Czechs drink more beer per capita than any other nationality on Earth, primarily for two reasons: it’s pretty darn good and relatively cheap. Additionally, beer is ingrained in the culture. No doubt every Prague expat has at some point bragged to friends and relatives back home that “beer in Prague only costs (insert absurdly low currency amount here)!” Pilsner Urquell and other high-quality brews get plenty of attention, so I set out to find out which cheap Czech beer tastes the best.
Even though beer prices have crept higher over the years, there are still plenty of bargains to be found on supermarket shelves. Perhaps the Czech government fears a revolt if beer becomes too expensive, although I suspect that it isn’t only the poorest people who buy the cheapest beer. A Czech woman once told me that she only drank Klasik because anything stronger made her too tipsy. These inexpensive brands are usually lower in alcohol content, vestiges of the relatively weak beer drunk by workers in sweltering glass factories decades ago.
Beer, like most products, usually follows the logic of “you get what you pay for.” However, can these beers really be that much worse than other commercial brands? Could there be some hidden gems on the bottom shelf that don’t actually taste so bad? Why do inexpensive beers always have such cheap-sounding names like “Bertold” and “Primus?” Along with a few brave souls, I held a taste test to find answers to these questions.
The beer was purchased at Billa, Albert and Lidl supermarkets, because if the word “cheap” is involved, Lidl should be as well. To qualify, each beer could cost no more than ten crowns. Just to ensure that no internal biases were in play, it was a blind taste test, so no one could tell exactly what brand they were drinking. Braník entered the competition as the sentimental favorite, but we had eleven other beers that hoped to prove they were the best Czech beer for ten crowns or less!
The tasting began with anticipation, although our optimism waned while drinking the first beer. As several tasters remarked, the Měšťan was “kind of nondescript” and “rather tasteless.” At least the Lahváč we tried next had a flavor to it, even if it was a bit “metallic.” The third beer, Březňák, wasn’t actually so terrible as one commenter remarked it “tasted better than it smelled.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Struggling Toward the Finish Line
By the fourth beer we realized that this endeavor was going to be a struggle. It wasn’t that the beer was so bad, but rather they were mostly “bland” and “inoffensive.” Whenever someone actually liked one, another taster would dislike it just as much. It was hard to get any kind of consensus, except that most of the tasters were starting to resent me for putting them though the experience in the first place.
However, like soldiers on the march, we pressed onward. After six or seven beers, I started to worry about the mental and physical well-being of my tasters, but everyone hung in there. Several of them even managed a few semi-compliments including: “not awful” and “tasted soapy yet still somewhat better than the others.” Even though most of the beer was unimpressive, a few weren’t so shabby, especially considering the price. Doing a traditional ranking would be difficult, so I’ve divided them into two groups based on our evaluations.
Only if Desperate: Měšťan, Lahváč, Braník, Klasik, Primus, Bakalář
Braník seems to be the Czech PBR, the cheap beer everyone thinks is cool but can’t really explain why. However, in our experiment it scored towards the bottom of the list, with one person claiming it “was the taste of despair.” Only one person had a positive opinion by saying it “seemed fine,” which is really all we can ask of Braník, isn’t it? I had high hopes for the Bakalář 10°, which only costs 10 CZK at Albert, but it fell short of expectations.
Most of these beers were typically watery and unremarkable, although we agreed they were still preferable to the cheapest beer in many other countries. Měšťan gets a bonus point for the adorable, moustached barman on the label.
Worth a Shot: Bertold, Březňák, Pardál, Argus, “Pivo”
While there was no unanimous favorite, this group scored higher than the rest. Bertold, Albert’s in-house brew, deserves a special mention, because as the cheapest beer on the list (6 CZK), it also scored the highest. Its slightly sweet flavor didn’t put anyone off, and several tasters even said they’d voluntarily drink it again. Budvar’s Pardál and Březňák were two of the most flavorful beers we tried, even if Pardál “smelled like a locker room.”
However, when it comes to cheap beer, Lidl has several decent options. Their generically-named Pivo wasn’t anything so special, but Argus actually seemed like a legitimate beer. Not everyone was a fan of their light beer, but the half-dark (10 CZK) tasted pretty decent.
So, we learned that while you do often get what you pay for, there are a few beers worth drinking under ten crowns. While we had sympathy for those who drink some of these beers on a regular basis, there were several that are good options for those on a tight budget or don’t want to get too tipsy. And just remember, the next time you gloat to your friends back home that “you can buy a beer for like, 30 cents,” you can add “and it’s drinkable, too!” Well, some of it anyway.
What do you drink when you’re down and out?