Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

The Return of Krušovice Černé


Although I believe in the importance of local ownership for breweries, I’m not totally convinced that that local owners are always better owners. Sometimes local owners can screw things up. Sometimes foreign owners can improve things. Look at what happened with Krušovice Černé, the legendary black lager from the brewery once owned by Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II.

Pivovar Krušovice passed through many hands over the centuries, including foreigners like the Habsburg Emperor himself. Probably founded in 1517 when the local lords were granted brewing rights, it is first mentioned in print in 1581 as the property of Jiří Bírka z Násile, who had moved his brewery from Rakovník to a farm in nearby Krušovice, according to the history at In 1583 it was purchased from Jiří Bírka z Násile by Rudolph for 11,500 Meissner kopa, thus becoming the property of the Czech Crown, later falling into the hands of Bohemia’s Valdštejn and Fürstenberk noble families until after the war. It was nationalized by the Communists in 1948.

I’ve been told by brewers that, under Communism, Pivovar Krušovice produced pale lagers of such quality that they could — and probably did — pass for Pilsner Urquell on the export market. Krušovice Černé was certainly revered by people who know good beer. But something happened after the Velvet Revolution, while the brewery was under the ownership of Binding Brauerei group, part of the Dr. Oetker frozen-pizza and processed-food empire. As I put it in Good Beer Guide Prague and the Czech Republic, the beers sucked.

Part of that suck was the use of artificial ingredients, which, if I remember correctly, included both E150a, or caramel coloring, and E954, saccharine, in Krušovice Černé, which resulted in a medicinal, sickly sweet finish. So it was to my surprise when I tasted one recently for the first time in a while and found that I liked it plenty. The finish didn’t seem too sweet anymore. On draft at the Krušovická pivnice at Národní 7 in Prague, the beer had enough cola, coffee, spice and licorice notes that I stopped to pick up a bottle on the way home that night.

And then I read the ingredients. “Water, barley malt, hops, hop extract, yeast.” No E150a. No E954. Not even any E300, or ascorbic acid, another common additive in Czech beers.

So Krušovice Černé is once again made without artificial colorings and sweeteners and seems better off for it. The big difference between now and then is yet another change of ownership: Pivovar Krušovice was purchased by Heineken in June of 2007. The Dutch giant might not be everyone’s favorite international brewing conglomerate (and really, which one is?), but to judge by just one dark lager and how it tastes, it’s a step up from the frozen-pizza guys.

Run out and buy it? If you like dark lagers, definitely. The beer’s 3.8% alcohol — this is a desítka, or 10° Plato brew — makes it a very manageable lunch beer. Ratebeer also lists a version with just 3.5% alcohol in Sweden. In fact, both the domestic and the Scandinavian brews are much weaker than Krušovice Černé once was: the beer is descended from a celebratory brew called Grand, originally brewed at 14° and with around 6% alcohol, first made sometime around 1900. (That’s not a lunch beer by any means, at least not for me.)

I think this shows that not all foreign owners are equal, or at least not equally bad. Nor are all local owners universally good for breweries and beer lovers. One Czech brewmaster I spoke with recently noted that his beers improved remarkably once his brewery was bought by foreigners, who then provided enough capital to invest in better ingredients. Now it’s all Žatecký poloraný červeňák and Haná barley, all the time. But in the bad old days when his brewery was still Czech-owned, he said, they used Chinese hops and malt from Slovakia.


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  1. Evan, this is very good to know. The removal of artificial anything is a subject close to my heart, and it is warming to know that at least one dark beer removes the artificial sweeteners. Out of interest, what is wrong with malt from Slovakia?

  2. Hey David, I certainly didn’t mean to disparage Slovak malt. The brewer in question, however, used it as an example of the cheaper ingredients his brewery used before they had the cash for the good stuff.

  3. Another thing Krušovice doesn’t have anymore is leftovers from Radeberger, the previous bosses.

    I have it from a good source that the German brewer used to send some of the stuff they couldn’t sell home to pump up the volume of Krušovice.

  4. Understood, not that I know much about malts from Slovakia, just in the context of Chinese hops it appeared amusing that the quality might be that bad.
    Is this something that other breweries experiencing? so a general trend?

  5. smetanophile

    If my wife, weaned on beer in Praha 6, had to choose her favourite beer it would have to be Černé Krušovice. In fact a few years ago at the end of a weekend long “beer technology & history” weekend in Scotland we arrived back in Edinburgh on Sunday evening. “A drink?” “Yes, but I’ve had enough of those Scottish drinks that call themselves beer.” “So if we were in Prague what would you choose?” “Černé Krušovice.” Imagine her delight when she found that the pub had such exotic items! Interesting about the Slovakian malts. Even if I try hard I can’t name any maltings in Slovakia.

  6. I had this beer recently in Osnabrück. It was a bit thin, but not bad. Better than I expected it to be.I did stop drinking Krusovice altogether because it tasted so bad. I’d thought it was the conical fermenters that ruined it.

  7. Interesting about the Slovakian malts. Even if I try hard I can’t name any maltings in Slovakia.

    A recent Pivovarský kalendář lists 10 of them, including Hurbanovo, also owned by Heineken.

    It was a bit thin, but not bad. Better than I expected it to be.

    It certainly seems better than it used to be. It strikes me as a good summertime dark: the slight thinness can be quite nice on a hot day, and I do appreciate the low strength, as we have very few beers here which are sessionable, flavorful and widely available. This one is 3.8%, better than it used to be, and ubiquitous. I vote “yes.”

  8. Krusovice is one of the few Czech beers I’ve seen widely available in Germany. Perhaps they like it because it confirms their sense of superiority in brewing…? Glad to hear things might be improving.

  9. pivnizub

    Evan, it is IMO true, what You’ve been told about Krušovice during the Communist times. The beer was really good, almost as good as a fresh Prazdroj. I remember a beer-hall in the Jewish Quarter in Prague (presumably it was Krušovická pivnice or so) serving really excellent beers in the late 70’s. The Radeberger group ruined the quality of the brews totally – as well as they spoiled the “modern” Radeberger, which was an excellent brew in the DDR, completely. But the Krušovice beers were heavily promoted here in Germany, so many “unexperienced” german beer-lovers got to know the “dark side” of czech brewing.

  10. Ball

    In other good news, for all of you Yank ex-pats, Krušovice is available in the States for when you travel home and, unlike what passes for Pilsner Urquell here, it’s a nice pint. I still would recommend the Lagunitas Czech Pils if you’re in the States and want a good Pilsner that actually takes like a Czech beer, though.

  11. J Lindbergh

    I was recently in Germany and had this beer and went through some of the Czech Republic, stopping for lunch and had a “huge” bottle of Krusovice there. It is the best beer I’ve ever had! Before this it was Guinness, but this tops it by far. My question is, can you, and if so, where can you get this beer in the States?

  12. KC

    I grabbed a bottle of it at BevMo last night and had it with dinner. Had never had it before, but this was good stuff. By no means heavy, very smooth and very drinkable. I haven’t had a lot of dark lagers that I’ve been crazy about, but it’s not damning with faint praise to say that this is one of the best I’ve had.

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