The first thing I came across when I started researching food culture in the Czech Republic was beer. I have lived amongst Koreans (who drink a lot of liquor) and Georgians (who drink a lot of wine). It was only a matter of time before I went somewhere with the highest beer consumption per capita in the world. I am the type of person who will research the food culture before traveling because I found it's the easiest way to ingratiate yourself among locals. I discovered that on top of different types of beer, different pour styles exist to try in the Czech Republic.
I found my initial research intriguing and confusing as I read about the unique Czech beer culture. But once I landed in Prague, I quickly realized the only way to understand this culture was to drink a lot of beer. Challenge accepted and completed. I have done the hard work of learning how to order beer and figuring out the differences in styles of Czech beer. Here is a straightforward guide to getting the most out of Czech beers.
Things to Know Before Ordering Beer in Czechia
What Beer is Available Depends on Where You Are
The types of beer available to you will largely depend on the establishment you visit. If you are at a microbrewery (pivovar) in the city, select from their tasting menu of various types of beer. There, you will come across degrees based on the ingredients of the beer and not the alcohol percentage. When you see something such as 10°, it does not mean the beer is 10% alcohol. Lagers are typically on the lower end of this degree scale at around 10° and darker, hoppier beers are about 13°. Most Czech beers range from 3.5% - 6% alcohol, which is why you end up drinking more than one per visit!
If you are in a restaurant (restaurace) or a pub (hostinec), there is usually only one type of beer to order on tap. The most common you will come across is the quintessential Pilsner Urquell, a ležák or lager. Pilsner Urquell is the one brand of famous beer from the Czech Republic. If you are looking for a specific brand, restaurants also advertise their feature tap beer out front so don't ignore the signs. There may be a few others on tap, but you should easily see it at the bar when you enter the restaurant. Most restaurants with more than one type will usually have a light lager (ležák) and a dark (tmavé) beer. Sometimes they will tell you that they have more than one type of beer or you can ask what they have on tap and order from their selection.
How to Order Beer
Unless you are in a beer bottle store in the Czech Republic, tapped beer is served automatically in a 0.5L glass mug. If you just manage to say "Pivo, prosim," meaning "Beer, please," the server will immediately hand you a glass mug of gold lager. Large (0.5L) is the automatic size for ordering beers. If you want to order a small beer, you can say "Male pivo, prosim," which means "Small beer, please." and consequently receive a mug of 0.3L beer.
The servers are like magicians with these beers. As soon as you sit down, they get straight to business and ask you what drink you want to have. Usually, this is in the form of "Would you like a beer?" pretty much incepting you with thoughts of a refreshing cold one. Then as you get down to your last gulp, they appear out of nowhere suggesting you may want some more and you say yes... then suddenly, you just had two liters of beers!
Styles of Beer to Try in the Czech Republic
Once you get comfortable using the words "Pivo, prosim," it's time to level up your experience! There is more to tapped Czech beer than meets the eye. Make the most of your time in Prague by enjoying the different styles of tapped beer Prague has to offer! The Czech beer pours are unique, and each kind has pragmatic reasoning behind it. Ordering any of these beer styles will be greatly appreciated at the bar because it will show you care about how the beer tastes. The tapper, someone who is professionally qualified to make these beers, will gladly rise to the challenge of producing these beer styles for you.
This style is considered one of the best ways to drink a beer in the Czech Republic. This involves about 25% to 50% foam which protects the liquid from being exposed to the air too quickly. As you drink you get a creamy layer of foam and then a sudden burst of crisp, cold lager that reaches your bones.
The Šnyt style is excellent towards the end of your night if your desire is to keep drinking beer but cannot have a full 0.5L. The tapper will pour beer in a large mug, but only fill it two-thirds full. There will be more foam so that you can slowly nurse this beer while enjoying the taste.
The literal translation for this beer style is 'milk' because it looks like a giant glass of it. Mlíko produces a creamy and sweet taste that I did not know could exist in beer! You should drink this fast before the foam turns into liquid.
This beer style involves mixing a dark and light lager. Usually, a pale lager is poured and then the foam of a dark lager is put on top. Over a short period of time, the dark lager foam will turn to liquid creating a gradient effect. You can order the Řezaný in restaurants, pubs, or pivovars that have both light and dark beers.
Tips & Notes on Ordering Styles of Beer in the Czech Republic
- To order these styles of beer you can say something like "[style] pivo, prosim," such as "Mlíko pivo, prosim."
- As soon as you sit down, set down your coaster for your server, who will appreciate it
- To toast, say "Na zdraví," which means "To your health," and make eye contact
- Don't worry about the foam on the beer, foam eventually turns to liquid
- Each beer style will produce a different taste, try each basic one once to find your preference
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