Recently I visited Czech and Slovak republic.
I sampled as many beers as possible and visit as many breweries as possible.
Book “Good Beer Guide Prague & the Czech Republic” was a great help:http://www.amazon.com/Good-Guide-Prague-Czech-Republic/dp/1852492333/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1290289479&sr=1-1
These are my thoughts about it.
I visited two large and two small breweries and sampled over 30+ beers.
They were from 10 Plato (4% ABV) to 24 Plato (10% ABV).
Most of the beers were fermented with lager yeast but there were some that were fermented with ale yeast.
Beer market is quite versatile.
You can find Czech Pilsners 10, 12 and special 16.
Dark Beer 11 or 13.
Kvasinkove pivo (Unfiltered, unpasteurized with live yeast mostly cloudy).
Some Ales like ESB...
Non alcoholic beer.
Taste of Bohemian Pilsner vary by brewery from VERY malty to watery. Most of them are in balanced area. A few of them are balanced and bright. Only one had slight lingering bitterness. Aroma is mostly malty. Hop aroma is non present.
Most of Dark beers are too sweet even for natives but there are some dark beers like U Fleku that are restrained with sweetens. Dark beers have very little or no roast.
When you drink 10 or 12 beer from the same brewery you almost can not say the difference.
Czech drinkers prefer low alcohol beers and most of the beers you find are about 4.5 ABV.
Breweries do at least double decoction brewing process.
Most people in breweries fallow the traditional process and do not know exactly why they are doing it.
In one brewery I was told they use three different hops: extract, plugs and pallets but they did not know the variety. In another brewery I was told that “we use pallet hops and they come from Germany”. They also did not know the hop variety.
I tasted a malt from two maltsters. I was surprised that Pilsner malt was more chewy. It felt like it was not dryed enough but it had nice rich taste with pleasant sweetness. In one brewery I saw grain bags with Cyrillic letters.
Lager breweries have modern equipment and they are VERY proud of their packaging lines.
After EACH bottling they do preventive maintenance and they disassemble, inspect and clean packaging machinery. May be the brewery on “Brewmasters” TV show should take a notice. Smaller breweries still use wood fired brewhouses.
Open fermenters are used most of the time. You can find some breweries with conical fermenters.
I have seen one small brewery that beer was fermented in open wood barrels and lagered in closed wood barrels. Beer was fantastic.
Most of large breweries were bought up by InBev, SAB Miller or Heineken. There are still smaller regional breweries in Czech republic that are independent. In Slovak Republic it is bleaker. There are only 3 independent mid size breweries left.
Microbrewery trend is picking up and they produce great beers.
Pilsner Urquell (owned by SAB Miller) is still highly regarded beer and is available all over the country.
Budvar (owned by Czech state) survived only because of it's ownership.
If you made it down here, thank you for reading.