Pilsner Urquell brewery, Plzen, Czech Republic. (Photo credit: Czech Tourism).

Is Czech Beer The ‘Best In The World’…Or Drunken Speculation?

Time is always said to be of the essence, but for the producers of Czech “gold” – beer – they know that it takes the time that other European beer producers fail to allow. This was certainly the impression that those attending this year’s Czech Beer Day in London’s Notting Hill at the Czech and Slovak embassies were left with.

Indeed, beer (or real Czech lager) produced these days in the Czech Republic, a nation that lays claim to producing the world’s first-ever pilsner blond lager – Pilsner Urquell in 1842 – takes between 100 to 200 days to brew – versus typically 10 days for well-known global lager brands and those in Europe.

That bottom-fermented beer from Pilsen (Plzeň) in fact inspired much of the beer produced around the globe today.

Among the largest Czech beer breweries these days are Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský Prazdroj), which was owned by SABMiller from 1999 before subsequently being sold (excluding certain geographical areas) to Japanese-based Asahi Breweries in March 2017. Its stable includes Gambrinus, Velkopopovický Kozel, and the Radegast brands.

Other top breweries are Staropramen, which includes Ostravar, Branik and Velvet), and Budweiser Budvar, the Czech original founded in 1895 and dubbed the “biggest micro-brewery” in the country. Other top selling brands include Bernard, Krušovice, Lobkowicz, Starobrno and Zlatopramen.

Beer, lager, pils or ale, call it what you will. Now the vexed question is which nation produces the best beer in the world. For sure this leads to much debate and there are plenty of beer producing countries, brands and varieties to choose. So, a definitive answer is not exactly straightforward.

Everyone has a view and an axe to grind on this score. The Germans will claim that their beer output can be considered the best, while Belgium’s output cannot be discounted for its rich variety of beers with over a thousand different beers including Belgian Abbey beers, and nor too can the British and Irish. The Danes cannot be discounted either, with Carlsberg being “Probably the best lager in the world” according their adverts.

And, there are more than a few websites that provide a run through of the top beer nations, with views expressed illustrating just how divided opinion is. Some argue that Germany and Canada are better beer brewers than Belgium, but frankly how can one prove it?

If you are looking for the best dark beer in the world, you would not go far wrong with Belgium according to some pundits. For the best pilsner, it is probably the Czech Republic with Germany close, while the best variety might be said to Germany as a whole. But the permutations go on and on.

So, in an effort to shed some light on this matter and find out who shines beer brilliance, the third annual Czech Beer Day this June provided a good venue to get the low down on brewing quality, press the flesh with producers and gauge how great the nation’s beer output actually is.

Organized by Czech Trade UK, a government agency connecting Czech and British businesses in manufacturing and service sectors, the event this June was the largest and most prestigious showcase of the breadth and diversity of Czech beer in the U.K. to date. Effectively the day served too as a launch platform for the Czech Craft Beer Alliance (CCBA).

The first beer day was held in 2016 in a Liverpool hotel, followed by a second one outdoors last year in summer at the Czech ambassador’s residence in North London. Both proved major successes in linking up beer producers and traders with hotel groups, pubs and even casino operators.

The former event had been instrumental in leading to Albert’s Schloss, Manchester’s Bohemian pleasure palace and bierkeller, tying up a deal afterwards to import Czech pilsner lager directly through York-based wholesaler, Pivovar Limited. The latter is involved in importing Bernard, which was also on show at the embassy and started the craft beer revolution in the Czech Republic. It was also a winner recently at the World Beer Awards for “Best Dark Lager.”

Czech Trade has been giving considerable support to the recently incorporated CCBA, which in a former guise had been exporting beer since around 2008 and particularly to the Republic of Ireland. Its aim is to introduce small and medium craft brewers to the U.K. and Irish markets.

In Britain, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), a consumer group has been been promoting the sector for many years. Founded in 1971 by four men who were disillusioned by the control of the U.K. beer market by a handful of companies pushing products of “low flavour and overall quality onto the consumer”, these days CAMRA has over 183,000 members across the world and been described as the most successful consumer campaign in Europe.

By contrast, the Czech Craft Beer Alliance, which invested around £30,000 (c.$40,000) into its project, today represents six breweries committed to traditional brewing such as double mashing (grain mixed with water), fermentation in open vessels and long maturation in cellars. The goal is to expand the portfolio going forward.

Current names the Alliance is seeking to promote include[…]

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