Hailing from the small town of Velke Popovice, the shelves of your local potraviny are undeniably playing host to one of the three alcoholic brews of the Kozel beer brand.

As if in an old aristocratic family rivalry, walking through the centre of Prague you’ll see restaurants and bars alike with the emblems of their beer of choice outside – and most fall under either the bold golden/green design of Pilsner Urquell or brownish background behind the upper half of a male goat for Kozel.

While today both beers fall under the same, monopolistic brewery company (now Plzen Pradroj paired with AB InBev) they’ve shared a rivalry that dates back to when Kozel first came on the bohemian scene in the 19th century.

The town of Velke Popovice lies nested to the north of a mountain range just 30 minutes drive outside of Prague. Without any notable brewing triumphs beyond the traditional, old-fashioned techniques spread through townships during the medieval ages, Velke Popovice was re-invented during the establishment of industrial brewing practices in their town in the 1870s.

As was happening throughout the Western World, the automation of certain productions was essential to creating better products – in this case, with more metal involved came a drastic change to local beer. Dark, age-old lagers that touted thick, creamy textures to transform itself into a delectable dessert were brutally cut out from the knees. What came instead was low in alcohol, humble in its flavor, and as heavy on the stomach as a fizzy drink – the Black Kozel.

Even today, it’s hard to find a dark lager that matches the intrepid spirit of what the brewery’s founder,  František Ringhoffer, was chasing after. The introduction of such a light black beer into the bohemian market was stunning, but in fact, was not the only place where locals were being surprised by their local brewery with a refreshing darker beer.

A hundred years before, English breweries in Manchester came up with a cheap way to take advantage of their own increasing automation services, and began producing Porter Ales as a murky lightly colored dark beer as both a way to dazzle drinkers with something new and to get rid of cheap, less-than-quality malt they had available to them.

However Dark Kozel was far from a cheap ploy, and although its recipe would change throughout the years after World Wars and communist influence, the name retained its originality in Central Bohemia for meaning “Goat” in Czech and enduring every tumultuous event thrown at it. The name originates from the German word for their dark beers, called Bocks, and the animal soon after became the mascot for the brewery when (as the brewery tells it) a French painter passing through town became enchanted by their beer and was spurred to paint them a logo for it.

Other theories for how the mascot arised, ranging from the Pagan-religious association with goats (a sacrifice around fires…) in Bohemia, to the large number of goats populating the mountains just south of the town continue to be played with but maintain the same amount of credibility as the French Painter.

Today, their three main brews (a light, a dark, and a mix) remain as popular as ever – at home and abroad. Along with Pilsner Urquell, Kozel remains one of the top exported beers of the Czech Republic. Yet one country, in particular, has let it dominate their beer market more than any other Czech beer. Russia, targeted by the brewery’s businessman as a place where more advertising could mean more beers sold, touted Kozel as their number 1 sold beer in 2015. This could be chalked up to the sheer finesse of the brewers, but arguably having their beer float into space above Russia probably didn’t hurt their profits either.

Featured image by Programator2 via Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Joey Petrila

Joey Petrila

As an American in Prague, I love beer history and finding good lakes to swim in during the summer.
Joey Petrila