Czech beer is world-famous. Pilsner is, of course, named for the city of Plzeň. The American brand Budweiser derives its name from Budweis, the German name for the city of České Budĕjovice. While not everyone is familiar with the sources of certain brand names, visitors to the Czech Republic have the strong tendency to indulge in the country’s favorite drink.
Here is a startling statistic: The Czechs drink more beer, per capita, than any other country in the world. In 2014, the per capita intake was 142.6 liters. When you discount babies and small children, the number is even more staggering. Bars do excellent business, and even some traditionally non-alcoholic venues, such as tearooms, serve beer.
A historic document dated A.D. 859 provides the first written evidence of the cultivation of hops in Bohemia, an area that would later become part of the Czech Republic. According to some sources, hops were introduced to the region by Slavic tribes. The hops were, clearly, as popular and as high in quality then as they are now. A document from 903 shows that these hops were being exported. Beer is known to have been brewed in the Břevnov monastery (then a small village; now a part of Prague) in the year 993. The monastery and the brewery were destroyed in 1420. For many centuries, alcoholic drinks were often safer than water, which was often tainted by human waste and/or by the runoff from such activities as tanning and soapmaking.
In the year 1118, the first brewery was built in the country, in Cerhenice (a town east of Prague). Beer could only be brewed with the express permission of the king at that time. Happily for the citizens of the area, King Wenceslas II issued a charter to establish the city of Plzeň in 1295. Anyone living in Plzeň was legally entitled to brew beer.
In 1499, a brewery started up in Prague; this brewery, U Fleků, has been in operation ever since. By this time, Czech beer was so popular that it was being exported. The beer produced in the South Bohemia city of České Budĕjovice was particularly admired, and as a result, was one of the most common exports. The German name for Budĕjovice is Budweis; this is where we get the name “Budweiser”. Similarly, beer from Plzeň became known as “Pilsner”.
During the Thirty Years’ War, Prague and the rest of the country were devastated by constant looting and pillaging. The popular Czech breweries also fell victim to the devastation, and the entire industry went into decline for some time.
In 1839, the Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery was founded in, of course, Plzeň. The always-popular Pilsner Urquell was introduced three years later. In 1874, the Velké Popovice Brewery was established.
In 1948, Czechoslovakia became a member of the former Eastern Bloc, and several breweries were closed. With the other breweries unable to update their methods or equipment, many traditional methods remained intact, unlike in non-communist countries.
In 1989, freedom returned, and with it, waves of tourists intent upon sampling as much Czech beer as they could. Now, Prague features a Beer Festival that is held every year; a Beer Museum; beer spas; and, naturally, beer tours. Any beer lover will be delighted by the myriad breweries, and will go home with a memorable hangover.