Beer history czech republic

Republika at the Czech National Museum

Part of the recreation of a between-the-wars village pub at the Czech National Museum
Part of the recreation of a between-the-wars village pub at the Czech National Museum

You have to do something between beers when you’re on holiday in Prague. We ended up at the Czech National Museum because (a) we’re big swots and (b) it was open. Expecting grumpy staff, dusty trilobites and grubby old paintings, we were delighted to find instead a fantastic special exhibition on the history of the First Czechoslovak Republic, from 1918 to 1938.

The highlight for us, of course, was the room celebrating the traditional village pub.

Early 20th century beer bottles, glasses and advertising surrounded an antique bar with two pumps. Some of the brands on display are long gone; others are still around. There was a lot of German as well as Czech in evidence.

The accompanying text explains how village pubs worked. Tables were reserved for smallholders, who were VIPs. Allotment owners (the scum of the Earth, apparently) “sat in a corner somewhere”. There was no food, except perhaps a pickled sausage or pretzel. If you really needed to eat, the landlord’s wife would bring down leftovers from their evening meal. Bigger villages had different pubs, one for each social group.

It was not uncommon for smallholders to drink away the value of their farm in a session. Blimey. Big sessions? Expensive booze? Or just really crappy farms?

The Museum is that big grey building at the top of Wenceslas Square that looks as if it ought to be the seat of government. The exhibition runs until March 2009. Arguably the most astounding exhibit is a set of blood-spattered medals Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was wearing when he was assassinated, kicking off World War I.


Austrian Imbiss near Marble Arch

Hirter Korchl dark lager
Hirter Morchl dark lager

UPDATE May 2012: the Imbiss sadly closed at some point in 2010 or 2011.

Who opens an Austrian cafe in London? Seriously?

Imbiss is hidden away on Seymour Place, a back street near Marble Arch, in London’s West End. It’s next door to the Carpenter’s Arms.

Stepping inside is like travelling abroad. The staff are distinctly Germanic; there’s a huge display of various lurid leberkaese (meat loaves); and baskets full of pretzels. It’s minimalistic and bright, offering quite a contrast to the wonderful but gloomy Zeitgeist.

The food tastes authentic, too — i.e. processed, meaty and bad for your health — and it’s pretty reasonably priced, making Kurtz and Lang‘s overpriced sausages look a bit redundant.

The authenticity continues into the beer selection. Stiegl lager and wheat beer are available on tap, both fairly bland but crispy fresh, and much nicer than Stella Artois and Erdinger respectively. There’s a rotating range of bottled beer from Austria, too, including a selection from Hirter Morchl, whose dark lager we’ve enjoyed in the past. A quirky organic hemp beer is also on the menu.

If you’re jonesing for Mittel Europa but can’t get away from the UK, this is the perfect substitute, and deserves more custom than it seems to be getting.

It’s closed on Monday, but open until 11ish the rest of the week.

Snacks to beer

Pretzels — the definitive recipe

I’ve been trying to work out how to make proper German-style pretzels for a couple of years now. They’re just perfect with a pint — filling, salty and, well, German.

Today, I finally nailed it.

There are lots of recipes around and I tried most of them, but none quite seemed to do the trick. The texture was never quite right – it should be chewy on the outside and fluffy in the middle. Our recent trip to Germany only made me more determined to crack the problem — I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting until our next holiday to have another pretzel!

Boak did manage to find authentic pretzels in a German bakery on the Brompton Road and it was inspecting one of those that helped me perfect my recipe.

Almost any fluffy white dough will do. The tricks are all in the finishing. Specifically, the shape you roll the dough into before you make the famous pretzel shape; the fact that you boil it before baking; coating it with a solution of bicarbonate of soda [UPDATE: use about one level teaspoon of bicarb]; and slashing the top with a knife.

Recipe after the jump.