18 Jun 2010

It hurts!

Beer consumption in the Czech Republic has declined, last year by 5%. Of course, this doesn't amuse the macros very much, but I reckon the must have assumed that this is something out of their control; after all, there is a crisis to which we should add demographic and lifestyle changes of consumers.

What it must really hurt them a lot is that while their production volumes have dropped, those of several regional breweries have enjoyed considerable growth, as I pointed out some months ago. In other words, not only people are drinking less, but there is a growing number among them that are buying alternative brands. And that is something the suits that run these companies can't accept. How can you explain otherwise, that all of a sudden, and almost simultaneously, all of the three multinational groups that operate in the Czech Rep. have decided to launch new products, which, curiously, aren't direct competitors, but seem to complement each other.

We have that Heineken has presented Krušovice 10°, a světlý výčepní brewed, according to them, based on the original recipe, and Krušovice Malváz, a polotmavé speciál that I haven't seen anywhere yet. While StrarBev, the new owners of Staropramen, have presented a 11º, with emphasis put on the caramel malts they use, which also shows their wish to repeat the success of Gambrinus with Excellent. And Plzeňský Prazdroj, property of SAB-Miller, who have presented Master Zlatý a 15º Balling světlý speciál, which expands the Master brand, finally available in bottles.

What's interesting about this is that, unlike what's happened in other countries, none of this are gimmicky beers. Meaning thatIt  they aren't fake versions of popular foreign styles like Super Bock or Quilmes Stout; nor are they flavoured with extracts (which, to be fair, seems to be the prerogative of a couple of regionals and a few micros here). They don't pretend to be innovative or revolutionary, either. They just fit very well in what is considered here as "traditional". This, if you want, could be also seen as marketing bollocks, but the important thing here is that their discourse speaks about the drink, or at least, about some of its specific characteristics, instead of showing it only as a complement for football, tits or having fun with mates. If we consider how well tuned is the marketing machinery of this companies, then we could deduct that there is a change in consumer behaviour, there is more and more people who are paying attention to what they have in the glass and not just to the brands.

But enough with this nonsense. What about the beers? Well, since I didn't believe any of these companies would send me samples, I had no other choice but to go buy them with my own money. The horror!

I started with Krušovice 10º. I hope you'll forgive the lack of a picture here, but my camera ran out of battery at the worst possible time, so you'll have to believe me when I tell you that this is a pretty good looking beer. Unfortunately, that is the best it's got to offer. It's not that it's bad, it's just tasteless and lacking any character whatsoever. It's as if someone not only had overcooked a good piece of meat, but didn't bother much with the seasoning, either. If I was thirsty and someone offered it to me, I'd drink it, but just one.
It might come as a surprise, but Staropramen's jedenáctká was the one I was most curious about. It's the first new product under the new management, and I had some hopes that the new owners wouldn't be as obtuse as the previous ones. Why did I bother. Staropramen 11º is awful, horrible, enthusiastically nasty. It tastes like something brewed for Lidl or Penny Market. How frustrating! I swear I wanted this beer to be at least decent.
I had to wait for Prazdroj to at least leave a slightly better impression. Master Zlatý could be better (in fact, there are couple of beers in the same category that I would gladly drink before this one), but at least it has flavour and character. There is an interesting contrast between aroma and taste. The former, fruit and honey with a herbal background, while the latter is the opposite, a lot of dried herbs with some grass, with a fruit and honey background. At times, it looses some of its balance and it becomes a bit rough, perhaps it needs some more lagering, but it still has a fair drinkability. All the Master line is available only in 0.33l bottles and, unfortunately, they are all pasteurised; which is understandable, you can't expect a giant like Prazdroj to adapt some of its technologies for such a marginal product in their portfolio. And by the way, I see good export potential in them.

Personal tastes aside, I don't think any of these products can be a "threat" to the regionals. Those of us who are committed consumers of these beers won't be easily attracted by whatever is offered by those very same brands we have pretty much left behind. I see this as an attempt of the macros to somehow put a stop to the loss of consumers. Anyway, I still welcome them, specially Master, because they bring a little more variety to the market.

Na Zdraví!

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4 comments:

  1. Interesting that they use brown bottles for the Master, hope it catches on for the Prazdroj as it might taste better over here in brown than it does in green. Hope Master makes it over here, would be nice to try them again.

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  2. Your article about the massive Czech breweries seems a good place to post a question I have always wondered about.

    Which pub in Prague sells the most beer?

    Is it a PU tankovna place like U Rudolfina, maybe a Stare Mesto tourist trap, or a place in the suburbs selling Gambrinus to the locals?

    I have a crazy theory that sometimes a fresh pint of PU, Staropramen or Gambrinus in a high-volume pub is better than a craft beer from a small brewery.
    Some of the tankovna PU pubs support my theory, I think. And I have had some decent enough pints of Gambrinus in the past.

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  3. That's a good question. I know, for example, that U Medvídku shifts 3500hl of Budvar a year. But in general, I would say it is a pub selling to locals, rather than a tourist trap in the centre. Any tankovna with 1000hl has to sell a tank out within a couple of days (I can't remember exactly how many), it's a condition of the contract.

    On the other hand, the problem with beers from small breweries is that they are usually not meant to travel and besides, in most cases they are tapped with top pressure, whereas tanková are almost like hand pulled.

    Another problem with not few micros is that if you visit them in summer you might be served beer that hasn't matured enough, that's because they have capacity issues.

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  4. Thanks PF.
    It is a question I would be interested in knowing the answer to.
    My bet is one of the tank PU places, such as U Rudolfina. But I am sure there are places outside the centre that sell a lot of beer, like U Houbare in Holesovice or the great PU pub in Bubenec.
    Of course U Medvicku has tanks nowadays. You pass them as you go through to the toilets.

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