Where beer is brewed, life is good’, goes a Czech proverb. And life is good in the Czech Republic, one of the highest per capita consumers of beer at 165 litres per person. Beer is cheaper than water here! The Benedictine monks first brewed beer in 993 AD, and today there are some 450 Czech beers made by about 100 breweries, ranging from golden pilsners to black porters. The Czechs prefer to drink their beer on tap, fresh from the barrel, not from bottles or cans. Czech folk medicine always used beer as a cure, a liquid with healing powers. Today there are even beer spas which cure acne, cellulite and psoriasis as well beer shampoos and shower gels.
Pivo is the Czech word for beer and the quality of Czech beer and hops is legendary. Bohemian hops were so prized that King Wenceslas ordered the death penalty for anyone caught exporting the cuttings, from which new plants could be grown. The fine taste of beer is not only because of the ancient recipes and the good hops but also the excellent spring water that is used to make the beers. The famous Pilsner Urquell, which comes from the town of Plzen actually means mother of springs.
Karlovy Vary, the spa town of the Czech Republic, is dotted with many mineral springs with medicinal qualities. It is also the home of Becherovka-a peppery liqueur made from 30 herbs, which can be had straight or with tonic.
Then there is the watered down version of the green fairy, or the notorious Absinthe, which is supposed to have fuelled writers, artists and other creative people, in fin de siècle Paris. It’s made from the infamous wormwood with alcohol, liquorices and other herbs added to it, and is supposed to create hallucinations; they say Van Gogh cut off his ear, fuelled by absinthe. In the winter, people feast on grog-hot rum and water with lemon and sugar – and mulled wine known locally as svarak. The liqueurs are made out of fruits, like Slivovice or plum brandy. Moravians create this drink out of plums left in wooden casks, from September until early spring. Locals claim that it will cure a hangover, and dissolve fat after a heavy meal.
Czech wines have come in to their own in the last few years. Many good Czech wines come from southern Moravia. Emperor Charles IV issued a decree that vineyards should be founded on all suitable hills and slopes.
Thanks to his initiative, Burgundy Blue, called Pinot Noir in France, took root in local vineyards. In autumn, the Czech Republic has many wine festivals, called Vinobrany, which celebrate the first harvest. Most travel to the Czech Republic to enjoy its rich bounty of architecture, but a drinking tour is also highly recommended.
HOW TO REACH: All major European carriers have flights to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. The carriers with the most flights are KLM, Air France and Lufthansa.
GETTING AROUND: Prague has one of the best public transportation systems in Europe. The metro, trams and buses are used by two-thirds of Prague’s population and cover the majority of the city and outskirts
Published in the New Indian Express, 2011