I can still remember the first time I ever heard of the Czech Budweiser. It was 2011 and I was in Vienna, drinking at the hostel with my buddy Dominic. I asked the bartender what he had for good beers and he replied “Budweiser”. I gave him some wise crack somewhere along the lines of “listen buddy I didn’t travel halfway around the world to drink a Budweiser”. At this point he must have thought I was some ignorant American (and rightfully so), and proceeded to explain where the name Budweiser comes from and how the original Budweiser is really a Czech beer.
For those who don’t know, the name Budweiser is German for “of Budweis”, which is what the Germans called the Czech town of Ceske Budejovice. Back then this area was ruled by the Habsburg’s, thus many of the names from that period were German in origin.
Fast forward to 2017! Breada and I planned the Europe segment of our trip as one big circle, and what happened to fall in our path? Ceske Budejovice! While the city itself doesn’t have much to offer, the only Budweiser Budvar brewery is still operating there and they offer tours! I think that’s worth a stop, don’t you?
The tours run daily at 2pm in English, German, and Czech. Other times and languages are possible, but you must book a private tour and have a large enough group. We got to the brewery a little after 1 pm, so we had plenty of time to kill. Luckily there’s a little museum on site dedicated to the history of the company, which more than filled up our time while we waited.
The exhibit mostly covered the history of beer brewing in the town, as well as the history of the Budweiser Budvar company itself. Beer brewing in Ceske Budejovice dates back to the 13th century, when the town was given the Brewing Right. You couldn’t just brew beer anywhere you wanted back then. The King had to give you permission to brew beer, and that’s exactly what the town received under King Premysl Otakar II of Bohemia.
Because the town had the Brewing Right, it quickly became one of the most important areas of Bohemia. It had a reputation for producing some of the best beers in Europe, and King Ferdinand I even ordered brewers from Ceske Budejovice to come to his court in Augsburg to brew beer for him personally. This popularity eventually led to the opening of the Czech Joint-Stock Company in 1895. You may know the company as Budweiser Budvar.
Today, they export beer to over 66 countries around the world. Most of them are under the name Budweiser Budvar, but because of a never-ending trademark dispute with Anheuser Busch, they are exported as Czechvar to countries in North America.
They put a lot of thought into the exhibit and I was happy we got there early enough to enjoy it. I would recommend doing the same when you take your own tour of the place, or make sure you have enough time after the tour to explore it.
Before we knew it it was 2pm and our tour was ready to begin. There were only about 8 of us on the tour since the majority of the people waiting were taking it in either Czech or German.
Our first stop was one of the two artesian wells on the property. These wells pump water from 312 and 320 meters below the surface up into their storage tanks without any chemical treatment.
The interesting thing I took from this was the type of water pulled from the wells. According to the guide, it cannot be replicated, and that is a major reason why all Budweiser Budvar sold within the Czech Republic and exported around the world is produced at this one brewery. The water contains less than 3 mg of nitrates per liter of water. Compare this to drinking water safety standards, which allow up to 50 mg of nitrates per liter.
One aspect of Budweiser Budvar worth noting is the ingredients they use. They follow an old law called the Reinheitsgebot, also known as the German Beer Purity Law. This law states that beer from Germany and the lands of the Holy Roman Empire can only contain water, hops, and barley. While the Holy Roman Empire is long gone, the Budweiser Budvar company still upholds this law with the exception of adding yeast to their beer. That means there are no added or artificial ingredients in any of their beers. Also, all of the ingredients are sourced as locally as possibly, with all of the grains coming straight from the Moravia region of the Czech Republic. Take that Anheuser Busch!
Our next stop was the brewing room, which holds the massive vats used to make the mash and later turn it into wort. The room was huge, and even with the windows open it was stifling hot in there. I feel bad for the employees who have to sit in there monitoring the tanks all day.
After the piping hot brewing room, we went to the complete opposite end of the spectrum and froze our butts off for the next ten minutes in the lagering cellar . This is where the beer begins its secondary fermentation process and matures for anywhere from 30 days for the traditional lager to up to 250 days for their imperial lager. The temperature in the cellar is regulated to stay between 1-3° Celsius (34-37° Fahrenheit).
This is the part of the process where the beer really takes on its flavor, and it’s also the place where we get to have a little taste test! One of the employees poured us each a small sample straight from the maturation tank, unpasteurized and unfiltered. It was incredible, and it only made me want to have more of the good stuff. Budweiser Budvar, other than sharing a name with its American counterpart, shares no similarities. The Czech Budweiser has so much flavor and actually tastes like a quality beer, unlike the American stuff which is… I don’t even know what to call it. Calling it beer would be giving it too much credit.
The final part of the tour was a walk through the bottling plant. Besides the beer tasting, I thought this was the best part. My degree at UMass was focused on Supply Chain and Logistics, so I love efficiency and processes. No better place to watch it than here!
The bottles are first run through a washer to make sure they are spick and span. On average, they can reuse a bottle seven or eight times before it becomes defective and needs to be sent to a glass recycling plant. Once they’re washed, they’re filled, capped, and sent into the pasteurization tunnel for about one hour. Once they’re been pasteurized they’re labeled, packed up in various crates and cartons, and sent off for the world to enjoy!
And with that came the end of the tour! I highly recommend paying a visit if you’re in the Czech Republic and like beer. The Czechs drink more beer per capita than any other country by a wide margin, so consider it a cultural visit. Ceske Budejovice is less than two hours from Prague by car, and you can stop there on your way to Cesky Krumlov. You could even make it a day trip if you wanted, but if you’re going to travel two hours I’d just spend the night.
Tours run daily at 2pm and cost 120 CZK (~$5.00 USD). Pro Tip: If you have a student ID you can get in for half price!
For more information on the Budweiser Budvar brewery company and a more comprehensive detail of their history check out their website here.
Have you taken a brewery tour? Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comment section!