I recently read the fantastic novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” by the gifted and eloquent wordsmith Michael Chabon. Its early chapters involving the protagonist’s plans to escape from impending Nazi rule to America and distant family are compelling, harrowing and exciting. I have to know more about Czechoslovakia.
The Austrian Hapsburg monarchy joined forces with the Hungarian crown of Saint Stephen in 1867 to form the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This lasted until World War I when, as the band Alice Donut once put it, a fed-up Serbian killed Arch Duke Ferdinand unhinging the wrath of millions. The Empire split into six countries, one of them Czechoslovakia.
Bohemia was the western-most section of the country and they were going crazy for beer. At the time, a number of German brewers had been making ale to varying degrees of success. When a few too many bad orders showed up, the Czechs revolted and dumped out entire batches. The newly-discovered method of lagering – or bottom-fermenting beer in cooler environments – began to be combined with Bohemian hops and paler strains of barley and, in a little town called Plzen, a new style of beer was born. We know this clean, pale gold beer as pilsner.
Czechoslovakia amicably split into two countries in the wake of the failure of Communism in the late 1980s-early 90s. A neat fact about the Czech Republic and Slovakia: for some reason, the Czechs not only out-drink the world per capita, they more than double the amount of their closest neighbors. While Slovakians gulp down 64 liters per person on average a year, Czechs rule the tipsy top at 132 liters! For comparison, we Americans don’t even crack the top ten; 78 liters per person.
Let’s pay respect to the beery history of both halves of the whole. From the Czech Republic is Czech Rebel and from Slovakia is Golden Pheasant; both classic examples of pilsner. Golden Pheasant is shiny brassy-gold while Rebel has a darker hue. Both sport tall, fluffy heads that leave spotty lacing. Rebel’s nose is spicy and herbaceous while Pheasant leans more towards citrus and hay. Both are malt-forward and bready with notes of lemon and grass while noble Saaz hops round out the flavor with a distinct sharp bite finishing clean and light.