Czech Republic, the beer countryBy Lizet Wesselman - 23/10/2022
Czech Republic, the beer countryBy Lizet Wesselman - 23/10/2022
It probably doesn’t comes as a surprise that they have a great beer culture in the Czech Republic. You’ve probably heard that beer is cheaper than water there and maybe you’ve been there yourself for a party holiday or a bachelor party. Prague seems to be known as the beer destination and these bachelor party trips are very common. And with good reason, honestly. But hopefully, you’ve been there because you truly appreciate beer and wanted to try some in the country that invented it. If you haven’t been, you’ll find all the information you need, about the Czech beer culture, in this article.
Let’s start with a bit of history to better understand why the Czech Republic is such an important beer country. It’s often brought up that beer originated in the Czech Republic, but that is not entirely correct. Beer as a beverage has been around way longer, probably originating in the Middle East, and was later brought to Europe. However, lager beer did originate in the Czech Republic. In the town of Pilsen (Plzeň) to be exact. In 1842, the first successful lager was produced by the Pilsner Urquell brewery, which until today is still the pride of the Czech Republic.
In case you’ve ever heard that lager comes from Austria, Hungary or Germany, it is because of the countries’ location. Before World War II, the map of Europe looked a lot different and Pilsen still belonged to Austria-Hungary. Moreover, the beer was developed by a German named Josef Groll. Complicated, but there does seem to be a general agreement that lager is indeed Czech.
What’s so different about lager?
Before lager was developed, beer was a thick, muddy beverage. On the contrary, lager is known for the clear golden-yellow colour. The main reason for lager to become vastly popular, was because it looked way more drinkable than it’s muddy counterpart.
However, the funny thing is that lager in the Czech Republic is certainly not always clear. To get a clear colour, the beer is filtered. This has advantages and disadvantages. Namely, it made the beer much more accessible to the general public because it no longer had such a strong, unique taste. But the real beer lover usually chooses something with more flavour. By filtering the beer, you also filter some of the flavours out. That is why in the Czech Republic more and more breweries are offering an unfiltered version. These look a lot more drinkable today than they used to, and provide a more balanced flavour palette.
In short, lager is thus a light beer with a weak taste and around 5% alcohol. All major brands actually have a lager in their range, think Heineken, Budweiser, Carlsberg and Becks. So in the Czech Republic the big names are the still existing Pilsner Urquell and among others, Staropramen, Budweiser Budvar, Gambrinus and Bernard.
Which Czech beer should I try?
If you’re a beer lover going to the Czech Republic, there are some beers you definitely must have tried. Here’s a list:
Since the Pilsner Urquell brewery is still up and running and still the Czech pride, you really can’t skip this beer during your trip to the Czech Republic. You can usually find it in a Czech restaurant or bar. But of course, you can also visit the brewery. This is still located in Pilsen, which is about an hour West of Prague. The whole city actually revolves around beer, but not just Pilsner. You’ll find a lot of bars where you can do a beer tasting as well. So with a trip to Pilsen, you’ll kill two birds with one stone if you combine a visit to the brewery with a beer tasting.
Huh, isn’t Budweiser that American beer? Definitely don’t say that to a Czech, because you won’t make any friends with that. Czech beer has been brewed in České Budějovice since 1265. Admittedly not like today’s lager, which we just learned was invented in 1842, but the Czech Budweiser claims the rights to the name. The American Budweiser, of course, disagrees, claiming they have been brewing lager under the Budweiser name for 19 years longer. They consider the fact that the brewery in the Czech Republic is much older to be irrelevant. There are still occasional lawsuits about it and the names differ per country. In the U.S. and Canada, for example, the Czech version is known as “Czechvar” and in some other countries it is sold as “Budweiser Budvar.” Either way, it is the most popular Czech beer worldwide after Pilsner, so then the name is just an afterthought anyway.
Gambrinus beer is named after an ancient king who is considered to be the discoverer of beer brewing. After winning a battle, he is said to have given the first toast ever, standing on a pile of beer barrels. Gambrinus beer has long been brewed in the same brewery as Pilsner, giving it the right of the status of the national beer.
Staropramen is definitely not the most beloved beer in Czechia. Better yet, if you tell a Czech that you like Staropramen better than Pilsen, you are likely to end up in a heated discussion. Yet it is, after Pilsen, the second-largest brewery in the country. The brewery is located just outside the centre of Prague, where you’ll also find a beer museum.
I must honestly admit that Staropramen’s unfiltered beer is actually my favourite of the standard Czech lagers, and recommend everyone to give it a try. By now, I have also accepted that my food and drink choices are not very well appreciated in the Czech Republic, but I’ll take that for granted.
Other Czech beers
The above beers are really just a very small sample of an endless list of beers. In 2020, there were a whopping 599 breweries in the Czech Republic! That’s unfortunately slightly less than in 2019. As in every country, breweries had a tough time during the pandemic, so a good number of small breweries did not survive. There aren’t more up-to-date numbers, so I don’t know if it has recovered by now. But before the pandemic, this figure was still going up every year, so I definitely assume that number will only continue to grow.
Some other big names include Bernard, StaroBrno, Radegast, Kozel and Krušovice.
Furthermore, there are of course different types of beers. Kozel’s dark beer is very popular and the unfiltered versions are also popular. In the Czech Republic this is called “nefiltr”, so when you see that on a menu you know to expect a tasty, cloudy beer.
Besides the big brands, you can find microbreweries pretty much everywhere. Not surprising, with some 600 breweries in the country. Every city has at least one brewery, with the exception of the Southern Moravia region. This in turn is known for its wines, but that’s for another article.
Some small breweries have merged over the years, but due to the strong beer culture, it is quite easy for small, specialised breweries to maintain enough turnover. You will also find many gastro pubs in big cities where they offer a hefty selection of micro beers, often with a monthly changing offer. From white beer to stouts, sour beers and IPAs, there is something for everyone. There are also several big beer festivals in the summer, specifically focused on these microbreweries. Are you in the Czech Republic in summer? Then be sure to Google to see if there is a nice festival nearby.