Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

Where to Buy Beer in Prague: Belgians at Billa

Call it an auspicious start to 2009 for lovers of good beer: in the very center of Prague, a major Czech supermarket now has a large selection of great Trappist ales at the best prices in town.

Most of these beers are available elsewhere in Prague, so don’t expect to find any unknown gems among the supermarket’s Budvar and Pilsner Urquell bottles. As I wrote in a post that was lost in the Wormhole Incident™, you can find well-known Belgians at Pivovarský klub and Pivní galerie, though you’ll burn through your pocketbook if you do, as prices for a small bottle of the globally ubiquitous Chimay can hit 153 Kč ($7.90 / €5.70).

In my earlier post, I forwarded a friend’s recommendation for the cheese shop Cheesy, with branches around Prague and around the country, and where most of the Trappist ales list for 75 Kč or so per 33-centiliter bottle. (An exception was the legendary Rochefort 10, which cost 90 Kč.)

But the prices at the Billa supermarket are even better, and with a more central location. Right at Náměstí Republiky, the Billa on V celnici street charges 63 Kč ($3.25 / €2.35) for a small bottle of Orval, the best price I’ve heard of for what can be one of the very best beers in the world.

Rochefort 6 and 8 are also 63 Kč; Rochefort 10 is 80 Kč. Small bottles of La Trappe and Westmalle start at 60 Kč. Most of the fruit-lambic lineup from Lindemans is available at similar prices (although I didn’t see Cuvée René, the brewery’s better old gueuze).

The best news, however, is that Billa also carries the large, .75-liter bottles which are perfect for aging. Corked-and-caged wine bottles of Chimay Cinq Cents, Grande Réserve and Première are all just 160 Kč; the wonderfully complex Achel Extra Bruin boasting 9.5% alcohol is just 200 Kč; big bottles of Westmalle Tripel are 180 Kč.

Why does this matter? Because Czech beer culture’s tough bounce is the extremely high price of foreign beers: even at 63 Kč for an Orval, you’re paying three times the cost of a Pilsner Urquell or Primátor Stout. Such prices mean foreign brews remain out of bounds for most people, which in turn means that regular Honzas and Hankas here have no experience with even the most mundane beer styles from abroad. (Let’s be honest: we’re not talking about truly obscure beers here. These are Belgium’s usual suspects.) In turn, this means that people continue to drink one style of beer, pale lager, which constitutes 95% of Czech consumption. In general, such homogeneity is not a hallmark of a healthy beer culture.

But beyond merely having lower prices, the arrival of Belgium’s usual suspects at Billa means something is changing. Before, these beers were only available in a couple of beer shops in town. Later, you could find them in a few specialty food stores. Now, in addition to lower prices, we’re seeing the progress to mass distribution of quality foreign beers in a place where thousands of Praguers buy their daily groceries.

Instead of Belgium’s best-known brews, I’m sure that Velký Al would prefer to see more real ale from the UK. I’d bet that Pivní Filosof would rather see more Czech regional microbrews. And I’d agree with both of them. But one thing at a time. 2009 is already off to a very good start.


Balling: A Prague Brewing Scientist Orphaned by Wikipedia


Getting Good Beer into the Newspaper


  1. I turn my back for five minutes and the world turns upside down. Rochefort just round the corner and at only three times the price in France? Yes I would love to see more ale from the UK, but you are right, this is one small step for beer lovers, one giant leap for a major retailer in the Czech Republic! Well done Billa.

  2. Well, ain’t that great news! Really, it is nice to see a supermarket chain that is offering imported beers other than the ones we don’t want to drink.
    Now about the prices. You make a really good point. The problem as I see it is that to most people, beer is just another generic product, they go to the supermarket and pick bread, milk, butter and beer without paying any attention to what else is around. At the same time are happy with spending 170CZK or more on a bottle of at best average Spanish or Italian wine. Myself, I’d much rather pay that much for a 0.75l bottle of Westmalle.
    On another note, as much as I welcome Billa’s initiative (though I believe the risk is more on the distributor of these beers as I’m sure he had to pay a pretty hefty fee to get them on the shelves) I still prefer to spend a few more Crowns at Cheesy, the beers are kept in better conditions than in a supermarket.

  3. pivnizub

    Yes, great news – maybe. But one of the sympatic habits of all the Hankas and Honzas is that they’re used to consume beer in large quantities. I’m afraid that these Trappist brews are not very suitable for a long lasting beer session, so the demand for these Belgians will be modest IMHO……… On the other side the average czech beer consumer doesn’t like to spend too much crowns for his favourite drink, even if it is great. Look at the superb Strahov brewery. These fine beers – especially the Velikonočni Speciál – are unknown to the most of the Czechs, because a 0.4 l glass costs more than 50 Kč. The Billa offer will be more interesting for foreigners than for the average pivař, I’m afraid…………

  4. steviee

    Pivnizub make’s a good point. Billa’s target market for these superb belgian ales must be primarily foreigners.
    Czech nationals have a beer culture similar to the u.k – they are used to highly sessionable beer with a low abv and price.
    One can only get excited about billa’s intentions for the future though, will british ales be available here soon? It bodes well!

  5. “will british ales be available here soon?”
    I don’t see it happenning. Not because of anything wrong with British ales, but because these Belgian beers are already known here in Prague. Several restaurants and shops sell them alerady, and they have their market (not foreigners only, I think). British beers, on the other hand, are practically, and sadly, unknown in these latitudes. It will take a speciality shop to introduce them for the supermarkets to start taking notice.
    What I would like to check out is if these beers are also available at other Billa outlets.

  6. Have been to several other Billa’s this week and the only one with the Belgian stuff is the one on V Celnici. Though I did pick up a few bottles of Primator stout at one in Prague 3.

  7. It is interesting to note that if you set up a Beligan beer cafe somewhere in Europe, at least you’ll have the InBev range, while there are hundreds of fake English pubs with nothing but Guinness and industrial lagers. Well, maybe Newcastle Brown Ale…

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén