Czech gold is not a precious metal mined from the ground, but rather a clear brew made from hops and malt- beer. As wine is to the French, gelato to the Italians, or fish and chips to the British, so is beer to the Czechs. No Czech night out is complete without a beer in the hand, whether from a bottle, can, or a proper draft from a pub. Nothing short of gluten intolerance suffices as an excuse for passing on this truest, noblest, and oldest of Czech traditions when visiting their country.
Roll over Belgium, Germany, and Ireland. If you wish to call yourselves the world’s beer-drinking capitals, then you must drink, and no one can put away a beer like the Czechs! They lead the world in beer consumption at 143 liters per person per year (including infants), 20% ahead of runner-up Seychelles. Germany trails in 4th place, Ireland in 7th, while big-talking Belgium is waaaaaay back in 23rd. Burn!
What is it about Czech beer that makes it so drinkable? Well, it’s a number of things, from the recipes, brewing styles, alcohol content, Czech spring water, and then there’s the main reason: beer in the Czech Republic is cheaper than water. That’s right. This is one of the only places in the world where you can take basic H2O, add hops, malt, sugar, and yeast, let sit, and then lose value.
The low prices are practically traditional here. It’s joked that the government can do anything as long as they don’t raise the price of beer. The Czech minister of finance, Andrej Babiš has even proposed slashing VAT on beer in half. If they tried raising the price, I’m betting we’d witness the second Boston Tea Party, except with beer canisters in the Vltava River, Czech style. “Throw the beer in! There, that’s showed them… Alright, now fish it out. They get the point.”
Joking aside, as a newcomer to Prague, you’ll want to partake in a true Czech cultural beer experience, so I’m going to give you a few recommendations on what to try. It’s impossible to rank the various beers from best to worst, as preferences vary person to person, so instead I’m going to list 5 worthwhile varieties with a brief description of each so that you might find something to suit your own individual taste.
To kick us off, the flagship of all Czech Beer varieties:
Pilsner can be found worldwide. Dating back to 1842, it is the world’s first mass-produced golden beer and the measure by which all pilsners worldwide are judged. If you haven’t tried it where you come from, it can be found on virtually every corner in Prague, in a pub, convenience store, or street food stall. It’s smooth, full-flavored, and has a dry bitter finish. Less potent than an IPA, Pilsner appeals to people who like mid-range bitterness.
Kozel Černý (Kozel Black)
While Kozel’s light beer varieties are solid enough, its dark lager is one of the most heavily consumed beers in The Czech Republic. Guinness haters will shy away from this beer on first glance, but the Kozel Černý is a far cry from stout beers. Its texture is that of a light pilsner. It has a full caramelized malt flavor and a bitter-sweet finish. It is possibly the smoothest beer you’ll ever drink; so soft it’s virtually impossible to trigger a gag reflex. Even non-beer drinkers occasionally enjoy this one for its sweeter tones.
You heard me right. Believe it or not, Budweiser is a Czech beer from the town České Budějovice, or in German- Budweis. If you think Budweiser is a watery, bottom-rung beer, it’s likely because you’ve only ever tried the American knockoff version, which, if you bring to a Czech gathering, will likely get you beaten half to death. Before judging, you must experience the true Budweiser flavor, which comes in many varieties but usually, a light, flavorful, mildly bitter Pilsner that thrives amid the massively high standards for beer in the region.
To widen the selection here is my favorite Czech wheat beer. Fénix is basically a beer lemonade alternative with a citrus finish, a smooth wheat flavor, and a light bitter aftertaste. It’s just about the best thing in the world for a hot summer afternoon (or even morning, if you’re really doing it Czech-style).
There is only one place where you should buy St. Norbert’s beer: the original Strahov Monastery micro-brewery, near the Prague Castle in the Czech Capital. This one is rather broad-spectrum as you can find an amber lager, dark lager, and an IPA at any time of year, as well as a rotating seasonal special, and I honestly cannot say which is the best, but this beer is stronger than the normal Czech lagers in both alcohol and bitterness. It makes a great addition to a Czech goulash, pork knuckle, or heavy meat dish.
That should give any beer-loving Prague newbie a kickstart in Czech beer flavors, but beer in this country is a never-ending topic, so stay tuned for more! Future topics will include what pubs to visit, Czech drinking traditions, the pilsner brewing process, and more! I welcome questions and comments.
If you’d like to learn more about beer in depth whilst partaking, we can arrange a private tour with one of our beer meisters.
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