Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

The Only Handpump in Prague

I spent much of Tuesday with el Pivero, first with a stop for lunch at Zlý časy out at náměstí Bratří Synků in Prague 4-Nusle. I used to live around the corner, so it was interesting to see how much the neighborhood has changed. First there’s the new brewpub, Bašta. Just a short stumble away is Zlý časy, an atmospheric cellar pub with two rotating taps of special beers in addition to regular brews from rarely seen Kácov.

On our visit, Zlý časy’s two special taps were dedicated to favorites from far-off brewpubs: the hoppy ležák from Moritz in Olomouc and the excellent (and fruity) wheat beer from U krále Ječmínka in Prostějov. I’d enjoyed both while researching Good Beer Guide Prague and the Czech Republic, but I’ve never seen either in Prague. The lunch wasn’t bad either, just like el Pivero said.

And then he mentioned something that made me want to get up and walk across town. Pivovarský dům, sister bar to Pivovarský klub and one of the centers of beer culture in Prague, had supposedly installed a handpump.

That is, a proper, CAMRA-approved, British handpump. Right here in Lagerland.

So Señor Pivero and I finished our beers, walked over to Štěpánská and stuck our heads in the door at Pivovarský dům. They had the full run of beers, including what must be the last few liters of their special májový kozlík, a very rich amber Maibock. And right next to all the gas taps was the shiny new handpump.

It wasn’t hooked up as of yesterday, but the waitress said it should be working within the next month or so. When asked what it would draft, she said stout. Their own, apparently.

Which is more than coincidental, as the new stout from the Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf has been on draft at Pivovarský klub for most of the past week. It’s like a big chocolate bonbon, full of flavor and yet not too sweet. It’s excellent, but it might be even better drawn via handpump.

Why does it make a difference? Connoisseurs of real ales say that the mouthfeel and taste of handpumped beers are vastly superior to those pumped by carbon dioxide, which tends to make drinks fizzy and flavorless. (Explanations, protestations, allegations and fighting words to the subject are welcome in the comments.)

So: is this really the only handpump in Prague? (I imagine one of the tourist-trap Irish bars might have one. But do they really count?)

Considering pale lagers constitute 95% of consumption here, having just two *real* stouts on draft in Prague  might not seem like much — but it is a start. And while this handpump might be the first to appear here, I doubt if it’s the last.

If you’re interested in trying unusual beers, Zlý časy is a great alternative to Pivovarský klub. From the outside it looks like this:

and here’s the contact information:

Zlý časy
Čestmírova 5
Praha 4–Nusle
Tel. 604 241 454
At station Náměstí Bratří Synků (tram 6 or 11 from metro station I.P. Pavlova or bus 193 from metro station Pražského povstání), not far from the new brewpub Pivovar Bašta.


Klostermann Amber Lager


Drinking Mussolini’s Beer


  1. There are at least two pieces in this counbtry. The other one I know will be in Varnsodrf quite soon:). Well, we do have for quite a bit now, but there was no real good time to show it yet…

  2. JosB

    Who else but british would care about that archaic medieval gadget called a handpump. Anywhere else in the world more sophisticated dispensing systems are the standard. Specially in continental Europe. Unless the (EU continental) beer is specially designed and brewed to be dispensed through a handpump (like De Molen “english”) continental beers are designed and brewed to be dispensed on CO2 top pressure (or gravity, in the case of Kölsch, Alt, Kellerbier/Ungespundetes).
    I sometimes get the impression that the british prefer their continental beers oxidised and/or infected and/or infested with diacetyl (the latter can be a serious by-effect of handling an unfiltered keg beer as if it were a cask ale).

  3. Who else but british would care about that archaic medieval gadget called a handpump.

    The owners of this pub are Czechs.

    The owners of Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf, with another handpump, are also Czechs.

    The owners of Birrificio Italiano — who occasionally draft their own Pilsner-style beers via handpump — are Italians.

    Was that a rhetorical question? (Don’t answer that — it’s a rhetorical question.)

    Point being, clearly people other than the British are interested in “that archaic medieval gadget.”

    In addition, the beers that are being drafted in Prague are British-style ales, not Continental lagers, which sort of moots the point of your rant. Or perhaps it makes your point, I’m not sure.

    As for the idea of things needing to be “specially designed” for specific technology and that technology only, that goes against my own — very American — sense of independence and individuality. If everyone had to follow the “rules” for how things are originally designed and how they are ultimately used, we’d never have stuff like this.

  4. And what if that archaic medieval gadget makes beer actually taste better? Not only top fermented, but maybe even their ležák.
    I really like the initiative of Pivovarský Dům and Kocour (Evan, I guess we will have to go there some day), and I hope Pivovarský Klub and maybe other brewpubs in town copy the idea.

  5. mike004

    Your post mentions Moritz.
    I am just back from a trip to Olomouc. The Moritz beers are excellent, much better than the usual brewpub fare. They had a 10 on sale which was superb. That’s the sign of a good brewer, if they can brew good session beers.

  6. Hey Mike, glad to hear you made it out to Moritz — it’s one of my favorite brewpubs, and it was one of the last to make it into Good Beer Guide Prague and the Czech Republic: I think it opened just a month before my final deadline. It’s especially nice that it’s nonsmoking, as I think it makes it easier to taste how good the beers really are. (And I agree, good 10° beers are usually a sign of quality brewing.)

    Where else did you go on this trip? Find anything else worth recommending?

  7. mike004

    In Moravia, I just stayed in Brno and Olomouc town centres. As you say in your book, these places offer a large variety of different brews in a walkable area: Cerna Hora, Dalesice, Svijany, Litovel, Holba, Zubr, Strakonice, Starobrno, Bernard etc. Cerna Hora 10 unfiltered was a standout brew.
    If you are ever in Olomouc, there is a great little beer bar on Krapkova. Turn left out of Hotel Flora and it’s about 400 yds. Called something like U Koledje(?), it is open from 3pm to 11 pm and has 4 different brews rotating on tap. When I was there they had Moritz, Svijany, Cerna Hora & Pelrimhov. Plus loads of bottles from smaller breweries.

    In Prague, I checked out some Budvar tank pubs. As I’m a big Budvar fan I was a bit disappointed — it was not up to unpasteurised PU standards in my opinion, which is still *excellent* in most places. However, there was a heatwave on, and the Budvar was served up a little too cold for my tastes. Also, I couldn’t find any tank Bud 10.
    I found a gem of place, opposite the billiard palace a block away from Wenceslas Square, that you mention in your book. It’s an old style locals place that serves Zlatopramen & Breznik.

    Apart from that, I visited some of the places you mention in your book. The Klaster pub in Holesovice/Sparta and the Kacov pub in Nusle were standouts…I do like basic pubs!
    Otherwise, I did the rounds of the PU tank pubs. I notice that they all now have prominent stickers and official plaques. The tanks are displayed prominently in some pubs, too.

  8. I love your blog. I am planning to visit Prague in 2010. I am making notes. Have you ever tried Richter Brewing? That is the number one place on my list. Keep up the good work. You have a new follower.

  9. HI Good Burp — thanks for the kind words. Yes, I’ve been to Richter Brewery many times — it’s in “Good Beer Guide Prague and the Czech Republic” as well, and my wife and I had our wedding lunch there. Richter serves great beers in various styles and what must be the best food of any brewpub in Prague: it’s highly recommended. Though by the time you arrive in 2010, Richter should have opened his new Jihoměstský Pivovar in Prague 11, right near the Opatov metro station on the C line. Na zdraví, Evan

  10. Leo

    For tankova Budvar 10ka , the only place is a hospoda right across Albertov street, near the Albertov tram stop.

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