Beer

Beer, one of the most popular beverages in the world, is one of the symbols of Czechia, an integral part of Czech cuisine. This golden-colored drink is made from simple ingredients – water, barley malt, hops, and yeast, but the resulting taste and character of the beer depends on many factors such as the quality of the ingredients, the production process used, and the skill of the brewer.

History of Brewing Beer

The history of beer dates back to ancient times when the first beers were brewed thousands of years ago in the Middle East region. Since then, the technique of brewing beer has been continuously improving and spreading throughout the world. Brewing experienced a great boom in the Middle Ages when monasteries were primarily responsible for beer production. Later, brewing became a craft, and the first city breweries emerged.

Most Famous Beer Styles

Today, we encounter an endless variety of beer styles, from light and refreshing lagers to full-bodied ales to strong and dense beers such as porters and stouts. Each beer style has its characteristic properties and flavors, which are determined by the ingredients used and the production process.

Czech 'half-and-half' beer: a mix of light and dark beer.
Czech ‘half-and-half’ beer: a mix of light and dark beer.

Ingredients for Brewing Beer

The malt, which is produced by controlled germination and drying of barley, plays a crucial role in beer production. During mashing, the necessary sugars and enzymes are extracted from the malt, which are later used in fermentation. Hops provide beer with its typical bitterness and aromatic compounds. Water quality is also extremely important, as different mineral compositions influence the final taste of the beer.

The Process of Brewing Beer

The beer brewing process involves several main steps – malt milling, mashing in, mashing, lautering, boiling, cooling, fermentation, maturation, and in some cases, filtration. Each of these steps requires precision and adherence to proper procedures to achieve the desired quality and taste of the beer.

The premises of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin, Ireland.
The premises of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin, Ireland.

How Beer Is Brewed

  • Malting. Malt (germinated and dried cereal grain, most commonly barley) is ground into smaller pieces called grist. This allows better access of water to the starch and enzymes contained in the malt during the next stages of beer production.
  • Crushing. The grist is mixed with hot water in a mash tun, creating a mash. The goal is to convert the starch from the malt into a solution.
  • Mashing. Mashing is the process in which enzymes contained in the malt break down the starch into fermentable sugars. It takes place in a mash tun at precisely controlled temperatures that activate different enzymes.
  • Lautering. During lautering, the resulting sweet wort is separated from the solid malt residues (spent grains). The wort is pumped into the wort kettle, and the spent grains can be used as cattle feed.
  • Boiling. The wort is boiled in the wort kettle along with hops, which give the beer its characteristic bitterness, aroma, and act as a preservative. The length of the boil depends on the type of beer.
  • Cooling. After boiling, the hot wort must be cooled to fermentation temperature (around 8-14 °C for bottom-fermented beers, 15-22 °C for top-fermented beers) so that yeast can be added.
  • Fermentation. Brewer’s yeast is added to the cooled wort, which converts the fermentable sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation takes place in closed tanks for several days to weeks.
  • Maturation. After primary fermentation, the beer is transferred to conditioning tanks, where it matures at low temperatures for several weeks to months. During maturation, the flavor and aroma of the beer are refined, and the beer naturally carbonates.
  • Filtration (optional step). Some beers are filtered before being bottled or kegged to remove remaining yeast and other suspended solids. Filtration ensures the clarity of the beer but can also remove some flavor and aroma compounds. Unfiltered beers retain more of their original character but may be cloudier.

Beer in Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is renowned for its beer culture, ranking among the countries with the highest beer consumption per capita. Czech beer is known for its excellent quality and taste, which is due to the long-standing tradition and experience of Czech brewers. Among the most famous Czech beer styles is the Czech lager, which is characterized by a balanced flavor, mild bitterness, and high drinkability.

Pilsner Urquell. The most famous Czech beer.
Pilsner Urquell. The most famous Czech beer.

On my travels, I always enjoy tasting the local beer varieties. Among Czech beers, my favorites are Zíchovec and Matuška. In Prague, I want to gradually visit all the stops of the Prague Beer Zoo.

Cheers and drink responsibly!