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Czech Beer in Prague

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. It tastes terrific and it's cheap.
Kozel beer


The most common type of beer brewed in the Czech Republic is pale lager. Brewed naturally from hand-picked hops, the beer has a transparent golden colour.

Most pubs in Prague sell no other type of beer except Czech beer. It is served chilled with a tall head.

When ordering a beer, ask for a “pivo” (beer, 0.5l) or a “malé pivo” (small beer, 0.3l).

The best known Czech beers are Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Budweiser Budvar. But there are tens of lesser known brands to sample too.
Interesting Fact: Pilsner Urquell is the original Pils lager from which golden beers the world over are derived. The beer has been brewed in the Czech town of Plzeň since 1842.

The Pilsner Urquell brewery also produces Gambrinus, which is popular in the Czech Republic but not well-known outside the country.

Staropramen is actually brewed in Prague, so is on sale throughout the capital city.

But the most widely exported Czech beer is Budvar, or to give it its full title, Budweiser Budvar. The name Budweiser is of course also used by an unrelated American brew, and there has been legal wrangling over the use of the name for decades.

Kozel is a popular local beer brewed in Velké Popovice, a village close to Prague.

Bernard is a highly regarded cheaper beer brewed in East Bohemia.

Aside from light beers, Czech breweries and micro-breweries in Prague also produce dark ales, "tmavé pivo". Some of these, such as the ales produced by the Kozel brewery, are almost black in colour, and are served with a thick dark foam on top.

If you are looking for a more English-inspired ale, Velvet by Staropramen is a smooth and creamy dark beer.

Foundation of the Czech Beer Industry

Czechs have been drinking beer for more than a millennium. The secret behind their brewing success is the country's agricultural conditions, which are ideal for growing hops. Chronicles place their cultivation in Bohemia as early as the year 859, while the first evidence of their export dates back to 903.

Bohemian hops became so prized that King Wenceslas (907-935) ordered the death penalty for anyone caught exporting the cuttings.

In another act, he convinced the Pope to revoke an order banning beer brewing - which may explain why he is known as Good King Wenceslas!
Pilsner Urquell beer
In the early days citizens in the Czech lands only had the right to brew beer for their own consumption, so many people had a microbrewery in their home. However, it wasn't long before 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 the home-brew kit. The first such brewery was built in Cerhenice in 1118.

From here, once the king's permission had been granted it was a small step for breweries to begin hawking their wares to the general public. The Czech beer industry was spawned.

Decline and Rise of Czech Beer Brewing

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 their beer from another brewery, was a clever way to line their pockets.

The Thirty Years' War further devastated the country, and the Czech beer industry in particular, as land was destroyed and resources diverted elsewhere. At one point beer was even used to pay off a Swedish army to prevent the plunder of Kutna Hora.
Beer drinkers in Prague The Czech beer industry then fell under the auspices of the Emperor in Vienna, although he did regard it highly enough to send a Czech brew master to Mexico to teach the Mexicans how to brew beer (Bohemia beer from Mexico gets its name from this period).

The situation remained dismal for several hundred years, until the "national awakening" movement in the 19th century spurred the reinvention of the Czech language, Czech institutions and Czech culture.

Czech beer was about to experience a renaissance.
Pilsner Urquell - Beer Reinvented
Beer had been brewed in the city of Plzeň in Western Bohemia since the 1200s, but like elsewhere in the world it was dark, top-fermented beer. In 1842 this changed, when Pilsner Urquell produced the world's first golden lager. It was achieved through a new method of bottom fermentation, and by storing the beer in cold cellars cut into rock.

The new tasting pale lager, with its unrivaled clarity, was in such demand that it led to the establishment of new pubs in Prague, such as U Pinkasů at Jungmannovo náměstí, which to this day still sells Pilsner Urquell.

The new brewing technique was also rapidly copied by brewers all over the world. In the 21st century, nine out of ten beers produced and consumed globally are pale lagers based on Pilsner Urquell.

Beer under Communism: the 20th Century

Under communism beer was very cheap, indeed it was maintained so by the authorities. The thinking was that every man, no matter what job he had, should be able to afford a few beers regularly with friends without it hurting his pocket too much.

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 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, the major Czech breweries, apart from Budweiser Budvar, have been bought by foreign brewing giants.

A lot of investment has been ploughed in, resulting in impressive modern brewing facilities. And Czech beers are marketed worldwide as a premium product.

Price of a Beer in Prague Today

The price of a large Czech beer (0.5l) in Prague is around 55 CZK in ordinary pubs and restaurants (£2.12/€2.39/$2.62).

Elsewhere in the Czech Republic, the price of a beer falls to around 40 CZK (£1.54/€1.74/$1.9).

Czech beer brewing
Beer is so engrained in the Czech national psyche that brewers are wary of raising prices too much, and no politician would dare raise taxes too high either! Indeed, some brewers make such little profit on domestic sales that exports are vital to their business model.

So while in Prague and elsewhere in the Czech Republic, sample Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, Budvar and other Czech beers in the best way possible - fresh and cheap!

The Future: microbreweries and Tank Beer (Tankové pivo)

As we have learned, microbreweries formed the foundation of the Czech brewing industry a thousand years ago. Today, pubs and restaurants in Prague like U Fleku and U Medvidku maintain the tradition by brewing their own beer on-site. In the modern age of the global brewer, it can be nice to taste a unique craft beer.

Such sentiments are encouraging more Prague pubs to add microbreweries. The beers produced complement their existing range of beers, and the brewery itself becomes an attraction of the pub.

Of equal significance, recent developments in technology have driven the introduction of tank beer (tankové pivo or pivo z tanku). Instead of beer delivered in barrels, it is transported pasteurised or unpasteurised from the brewery to the pubs by tanker lorry. The beer is then fed via a large pipe into a huge stainless steel tank in the cellar of the pub, in the manner in which a fuel tanker delivers its load. The tank is lined with a waterproof, airtight polypropylene bag, which seals the beer in.

When a customer orders a beer, it flows straight from the tank to the pump. This “bag-in-a-box system” delivers the freshest possible beer because it only comes into contact with air when it is poured into the glass. It is similar to drinking the beer direct at the brewery.

Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen lead the field in this technique, followed by Budvar and Kozel. Only a limited number of Prague pubs and restaurants have adopted the system thus far because it requires investment and a high turnover of beer to make it economically viable. But the results in taste and economies of scale are impressive, so more are following suit.

You can drink tank beer in Prague at U Vejvodu (Pilsner Urquell), Potrefena Husa Platnerska (Staropramen), U Medvidku (Budvar), U Pivrnce (Staropramen) on Maiselvoa street, U Pinkasů (Pilsner Urquell) at Jungmannovo náměstí, and at Vytopna Railway Restaurant in Wenceslas Square.

More Information

To learn more about Czech beer and to join the Prague locals who drink it by the lorry load, book the Prague Brewery Tour or Czech Beer Tasting.
Czech Beer Tasting
Czech beer tasting in Prague
Taste the 7 types of beer in Prague:
Czech beer tasting
Prague Brewery Tour
Prague Brewery Tour
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Brewery Tour
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