This Czech beer guide is a side effect of my one year stay in the magical city of Prague. Tasting beers from local breweries was part of my daily life as well as traveling. Now, I would love to share my knowledge about Czech beer and tips regarding the etiquette in this unique beer culture.
Czech beer guide
Beer (pivo) in Czech Republic is like a bread. It’s super cheap, often cheaper than any other beverages in a restaurant, and the quality is just fantastic. Plenty of kinds, degrees, colors, flavors and it’s never ending because there are hundreds of breweries in Czechia. What I really loved about this country, was that many restaurants or pubs have their own, unique micro-brewery, some of them carry the tradition for centuries. In this Czech beer guide I will tell you about the confusing beer degrees, beer drinking etiquette and beer kinds.
Do you know that Czech Republic has the biggest beer consumption per capita in the world? Statistics say that one Czech adult person drinks average 160 liters of this golden liquid per year! You can drink pretty much everywhere on the streets and it’s even common to have beer during the lunch break at work. The beverage is part of most of the celebrations, ceremonies and festivals around the country and drinking competitions are a popular form of entertainment in beer culture of Czechia. I was always loosing, by the way.
So how did Czech beer culture developed in this land? Briefly, brewing tradition started around 10th century in the monasteries. When monks started to produce more beer, than they can consume, they began to sell it outside and this is how the breweries were growing. Brewing became common and most of the towns of Bohemia (western part of Czechia) had at least one brewery.
Czech beer degrees
The most important part in this Czech beer guide is to understand the degrees. It’s confusing when in most of the world, what you find on the label is the alcohol percentage, while in Czechia, you will find degrees. If you see 12° or 14° , don’t panic that you will get drunk fast, that’s not percentage of alcohol. Degrees in Czech beer culture are according to the Balling scale (or Plato scale) which is a measure of gravity or density on the day the beer was brewed. It’s expressed as a weight percentage of sucrose and indicates the percent by weight of extract (sucrose) in a solution. For instance 10 degrees states that a beer is 10 degrees Balling, and it means that if the extract in solution were 100% sucrose, it would be 10% of the total weight.
The most popular beverage in Czechia is 12 degrees, which is the regular lager. 10 degrees is also lager beer but weaker extract, and it’s considered less filling (you are able to drink more of it). Although 12° has more flavor, more extract. Higher brew degrees are not only stronger in taste (extract) but also in the amount of alcohol. Respectively, a 10 degree beer is about 4% alcohol and a 12 degree is about 5%, 6° is 6.5% alcohol and 19° has 8%. Too complicated? This is centuries old Czech beer culture!
Czech beer etiquette
Czech beer guide cannot come without information on how to drink beer in Czechia. First of all, coming to Czech Republic, you have to know how to say Cheers! Na zdraví – means “to your health” and saying those words you must always keep eye contact with each person, otherwise it’s not polite even offensive.
Secondly, when ordering beer at the bar, use your thumb to represent “1” beer, your thumb together with a forefinger for “2,” and so forth. In most of the places you won’t need gestures, as waiter comes to each table to take orders. When you are about to finish your glass, expect a waiter to come bringing you next one, sometimes without even asking. Don’t worry about getting drunk fast, though, beer in Czechia is not as strong as Belgium beers and foremost, they are the best quality ever!
Size of the glass is very important as well. In most of the pubs, waiters won’t even ask if you want big or small, they will just bring you 0,5 liter because this is a standard. In some pubs (very traditional) they won’t even ask you if you want beer, they will just bring it. If the place is famous for a certain kind of brew and people go there just to drink it, no need to make an order, right?
In some traditional pubs, you will get a small bill on your table where waiter will mark each beer you are ordering. After all, it is easy when it comes to paying.
Giving tips in Czechia
You are expected to tip in Czech Republic. There is no certain percentage you should tip, it depends of your will. If you are used to leaving small change of money on the table as a tip, Czechs do something quite the opposite. The common habit for Czechs is to give as much tip as necessary to make the bill an equal number, without need to have a small change back. For instance, if the waiter asks for 234 Kc, the customer will say: Ok, I give you 250Kc while giving the money. If the bill is 120Kc, you can say 130 or 150 depends of your will. In this way, the waiter knows how much to type in the cashier or how much change to give you.
Be ready for rude customer service
The customer service, especially waiters in the pubs are sometimes very rude in Czechia. Of course, I am not talking about the touristic places, but real Czech experience. If you are used to polite customer service, you can get very disappointed. In other words when a waiter doesn’t want to serve you, never smiles and looks at you like you at least want him to carry a wardrobe on the third floor. When they finally come, they roll their eyes that you bothered them to ask just for a small beer. And after all, they expect you to tip. I was asking my Czech friends for explanation, why they work as a waiter, if they seem to hate this job so much. They explained, that it’s common for other jobs as well, people generally suffer doing any job and they are not willing to pretend and be nice to the customer, no matter what.
Czech beer price
Satisfying is the price of beer in Czechia. In the restaurants it used to be cheaper than water or any other beverage. Nowadays there is a government rule that at least one non-alcoholic beverage has to be cheaper than beer. For a good draft beer, you can pay from 1 to 2 € for 0,5 l. In the supermarket you can get a bottle for less than 1 € but beer from the bottle is considered much worse. For Czech people good beer comes straight from the tap! Draft beer also should have pipes cleaned every day. They rarely take bottles and cans are the lowest quality. Czechs would take it for a picnic or trip and any other opportunity when they cannot find draft beer.
Kinds of Czech beer
The most popular is simple lager, light beer often called Pilsner because first beer of this kind was made in Pilzen – city one hour from Prague. If you have time, don’t hesitate to go there and visit the brewery, to try beer straight from the barrel in the basement. That brewery makes the most popular Czech beer – Pilsner Urquell. The name means something like “the original source of Pilsner”, and it’s the first place in the world where this beer was born. Nowadays, in every corner of the world, you can taste Pilsner beer type, from the original recipe from Pilzen.
Popular is also dark beer, in Czech: tmavé. Czech people talk about it as a girl’s beer because usually it’s sweeter. I also heard sayings that girls drink it because it makes boobs bigger. Well, for the same reason probably many boys don’t even want to taste it.
Some breweries make “řezané pivo” which is a mixture of half-dark and half-light beer. Is it for boys or girls? Probably it’s an option for both. Who knows, maybe it makes bigger something else…
Another popular kind is Pšeničné Pivo – wheat beer – my absolute favorite type. It’s not bitter and very refreshing. Especially in summer, they tend to serve it with a lime.
Exploring Czech breweries, you can see many kinds of special beers for example: pale ale beers IPA and APA, various fruits beers, coffee beer, chocolate beer or even made out of nettles. You simply can’t get bored with Czech beer as there is always some new brew to try. Some Czech breweries serve small “shot” glasses of beer to give you a bit of few kinds before you decide which one you want to continue with. Isn’t this beer culture amazing?
Czech Beer Foam
Czech beer culture is truly unique and worth exploring. Also czech beer foam is particular way of serving beer, I haven’t seen elsewhere. Pouring beer is like an art in Czech Republic. If you have ever tried beer in Czechia, I am sure you noticed that the foam is very thick. The waiter has to really know how to poor it from the pipe to have the proper consistency and amount. Czech beer foam is very important in beer culture and there are 4 ways of serving.
Brew with no foam. People consider it as beer for real connoisseur who knows how to drink it. Besides, it has the biggest amount of CO2 and seems to be very strong and full. Since Czech people love beer foam, it is not popular kind at all.
ŠNYT is a glass filled in 2/3 part with few centimeters of brew covered with big foam. Like the previous kind, it’s poured at once which makes the foam thick and refreshing. Some people joke that it’s a small beer in a big glass and because real man doesn’t order small glass of the beverage, it is for girls.
Hladinka means smooth, and it’s very popular kind which is brew with a thick beer foam on the top. This kind is a masterpiece for a waiter because he has to pour all at once without break with a perfect smooth and flat foam on it.
4. MLÍKO Beer without beer
Mliko (means milk) is a whole glass of beer foam. It visually looks like milk but when you drink it you don’t taste a foam but real taste of beer in a creamy form. Foam is really thick. Usually drinkers order it in the end of a feast and drink all at once shortly after pouring. It is favorite kind for woman as well as old people or those who don’t appreciate bitter beers as milk tastes sweeter.
This Czech beer guide would’t be completed, if I didn’t advise you downloading the great mobile app called Pivovary which helped to find amazing micro-breweries. The app displays a map of all big and small breweries in Czechia. It’s in English and Czech language. Very useful when you travel around!
Do you like locally crafted beers?
Buying locally is a form of responsible travel, as you can support local breweries and reduce carbon footprint. Every import and export produce pollution based on the distance alcohol has to travel. A responsible customer prefers to buy local crafts, cognac or wines and add to the local economy. When traveling I am trying to buy products from local farmers and manufacturers. I love to support local producers, bee-keepers and appreciate regional traditions around the world.
Do you want to go for a beer now? Skip touristic pub crawling which is just a waste of money. I will show you the best places to go for a beer in Prague for free. A must try during your next visit! I also prepared a guide around Prague, with which you will visit the city like a local, see the most important attractions as well as spots of the beaten path in Prague.
The Bee is a nature lover and tea addict. Loves the idea of slow life and responsible traveling, constantly trying to improve to bee more eco-friendly. Appreciates old cultures and traditions, loves to immerse with locals, listen to ethnic music as well as taste regional food and drinks. Her favorite spots while traveling are family houses and street markets.
I am not much of a beer fan myself, but I’m up for trying tmavé! 🙂 Thank you for sharing!
hahaha “the boobs beer” you are right
I don’t drink, so my knowledge is little about beer & alcohol in general. However fruits beer is something I don’t mind trying.
I am sure you will like it 🙂
I have been to Prague and loved trying out different types of beer. That’s quite a funny thing that only girls drink dark beer. In my country, girls don’t drink dark beer because it is too strong. 🙂
Exactly! Same here 😀
OMG My husband will love this guide. We’re heading there in a couple months and I know he’s so excited to try all the beer haha! Can’t wait to share it with him!
I am glad it will be useful during your trip! Check my other post about Czech Beer as well 😉 Enjoy Prague!
Trying a shot of beer before having a glass sounds super fun.
Believe me it is really had to decide which one you really want to continue with 😀
Reading your post brought back memories to my time in Prague and the variety of beers available. This is a great guide to anyone travelling to Czech Republic wishing to experience the beers they offer.
Thanks for summing this topic up 🙂
aż sobie apetytu narobiłam 🙂
Ciekawy post! Od dzisiaj piję tylko ciemne piwo;)
Niestety tak jak jestem dziwna z nielubieniem kawy tak samo z niedocenianiem czeskiego piwa. Niestety Pilsner smakuje mi stęchłą szmatą i mimo, że współmałżonek grozi mi z tego powodu rozwodem, nie jestem w stanie się przekonać do złotego trunku 😉
Kazdy ma inne preferencje 🙂
Kiedy jestem w Czechach ciągle próbuję nowych piw, a jestem smakoszem. Jednak najbardziej smakują mi jasne
To zupełnie odwrotnie niż ja, jasne dla mnie są zbyt gorzkie 🙂
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Fun read. Though one thing: Czechs would only get confused if you use the word “pilsner” to describe a type of beer, like if you’re ordering a Gambrinus or Budweiser. Pilsner just means, “from Plzen” and is only used to reference beers from Prazdroj (the company that makes Pilsner Urquell). In English, you’re right though, we call everything of that style pilsner (as do Germans). Czechs have a different word for lager, which is “ležak”, which is usually more full-bodied and around a 12.
Thanks for your note Shawn 😉 I don’t think any Czechs need to read Czech beer essential guide so I will just leave it like it is 🙂
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W Polsce jest tak samo. Wystarczy pójść do jakiegoś lepszego pubu w większym mieście, żeby “spróbować kilku rodzajów, a potem zdecydować, przy którym chcemy pozostać”. APA, IPA, stouty, portery, pszeniczne – do wyboru, do koloru.
Jeśli chodzi o jakość, wyróżnia się w zasadzie tylko Pilsner Urquell (wyróżnia się też bardzo wysoką ceną). Jak na lager jest naprawdę bardzo dobry. Nie jestem miłośnikiem jasnego piwa, lubię pszeniczne, APA, stouty, portery. W Polsce miałem szeroki wybór piw, w Czechach pije się głównie jasne piwa. Często jakość czeskiego piwa jest po prostu straszna. Z czeskich piw smakuje mi tylko Pilsner Urquell i ciemny Kozel.
Mi osobiście o wiele bardziej smakuje piwo z rzemieślniczych polskich browarów, które oferują szeroki wachlarz piw. W Czechach 80% piw to piwa jasne, które nie są wcale jakoś rewelacyjne w smaku.
Serdeczne dzięki za ten poradnik, dzięki niemu mogłem zaopatrzyć się w ciekawy wybór w czasie krótkiej wizyty w Czechach. A zakup 16-tki której nigdy nie zapomnę zawdzięczam tylko temu poradnikowi.
Bardzo BARDZO się cieszę, że się przydał! Aż chce się tworzyć dalej 🙂
Świetny poradnik! Z pewnością zainteresuje mojego męża, ja niestety jestem uczulona na piwo
Bardzo lubię piwo. Czesi potrafią je robić. Tylko dlaczego ma tyle kalorii?
Lubię czasami piwo
No, you are not expected to tip In the Czech Republic! Please leave your American customs at home!
I have never been to America, I am local here 😀 and from my point of view I was always expected to leave the tip
I’ve lived here almost 30 years and I have to say that’s a rather erroneous statement that Czechs don’t expect a tip. Whilst your server in a traditional Czech pub might not expect a tip on each beer you order, the tipping culture here (going back to the First Republic) is that of rounding up the bill. I will agree that North Americans in general tip too much here…but it’s simply not true that there is no tipping culture. And certainly in restaurants and bars tipping is widely understood and appreciated. In addition, little take away coffee places and bistros will often have a tip jar at the cash counter. Instead of speaking for the entire service industry and the Czech people by making this statement and asking people to “leave your American customs at home”…maybe politely suggest and inform that the level of tipping in America is not the same as here and to be careful to not overtip…as that can also be considered throwing money around and somewhat foolish and even rude. I find these kind of sentiments and statements come from certain types of Expats not from Czechs.