Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

Changes to Czech Brewing Regulations

If you were at all interested in Czech beer culture, you’d probably want to sneak a peek at the legal regulations on beer and beer-based beverages available from the Czech Ministry of Agriculture. I had to wade through those pages when we were putting together Good Beer Guide Prague and the Czech Republic, which included a summary of their obtuse Czech legalese in what we hoped to be semi-legible English.

Imagine my surprise when I saw the changes in a new version of that document. Errors have been fixed, a few vagaries have been cleared up, and at least one category of Czech beer has been washed away — while an interesting new Czech beer category has been proposed in its place.

At the time of the publication of GBG Prague, there were just a few legal categories for beer:

  • Lehké pivo (“light beer”), under 7° Balling in original gravity and less than 130 kJ/100 ml
  • Výčepní pivo (akin to “taproom beer”), 8° to 10° in original gravity
  • Ležák (“lager”), 11° to 12° in original gravity
  • Speciální pivo (or “special beer”), 13° and higher in original gravity
  • Porter, a dark beer composed primarily of barley malt, 18° and higher in original gravity

And that was largely it, with a few more clarifications or specifications: the grist of pšeničné pivo (“wheat beer”) had to contain at least 1/3 wheat malt; kvasnicové pivo (“yeast beer”) was (confusingly) only defined as containing an addition of fermenting wort, but not yeast itself; řezané pivo (“cut beer,” generally a mix of pale and dark lagers) had to be of two beers from the same category (eg, two “taproom” or two “lager” beers).

You can see the old document here:

The new document, available from the website of the State Agricultural and Food Inspectorate, makes some very interesting changes. You can find it here: (click the first PDF, titled “[vyhlaska_335_1997_Sb.pdf]

Can you spot the differences?

  • Lehké pivo is gone completely. (This won’t be missed. I think I only ever encountered two or three examples.)
  • In its place is a new style of beer: stolní pivo (“table beer”), made primarily from barley malt, up to 6° original gravity (inclusive).
  • Výčepní pivo now ranges from 7° to 10°, up to a full percent weaker in terms of original gravity.
  • Ležák is still 11° and 12°.
  • Speciální pivo is still 13° and up.
  • Kvasnicové pivo is now defined as containing an addition of clean yeast culture or an addition of fermenting wort.
  • A new category, pivo z jiných obilovin (“beer from other grain,” meaning other than barley or wheat), of which — if I’m reading this correctly — at least 1/3 of the grist must be the other grain specified.

Also, the earlier document seemed a bit too focused on yeast types, specifying as tightly as “Saccharomyces cerevisiae subsp. uvarum (carlsbergensis)” for Czech bottom-fermented beers; now it just says “bottom-fermenting brewing yeast.” (Interestingly, both documents acknowledge the possibility of also using both acetic- as well as lactic-acid-producing bacteria in brewing. However, this is possible only for top-fermenting beers: lambic-lager hybrids are still not on the cards.)

Personally, I’m thrilled about the idea of Czech table beers that are not limited to low-calorie versions: this is an entirely new style that deserves some great new examples from some courageous Czech brewers, stat. For the moment, however, I’m most interested in — and most confused by — that “beer from other grain” category. Are we going to start seeing rye beers built on at least 33% rye, or oat beers with at least 33% oats? (Answer: unlikely.) But more importantly, does that mean that you can’t call your beer a “corn beer” if it doesn’t contain at least 1/3 corn?


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Corrections, Comments, Clarifications and Addenda to the Czech Entries of The Oxford Companion to Beer


  1. The 33% thing is something I was told the other day at Staropramen, referring to their “Neflitrované” that has that much wheat malt, less than that and the “other cereal” is just an adjunct, so the “jiných obilovin” might affect wheat as well, which would make a lot of sense given how popular “Pšenky” are becoming.

    The Kvasnicové thing explains why the word has almost disappeared from the vocabulary of most breweries.

    Interesting piece of news. Thanks for posting.

    Bugger, I’ve just realised, Porter is gone, too!

  2. Another thing I’ve just noticed. ANY beer brewed between 11° and 12,9° is still Ležák regardless of how it was fermented. The beauty of languages.

  3. Evan Rail

    Actually, Porter isn’t gone: porterem tmavé pivo vyrobené převážně z ječných sladů s extraktem původní mladiny 18 % hmotnostních a vyšším. Still there.

    Pšeničné pivo had to be made of at least 33% wheat malt well before GBG Prague was published. No change there.

    Ležák as a legal term also only ever referred to original gravity. Nothing to do with yeast, nothing to do even with lagering. In English and in Czech, it often makes more sense to refer to “bottom-fermenting” and “top-fermenting” (or “cold-fermenting” and “warm-fermenting”), rather than “lagers” and “ales.” (Which, I just noticed, I did myself when I contemplated a lambic-lager hybrid. Alas.)

  4. Aha, so the rule for wheat has basically been extended to the other grains.

    I was basically joking with the language. I like seeing “Wheat Lager” in Herold or “Helles Bock – Světlý Speciál – Světlý Porter” on the back label of Primátor 21% (the last one being for the Slovak market). Lovely…

  5. We got some Czech beers in the Swedish market at 2.8 % and 3.5 % ABV, they are quite popular as they are sold at supermarkets and, in the case of the 2.8 beers, excepted from alcohol tax. I have no clue if they are high gravity brews or just watered down 11° beers. Some of them are tedious, some plain awful.

    Do those regulations cover all beers brewed in the Czech Republic, or just the beers being sold there?

  6. Other grain beer..well, did not they mean the “Ceske pivo” protected by the brewers association?:) Still czech beer, but you can use up to 30%(?) of adjuncts…

    but a bit more serious thing – yes, stout is dark top fermented speciallity beer if you want to put it on label, there is only one sample brewed here regulary in Porter category…it will take ages to change the offical description as to inform the customer if there are virtually no beers in those categories and there is no need to change the rules. May be pale ale/IPA might be the first one if there are more micros brewing it…

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