To Beer, Or Not to Beer – The Beginnerʼs Guide to Czech Beer
When you think of the Czech Republic, you probably think of beer. If this is not the first association that pops into your head, it will be after you finish reading this blog. Because, if any nation takes its beer seriously, it is the Czechs.
We consume the largest amount of beer per capita in the world and have basically invented pilsner, one of the most popular types of beer worldwide – the term “pilsner” refers to the town of Pilsen in western Bohemia where the original pilsner is still being brewed. Some 60 % of breweries in the world started copying this beer style. It sounds almost like a miracle that such a country should still be functioning. When you visit Prague, trying some locally brewed drinks is as recommended as, letʼs say, seeing the astronomical clock or crossing the Charles Bridge. But how do you decide which beer to take?
Of course, there is always the option of joining our Prague Beer & Czech Tapas Tour. But if you get thirsty without a guide around to lead your way, we introduce this little list to help you choose the best beer for the moment.
10°, 12° or 13°?
When you walk into any Czech bar, there is a good chance that you will find a blackboard with the different types of beer on tap and a number next to it. Usually, this number ranges somewhere between 10 and 13 but could go over 20 for a hearty craft beer. For those of you who are getting all excited about getting tipsy for cheap – this is not the alcohol percentage.
The number indicates the gravity in a so-called Plato Scale of the wort before the fermentation process that turns it into beer, or the degree as we call it. The more malt, the more sugar, which is the ingredient that gets fermented into alcohol and carbon dioxide. So, although there is a certain connection between the degrees in the beer and its alcohol percentage, it is not the same number. A Czech lager will mostly be a 10°–12°, which relates to 4–5 % of alcohol, making it easy to drink, as opposed to the stronger beer types.
IPA, lager or wheat beer?
Some might not care what kind of beer they drink, as long as it is affordable and contains alcohol. For those with certain preferences, here is a guide to different beer styles in a nutshell.
Lager is probably the most popular style of beer worldwide. Pilsner – a Czech invention – is a subtype of lager. It is usually quite light and moderate in terms of alcohol, and therefore a good choice when youʼre giving your feet a rest in one of the cityʼs great watering holes on your day of sightseeing.
Some beers can be quite bitter. If this is not exactly your thing, you might want to try a wheat beer. These generally contain fewer hops, which is the ingredient that causes the bitter flavour, so it will be a bit sweeter. At least one-third of the malt is to consist of wheat. When specific yeasts are added, tones of banana or vanilla can be detected.
If you do like the bitter aftertaste, we can recommend a good IPA – India Pale Ale. According to the legend, many hops were added to keep the beer fresh on the long journey to India. IPAs can get quite strong, so be careful with this one if youʼre planning on spending a whole night in one of the numerous cool bars in Prague.
Once you have made your decision and ordered your beer, there is one thing you should know. Czechs love to have a good head of foam on top of their beers. In fact, the foam is as important as the beer itself. It forms a protective layer between your drink and the cruel outside world. It keeps your drink fresh and the sweetness of the foam offers a nice counter flavour to the bitterness of the beer.
Thick and creamy foam is also an indication of the quality of the beer itself, as well as the fact of it being properly tapped and served. If you would like to do some experimenting with foam on beer while you are here, be bold and order a šnyt or even a mlíko! Or keep drinking until the bartender gives you the latter as a message that youʼve probably had enough… We might be the worldʼs heaviest beer drinkers, but we are quite responsible about our alcohol intake. We usually drink to get happily tipsy, but not to get drunk. Na zdraví!