Built and enjoyed by King Charles IV of Bohemia from 1348 A.D. until his death in 1378, the Karlstejn Castle was only known by men. Men and men only were invited by the King to the weekend lodge of sorts to hunt fox, drink beer, and talk dirty. Think of it as his Man Cave, but a gargantuan one with secret passageways and guards, spreading many acres.
King Charles made the castle pilgrimage from his usual castle in Prague (one can’t have too many castles) to bring his revered crown jewels—en tow by dozens of nobles on horseback and carriage—to Karlstejn for safe keeping. Picture a cross between the pomp and circumstance of the palm waving Queen Elizabeth in limousine, and the hooting and hollering of a circus entering town. That was the summer trip from Prague to Karlstejn that King Charles made. You’ll take it too, but on train and with locals.
The train chugs along and drops you, your Panrimo coordinator and fellow Panroamers off a little less than a mile from the castle entrance.
What simplistic joy and connectivity to nature the mile walk to the castle elicits. I’ll leave visualization of the gargantuan rooms and the stunning crown jewels’ display to your own Internet searching. But trust me, this is a must see.
“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” Ben Franklin is known to have said. But did you know he was referring to rain and not beer? The very water that falls from above waters the crops that produce alcohol. He was thanking God for rain that, in turn, made his drink.
Regardless of Ben’s misunderstood statement, you need rain to make alcohol. And both make Plzen, Czech Republic a fitting stop to this excursion.
About an hour’s train ride west of Karlstejn Castle, enter Plzen, a blue-collar workman’s town made famous by the 1842 year-founded brewery. But the city knew of its fermented blessings back in the very early 1300s when the first malt house began. Today you can appreciate beer—the liquid of choice throughout all of Czech land—through a nicely guided tour at the Pilsner Urquell Brewery.
See the bottling process, scientists analyzing droplets and perfecting the taste, new and old brew houses, former ice houses many stories down into the cold ground, and most importantly, water.
“A what?” you wonder.
Water! It’s important, darn it! So listen up.
The very low hardness and alkalinity of water flowing underground in Plzen allow the proper mash pH to be reached with only base malts, achieving the soft rich flavor of fresh bread. The lack of sulfate provides for a mellow hop bitterness that does not overpower the soft maltiness; noble hop aroma is emphasized.
The water in Plzen is soft. It’s like just-washed bed sheets, or vanilla soft serve yogurt. The water flows from four rivers, the Mze, Radbuza, Uhlava, and Uslava Rivers. Combine it with a secret ingredient and process shared but not completely told during the brewery tour, you come to appreciate the drink provided at the end.
Tony Amante Schepers