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The Czech Republic: Home of Pilsner

You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer. - Frank Zappa

The Czech Republic (consisting of Bohemia and Moravia) has played an important role in the development of the type of beer that we commonly drink today. To this day Bohemian beer is revered the world over for its quality and character. Czech consumers certainly give their own beers the thumbs-up.

By all accounts the Czechs drink more beer per capita, overwhelmingly Czech in origin, than any other nation in the world-Germans and Irish included. (The 2004 numbers are: 156.9 liters consumed annually per capita). The Bohemians were pioneers in the development of the pale beers that we commonly refer to as Pilsners-a style that we now associate with pale, well-hopped lagers with crisp carbonation. The name comes from the town of Pilsen in the Czech Republic where this style of beer was first produced early in the 19th century. The popularity of the beer earned it the name "pilsner beer" and the rest is history. Pilsner Urquell, the leading beer in Pilsen, is still one of the most popular Czech beer exports, and a fine benchmark of the style.

The history of Czech beer, or at least Czech beer styles, does not end here. In the latter part of the 19th century a certain American brewery owner named Adolphus Busch was traveling in Bohemia when he tasted and was impressed by the local style of beer in a town named Ceské Budejovice. The beer, better known elsewhere in Europe by the German version of the name of the town, Budweis, was none other than Budweiser Budvar, the original Czech "Bud." It was known in Bohemia as the "Beer of Kings" because King Ferdinand of Bohemia had made it the beer of choice in his royal court in the 16th century. Mr. Busch liked the name and slogan so much that he used variations of both when he returned to his own brewing enterprise in St. Louis. "Budweiser: King of Beers" (the brand and slogan) now belongs, in the U.S. market, to the Missouri-based brewing giant Anheuser-Busch. U.S. consumers, unfortunately, cannot sample the Czech version (so it is not reviewed here) without visiting one of a number of European countries where it is still very popular, and can be legally sold under its own name.

Today, as well as being a major beer exporter, the Czechs still produce the finest hops for pilsner-style lager beers. These hops are imported in volume by large U.S. brewers, even if they are not generally used quite so liberally in the brewing process as by their Czech counterparts. The lack of a huge diversity of beer styles in the Czech Republic should not be taken as a sign of its brewing stagnation. When fresh, Czech Pilsners are among the finest examples of the style to be found in the United States, as most domestic lager producers have never aspired to achieving Czech levels of flavor.

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