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The Czech love affair with beer

The "Institute of Beer" is trying to prove that Czech beer is the most "drinkable" in the world.

PRAGUE — It's almost a ritual for Czechs to walk to the corner pub or nearby restaurant — whose tables mushroom out onto the sidewalks — on hot summer days to drink beer.

Czechs and the millions of tourists who flock to Prague every year seemingly agree that there is something special about the local brews. The Czechs are the largest per capita beer consumers in the world, downing 1.58 billion liters last year. (That's 320 16-oz glasses of beer for every man, woman and child.)

“It's fresh, it's sparkling, it's refreshing,” said Lenka Fialova, while nursing a Pilsner Urquell, the most popular of all Czech lagers.

Given that it isn't just Czechs who like guzzling the national treasure, but visitors too, analysts at the Research Institute of Brewing and Malting are engaged in a comprehensive project to try to prove, once and for all, that Czech beer is the best — or at least the most "drinkable," according to Vera Honigova, the manager of R&D at the institute.

“We want to be the first who will set up a methodology to assess drinkability — how to recognize if one beer is more drinkable than the other,” she said.

Owned by the breweries but with additional financing from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Institute of Beer — as it is light-heartedly referred to sometimes — is pouring $780,000 into the research over the next five years.

“We believe that this phenomena, called drinkability, is a special phenomena for Czech beer,” she continued. “For instance, foreigners visiting the Czech Republic recognize this feature of Czech beer; that having one beer, they want to drink another one.”

They'll have “to be sure that applying this methodology we will be able to prove Czech beer is more drinkable than Euro beers,” she said.

Indeed, if the methodology proved that, say, Heineken or Stella Artois was more drinkable than the Czech brews, that wouldn't boost Czech beer exports. Despite the huge consumption at home — which outpaces other beer quaffing countries like Germany and Ireland, and is about two times the European Union average — Czech brewers hold just a sliver of the EU beer market.

The country's 47 industrialized breweries produced 4.1 billion pints of beer last year, according to Honigova. About 20 percent of that was exported to the free trade-zone of the EU, with its 500 million consumers, and beyond.