Czech Brewing History
Beer has been brewed in the Czech lands for centuries, just as in many northern European countries. The first records of brewing in Bohemia date from the year 933 AD. Hops, the all-important bittering and aroma ingredient in modern beers, began to be cultivated in Bohemia as early as the 800s.
Royal charters granted the privileges for the brewing of beer in the 1200s to two Bohemian towns that are today important brewing centers in the Czech Republic: Plzeň (Pilsen) and České Budějovice (Budweis). Bohemia was always a mix of German and Slavic peoples, thus many town names are historically known by both their German and Czech names. With German being a more widely spoken language internationally, it’s not much of a leap to understand that two Bohemian-style beers known around the world are Pilsner (or pilsener or pils) from Pilsen and Budweiser from Budweis. The –er on the town names is a geographic locator, meaning “from” that particular town. Brands sold today with these names include Pilsner Urquell, Budvar Budweiser (Czechvar in the U.S.) and B.B. (Budweiser ) Bürgerbräu.
Czech pilsners available in the U.S. include: Pilsner Urquell, Czechvar, B.B. Bürgerbräu, Radegast, Krusovice Imperial, Staropramen, Rebel, Primator Lager, Herald Premium Bohemian Lager, Bernard, Brouczech Lager, Klaster Premium Lager, Lev Lion Lager, Crystal Lager and Lobkowicz Golden Lager.
What is a Czech Beer?
Beer in the Czech Republic is brewed and marketed according to the percent of malt content left in the “green” beer after the boil and before fermentation begins. This measurement comes from a system devised by the Czech brewing scientist, Dr. Balling, in the 1800s. Consumers know the strength and quality of a beer by the percentage or degree listed on the beer label or tap handle, even though Czech law stipulates that the alcoholic content also be printed on labels.
Most beer brewed in the Czech Republic is either 10-degree (desitka) or 12-degree (dvanactka). The most widely sold beers are brewed to 10-degrees (4.2–4.4% abv). The premium beers, and the ones usually exported, are the 12-degree beers (4.8%-5.0% abv).
Both golden pilsners and dark lagers are brewed in these two strengths. Beers are labeled as ležák (lager), svĕtlý or svĕtlé (golden), tmavé (dark) or černý (black). These darker beers are either dark red in color (sometimes labeled granát) or dark brown. As in other European countries, the darker, sweeter, lower alcohol (often 3.6%-3.8% abv) beers are preferred by women. The dark Czech lagers available in the U.S. include Krusovice Dark, Klaster Dark, Herald Bohemian Black Lager, Brouczech Dark, Lev Black Lion, Crystal Diplomat Dark and Lobkowicz Dark Lager.
Stronger lagers, blonde bocks and blonde double bocks are also brewed in the Czech Republic. Examples include Lev Lion Pale Double Bock (13 degrees/5.2%), Brouczech Bock (16 degrees/7.0%), Primator Blonde Bock (16 degrees/7.0%) and Primator Dopplebock (24 degrees/10%).
One independent Czech brewery, Pivovar Herold Březnice, produces a wheat beer, as in the days of old. Herald Bohemian Wheat Lager is this rare Czech wheat beer. The brewery also produces a blend of its wheat beer with its black lager and calls it Herald Midnight Wheat.
Czech beer is sold in one-half liter bottles and served in the same measure when poured from the tap. Taxes on beer are purposefully kept low. As opposed to some European countries where beer is becoming far too pricey, Czech beer is a bargain.
To this day, Czech beer drinkers are fiercely loyal to their local beer. They are also prodigious beer drinkers, the most so in the world. In a country of about 10.3 million people, the Czechs consume approximately 163 liters of beer per person each year. If the geographic region between Munich, Germany, approximately 190 miles to the west, and Prague are considered, then per person beer consumption is 240 liters per year. According to Jan Šuráň, a brewing engineer and consultant and the founder of Pivovarský Dům, this beer consumption statistic makes Bavaria and Bohemia “the center of the beer world.”
The Czechs say: “Kde se pivo vari, tam se dobre dari. This saying rhymes in Czech and means: “Where beer is brewed, they have it good.”