From Before Years had Four Digits
The history of beer in Europe is closely tied to the Czech lands; the first documented brewery was at the Břevnov Monastery in 993 A.D. The South Bohemian cities of Plzeň and České Budějovice, the best known Czech brewing towns to most foreigners, have been brewing beer since the 13th century.
The longstanding association that this country has with beer and the reputation Czech beer has garnered as some of the best beer available is generally connected with regional soil conditions that led to the growing of superior quality hops, a key ingredient in the beverage. It is said that, in the middle ages, Czech hops were so valued and sought after that there was a death penalty for anyone caught exporting cuttings that new plants could be grown from.
The history of Czech beer is long and storied and not really the subject of this blog entry. A much deeper historical account of Czech beer can be found in a link at the bottom of this page.
A Brief Overview of Czech Beer
In a country where almost every town seems to have at least a small brewery and all towns have at least one pub, a visitor could be forgiven for thinking there would be all manner of choice in beer categories available for purchase. This, however is not really the case.
Traditionally, Czech beer production leans heavily towards lagers with many sources claiming that over 90% of beer produced in this country falls into the lager category.
While lager is certainly most plentiful, there has been a notable increase in the popularity of other sorts. Wheat beers and pale ales are increasingly available in general and radler types are increasingly common in the summer months.
There are also many craft and specialty beers available from some Czech breweries.
Eurobeer Versus Private Production
Many Czechs I’ve met who can remember their country’s beers before the fall of Socialism and the Czech Republic joining the European Union have not hesitated to tell me how those events were very big blows to the Czech brewing industry and that many of their once cherished brands were sold off to foreign ownership and have become shadows of their former selves. Large names like Starobrno and Staropramen are referred to frequently in such laments.
While I have no personal experience to tell me if that’s the case, I arrived in the country shortly after it joined the EU, I have found my own preferences for beer to have gravitated towards the products of smaller breweries that are still Czech owned.
While I have not tried every beer this country has to offer, I personally like lagers from the Bernard, Dalešice, Polička and Svijany breweries. They are all widely available at pubs throughout the country, I don’t recommend one over another as good quality lager can be had from all of them.
If lager is not your thing, I would recommend trying one of the ales produced by the Matuška microbrewery. Matuška was established in 2009 and their Raptor IPA is quite popular and tasty.
Both Matuška and Svijany produce good wheat beers as well.
Getting the Most from Czech Beer
To answer the question in the title of this blog entry is largely dependent on where you purchase your beer. Even the best beer can be rendered unpalatable by a careless pub mishandling it.
There is all kinds of advice out there for getting “The best” Czech beer. The advice I would give is that a combination of a well reputed pub and a beer from a well reputed brewery still of Czech ownership are your best bet for getting a pint that will very much be up to the hype that Czech beer receives.
Further Reading and Learning More
This article is short, but covers the critical points of the history of Czech beer:
Some interesting Czech beer trivia here: