Why it’s Fresh
Walking around Prague these days, you are bound to come across a pub, restaurant, or cafe advertising pivo z tanku (beer from tanks). If you were to compare a beer from a tankovna (tank pub) directly against its bottled or kegged counterpart, I have no doubt that the tank beer would win your approval the majority of the time. So what gives tank beer that edge over other forms of storage and serving methods?
Pasteurization is the answer. Or rather, lack thereof. Tank beer comes directly from the brewery, where it bypasses the pasteurization process and is immediately transported in temperature-controlled trucks. Tank beer is fresh because it moves from brewery to tap within a matter of hours.
From the truck, the beer is pumped into polypropylene sacks inside of pressurized tanks, normally found in the cellar. This pressure (alleviating the need for CO2!) squeezes the sack, forcing the beer to the tap, bursting with aroma and flavor. All the while, the beer has been protected from oxygen and light until you hold it up to inspect its quality.
Tank pubs also (usually) pay closer attention to the cleanliness of the lines that the beer travels through, keeping it tasting as it should. Finally, beer from tank pubs must be served within two weeks, so you can be sure you are consuming a fresh brew.
Pasteurization is the process of heating beer to very high temperatures, 60º-63ºC (140ºF) for 30-35 minutes. Heat is not something you want to subject your beer to; we all know the sun does nothing to improve the flavor of our beers in the summer months.
Then why subject any beer to pasteurization? This process boosts the beer’s immune system, so to speak. Pasteurized beer is better able to withstand the trials and tribulations of the road. The downside, of course, is that some of the flavor and character is drained from the beer in the process. Pasteurization can also cause oxidation, leaving a beer tasting stale or off.
Where it’s at
Pilsner Urquell made the tank trend popular between 1994 and 1996. Today, there are well over 700 pubs and restaurants serving tank beer from breweries all over the country. I recommend that you get out there and explore – look for pubs that say pivo z tanku (beer from tanks). Here is a good list of tank pubs, but I will suggest a few different pubs from the more common breweries.
Currently, I find Ambiente group’s Lokál on Dlouhá Street to be the top spot when I am craving a fresh, unpasteurized Pilsner Urquell. Also, this is one of the few establishments that displays their tanks, which adds to the aesthetics of the beer hall atmosphere.
Another Pilsner Urquell tankovna that serves up a full, hoppy, bitter Pilsner is U Rudolfina found at Křižovnická 10 near the Staroměstká tram stop. On the other hand, I was hugely disappointed with U Pinkasů on Jungmannovo náměstí. Their beer fell flat on its face, and from aroma to aftertaste seemed dirty. Not all tank pubs keep their beer as well as others, so beware.
Krušovice was the next brewery to follow suit in opening tank pubs. Their beers don’t capture my imagination, but if you’re interested try Šalanda on Národní. They feature the largest selection of Krušovice in town, including a tank ležák. Another option is a bit further from the center is the restaurant Capy, at Budějovická 69, Prague 4.
Not to be outdone, Budvar jumped on the bandwagon with a few tank pubs of their own. Most well-known is U Medvídků, at Na Perštýně 7, Prague 1. Though touristy, it can make for a great place to take out-of-town visitors. 38 CZK will buy you a 12º světlý ležák that is fresh and clean, perfect to wash down some classic Czech eats.
If you are looking for a more local feel, try U Šumavy. This small, smoky, good ol’ boy’s pub will serve you up an ice-cold 12º světlý ležák. There is a restaurant attached, but I was happy in the standing room only bar with a handy, well-worn copper ledge lining the wall. My only complaint is that the beer is served far too cold.
Staropromen had to get in on the action, too. This is another beer that I don’t actively seek out, though I have noticed plenty of Staropromen tank pubs around town. In my experience, the only one really worth going to is Na Verandách in Smíchov; the on-site restaurant at the brewery is now serving beer from tanks. The pub and restaurant are both very clean and modern, with friendly staff.
Not surprisingly, Kozel and Gambrinus (along with Pilsner Uquell, under the SABMiller group) can now be found on tank as well. For Kozel, head over to Lidická 20, where you will find Kozlovna, a big restaurant offering huge portions of food at fair prices. Try the tank Kozel 11º medium for a reasonable 29 CZK.
According to their website, Gambrinus is the most sold beer from tanks, with well over 300 pubs in the Czech Republic and over 100 in Prague. Check the list of tank pubs serving Gambrinus here; I’m sure there’s one near you.
This is a trend that is here to stay, and I am all for it as long as the pubs take care of their beer and equipment. I’m certainly doing my part to help empty as many tanks as I can; do you have a favorite tankovna? Have you found other brewers serving beer from tanks? Share your tips and secret spots with us.