Beer is a pillar of the Czech nation. (If there were 3 pillars in all, I’d say the other two are: 1) dumplings and 2) a healthy dose of skepticism.) Before moving to Prague I had no idea how important it is (I always thought of Germany as the beer capital of the world) but as it turns out, the Czech Republic drinks more beer per capita than any other country in the world. That’s more than the Irish. And since moving here, I’ve been doing my very best to help sustain this statistic.
In 2011, the country produced over 20 million hectoliters of beer, placing the Czech Republic as the 15th largest producer in the world. Not bad for a country that could fit inside the United States 122 times. There are over 40 industrial breweries in the Czech Republic and over 70 medium-sized and small breweries, mainly family owned.
Among the largest breweries is Velkopopovicky Kozel, although it certainly doesn’t feel that way when you visit the tiny town situated about 30km outside of Prague. Beer has been brewed on the settlement where the Kozel brewery now resides since the 16th century, however today’s brewery started its production in 1874.
A Travelove testing trip took me to the brewery to tour the buildings and grounds of this famous Czech lager. This was not your average brewery tour. I’ve been to approximately a bazillion breweries and wineries all over the globe and I’ll go out on a limb and say that this one was, hands-down, the best I’ve ever done.
We were greeted by the Brewmaster who showed us how the beer is made and explained the brand’s rich history from its time of purchase in the late 19th century by Baron Frantisek Ringhoffer, through the First and Second World Wars and communism, when the brewery was nationalized, to the early 1990s when the brewery again achieved its independence. We washed down our good dose of history with some tasty samples of different Kozel products along the way.
The highlight of the tour came near the end when we were given lessons on how to pour Kozel properly from the draught taps. We were given a demonstration on the importance of foam (it’s a scientific process really, I had no idea) and lots of practice. And since practicing means pouring lots of beers, you are then left with… lots of beers to drink! Huzzah!
A goaty encounter
Our final stop on the tour took us to meet Olda the billy goat, Kozel’s famous mascot (in Czech, “kozel” is the word for “goat”). He’s a feisty fellow that loves a good scratch between the horns. I’d be remiss, however, not to warn you that Olda, uh… how do I put this delicately?
He smells. Like a barnyard.
Think of the smelliest goat cheese you’ve ever had and times it by 100. Odoriferous Olda he should be called. After scratching his head for a minute or two he took it upon himself to sneeze on me. It wasn’t until I had walked away from his enclosure that I noticed that his sneeze sprayed some kind of white goo all over my jacket, pants, handbag, etc. It took a few washings to get the goat smell completely out. And my companions gave me a wide berth at dinner that night. So take it from me, admire Olda from afar.
Don’t go it alone!
The Kozel brewery does offer basic guided tours of the brewery that you can set up on your own, but is working specially with Travelove to offer our guests a unique tour with the Brewmaster (the basic tours only have tour guides and don’t include all you get to see on the individualized tours we organize, like the lesson on how to pour a Czech beer properly – the best part!). It makes all the difference in the world, really.
The visit to the Kozel brewery is part of the Fall in Love with Prague trip – look for “Learn to Pour Czech Beer”