There’s a fair amount of beer in the Swedish capital, and much of it seems to be Czech. Step into a bar in the trendy neighborhood of Södermalm and you’ll probably see Krušovice and Pilsner Urquell as often as anything else. Czech lagers seem to be frequently sold as premium imports here, an in the case of Starobrno’s position at the top of the list at Pet Sounds Bar, a chic offshoot of a legendary local record shop. A few other Czech brands — including Primátor — show up at the many outlets of Systembolaget, the Swedish government’s alcohol monopoly.
And then there’s Stockholm’s Švejk pub.
Despite the similarity of the name, Krogen Soldaten Švejk is unlike any of the Švejk pubs — or any pubs — you might have seen in Prague. To start, look at the beer list.
On draft, Krogen Soldaten Švejk offers:
- Bernard 12° světlý ležák.
- Bernard kvasnicový ležák.
- Bernard 13° tmavý.
- Primátor Premium.
- Primátor Polotmavý.
- Platan Premium.
- Bohemia Regent 12°.
- Krušovice Mušketýr.
- Rohozec Skalák.
- Pilsner Urquell.
- Gambrinus 12° světlý ležák.
That is to say that while most bars in Prague carry just one brand, Krogen Soldaten Švejk offers eleven Czech beers on draft, most of which the pub imports itself.
“Urquell we buy from an agent, Krušovice too, but the others we bring in ourselves,” said Jari Ounasvuori, the pub’s manager. “Every two months, we bring in a truck filled with kegs of our beers, and we have a lagering facility about 30 kilometers outside of town.”
Founded by a Czech émigré — Ounasvuori’s father-in-law — way back in 1974, Krogen Soldaten Švejk had to wait until 1996 to serve its first real Czech lager. (The first was Bohemia Regent; others were added over time. At one point, the pub also stocked Budvar, Ounasvuori said, but it was given up due to difficulties with that brand’s local distributor.)
To pair with the pivo, there’s Czech grub as well: goulash, potato pancakes, schnitzel and vepřoknedlozelo. And as a digestif, Krogen Soldaten Švejk has Czech slivovice. Due to the draconic nature of Swedish alcohol taxation, however, slivovice creates a black hole, at least in business terms.
“Because of the alcohol level, I pay so much in taxes on the slivovice that I don’t make any real profit,” Ounasvuori said. “But I wanted to have it.”
While there’s nothing quite like Krogen Soldaten Švejk anywhere else in Stockholm, Ounasvuori said that there’s been some talk of Pilsner Urquell opening one of their Pilsner Urquell Original Restaurants in the Swedish capital.
“But they have to realize that won’t work here,” Ounasvuori said. “People here won’t go to a pub with just one kind of beer. This isn’t Prague.”
Amen to that. It is ironic, however, that it’s easier to find a Czech beer like Skalák on draft in Stockholm than in Prague. In fact, I can’t think of a single pub that serves eleven beers on draft anywhere in the Czech lands. The closest might be the legendary Modrý Abbé, but that’s more than a few taps shorter than Krogen Soldaten Švejk.
As for the beer, I thought that Bernard’s kvasnicové tasted a bit different when I tried it at Krogen Soldaten Švejk: slightly spicier and denser in flavor than normal, perhaps due to the trip, or maybe to the extended lagering. The only other significant difference from home was the pub’s vibrant atmosphere, with a great mix of young and old and a bustling, neighborly feel that is sadly lacking in most Prague beer halls.
I’ll be happy, however, if pubs in Prague merely followed Krogen Soldaten Švejk’s lead in offering a greater variety — and greater quality — of draft beer. If they do that, the improved atmosphere will surely follow.