Thursday, 24 January 2013

There`s Beer, and Then There`s Beer

There`s Beer, and Then There`s Beer

Flying from Stansted two days after Boxing Day I landed at the little rural airport of Brno in the southern part of the Czech Republic. It was my first time back in six months. The first thing I noticed as I stepped out of the plane on to the staircase outside was that the sun was shining. It was a crisp, frosty, Christmassy day with traces of week-old snow. I had flown back to England on 2nd July and since then it seemed to have been raining incessantly out of endless cloud cover. As I breathed in the crisp, pine-tinged air, I remembered how much I missed being in a place with four real seasons. Cross-country skiing in the forests in winter, apple and cherry trees burgeoning with blossom in the spring, the heady scent of linden trees, canoeing and drinking beer chilled in the river during the summer, fermenting wine and walnut picking in the autumn.

Helena, my sister-in-law, picked me up from the airport and took me back to her house, just a five-minute drive away. I had Christmas presents for all the family, but had been instructed to unwrap them all from their gift wrap to take them through security at the airport. That rather took the edge off the belated Christmas celebration, but I tried to make the best of it by putting things in little gift bags that I had bought at the last minute.

“What would you like to drink?” Helena asked me. “We`ve got tea, coffee, wine, spirits...”

“Have you got any beer?” I asked, looking up at her with a glint in my eye. “Of course!” she said, and poured me a glass of Pilsner Urquell, the King of Beers. Pilsner is the original lager brewed in the city of Pilsen, in Western Bohemia, and the only beer brewed with alkaline water, which means it is medicinal. So medicinal, in fact, that it is prescribed by doctors for flushing out the kidneys and restoring the appetite after surgery involving general anaesthetic.

I can`t describe that first taste of beer as I washed it down. There are other beers I like, many of them brewed in the Czech Republic, but there is nothing to match the perfect balance of Pilsner Urquell`s bitter, but not too bitter hops, its clear golden colour and fresh flavour. It`s as if there is a special thirst only for this beer. Nothing else will do.

There`s a zone you can be in, where something feels and tastes right. The potatoes taste of potatoes, the wine tastes like wine, the colours hit the eye just right.  And the odd thing is, more of it isn`t actually better. It`s right partly because it`s enough, and no more. I had other glasses of Pilsner in the five days that followed, and they were good glasses of beer, some even Pilsner, but none of them tasted as good as that first taste the day I landed.


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