Herold beer has had a long and winding path over the past few years. Less than a decade ago it was found fairly often in expat hangouts like the Globe, though not always in the best condition, and sometimes in downright terrible condition. Although things had markedly improved by the time Michael Jackson came to Prague to promote Herold in late 2004, the brand’s image had been damaged by the occasional bad pints from before.
And yet Herold was making great beers, including one of the country’s first widely distributed wheat beers, the first Czech dark wheat most of us had ever seen, and a full line of quality lagers, including what must have been the country’s best bottled dark. They were always a bit hard to find in Prague, but then they became much harder to find, until only a couple of places carried the beer by the time I was finishing Good Beer Guide Prague and the Czech Republic.
One of them was the Dívčí skok restaurant in Prague’s Divoká Šárka park, a favorite setting for hiking and sunbathing. When the temperatures moved up earlier this summer, I went out there to have a pint.
Getting there is easy: the park has its own tram station just a couple of minutes past the Dejvická metro station. (It’s currently served by the 8 and 36 trams or the 108, 119 and 218 buses.) Once you get off at Divoká Šarka, follow the trails — largely unmarked — to the Džbán koupaliště, or swimming pool, about 15 minutes northerly by foot. Continuing on the trail two minutes past Džbán, you’ll see Dívčí skok. They have blue and white umbrellas on the terrace that say Pivovar Herold on them.
But when I got there, a small blackboard announced that they were serving Svijany. I asked what happened to Herold.
“We had too many problems with it,” the barman said. “It kept going bad.”
He said they made the switch at the end of 2007. When I mentioned that some people thought that Herold was the best dark lager in the country, he replied that Svijany was also pretty good. I ordered a half-liter and took a seat on the terrace under one of the Herold umbrellas.
Nearby, a group of bronzed, middle-aged men in swimming suits were drinking beers and talking about the difference between malé pivovary and big breweries, and how with the beers from the big breweries there was žádná chuť.
The Kněžna from Svijany was good, but it didn’t have the depth I remembered from Herold’s dark lager. I had a slice of sekaná and thought I was missing something.
On my way back through the park, I saw a flash of silver on the trail ahead. A park crew had driven through on the way to clear some brush, and their tire tracks went straight over what looked like a tighty woven steel belt. When I got closer I saw it was a slow worm, or slepýš, a limbless reptile which is considered endangered in the Czech lands. It had been crushed by the weight, leaving behind the pattern of its scales and a slight gleam in the shadows from the trees.