České Budějovice is the Czech Republic's most famous brewing town after Plzeň. The old German name for Budějovice is Budweis and beer under the name Budweiser is known and served across the world.
The Budvar Budweiser brewery is about 2km north of the historic centre of České Budějovice along Pražská ul, which was the old road to Prague. The tours begin in the visitors' centre which is the modern building of blue-tinted glass attached to the corner of the brewery complex.
2pm tours year round
Tours can be arranged at any time for groups but for individual travellers 2pm is the only chance. The 50-60 minute guided tours of the brewery grounds and buildings are 50Kč in Czech and 100Kč in English, German, French or Russian. The brewery is open year round but closed on Sundays and Mondays in the low season.
Inside the visitors' centre is a gift shop, cashier's desk, an air-conditioned lounge and a block of wash rooms. The gift shop sells all sorts of Budvar and Budweiser paraphernalia. Everything from bar mats, caps, and glasses of all capacities to neck ties, fleece jackets and DVDs, all emblazoned with the brewery logo or that of the second beer manufactured on the site, Pardal.
The tour begins in the lounge with a short overview of the brewery's history - brewing began in 1895, the company was nationalised after WWII and despite uncertainties about its future ownership it remains a state-owned company to the present day (June 2009).
The other thing the guide explains while still in the visitor centre is the range of eight beers produced by Budvar on the site. The best known are the 10, 11 and 12 degree beers, but there's also a 16 degree beer with 7.6% alcohol content which is mostly sold in Russia and a special yeast beer known as Kroužkované, which is a specialty of brewery-owned pubs in České Budějovice because of its live yeast culture and short shelf life. The Pardal line has a different recipe, a more bitter flavour and a lower alcohol content than traditional Budvar.
After the introduction, the group walks through the grounds of the brewery past mountains of crates filled with empty bottles to the head of the well from which all water that goes into Budvar beer is drawn. The bore reaches 320 metres below the surface to the underground lake that determined the location of the brewery. Stainless steel pipes take the water from the well to two tall tanks where it is simply filtered and then ready to be turned into beer.
After another short stroll, the group pauses outside the malthouse where a diagram explains the basics of the brewing process and the ingredients needed. In this case, the malt comes from Kroměříž in Central Moravia, the yeast has been cultured on site since the founding of the brewery and the hops come from Žatec, which is one of the world's premier hops growing regions, better known abroad by its old German name Saaz.
Inside and upstairs the door to the malt room releases an aromatic steaminess and offers a view over the copper mixing and mashing tanks, the filtering apparatus and the canvas bags of hops with their chalked grades and types ready to be added to the mix.
From the steaminess of the malt room the group heads back downstairs to the cold, damp fermenting cellars, where the beer lies in barrels for 14 days before being piped up to the bottling plant. The air temperature in the cellars is about 6 degrees all year round so if you're visiting in summer it's probably not a bad idea to follow the example of the guide and have an extra shirt or a light jacket with you.
The tour stays down in the cellars for almost ten minutes. After inspecting the corridors and rooms full of barrels, the guide pours cups of unfiltered unpasteurised Budvar directly from the barrel and offers them around.
Bottling and packing plant
When the cups are empty the group heads back upstairs and across a covered walkway into the bottling plant. The beer is filtered and pasteurised in the same plant and the whole building is perhaps the size of a football field. The entrance is towards the end of the bottling and packing process, so the first thing you see are the bright red Budvar crates chasing each other along conveyor belts and being stacked on pallets.
Visible from further along the walkway that overlooks the plant are the labelling, capping and filling machines, the huge vats in which old bottles are de-labelled, steam cleaned and sorted by hand for imperfections. Keep an eye out at the back of this machine for the pipe that excretes the mash of old labels and garbage that comes along with the recycled bottles.
From there it's a short walk through the well maintained grounds, past pallets of the finished product wrapped in plastic and ready for transport, back to the visitors' centre and the end of the tour. The whole thing takes approximately an hour and is one of the best things to do while you're visiting České Budějovice.
Budvar (Budweiser) brewery tour
Karoliny Světlé 4 (north of the centre along Pražská)
Tel. (+420) 387 705341 or 387 705347
Tours at 2pm except on Sundays and Mondays in the low season
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Outside Prague last updated June 13th, 2010. All text and images Copyright 2007-2010. Articles may be excerpted for review, or printed for use by individual travellers.
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