Close-up of bar tender filling beer from bar pump at bar counter

První republika ‒ Pivní republika? First Republic ‒ Beer Republic?

Beer is an important part of Czech identity and we now have an interesting take on its development. The Czech Statistical Office (CZSO) has dusted off a report on the Czechoslovak beer industry in the 1920s and it shows us how things have changed – or not – over the last 100 years. Each person in 1927 drank on average 68 litres per year, half the figure today. There were almost 500 businesses producing beer, whereas today there are 100 more. Photo credit: Freepik / for illustrative purposes.

Czech Rep., Nov 18 (BD) – In 1927 there were 492 active breweries in the whole of Czechoslovakia, of which 292 were microbreweries (producing less than 10,000 hectolitres). In comparison, in 2019 there were a total of 617 breweries in The Czech Republic compared to 474 in 1927 in the territory of today’s Czech Republic. More remarkably, 519 of those in 2019 were microbreweries. In the earlier part of the 20th century, almost every town had its own town brewery. Bigger cities had several – Brno had 13- and their distribution was mainly local. The 1920s, however, were a period of consolidation and modernisation, as shown by the fact that by 1927 there were already 92 fewer breweries than 4 years earlier. 

The Big Four Breweries

During the First Republic, there were four large breweries, whose annual production exceeded 200 thousand hectolitres. Three of these were located in Bohemia and one in Moravia and in total their products had a 19 percent share of the entire CSR market. Although the names may not be familiar, the locations certainly are and hint at their future identities. Bohemia was dominated by the Town Brewery in Pilsen (later Plzeňský Prazdroj or Pilsner Urquell), the Smichov Joint-Stock Brewery (Staropramen) and the Fr. Ringhoffer Brewery in Velké Popovice (Kozel). 

In Moravia, the largest player was the First Brno Joint-Stock Brewery and Malthouse, which at this time had gone through a period of expansion and by 1931 was producing 200,000 hectolitres year. The other big brewery was the Moravia Brewery, which would later merge with First Brno and after many upheavals become the Starobrno brewery we know today. 

Currently, the largest Czech producers are Pilsner Prazdroj (Urquell), Staropramen Breweries, Heineken ČR (including Starobrno and Krušovice), Budweiser Budvar and Lobkowicz Breweries.

Changing Drinking Habits

In 1927 total beer production in Czechoslovakia was 10 million hectolitres. Of this, by far the largest proportion was draught beer (72%). The classic light golden ležák or bottom-fermented lager only represented 27% of the production, whereas nowadays lager style beer is over half the total production. In comparison, total production in 2019 exceeded 21.6 million hectolitres of which about a quarter was exported compared to just over 2% in 1927.

When it comes to individual consumption of beer, the picture is somewhat confused. Average individual consumption in 1927 was nearly 68 litres per person, but in 2018 had risen to 145 litres. However, an interesting difference is highlighted in the 1927 figure. Individual consumption in Bohemia was almost 106 litres, whereas in the remainder of Czechoslovakia (Moravia, Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia) consumption was significantly lower resulting in an overall average of 67.9 litres

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