Monday, November 27, 2023

Chodime...

I worked out the other day that each day I was in Prague I walked about 7-8km, which is about 4.5-5 miles in old money. The longest walk though was on the Thursday, when I dragged my mate Dave - well ok then, not much dragging was involved - up to the park at Letna to recreate one of my favourite wanders from when Mrs V and I called Prague "home".

Taking the tram to Letenské náměstí we walked to the edge of the park that overlooks the Vltava, along the escarpment to the Metronom where once the world's biggest statue of Stalin stared out at the city. We carried on, eventually to the castle, and thence on to the abbey at Strahov and a place that I was gutted I failed to visit back in 2019, Klášterní Pivovar Strahov. Strahov, both the abbey and the brewery are special places in my world, perhaps even liminal in that I always feel a deep sense of peace and well being there. I have been fortunate enough to go into the abbey beyond the usual tourist realms, by virtue of a friend of mine being friends with a priest who ministered to the brothers there - I even got to sign the visitors book on the same page as King Charles, though he was merely the Prince of Wales at the time.

Strahov's flagship 13° polotmavé was the hair of the dog that day, and very welcome it was too after walking for quite a while. It was pretty much everything I recalled from many years ago, solidly tasty amber lager, very much in the mold of what most folks call a Vienna lager. We sat outside in the courtyard to begin with, but it was a touch nippy, especially when the sun ducked behind the clouds, and so we took up stations at the bar inside, and I perused the beer menu, gutted that the Autumn Dark Lager was not on the list.  For reasons that escape my mind right now I decided to take a look at the tap clips and discovered to my delight that the dark was on tap, just not on the list, an executive decision was taken and two pints were soon in front of Dave and I.

When I designed Morana for Devils Backbone in the dim and distant past, this was one of the inspirations, and I traded emails with the brewer at the time, Adam Matuška, who went on to create Pivovar Matuška with his father Martin. Now, some 13 years later it still hit the spot perfectly. I then did something that would likely have had many of my friends here in the US scratching their heads and wondering if I had taken leave of my senses. I ordered their current special, a doppelbock flavoured with povidla, that's plum jam to you, poppy seeds, and vanilla.

It was lovely, like a koláč in a glass. Admittedly it would have been all the more lovely if the vanilla had not been bothered with, I am yet to have any beer, by any brewery, or in any style, where vanilla has actually made a positive difference. If you want that flavour profile, a little whisky barrel aging will serve you better. My willingness to try it though highlights something that I really feel is important, being able to trust a brewer to make quality classic beers. I will try something like this doppelbock purely because the brewery has shown to me that they are competent technical brewers rather than just clowns tossing shit around. One was enough, but I enjoyed it. And off we wandered...to the most beautiful view of Prague, the one from the path on Petřín hill.

I will never tire of this view, I could have stood there all afternoon just gazing at the city that for 10 years I called home, though this time tinged with melancholy. I was missing Mrs V, and the Malé Aličky, and promised myself that next time I come back to Prague, they will be coming with me. Several times as we strolled through the orchards on the side of the hill, I stopped and just listened, marvelling that such peace and quiet is still possible in a major European capital city. Coming off the hill at Ujezd I spied a brewery sign I hadn't seen in many years, that of Primátor, and then noticed the sign behind it was for one of our old hangouts, Dobrá Trafika.

Serendipity was calling my name, so obviously we stopped in for one, or maybe 4. It was as if time had stood still, nothing had changed. Even the other customers could so easily have been plucked from one of Mrs V and I's many visits back in the Noughties. Dobra Trafika has always attracted a young, artistic crowd, and today it was no different, other than a pair of 40 somethings drinking jedenáctka.

Time was getting on, and threatening to get away from us. We still needed to meet up with my mate Chris for dinner before heading up to u Slovanské lipy to meet up with as many folks as possible given the short amount of time I was in Prague. As in 2019 my hotel was 2 doors down from Pivovarský klub, though these days owned by Břevnovský Pivovar and having been renovated with a very sleek, modern aesthetic. Where once the house dvanáctka was Štěpán, today it is Benedict, one of the most flavourful, bracingly bitter, and intensely hop forward Czech pale lagers you will find in Prague. I am a big fan for sure.

Refreshed, both with liquid and food, we took the bus up to Tachovské náměstí, u Slovanské lipy, and an eclectic gaggle of friends with whom to roll back the years, and it was in so many ways like old times, both in people and place. 

To bylo dokonalost.

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