What is a Czech Lager?

The Czech beer landscape offers a fascinating journey for serious beer enthusiasts seeking a deeper understanding of the world of lagers. In this exploration, we’ll delve into the intricacies of Czech lagers, unraveling the significance behind gravity classes, color variations, and the unique brewing methods that set them apart.

Gravity and Color Classifications

To comprehend the diverse realm of Czech lagers, one must first acquaint themselves with the gravity and color classifications that define these brews. The Czech names světlé (pale), polotmavé (amber), and tmavé (dark) encapsulate the color spectrum. Meanwhile, the gravity classes—výčepní (draft, 7–10 °P), ležák (lager, 11–12 °P), and speciální (special, 13 °P and above)—serve as a guide to the beer’s strength.

Drawing parallels to German classifications like schankbier, vollbier, and starkbier, the Czech gravity classes offer a unique range. Notably, Czech beers within these classes are often referred to simply by their gravity, allowing enthusiasts to precisely navigate the landscape.

German Classifications:

  1. Schankbier (Draft Beer): In Germany, schankbier refers to draft beer, typically with a gravity ranging from 7–8 °P. This category encompasses lighter, more sessionable beers, often enjoyed in social settings or pubs. Schankbier is known for its refreshing qualities, making it a popular choice for casual consumption.
  2. Vollbier (Full Beer): Vollbier, or full beer, represents the mainstream beers with a gravity level between 11–12 °P. These beers strike a balance between flavor and drinkability, catering to a broad audience. This category includes a diverse range of styles, from lagers to ales, providing beer enthusiasts with various options within the moderate gravity range.
  3. Starkbier (Strong Beer): Starkbier, as the name suggests, refers to strong beers with a gravity of 13 °P and above. These beers are known for their robust flavors, higher alcohol content, and, often, a more complex brewing process. Starkbier encompasses a range of styles, including bocks and doppelbocks, and is often associated with celebratory or seasonal brews.

Now, let’s draw parallels to Czech gravity classes:

  • Výčepní (Draft): Corresponding to Schankbier, the výčepní class in Czech gravity classification encompasses draft beers with a gravity ranging from 7–10 °P. These are lighter, more approachable beers often enjoyed on tap in various social settings.
  • Ležák (Lager): Similar to vollbier, the ležák class represents mainstream lagers with a gravity level of 11–12 °P. These beers strike a balance between drinkability and flavor, appealing to a broad audience.
  • Speciální (Special): Drawing parallels to starkbier, the speciální class comprises beers with a gravity of 13 °P and above. These are the strong and often more complex brews, including styles like Czech Porter, offering enthusiasts a taste of the rich and celebratory side of Czech brewing.

Within the speciální class, where the gravity surpasses 13 °P, variations abound. The Czech beer scene embraces this diversity, with some styles defying easy categorization, like the robust Czech Porter. These classifications, however, provide a structured lens for judging and appreciating the rich tapestry of Czech beers.

Brewing Distinctions of a Czech Lager

What truly sets Czech lagers apart from their Western counterparts, particularly German lagers, lies in the brewing process. While German lagers are typically fully attenuated, Czech lagers retain a slight amount of unfermented extract, contributing to a higher finishing gravity. This subtle difference yields a fuller body, a more substantial mouthfeel, and a nuanced flavor profile.

The fermentation process itself adds another layer of complexity to Czech lagers. Fermented at cooler temperatures (7–10 °C) for an extended period, Czech lagers embrace a meticulous approach that fosters a light, barely noticeable diacetyl presence. Unlike a flaw, this diacetyl imparts a rounded body to the beer, enhancing the overall aroma and flavor.

Traditional Decoction Mashes

In contrast to their German counterparts, Czech lager yeast strains are not always as clean and attenuative. This distinction, coupled with the use of decoction mashes—often double decoction, even with modern malts—marks a departure from the German preference for infusion or step infusion mashes. Decoction mashing involves removing a portion of the mash, boiling it, and then returning it to the main mash. Czech brewers, even with the availability of modern malts, adhere to this traditional technique.

The use of traditional decoction mashes, a hallmark of Czech brewing, plays a pivotal role in shaping the richness, mouthfeel, and flavor profile of Czech lagers. Even with the availability of modern malts, Czech brewers adhere to this time-honored technique, emphasizing the commitment to tradition and the pursuit of a distinctive beer experience.

Embracing the Czech Lager Experience

In the grand tapestry of beer culture, Czech lagers stand as a testament to tradition, craftsmanship, and a commitment to flavor exploration. As enthusiasts embark on the quest to understand the intricacies of Czech lagers, they are rewarded not just with a beverage but with a story woven into each pint.

Explore the growing variety of beers in one taproom, The Growler Guys. Each of our locations carries the best local varieties, from the palest ales to the darkest stouts, along with ciders and kombucha. Our friendly staff is happy to walk you through the characteristics of every style to help you discover your personal favorites. Take home the beers you love best in a growler to share with family and friends. View our online tap list to learn about the available selections at a location near you!

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