Brewery of the Month – September

Pivovar Kamenice – 2 náměstí Československé armády, 394 70 Kamenice nad Lipou

Whilst on tour across the Czech Republic this year we had one particular stop in mind – Kamenice nad Lipou. The small town lies in the stunning region of Vysočina, not far from Pelhřimov. Now, if you look up the town on Wikipedia it will tell you the most important sight is the castle. However, we can tell you that there is also a very impressive brewery there…

The castle

After tasting the fine beer back in Brno we quickly determined that a trip to Kamenice was necessary. The brewery itself is vast and imposing. Located in the centre of the town close to the castle, the building was reconstructed after many years of inactivity: the beer finally began flowing again in 2016 – the first time since 1947.

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We made the first of of two stops on the way to Ceske Budejovice, picking up a couple of bottles for the trip and taking some photos of the grand interior. On the way back we opted to sit in the expansive beer garden and soak up the summer sun with a perfect 12 degree lager. We also ordered the goulash, which while visually as spectacular as the brewery itself, didn’t quite have the bite you want from a Czech-style goulash. For the lager though, it is hard to find a brewery that rivals it.

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That’s your Lanžhot

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Student: What are you doing this weekend?

Craggy: Going to Lanžhot.

Student: Why? There is nothing there.

Oh, how wrong could you be…

Last time my student and I had this very same conversation was about a forthcoming trip to the Slovak town of Myjava. That time he had been right, but our next trip was to be a completely different experience. One of the best things about a new season in the 4th tier of Czech football is anticipating the new arrivals to the league. This gives us the opportunity to go boldly in to the unknown; and in to pubs that others dare not tread. One such opportunity came early this year as Blansko’s second game of the season was away to Lanžhot, a small town resting on the Slovak border, and a reasonable walk away from everyone’s favourite train interchange of Břeclav.

We arrived in Břeclav with the summer sun rising slowly above us. Slightly disoriented from the heat of the train carriage we walked in circles before finding ourselves somewhat fortuitously on a dusty old trail heading in to the forest nearby.

It was not long before we came to an old looking pub sitting idly by the path. Normally, we go busting into any pub we see, no questions asked, but there was a sleepy stillness resting over this one despite the chalkboards being placed outside. We rang an old, bronze bell that hung in the doorway, but no one answered. We could hear murmurings somewhere from an open window and so paced around the pub earnestly, but delicately. We rang once more and finally a woman came down to greet us, bidding us inside and asking, cheerfully ‘can you not see we’re open?’.

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We sat inside the old wooden hut with a cold lager and drank happily with the landlady, before saying our goodbyes and heading back on to the road and deeper in to the forest. For a little while the road was quiet and the air still, but after some time we could see a few people up ahead and what turned out to be the archaeological site at Pohansko.

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From there we came across the first of several bunkers placed among the trees (just some of the many that were constructed between the wars by the Czechoslovak government due to the prospect of invasion). Before us was an large expansive, dry field leading up to early 19th century castle of Pohansko. This area offers up even more archaeological sites, revealing sections of the early medieval site that was situated here in the 9th century, and which was one the largest medieval strongholds in central Europe.

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The Pohansko Castle itself sits majestically at the top of the field, with it’s light-coloured walls shining brightly on a sunny afternoon. Luckily for us it also has at least three bars which you can swiftly grab a beer in a plastic cup to accompany you for the next part of the walk. We took a moment for a couple of photos before heading even further in to the forest.

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One thing that soon struck us was that some of the most recognisable trees here are given characters. Signs are posted in front of several, detailing their given names and characteristics. A nice touch we thought.

Out in the open, before dehydration took us and left us dead among the sunflower fields, we made it in to the small town of Lanžhot. Before us, like a mirage through fading eyes, was a pub, decorated in the flowery blue motifs familiar to this part of the world. We entered in search of sustenance.

Landlord: Can’t you read?

Ralph: Sorry?

Landlord: Members only. You want to drink. Drink outside.

And thus is the result of the smoking ban. He wasn’t unpleasant. Just rather direct.

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We had our beers and headed to another pub for some fantastic goulash soup. On each table was a plastic fly swatter, just in case you wanted to bash any flies, or your drunk mates. After some soup and some bashing we made our way to the Lanžhot stadium.

Stadion Na Šlajsi, the home of TJ Sokol Lanžhot is one of the biggest in the league, with a main stand and three terraced sides, we were quite excited to see it and by the size of the crowd (690) we weren’t the only ones. The home side were promoted to the 4th tier of Czech football for the first time since 1959, so this was obviously a big day for the locals.

And the crowd contributed so much to the game, cheering on every attack the home side had. It’s so rare that we see such a partizan crowd in the league, that I think both of us enjoyed it.

The first half was of course controlled by us, which is not surprising considering the spine of our team, Dolezel, Mezlik and Buchta have over 400 league games experience between them. However, the clear cut chances were created by Lanzhot. A header just wide and a shot which skimmed the bar were enough to keep the home fans excited and also sent us towards the bar. Half-time 0-0.

The second 45 went much the same as the first, with the home side attacking with purpose, but with no end product and with Blansko continuing to run the midfield, it was no surprise that we finally opened the scoring with 11 minutes remaining through the impressive Dominik Urbančok – who weaved his way between two defenders before hitting home from just inside the box. 1-0 Blansko and game over. We spent the last ten minutes controlling position and offering the Lanzhot no way back. Our second win of the season.

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So a positive and exciting exploration between two towns close to the border was topped off by some thrilling 4th tier football. If ever we needed confirmation of why we do what we do – this was it.

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Making the most of Presov time in East Slovakia

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A free weekend upon us and a long one at that, I began to toy with idea of seeing East Slovakia again. It had been a while since we’d seen each other, so toy no further – I went ahead and booked myself on the midnight sleeper train out of Olomouc.

I am big fan of a train with a bed – last September I had met up with my Wales away companion, Glen ,for 14hr trip from Bucharest to Chisinau to watch our international team. This time it also includes a Wales side: the u19s were/are playing in the Slovakia Cup – any opportunity to watch Wales in Central Europe and I am there.. this time with Trnava-dwelling Matt LostBoyo.

The six hour journey ended early. Difficulty sleeping and a bit of early morning research gave me the option of disembarking at Poprad station and getting a 5,30 bus to Spissky Podhradie, a pretty town sitting beneath the beautiful Spissky Hrad, the 6th largest castle on the planet and a world heritage site.

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Everything was going according to plan, the SAD bus took me on 50 minute journey right to the foot of the hill I needed to hike. The only hiccup was that I knew I would be the only soul up there so early in the morning, and I was unsure whether the castle keeper (do they still exist?) would let me in. Undeterred, I began the climb and as I reached the top I saw the gates open – result. Of course, my excitement of having the whole place to myself was short-lived as I was greeted by the angriest Slovak in the history of Slovakia…
“What are you doing here?” she barked at me.
I walked a bit further pretending not to hear/understand her.
She raised her voice a bit more, probably waking the sleepy village below. At this point she took my arm and lead me back to gate, pointing aggressively at a sign with the opening hours. I wonder if that’s how it worked with the castle back in the 12th century.
“We’d love to commence battle now, but unfortunately the castle is closed until 9.00am. Could you come back a bit later?” pointing the attacking army in the direction of the nearest cafe…

I went into charm offensive – actually replace that with begging. I begged her to let me in for 10 minutes to have a look around and to take some photos. “Mrs Castle keeper, I have travelled overnight just to see this castle. Please, 10 minutes just to get a view from the tower…” Another couple of minutes of explaining my need to get in and suddenly I saw a chink in her armour.
“Ahh, you are not Czech?”
“No, I am from Wales”.
“Come on in, would you like a cup of tea?” Well, she didn’t offer me a cuppa, I made that bit up, but not being from a neighbouring country had gained me access to a castle well worthy of making it into UNESCO. She did follow me around for the entire tour, but I got a “hello” in English when we said goodbye.

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Whenever I am lucky enough to visit the region, I always try and fit in as much as possible. However, if I described the trip in detail, you would nod off before I got to the end of the first day. What I can tell you is that when you are next over here, go to Levoca. It’s a beautiful town with both Gothic and renaissance architecture dominating the main square.

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My first game of the weekend was a relegation battle between Tatran Presov and ZP Sport Podbrezova in the top flight. I had hoped the game would be played in the (I think) oldest stadium in Slovakia, but Presov are currently exiled 40 miles away in Poprad at the newest stadium in Slovakia. Disappointed, well not that much, I had lunch in Kezmarok and spent a couple of prematch hours in Poprad’s two breweries, which are both within walking distance from each other on the main drag. Now, at this point I don’t want to be critical, but it’s been noticeable that on previous trips to the region the customer service, although friendly, has been incredibly slow. I discussed this with a friend of mine recently and she described it as relaxed. My tip is, if you are in a rush, order your food and drink and get the bill. It’s not a rant, it’s an observation, honest. And I am sure we will review one of the breweries in the next month or so.

To the game… well, the quality was poor. The highlight of the game was the stadium, the backdrop is stunning and I often caught myself gazing at the High Tatra mountains rather than watching two teams struggle to play the game. Podbrezova took the lead in the 21st minute. However, I can’t really tell you whether it was against the run of play as there wasn’t much “play” to speak of. The handful of Tatran ultras banged their drum, sang a few songs to try and raise the performance of their team, but I can not recall the side creating a single chance until the 90th minute when they equalised through their substitute, a lanky defender named Maduka Udeh. Thrown up front as very much a last throw of the dice, Udeh somehow got on the end of a cross to head home with his first touch of the ball. The ref, probably aware I had a train to catch, blew his whistle not too long after. I swear he gave me a nod to say “take the train and head east, my friend” – And head east I did.

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I spent the evening in Kosice – the largest town in the East and with one of the largest central drags in Europe. Hlavna Ulica (translation “the main street”) is a bustle of activity with the people of Kosice taking up residence in many of the street bars, restaurants and cafes. I decided to take a left at the cathedral and find Golem, one of the three breweries in the city. Worth a visit, if you are ever in the area.

Sad to stay, I didn’t get much of chance to explore the city… the lack of sleep on the overnight train and possibly one too many beers meant I was in bed just a few minutes after midnight. A great day out.

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Brewery of the Month – July

While we are of course bound to the finesse of Czech brewing traditions, we do enjoy trips across borders to see what’s brewing in other lands. With a free weekend ahead of us we decided to travel to Slovakia’s capital city of Bratislava to see how many breweries we could manage, and to give you our second Slovak brewery post this year.

In fact, we actually managed 5 breweries but our first stop was our priority – we wanted to spend some of the warm summer day sat on the calm lull of the Danube (Ralph’s favourite river), at the Dunajský pivovar.

The most immediately striking thing about the Dunajský pivovar is simply that it is on a boat. Sitting on the deck, enjoying the morning sun with a fresh lager brewed on the flow of one of Europe’s most stunning rivers, is a gratifying experience. We did try to pick the perfect table but were immediately asked to move as there were only two of us and it was a big table. So we were shifted to a small table round the corner. No problem – we were still sat staring at the river and city before us.

Introduced in 2014 by it’s older brother, the Patrónsky pivovar, the Dunajský brewery sits on the Petržalka side of Bratislava, and doubles up as a ‘botel’. It also has a restaurant offering taditional food. We were only here for the beer though, and as neither of us are fans of the ‘tmavy’ (dark) beer we went for the standard 11,5 degree lager instead. Although perhaps not the best beer in the city, it certainly wasn’t bad, and a cold brew was certainly much welcomed on this fine summer’s day. The restaurant itself is a bit posh for our simple tastes, and the service was a relaxed pace, but the atmosphere of the Danube is second to none.