Bohemian brewer Jiri Plevka has built a tourist destination around his brewery in Chodova Plana near the Czech-German border. Attractions include beer baths, a hotel and an underground restaurant.
The Codovar facility is nearly the size of Chodova Plana.
In the historic Czech town of Chodova Plana, a once a dilapidated and communist-operated brewery has been transformed bit-by-bit into a beer lover's paradise. The facility, which 75-year-old owner Jiri Plevka has been improving since 1989, boasts a restaurant, a hotel and beer baths for guests looking for a unique spa treatment.
Plevka's beer is called Chodovar, and his 140 employees produce 80,000 hectoliters of it annually. The surface area of his factory and tourist complex is nearly as large as the rest of the town. Chodova Plana has a population of 2,000 and was known by the German name 'Kuttenplan' prior to 1945.
Plevka ran the brewery in Chodova Plana during the Czech Communist era.
The stone stairs leading up to the Plevka's third-floor office are well worn, just like the plywood furniture inside. On the atypical executive's desk, cigarette butts overflow from an ashtray and disappear under piles of paperwork. A crucifix hangs on one wall opposite a statue of Lenin.
"They're the representatives of two main religions. I've given them space in my office so they can sort who's right among themselves," Plevka says with a smile. "I've been vegetating in this office since 1968, collecting all this paper and other odds and ends. I don't like being in the office. I'm a technician, I prefer to be outside."
Plevka was sent to Chodova Plana by the Czechoslovakian communist regime to run the state brewery, which was nearly closed after that government's fall in 1989. However, Plevka purchased the brewery outright and set about renovating and expanding it. He has since commissioned a promotional film about its history.
"I've renovated the brewery many times," he says. "It's like a hobby. When the Iron Curtain fell we still had an old coal-oven, so the first thing I did was change it to run on gas. Then we built a restaurant, but I thought it was a shame that our guests had to leave at the end of the night, so we built a hotel as well."
Regional economic growth
In Chodova Plana, the brewery has become an engine for regional economic growth. Its 140 workers account for roughly one person from every family in town.
"When we started building here and renovating the old houses it triggered change throughout the whole town," Plevka says. "Have you seen the park behind the old palace? It's turned out really well; it used to be so overgrown it looked like a jungle. And then there's the market near the brewery entrance… it's new, too."
Chodovar beer is a regional brand.
Plevka's brewery draws tourists for a reason: it's packed with unusual, beer-themed experiences.
Guests can dine at the adventure restaurant in the cellar, which can only be reached via a 50-meter tunnel. Afterwards they can visit the beer-arium to learn about the brewing process and sample the local drops. Visitors to the spa complex can bathe in tubs filled with beer before getting a full-body massage. Of course, a souvenir shop sells everything from t-shirts to shower gel which tastes like beer.
But Chodovar's core business is still brewing beer to sell to the public, a task which takes place behind closed doors. As tourists sleep off their hangovers from the night before, Jiri Plevka's production line starts work. The machines can fill, label and seal 16,000 bottles an hour. They run all day as the beer ages in cool stone crevices. Chodovar offers lager, dark and pale beers along with a number of unusual specialties.
Still, only a fraction of what Chodovar produces leaves the factory in bottles. The majority of it is sent out in kegs, and Plevka makes sure the beer is only available in the region around Chodova Plana. After all, the brand's appeal is local, which makes area bars proud to sell Chodovar.
Author: Kilian Kirchgessner (gps)
Editor: Sam Edmonds