Milk Beer in Prague
I’ve volunteered at beer festivals and I know what a terrible head of foam looks like. You opened the tap too slowly or you didn’t angle the glass right or the keg is about empty and now you’ve got one inch of amber and four inches of beige. That is what the milk beer looked like to me when I received it: like a bad pour.
I had been worried that the whole trip to Prague might be that way. My best friend suggested that I visit her friends there, but I’d never met them, and I had no idea whether or not we’d get along. I arrived in Prague at dusk and looked out to the frigid bus stop, where the stranger who had come to fetch me stood.
Prague outdoors felt like the setting for a daring mystery novel, all shadows and grey skies while I was there. But inside, I felt like everyone was my friend, even if I was only play-acting, because the spaces were warm and the chairs were close together and there was always a rounded mug of beer available.
The days were full of immediate choices: would we walk up the hill and talk about Kundera? Yes, I said, almost before I knew the choice was one among other options. Would we go see the many fountains and unique architecture? Yes, of course. Every question was answered with a yes in the way that travel must often imply an affirmative answer: if you liked it enough to offer it to me, I want to be a part of it.
On my last day, we went to a restaurant called Lokal, where my new friend ordered potato dumplings for me from the many hearty options available and then ordered me this strange beer, which came in a large clear mug and was almost entirely foam. “It’s called a milk beer,” he explained. “The foam is drinkable, real dense. Drink deep.”
Mlîko, or milk beer, is not a brand or type of beer, but a method of pouring that results in you drinking quite a bit less beer, but feeling far less heavy afterwards. It’s one of three ways of pouring beers that in Prague are intentional, done to achieve different kinds of effects: it’s not some kind of beer-festival mishap. I put aside my beliefs about how things should be done and what I thought I’d like.
The creaminess of the beer went down so smoothly that I saw at once where the name came from; it didn’t leave me with any of the swallowing-air feeling that a badly poured beer gives. You are supposed to drink it quickly, to get every drop of the foam before it melts back into ordinary beer. I wanted to take in everything that Prague had to offer, but right then, I just wanted another mug’s worth to down.