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Mr Murčo has a knowledge and passion for Pilsner Urquell that you wouldn’t expect to find outside of the Plzeň brewery gates. But then again, when his bar is designed to look just like the brewery in Plzeň, you have to expect a serious dedication to good beer.
Prazdroj, in Bratislava, Slovakia's capital, was the first tank bar outside of the Czech Republic, where unpasteurised beer was first served in 2007, though the idea came long before that: “I always wanted this since 1999!” says Murčo.
The building has a historical listing as it’s an old bank and before that it was a restaurant (which Marie Antoinette ate at in 1781). But you’d never guess all that by looking at it: “Everything around you is either from the brewery or designed to look like it is,” he says. Part looks like the cellars, a copper wall represents the brewhouse, there’s memorabilia and golden taps for the golden beer. “I took thousands of photos so I could recreate them perfectly to give my bar an atmosphere just like the brewery.” There’s even an area at the back with smaller rooms and an alleyway designed like a street in Plzen. It’s remarkable.
“I have been going to the brewery in Czech twice a year for 16 years. They know me well there,” he says. “Before I started my bar, I was trained by the Brewmasters in the brewery. They taught me to understand the beer – and if you want to do something like this you really have to understand the beer. I learnt everything about tanks, hops, temperature, glassware, pressure. It was intense but that’s what you have to do for good beer.”
To pour the perfect beer, “I’ve learnt you need to ensure four things are correct: temperature, pressure, cleanliness and service. If even one part isn’t precise, then it all breaks down.”
A great example of that is the tap he uses, which he’s had since 1999: “If I change the tap then I have to change the whole system,” he says. It’s all calibrated perfectly and the tap is just the end. Every single small detail impacts the final glass of beer.” He has made it perfect and every morning he comes in early to calibrate the taps to ensure they are pouring perfectly and that the beer is tasting the best it can.
“It’s not my job, it’s my hobby,” he says. “You must do this with your heart. And I’ve never once compromised on quality in 16 years.”
“You’ll see I’ve deliberately put the fount in the middle of the bar – where it’s most open – so people can see their beer being poured. People must see the art of pouring for themselves; see the care and attention that goes into every pint”.
“One of the most important things for a good beer is the foam,” he says. “I’m trying to educate consumers to demand more. When it comes from the brewery, the beer is always the same high quality so it all relies on the Tapster to serve it perfectly. The foam must be beautifully straight. No big bubbles. It must stay on the glass like a painting. If not, then there’s a problem and means the glassware wasn’t properly cleaned. My Tapsters are just as passionate as me – both have worked here for about 15 years.”
Beer and service is in Mr Murčo’s blood. He’s worked in gastronomy since he was a boy. His great-grandfather, grandfather, father and mother all worked in food. His family all individually run their own bars and restaurants and Murčo is building a new tank bar. “I have a son and it looks like the new pub will be his.”
With his new bar he wants the beer to be “more than perfect,” even down to calculating the exact distance from the tank to the tap “so we can make it better.” It’s hard to see how he can make it better than it currently is in Prazdroj, but if anyone can, Mr Murčo can.
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