Czech beer is world famous. The Czech Republic
is the No. 1 beer drinking nation on the planet,
with an annual per capita consummation of some
156 litres. Beer is served almost everywhere in
Prague, even in breakfast cafés! It tastes
terrific and it is cheap.
famous Czech beers
Most Czech beers are lagers, brewed naturally
from hand-picked hops. Czechs like their beer
cellar temperature with a creamy, tall head. When
ordering draught beer ask for “male pivo”
(0.3l) or “pivo” (0.5l).
The best known Czech beer is the original Pils
beer, Pilsner Urquell, brewed in the town of
Plzen and exported worldwide. Many Czechs also
drink another Plzen brew, Gambrinus, while
Bernard from Eastern Bohemia has won best beer of the year several times.
The most widely exported Czech Beer is Budvar (Budweiser
in German), the name of which is also used by an unrelated
American brew. A fairly new beer with a fine and very smooth
taste is Velvet. Another is Kelt, a dark beer
from one of the Prague breweries. Other beers brewed in Prague are Staropramen and Branik.
History of beer in the Czech lands
The Czechs have been drinking beer since time
immemorial. The secret for Czech beer brewing perfection is the agricultural conditions, which are ideal for growing
hops. Chronicles place their cultivation
in Bohemia as early as 859 A.D., while the first
evidence of their export dates back to 903.
Bohemian hops were so prized that King Wenceslas
ordered the death penalty for anyone caught exporting
the cuttings, from which new plants could be grown.
Foundation of the Czech
The first mention of brewing in the Czech territories is in the foundation charter for the Vysehrad church, dating from 1088. In this document, the first Czech king, Vratislav II, decreed that his estates should pay a hop tithe to the church.
In the early days, only citizens in the Czech lands had
the right to brew beer - and that for their own consumption - so most citizens had a micro brewery in their home.
It wasn't long before some of these citizens banded
together to form a co-operative central brewery, from
which they would take beer extract home and finish the
brewing process there; the medieval equivalent of today's "home brew" kits.
The first of these breweries was built at Cerhenice in 1118.
King Wenceslas also played his part, convincing the Pope
to revoke an order banning the brewing of beer - which
may explain why he's called Good King Wenceslas! It
was a small step up from there for breweries to start
hawking their wares to the general public as well, and
so the Czech beer industry was spawned.
Decline and Rise of
the Czech brewery
The expansion of the beer industry was halted in the 16th-century, when feudal lords discovered that forcing their
labourers to drink the manor brew, instead of buying it from another brewery, was a clever way to
line their pockets. The Thirty Years' War then devastated the Czech beer industry
further. At one point beer was used to pay off a Swedish
army to prevent the plunder of Kutna Hora.
After this, what fame the Czech beer industry
managed to attain was under the auspices of
the Emperor in Vienna. He even sent a Czech
brew master to Mexico to teach the Mexicans
how to brew beer. (Bohemia beer from Mexico
get's its name from this period).
The Czech nation - and its beer - did not begin
to recover until the "national
of the 19th century, when the Czech language,
Czech culture, and Czech beer were reinvented
after centuries of Germanisation and decline.
Beer under Communism
Under communism, beer was very cheap, indeed it was maintained like this by the authorities. The thinking was that every man, no matter the job he had, should be able to afford a few beers regularly with his friends without it hurting his pocket.
This helped establish beer drinking as
perhaps the single most popular hobby amongst Czech
men. Unfortunately, as with other industries,
the Communists failed to invest properly in the
breweries. They simply produced the beer and squeezed
as much out of the industry as they could. The buildings and their facilities were allowed to deteriorate.
After the Velvet Revolution
Since the fall of communism, most major breweries have been bought by foreign brewing giants, and a lot of investment has been ploughed into Czech brewing. The result is impressive, modern beer brewing facilities and their beers marketed worldwide as a premium product.
How much does Czech beer cost today?
The average price of a large beer (0.5l) in Prague, in a popular pub in the city centre (but not on the main squares, where it costs more) is 35czk-40czk (£1.20-£1.35/ €1.40-€1.60/ $1.75-$2.00).
Further off the beaten track, the price falls to 25czk (£0.85/ €1.00/ $1.25), but these are basic pubs aimed at local Czech people or bars outside the city centre.
Away from Prague in the rest of the Czech Republic,
beer is even cheaper. Indeed, breweries may make such little profit on domestic sales that
exports are vital.
in Prague and elsewhere in the Czech Republic, enjoy the local beer. At 35czk-40czk in a good pub in the city centre you can't go far wrong. Savour the
taste of the original Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, Budweiser
and other Czech beers in the best possible way - fresh, cheap and where it's brewed!
For more information on Czech beers, and a most enjoyable introduction to them, we recommend our Czech Beer Tasting activity and our Prague Brewery Tour.
We also organise trips to the Pilsner Urquell brewery: Pilsner Urquell Summer Brewery Tour and Pilsner Urquell Winter Brewery Tour.