Brewing in Brno: alive and well
The best known Czech beer is undoubtedly Pilsner Urquell. Budvar (sold as Czechvar in the United States and some other countries) is probably the second most prominent. The fame of these two brands outshines many other lagers and other types of beer brewed all over Czechia. And that is a shame, as there is so much more to discover for any beer-loving visitor to this country.
Hana Dokládalová obviously takes great pride in the renovated Starobrno Brewery. It is right in the center of the second most populous city in the Czech Republic. “Starobrno” means „The Old Brno“. The lager that has been produced here since the second half of the 19th century is one of the symbols of this proud regional capital of Moravia, the eastern part of the Czech Republic. The other being Špilberk Castle, towering high up on a hill. Hana takes me on a short excursion into the history of beer or „liquid gold“ as Czechs and Moravians call it:
The art of brewing spread quickly around the monasteries and soon beer was discovered by the general population:
“Here in Brno, beer was brewed first only in private houses in this part of the city called ‘Staré Brno’. This tradition then continued at the nearby Cistercian Monastery where a brewery was built at the beginning of 14th century.”
Of course, the beer consumed in those days was very different from the one we know today. It had a lower alcohol content and it was used daily even in home cooking for preparing soups or different kinds of sauces. Children drank it, since after brewing, beer was actually much safer than the water available, especially in the cities. Wells were often contaminated and were a frequent cause of dysentery and other diseases. And even though drinking water does not represent any danger these days, many people still prefer beer.
Starobrno, now part of the Dutch Heineken International company, promotes responsible drinking, like most other producers of alcoholic drinks. Without being judgmental about Czech drinking habits, it remains a stubborn fact, that beer consumption per capita has for many years been the highest in the world.
“Water of the best quality, malt, hops, and yeast. All these must be of the best quality and taste. We do not draw water from wells here, but get it from Březová, some 60 kilometers away. Our malt is from special barley grain that has enough starch and not so much protein. The hops we use come from the renown Žatec region in Bohemia. Then we just add yeast: microorganisms that cause fermentation.”
Since about the mid-19th century, brewers in central Europe started preferring cool fermentation, or “bottom fermenting”. This produces “lager“ the dominant kind of beer in Czechia, Austria, and Germany.
Starobrno beer is distributed in five different ways. Special truck-tankers take it to those restaurants and pubs that have their own tanks and serve draft beer directly from them. Some of the beer is sent to customers in glass bottles or aluminum cans.
So, brewing in Brno is alive and well, as it is in all of Czechia. Pub culture not only survives, but is booming. Visitor, be advised: it is worth trying other than the internationally established Czech beer brands. You may be in for a very pleasant surprise.