1 Oct 2010

On a couple of good ideas and a lot of pain

Several times I have already critisised Heineken because of their policy of closing down breweries and also for their very own interpretation of the concept of free market. But it is good to be fair, so credit should be given when it is deserved.

I really like what they are doing with the seasonal beers. They started a few years ago with Starobrno's Zelené Pivo (which, by the way, seems to be turning greener and worse with every year) sold at Easter. Last year they got serious with it when they presented Dožinkové Pivo, a pretty decent wheat beer brewed in Austria by Krušovice's brew master and sold at the end of Augusto, and a Christmas special. This year all of them have been joined by Svatojanské Speciál and Svatovacklávské Dopplebock, both brewed at Velké Březno, like the Christmas one. The former is a 13º Polotmavé brewed for Midsummer day and the latter and, at the moment, newest, was presented earlier this week for St. Wenceslas day and it's a lager of 21º Plato that has matured for 100 days and that, although I still haven't tasted, I have strong reasons to believe is that really good Březňák Dopple-dopple bock that used to be brewed for the German market.

Another one that has got on the seasonal thing is K Brewery.

According to what Zdeněk Radil, the company's CEO, said at a recent interview for E15, KBG has already finished tuning up all their seven breweries and now wants to focus on using the available capacity they have. He also added that he sees the segment of speciály (beers with at least 13º Plato) as very dynamic and with a lot of potential for growth.

And fitting into that category, and just like Heineken, KBG has decided this year to brew their own beer in honour of the Czech Patron. Their Svatováclavské, though, is a 13º Wheat beer (it reminded me a bit to Schneider Weisse, but I wasn't paying too much attention yesterday when I drank it, so don't take my word for it). Besides being quite good, this pšenka confirms what I had been told at the press conference earlier this year about the company's interest in top fermented brews.

Together with other seasonal specials that are in the pipeline, KBG's Svatovaclávské is part of a new project of the company called Cesta pivních znalců, which is obviously influenced by the "čtvrtá pipa" phenomenon that  has so much benefited tem. As the press release says, around 200 pubs from all over the country will offer their clients, besides their regular beers, the possibility of tasting a different beer every two weeks.

Clever people, in both companies.

The ones who have not been acting very cleverly recently are the folks at Prazdroj.

Beer production in the Czech Rep. is in decline. It is estimated that this year the fall could be of up to 12%. However, at the same time Bernard, Svijany and K Brewery are having record years with respective growths that could reach 20%! So basically, it is the big boys who are suffering the most, and among them, nobody seems to be hurting more than Plzeňský Prazdroj, who this year are having one PR blunder after another.

First it was the accusations against Kout na Šumavě, then the fines against restaurant owners who had decided to switch suppliers. To be fair, though, it could be said that Prazdroj is technically right in both cases, but they are still damaging the image of the company. To this we should add the incredibly clumsy campaign in response to the "tetrahopgate", which not only backfired but also has has had some pretty interesting repercussions. Because of it several brewers have left the Czech Brewers and Maltsers Association and some have also accused the organisation of having become a tool of the multinationals, among other things.

And if all that wasn't enough, now the giant from Pilsen has returned to the courts, this time against K Brewery, with a case that is flimsier than the one against Kout.

The other day Mike left a comment linking to a piece published in a local newspaper. According to the plaintiff, "Prima", a brand brewed by KBG at Pivovar Uherský Brod, and its image are way too similar to "Primus" one of Prazdroj's cheap brads that has been getting some significant advertising lately.

The article implies that Prazdroj has declared K Brewery as their enemy no. 1. Not only it seems the company property of SAB-Miller can't get over the fact that some of the management of KBG are their former staff, but also that they are also fuming because the group of regionals is slowly, but successfully, pushing Gambrinus out of many pubs.

So far Prazdroj has been unsuccessful, both a Municipal and an Appeals court have rejected their case, ruling that neither the names, nor the labels are similar enough to confuse the consumer (to which I should add that both beers are sold in different looking bottles). The giant has not given up, though, and have appealed to a higher court that will deal with the case in the following weeks.

I understand that for the suits and accountants who run the Czech SAB-Miller subsidiary loosing market share is something unacceptable, but even if we said they are right in their complaints, the image they are giving is that of arrogance, desperation and, to a certain extent, of a company that can not accept the realities of a free market economy.

So, this is how on the one hand, we have a couple of companies that are trying to adapt to new trends by offering new and varied products and on the other, a company that is trying to annoy everyone else.

Na Zdraví!

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3 comments:

  1. Is the KBG Svatováclavské the same one that they've had on tap at Minirest next to Masarykovo nádraží this week? Is it known exactly where it's brewed?

    And talking of the pšenky, the 13ka I had at Království a few days ago was very tasty...

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  2. The beer is brewed at Černá Hora, so it is likely that it was the same you had a Království (man, I haven't been to that place for ages, must correct that!).

    Don't know about the other place, though, but it's possible because I know they have Velen as one of their regular beers.

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  3. Well when I was at Minirest Velen was crossed out and they were advertising 'Svatováclavský pšeničný speciál' at the bar, without specifying the brewery. And I didn't bother to ask at the time. And Minirest does Rychtář, which, like Černá Hora, also belongs to KGB, so I was wondering if it was the same beer as in Království.

    And as for Království. My girlfriend and I have been there twice in the last week; our new flat is 5 mins. walk away. I think it might become one of our locals. I'd forgotten what great service it is there; very friendly and the staff went out of their way to offer us the pšenka, which tasted very fresh (noticeably more so than at Minirest). You could almost cut it with a knife...

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