Tips for trips: Three Czech beer capitals

Plzeň, České Budějovice and Prague have long brewing traditions

Brisk winters, a turbulent history, centuries of architecture – whether you love it or hate it, there is one thing in the Czech Republic that never fails: beer. The country’s cellars have been brewing their glorious golden nectar for over 1,000 years, with the first documented brewery at the Břevnov Monastery dating to the year 993 AD.

And what better way to explore that tradition than by visiting the three cities that stand at its core? The following places are for every Bohemian beer lover.

Plzeň (Pilsen) -

This Western Bohemian city is home to the biggest and most famous brewery in the Czech Republic, Plzeňský Prazdroj (Pilsner Urquell). The name translates to “original source.” This is where in 1842 the very first Pilsner-style beer was created — a light, bottom-fermented lager that today accounts for 70 percent of overall beer consumption around the globe.

Originally beer in Plzeň was brewed by individual citizens, but as with many medieval products, quality was not always reliable and reportedly ingredients could vary from duck excrement to crushed bones of executed criminals.

The contamination issues drove the town’s brewmasters to spill 36 barrels of ale into the streets in 1838 and join forces in establishing a proper commercial brewery. Bavarian brewmaster Josef Groll was hired to overlook the production process.

Pilsner became such a success in the Austrian Empire that a special train delivered beer from Plzeň to Vienna every morning.

Today, aside from Pilsner Urquell, the brewery owns many other bestselling brands such as Gambrinus and Radegast. Altogether, they account for four out of ten beers consumed in the Czech Republic.

The town offers tours of the brewery and its museum, where visitors can taste the unpasteurized lager straight from the barrel. Other attractions include a beer-tapping course or a beer bath at a nearby spa.

České Budějovice (Budweis) -

The city once known by its German name, Budweis, dates its brewing history to the 13th century. Located in Southern Bohemia, it is home to the state-owned Budějovický Budvar brewery, which puts out around 1,5 million hectoliters of beer per year.

České Budějovice is the birthplace of the original Budweiser beer, but the story is rather complicated.

First, there was Budějovický měšťanský pivovar (Budweiser Bier Bürgerbräu), brewed since 1795. A century later, in 1895, Budějovický Budvar (Budweiser Budvar Brewery) was established.

The latter, however, is not to be confused with Anheuser-Busch’s American version of Budweiser.

Budvar and Anheuser-Busch (now part of AB-InBev) have been involved in trademark battles since 1907 over the Budsweiser name and other derivatives using “Bud.”

Budějovický Budvar since 2004 is recognized as a product with Protected Geographical Indication in the European Union, but that means little outside of the EU.

In some other countries, mainly the United States and Canada, Budvar is now sold as Czechvar.

To complicate matters further, AB-InBev bought Samson, the parent company of Budějovický měšťanský pivovar, in 2014 to strengthen its claim on the Budweiser name.

České Budějovice has much to offer aside from a tour of the brewery and its multimedia exposition. It boasts a large square in the center, dominated by the Black Tower (Černá věž).

One of the places worth visiting for a bite and a drink is the brewery’s original Pivnice Budvarka (with other branches all over the Czech Republic), which won the best brewery restaurant prize in the Czech and Moravian Beer Crowns competition in 2017. 

Prague -

The Czech capital is known not only for its beautiful buildings and historical sights.

One must-see point for beer fans is the Staropramen brewery, founded in 1869. The name means “old spring.”

Staropramen is the second-biggest beer producer in the Czech Republic and can be found in over 35 countries. The brewery, located in Smíchov next to the Vltava river, offers interactive tours focusing on the history of brewing. Afterwards, a tasting experience awaits next door, in one of Staropramen’s own branded restaurants named Potrefená Husa.

Apart from the big players, an increasing number of microbreweries and brewpubs are springing up all over Prague. The oldest and most well-known is certainly U Fleků, dating back to the 15th century, the only Central European brewery operating continuously for over 500 years. It has eight historically decorated halls and an outside garden.

No matter what one’s preference is — from pale lagers to dark beers and ales — it can be found in the Czech Republic. In the spirit of being truly Czech, Na zdraví!

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