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Czech liqueurs: The (secret) recipe of Becherovka’s amazing success

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic – Czechs may very well be the world’s biggest beer drinkers, but they also know one thing or two about strong alcoholic drinks and spirits. One only needs to have a sip of Becherovka to grasp the extensive know-how and expertise of Czechs in devising original drinks and surprising liqueurs.

Exports of Becherovka reaching record-high

Some love it, others hate it and can’t even stand its smell. But whatever your opinion about Becherovka is, it’s a drink you absolutely need to try whenever you’re traveling or staying in Prague and the Czech Republic.

Becherovka is arguably the most famous and popular Czech liqueur. Hell, even President Milos Zeman is known for his unconditional and relentless love for the drink. And according to the latest figures released by the company, its popularity is growing fast all over the world. Exports of the herbal liqueur have increased by 8% over the last year, to reach an all-time high: between June 2017 and July 2018, more than 3.6 million liters of Becherovka were shipped to more than forty different countries on every continent.

A lot of Becherovka’s success abroad is due to its custom-made and local approach to appeal to customers all over the world. In 2015, for instance, the company manufactured its first kosher Beckerovka bottles to be shipped to Israel, as well as other countries like Russia and the United States.

Traditionally, Becherovka is very popular in other neighboring countries, mainly Slovakia and Germany, and is also a very sought-after liqueur in Russia and Canada.  But for the Karlovy Vary-based producer, the future lies in the West, which is why it’s increasingly targeting Western markets. According to the general manager in charge of exports Miroslava Simova, the most promising export markets for the future include the United States, Great-Britain and the Netherlands.

The origins of Becherovka

The story of the now world-famous herbal drink started in the early 19th century, when an English doctor established in Karlovy Vary, Christian Frobrig, developed a cure for stomach aches. When he left the city, he handed the recipe to his friend, Josef Vitus Becher, who spent two years developing the exact recipe and transforming it into a liqueur.

Becher started marketing and selling the drink in 1807 under the name English Bitter. However, it’s only under the watch of another family member, Jan Becher, who headed the company for nearly four decades, that the Becherovka brand truly became what it is today and reached international fame.

It quickly became one of the most iconic Czech goods sold abroad and was exported to Paris, Munich and Vienna as early as the mid-19th century. Showcased at the Montreal Universal Exhibition in 1967, the brand was eventually bought by the Pernod Ricard Group, one of the world’s largest producers of spirits and wines, a few years after the fall of communism in 1997.

According to some reports, Pernod Ricard Group has signaled its desire to sell the Becherovka brand, but nothing conclusive has been announced yet.

Medicinal properties and partying cocktails

Today, Becherovka is still produced in the thermal city of Karlovy Vary in Western Bohemia, close to the German border, with over 20 different types of plants and spices, including anise, cinnamon and cloves. The exact recipe of the liqueur, however, remains a well-kept secret. Rumor has it that only a handful of people know the recipe, and that the company’s factory has excruciating security procedures to keep it as secret as possible.

Famous for its peculiar and unique taste and particularly popular during the cold winter months, Becherovka is also hailed for its medicinal properties and is used to smooth digestion problems. But if you think Becherovka is like all these other strange-looking liqueurs, stored in Czech grandmas’ alcohol cabinets and covered in dust, you’ve got another thing coming.

Becherovka remains very popular among partying young people, and you’ll find it in all the bars in Prague, where you can also ask for one of the many Becherovka cocktails that popped up during the last several years. The most popular Becherovka-based cocktail is BeTon, served with tonic and a wedge of lemon. In Russia, people often drink it with a wedge of orange.

Apart from producing Becherovka and other liqueurs, the Jan Becher Pernod Richard brand also distributes over 40 international alcohol brands in the Czech Republic, including Ballantine’s, Jameson, Havana Club, Beefeater, Absolut and Chivas Regal.

Headed by Kafkadesk's chief-editor Jules Eisenchteter, our Prague office gathers over half a dozen reporters, editors and contributors, as well as our social media team. It covers everything Czech and Slovak-related, and oversees operations from our other Central European desks in Krakow and Budapest.