As a child, I found Sundays deathly dull. Even school days were more fun. This Sunday is anything but tedious.
By 13:30 we already have two breweries under our belts and are on the road again. We slip through the beautiful rolling countryside of southern Bohemia. The only slight downer is the preponderance of Pilsner Urquell signage. What percentage of pubs are tied to SABMiller? it seems somewhere around 90%. That can't be true, can it?
A quick stop is scheduled in Protovin to drink the local Platan beer. But Andy takes a wrong turning at České Budějovice and we're already on the way to Lipan. At least Andy thinks we are. Just to make sure, we stop at a pub on the outskirts of Týn nad Vlatavou to check. "You may as well have a beer while we're here." says Andy generously.
Restaurace Sportovní Hala
Týn nad Vlatavou
We aren't going to miss out on Platan because that's what the pub is selling. Just before we enter, we realise that it's attached to a sports centre. Inside the only sport being practised is on the TV. Everyone is staring at a tennis match. The pub is bright, modern and rather bland. A dangerously attractive barmaid makes any aesthetic shortcomings of the interior irrelevant. (I don't care much for brick bar counters at the best of times, but a fake one using brick-effect wallpaper? That's super crappy.)
I try to order a Platan 11º Tmavé but it's off. I have to make do with an 11º Světlé. It arrives in a stemmed glass. A trail of bubbles is rising from the base. Not a good sign. It's way too fizzy. The others haven't noticed. They're still drooling over Miss Dangerously Attractive. Put your tongues away, lads. It's disgusting. Andy's eyes almost pop out of his head when she bends over just behind Jim.
Platan 11º Světlé: Pale amber, manky head. It tastes of boiled sweets, dust and caramel. Pretty poor, stuff, I'm afraid. Nothing much except for a very heavy pasteurised flavour.
A bloke in red football kit, a 4 gallon beer gut leading, comes in from the sports hall and orders a beer. He disappears back into the sporty area with it. I bet he's told the wife he's exercising.
When we're about to leave a barmaid comes over (not Dangerously Attractive) and presents Andy with a beer glass. That's very nice of her. What a friendly bunch these country people are.
We're loaded into the bus and Andy is just starting to reverse out of the parking space when suddenly there's a commotion in the back seats. A rusting hulk of a bus has just pulled up inches behind us, blocking our exit. The driver looks at us disdainfully, a fag hanging from his mouth. "What the hell's he up to?" inquires Andy. Jim stands and tries to get out of the bus. He's angry and wants to confront Fagman Driver. Andy quickly locks all the doors and Keith tries to get Jim back into his seat. "Steady on, Jim. We don't want to get into a fight." This is where Andy's peacekeeping experience in Bosnia comes in handy.
Andy manages to just about squeeze us past the dilapidated bus. Then he gets out to have a word with Fagman. He doesn't unlock our doors. Some scornful waving by Fagman in the direction of a "buses only" sign seems to indicate that we'd been parked in an area reserved for buses. Not that there were any there, other than Fagman's rusty wreck. And that only turned up when we were trying to leave. Perhaps it was our German plates he really took exception to. We'll never know.
We were on the right road, in case you were wondering. Soon we 're back on it, the rolling hills rolling past cinematically. Until we hit the small village that is Lipan. Brewery number three. At three in the afternoon.
Pivovarský dvůr Lipan
375 01 Týn nad Vltavou.
I'm not sure about the dark shade of green the pub is painted. Still, it's better than seeing another green Pilsner Urquell board. Inside it's simple to the point of being Spartan. It reminds me very much of a brewery tap in Lublin. Being 15:00 on Sunday, it isn't exactly packed. At least we get served quickly.
Lipan 12º Tmavý Ležák: Near black with a dense tan head. Roast, black chocolate, caramel, liquorice, pepper. Wow. It has everything - loads of dark malt flavours and spicy hops.
This is much more like it. The best dark beer so far, by a mile. The pub is staring to liven up, too. A young couple sit at the next table. A group of what looks like foresters comes in and gets pop bottles filled with beer. Sensible chaps. It's delicious.
A young bloke who doesn't look more than 17 comes over and introduces himself. He's the brewer. Five years he's been brewing. He must have started when he still at primary school. Originally a distillery, they still take in fruit from local farmers and turn it into schnapps. Before we can say no, the brewer has poured each of us an apple schnapps. It's 63% alcohol, but wonderfully smooth and dangerously drinkable. And it has bags of apples flavour. I'm seriously impressed. This spotty teenager is turning out great beer and great booze. Maybe it's time to revise my retirement plans.
The brewer takes us on a tour. An adjacent room, that looks like an informal village hall, houses the copper coppers. They gleam in a slightly battered, well-used sort of way. In another room behind are the more prosaic guts of the brewery. I've been around lots of breweries, but this is one of the strangest I've seen. I can't make head nor tail of what anything is. There are certainly lots of stainless steel things and lots of piping. Look at the photo and see if you can make any sense of it.
The brewer tells us that the locals complain about the price of his beer. At 26 crowns, it isn't exactly pricey. But Staropramen is a couple of crowns cheaper. Much crappier and ever so slightly cheaper. I just don't understand some people.
Once through the brewery, we continue on into the distillery. It has even more cobbled-together charm than the brewery. Very Heath-Robinson. And there's an old TV on the desk. Totally charming.
So there you have it. An afternoon of unexpected generosity and aggression. It's still only the afternoon, but the excitement is by no means over. We still have another brewery and a castle to visit. Will the beer be as good? Will we make it to the castle? You know what I'm going to say now - read about it here tomorrow.
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