Here are a few more photos from Prague’s Salesian Beer Museum, an “accidental” collection of more than 2,000 bottles, 4,000 beermats and the weird, beer-themed collectibles known as breweriana, many of which come from the Czech lands.
Looking through the shelves, I was struck by how much evidence these artifacts provide for the way people here once lived, as well as a contrast to the way we live now. One of the most interesting items in the collection is the advertising placard (above) for the Měšťanský pivovar na Královských Vinohradech, the brewery in the Vinohrady neighborhood which ran from 1893 to 1943, along with scores of other beer makers once working in the Czech capital. In a sign of changing priorities, the Vinohrady brewery has recently been converted into luxury apartments.
So we don’t need historic breweries — we need plush digs. But our old beer culture had at least one advantage: much better graphic design, as witnessed by the museum’s collection of unusual beermats.
While many current pubs just serve beer on the branded mats they get from their beer suppliers, the Salesian Beer Museum has a collection from brewers as well as individual pubs, which often had their own well-designed coasters, many of which marvelously reflect the great history of Czech and Slovak typography and graphic design. The next time I meet one of my publican friends in Prague, I’m going to ask why his place doesn’t have custom beermats instead of the generics handed over by the delivery guy. Design is an important means of communicating many things on many levels, often going far beyond mere words. Using your beer supplier’s cheap, standard beermats seems to say that, as a bar owner, you simply don’t care. Not such a classy message.
Among the bottles, I found examples from both Pivovar Benešov and Pivovar Holešovice. Located less than an hour south of Prague, Pivovar Benešov is still hanging on, making the very good Ferdinand beers that are stocked at Prague’s Ferdinanda pub.
Pivovar Holešovice in Prague is a different story. My mother-in-law said that when she was growing up in Holešovice during and just after the war, her father used to send her to the brewery to pick up a pitcher of beer for dinner. Always, she said, she was sent to buy the brewery’s 8° lager, which probably had at most 3% alcohol by volume. Today, almost no one here brews such table beers. And somewhat unsurprisingly, the old Holešovice brewery is also being converted into luxury apartments.
Even the tiniest text on a label can hide some interesting details. Check out the bottles from Opava’s Zlatovar brewery, which has recently been sold to a group of Irish real estate developers who plan to convert it into a shopping center. In the middle is the brewery’s 12° lager, shown being served in dimpled glasses by a fully clothed waitress whose underwear doesn’t even scratch off. See the part that says “Obsah alkoholu min. 3,1%”? That is very low for a 12° lager, right? Not really — before, labels here listed amount of alcohol by weight, not by volume. (As an ABV, that works out to about 3.9% — still a bit low, but not ridiculous.) Were our 12° beers really weaker — and thus even sweeter — back in the day?
And here is the promotional bottle I mentioned in the earlier post, a German Budvar flaška that holds two full liters, though it is proportioned to look just like a normal one, thus creating a sudden sense of gigantism when you see it. The bottle is marked as coming from “Tschechoslowakei,” and it bears witness to the days when Budvar was shoring up support in Germany in its fight for the name controlled by Anheuser-Busch: this one label says “Budweiser” three times, as well as one use of the parenthetical “(Budweis),” in a big push to get the point across. (Easy guys — we get it.)
Of course, no collection would be complete without its own bottles, and it turns out the Salesians in Prague have brewed and bottled four of their own beers, perhaps the rarest brews in the country. (Don’t ask: there aren’t any left.)
On that note, we’ve received a pile of new beer-themed goodies to hand out in our big Beer Culture reader-contest-slash-giveaway, which runs through March: shirts and glasses from Pivovarský klub, hats and shirts from the Ostravar and Staropramen breweries, as well as some great incoming swag from Pilsner Urquell.
Getting your hands on this stuff is simple: just send a beer-flavored haiku to GBGPrague@gmail.com and you’re entered in the contest. (Send two and you’re entered twice.) And don’t overlook the beer poetry contest at A Good Beer Blog, which has even cooler (meaning Canadian) stuff to give away.
Who knows — the prizes you win from us could form the foundations of your very own beer museum.