For all its storied beer history, the Czech Republic has essentially two beer styles: dark and light. It’s a spartan selection even in comparison to Germany and its Reinheitsgebot. There’s the dark, chocolaty cerny (pronounced with a “ch” sound), and there’s pilsner, the famous light-colored lager from the city of Plzen. Poured fresh, they’re clear, bready, crisp, and delicious — and the reason Czechs drink more beer per capita than any country in the world.
But the best pilsner is a fresh pilsner, which is why the Pilsner Urquell we get in the States tastes like detergent. (An unfiltered keg of the stuff, a rare find even in Prague, is the beer equivalent of fresh-squeezed OJ.) In D.C., it doesn’t get better than Victory Prima Pils for a crisp, hoppy take on the style, while pilsners are always good choices at brewpubs like District Chophouse and Capitol City Brewing Co. In Virginia, seek out a bottle of Legend Pilsner, a slightly sweeter, appley version. And if you must try an import, start with Czechvar, the nom de plume of Budvar, the original “Budweiser.”
Cerny beers are equivalent to German dunkels, or schwarzbiers. They’re malty, with sweetness ranging from sticky caramel to deep, burnt molasses. Dunkels aren’t common in America, but they are growing. Duck Rabbit recently brewed a wonderfully charred seasonal schwarzbier, while Samuel Adams tasty Black Lager has more of a coffee profile. For a Czech taste, you can try Krusovice, which crops up now and then in good beer stores.
So there you have it: two beer styles. I’m particularly partial to a fresh pilsner, but they both have their merits. So try one or two of each — and then be thankful you live in America, where we can pretty much drink anything in the world.