Part of our trip planning process often includes researching any local festivals, holidays or celebrations to experience, if we can get the timing lined up just right.
Luckily, this year our holiday in May 2015 just happened to fall at the right time for us to experience the Český Pivní festival in Prague. Pivní, pivo, and/or pivovar are very important Czech words to learn if you’re going to visit the Czech Republic. Here’s a quick Czech lesson for you:
pivní – beery
pivo – beer
pivovar – brewery
pivovarsky – brewing
You get the idea. The Český Pivní festival covers 17 days of great beer, food and entertainment held at Letná Plain, Prague 7. Everything is set up under a massive tent, so even bad weather won’t stop you from grabbing a drink or two.
Beforehand, I went through the festival’s website to find out how much tickets cost, what the hours were, and what sort of entertainment and food would be on offer. As it turned out, they had a VIP ticket option, which included:
admission to all 17 days of the festival
seating in the VIP area
a pre-loaded food and drinks card with 640 CZK (Czech Koruna, the local currency) on it
and table service
The VIP ticket price was 1039 CZK (approximately $60 CDN) vs. the single admission price of 739 CZK ($40 CDN) – 99 CZK ($5 CDN) for admission to the entire 17 day festival, plus 640 CZK ($35 CDN) for the “base ticket price” or minimum consumption on the pre-loaded drinks card.
The base ticket price also didn’t cover any of the other VIP perks. Since we were going to be in Prague for a full week, I decided to go for the VIP pass. I ordered the tickets online through their website, so we were all set! The program was also posted on their website. There were some really interesting workshops being offered, such as the school of pull beer, or pairing beer with food. But the one that intrigued me the most was “Bigger Pickled Cheese.” I thought perhaps this was merely a poor translation:
By the way, the dude in the lower right hand corner of the program is Mr. Little Beer, the festival’s mascot.
I have to say, my mind conjured a very different image of the beer festival than what we experienced. Their website stated that there was seating for 4000, over an area of 3900 m2. This sounded much larger in my head. I also thought the majority of the festival would be held outdoors rather than in one large tent. If you’re expecting a smaller version of Oktoberfest you will be sorely disappointed. However, I put my initial surprise aside as we picked up our VIP tickets and headed into the tent.
So. Not the rowdy, over-exuberant crowds we were anticipating. But to be fair, the first night we attended the festival, it was around 5pm on a Monday evening. This was also up in the VIP area, where there were very few attendees. Most of the crowd was outside in the smoking area or down below in the general admission seating.
Right away, I realized the VIP price really wasn’t worth it. Since there were very few people in the VIP seating there was no one to hang out with, and the table service only meant that someone would come along and clean up after you. They didn’t have wait staff taking your food orders or anything of that nature. Also, the VIP treatment was only valid for the same day that we picked up our tickets. It would have been a much better deal if, say, the price included some merchandise like a t-shirt or little grab bag with coasters, etc.
Still though. Beer festival! We walked around the food and beer kiosks set up around the tent, and made our first selection:
This was the food and beer pairing platter. It came with four beers of varying darkness and intensity, and four appetizer-sized snack bites which were designed with each beer type in mind.
The one closest in the photo had caraway seeds on it, which is one of my least favourite flavours. And the third one had salmon, also something I don’t like. So Mark got those all to himself. I took the dark chocolate dipped sweets on the end with a coffee bean on each one, which was to be paired with the dark beer. Over all it was a good way to begin the beer tasting.
What we really enjoyed on our first evening at the festival, even more than the food and beer, was the band that was playing that night. Herr UBahn. Their music is described as “alternative stoner rock,” but I would describe it more as “70’s action movie car chase scene soundtrack.” (I took some video of them performing but the quality was poor so I didn’t load it.) But check out their website or search for them on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean. They even had a screen behind them playing car chase scenes from old movies and it worked incredibly well. It wasn’t the kind of music we were expecting at a beer festival – heck, we didn’t even know anyone made this kind of music today. But we really got into the vibe they created.
We stuck around for a few hours, then headed off back to the hotel, deciding to come back when it was closer to the weekend in the hopes that the crowds would be a little fuller. The one bright light in going early in the week though – no line-ups for food or drinks!
The next time we came to the festival it was Friday night. This was a much better turnout:
This crowd included more of what we were expecting: table-thumping merriment, drunken dancing, and stag parties (one in particular had men dressed in superhero and wrestling costumes).
The festival boasted having over 150 different beers on tap. There was definitely a great selection, even if most of them were somewhat similar in terms of flavour, hoppiness, etc. There was even a wine kiosk if you weren’t a beer lover.
But the big draw here was Krušovice, one of the most famous beers in the Czech Republic. (It’s actually been owned by Heineken since 2007.)
Krušovice has been around since the 16th Century, and is one of the few beers that remains unpasteurized even for export, so it tastes the same no matter where it’s shipped and sold. The beer festival had 10 and 12 degree beers, from the Krušovice royal brewery, which were made specifically for the festival. Since this was something special, we made sure to try it:
That there, my friends, is a true and proper liter mug o’ beer. No measly girly pints at this festival. Needless to say, they had a lot of bathrooms on site.
Oh, and the pickled cheese? That wasn’t a bad translation after all. It’s actually a popular appetizer here that goes quite nicely with your litre of beer. You learn something new every day, huh?