The Czech Republic is well known for having the highest per-capita consumption of beer in the world and is famous for inventing the Pilsner style of lager but there’s more to Czech beer than the big four breweries.
Over the past few years a movement towards microbreweries and smaller breweries has been changing the beer landscape of Prague. Whilst production, the export market and sheer volume of sales is dominated by the big four, the smaller players are making decent progress in the city’s pubs and restaurants.
The big four
When you think of Czech beer you probably think of:
- Pilsner Urquell, owned by SAB Miller, sister breweries Gambrinus and Kozel are also widely available domestically and rarely exported
- Budweiser Budvar (or Czechvar in North America, owing to a long-fought legal tussle with Anheuser Busch), owned by the Czech Government
- Staropramen, no longer part of Anheuser Busch’s Inbev, owned by a Central and Eastern European brewery group called Starbev.
One other that you might not have heard of is Krusovice, owned by Heineken.
The vice-like hold that these breweries once had on Prague pubs has been broken by a resurgence in interest in the output of the country’s smaller independent breweries.
Where to Go?
Most pubs and restaurants make it pretty clear what their main beer is by the signs hanging outside, but there are some where the offering changes regularly and there are so many that hanging signs would make it impractical.
One of the best places to sample a variety of beers is Pivovarsky Klub (Brewery Club) near Florenc, just outside Prague 1 and opposite the international bus station and written up by the New York Times in 2007. As well as a menu of hearty Czech classics they have a rotating menu of six draught beers, usually featuring a regular beer from their own microbrewery on Jecna in Prague 2 and five others, typically a dark beer or two, a wheat beer and a fruit flavoured beer. If you’re not convinced by one of these, the selection of 240+ different bottled domestic and imported beers that line the walls upstairs should give you enough to choose from. It’s a non-smoking place too, which makes it all the more pleasant. Can be quite crowded but don’t be shy, you can share a table here.
Prague Beer Museum
It’s not really a museum but you can at least imbibe some culture here. With up to 30 different beers on tap there’s plenty to pick from. As they have so many beers available you’ll be pleased to know that they serve small (5 fluid ounces) glasses of most beers here, so you can try a fair few of them. The food’s a bit limited as it is delivered from a local takeaway place so you might want to dine beforehand. A good spot for food nearby is Lokal, the Ambiente restaurant group’s take on a classic Czech pub. They serve Pilsner Urquell but it’s not like any Pilsner Urquell you’ve had at home – this is straight from the tank and unpasteurised – only places with a high enough turnover can get it like this delivered by tanker direct from the brewery.
Zlý Časy is definitely off the beaten track, though a short tram ride from the centre will get you here in ten minutes. 24 beers on tap and, during summer at least it’s non-smoking inside. There’s a garden too. Food is very much ‘good with beer’ stuff like ribs, sausages and schnitzels.
What to look for around town
If you’re not up for a special journey to one of these pubs then around town some of the brewery signs to look out for are Bernard, Primator, Svijany, Ferdinand and Cerna Hora. All of these produce some very nice beers and will give you a better idea of just why the beer drinkers of the Czech Republic can consume so much of the stuff.