No they haven't jumped on the Prohibition bar-hidden-behind-a-secret-door-through-a-phone-box bandwagon, Prague is actually in a Prohibition at the moment. Sadly there have been over 20 deaths in the last month from a poisonous batch of bootleg liquor. Serious stuff. Here's our update on the situation, and what to drink until they can get to the bottom of what’s gone wrong in a counterfeit kitchen somewhere.
25% of all hard alcohol in the Czech Republic is estimated to be counterfeit. From homemade bottles of plum brandy being served at restaurants, to even that bottle of sneakily re-filled brand name vodka you unknowingly bought at the market, it's everywhere. Illegal alcohol has been produced for many years, but due to a bad batch, made with methanol-heavy anti-freeze, 23 people have died since September 6 and many others have been hospitalized. Basically, methanol is a type of toxic alcohol, it's only slightly different to ethanol, the type of alcohol we enjoy in Margaritas etc, but the difference is that methanol is lethal and even two ounces can be fatal. The methanol is converted by our bodies into formaldehyde, which damages the ocular nerve, resulting in blindness and eventually death. How did this end up in that sweet little bottle of homemade plum brandy? Those bootleggers sometimes add antifreeze to their product to increase volume on the cheap. Not big or clever.
To stop the deaths and hunt down the bad-guys the Czech health minister has taken the drastic measure of banning the sale of all alcohol with over 20% ABV in the country. Neighbouring countries like Poland and Slovakia have also banned the sale of all Czech made alcohol, and last week the Czechs stopped the exportation of any Czech made booze, so no Becherovka for us for a while. 41 suspected bootleggers have already been arrested, and police now believe they have found the top of the pyramid and the primary source of the poisoned liquor, but until the ban is lifted, bars in the Czech republic still have to function without any real booze. Some establishments are reporting an 80% drop in sales, but the smart bars are getting creative with menus of Prohibition friendly cocktails, including wine cocktails and drinks made with spirits under 20% ABV, like Aperol. Think drinks like Kir Royals and Aperol Spritzs. Prague's Innuendo Bar has created a Basil Cobbler with sherry, peach liqueur and basil leaves and a Marie Rose, with Martini vermouth, elderflower syrup, rosemary and white grapes. Becherovka, the Czech Republic's home grown spirit, has very quickly released a limited edition 19% ABV version so the locals can keep the party going until all this messiness is over.
Check out our Prague guide for more bars – just be careful out there.