Think of beer, think of Germany.
Here in Prague, the Czechs put Germans to shame when it comes to knocking back brews. Czechs drink, on average, 143 liters of beer each year per person, far outpacing the nearest competitor – Namibia, at 108 liters.
The Germans? Lazing in fourth place at just over 104 liters.
As you should expect, this means the Czechs brew some mighty tasty beer – lagers, IPAs, stouts, sour beers, fruit beers … basically, if you can turn it into a beer, the Czechs have done it. And they’ve done it exceptionally well.
That makes Prague a top destination for travelers wanting to experience some of the best brews on the planet and looking to maximize reward-point accumulation on, say, a Capital One Savor card, which, with 4% cash back offers the largest amount of money back in your wallet when dining away from home.
As an expat living in Prague, I’ve put together this list of 5 places to explore the real world of Czech beer beyond the mass-market brands. I won’t say these are the best five pubs because “best” is subjective when it comes to beer and a pub’s ambiance. But these are very good at what they do and you won’t be disappointed.
I’ve picked pubs around the city to get you outside the tourist track / traps, so you can experience the real Prague. All are easy to reach on foot, or by tram/subway. And all take credit cards, so bring your Capital One Savor and put it to exceptional use collecting cash back and a great pub-hopping experience.
And off we go….
Štěpánská 543/3, Nové Město (Prague 1)
Štěpánská tram stop: trams 4, 6, 10, 11, 16, 21, 22
This is old-school – a throwback to 1970s/80s Prague, when the place was still communist. U Sumavy looks like it hasn’t changed since then. You feel like you’ve walked into your babushka’s house. The place is all golden wood, the walls covered in a green-and-white Soviet-era wallpaper and decades-old advertising and pictures.
That just adds to the charm and authenticity. Sure, you’ll find a few tourists, but U Sumavy is largely populated by locals and what are clearly old-time regulars who pop in for a quick beer before hobbling out with the aid of a cane.
You’ll find 12 beers on tap including the ubiquitous Pilsner Urquell, as well as Budvar, the original Budweiser, but there’s also a collection of very good local brews that are not mass-market brands.
Eight taps are permanent and four rotate, and all the beers are from various breweries around Prague or the Czech Republic.
I ordered the Černá Svině (Black Swine), a dark lager not unlike a baby Guinness. It’s as though the brewmaster tossed a bunch of dark chocolate, coffee and caramel into a vat of hops. If you’re a dark-beer fan, this is a good one.
Also: Come hungry. U Sumavy plates up a variety of good, traditional Czech cuisine including a nice goulash with dumplings.
Dva Kohouti (Two Roosters)
Sokolovská 81/55, Karlin (Prague 8)
Karlínské náměstí tram stop: trams 3, 8, 24, 25
An Industrial space in the hipster ‘hood of Karlin right by Karlínské náměstí tram stop. Concrete walls with peeling paint. Steel ceiling beams. Concrete and stainless bar top. A sink of cold water filled with clean glasses waiting on your order.
The back wall and a side area are essentially an erector set of vats, tanks and pipes brewing the local house lager: Místní Pivo.
Dva Kohouti has a single mission: brew beer in the morning and turn on the taps in the afternoon for a crowd that’s largely local. As such, arrive later in the day, since this place doesn’t open until 4 p.m. By about 5:30, the inside is filling up and the communal bench seating outside is getting crammed.
The beer menu above the bar, on what looks like a fast-food menu board, circa-1960s offers the Místní Pivo brewed that morning and stored in four large, stainless tanks behind the bar, as well as eight guest beers on tap; when I was there in early-June, they were pulling beer from the local Matuška brewery, home to Dva Kohouti’s brewmaster, though the guest beers do change.
So, if you don’t like lager, you’ll find pale ales, dark beers, witbeir and weizen on tap, as well.
A half-liter of the house brew is 55 crowns (about $2.40), while the guest beers all go for 69 crowns (3.05).
The home brew is a golden lager, a bit cloudy with a hoppy nose and a flavor that hints of something tropical, something slightly peppery. A top-notch beer for lager fans.
Vinohradská 988/62, Žižkov-Vinohrady (Prague 2/3)
Jiřího z Poděbrad metro stop, Line A (Green line)
Just across the street from the Jiřího z Poděbrad metro station, you’ll find a set of brown double doors open to a small staircase leading into a cozy, modern space. This is Beergeek, the brewpub for locals and expats who populate this leafy Prague neighborhood and who come in search of unique microbrews from Prague, the Czech Republic and regionally.
Beergeek has 30 microbrews on tap. More than half are Czech, including a couple in-house brews sold under the Sibeeria label.
With so many options, Beergeek offers a five-beer flight for 250 crowns ($11), in which you choose any combination of beers. I went with Falcon Send Nudes (a refreshing, sour IPA that tastes of drunken Sour Patch Kids); Clock Eleven (a barleywine that tastes like a dessert beer); Sibeeria Lollihop (a fairly standard IPA); Lobik Smithereens (a double New England IPA with a rich, mouthiness); and the Maryensztadt Joyride (an engaging sour ale infused with aronie, or black chokeberry).
I’d return just for the two sour beers. Sensing my joy, the barkeep gave me a sampling of the Raven Pilsner Weisse, a super-sour, citrusy beer, and it earns big marks.
You’ll find bar food at Beergeek, including a broad assortment of wings that range from sweet to Grim Reaper hot.
Lokál U Bílé kuželky
Míšeňská 66/12, Malá Strana (Prague 1)
Malostranské náměstí tram stop: trams 1, 2, 12, 15, 20, 22, 41
Lokal is an old, Prague chain with no frills buts lot of authentic ambiance. You’ll find several around the city, though this one is, to me, the best, if only because it’s right near Charles Bridge and within the Mala Strana district, Prague’s most beautiful, Old World section.
You’re only going to find mass-market beer at Lokal, particularly Pilsner Urquell and Kozel. But two exceptional reasons exist to have a Pilsner Urquell here: the tank and the foam.
Lokal is what Czechs call a tankovna – a pub that serves “tank beer.” There’s not much storage space in centuries-old buildings, so beer-filled tanker trucks arrive almost daily to fill up a 1,000-liter tank – on display under the bar. Sounds crazy, but I promise this is the freshest, mass-market beer you’ll ever have because it typically comes directly from the brewery to the restaurant shortly after brewing. Folks in Prague swear by tankovna pubs and each insists he (or she) knows the pub with the freshest Pilsner Urquell on tap.
As for the foam … Czechs drink beer in sometimes-unique ways, and one of the most unique is called “mleko”, the Czech word for milk. This is a beer that is 100% foam, meaning it looks like a mug of milk. It’s something that would turn off most Americans who’ve been led to believe a beer with a big head is badly drawn. Wrong.
The entire point of mleko is the head, though the foam ultimately settles into a normal beer. Most Czechs will have downed the foam before the settling happens, though. They order this because the foam is creamy and slightly sweeter than the beer, and it’s quicker to drink when you’re thirsty.
Lokal is a great place to combine beer with downhome Czech cuisine. Try the braised beef with a creamy cranberry mouse and dumplings.
Craft Beer Spot
Plaská 623/5, Malá Strana (Prague 1)
Ujezd tram stop: trams 1, 2, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 20
Tourists often miss this section of Mala Strana at the southern edge of the district, away from much of the tourist infrastructure. But just a few steps from Ujezd tram stop is Craft Beer Spot, a comfortable airy space of exposed brick and ductwork with 11 taps pouring fabulous Czech microbrews.
This is another place where you sense it’s largely a local clientele stopping in for a bite and a beer or three from a well-curated selection of brews.
As at Beergeek, I’d recommend the five-beer tasting set for 250 crowns. That way you again get a sampling of what makes Prague and the Czech Republic such a worthy destination for a beer vacation (a brewcation?).
I chose: Sour Passion Fruit (I have a newfound addiction to sour beers); Mein Original hefeweizen (your standard wheat beer); Kastel Rouge (a refreshing cherry Belgian beer); Apocalyptus (a hoppy double IPA that tastes of citrus); and First Order Hibernation (an oatmeal stout almost worthy of being an appetizer).
The Wrap Up
There’s more to Prague’s beer scene than mass-market brands you find on nearly every street corner and in all the tourist haunts. Venture beyond the obvious and you’ll find the true heart of Czech brewing culture.
Just be sure to bring your Capital One Savor card, because many of these places won’t take American Express, and with Savor you’ll collect a nice sum of cash-bash bonuses to help you return to Prague again.
As the Czech’s say, “Na zdravi!” … Cheers!