Prague's Beer Culture
If there’s one thing people associate with the Czech Republic, it’s beer. And with good reason: the Czechs brew some of the world’s best lagers. Whether it’s the water, Czech hops, or simply that pilsner was invented here is up for debate, but the golden liquid is central to Czech culture.
Accordingly, don’t be surprised to see beer consumed in all manner of social situations, from construction workers cracking a can with their breakfast roll to high-schoolers meeting for some suds after class. It’s simply central to most of the country’s interactions; the Czechs drink more beer per capita than any other nation in the world. More than that, however, the Czechs take pride in the quality of their beer, so even if it’s not normally your thing, don’t be afraid to try a pint during a visit here.
A Rare Brew
Only a select few restaurants and pubs serve unpasteurized beer, called tankové pivo. You'll see it advertised prominently on the menu outside. The breweries bring it only to pubs they select, picking those that move a high volume of beer and adhere to their strict standards. The beer is kept in pressurized tanks and pumped in fresh by trucks weekly. The benefit? Unpasteurized beers retain their "spicy" characteristics from the Czech hops, yielding a more complex set of tastes than the beers that are exported.
A Pub Primer
A pivnice is a Czech beer hall named after pivo, or beer. Expect a range of beer, usually drunk in high quantities along with simple snacks. And one Czech phrase you’ll learn very quickly here is "pivo, prosím," or "beer, please."
Don’t be intimidated by Prague pubs: they’re happy to host you and show off their wares, so to speak. Ordering a beer is quite easy: Ask for a pivo when the waiter comes by (it may take a minute or two, but they’ll get to you). Though most pubs serve beers from a single brewer, you might have options between a 10- or 12-degree quaff; if you’re not sure and just ask for a beer, you’ll probably end up with the lighter 10-degree stuff. If you don’t want another round, when the waiter comes by and asks, say "Ne, dekuju" (No, thanks).
As for the check itself (which will get tallied around 10:30 or 11 pm on weeknights and later on weekends if you don’t finish first), it’s a strip of paper on the table. Each mark on the paper represents a beer that you’ve had. The waiter will count them up and tell you how much you owe—though do try and keep your own count, and be mindful how much the beers cost if you want to be absolutely sure not to get overcharged.
A small tip is the norm here, essentially rounding up to the nearest large number (usually coming to a few extra dollars) and handing it to your server, or another server who will come by with a money pouch to handle the transaction. There’s no need to tip an additional 15% unless you think you’ve received exceptional service.
Czech beers are rightfully famous for their quality. While it’s easy to find beers from big brewers like Staropramen or Gambrinus on tap most anywhere, more and more pubs are utilizing a "fourth pipe" (or tap) to showcase a local, independent brew that you might not have seen before. Here are a few to keep an eye out for:
Bernard Lager: This Bohemian pilsner stands up well to the famous Pilsner Urquell thanks to its intense hoppiness.
Opat Kvasničák Nefiltrovaný: A tasty, unfiltered brew with sweet and sour notes.
Kozel dark: A winner at the World Beer Awards, Kozel makes this dark beer as well as more traditional lagers.
U Medvídku X-33: Available only at the famed traditional pub of the same name, the X-33 sounds like a secret government project, but is actually one of the stronger beers in the country, at 12% alcohol.
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