Pilsner Urquell, along with Budvar, is the most famous Czech beer and the most legendary. Bottled or from a keg it is far from being my favourite beer. The same can be said of the other brands of SAB-Miller in the Czech Republic, Gambrinus, Velkopopovický Kozel and Radegast. It lacks character and, apart from its distinctive bitterness, it's got nothing that makes it interesting for me. It is a one dimensional beer, and the other brands are even worse.
But if what we are thinking about is tanková, then we are talking about something else here. In this version, Pilsner Urquell is still a great beer. Everything that the other presentations lack, this one has. More compact head, nicer mouth feel and a very distinctive flavour, with more fruit and more complex, but still with the classic bitterness from the Saaz hops. Again, the same can be said of the other brands.
But what is the difference? First of all, tankový are all unpasteurized beers, which means a lot and accomplishes even more.
It is a simple system. Instead of putting it in barrels it is put in 10hl or 5hl stainless steel tanks, within which there are sterilised polypropylene bags. The beer is in them. This material protects the beer from the contact with air, which allows it to be stored for longer time. Compressed air injected in the tanks squeezes the bag making the beer go to the taps. All the system is located in a room refrigerated at 8°C. This means that there's no need for a top pressure with any gas to dispense the, which results in a fuller, fresher taste, creamier head and lower carbonation.
To distribute the beers Plzeňský Prazdroj uses a fleet of specially conditioned lorries. They look a bit like a small version of those used to transport petrol. They park in front of a hospoda and pump their precious cargo with a hose. I got an idea of how much beer can be drunk here the first time I saw one.
In the last couple of years there have been a mushrooming of tankovký in Prague. The most famous are U Zlatého Tygra, U Rudolfina; in Staré Město; Anděl, en Smíchov for Pilsner Urquell, U Černého Vola in Hradčany for Kozel, and U Pomníku, in Nové Město for Gambrinus. The rest can be recognised by a round sticker at the door announcing the gospel of the tank. Any beer lover who comes to Prague should go to at least one of these places. You will really see the difference.