Beer brewing has a long tradition in what is now the Czech Republic and some Czech beer brands are well-known internationally. Let’s look at the history of Czech beer brewing and some other interesting data.
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History of Czech beer
When Saint Adalbert (sv. Vojtěch), the second Bishop of Prague, founded the Břevnov monastery (Břevnovský klášter), he founded a place that would become the ground zero of the Czech beer brewing industry. It’s a paradox that St. Adalbert actually prohibited beer brewing and it was the pope Innocent IV who lifted the prohibition more than a century later. Although there have been records of beer consumption well before that, the Benedictine monks of Břevnov were officially the first organized group to brew beer. The Břevnov Monastery Brewery continues this tradition with an output of about 3.000 hl a year and maintaining a brewery equipment of mainly Czech production.
Other breweries that followed, were founded in Teplá (1200), Hodonín (1228), Olomouc (1250), Německý Brod (1333), Vodňany (1336), Jilemnice (1348) and Třeboň (1379).
However, if we want to look for the first official document related directly to beer brewing, we’d have to look in the records of the 11th century. In 1088 the first Bohemian king Vratislav II. granted a tithe of hops to the Canons of Vyšehrad Cathedral in order to brew beer.
Right to brew beer
Historically, the laws regulated the brewing right for the whole towns. The brewing right or právo vářečné was awarded to towns and cities and it meant that almost anyone could brew and serve beer. And so, for example, Brno was awarded the brewing right in the 12th century, Pilsen (Plzeň) and Budweis (Budějovice) in the 13th century.
The Golden Bull of 1356 issued by the King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV also stipulated the right of all town residents to brew beer. Wealthier residents perfected their brewing equipment and started renting their facilities to other residents who didn’t have space for brewing beer. Little by little the town houses were categorized according to if they had the brewing right and the equipment, the right but only spaces for malting or if they didn’t have the brewing right at all.
Town residents actively opposed the right of the people of noble rank to make beer. They were successful until the 16th century when Luis II. of Hungary gave the nobility first temporary and then permanent right to brew beer. By the 16th century brewing was already one of the most profitable businesses of the towns and estates of the nobility.
If you say Czech beer, many think automatically of the city of Pilsen. That is where the first pilsner was brewed. What many don’t know is that the beer from Pilsen wasn’t actually very good until, in the 1840s, a certain Josef Groll, a brewer from Germany, came along and introduced the brewery to a special lager method. That is how the first pilsner was made and it became an immediate success in the whole Austrian Empire. Within the next 40 years, all the Czech breweries adopted the same process of beer fermentation.
The history of Czech beer started in the area of Prague and the other Prague monasteries quickly started to make their own beers. Nowadays, there are dozens of breweries in Prague, you can find some of them in our article Best Beerhouses in Prague and some other in Unusual Beer in Prague.
Over time, the number of beer breweries decreased but the production of the remaining ones increased. The WW I and II were a disaster for the industry and with the arrival of socialism, large breweries were nationalized.
Czech beer nowadays
Beer is one of the most Typical Czech Beverages and many cities and towns have their own breweries. Whilst in Prague, Brno or Pilsen you can taste the well-known beer brands, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to try beer from small-town breweries if you get the chance. Some of them also produce their own hop-based lemonades.
Many festivals in the Czech Republic revolve around beer. There are beer festivals (pivní festival) and beer stalls are always present at other events like food festivals. The largest beer-related event is the Czech Beer Festival that takes place in Prague every year since 2008.
There are also scientific institutions dedicated to the zlatý mok (archaic name for beer). You can find the Hop Research Institute in the town of Žatec, the Research Institute for Brewing and Malting in Prague and the Malting Institute in Brno.
Largest beer breweries and most famous Czech beer brands
The largest beer breweries whose products are distributed not only all over the country but also abroad, are Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský prazdroj) – creator of the first beet of pilsner type in the world that includes top-selling brands like Gambrinus, Velkopopovický Kozel or Radegast, Staropramen with its famous brand Braník and others and Budweiser Budvar (Budějovický Budvar, Pardál) or Lobkowitz.
Types of Czech beer
As you could probably guess, lager is the most commonly brewed beer in the Czech Republic. although pale (světlé) is the most common, you can also opt for amber (polotmavé) or dark (tmavé).
Beers are also cathegorised by the sucrose percentage. The usual range is 10° to 12° but you can find other varieties.
Interesting facts about Czech beer
- Czech Republic has the highest beer consumption in the world. According to the data from 2020, 20,1 millions of hl of beer were brewed and 135 l consumed a year per capita which is a decreasing tendency compared to the previous years.
- Until just several years ago, it was not unusual to find that half a liter of beer in a pub is cheaper than half a liter of water.
- Our forefathers sometimes loved beer way too much. In 1039, prince Břetislav I. issued laws that regulated punishment for pub owners who let drunkards sleep in their pub. The punishment included breaking of all the dishes in the pub or head shaving.
- The original brewing right was never abolished and remains in power until the present time.
- According to Deník, in 2017 there were over 430 breweries in the Czech Republic.
- České pivo (Czech beer) is a geographic denomination protected by the EU to protect the good name and quality of the local beer.
You can read more on this topic in the following work: prof. Ing. Gabriela Basařová, DrSc., Ing. Ivo Hlaváček, CSc.: České pivo, vydala NUGA, nakladatelství a vydavatelství se sídlem v Pacově, 2. vydání 1999 – some information from this publication was used in this article.