Beer Travels with Adrian Tierney-Jones

The stories of pub life are replete with the absence of sea serpents, fearsome giants and mysterious big cats. Instead, when we imagine the tales that surround and seethe around and within the pub, it’s about community, laughter, the night we went to Tilbury by way of Southend Pier and the beers that weave the kind of spells that Merlin would have been proud of. It is that simple.

I was in Brno for the weekend recently and I do not know much about the gods and monsters that might or might not have appeared in the myths and legends the locals of Pivnice U Poutníka tell when they’re deep in their pints. However, standing in the cavern-like darkness of the front bar waiting for the slightly crumpled bartender to pour a pint of its house beer, a 12˚ pale lager from Pivovar Poutnik, I felt at one with its elemental nature.

This was the first time I’d ever ventured to the eastern part of the Czech Republic, to Moravia, and Pivnice U Poutníka was one of several pubs and bars (both traditional and craft) that my son and I spent time in. However, there was something about the establishment that marked it out for me as one of those exceptional places that seem to synthesise both the quality of the beer and atmosphere of those who choose to drink there to create one glorious whole.

Recommended to me as a locals’ pub, it was hidden down a broad alley-cum-courtyard off one of the main roads in the old city. Inside the bar and the room at the back (overlooked by a large TV on which a cycling competition was being shown), there was a crepuscular kind of mood, though tranquil in its sense of twilight quietness. Outside, however, there was more of an exuberant and social mood, with all nine tables occupied by drinkers, most of whom were perhaps telling the tallest of tales such were the gusts of laughter sweeping about the courtyard. The gathering felt social and almost party-like even though each group at their table was in its own little universe. One bunch of friends were accompanied by a couple of dogs, one a young boxer who kept vanishing around the corner and the other, an elderly golden retriever who seemed to want to follow its younger companion, but age and the heat seemly daunted it from further exploration.

The beer was dark gold in colour and topped with a firm thick head of foam, as white as the hills to the north of the city invariably get during winter. There was a grainy, barley, cereal-like note on the nose with a grassy undertone, while on the palate there was more of the grainy/biscuity character balanced by a grassiness, followed by a dry and distinctly bitter finish. The brewery is in the Bohemian part of the Republic, south of Prague in the town of Pelhřimov, which I visited in 2011 during a travel writing assignment for the Telegraph. It was a small town with a compact but striking square surrounded by old houses painted melon yellow, mint green and rose pink, looking for all the world like candy sticks. I also went to see Poutnik, where I was offered (and accepted) beer straight from the maturing tanks — at 9.30 in the morning. It was delicious, so standing at my table in that courtyard in the midst of such joy I was pleased to find that the beer still thrilled and drilled a shiver of pleasure onto the palate.

I went back to this peerless pub just before we left Brno and there was the same feeling of ease and of slipping the leash off the cares and weariness of daily life, something that a good pub is always going to be adept at. Even though I also fell for the more craft beer orientated bars Ochutnávková (handily opposite our Airbnb), Harry’s and Axiom, it was a down-to-earth, deliciously simple and loquaciously local pub that made me feel grounded and generously at home in Brno. I hope to be back sooner rather than later and spend even more time standing at a table or hiding within, imagining and dreaming of the pub stories that come and go and make the ideal of travelling for beer such an honourable one.

Adrian Tierney-Jones