where they had a creepy torture museum set up for us, complete with piped in screams.  We spent quite a bit of time here as the castle is quite extensive.  We worked up a thirst and Jim decided to get a bottled water from the small snack cart in the courtyard–but the proprietor waved him away and said no.  Apparently they were closing down?  5 minutes later Sj spotted them selling ice cream and bottles to another family.  Jim’s rugged looks and looming form strike again (#Strider).

Inside the castle walls

 

Trebuchet ammunition and old crosses in the courtyard

 

Lori spends time in the dungeon…

 

The view from the castle walls!

We wandered around again scoping out photo ops for later on.  On the way back from this, we discovered a bunch (herd?) of goats that lived on the slopes in front of the castle.  A lady had a bag of veggies and was happily feeding the goats through the fence.  She invited us over and shared her bounty so Sj was able to feed the goats as well. We also met her boyfriend, an American, who was quite a character.  I feel terrible that I can’t remember their names (they will always be “the goat people” to us) but they were so kind and helpful, pointing us toward a nearby town that had not been on our itinerary.  Thanks you guys!  That town is Karlovy Vary and we’ll see it in the next installment!

 

 

After losing half our weight in sweat and being covered in goat saliva, we ended up back at our hotel for dinner and more beers.  This time we tried the big guns and found our favorite beers from the brewery.  The Ruby Special was a well balanced amber lager and really helped quench the thirst.  We also really enjoyed the “Strongest Beer in the Czech Republic” the Special V Lahvi: which had a sweet English Barleywine character with complex malt, raisin and prune flavors. Not great for the crazy heat but very nice!

By the time we finished the sun was dropping and Jim and I were able to get both sunset and night shots of the castle.  A fine first day in a fairy tale village!

Cultural Observation: Pivo

The first word we all learned in the Czech language was Pivo.  This means beer.  Malé Pivo means “small beer” but I have no idea why you would want to know that one.  Beer in the Czech republic has a long and storied past, and much like Germany, most towns used to have their own brewery.  However, during the communist years many of the smaller breweries were lost or consolidated, similar to what happened in the USA after prohibition.  Many of the breweries we visited, like Florian, are newer and are trying to reclaim some of the brewing history of the country.  Because of this, there tend to be less styles or options available and overall quality can be a bit more plus-minus than the long-practiced German breweries.

Beer styles in the Czech republic pretty much come in two flavors.  The first is pilsner.  The very first pilsner beer was brewed in the city of Plzen, and all other light colored lagers since (including Bud, Coors, Miller) have this common lineage.  We’ll talk more about these when my travels take me there!  The second is the Tmavy Lezak which is a darker version with color ranging from light amber to a fairly dark brown.  Many, but not all, of the beers we had on this trip have a hint of diacetyl, which is acceptible in low levels in these styles of beer but are a flaw in just about every other style (maybe in English ESB it is OK).  However, several of the beers we had this trip were outright butter-bombs: think of pouring a squirt or two of movie theater “butter” into your mug.  All of these beers are under 6% ABV.  We would rarely find another random style or a “Special” beer which might be slightly higher ABV.  The 11.5 % ABV beer from Florian was a true anomoly in this country, and may very well be the strongest!

 

Running Tally

Breweries visited: 18

Bierkellers visited: 7

Cities visited: 15

Castles: 2

Brewery Museums: 2

Torture Museums: 1

Goats Fed: 6

Mileage walked today: 4.9

Brewing museum or torture museum? You decide!