| The small and much misunderstood Czech Republic has had a difficult history. Sandwiched between Germany, Austria and Russia, it's been savagely bullied by its larger, more aggressive neighbors. So what do the proud Czech people do when faced with their sorry geo-political lot in life? They drink. A lot.
If you've ever had fascists, czarists, communists, socialists or hegemonistic monarchists living next door, you might understand how dealing with such neighbors builds up a prodigious thirst. This is why the Czechs produce what are often considered the most sublime beers in the world. The fact that they make such superb suds explains why they dramatically lead the world in per-capita beer consumption. If you know nothing else about this captivating country -- the original Bohemian paradise -- you probably know its hallmark brews: Pilsener Urquell, Velkopopovicky and Budvar (the original and far superior Budweiser). You might know that Czech hops are respected with an almost religious reverence among beer connoisseurs. But even Czech man does not live by beer alone.
After all, you can only drink 30 or 40 beers a day no matter how wealthy or thirsty you are. While beer may quench the thirst of the body, sometimes stronger spirits are needed to slake the thirst of the soul. In this situation, Czechs pick up their beloved Becherovka herbal liqueur. "Becher" (as it's known by its admirers), can be found perched in every bar and in most homes, standing sentinel in its hallmark green bottle. Czechs imbue it with almost legendary powers: it's good for digestion, soothes stomach aches, dulls a hangover and generally cures whatever ails you. When beset by challenges to your health or happiness, you could do much worse than a shot of Becher or a Becherovka and tonic. Its smooth cinnamon taste goes down deceptively easy and belies its 76-proof punch. The secret and mysterious blend of herbs imparts a very refreshing, almost wholesome taste. It's not as medicinal tasting as most herbal liqueurs -- just a soothing shot that makes you want more.
Becherovka traces it roots back to 1807 and a royally appointed physician summering in Karlovy Vary ("Karl's Spring," more famously known by its German name of Carlsbad). Rumor has it the doctor's friend, the local pharmacist, Josef Becher, was experiencing some sexual dysfunction. Since it was millions of years after the discovery of lust but almost two hundred years before the discovery of Viagra, they went to work using their knowledge of locally grown herbs and medicinal plants and local spring water. It's said that immediately upon concocting the recipe (that became Becherovka), Josef Becher closed his pharmacy and began producing it full time. The company is still run by his heirs today, so we can only assume that it cured not only his thirst but also his impotency. The original secret recipe is still closely guarded, and at any one time only two people know it.
If you haven't heard of Becherovka yet, you will. Just as you now know Czech models Paulina Porizkova and Eva Herzigova, who grace countless magazine covers, or Dominic "The Dominator" Hasek, who swats pucks in the NHL, or Dvorak's music or Milan Kundera's or Ivan Klima's novels or Martina Navratilova, Petr Korda, Jana Novotna or Ivan Lendl or the size of Ivana Trump's divorce settlement... it'll become familiar. Because whether or not you've enjoyed Czech beer, the country's supermodels, its capital city, art or athletes, you'll likely be able to appreciate its favorite liqueur.
Czech it out.