Beer in the Czech Republic
Beer (Czech: pivo) has a long history in what is now the Czech Republic, with brewing taking place in Břevnov Monastery in 993. The city of Brno had the right to brew beer from the 12th century while Plzeň and České Budějovice (Pilsen and Budweis in German), had breweries in the 13th century.
The most common Czech beers are pale lagers of pilsner type, with characteristic transparent golden colour, high foaminess and lighter flavour. The Czech Republic has the highest beer consumption per capita in the world.
The largest Czech beer breweries are Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský prazdroj - the world's first pilsner, Gambrinus, Velkopopovický Kozel and Radegast brands), Staropramen (Staropramen, Ostravar, Braník and Velvet) and Budweiser Budvar. Other top selling brands include Krušovice, Starobrno, Březňák, Zlatopramen, Lobkowicz, Bernard and Svijany.
The history of beer in the modern Czech Republic, historically Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia, goes back further than the creation of Pilsner Urquell in 1842. Beer was made in the Czech lands even before the Slavic migration in the 6th century, although the ingredients used often differed from what we are used to today.
Hops have been grown in the region for a long time, and were used in beer making and exported from here since the twelfth century. Most towns had at least one brewery, the most famous brewing cities in Bohemia were Budweis, Plzeň, and Prague. Other towns with notable breweries are Rakovník, Žatec, and Třeboň.
Much of the early brewing history of Bohemia is centred on various monasteries, although today there are very few Czech monasteries brewing and selling beer to the public.
Beer in České Budějovice
The city of České Budějovice was for centuries also known by its German name, Budweis. Brewing is recorded in the city since the 13th century. The modern Budějovický měšťanský pivovar was founded in 1795 as the Bürgerliches Brauhaus Budweis, as such it is the oldest brewery in the world to use the term "budweiser" when referring to its beer. In 1895 the Budějovický Budvar brewery opened as an ethnically Czech alternative to the German dominated Budějovický měšťanský pivovar.
In 1876, the US brewer Anheuser-Busch began making a beer which it also called "Budweiser." This led to the "Budweiser trademark dispute" between beer companies claiming trademarks rights to the name "Budweiser." In the European Union, Budějovický Budvar is recognized as a product with Protected Geographical Indication. Because of such disputes, Budvar is sold in the United States and Canada under the label Czechvar. And Anheuser-Busch sells its beer as Bud in the most of the European Union.
Beer in Pilsen
Pilsner Urquell was the first "pilsner" type beer in the world. In 1842, a brewery in Plzeň employed Josef Groll, a German brewer who was experienced in the Bavarian lager method of making beer. Beer in Pilsen at the time was not of very good quality and they needed to compete. Groll developed a golden Pilsner beer, the first light coloured beer ever brewed. It became an immediate success, and was exported all over the Austrian Empire. A special train of beer travelled from Plzeň to Vienna every morning. Exports of Czech beer reached Paris and the United States by 1874.
Today, beers made at Plzeňský Prazdroj are: Pilsner Urquell, Gambrinus and Primus.
Beer in Prague
Much of the brewing history of the Czech capital is connected to the various monasteries in the city, with brewing first recorded at the Benedictine Břevnov Monastery in 993 AD. It is also recorded that in 1088 AD, King Vratislav II granted a tithe of hops to the Canons of Vyšehrad Cathedral in order to brew beer.
Today the Prague brewing scene is dominated by Staropramen, although there are several smaller breweries, the oldest being U Fleků, which was founded in 1499. Since the 1990s, various brewpubs have been established in the city.
Beer in Brno and South Moravia
The region of South Moravia is known particularly for winemaking and there are only few breweries with a long tradition, namely Starobrno in Brno and Černá hora. However, there has been a boom of microbreweries since the 2000s. Breweries Akciový Pivovar Dalešice, Pegas and Richard have been gaining country wide popularity, despite smaller production.
Categories of beer
Majority of all beer brewed in the Czech Republic is pilsener lager. Czech beers vary in colour from pale (Světlé), through amber (Polotmavé) and dark (Tmavé) to black (Černé) and in strength from 3-9% ABV. Top fermented wheat beer (Pšeničné pivo) is also available.
In Czechia, it is still customary to label the strength of beer by the so-called degree scale (in Czech: Stupňovitost). It is expressed as a weight percentage of sucrose and is used to indicate the percent by weight of extract (sucrose) in a solution. So, the 12° beer has 12% of these substances dissolved in water. A 10 degree beer is about 4% percent alcohol by volume, a 12 degree is about 5% and 16 degree is about 6.5%.
According to Czech law, categories of beer, regardless of colour or style, are:
- lehké - a "light" beer brewed below 8° Balling and with less than 130kJ per 100ml
- výčepní - a "draught" beer, though it can be bottled, brewed between 8° and 10°
- ležák - a "lager" beer, brewed between 11° and 12.99°
- speciál - a "special" beer, brewed above 13°
Originally, Pilsner was a specific term for beers brewed in Plzeň (with Pilsner Urquell being registered as a trademark by the first brewery). The term has come to mean any pale, hoppy lager as a result of imitations of the original beer, especially in Germany where the style is common.
There are a lot of beer festivals in the Czech Republic. One of them is Pilsner Fest, a two-day beer festival held each year by the Pilsner Urquell Brewery in Pilsen with music by local bands on four stages in the town or festival Slavnosti piva v Českých Budějovicích (in České Budějovice).
The Czech Beer Festival (Český pivní festival) in Prague is the biggest beer festival in Czech Republic held for 17 days every year in May. Festival visitors can taste more than 70 brands of Czech beer.
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