I remember being no more than four years old when my dad asked me to grab him a beer from the refrigerator. That was way back in the mid-1970s. I’m not sure what inspired me to open the can the first time. Was it the challenge of opening it, which back then had the old pull-tabs? Or the curiosity of what that drink tasted like? Either way, I did taste it, and probably unlike 95% of children that age, I actually liked the way it tasted, despite it being what I now call “cheap American swill”. Dad obviously knew I stole a taste, and got a kick out of it. From that point on (as a child), I’d always take a taste. As time went on, the “tastes” grew more substantial.
Don’t get the wrong idea. My parents never let me drink more than that “taste” until I was much older. I did have a small glass of wine, with their knowledge, as young as maybe 16 or 17. Don’t be shocked. This is very common in Europe, though I know it’s not as common in the US.
Yes I liked wine, and maybe sneaked a bit too much as a teen, but for the most part, my primary love remained beer. I drank some nasty stuff at college frat parties (Busch beer = vomit), but when I turned 21, I turned to more pleasant brews. My dad did, too. We’d drink Bass Ale, from the UK, which was common in east coast restaurants at the time. Then when I moved with an old flame to Berkeley, California in the mid-1990s, I discovered micro-brews. Micro-brews were much more common on the west coast than on the east coast at that time, and most were quite delicious! When the boyfriend was in the chemistry lab, I’d go to Happy Hours, when the beer was really cheap ($1 pints). I’d drink one, and they’d give me a second “on the house”. I’d drink three, and sometimes even the forth was free. I guess I’d stop there, at most, back then. Or sometimes I’d grab some in the local store. My favorite bottled beer at the time happened to be Pilsner Urquell, a Czech beer. Little did I know that choice would be significant in the future.
I took a slight break from beer when I lived in Taiwan, though I would visit a pub occasionally or buy a bottle from the many 7-11s they had there. Then I returned home, but back to the east coast. That boyfriend in CA was no more. It would only be a matter of months before I met the man who would become my beloved husband, and he happened to be a bona fide Czech, born and raised in Prague. I initially increased his interest by the fact that I had been to Prague about four years prior. He liked that my favorite meal was roast pork with sauerkraut (the Czech national dish), and that I liked Pilsner Urquell, his favorite beer. Actually, he really liked that I liked beer, because any normal Czech man practically lives on it. Czech Republic has the highest per capita beer consumption in the world, even over Germany and the UK.
Microbreweries started to pop up on the east coast around that time. There was some really good stuff. And then when I’d accompany my fiancé, later husband, to Czech Republic, I’d discover the joys of their incredible brews. Czech Republic (particularly in Bohemia region) is the birthplace of the pilsner style beer (like Pilsner Urquell from the town of Plzeň), and also has many other delicious types, most notably their lagers. There are endless beers, with some of the breweries dating back hundreds of years, including a popular beer called Budějovický Budvar (or Budvar for short) from České Budějovice. This beer is called Budweiser Budvar (or just Budweiser) by Germans, based on their word for the town, which is Budweis. It is marketed under this name in most countries, with notable exceptions like the US. Why the exception? Because of a trademark dispute with the Anheuser-Busch company in the US, who took that beer name for a beer they created, with a much different recipe, and at a much later date. Well, Anheuser-Busch won, and in order for the Czech beer by that name to be sold in the US, it is called “Czechvar”. Yes, they won’t even let the Czechs call it “Budvar” because it sounds too much like “Bud”, the shortened name for the American beer using that name.
There is an interesting fact about beer in Czech Republic that is somewhat unique. They have various degrees of beer (labeled by numbers) based on strength (alcohol content). Most beers consumed are 10 or 12, but there is also a 20, and was an 8 available. The numbers don’t represent the percentage of alcohol, though the higher the degree, the higher the alcohol content. It used to be that the degree 8 beers were even served to factory workers as a refreshing drink. Yes, they had alcohol in them, but not enough to make the Czech workers drunk. Maybe they’d make a teetotaler drunk, though.
Besides Plzeňský prazdroj (Pilsner Urquell) and Budějovický Budvar (Budweiser Budvar), there are so many other beers brewed in Czech Republic that it would be impossible for me to list them all. I will, however, list some other ones my husband particularly likes, most of which are not available in the US. These include:
- Staropramen (which I have seen in my local stores in the US)
- Velkopopovický Kozel
I have personally tasted all of the above-mentioned, except the last three. They are all delicious! My husband’s favorite remains Pilsner Urquell. My personal favorite Czech beers are Velvet and Samson, because I love the particularly creamy froth that tops both of them.
I will confess that my heavy beer drinking days are pretty much over, but I do enjoy a very small glass a few times per week. Going to the beer section of my stores is now intimidating. There are so many choices! I haven’t tried even a small percentage of them, but I do have my usual regulars. My go-to beers are usually Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam (from my California days), Goose Island IPA, Lagunitas IPA, and many other IPAs (I particularly like IPAs), and the British beers Tetley’s and Old Speckled Hen, which remind me a little bit of the smooth Czech frothy beers I mentioned.
Do you really like beer? What are some of your favorite beers in your country?