Thursday, September 3, 2009

Český Krumlov

[Author's note: I took this trip alone, as no one else was free, so these are notes that I took during the day. Very much inside my head, it was actually pretty refreshing]

Aboard the bus to Český Krumlov. It is packed with quirky old British ladies. I anticipate the "oh my's" will continue. Their latest revelation came when they figured out how to operate the arm rests.
First impressions live up to its reputation as one of the most picturesque destinations in all of Europe. Three hours due south of Prague, Český Krumlov was among the first places in the region designated a UNESCO world heritage site, and it doesn't take long to understand why.
This place is more fairy tale than reality. It somehow lacks the superficial qualities you sometimes sense in parts of Prague's Old Town - perhaps its the beauty of the landscape surrounding the town that provides a natural context.
To be sure, though a gem, it is not hidden. I am not alone in my tourism, there are Brits and Germans everywhere. I wonder what its like to actually live here. Hard to imagine.

The Eggenberg Brewery

One of the attractions that drew me here is the historic Eggenberg Brewery. I arrive at 2pm. Tours began at 11am, but I am informed that they are already done for the day. Right. So Staropramen maintains its advantage.

An adjoining beer garden takes the edge off. The Eggenberg 10 degree tastes a bit like a more refined Staropramen svelty, nothing special. The whiff of unrefined wort mash I got around back of the factory stands out and a tinny aftertaste lingers. Overall crisp, but definitely not Heineken Light dad. I suppose rich history ought not be confused with rich taste...more on that later.

While I'm here, I may as well try the other varieties. Okay, so the waitress just sat down with her lunch and shoots me a glare before I can say anything. I place my glass on the bar and nod. To the beer hall!

Woah, bartender in here has an attitude. I tried asking about their other beer styles, unsure of what to get. He points to the board and snappily tells me to just pick one. There goes your tip sunshine. Some of these Czechs are really hard to crack.

Choices are the light, the dark, and the (yeast? couldn't really understand him). I opt for the 3rd. Much better than the last. More attention to filtering, cleaner finish. There is a real difference between the 10 and 12 degree beers - more pronounced in some than others. It's not just ABV content, it's the process and the attention to quality. It can be traced back to medieval times. The servants drank the watered-down, bottom-of-the-troth crude beer (think Coors, but rather than Rocky Mountain water, water from the Charles River, only worse back then as the problem of sewage and potablility was actually not yet viewed as much of a problem). Meanwhile, the royalty and nobles drank only the refined. I suppose this continues today in different forms.

Before I came, I certainly wondered why I had never heard of Eggenberg. Formally established in 1560 (the Plymouth colony a cool 60 years off), the brewery boasts of its historic importance to Český Krumlov. I am uninformed without a proper tour, but I think production capacity has something to do with it. The more plausable explanation is that there really is nothing remarkable about it and it's probably not easy to compete in the Pilsner Mecca of the world. I have also noticed that dominant beer brands are very particular to regions, even in a country this small.

On to the dark. Černý, Czech for "black" beer is something of an anomaly here. You have Bernard, Kozel, and Staropramen and others, but such are exceptions to the norm. First sip: the Eggenberg black lager is more on the smooth side than those mentioned. Pleasantly, it doesn't have the burnt-malt taste I've noticed in the others. The grain roasting is key to the styling of the beer, the deeper the roast, the darker the beer. Some brewers overdo it (intentionally perhaps to bring out smoky notes) but Eggenberg is more to my liking. Good stuff.

Now that you've grown tired of my blabbing about beer, I'll allow the pictures to speak for themselves. I spent the day of the day just wandering (and making pit-stops of course). It was fantastic.

A beautiful sunset as I bid farewell.

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