For over forty years, Czechoslovakia was all but inaccessible for westerners. As Soviet influence enveloped neighboring countries, local delicacies and tastes were, to a degree, lost or forgotten by those outside their borders. Thankfully, over the past twenty years, as Eastern Europe has opened back up and welcomed visitors from around the world, we can enjoy the best the Czechs have to offer, particularly Czech beer.
In the Czech Republic it is said that beer, in any form, is the national drink. The Czechs are renowned for their lagers, both light and dark, with their pilsners being regarded as the original and finest in the world.
The key to Czech pilsners is the inclusion of Saaz noble hops. This specific type of hop is known for its aroma rather than its bitterness, a characteristic that distinguishes the unique taste of a Czech pilsner from other European varieties. The term pilsner (or pilsener or pils) comes from the city of Pilsen (or Plzen in Czech) in Bohemia.
Even casual beer drinkers in America have probably seen Pilsner Urquell for sale at a bar or even the local grocery. Pilsner Urquell is the most famous and oldest brewer of pilsners in the world and claims that it produced the first ‘golden beer.’ Nearly every pub and restaurant in the Czech Republic carries Pilsner Urquell, as it is probably the second-most popular in the country.
Only Bud jovický Budvar is more widely consumed in the Czech Republic than is Pilsner Urquell. Many Americans will recognize Budvar’s Americanized product in the form of Budweiser. Often regarded as the quintessential American beer, Budweiser is simply the product of a recipe and brand copied by American brewers after the original was exported to the US in the 1870s. The Czech version of this brew is sold as Czechvar in the United States. There have been many trademark and legal disputes over the years that are not particularly relevant to the explanation of the beers. Suffice it to say, the original version of Budvar in the Czech Republic is a matter of pride and enjoyment. The clean, golden hue of the lager was a vast change from earlier beers in the Bohemian region and continues to be the most popular beer for Czechs.
Of course there are many brands of beer beside the two giants. Krušovice, for example, is a particularly well-known beer that is not exported to the same degree as Pilsner Urquell and Budvar. Krušovice was served to the Austrian Emperor as early as 1581 and has been serving Czechs with fantastic lagers ever since. It comes from a small village in Central Bohemia and is often rated the finest brew in the country.
Staropramen is another major Czech brewer that is usually available in the US. As the second largest brewery in the country, and located in Prague, Staropramen is best known for its ležák, or premium beer. Also popular is their erný, or dark lager.
As is the case with many beers, the quality of a specific brand of beer is best when brewed in its country of origin. When visiting the Czech Republic , there are several components of visiting a pub that are useful to know ahead of time. Most traditional pubs will only serve the beer advertised outside on a sign. If Krušovice is on the sign, do not expect Staropramen to be served. Different pubs serve different beers in different regions and cities, so knowing where you are and what you want is very important.
Beers are always served in half-liter glasses, unless specifically requested otherwise. This quantity is roughly the same as an American pint (16 fluid oz). Czech pubs also will serve the lighter version of a particular beer, again unless something different is specifically requested. If you prefer dark lagers or beers with stronger alcohol content, be prepared to ask.
While the process of choosing and consuming Czech beers within the country can seem a bit daunting and specific, the Czech people are some of the kindest, most welcoming in the world. Because the country was so inaccessible for so many years, Czechs enthusiastically receive tourists. The process of selecting quality beer is very important to Czechs and they are happy to help anyone else enjoy their national treasures. As an added benefit, they are usually able to speak English.
Written by Michael Orr for EuropeUpClose.com