Czech Beer Guide

The start of homo sapiens dominance of the planet can be traced back to south western Africa. The start of pale lagers dominance of the world of beer can be traced back to the town of Pilsen, in what is now the Czech republic. The pale golden beers developed in the mid 19th century and now known as Pilsner have evolved as they spread through Germany and Denmark – and then through the process of continuous fermentation, to be found in every part of the world. Whether you are drinking Grolsch, Budweiser, Miller, Stella Artois or Heineken, your beer can be traced back to the work of Josef Groll at the Citizens Brewery.

The original template for these beers now goes by the name of Pilsner Urquell. However the other major Czech brands such as Staropramen and Gambrinus all used the same approach and similar soft water. Over the years Czech beer maintained a strong reputation for quality. In many ways this was helped by the socialist government and state control which resisted the technological advances being made elsewhere. These advances generally made beer production quicker and cheaper, but at the expense of quality. The Czech beers kept their slow fermentation times and didn’t apply pasteurisation – and with it more of their flavour. However when communism fell the breweries were offered up to the private sector with SABMiller taking over Pilsner Urquell, InBev taking over Staropramen and Heineken taking over Krusovice. The traditional methods used by the breweries were soon modernised away, bringing the Czech beers into line with the lagers made elsewhere in the world.

One of the breweries that stayed under state ownership was Budějovický Budvar. However that hasn’t stopped the global brewing fraternity causing it problems. The brewery was founded in 1895 in the town of Budweis. However Budvar were not the first brewery in Budweis – that honour went to Budweiser Bier Burgerbrau who were founded in 1795. The American Adolphus Busch toured Europe and was impressed by the Burgerbrau beers, so much so that upon returning to America he started brewing a beer called Budweiser in 1876 – 20 years before Budějovický Budvar existed. Therefore the makers of the American Budweiser decided to try and claim worldwide rights to the name, they could claim they had more right to call their beer Budweiser than a brewery in Budweis. Despite losing the right to call their beer Budweiser in America, Budvar have retained some of the older brewing techniques, given their beer more character than the modern versions of Staropramen and Pilsner Urquell. Another brewery under independent ownership is Bohemia Regent which dates back to 1379 and appears to be retaining some of it’s traditional methods.

Whilst the majority of Czech beers seen abroad are pale lagers, you will find plenty of dark lagers (Dunkels) and mixtures of pale and dark beers (Germischtes) when you are in the Czech republic. The dark lagers often have a greater depth of flavour – with Bohemia Regent and Gambrinus dark being widely available and good examples of the style. Most of the Czech beers are named after their strength in the plato scale – from 10 degrees through to 14 degrees (roughly 4% abv to 6% abv).

Around the year 2000 Prague started suffering from the plight of drunken UK tourists. This was due to cheap flights and a reputation for cheap beer. Most of these people have now moved onto other Eastern European countries where the beer is even cheaper, however a large number of pubs in the old town of Prague still have a fairly bland selection of beers that you could find pretty much anywhere in the world. As such it’s worth seeking out brewpubs such as Pivovarsky Dum which opened in 1998. The brewing equipment, including the open fermenting tanks, can be seen from the restaurants. They produce around 15 beers. These include traditional style pale lagers, but also more inventive brews such as Coffee Beer, Banana Beer, Nettle Beer, Chilli Beer and Blueberry Beer. They have even experimented with the use of champagne yeast and ale styles such as Weizen and Stout. Their menu also includes a range of “little things that go well with beer” such as fried Moravian cheese and fried bread with garlic clove. In short it’s a place you could spend a lot of time in working you way through both food and beer menus.

Five Czech Beers To Try -

1. Krusovice Dark Beer (Cerne): Dark chocolate lager with slight hints of fruit (cherry, raspberry?). Very smooth with a coffee taste when drunk warm. Fairly light and gentle at 3.8%

2. Bohemia Regent M&S Czech Lager: Bohemian pilsner made with Zatec hops and water from artesian wells. Full flavoured with the hoppy aroma balanced by a fruitiness in the taste. Smooth rather than gassy with the merest hint of bitterness in the finish.

3. Bernard Sveltly Lezak Pilsner: Champagne yeast beer that feels like an ultra-gassy lager. Bottle conditioned with variable head. Deeper taste than Kasteel Cru.

4. Budejovice Budvar: Dry, hoppy lager with a gentle malty aftertaste. Perfectly drinkable but a little on the thin side.

5. InBev Staropramen Lezak: Smooth, clean pilsner with a dry, hoppy taste. One of the better mass produced European lagers, but not exceptional.