Budweiser Budvar Original at Budvarka Dejvice Pub

Evan Rail

Czech Lager
First Brewed
Malt Varieties
Moravian Pilsner Malt
Hop Varieties
Žatecký Poloraný Červeňák (ŽPČ) a.k.a. Saaz (whole cones)
Budvar house strain of Saccharomyces pastorianus
Grilled klobásy sausages, Miller-style trout, and lazy afternoons.
Budvarka Dejvice Pub
Evan Rail

The worst part about fighting lawsuits with Anheuser-Busch and its successor, AB InBev, for over a century is that people end up knowing more about the various legal strategies and jurisdictional rulings than they do about the beer in question. And by that I don’t mean American Budweiser: everyone knows what that is. I’m talking about the other Budweiser, the one that actually hails from the town of České Budějovice, aka Budweis in German, and thus the name.

Here in its homeland, the brewery is known as Budějovický Budvar, meaning Budweiser Budvar, but most people just call it Budvar. As at nearly all Czech breweries, Budvar’s flagship is a 12º beer on the Plato scale. Because life is hard and nothing can be easy, that beer is currently branded “Original” by the brewery, though Czech people usually call it dvanáctka, meaning twelve, or ležák, meaning lager. In North America, a smidgen of imports sneak in under Budvar’s camouflage brand Czechvar, but you’d have to be both very knowledgeable about Czech beer and extremely lucky to find one. If there’s a list of beers whose reputations precedes them, Budvar Original must be near the top.

Which is a shame, because Budvar Original is absolutely delicious. I’ve spent the past few years regularly stocking it at home, increasing volumes as the weather warms up. When my family and I decamp to South Bohemia for the summer, I always keep plenty of Budvar Original in the beer fridge, and not just because it’s local to us down there. The beer has a lighter body compared to most Bohemian pale lagers, making it especially pleasant when the mercury rises. Call it a lawnmower beer with a boatload of character.

It’s worth noting that Budvar Original isn’t exactly a textbook example of a traditional Bohemian pale lager: it’s more attenuated, lighter in color and definitely less bitter than most pale lagers here, making it a bit of an oddball.

Perhaps because of that, Budvar actually exports more than it sells domestically, a rare situation for a Czech brewery. (The lion’s share of those exports go to neighboring Germany, where they also know a thing or two about quality lagers.) But the beer is still a favorite for a number of Czechs, who will tell you that they like it because “it isn’t too bitter,” or because “it isn’t as filling and heavy as other lagers.” The Czech language is complicated, with multiple declinations, unpronounceable consonants and weird diphthongs, and it is easy for us outsiders to get confused when locals speak. What they’re trying to say, I believe, is that it’s crushable.

In Prague, there are only a few showcase bars for Budvar, though those include Old Town’s historic U Medvídků beer hall, which dates to 1466. But if you want to try the best Budvar outside of Budweis itself, I recommend the brewery’s modern pub and restaurant, Budvarka, located in the embassy district north of Prague Castle, between the Hradčanská and Dejvická metro stations. Showing a group of American beer lovers around Prague last fall, I offered them an impromptu opportunity to try the “original” Budweiser with a stop at Budvarka, which also gave us a chance to warm up on a chilly afternoon. All of the brewery’s beers impressed us, especially Budvar’s excellent dark lager. But it was Budvar Original that really stood out. Famous for using only whole cones of prime Saaz hops and undergoing a full 90 days of conditioning — aka lagering — in traditional horizontal tanks, Budvar Original showed off an elegantly understated, bitter-sweet balance. It was one of the most memorable pints in a day filled with great beers.

Author Evan Rail tucked into a booth, escaping a snowstorm outside of Budvarka.

There are plenty of other reasons to love Budvar and the Budvar brewery. As a resident of the Czech Republic, I appreciate that Budvar is the last brewery still owned by the Czech nation — this means, effectively, that my own children are owners of the brewery, and that they profit from every half-liter I buy. (Drink up, Dad!) And naturally, I appreciate that Budvar continues to fight the good fight against a global behemoth. But beyond everything else, it is the taste of Budvar Original that gets me: the gently aromatic Saaz hop notes, the well-conditioned malt body, the extreme drinkability of each sip. In a country filled with impeccable lagers, it truly is its own thing.

Evan Rail writes about food and drink in Europe. His ebook The Brewery in the Bohemian Forest won a bronze medal from the North American Guild of Beer Writers.

Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.

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