A journey in Southern Moravia

It started out as a simple idea, but in a very short time it became an initiative: a trip among the members of Homebrewers Gorizia to visit the breweries of the South Moravia region in the Czech Republic. Its planning was done entirely by our member Max (@maxshomebreweryandbbq), who often goes to that area for family reasons. This allowed him to easily and quickly create a very interesting four-day program. In a very short time this program has attracted nine members, a limit that we have set ourselves for logistical reasons.

We started organizing this trip in October 2022 to make it happen in June 2023. Max took care of contacting breweries, restaurants and hotels on his own, booking overnight stays and activities, while the others took care of looking for a rental van. In a short time we had everything organized, we just had to wait for the day of departure.

Mikulov 

The program was to leave at 5:00 from Udine, so waking up at 3:00 was inevitable to leave calmly from Gorizia. But the enthusiasm prevailed and we found ourselves in Udine with a slight advance.

The trip to the Czech Republic went very well, almost without traffic and favorable weather. We thus found ourselves in the city of Mikulov an hour in advance.

Mikulov is located a few kilometers from the border with Austria and historically was the center of the Jewish community in the region of Moravia. It is a small town characterized by a beautiful castle in the middle that can be seen from afar emerging above the houses of the city. Parked the van, we walked through the streets of the city until we reached the garden of the castle and took a walk along its walls. Unfortunately we were not able to visit its cellars to see the largest wine barrel in the Czech Republic with a capacity of over 1000 HL. After a short stop to toast to the trip with some excellent Czech Pils, we headed to the city of Lednice where lunch was waiting for us.

Lednice and its wonderful park

When we arrived in Lednice we immediately headed to the homonymous brewery Pivovar Lednice. As soon as we entered we noticed the beautiful brewing plant in plain sight emerging from the basement next to the stairs until reaching the ground floor: of course without wasting time we went to study it carefully ignoring the hunger.

For lunch I had the opportunity to try the roast duck, a typical Czech dish that was accompanied by sweet and sour sauerkraut that particularly impressed me. In addition to lunch I had the opportunity to take the beer tasting tray that included samples of the six beers of their production. I must admit that the high fermentations did not win me over, but another story for the low ones, in particular for the Ležák 11°, an excellent Pilsner of 4.5% ABV that accompanies the good malty flavor with an excellent bitter finish (Ležák literally means Lager).

A little note on Czech beers: even in the Czech Republic, as in other European countries, beers are classified according to Plato degrees, i.e. the density of sugars in the wort. Usually this information is already indicated in the name and gives us an approximate indication in terms of body and alcohol content.

The vast majority of beers I had the opportunity to try ranged from 10° up to 13°. but the classification is as follows:

  • Lehké: beers with less than 8° Plato whose name literally means light
  • Výčepní: beers ranging from 8° up to 11° Plato
  • Ležák: beers ranging from 11° up to 13° Plato
  • Speciál: beer over 13° Plato

In addition to the Plato degrees in the name, we often find an indication of the color: světlé, polotmavé and tmavé for light, amber and dark beers respectively. The amber ones are also called jantar.

After lunch we took a walk among the trees and water channels in the huge park of Lednice Castle, very suggestive and pleasant that allowed us to digest the abundant lunch.

Mazák Brewery

From Lednice we headed to Dolní Bojanovice to visit the Mazák brewery. Here we were warmly welcomed by the brewer who spoke excellent Italian: he explained to us that he had lived and worked in a brewery in Udine for several years. After taking us through the entire brewery, which produces about 8000 HL of beer per year with a continuous cycle system, he showed us the room where their beers ferment in open vats: of course we were not allowed to enter this room as it is an environment rich in carefully selected yeasts suspended in the air. He also showed us a huge wing of the shed explaining that they intend to expand production. For now that area is destined for the fermentation of some spontaneous beers.

After the interesting visit we enjoyed a series of tastings of their beers, starting from the classic (and spectacular) Czech Pilsners up to single-hop high fermentations, very interesting as well as good. Among the various beers we also had the opportunity to try the Saturnus Czech IPA produced with the local and relatively young Saturnus hops.

Pegas Hotel and its beers

After leaving Dolní Bojanovice we headed through the endless and suggestive barley fields towards Brno, where some rest in the hotel awaited us before heading to dinner.

We then headed to dinner at the Hotel Pegas, a hotel in the center of Brno with an excellent restaurant and, like many restaurants in the area, with its own brewery. Here I had the opportunity to taste, in addition to their beers, the delicious goulash made according to local recipes. When it was time to pay, the waiter came with a gift: a 5-liter keg of their Pilsner Světlý ležák 12° (now you should understand from the name the characteristics of this beer).

After dinner, exhausted from the trip, we headed to the hotel to enjoy our well-deserved rest.

The majesty of the Starobrno brewery

After waking up and having a hearty breakfast, we headed to the center of Brno, where a guided tour of the Starobrno brewery was waiting for us. Arrived at the brewery, not before having a coffee in the center, we immediately noticed a pipe that was dumping the spent grains on a truck. This made me think: “Exactly how I’m doing it, but I do it by hand and in a 10 kg bucket”. Shortly after we were greeted by Matej who, in addition to explaining a series of rules to follow during the visit, named one of us as “last in line” and handed him an orange vest. His task was to make sure that we all followed Matej before proceeding from one room to another.

First of all we visited the brewhouse with its huge tanks that can produce half a million liters of beer every day, of which 90% is consumed in the Moravia region. Here Matej told us the history of the brewery from its foundation to the present day, going through the rise of communism that made the brewery state-owned and the subsequent acquisition by Heineken. Heineken has completely modernized the entire brewery by providing new and automated equipment, leaving unchanged the recipes historically used by the brewery.

Then we stopped under the fermenters. These were so big that their cones came through the ceiling above our heads. There was also the tank for preparing the yeast starters, which was bigger than the plant of a local craft brewery. Leaving the room we headed outside to the bottling line. Along the way we got to see the rest of the fermenters, remaining speechless for their size (I leave you a picture that maybe will give you an idea)

After the visit to the bottling plant, which inflates and fills a plastic bottle in just 40 seconds, we went to the lagering cellars. There we had the opportunity to taste their excellent Starobrno Bitter Nefiltrovaný directly from one of the many 22,000 liter maturation tanks.

After visiting a majestic brewery, we could not miss a majestic lunch: we therefore headed to the restaurant next to the brewery to eat the typical Koleno. It is a shank of quite generous size accompanied by sauerkraut and slices of bread dumplings.

Pivovar Hauskrecht

Tired from the abundant Koleno, we reached the Hauskrecht brewery. Founded by former ice hockey player Petr Hauskrecht, the brewery is located in the area of the ex-slaughterhouse of Brno and is connected to the city’s steam pipes: that steam is still used to heat its brewing plants, which is why it is called a steam brewery (Parní pivovar).

First, we were taken to a taproom dedicated exclusively to brewery tours. Several breweries, including this one, do not have tasting rooms but only a small window through which they sell bottles of beer. Here one of the brewers explained to us not only the history of the brewery, but also all their beers characteristics and let us taste two different ones. The brewery also has its own hopyard, but it is only used for events and not for actual production.

We were also told several interesting curiosities. One of these was the fact that in the Czech Republic homebrewers have to declare the number of litres of beer they produce at home, which is in any case limited to 2000 litres per year. Another curiosity, related more to the brewery instead, is that many ladies buy a large quantity of their Hauskrecht PH12 beer for their husbands as it is considered an aphrodisiac.

After the tasting, during which our member Sven also got to try out the typical side-opening plugs widely used in the Czech Republic, we were accompanied by another brewer to the production area where he meticulously explained every single step of their production. The things that intrigued us a little were their sparge and whirlpool vessels constructed as a single stacked container, and the fact that they use to bottle beer from kegs and not directly from tanks.

Brno and its nightlife

After the visit, we enjoyed a long walk through the streets of Brno’s historical centre, visiting several places, including the Gothic cathedral, the market square and the town hall area, where it was possible to climb a tower to admire the panorama of the city.

After a quick stop in the hotel, we returned to town to have dinner at the U Tomana restaurant, which of course also had its own brewery. We were able to taste their beers, including Otakarova 11%, one of the best dark lagers we have ever had, which we fell in love with. I also tasted Svickova na Smetane, another typical dish consisting of beef served in a generous cream sauce and slices of bread dumplings.

After dinner, some of us, at the invitation of the brewer of the Hauskrecht brewery, moved on to Malt Worm, a taproom for craft beers. There we had the opportunity to taste some Czech craft beers among the 16 beers available on tap and others in bottles. When the club closed, to round off the evening, we followed the music and found ourselves in a nearby but very peculiar venue: it was literally located in a corridor at the top of the stairs of a kind of apartment building with a loudspeaker set on the stairs and people that were dancing.

Černá Hora

The next morning, we headed for Černá Hora, a town that is home to the homonymous brewery. Due to a misunderstanding, we had to wait for our guide in front of the entrance with the inscription Dej Bůh štěstí drawn on it, a phrase already encountered in all the breweries we visited. It is in fact the motto of all Czech brewers and literally means ‘may God give you luck’ or ‘may God help you’. The motto is related to the moment when the wort is moved into the fermentation tank, leaving it to the yeasts to turn it into a good beer.

After waiting, we were taken to the brewery, which unfortunately no longer has its own in-house malt production since 2001. After visiting the brewing area with a 210 HL system, we moved on to the fermentation area with open tanks. Here we were able to see the old masonry tanks, which are no longer in use, and the new stainless steel tanks with a capacity of 120 to 240 HL. We were only able to see these through glass because, as in the case of Mazàk, they were closed inside an inaccessible room to avoid contamination.

We then went to the basement where we could see one of the six maturation rooms. There they also showed us their filter candle system, a filter pipe that is filled with a filtering powder through which the beer flows.

At the end of the visit, we were able to taste one of their beers and then move to the former malthouse of the brewery where there is now an excellent restaurant.

Špilberk castle and Bunker 10-Z

After lunch, we returned to the centre of Brno to change hotels, as we were to spend the last night in Bunker 10-Z. This is a fallout shelter that extends into the hillside below the Špilberk Castle. Its construction began under the direction of the Nazi army during World War II with the purpose of housing and protecting up to 500 people. Today it is organised partly as a museum and partly as a hostel.

After leaving our luggage at the bunker, we went for a walk to the Špilberk castle. Here, climbing up the walls, it was possible to enjoy a beautiful view of the whole of Brno. Inside, we were able to visit, among other things, the prisons in which Italian writer Silvio Pellico was imprisoned and which form the subject of My Prisons (Le mie Prigioni).

Returning from the fortress, we went back to Bunker 10-Z for a visit to the museum. It was a walk through the tunnels of the shelter along which it was possible to observe the rooms and the layout of the fallout shelter, with some exposed military clothing. Walking through those cramped spaces, thinking that people might have lived there, particularly impressed us. One thing that surprised us, however, was that all the clothing and material exposed could be worn by visitors.

rom the shelter museum, we returned to the streets of Brno for a walk, an aperitif and dinner at Stopkova Plzeňská Pivnice. At this restaurant in the centre of Brno, I was able to enjoy, along with a mug of Pilsner Urquell, another (generous) plate of roast duck.

After dinner we enjoyed a night walk in Brno (with a stop at Malt Worm) and then returned to Bunker 10-Z where we would spend the night.

Templářské sklepy Čejkovice

After waking up and breakfast at the bunker (a wonderful experience), we headed out of Brno to the town of Čejkovice where we were able to visit the Templářské sklepy Čejkovice wine cellars. This is a wine consortium whose cellars extend inside underground tunnels built by the Knights Templar in 1248. The consortium is the successor to an earlier winegrowers’ association founded in 1936.

The visit consisted of a walk along the network of tunnels along which the barrels were arranged. Some of the barrels had carved wooden fronts dedicated to commemorations and anniversaries, others had pictures to entertain children visiting the cellars. At the end of one of these tunnels was the second largest barrel in the Czech Republic (the largest is in fact in Mikulov), which can hold as much as 22500 litres of wine.

In addition to the tour, we were able to taste four of their wines (three whites and one red) inside the tunnels, some with special grape varieties that are not traditionally grown in our parts.

Slavkovský pivovar

From the Templar cellars we headed back towards Brno to stop at Slavkov u Brna, a town better known by its German name Austerlitz, where one of Napoleon’s most brilliant victories took place.

Arrived at the Slavkovský Pivovar brewery, we stopped for lunch and to taste some beers in their garden. During lunch we were also able to see a beautiful exposition of beer plugs inside the brewery.

Back to home

It was now time to return home. The trip, quick and carefree on the first day, was definitely more tiring on the last day and required a few more stops.

So we returned home tired but happy. It was a wonderful experience made even better by the fantastic group of friends that formed. The four days flew by very quickly, we were able to see beautiful places, visit different breweries as well as industrial-scale breweries. We ate very well (and a lot) and tasted pilsners and lagers of such a high standard: less than a week after the trip we have already decided to brew our own Czech Dark Lager as a group.

A huge thanks to my fellow travellers for the excellent company and to Max who planned a perfect travel without the slightest smudge.

Now we can rest before we start thinking about the next trip.

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