Beer isn’t the only alcoholic beverage the Czechs produce, it’s just the most well-known (and widely consumed, with the country still comfortably top of the per capita consumption table). Here’s the low-down on all the alcoholic beverages that are fit to drink:
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For starters Pretty much any fruit that grows here gets turned into alcohol and Czechs will tell you that the best stuff is homemade, using small stills in people’s cellars (ok, it’s pretty much moonshine!).
All of these different fruit brandies (almost always clear, and 40% abv and up) are named for the fruit they come from – slivovice (probably the most well known abroad) is plum brandy, hruškovice is pear, jablkovice is apple, meruňkovice is nectarine.
It seems almost everyone has a connection. As an outsider you’re not so lucky, plus for customs purposes your booze should be properly marked with its alcohol content. The best option, if you can find a farmers’ market is to look for some there – that’s the closest you’ll get to homemade yet still legal. Other than that, any supermarket, corner store or the airport duty free will have a choice of the factory variety, the Jelinek brand is by far the largest.
The green fairy?
Absinthe might be a French invention but the anise flavoured crazy juice (from 35-70% abv) is made here by several companies. There are traditional green as well as red varieties on sale. It is now legal to import into the US, as long as it isn’t real absinthe (contains zero thujone, the pyschoactive ingredient that used to send French artists mad) and doesn’t say ABSINTHE in huge letters. So you pretty much can’t. Take it easy with this stuff if you order it in a bar!
That was how Becherovka was marketed – the creation of Jan Becher, a medical doctor, based in Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) in the early 1800s – read about a weekend trip there. The recipe is a closely guarded secret and imitators are discouraged with legal action. Definitely a love-at-first-sight situation (or the complete opposite), Becherovka is often served straight from the freezer, when it’s quite syrupy, in an iced shot glass. A milder alternative serving suggestion is as a ‘Beton’ (a word which means concrete in Czech) which is simply Becherovka with tonic. The Becherovka distillery also produces a couple of variants, called Cordial and KV14.
And the rest?
There are a few other liquors, Fernet Stock, another herbal based drink and locally made vodkas but the drinks listed above are the most Czech of the liquors you’ll find.
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Charlie is head of marketing at JayWay Travel. A long-term Prague resident, his interests are cooking, eating out, cycling, skiing and of course, travel.