As a casual beer drinker, one of my favorite travel activities is visiting breweries around the world. Brewery tours are a fantastic way to get the best possible beer right from the source. I’ve been to quite a few, but I don’t think I’ve been as impressed as I was at the Pilsner Urquell brewery tour.
What to expect on the Pilsner Urquell brewery tour
The Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský Prazdroj) brewery is legendary for being the first place in the world to brew Pilsner style beer. Such a successful endeavor that over the years, the brewery has grown into a small city where Pilsner Urquell, along with several other brands of Czech beer and cider are produced and bottled. As part of the brewery tour, you get an inside look at the process.
You begin in the small gallery in the visitor’s center where you learn a bit about the history of beer brewing in Pilsen and about Pilsner Urquell in particular. Then after a small stop at a mini-brewing room where experimental batches are made, you go outside to the courtyard, where you learn about the history of the buildings around you and their functions.
At this point, you board a bus that takes you inside the iron gates to where the magic happens. It’s like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for beer.
As you travel through the brewery grounds, your guide gives you some information about the buildings you pass. Your first stop inside the brewery is the bottling facility. This is the first time on any brewery tour that I’ve gotten to see this part of a brewery, because sometimes bottling is done far from where the beer is actually brewed. The guide gives an explanation as to how recycled and new bottles are cleaned, filled, sealed and labeled. Then you taka a walkthrow on a balcony that overlooks the massive bottling building.
After that, you get back on the bus to the old brewery and are taken on a massive elevator that holds almost 50 people to a 360-degree auditorium where you see a little bit about the history of pilsner brewing. Then you go on to a museum-like gallery that breaks down the production of hops, malt, yeast, and barley in the production of Pilsner beer. They even have a vial with the original strain of yeast used when the brewery was opened. You can also try the ingredients at this point, though be forewarned, hops tastes bitter as all hell.
Following this point, you go into the old brewery, where you learn about the massive copper tanks used for brewing beer. Then you make your way into the new brewery building, which has even larger copper and steel silos where different kinds of beer are actively being produced.
Finally, you go down into the cellars. The cellars of the brewery are part of a gigantic underground network of tunnels, which were dug out the old fashioned way, with manpower and a pickaxe. Having visited a nuclear missile base earlier this year, I couldn’t help but see the parallels between them. Let’s just say that if someone’s missile finger were to slip, the Pilsner Urquell brewery would be a great place to be. Down there, you can see where beer ferments and where it is stored before it gets bottled.
In the cellar, you also also get a chance to taste the beer. This was another first for me. Because although all breweries have some sort of taproom where visitors can drink, the Pilsner we had came straight out of a barrel, unfiltered and unpasteurized. Visiting the brewery is pretty much the only way to sample the beer in this state. Though you can buy a souvenir batch of the same beer at the gift shop on your way out.
Booking the tour
The tour of the brewery is held every day in English, Czech, and German, for 250 czk. Because of the brewery’s popularity, the tours are on the larger side, with at least 20-25 people. Tours can be booked in advance online, or at the visitor’s center where the tour starts. A handy screen tells you exactly how many tickets are left for each tour for every time slot of the day.
We got the tickets around mid-afternoon for the last time slot of the day, so we would have time to have lunch and check in to the hotel. But I imagine if you just show up, you may have to wait around a bit for the next time slot, at least during peak travel season. The good thing is that the brewery is huge and has an amazing restaurant, Na Spilce, right in the courtyard. You can also visit the souvenir shop to kill time, though the tour ends there.
Even if you visit in the summer, it might be a good idea to plan ahead and pack a sweater for the cellars, which are freezing cold and where you’ll be for at least 20-30 minutes.
The Pilsner Urquell brewery tour lasts 100 minutes, though ours was a little bit closer to two hours.
If you want more beer after your tour, there’s a bar on the brewery courtyard at Na Spilce.
The brewery still delivers beer to Pilsen city center the old-fashioned way on horse and carriage. Your tour guide might be able to give you more information about when deliveries are made around the time of your visit so you can catch a glimpse.
Get the GPS-guided version of this and other Plzen guides on GPSmyCity here.