I clearly remember when Czechoslovakia voted itself out of existence. There was a lot of geo-political tittering to be had back in 1993. As well as the fact that the groovy global wall map I'd bought four days earlier was now out of date. Which makes the Czech Republic a relatively new country with a very old culture.
The first Czech state was formed in the 9th century, before being absorbed into the Kingdom of Bohemia — which was not, despite the name, a hipster domain — under the Holy Roman Empire. Then came the Hapsburgs, then the Austrians, then 15 to 20 minutes of self-rule between the world wars, and then, finally, the Soviets. The last bunch was thrown out in the wonderfully named "Velvet Revolution," which, despite its name, was not led by Mel Tormé.
Eastern Europe has been called a place with too much history. Fortunately, that history is soaked in great beer — legendary lagers in fact, even iconic. When Adolphus Busch, a German immigrant, started making beer in the United States, he didn't name it after a town in Germany. He cited the Czech city of České Budêjovice (Budweis, in German), best known for a pale lager it had been brewing since it was licensed under the Bohemian King Ottokar II in 1265.
Busch copied the Bohemian beer-making style as well: golden lagers laid up in icy caves for cold storage. Busch was a pioneer in the use of refrigeration. While the American Budweiser and the Czech Beer are both pilsner-style lagers, to say that they are the same thing is to stretch the metaphor so thin that it tastes like an Anheuser-Busch product.
Fortunately, the good fellows down at Crosstown Brewing Company have gone a long way to easing the inebriated diplomatic tensions between our two beer-swilling countries. Well, maybe not a long way, but a delicious one. And why not? The Czech Republic has done very well since its independence, and more recently, they have done a swell job of resisting ole Vlad Putin's attempts to put the band back together again. So why not raise a glass?
In a nod to Memphis in May's shout-out to the Czech Republic this month, Crosstown Brewing has whipped up a limited-release, Czech-style pilsner: Brake Czech. Honoring the long and proud Czech brewing tradition, as well as using authentic Czech hops — they've produced a golden, flavorful pilsner at a quaffable 4.8 percent ABV. It's a light, bready, malty brew with a slight floral hop quality, and it dries to a clean finish.
But enough of mouth-feel and all that foolishness. CBC's Crosstown taproom is a great place to pop in and try a glass. When asked at the bar "what I tasted," I took a long sip and considered. I could only come up with one all-encompassing descriptor: Brake Czech is the cosmic ideal of Budweiser. It is what the advertising people at Anheuser-Busch spend millions trying to make you think America's beer actually tastes like. I don't want to be too hard on Bud; reportedly, the even Czech beer suffered under the Soviets. But Brake Czech is something to make King Ottokar II proud. More practically, while we're hip-deep in barbecue this month, this pilsner pairs well with those smoky, sweet sauces and meats. It's light and refreshing, but you know it's there.
If you are downtown, Brake Czech is also available at Silky O'Sullivan's and The Peabody Corner Bar for a limited time. If you're out east, well, Uber. If you're in Midtown, this stuff hails from Crosstown Brewing Company.
As for the century-old copyright slap-fight between Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser Budvar, after several failed legal attempts to wrest the name from the Czechs, in 2014, Anheuser-Busch InBev did the most American thing of all. They bought the old Czech brewery.
And that was that.