2 Feb 2010

A pisshead anecdote

To a certain extent, Czech beer lovers aren't spoil for choice when it comes to style variety, but if it's good quality lagers what we are talking about, and session beers in particular, we really can't complain. Moreover, unlike what happens in most other countries, the "real beers" are often cheaper than those of the bigger brands. That's why it's sometimes hard to believe that there are still so many people that prefer to drink Gambrinus or Staropramen. It's easy to be tempted to think that they are all morons.

And I must confess that at some point that was exactly what I used to believe. Until around two years ago:

One Wednesday I met my friend Mark for lunch, we went to Kralovství. Right before we met we had both received the news that our appointments for the rest of the day had been canceled. Lunch then was extended both in time and Černá Hora beers. Since we were having such a good time, Mark suggested we have a shot to cap the meeting. The waitress told us they had home made slivovice...

Three shots and a couple of bees later, we left that pleasant Žižkov's restaurant slightly bouncing against each other. On the way to the street Seifertová, Mark said he had a call of nature to attend. I remembered we were very near, U Pižďucha, a hospůdka that back then sold Staropramen, Svijany and Regent. There we headed.

It was a dive. Small, full of smoke and pissheads. Those who weren't drunk, were working hard to correct that. We fitted in perfectly.

We ordered Svijany and Regent and started to talk to the people at the table. All were drinking Staropramen. Just like a dodgy televangelist I started preaching. I accused them of being idiots. Told them that what they were drinking wasn't Czech beer anymore, but Brazilian, and wielding my půl litr of Máz like a sacred relic I appealed to their national pride and wallets. When we left many had seen the light and the mugs with the logo from Smíchov weren't so many anymore.

A couple of beers later, and bumping even harder against each other, we said good-bye to our new friends. Mark got into a taxi, I took a tram. There I was spotted by one of the drunkards we had spent such a good time with. With a marked slur, he said I was right, that Staropramen was rubbish, but that he had been drinking it for 30 years now and that it was now part of his life.

For obvious reasons, that truth didn't sink in at the time. Some time later, during the presentation of Chodovar at Pivovarský Klub, the brewery's owner told how today's big brands took advantage of the situation to to expand in such a brutal way. They had a huge advantage, the were able to guarantee consistent quality. Many of the regional breweries weren't in a position to do that. During the previous four decades hardly any investment had been made on their equipment and technologies. So people got used to drinking the brands that to this day enjoy an enormous popularity without realising the gradual drop in their quality.

Today, regional and micro breweries are slowly gaining more market share, but they don't have it easy. I have stopped thinking that those who drink Gambáč or Starouš are idiots. Humans are creatures of habit and as long as beer is seen as a generic product, those will be very hard to change.

Na Zdraví!

5 comments:

  1. I guess if Svijany get any bigger, then the quality will drop too( i think it already has )
    If everyone knew about Kocour etc, then i'm sure their philosophy would change with the popularity, i think i like the way it is in CZ at the moment.

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  2. Their goal is to reach 400K hl this year. The Svijany you see at most places is Máz, their 11%. Never been a big fan of it, and recently I've come across a couple of really bad pints of Máz, not the entirely beer's fault, though, it can still be very good in proper hands.

    Rytíř, on the other hand is still great. I love it, it's one of the best pale lagers in the country, no doubt.

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  3. I have this problem in England. One of my old School friends will not drink Real Ale, which I Like from Micro Brewery,s. He will only drink mass produced keg beer. So If I see him I have to drink John Smiths. I think it just habit, and maybe taste.

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  4. Habit, taste and going for the certain thing. For what I've read, cask conditioned ales and beers are bit of hit and miss....

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  5. I guess the point here is habit. Myself, I have been drinking far less from the Norwegian macro breweries the last few years. The beers are drinkable, but there are so many better beers out there.

    As a friend noted about wines: Life is too short that you should take the time to drink bad wine.

    I believe that goes for beers as well.

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