Base Camp: Prague’s beer paradise

One small place offers beer lovers the chance to bask in the glory of 354 different beers

Undoubtedly the Czech Republic's national drink is beer, but many pubs tend to offer just a handful of popular brands. A place called Base Camp in Letná in Prague 7 lets visitors choose from 354 different types of the beverage.

Beer has a long history here, and the country holds the proud title of highest average beer consumption per capita, at 142.6 litres per year. To put this into context the nearest challengers are Seychelles, but they are a full 28 litres behind, according to a 2014 ranking by Kirin Beer.

The love of liquid bread in this country is unwavering, and the first brewery founded on record dates back to 993 at Břevnov Monastery in what is now Prague 6. The domestic history of beer has endured many setbacks as well as times of success since it’s humble beginnings. The communist era was tough on Czech breweries, resulting in a lack of variety with mainly just pale lagers and dark beers. The capitalist era was no kinder to Czech brewers either, as most larger breweries were privatised and smaller ones were closed or merged out of existence.

However, since the turn of the 21st century the craft beer movement that started in the United States and UK has also affected the Czech Republic. Currently, there are 379 breweries in the country, 44 of which are large-scale brewers and 335 small breweries that make up to 10,000 hectolitres of production.

To really embrace this Czech institution the best thing to do is explore the vast array of “hospodas”, or pubs. These establishments will often feel like you are being welcomed into someone’s living room, sat amongst fellow beer enthusiasts all eager to sample a drink that is cheaper than water. Nonetheless, a new trend sweeping the country is the rise in consumption of bottled and canned beer. In fact 60 percent of beer is consumed at home as opposed to in bars, pubs and restaurants.

There are disadvantages and advantages to drinking beer from a bottle. The wide variety of bottled beers means they are often harder to find in pubs, so people who want particular beers have to try them within their own four walls. That said, there can be a distinct difference in taste between bottled beer and draft beer, although the setting in which you drink your beer is of utmost importance.

At some pubs you may find the odd brand of bottled beer, often overpriced or very commercial. However, what happens when you combine a pub with bottled beers, say, 354 varieties of bottled beer? Then you are left with a place called “Base Camp”. You could be forgiven for being unaware of this pub on first glance. Situated in a side street near the Academy of Fine Arts Prague in Prague's Letná district. A window, display case and yellowish sign mark the front of this hidden gem, however, what is inside is enough to bring a smile to any beer lover's face.

You get the feeling straight away as you enter that this is a place known mostly by experts. Refrigerators decorate the walls with the colourful labels of many varieties of beer from the Czech Republic, Europe and even some oversees countries. The number of different beers means it is impossible to sample them all.

You can of course take your selection home with you but you can also sit in at Base Camp. The venue itself is not large but the intimacy would be altered if this were not the case. Here you can find a wide range of folk, from expats, students and locals to general beer lovers of all ages and genders. If you would like a recommendation then the helpful staff are more than happy to oblige, giving you a low-down on what the different beers are together with their personal preferences. Beers from the Matuška brewery, known for it’s IPAs, are popular now in the Czech Republic. Influenced by US brewing, you can find IPAs from brewers such as Bizon, Raven, Clock, Kocour or Permon — all of which are worth checking out.

For those with a simpler taste, Base Camp can cater to their needs without issue. Pilsners and lagers are abundant but those looking for the more commercial, well-known beers, will be disappointed. Many German beers are available, something expats will be pleased to know, including Augustinermönch, Tegernseer Hell and weissbiers such as Franziskaner, Schneider and Karg. Similarly, a good selection of bitters and ales will appeal to any UK visitors, whereas those from as far as Indonesia can reminisce with a bottle of Bintang.

However, you do not even need to be a beer drinker to enjoy yourself at Base Camp. The vast array of full fridges also offer cider and soft drinks. This is somewhere definitely worth visiting, be it to sample some beers to take home or to sit in for a cosy cold one.

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