Czech beer

Na zdravi.

That’s “cheers” in Czech, and it’s a phrase you definitely need to learn if you’re a fan of global travel and cheap drinking. Which is to say, most of you.

Know this, beer drinkers: Prague is the second-cheapest place to drink beer in the world*, according to a survey by Deutsche Bank, which looked at the cost of a pint in a pub in expat areas of major cities. At $1.60, the capital of the Czech Republic is only ten cents more than Manila — and had, just the year before, been the actual cheapest place to quaff. In any case, it’s still cheaper than bottled water.

Not surprisingly, the Czech Republic is the country that drinks the most beer. According to research by the Japanese beverage company Kirin, Czechs drink 143.3 liters of beer per person per annum, or about 287 pints, earning them top-drinking honors for the 24th consecutive year in a row (Namibia was a not-close second at just 108 liters per capita).

So how did this happen? Well, it’s a very old beer drinking culture, with the first recorded mention of Czech beer originating in the year 859, and brewing in monasteries dating back to the 10th century. Beer certainly played a part in the country’s growth: In the 16th century, the Czech brewing industry apparently contributed as much as 87% of total municipal income to city coffers.

(The country is also the home of the original Budweiser, which shouldn’t be compared to the “American” version you drink today.)

And the beer industry survived through a lot of turmoil (world wars, the Cold War, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, etc.). It may have even helped diffuse tensions. As Vaclav Havel, the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic, noted back in 1995: “I suppose that drinking beer in pubs has got a good influence on the behaviour of Czech society, because beer contains less alcohol than for example wine, vodka or whisky and therefore people’s political chat in pubs is less crazy.”

Besides history, Czech beer is incredibly easy to drink; according to one scientific study, even rats prefer it. The mild Saaz hops grown in Bohemia are prized — they’re also used in non-Czech beers such as Stella Artois. That said, this isn’t a place for hopheads: 97 percent of Czech beer production is the lighter, bottom-fermented pilsner style, and imports only account for one percent of consumption

However, a fairly recent trend of microbreweries offers some hope — they now number over 400, in contrast to the few dozen breweries open through the Cold War.

So our advice? Spring sees mild temperatures but not huge crowds in Prague. Sounds like a great time to get a drink (or ten).

*Random fun fact: That’s randomly one of our editors in the lead photo of that article. That photo was taken at a Guinness event in New York, not Ireland.

Photo: Oyvind Holmstad/Wiki Creative Commons license