A beer festival in the Czech Republic has Alastair Gilmour purring into his glass.
When an event calls itself “the annual upstanding beer festival” it’s difficult to know what to expect. Does it mean “of good character” or will there be nowhere to sit down?
From the first impression of the Slunce Ve Skle (Sun In The Glass) beer festival all doubt is cast aside. The gathering is held every September around the courtyard of the Purkmistr brewery in Pilsen-Cernice, a rural protected area on the outskirts of Pilsen in the Czech Republic. And the description “of good character” is merely the start – Sun In The Glass is the most warmly-welcoming, well organised, family-friendly beer festival you’ll find anywhere.
It combines the best of beer, food and entertainment with exhibitors and participants coming from all parts of the country and beyond (plus a couple of chaps in Hunting Stewart kilts), sampling products from more than 80 breweries – through an astonishing array of traditional lagers, fruit beers, dark ales, IPAs and stouts. The festival is further buoyed by competitions, music and dance performances, Purkmistr brewery’s beer spa and a souvenirs market, all snaking round Cernice’s lovely cobbled lanes and tidy houses.
Alongside hosts Purkmistr, the Sun In The Glass festival attractions included Ustocesu Minipivovar, Prisov, Raven, Pivni Mozaika, Pivovar Zhurak, Browerdukla, Knizeci Pivovar, and the decidedly un-Czech Lucky Bastard.
They helped create a happy, appreciative family atmosphere, and not as male dominant as some in the UK. It’s enveloped in a quiet hum of appreciation, interrupted only by laughter from a group of men soaking – and clinking glasses – in a hot tub, a blacksmith beating out his rhythmic skills and a jazz-funk band whose singer has the deepest, most gravel-rattling voice since Joe Cocker lost his Strepsils. My Way never sounded more haunting.
Random picks out of some amazing beers were Comedie Violette (4.9% abv) from Belgium’s Scassenes brewery, a herbal, spiced dark golden wit bier with obvious floral notes – and deeply memorable. Pivovar Matuska Raptor IPA (6.3% abv) is a Czech, English and US combo, full-bodied, unfiltered, unpasteurised and intensely bitter with floral and citrus fruit flavours. Prisov Polotmava (5.5% abv) is curiously malty, deep golden in colour with ripe fruit to the fore – and immensely quaffable.
A guided tour of Purkmistr Brewery shows off the beer spa (yes, you can bathe in the stuff) and an attractive brewhouse where some 50 beers have been brewed in the past year, making full use of its eight open fermenters and 13 lagering tanks.
“We produce fruit beers, IPA, double IPA and stout using hops from the US and England and also traditional Czech beers,” says brewery manager Petr Mic.
“For those we only use domestic materials – barley from Moravia and aromatic Zatec hops which we mix with two others for our dark lager. The advantage of being a small brewery is we can brew lots of different beers and not in standardised, huge quantities.”
Purkmistr Summer Beer is an American-style hoppy, cloudy ale – unfiltered and unpasteurised, thus retaining its natural state with a high vitamin B content. With its sugar and yeast still active, it reputedly has beneficial effects on the human body. There’s a drawback to one of the Purkmistr styles, however, as Petr Mic explains:
“If we put our dark lager (4.2% abv) on at beer festivals, nobody wants to drink anything else.”
Back at the Sun In The Glass festivities, the local residents appear amused and creditably tolerant of the invading beer enthusiasts. Beer is a big part of their culture and heritage, so they want to share their village with the world.
The deep-throated singer has just started on Mack The Knife: “Now on the sidewalk, huh, huh, whoo, sunny morning, uh huh…”
Upstanding? You bet.
First published in Cheers North East, October 2017
With special thanks to Czech Tourism UK & Ireland and Visit Pilsen (www.pilsen.eu/tourist)