One of my favourite subjects at university was hermeneutics – the study of texts and how they function, in fact one of the questions in my final year exam in hermeneutics was “what is a text?” Probably the most important word in hermeneutics is “context”, the environment from which a text is born, to which it addresses itself and the world in which the reader interprets that text. Now, I am not attempting to claim that beer is a form of hermeneutics – although I think that it would actually be quite simple to do so, especially with regard to the hermeneutical circle – essentially that you can only understand the whole text by understanding the parts, and that a proper understanding of the parts is possible only by understanding the whole. What came to mind yesterday was that the context in which you sample a beer has an inevitable influence on your opinion of said beer.
Once again I find myself committing heresy by admitting to not being a big fan of Pilsner Urquell, the original and in many people’s minds still the best lager on the planet. In my early beer drinking days I found it too hoppy and bitter to enjoy as a regular drink. As a result of this I preferred its next door neighbour, Gambrinus, or Kozel, which eventually became just another brand in the SABMiller stable. Since I have become something of a paradox in that I drink far less now that I used to when I was in my 20s but now I drink far better, I have started to respect Plzeň’s contribution to world merriment and joy, and it is no longer heard of that I won’t drink the stuff – actually in the right circumstances I quite enjoy it.
Usually if I am in the mood for an Urquell, I am in the centre of Prague and in the vague vicinity of U Pinkasů, the first pub in the city to sell the golden nectar as far back as 1843 – such moods generally strike me in the middle of summer as U Pinkasů has quite possibly the most adorable beer garden in the city – sandwiched between the pub itself and a historic church. Last night’s mini-session, I only necked three pints, came about because I met up with the photographer for my recent wedding, to collect the prints we ordered to create our wedding album. I suffer from a weakness known as “just the one syndrome”, so when the photographer asked if I fancied a quick pint, I said “sure, why not?”
The pub we went to was one his locals, called Bruska, which has Pilsner on tap from a tank rather than from a keg. The first thing that struck me about the pint when it came was that it was slightly colder than usual, which was a benefit as it was smoother going down. Also the beer held its head better, I am a fan of head on my lager and so when it just vanishes just as the waitress is leaving the table I worry that I won’t be enjoying my pint. So while the taste was the same, the drinking was better. Such is the value of a good pub, while not wanting to denigrate the value of skilled barstaff, it is the care with which a bar treats the beer that has become something of a passion for me. Lines being cleaned and beer being stored at the right temperature have become important considerations, so that while I might not drink more than 5 beers in an evening, I want each one of them to be enjoyable.
So it was I enjoyed three quick pints with a friend, in a typical Czech pub - something which I for one hope never dies out in Prague, or worse becomes a cliche of itself.