It’s okay if all you think of Czech food is goulash and lightly flavored ales, I forgive you. It’s all I did too – and I’ve even visited once before.
This time though, I vowed it would be different. Less standing in the cold (visiting in November instead of January), more leisurely explorations of the beautiful Old Town. Fewer sips of Becherovka and bites of (admittedly delicious) cheap goulash, better flavors on my palate. By this point our trip, I wasn’t sure how to pick the right tour to enjoy the flavors and culture of Prague. Six months on the road had left me tired, and unsure where to even start.
The History of Beer & Tapas in Prague
Did you know brewing in the Czech Republic (or what was to become the Czech Republic) began as early as 933 AD? Me neither! It turns out that early Bohemian brewers were among the first to use hops in the beer-making process – possibly in the world – and can lay claim to over a millennium of beer-making history.
In the Czech Republic, the most common type of beer in Prague is the light Pilsner style ale. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to miss the Pilsner Urquell signs outside nearly every pub and bar. Much like Guinness in Ireland, Pilsner Urquell is a point of pride, the “golden standard” of beer in the region.
Like many other at-one-point-up-and-coming-but-now-totally-hip cities, Prague is also experiencing a small but creative craft beer revolution. Heritage brewers are making Pilsner, amber, and brown ale beers as they long have, but it’s not hard to find funky IPAs and zippy red ales too if you know where to look.
To compliment this, chefs started making small plates of local food – and the Spanish name for these style dishes (“tapas”) is widely used. Most bars and pubs – even older, local, or dingier ones – will have several tapas options on their menu. It’s really the most exciting way to eat, drink, and sample a lot of flavors in Prague in a short amount of time.
Booking with Urban Adventures Prague
As I planned our time in Prague, Mr. Valise and I talked about what tours we’d like to spend time doing. I was at the time emailing frequently with Tammy, Niki, and Tony on the Urban Adventures global team, and they recommended checking out the Beer & Tapas Tour while we were in Prague.
“It’s one of our most popular tours,” they said. “You’ll love it!”
It didn’t take much convincing to get me on board, to be honest. I love food, I love beer, and I love trying as many of both as possible when I visit a new city. A few hours with Mr. Valise, a guide, and a handful of like-minded strangers sounded like a perfect way to spend the evening.
Eating & Drinking Our Way Across Prague
Four stops. Four beers. A dozen different dishes. What’s not to love?
During our Urban Adventures tour, our tour Martin took us to four different areas of Prague. By far the best part (aside from the beer and food, obviously) is that these were neighborhoods I might never have visited on my own. Instead of tourist traps or guidebook recommendations, we wandered into the local bars and tasting rooms you can’t easily find without a local guide.
After meeting up with our tour group in Wenceslas Square, we took the metro – an exciting prospect, as neither Mr. Valise nor I had taken the metro at that point. We were well rewarded after exiting the metro and taking a small walk in the rain:
Our first stop was a bar called U Sadu in the mostly residential neighborhood Žižkov. A multi-story bar with a labyrinth of underground seating areas, U Sadu was a perfect mix of “beer” (10 on tap, every day) and “tapas” (a wide variety of funky and interesting dishes including a pickled cheese I couldn’t get enough of).
Our next stop was a short walk away, but at least the rain had stopped. Sitting down in the brightly lit and ultra-clean Vinohradský Pivovar dining space, I could easily have been in Brooklyn, for all the hip-ness around me.
As a brewery, Vinohradský Pivovar is one of those Prague establishments I mentioned was experimenting with beer. Over pints and plates, Martin explained that Czech beer is denoted with a degree symbol, such as 11˚ or 13˚. The degree symbol is a measure of the beer density, but it roughly correlates with both color (darker beers are higher degrees) and alcohol percentage (higher alcohol has higher degrees). At a quick glance then, you don’t need to speak Czech to order a beer – you can just indicate which degree you’d like, and that will roughly tell you what will arrive in your glass.
At Vinohradský Pivovar, we also enjoyed some outrageously interesting tapas: duck pate with cranberries, almonds, and onion marmalade, and (if memory serves) pork belly on black beer with red cabbage and potato chunks. A far cry from the “bar food” we Americans look down upon, I was beginning to see why “beer and tapas” go together in Prague; if this was the “tapas” served in every bar back home, the hipsters would be having their dates in pubs instead of understatedly-cool cocktail bars.
Vinohradský Pivovar is the kind of restaurant/bar/brewery I would frequent regularly – and possibly never leave… But, our tour was only half over, so back into the night we went. Our next stop was a tram ride away (two new forms of public transit in one night!), through an unmarked door with a small illuminated sign flickering feebly above the entrance.
Bad Flash Bar is another take on Prague’s craft beer scene – without the clean, sterile, white vibe of Vinohradský Pivovar. Dark and labyrinthine, we found ourselves seated in a small room with two other tables, the walls adorned with Czech movie memorabilia. (Beer + movies + travel? It was fate!) A hand-written board listed a dozen beers or more, including a few familiar “imports” like BrewDog out of Scotland. Despite the hearty tapas, I was beginning to feel the buzz and went light, for an 11˚or 12˚… or maybe it was their seasonal beer. I can’t remember which anymore…
At Bad Flash, we noshed on crusty bread and more pickled cheese. Spread over the bread, the smooth cheesy flavor and sharp vinegar were a perfect combination, and I was contented. Until sausages began arriving on a plate with other meats, and then I was even more contented.
By the time our pints began to wind down at Bad Flash Bar, the group was warming up. Three – or four, or five! (for some people) – pints in, we began discussing home, the recent election, and how we all might stay in Prague forever and just keep drinking and eating.
Again, it was not to last. One final stroll through quiet residential streets lead us to our final destination: Resturace U Šumavy.
After a hole-in-the-wall, crystalline brewery, and historic beer bar, Resturace U Šumavy was another diverse experience. I’m not sure I would classify it as a “family” restaurant, what with hops growing from the beams on the ceiling. Given my beer education thus far in the night though, it just might be.
For our last taste of tapas, Martin ordered pickled cheese, Camembert to be specific. It arrived in the jar, with onions, tomatoes, and peppers in the juices, and with a dark soft bread. Pickled cheese, I tell ya. Still as good, four beers in.
Four stops. Four beers. A dozen different dishes. What’s not to love?
After wandering home through quiet city streets, yes, I did love it. The Urban Adventures Prague Beer & Tapas Tour is a highlight from our memories in Europe, in part because it was so unexpectedly enjoyable.
Prague is a surprising city, and I think it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t been surprised by Prague: stunning architecture, rich history, cheap prices… As it turns out, Prague also has a rich but innovative beer scene and chefs unafraid of making delicious small plates specifically for drinking with that beer. The Beer & Tapas Tour is a great addition to your Prague itinerary – you’ll be surprised, and certainly not disappointed.
The Urban Adventures Prague Beer & Tapas Tour can be booked from $65 US per person. I was hosted as a guest on my tour. It’s not just the beer that leads to my strong endorsement.