The history of brewing beer in the Czech Republic is far older than even the countrys current borders. Chronicled evidence shows that not only were hops from the region exported as far back as 903 A.D., but hop growing regions had been established by as early as 859 A.D.. Bohemian hops were so prized at one point that the penalty for cutting and exporting the hops for cultivation elsewhere was punishable by death. The first Czech brewery was built in 1118, in bold disobedience of an order by the Bishop of Prague banning brewing, which carried excommunicative consequences. The order was annulled by Pope Innocent IV when King Wenceslas somehow negotiated the repeal on behalf of his people in the 13th century. The noble classes were particularly beer and brewery friendly, with each major palace and castle usually possessing its own on-site brewery.
One of hundreds of such facilities is located in a castle in the town of Breznice, located about 40 miles due south of the Czech capital, Prague. This southern portion of the Czech Republic is home to many fortified castles which over the centuries have served as outposts of the Kingdom of Bohemia, as well as essential defenses against the Austrian and Hungarian empires that repeatedly waged invasions of Bohemia. The castle at Breznice dates back to at least 1415 and the first documented reference to a brewery traces to the year 1506, though it is entirely possible that the brewing facility existed well before this date.
The small brewery of the castle, called Pivovar Herold, lies in what was originally a Gothic structure that was ultimately expanded and redesigned in renaissance and baroque styles (Pivovar means brewery, by the way). The entire complex has been owned by a number of noble families, and under them, the brewery has been in nearly constant use and revitalization. However, subsequent political climates influenced the entire brewing industry, Pivovar Herold included. Under Communistic rule, the brewing industry was taken over by the state, though very little was invested into the nations breweries during the period. As with so many other trades, they simply produced the product and squeezed as much money as possible out of the industry by minimizing self-investment. However on the upside, beer was very cheap and legal. This helped establish beer drinking as perhaps the single most popular hobby among Czech men. One of the Czech Republic's most famous beer drinkers, the protagonist of Jaroslav Hasek's novel "The Good Soldier Svejk" proclaimed that the government that raises the price of beer is destined to fall within one year. In 1984 the Communists almost doubled the price of beer, and though off by four years, this prognostication was fulfilled.
When Communism collapsed, the states properties were slowly permitted to return to private ownership, and the Herold Brewery again became a privately held entity. However, the owner could not keep up with the 500 year old brewerys payments and ultimately had to sell. A few years ago, a consultant on transition economies named Charles Corry became interested in the brewery. A soccer enthusiast from Virginia, Corry was alerted to the availability of the brewery by a fellow sportsman. During a period while living in Prague and working with the U.S. Agency for International Development, he gathered a group of investors and purchased the brewery.
Interestingly, there was a paradoxically positive consequence of Communist ownership that resulted from one of the most negative effects of the brewerys nationalization: the lack of investment in the facility. Without major modernization over the years, the Herold Brewery still makes beer the old-fashioned way, using only traditional methods, equipment and ingredients. The brewery makes most of its own malt, in the Pilsner style, from local barley and its beer line up includes golden, amber and dark lagers as well as some specialties such as an Altbier and a Hefeweizen wheat beer. It is currently one of the oldest functioning breweries in the Czech Republic and its lightly-distributed beers have only recently been made available outside of the country.