If you love beer and are in the Czech Republic, you should tour the “original” Budweiser Brewery.
Budweiser Budvar Brewery
The Budweiser Budvar Brewery itself is 123 years old. It brewed its first batch on October 7th, 1895 under the name “Czech Joint-Stock Brewery”. The brewery has gone through many changes in those years, notably:
- A series of lawsuits with an American company that decided that Budweiser was a pretty good name for beer and registered the trademark for it.
- The brewery was nationalized in 1948 at the end of WWII and the start of the communist period and is the only brewery in the Czech Republic that is still owned by the government, giving it the best claim at being Czech beer.
- Last year (2017) the beer from Budweiser Budvar became the most exported beer in history. They exported 99,050,800 liters of beer to 76 countries. The brewery has not licensed their name so all of that beer is produced at the one brewery in České Budějovice.
Beer Making in České Budějovice (German: Budweis)
The King of Bohemia granted a town charter to České Budějovice in 1265 and with that charter gave the townspeople certain rights, among them, was the right to brew beer. So they have been at this beer business for quite some time in the region.
At one point the city was made the imperial brewers for the Holy Roman Empire. So while the American Budweiser may claim to be the “King of Beers”, České Budějovice has been making the beer of kings.
The Beer That Started 10,000 Years Ago
The ingredients for the beers produced at the brewery are all locally sourced, with the hops coming from a town near Prague and the barley also from Czech fields. Hops growers are particularly lucky, on a long day in the Czech summer hops vines can grow as much as 12 inches. But it is the water for the beer that is more unusual. The brewery has artesian wells that are drilled around 300 meters or 1000 feet down into an aquifer that has trapped water from the last ice age. When you drink their beer, you are drinking snow and rain that fell on the Earth 10,000 years ago. This makes the water unusually pure.
The Trademark Fight
Adolphus Busch was a German immigrant to the United States who decided he liked both the name Budweiser as well as the Bohemian beer-making process. He opened his brewery in 1876. At the time there was more than one brewery in České Budějovice using the German name of the city Budweiss to brand their beer Budweiser, although Budweiser Budvar itself had not yet opened.
Budweiser Budvar and Anheuser-Busch have been arguing about the trademark in over 100 court cases around the world since 1907. In general Budweiser Budvar has the rights to the name Budweiser in Europe, so the American beer goes by Bud in Europe. But Anheuser-Busch has the rights in North American so Budweiser Budvar beer is sold under the name Czechvar in the U.S. Anheuser-Busch acquired the brewery Budweiser Bürgerbräu in 2014 to aid in the trademark fight, so this fight is not over yet.
You can take a guided tour of the brewery on most days at 2 pm. Tours without prior booking are available in Czech, English and German. The tour is an hour long and your tour group will have 5-50 people. A taste of unfiltered beer from the cooling rooms will be included.
The visitor’s center and gift shop are open from 9 am to 5 pm. In January and February, the brewery is closed Sunday and Monday. The visitor’s center also has a multimedia presentation if you don’t have the time or desire to take a tour.
You can also order tours in advance for private groups of 5 or more or groups that need a tour in Russian, French, Spanish, or Italian.
For reservations contact the Budweiser Budvar Visitor Centre:
+420 387 705 347
180 CZK outside the opening hours
Students and children can tour for half price.
The Tour Experience
The appropriate dress for a brewery tour of Budweiser Budvar is in layers. When you visit the brewhouse where the beer is cooking in big copper kettles, it gets quite warm (40°C / 104°F). When you go down to the cooling rooms, it gets quite chilly (5°C / 41°F).
The tour starts at the artesian well, proceeds to the brewhouse, the cylinder-conical tanks, the lager cellar, and the bottling plant before returning to the visitor’s center.
While the wells might be the least interesting thing to see on the tour, they are a very important part of the process. For every liter of beer 4 liters of water are used.
To make beer you first take your barley and malt it. You crush it, soak it and toast it. How long you toast it will influence how dark the resulting beer will be. You then mix this malted barley with the bitter hops and water to create a slurry called hop wort. In the brewhouse, the hop wort is cooked for 10 hours in these beautiful large copper pots. In addition to letting the flavors mix, boiling the beer also sterilizes it.
The hop wort mixture is cooled down in these large tanks.
In the cold lagger cellar, the yeast is added and fermentation starts. A new yeast mixture is used every week. The old yeast and solids from the brewing process are sold to local farmers for animal feed. Here the beer will sit from 2 weeks to 7 months fermenting. How long it sits depends on the strength of the beer they are trying to make. Their near beer which has only .5% alcohol only takes 2 weeks. Budweiser Budvar makes 5 beer with 4-7.5% alcohol.
The cellar has old signs with sayings like “let’s drink beer while we are alive after death we can’t drink beer”.
The tour will linger here a bit in the cold so that you can try an unfiltered beer from one of the tanks.
Most of the Budweiser Budvar beer is bottled (60%) while 30% is sold in kegs and only 10% in cans. The tour will visit the bottling plant. If possible, don’t visit on Sunday like we did as the bottling is less likely to be running. The bottling plant has 2 different lines. Each line can bottle 40,000 bottles an hour!
This part of the tour is noisy so you may not be able to hear your guide’s explanations but there are signs posted in Czech and English which explain the process.
If you do visit the Budweiser Budvar brewery, don’t do what many people do which is just make it a day trip from Prague. The region is worth some further attention.
Private tour to Český Krumlov with a Guided tour at the Budweiser brewery
The town of České Budějovice has a beautiful central square which is not filled with tourists. It has parks along its river banks and bike paths that connect to 5000km of biked paths in Southern Bohemia and to long-distance European bike routes. How else can one burn off the calories from all that beer?
In the summer the city hosts a series of concerts in the park as well as films at an outdoor movie venue (in Czech or English). Their hockey team draws some of the biggest crowds in their league.
While Budweiser Budvar is making beer in the traditional fashion the region also boasts microbreweries doing more experimentation with beer. For instance, the brewery in Hluboká, Pivovar Hluboká, makes 14 different beers including more American style IPAs. Obviously they are making beer in much smaller quantities that Budweiser Budvar.
While you are in Hluboká, take the time also to visit the beautiful Hluboká castle.
Places to stay
We stayed in the Hotel Budweis which was a lovely small hotel along the banks of the river.
Places to Eat
I can recommend the following restaurants for traditional Czech food:
- Klika Kitchen & Coffee in the hotel across the street from Hotel Budweis has a great menu that featured my favorite Svícková which I had in a week in the Czech Republic, with tender meat and delicious, if overly generous, dumplings. My traveling companions also enjoyed the trout and a selection of soups, salads, and open-faced Czech sandwiches. I wish I had had one less dumpling and had tried the fresh pie.
- The Masné krámy restaurant just off the main square was also good.
- Our local tourism board contacts also recommended the restaurant Modré Dvere (Blue Door) near the town square.
The brewery at Budweiser Budvar Brewery at České Budějovice is building on a long heritage. The history of the beer they make is either 123 years, 750 years or 10,000 years in the making… depending on how you count. If you are in the area and a Beer lover, you should take this brewery tour.