The Bohemian brews we've sent you have been crafted by Czech beer artisans who possess an appreciation of beer unlike any other. After the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic (having a total area just smaller than the state of South Carolina) achieved a major beer victory: first place in beer consumption per capita (many Slovaks prefer to drink wine and thus pulled down the per capita values prior to the split. Damned Slovaks!). The results from a 1998 study completed by the German Brewers Association showed that the Czechs were not only number one in this ranking; they were number one by a large margin. The study revealed that, per capita, the Czech people drink approximately 334 U.S. pints per year! That's about a beer a day per man, woman and child (and if you consider that the youngsters probably aren't tossin' back too many of those pints, that's a heck of a lot of beer for the adult crowd).
This proud heritage of brew drinking has a long history. Local agricultural conditions are ideal for growing hops, and their cultivation in Bohemia has been chronicled as far back as 859 A.D. These hops were exported to Germany via the Elbe River to the Hamburg hops market in 1101, and to this day the world still cherishes Bohemian Saaz hops (perhaps even a bit more recently since the global hops shortage was particularly unkind to this coveted variety, as our homebrewer readers can attest).
The first documented account of home-brewing in the Czech territories dates back to 1088, and the first Czech brewery was born in the town of Cerhenice in 1118. As for longest running breweries, the U Fleku microbrewery in Prague has been in operation since 1499! Put that in historical perspective by considering that Columbus discovered the new world just seven years prior!
This month's featured international brewery, Primátor A.S., was founded in 1871 in the small town of Náchod, making it a relatively "young" brewery if you can believe it. You may be familiar with them under their previous name, Pivovar Náchod (pivovar means brewery in Czech), which they operated as until recently changing the name to improve their recognition with their famed beer line. This is not uncommon as the brewing business has evolved over time; once breweries were associated with their local market more so than with a brand name. Today, with ease of transport, many brands have replaced their local brewery name—not necessarily a welcomed change, especially for local townsfolk who often pride themselves on having their “own” village brewery, but, when in business for hundreds of years, change must be expected.
Within two years of the brewery’s founding (building such an impressive brewery takes time, even more so in the late 19th century), the Náchod townspeople enjoyed beer from the first brewing. The popularity of Náchod's beer grew steadily enough over the following 50 years to mandate enlargement of the brewery between 1925 and 1930. However, with the invasion of the Third Reich on March 15th, 1939 many Czechs were drafted to work in coal mines, the iron and steel industry, and armaments production. Consumer goods production, dramatically abridged, was largely directed toward supplying the German armed forces. Within 4 years, all non-war-related industry was prohibited, halting the brewery's (and the industry's) development until after World War II.
Later, under Communist rule, very little was invested into the country's breweries. On the upside, however, beer was very cheap. 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. Though off by four years, The Good Soldier's prognostication was fulfilled. These days, Czech beers command top dollar from the many foreign countries that import them, and this has permitted prices to stay low for the locals. The business may change, but thanks to traditionalists like those behind the brewkettles at Primátor, the stuff that matters—good beer—remains a staple.