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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

Czech Beer GUIDE

The most common type of beer in Prague is pale lager.

Brewed naturally from hand-picked hops, the beer has a transparent golden colour, and in the pubs is served nicely 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.
A claim to fame for Pilsner Urquell: it 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.

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 well-known local beer brewed in Velké Popovice, a village outside Prague.

Bernard is a much respected cheaper beer brewed in East Bohemia.

Aside from light beers, several Czech breweries and also micro-breweries in Prague produce a dark ale, "tmavé pivo". Some of these beers, such as one 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, bottom-fermented ale, Velvet by Staropramen is a smooth and creamy 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 it from another brewery, was a clever way to line their pockets. And the Thirty Years' War devastated the Czech beer industry further, 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 still regarded 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 Czech nation - and its beer - did not recover until the "national awakening" movement of the 19th century, when the Czech language, Czech culture, Czech institutions and Czech beer were reinvented - Pilsner Urquell was born in 1842, and the new technique of brewing light beer spread rapidly.

Beer under Communism

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, most major Czech breweries 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 now marketed worldwide as a premium product.

Price of a Beer in Prague Today

The average price of a large Czech beer (0.5l) in the pubs in Prague is 45 CZK (£1.55/€1.88/$1.96) (aside from in the tourist traps on the main squares).

Elsewhere in the Czech Republic the price of a beer falls to around 35 CZK (£1.21/€1.46/$1.52).

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). 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 and airtight polypropylene bag, which seals the beer in.

When a customer orders a beer it is piped 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, as if you are drinking the beer directly 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 so impressive that more are destined to follow suit.

You can try tank beer in Prague at U Vejvodu (Pilsner Urquell), Potrefena Husa Platnerska (Staropramen), U Medvidku (Budvar) and at Vytopna Railway Restaurant.

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
Join us for a tour of the best Prague pubs with breweries:
Brewery Tour
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