Beer has a long and illustrious history in the Czech Republic. Inventor of the world’s first Pilsner beer, they have a major claim to brewing fame, and have inspired about two thirds of the beer currently produced worldwide. Add to this the fact that the Czech consume the most beer per capita than anywhere else in the world, and you begin to get the picture: the Czech Republic likes beer, a lot. Their best known export is the famous Pilsner, brewed in the Bohemian city of Plzeň by the gallon. Founded in 1839, the brewery churns enormous quantities of the light blond lager, alongside their newer beer, Gambrinus – now one of the most popular beers in the Czech Republic, arguably even more so than its older sibling.
The company itself is a super slick giant of the brewing world, churning out tours, beer-pulling masterclasses and meals in its large scale on-site restaurant, Na Spilce, as quickly as the beer. Like the Eiffel Tower of the beer world, it is flocked to by tourists, and really only needs to be visited once, to say you’ve been there. The beer tastes like most other summery blond lagers (given it was the inspiration for them all) and the meals are filling, but sadly made for feeding a lot of people very very quickly. To find the real gems of Czech’s beer scene, you need to look beyond the mammoth brewery to smaller, more niche pastures.
Prague itself is home to one such gem. Located in the stunning, fairytale-like city is the Strahov Monastery micro brewery. Founded in 1143, the monastery grounds have housed the brewery since the 17th century. Closed in 1907, it was renovated and reopened in 2001, now giving stunning views of Prague Castle and the surrounding monastery. The unfiltered amber and dark St. Norbert beer brewed here is a beautiful thing. The antidote to the light taste of Pilsner, the traditionally Märzen-based amber beer is full-bodied and hearty, while the dark beer is rich with coffee and malt notes.
Travel farther afield to the brewery Modra Hvezda, and you’ll be just as richly rewarded. A tiny, independent brewery in Dobřany, it was first opened in the 1300s. After falling into disrepair, Jaroslav Franěk reopened it in 1998, after training at the aforementioned ubiquitous Pilsner Urquell brewery. Offering something altogether different, his small batch craft brews now garner awards from all over the country, attracting locals and out out out off towners – 99 percent of the beer brewed is drunk on site, thanks to a staunch belief that to allow anyone else to butcher the storing and serving of such amber nectar would be a crime. Besides, beer tastes best when drunk fresh from the distillery.
So it is safe to say that, in the Czech Republic, they drink a lot of beer. There is a pub on every corner, beers with every meal past noon and a whole lot of brewing history to be discovered. But variety? Inside every pub you’ll find the same taps: Pilsner, Gambrinus and maybe a malty Bernard or chocolately, dark Kozel, if you’re lucky. Beer is drunk by the gallon, but it’s the same beer, those from the beloved Pilsner Urquell Brewery. Go, drink and be merry. Enjoy the charming pubs, the rich, almost medieval-esque food, and soak up the stories, but be sure to step a little off the beaten track too. There’s a craft beer scene brewing under the Pilsner radar, you just have to discover it.