WIN: To win 2 tickets to the second annual Whisky Live! Prague plus a pair of whisky stones answer some whisky trivia.
There’s nothing better than a cold Czech beer on a scorching summer day. But, with the leaves on Střelecký Island already turning to rust, autumn is just around the corner. The season of pumpkins and apple picking is also the perfect time to get cozy and contemplative with a warming dram of Scotch. Luckily for local tipplers, there are more opportunities to taste this fine spirit in Prague than ever before.
One of the most visible proponents of Scotch in Prague is Whisky Live! Prague, a festival returning to New Town Hall for the second time September 26 and 27. Entrance costs 450 CZK, which includes an information guide and a Glencairn tasting glass. Drams of whisky are a modest 30 CZK thereafter. The selection this year includes more than 100 whiskies from around the world, ranging from Allt-á-Bhainne 18-year-old to Wild Turkey. Festival Director Marta van Leeuwenová said she wants to showcase “as wide a variety of whiskies available on the Czech market as possible, in order to provide visitors a true and accurate example of the whiskies that are available in our bars and shops.”
“This is important to me because the main aim of the festival is to introduce more people to this drink. To show them what is available for them in the Czech Republic is the best way to achieve this aim,” she added.
While beer is undisputedly the Czech national drink, the number of discerning drinkers in Prague is growing, helped by the success of last year’s festival, as well as new shops and tasting bars throughout the city. But many fine whiskies remain difficult to find or prohibitively expensive on the Czech market, so Whisky Live! Prague is a unique opportunity for exploration. Local single malt enthusiast Christopher Crawford said he’s looking forward to the festival, and especially to tasting the more obscure whiskies, like Glen garioch 21-year-old.
“The Glen garioch 12-year-old is a real Christmas cake of a whisky and I’m interested to see what Glen garioch can do with a 21-year-old. They have a female master blender named Rachel Barrie whose work is very well respected in the whisky world, and they are based up by my parents in the northeast of Scotland,” he said.
To even the most seasoned Scotch drinker, the festival’s selection is impressive. But perhaps the biggest draw this year will be Jim Murray, author of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, the go-to guide for knowledge on 4,000 of the world’s finest whiskies. This world-renowned whisky expert from Britain will be leading tasting sessions of eight whiskies on September 27, from 12:30 to 14:00, and from 17:30 to 19:00. Tickets cost 1,550 CZK, which includes entrance to the festival.
It might surprise some to know that there is a Czech single malt very much worth tasting at the festival, or any time. Hammer Head is a 23-year-old single malt made from Czech barley at a distillery in Pradlo, 112 kilometres southwest of Prague. As a Czech single malt made during communism, it has a cultish appeal, but it’s also quite a tipple, with a honey-bourbon aroma, and a deep, malty taste. Hammer Head has been featured in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible since 2011. Murray gives it 88.5 points out of 100, among “very good to excellent whiskies definitely worth buying.” Hammer Head “is one of Europe’s maltiest drams… if not the maltiest,” according to Murray.
If you’re looking to warm up your taste buds before the festival, there are several excellent bars and shops where you can taste whisky in Prague. With two locations in Prague and numerous worldwide outposts (including a soon-to-be-opened Warsaw bar), Bar and Books was one of the first whisky and cigar bars on the Czech market. Whiskeria is one of the most convenient, located in Jindřišská tower just off Wenceslas Square. This is exactly how you’d imagine a whisky bar, with deep leather chairs, mahogany tables, be-kilted servers and just about every single malt you can think of, including Hammer Head. Be sure to go upstairs to the lounge.
Other great places for whisky in Prague include Bartida an atmospheric degustation bar, also located near Wenceslas Square. Though they specialize in rum, they have a good selection of single malts.
Marpek in Dejvická, is harder to get to, but worth the trip. It has a great selection of Scottish single malts for generous prices, along with a quaint, Scottish charm.
And speaking of Scottish charm, Skotský obchod is probably the most authentically Scottish spot in the city, with single malts for purchase by the bottle, as well as everything from Harris Tweed to Irn-Bru.
Despite such seeming local enthusiasm for Scotch, there are certain hurdles for purveyors of fine spirits to cross when trying to break into the Czech market, van Leeuwenová said, as “the Czech alcohol tradition is about quantity rather than quality.” Accordingly, she hopes the festival will “teach people to enjoy alcohol for its taste rather than its effects.”
Above all, van Leeuwenová hopes that Whisky Live! Prague will change the attitude of local drinkers, not just where cost is concerned, but in their perception that whisky is only for men. This is a stereotype she too has had to overcome, but now that she has, she’s ready to share her enthusiasm.
“From what I’ve experienced, many women are at first reluctant to try whisky because of the reputation it has. But once they taste it they are surprised by how soft whisky can be, that it’s not just a men’s drink,” she said. “I will be leading a masterclass for women at the festival where I will pick some whiskies that I like and pair them with chocolate. The combination should be something us women will enjoy.”
From Scottish lads to Czech lasses, Whisky Live! Prague and the growing number of whisky shops are encouraging local enthusiasm for fine whiskies, with delicious results.
What’s your whisky of choice?