Though it may take awhile for some to realize, there is actually life after Prague. But—is there beer after Prague? Hard to say…
It is out there, but it all depends on where you’re headed. After spending four years on the magical playgrounds of Prague, I wandered westward into Portugal and Spain, finding the sun and sand that I sought. In Lisbon, as expected, the prawns and squid leapt happily from the ocean onto my plate, and my wine cup spilleth over with the chilled, fizzy delight that is Portuguese vinho verde.
But when someone asked, ‘Hey, you want a beer?’ I became giddy with visions of Gambrinus dancing in my head. To my shock and horror, I found myself holding a frostbitten POINT TWO LITER glass of beer in my expectant hand. A joke, no? I’ll admit that I’ve downed a malý from time to time when no one was looking, but this was even more embarrassing–a malý malý. I didn’t know what to say or do, so I drank. I could have finished off the glass in a few seconds, but the beer seemed like it was just defrosted, and chugging it would have given me terrible brain freeze.
But forget about the unnecessarily cold temperature—the taste took me back in time to the forgettable moment when I tried my first American beer. Probably a Coors light or some such diet alcoholic nonsense. Light, watery, enough to make me run back to my bottle of Australian shiraz with open arms–until I moved to Prague, that is. And how much did I pay for this tiny little cup of beer-water? 1.20 euro, or almost CZK 30. Quite amusing when I recall the days of CZK 19 beers in Prague at the FAMU bar. Although, honestly, that wasn’t the best of Czech beers.
Turns out that Portugal is too busy courting its seductive wines to pay much attention to its lonely beer industry, which consists mainly of two brands: Super Bock and Sagres. One positive I do have to mention: you can buy an entire liter bottle of these beers if you’re in the mood and want to take it with you to the beach or park.
Then, during a random exploration, I discovered a miracle, the fountain of Prague youth: a pizza place in a residential suburb of Lisbon that served Budvar on draft. The Budvar sign by the door stopped me dead in my tracks, as they say. Before I even entered, I was wondering, if I moved out now of my Lisbon flat and got a flat here instead, would I still get my security deposit back? However, the .4 L (almost enough, but not quite) Budvar was served in frosted mugs, which somewhat negated the hoppy taste I was expecting. And the foam faded fast. I was paying 2 euro (about CZK 50) for the .4 L glass, but for a taste of Budvar in Portugal, I didn’t mind the Old Town Square price.
Spain seems to deliver the same diluted taste in beer, for an even higher cost than Portugal. However, in Madrid, if you’re looking for quantity over quality, you can pop into a popular chain called Cerveceria 100 Montaditos, and, by ordering a little baguette sandwich for 1 euro (think mini version of a Bageterie Boulevard sandwich with gourmet tapas fillings), you get a .5 L beer for just one more euro. Not such a bad deal for Spain, especially in an expensive city like Madrid.
In Spain, you’ll also notice the bartender allowing the beer to intentionally overflow the mug, which is apparently the local custom, but you also get served a wet glass each time. And, like in Portugal, you won’t get a coaster—something that always gives me a tiny anxiety attack each time I receive my bare-bottomed beer.
Based on my travel experiences for now, western European beers–as well as North and South American beers–have a hard time competing with my memories of Czech beers. And even when you do find Czech beer outside of the Czech Republic, it’s often produced by a local brewery and just won’t be the same. Granted, there are excellent microbrews that I’ve stumbled across, but these are rare, and sometimes expensive, experiences.
I’ve found that sticking to the local specialties—vinho verde or porto in Portugal, red wine and sangria in Spain—is usually the best strategy. Asking the locals for beer recommendations makes sense too, but just don’t get your hopes up—they’re used to their national brew and will often have only good things to say about it.
If you’re hunting for Czech beer as you travel outside of the Czech Republic, you’re essentially committing that tourist faux pas of carrying your home with you. In the end, I’ve realized I must enjoy the local beer for what it is. There’s not much point in comparing beers as I travel–I’ve reserved a pedestal for my Czech beer memories to sit upon, and they don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
So – have you found a good brew outside of the Czech Republic? Is there beer after Prague?