No Pilsner? No Problem: Embracing Czech Beer

By Billy O’Hare

Pivovarsky Dum by Billy O'Hare
Photo by Billy O’Hare

My search for bona fide Czech cuisine had failed. I wanted to find some grungy, impossibly small and outdated relic of Bohemia’s yesteryears. But the large, modern glass windows and the neon green menus titled “ENGLISH” told me I hadn’t looked hard enough.

Pivovarsky Dum is not that hole-in-the-wall Czech restaurant you may have been looking for so you could tell friends you tried something native. It is not even hard to find; the charming Atlanta, GA, couple that shared our table got there without a hitch. After all, it’s in Prague 2, the center of the city, not far from commercial epicenter that is Wenceslas Square.

The wood paneled walls and the brewing and bottling equipment looked a little too clean to be authentic.

There is nothing surprising or exciting about the menu of goulash, game, and other meat-and-sauce combinations. The food here is predictable, albeit satisfying for even newcomers to Prague. But try ordering Pilsner or Staropramen, and familiarity goes out the window as your server casts you a puzzled stare.

Pivovarsky Dum may not blow any minds with its ambiance or cuisine, but there is one distinction: its own brewery. While megabreweries like Pilsner Urquell dominate the beer market in the Czech Republic, Pivovarsky Dum represents a small but growing slice of restaurants that brew and serve their own brand.

Beer author Evan Rail discusses the resurgence of local brews in his recent book on the subject, Good Beer Guide Prague and the Czech Republic. About ten new local breweries open each year in the Czech Republic, according to Rail, though the large beer brands continue to thrive.

Czech Beer
You won’t find any of these traditional Czech brands of beer at the microbrewery Pivovarsky Dum. Photo by Lyndsey Matthews

Pivovarsky Dum is not exactly riding this recent wave; it has been open since 1998. However, its continued presence demonstrates that there is a market for smaller, specialty breweries.

Standard fare includes light or dark beer, as well as a mix of the two. This is normal for a restaurant, except the brews really are exceptional. The taste of the light beer is crisp and certainly up to par, if not beyond that of big name brews.

The selection of beverages at Pivovarsky Dum ranges from traditional to wild, from light ale to flavored beers such as sour cherry, coffee, lime and banana.

I could smell my friend’s banana brew from across the table. Drinking it was like tasting beer and smelling banana at the same time – an interesting experience best reserved for rare occasions.

The lime beer was light in color and cloudy. It tasted slightly flat and syrupy, but was surprisingly refreshing.

Worst on our table was the sour cherry. Everyone agreed it conjured childhood flashbacks of being force-fed cough syrup.

Flavored beers cost 35 crowns ($1.76) for .3 liters, and standard brews cost the same for a half liter. If you’re feeling adventurous, they offer brewery tours on less crowded nights for 100 crowns. Alternatively, you can bring the party home in the form of a mini keg with a built-in tap.

Pivovarsky Dum’s food lacks the charmingly sloppy preparation common at less-polished Czech restaurants, but it is tasty, albeit tourist-friendly. Beer is used in some of the dishes, indicated by a smiley face next to the item on the menu.

I had the Bohemian Platter (115Kc), which consists of roast pork, sauerkraut, and red cabbage. The meal was tasty but seemed contrived. Meanwhile, a friend’s beef in “Candelsauce” (115Kc) tasted suspiciously like goulash, which appears in its own right on the menu.

One dessert worth noting is the crepes with beer jam. That’s right, beer jam. The treat actually tasted more of cinnamon, but with that feeling in your nose and throat after you drank something alcoholic. This is one of those “only at a brewery” dishes, and the only dessert with a smiley face next to it.

Pivovarsky Dum offers something genuinely Czech, even if it looks vaguely like TGI Friday’s or Chili’s and contains as many American customers as both.

It is one of few bastions of local beer, and the mark of the rising tide of small breweries like it. It stands out from the monotony of ubiquitous Pilsner umbrellas and signs.

The great-tasting beer and novelty items certainly make this place worth a visit, and the food is good enough to try if you are already there. And if it turns out Pivovarsky Dum isn’t your style, just bag up the food and take home a keg.

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