It is an understatement to say that the Czech Republic has a strong beer culture. Famous for being the birthplace of pilsner, the country consumes more beer per capita than anywhere else in the world.
Beyond pilsner, travellers can now find a variety of styles there – from dark, malty dopplebocks and porters to hoppy pale ales and unique amber brews which mix dark and pale styles. A few brewers have even gone experimental, throwing all kinds of fruits, spices, coffees and other nontraditional ingredients into the boil. (Getting thirsty yet?)
For anyone remotely interested in beer, brewery tours are a must. To help you prepare for beer excursions in the Czech Republic, here are a few interesting facts about Czech beer that may surprise you.
1. The Czech Republic consumes more beer per capita than any other country in the world.
Beating out Germany, Ireland and Belgium, the country drinks on average about 161 liters of beer per person each year, according to figures from The Economist. However, beer production seems to be declining, says the Czech Association of Brewers. Production has fallen 8% from last year, hitting its lowest level since 1989, the group said. If the trend continues, the country could eventually give up its stronghold on beer consumption relative to population.
2. Czech beer has been brewed since 993 AD (at least).
Brewing in this early period has largely been associated with monasteries. Although beer was likely made in this region prior to 993 AD, written documentation indicates that Benedictine monks brewed beer in the Břevnov Monastery. While this was the first mention of the brewing process, it is believed that hops were grown in the region for the purposes of beer production as early as the first century.
3. In Prague, beer is cheaper than bottled water.
Beer prices get as low as 14 koruna a pint (that's $0.80 or 0.54 euros), whereas water costs about 35 koruna for a .33 litre bottle. Map out cheap and average beer brands on this interactive map.
4. The Czech Republic has its own Budweiser... since 1785.
Budweiser Bürgerbräu, or Budweiser Bier, was the original Bud, founded in the city of Budweis in 1785. In 1876, the US company Anheuser-Busch borrowed the name for its now famous Budweiser. After that, in 1895, another brewery in Budweis, now the Budweiser Budvar Brewery, also started selling a beer called Budweiser. When the Czech companies began exporting their Buds to the US, it naturally sparked trademark disputes. Eventually, the courts allowed Anheuser-Busch to use the Budweiser name, both in North America and in Europe – while Budvar's Budweiser is sold in North America as Czechvar.
5. You can sleep in a Czech brewery.
Cities like Stříbro and Plzen offer treasures you will not find in other parts of Europe: breweries that have been converted into hotels. From the 17th-century-style U Rybiček brewery to the more modern Purkmistr Brewery, complete with an in-house bowling alley, this list of Czech brewery hotels features some of the most unique places to pass out after a night of drinking, courtesy of Czech beer writer Evan Rail.
6. Traditional bars serve only one brand of beer.
Check to see which sign hangs outside a pub before entering, as you may be stuck with that brand of beer for the night. Since some traditional bars have just one kind of beer on draught, servers will often bring rounds to your table without asking. Some traditional pubs will offer a bit of variety, though, with one 10-degree beer (light, low alcohol), one 12-degree beer (slightly higher in alcohol) and one higher density dark beer on tap.
7. The tram in Prague has a beer car.
Well, sort of. The Prvni Pivni Tramway, or "First Beer Tram", at the end of the No. 11 line is a tram themed pub in the last station. Sit on old tram benches and enjoy a Pilsener Urquell, the country's most famous beer. Of course, if you would prefer to drink while commuting, take a trip on one of Prague's party trams, which transport you from club to club across town.
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