Czech Republic’s Beer History
Why did the Czech’s start to brew beer?
Hops were grown in Bohemia as long ago as 859 AD. These Bohemian hops were so prized; King Wenceslas ordered the death penalty for anyone caught exporting any hop cuttings that could be used to grow new crops. But by the 1100’s hops were being shipped up the river Elbe to Hamburg hop markets. This same route was later used in the 1800’s to ship to Germany.
The starting point was that the agriculture was ideal for growing the necessary ingredients. Growing hops for beer is like growing grapes for wine. The Zatec area offered the red, clay soil that holds the ideal moisture levels and hills that protect the hop vines from heavy rain and wind.
Brewing started in homes shortly after 859 AD and was limited to only people from the Czech lands and brewed only for their own consumption. Before the end of the 1st centaury small cooperative breweries had started up, allowing a group to take beer extract home with them from their brewery and finish off product.
Early exports of beer to Bavaria and beyond from a town called Ceske Budejovice in South Bohemia dated around the 1100’s. These exports slowly increased as did the domestic markets. Later Landowners discovered that encouraging their labourers to drink the manor beer lined their own pockets.
However, in the 16th centaury as the 30 year devastated much of northern Europe the Czech brewing industry fell into decline. Breweries remain in monasteries and royal palaces but the beer dark, thicker types.
But in the 19th centaury, the Czech’s were released from long period under German rule and so began to re-established their traditions - and taste. With this came their fondness for good quality beer.
In 1838, 36 barrels of home brew was declared as unfit for consumption and was poured down the drains. The publicans decided to ensure that this was not repeated. So like any modern day entrepreneur, they built a brewery.
They used “new” technology from neighbouring Bavaria. One such method meant that the beer was stored for several months in deep cellars beneath the brewery. The German word for this is “lagered”. Through changes in primary fermentation, lagering stages beer became a deep brown beer.
Development continued through a new brewery built in the town called Pilsen AND in 1842 the world’s first golden beer was brewed using the lager method.
Under Communist rule, beer was cheap, which established beer drinking as the biggest hobby of a Czech person. But the Communists didn’t reinvest in industry which led to a period of poor investment. Equipment was not replaced and no or little R&D money was available. However, this did mean that the brewing industry stood still for 50 years until after communist rule which meant that when the industry was privatised, the fine Czech technology and knowledge was untouched.
The Czech’s famous author Jaroslav Hasek said that a government that raised the price of beer would fall within one year. In 1984 the communists almost doubled the price of beer – but instead of 1 year it was 5 years before communists’ surrendered Czech Republic back to the Czech people.
Prices in Czech Republic remain low and consumption high. Perhaps governments after 1989 didn’t want history to repeat itself. But profit margins remain low so CZ breweries have to look abroad to make a profit and reinvest in their breweries.