The visit to the Czech Republic was made in connection with a press trip with Visit the Czech Republic, but all opinions and thoughts are, as usual, my own.
It is impossible to write about the Czech Republic without writing about beer. Sparkling, golden, dark roasted or lager. The love for the national drink of the Czech Republic comes from a brewing tradition over a thousand years old that is still very much alive. If you would go to a bar in Belgium, it is not unusual to be served up to 50 different types of beer with different flavors, from different breweries and with different strengths. Some good, others more experimental. In Prague, on the contrary, it is more common to visit places that only serve a handful of beers and often from the same brewery. Why is it like that? How come the Czech Republic has some of the world's best beer breweries? And how do I find the best beer places in Prague? Let me take you on a journey to the promised land of beer!
The fasting monks in the monasteries
More than a thousand years ago, it is documented that beer was brewed at the Benedictine monastery in Břevnov. The monks brewed beer for their own use, which during fasting periods meant that a lot of beer had to be brewed. Through a loophole in the rules surrounding fasting, the monks on an empty stomach could drink as much beer as they wanted to fill their growling bellies. And the monks brewed a lot of beer. For a whole 250 years, in large parts of Europe, it was forbidden to brew beer outside the monasteries, largely because of the difficulty to find healthy water to brew the beer on. Because the church controlled the beer, the quality of the beer was also controlled. In addition, the profit could be used to build new churches and strengthen the church's power. A bonus that brought many new churches.
The abolition of the monopoly and pilsner
In 1250, Pope Innocent IV and King Wenceslas decided to abolish the monasteries' monopoly on beer, and breweries immediately began to pop up in both cities and countryside. Over the next 600 years, many historic breweries and monasteries were destroyed in wars and conflicts, but in 1842, beer brewing took a big step towards today's Czech beer. In Plzen (Pilsen in German) they began to develop and manufacture bottom-fermented beer. A beer with a golden color and quite a lot of hop bitterness - what we call today a pilsner. And the beer became popular. Suddenly everyone wanted a pilsner. The breweries that did not convert to bottom-fermented beer had to close down.
Communist era and new monopoly
After World War II in 1948, communism took over everything in the region. The country was tightly governed by laws that controlled which recipes that was allowed be used, both for cooking and for brewing beer. For over 40 years, only two types of beer were allowed to be brewed – a light lager and a dark lager. The beer was brewed in the traditional way and everything was state-owned. During these years, many breweries fell into disrepair due to lack of maintenance and several breweries were closed down. But the traditional way of brewing beer was preserved and beer drinking continued to be strong.
Beer in the Czech Republic today
With the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the communist era ended and in came capitalism, privatization and large brewing sompanies. It was a turbulent time for the breweries, but today there are over 500 breweries in the Czech Republic and the beer culture is flourishing like never before. Many old dilapidated breweries are renovated to their former glory, but even in the newly opened breweries, the classic Czech beer stands strong. Because in the Czech Republic, beer is not just an alcoholic drink, but a national pride.
Beer culture in the Czech Republic
Drinking beer in the Czech Republic is a social activity you do with friends as often as you can. You see each other after work, have a beer or two, order some bread with cold cuts and then go home. Hanging out at a beer pub is not an all-nighter, it is rather an affordable pleasure that you do often. In addition, a beer in the Czech Republic often costs less than if you were to order a soft drink or mineral water. Perhaps it is therefore not so unexpected that the Czech Republic tops the list of the world's most beer-drinking countries every year. A whopping 140 liters (!) of beer per person is consumed annually.
Degrees and foam
Ordering a beer in the Czech Republic can be a bit confusing at first glance. Unlike in Sweden, beer is not classified by alcohol percentage, but the sugar content in the stem wort is measured according to the Plato scale. The rule of thumb is that the alcohol percentage is about half the sugar content, but it's not a linear scale and not an exact science. Historically, beer is usually brewed in two varieties - "10 degrees Plato" and "12 degrees Plato". If you order the most common beer - a "lager 12", it corresponds to a lager with approximately 4,5% alcohol content. But you don't just have to think about the sugar content when you order a beer, you also have to think about the foam.
Getting the perfect beer foam is something that is taken very seriously in the Czech Republic. Foam is not only a by-product when pouring, but a well-laid foam enhances and changes the taste of the beer. In the Czech Republic there is no such thing as a fast beer, here you are happy to wait to get your beer with the perfect foam. If you don't get your beer with at least three centimeters of foam on top, then you should complain. There are even Czech words that describe how much foam a beer should have. A really hard core beer lover orders a beer with only three centimeters of beer in the bottom and the rest of the glass filled with foam. Try it if you want to feel a little less like a tourist.
But where to go in Prague for the best beer?
Everywhere in Prague there are nice places to drink beer - in every corner and every alley there are beer bars in a row. But the beer usually comes from one of the big breweries. Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Starobrno are just some of the 50 largest breweries that have 96% of the beer market in the Czech Republic. If you want to try small-scale craft beer from one of the 450 other breweries, then you may need a little help finding the right one. I was on a guided tour of Prague with Prague Craft Beer Tours, who not only told us a lot about the history of beer and how beer is made, but also took us to tourist-free gems and places that I would never have found on my own. Here are four tips from the guided tour!
Our first stop on the guided tour was Hostomicka Nalevarna. Four different beers from the microbrewery Pivovar Hostomice were served here, a small brewery housed in old brewery premises in Hostomice, southwest of Prague. Fantastic beer in classic premises with wooden walls and simple wooden furniture. If you want to experience Prague's beer scene without the tourists, this is a great stop!
Pivovarsky club Benedict
In lovely Karlin lies Benedict Pivovarsky Klub Benedict - "Benedikt's Brewery Club". Here in the cellar vaults, beer is served from the monastery brewery in Břevnov, i.e. the oldest documented place where beer was brewed in the Czech Republic. Remember the story above? The brewery in its current form only opened in 2012, but the beer brewing is in the walls. The classic monastery beer is sold under the name "Břevnovský Benedict", don't miss to try it when you are here!
A super popular microbrewery is Dva Kouhuti, where you basically get the beer completely freshly brewed on tap – does that sound like a place for you? Expect to stand up - inside or outside. Here you can hang out basically anywhere. There are many different types of beer and as a bonus you can watch the master brewers work in the premises.
The last stop on the tour was also in Karlin - on Pivoteka Sedm = "The beer bar 7 degrees". Here, 8 beers are served on draft, directly from well-chilled 7 degree cold barrels down in the cellar. The beer on tap varies, but it's craft beer and guaranteed to be something you haven't tasted before.
Don't miss that there is a large fridge at the far end of the room where you can buy interesting beer to bring home.
Do you need more tips on beer places in Prague?
Want even more tips? Here comes a bunch! However, I almost dare to promise that even if you happen to sit down and have a normal Pilsner Urquell in a normal bar, the beer still tastes much better in Prague than at home. Because in the Czech Republic they take their beer seriously.
Have you been here? What did you think of the destination?
Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.