Famous breweries and beer
There are many breweries in the Czech Republic and this article does not pretend to be able to present all Czech beers, but rather highlight some Czech towns history and anecdotes on the creation of a few Czech beers that you probably know.
In the 1830s the beer of Pilsen (Plzen) was deemed undrinkable and many city dwellers preferred other beers, including the beers that came from Bavaria. In 1838, the inhabitants of the city expressed their dissatisfaction in front of City Hall by emptying 36 barrels of beer that was deemed undrinkable. Citizens who had the right to brew, decided to establish a new brewery.
By the stroke of genius of the people, they decided to hire Joseph Groll as master brewer. This native of Bavaria decided to create a whole new beer with Saaz hops, a strand that comes from world famous Bohemia.
The first batch was created in 1842 and immediately created a shock through the region, because the taste was unlike any other beer, a flourishing taste with a soft dose of bitterness. The beer was quickly distributed and sold to Vienna in 1856, Paris in 1869 and in the United States in 1873.
The brand was introduced in 1898 as Urquell meaning “original source”, but this beer is now owned by SABMiller one of the largest beer companies in the world.
But the recipe has been preserved and it is probably one of the best beers in the world that is produced in large quantities. In any case, this particular taste is actually one of my favorite Czech beers.
If you want to know more, just check out the Pilser Urquell website.
Gambrinus, there are several explanations for the origin of the name, but conversations are mostly about the beer, brewing, wine cellars, and hops. This is one of the names most commonly associated with beer in the world, because Gambrinus brewery is established in France, the United States, and Canada.
Gambrinus is considered the unofficial patron saint of beer. This character is a legendary king of Flanders during the time of Charlemagne, or a nickname of John the Fearless, believed to be the inventor of hopped beer.
But according to the company that produces the Plzensky Prazdroj Gambrinus Pilsen since 1869, the name is a tribute to Jan Primus or John I, Duke of Brabant (1267-1294). It is a typical example of a medieval prince, adventurous and brave, knight of good character, which makes it popular in medieval literature.
This city for a was named Budweis for a long period of time, because it was mostly populated by Germans. We think that the first beer production was during the 13th century.
The city of České Budějovice has two more breweries, and these should not be confused:
Budějovický-měšťanský pivovar. The most famous beer brewery is the BB Budweiser Bier, but most of its products are sold under the label Samson Budweiser Premium Bier.
The brewery was founded in 1795, and it is the oldest in the city, it has 110 years on its neighbor, Budweiser Budvar. The beer is still brewed according to the rules established by the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot of 1516, and owes much of its fame to the extreme softness of the water drawn from artesian wells located in the city.
The brewery began exporting its production in 1871 to the United States.
Budějovický Budvar beer has been produced since the 19th century. The brewery produces Budweiser Budvar. Budvar in the Czech Republic is symbolic because it was the only Czech-owned brewery, as breweries were controlled by a minority of Germans. At the end of the 19th century there was a “Czech national awakening,” which led to many changes in the Czech society, for example, the foundation of the Prague National Theatre began having Czech operas in Czech language rather than the language of the German aristocracy.
It is the Czech people of České Budějovice who founded the brewery Budvar. The nationalist fervor of Czech beer lovers pushed to make this very popular beer. But this popularity is not just patriotism, this beer is light as Pilsner, brewed with Saaz hops, and the hops matures for at least 90 days.
There is a long conflict with the Budweiser name. Budweiser from the American Anheuser-Busch introduced the name in 1876, and by 1880, the first trial in a long dispute over the name began. In 1939 a compromise was reached between the Czech Budweiser Budvar and the American Budweiser. The Czech name was reserved throughout Europe except the United Kingdom, and the American Budweiser had ownership to the name worldwide.
In 2007, another compromise was reached when American Budweiser proposed to become the official importer of Budweiser Budvar in North America, but would be marketed under the name Czechvar Premium.
In 2010, the European Union recognized the right of authorship to the name Budweiser Budvar Czech company with a geographical indication protected label.
Brewery Staropramen Smichov was founded in 1869 in Prague. The first name of the brewery was Smichov Joint Stock Brewery. The brewery started exporting its beer in 1884 to the United States, and by 1889 it was one of the largest brewery in Central Europe.
In 1911, the brewery registered its brand name, it had 17 possible name options, such as Pracep (original tap), the Starozdroj (original source) and finally it was decided on Staropramen (old source).
It was Czech artist Frantisek Tichy who created the logo.
Kozel, the brewery Velke Popovice is located near Prague and has a long history of more than 600 years. Kozel has been brewed since 1874 it has changed ownership several times, but it is industrial tycoon Frantisek Ringhoffer, that made Kozel’s success possible. In 1934 it was the third largest producer in the country. Today Velkopopocicky Kozel Premium, is the largest exported Czech beer.
Kozel means goat, and the famous emblem was created by a French artist who wanted to thank the family, the original brewers of Kozel for their hospitality. The symbol is a sign of power and strength.
The company owns two goats as mascots who live in the gardens of the brewery, both are traditionally named Olga.
The small town of Žatec in the North East of Czech Republic is known for its quality of hops. I told you above that the Saaz hops is known worldwide, but it is better known under the German name, and less often by Czech Žatec.
This is a paradox of Czech beer, most beers are made with this high quality hop, one of the most expensive in the world, but the beer is still cheap.
This beer often goes unnoticed, but the brewing tradition began in 1621. Several times through out history the town of Žatec had up to 17 breweries. Today there are still two breweries. One brewery is a kind of non-profit brewery that focuses on research.
The other brewery founded in 1801, is located on the central square of the city. We also think it is the oldest Czech brewery that has worked without interruption and continues to produce beer in a traditional style.
Many beers in Ostrava, (an industrial city in the east of the Czech Republic) were created to compete with brands that were then controlled by the German ruling minorities in the region. In 1897, following the example of the citizens of České Budějovice two years earlier, many Czechs in Ostrava funded the creation of a Czech brewery per share.
There were two Ostrava breweries until 1950, but ultimately the communist regime decided to keep only one brewery, and gave the name “Brewery city of Ostrava.”
The beer was known as Ondras until the Velvet Revolution in 1990, and is now sold under the name Ostravar.
There are many cities that I have not mentioned but certainly deserve a place in this article because of the long tradition of brewing in Czech Republic, or even through the city’s history.
I didn’t mention Moravian towns which produce very good beer, but the region is probably more famous for its wines. For example, Brewery Brno was founded in a former monastery in the 14th century, and today Heineken is the owner of Starobrno brewery.
Do you know the history of your favorite beer? :)