M: “My thumbs are sweating.”
J: “Can eyeballs sweat? ‘Cause mine are.”
This was the conversation between my husband and I as we laid trapped, rolled up — torturously — in electric blankets with the heat turned all the way up in a subterranean room in the center of Prague.
M: “I’m such a moist mammal right now.”
Let me back up. We’d been in Europe for nearly two weeks, and had endured a 10-day string of 95-degree temperatures and high humidity in cities that were ill-equipped for such heat. The weather had finally broken, and so we booked our bucket-list experience — a Czech beer spa. After all, what could be more refreshing than bathing in beer while drinking as much of said beer as you could handle?
The original source of pilsner
We’d been taking full advantage of the fact that beer is cheaper than water in the Czech Republic. In Prague, half-liters of fresh pilsner with full, foamy heads appeared before us for less than $1.50. We’d toured Pilsner Urquell (roughly translated, it means “the original source of pilsner”) in Pilzen on this same trip. There, we paid about a dollar for the freshest pilsner we’d ever tasted. With so many beer tourists heading straight to the source, it’s no wonder that beer spas have gotten so popular.
“Cooling down of an organism and a relax”
We saw more than a few spas around us while walking the cobbled streets of Prague that never seem to end (architecture buffs, you will never get bored here). Many of them featured quaint English translations, and all of them featured some version of smiling people sitting in wooden tubs holding up giant glass mugs of beer.
After some due diligence, we chose the Bernard Beer Spa in Old Town — mostly due to the fact that their pivo (beer) proved to be our favorite while in Prague. From what I had read, I imagined rows of wooden barrel tubs lined up barracks-style. Instead, this spa was private and only had capacity for two people at a time.
We descended the stairs into a tiny room carved out of the bricks that supported the Metamorphis Hotel overhead. Our enthusiastic host was Milan, whom we’d met the day before when we booked. He was very excited, as we were the first visitors from New Mexico that he’d met. “I collect the states. I am Slavic,” he beamed.
A tub with taps — brilliant
After undressing and donning robes and slippers, he led the way into the tub room. He explained that Bernard beer has been around since 1537 and is more expensive than cheap eurobeer. “We are against eurobeer. No shortcuts, long-pasteurized,” Milan said. He talked about the company’s ad campaign against eurobeer while pouring a bright green bowl of Žatec (“hops city”) hops into the tub. Next came the yeast, right into the water.
Before you assume anything, let me clarify that you don’t actually bathe in real beer. You bathe in beer ingredients — thus the hops and the yeast. It’s a “curative mixture with Vitamin B, tested by the brewers.” But you get to drink the real thing — as much as you like — for the entire duration of your stay at the spa.
“I am Slavic. We do not believe in wasting beer. You will drink this,” said Milan seriously as he filled four giant glass mugs of Bernard beer.
He left the room and turned on the jets. We sank into the very hot water roiling with fresh hops and yeast and turned our attention to the mugs settling before us. We obeyed Milan’s instructions and kept the mugs full. At first, the water temp was nice and relaxing. Soon, it became clear that it was much hotter than our hot tub back home, and we started hopping out to sit on the edge of the tub when we couldn’t take the heat any longer.
During the 30 minutes of tub time, we drank copious amounts of the room-temperature beer flowing from the oh-so-convenient taps next to us. It smelled like a brewery in there, and we were soon covered everywhere with bits of hops. We had been told not to shower for 12 hours to get the maximum skin benefit, and I suddenly had visions of stalking the streets of Prague as a leafy green hops monster later that night.
Am I green? Does this stuff fly off when you’re dry? I wondered.
Just when I thought I couldn’t last another second in the water I was sure was boiling some part of me internally, Milan knocked on the door and turned off the jets. We filled our glasses one last time, shucked our robes on and went to the third room that held nothing but a bed and a statue.
“Lady, lay down here and I will roll you up,” Milan said.
Oh good, I hope the bed is cool, I thought. Wait, roll up in what? “Is that an electric blanket?” I asked feebly.
“I turn it all the way up,” said Milan in reply.
While Milan was rolling us up like tight little steamed dumplings, he introduced us to St. Bernard, the statue in the corner. “You know, like the dogs that carry beer around their neck,” he said. He also said that the statue had eyes that knew whether or not we wasted any beer. Next, he pointed out the bell and the little sign that told us to ring it if we were feeling unwell or we “ran out of beer Bernard®”.
Water. Where is water? Oh, well, guess I’ll drink this beer.
A few minutes pass. We have no energy to talk because it’s leaking out through every pore. I tried to extract an arm to take the photo of the bell, the beer and the sign above. I accidentally rang the bell.
“Need more beer?” said the chirpy voice on the other side of the door.
“Noooo. Sorry! Taking a photo,” I called.
“OK, well, we have more if you need it,” said Milan primly.
Thus ensued the conversation about sweaty thumbs and eyeballs and launched a sincere conversation about how moist a mammal could get before melting. We gave ourselves over to the experience, resigned ourselves from hope of water and drank all of the beer.
Another half hour later, Milan rescued us from the now-soaked electric blankets and ushered us back into the changing room. I felt lightheaded and totally dehydrated — similar to how you feel after a strenuous workout where you didn’t drink enough water. But, I was relaxed and my joints and muscles were wonderfully fluid. After hoofing it an average of seven to nine miles per day through three countries, this floaty feeling was incredibly welcome.
When we emerged, dressed and ready for more beer, Milan wished us well and gave us a parting gift of bottled Bernard beer and an official certificate that would prove we’d completed the beer spa to skeptics everywhere. Who could ask for more?
At the end of the mug …
Bottom line? I’d do a beer spa again in a heartbeat. The claims were correct in that our skin felt great. After a few vigorous brushings, most of the green hops residue floated off and we met the friends we were traveling with at Prague Beer Museum looking relatively normal. Sidenote: The ‘Museum’ is actually just a pub, but it had the only true IPA I had on the entire two-week trip.
The Czech people are delightful with their salty, dark senses of humor and their lack of verbal filter — completely my type of people. They are also excellent hosts, and will regale you with all sorts of stories. I can’t recommend spending time in the Czech Republic enough. Go for the fresh beer, go for the cobbled streets and castles, go for the art and architecture … but just go.