The most famous commercial breweries in the Czech Republic are Plzeňský Prazdroj in Plzeň (West Bohemia) and Budějovický Budvar brewery in České Budějovice (South Bohemia); both cities have a rich history and tradition of brewing beer that dates back to the 13th century. During the first half of the 19th century, the Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery hired Josef Groll, a Bavarian brewer, to improve the quality of their beer. In 1842 he produced a bottom-fermented golden beer with a hoppy flavour and excellent clarity. This beer is known as Pilsner Urquell, and was named after the city in which it originated. Not only was this an instant success in Bohemia, which was part of the Austrian Empire at the time, it was also the world’s first blonde lager and gave rise to an alternative method of brewing in Central Europe. Today, it is regarded as the best and most famous commercially available beer within the Czech Republic, and is also exported to many countries throughout the world. I’ve yet to find a better commercial beer than a well poured Pilsner Urquell. Other notable lagers include those from the Bernard and Kozel breweries.
After the fall of communism, commercialisation of the major breweries in the 1990’s saw a decline in the quality of many beers, and in extreme cases, some were discontinued. For example, the dark lagers associated with Prague since the mid 19th century became quite rare as multinational brewing companies shunned local brewing traditions. The best dark lager I’ve tried is from U Fleků, which is the oldest of Prague’s 27 breweries, and is only sold at their on-site restaurant. In addition to the established breweries, the Czech Republic has witnessed a recent boom in the number of microbreweries, which has increased the diversity of available beer. Predominantly a Pilsner drinking country, attitudes are slowly changing as locals seek a greater range of high quality beers. The smaller breweries are becoming more adventurous, with many producing stouts, ales or wheat beers, in addition to the classic lagers: Podklášterní pivovar in Třebíč and Pivovar Matuška in Broumy are excellent examples, although there are many others. This excellent map shows the locations of the 340 breweries and microbreweries throughout the Czech Republic, and there are certainly plenty to explore.