Czech Beer

The Czechs invented Pilsner-style lager, but be sure to venture beyond this famous beer

Czech Repubic beer
Some of the best beer in Europe—and some of its most enthusiastic beer drinkers—can be found in Prague. Courtesy of Rick Steves' Europe Through the Back Door

Czechs are among the world’s most enthusiastic beer (pivo) drinkers--adults drink an average of 80 gallons a year. The pub is a place to have fun, complain, discuss art and politics, talk hockey, and chat with locals and visitors alike. The pivo that was drunk in the country before the Industrial Revolution was much thicker, providing the main source of nourishment for the peasant folk. Even today, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a restaurace (restaurant), a hostinec (pub), or a hospoda (bar)--a beer will land on your table upon the slightest hint to the waiter, and a new pint will automatically appear when the old glass is almost empty. (You must tell the waiter not to bring more.) Order beer from the tap (točené means “draft,” sudové pivo means “keg beer”). A pivo is large (0.5 liter, or 17 oz); a malé pivo is small (0.3 liter, or 10 oz). Men invariably order the large size. Pivo for lunch has me sightseeing for the rest of the day on Czech knees.

The Czechs invented Pilsner-style lager in nearby Plzeň (“Pilsen” in German), and the result, Pilsner Urquell, is on tap in many local pubs. But be sure to venture beyond this famous beer. The Czechs produce plenty of other good beers, including Krušovice, Gambrinus, Staropramen, and Kozel. Budvar, from the town of Budějovice (“Budweis” in German), is popular with Anheuser-Busch’s attorneys. (The Czech and the American breweries for years disputed the “Budweiser” brand name. The solution: The Czech Budweiser is sold under its own name in Europe, China, and Africa, while in America it markets itself as Czechvar.)

The big degree symbol on bottles does not indicate the percentage of alcohol content. Instead, it is a measurement used by brewers to track the density of certain ingredients. As a rough guide, 10 degrees is about 3.5 percent alcohol, 12 degrees is about 4.2 percent alcohol, and 11 and 15 degrees are dark beers. The most popular Czech beers are about as potent as German beers and only slightly stronger than typical American beers.

Each establishment has only one kind of beer on tap; to try a particular brand, look for its sign outside. A typical pub serves only one brand of 10-degree beer, one brand of 12-degree beer, and one brand of dark beer. Czechs do not mix beer with anything, and do not hop from pub to pub (in one night, it is said, you must stay loyal to one woman and to one beer). Na zdraví means “to your health” in Czech.

For more details, please see Rick Steves' Prague & the Czech Republic.

Rick Steves ( writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. E-mail him at [email protected], or write to him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020.

© 2010 Rick Steves

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