22 Jun 2011

They must be joking

The headline in Czech says "Pivovary založily fond, který má chránit české pivo" (Breweries set up a fund to protect Czech beer). This fund, with the slogan "České pivo - naše pivo" (Czech beer - our beer), aims to protect the national drink from the "onslaught" of the cheap imports.

Ufff! Where to begin. The founding members. Plzeňský Prazdroj, Heineken, Budvar, the PMS group (Zubr, Litovel, Holba) Souffle Maltings and Český svaz pivovarů a sladoven (Czech Brewers and Maltster Association). When I was reading this I couldn't stop my hand from slapping my forehead in disbelief. Only Pivovary Staropramen is missing and we would have a full house. Do this people really want to protect Czech beer? Gimme a break!

Prazdroj brews Gambrinus Světlý and Premium both with a 13º batch that then is divided and each of them diluted until they get to the required ABV.

Heineken in 2009 shut down four breweries and then sold the facilities of one of them to the city of Znojmo under the condition that, for a period of 10 years, nobody can brew there and no other brands but theirs can be sold in them.

The PMS Group still brews and distributes Lahváč, a beer that has nothing to envy the worst of the Polish crap.

The only one who saves the day a bit is Budvar, though they don't seem to have much of a problem with distributing Carlsberg, which might not be cheap, but it's far from good.

All of them, with the exception of the state brewer, are really happy with how well they are doing with the PET bottles, and they don't seem to worry too much that these beers are stored in the heat or even direct sunlight (I've seen it) and exposed for, who knows how long, to the harsh light of supermarkets.

But let's be fair, breweries, regardless of their size, are businesses and the primary function of every business is to generate enough money to at least keep the company going. That's fine and dandy, each has every right in the world to sell whatever they want for however much they want and I am free to decide whether I will buy it or not. But then they come banging their chests to tell me that they want to protect Czech beer when they've been debasing it for so long? Fuck off!

On the other hand, this has given me an excuse to talk about something I've been wanting to talk about for some time. The cheap imports, the calamity that these noble souls want to protect us from.

I've got no figures to back my arguments, I don't know what is the volume or market share these cheap imports have (most of them come from Poland, but there are also some from Romania and even Germany, and, at least the ones I've tried, are invariably crap), but I'm convinced that all this has been blown out of proportion by people who want to lay the blame on others for the mistakes they have made.

As in many other countries Czechs are drinking less, not less and better, just less. The main reason is that people are going out less. There are several factors involved, the crisis (real or perceived), demographic changes, etc.

A sizable part of the productive population is now between 30 and 40 years old, many of them have now children, mortgages and other obligations that, as many of you are aware of, leave less time and resources to have as much fun as in times past. To this we must add that many of these people have moved out of the urban centres into what Czechs call "Satelite towns". Many also commute by car, which means that they can't have a pint or two after work anymore. This wouldn't be much of a problem if it wasn't that when they get back, or are, home they don't have where to go.

I live in one of those sprawls and know several more. These are places where real state developers crammed as many houses as the municipal authorities would allow them, and them some. They can be quite depressing, there's nowhere were the people can get together and get to know each other better. They lack, among many other things, what 75% of Czechs consider to be the centre of the social life, a pub.

Many times it's happened to me that, after finishing with some work in the garden or at the PC, I fancy having a beer. Since I have nowhere to go, I've got no other choice than to pick a bottle from the fridge and drink it at home. I've go no problem with that, but I rarely drink more than one beer at any time at home, while I rarely drink less than two when I'm in a pub. I'm sure that's the same with most people.

To make it short, the main reason why the volume in sales of bottled, etc. beer has surpassed the volume in sales of keg, etc. beer is that people are drinking more at home, which results in people drinking less and here is where the Polish crap comes into the picture, most people do their shopping at the supermarket chains.

Unless you are at a čtvrtá pípa, when you are at a Czech pub you don't have much to choose from, a couple of products from the same company and that's pretty much it. Nobody complains about that because, after all, you don't go to a pub so much for what they have, but because of the place and how you feel there. But at the supermarkets things are different, it's the consumer who now has control of what they will drink next.

There are, I believe, three loose groups of beer consumers.

- Those who buy a brand. We could say that they make the bulk of the average consumers. Those who have drunk the same brand or two all their lives and buy them almost automatically without bothering too much about what else is there.

- Those who buy the beverage. To some extent, they are the people who have boosted the resurgence of the regional and micro breweries. They may have a favourite brand, but they like trying new things and they can change that usual brand if they find another they like better.

- Those who buy price. They've never cared too much, if at all, about things like taste, character or even quality. They buy whatever is cheaper and are the main consumers of Polish rubbish. Supermarket chains, for whom quality is the lowest priority, started importing this crap because local brewers refused to bring their prices further down or, in some cases, stopped brewing cheap brands because they weren't profitable.

The problem the macros have is that these two last groups are growing. This has put them in a difficult situation, their beers aren't cheap enough for some, neither they are interesting or tasty enough for others. The Polish, Romanian or German brewers, the supermarket chains, the government, the European Union, Al-Qaeda, the aliens among us aren't to blame, it is the macros who should blame themselves.

So, if you really want to protect Czech beer start by sorting things out at home. Stop thinking in volume and think in quality, stop using High Gravity Brewing, stop using corn syrup, stop using cheap extracts, give your beers the necessary time to ferment and lager, take the control over the production away from the accountants and give it back to your Brew Masters. If you are not willing to do that, then shut the fuck up and go cry somewhere else.

Na Zdraví!

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4 comments:

  1. Spot on! They weren't keen on protecting Czech beer when turning Kozel from a fantastic hoppy lager into the pale (pun possibly intended) shadow of itself it is today. They weren't worrying about Czech beer when they killed off Branik Tmave, or started brewing fucking Stella Artois!

    Perhaps the Czech microbrewers should set up an alternative something like a Campaign for Real Czech Beer - as in made by Czechs for a Czech owned company.

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  2. There is a new micro brewers' association (can't remember the proper name now) that was established recently. I'm still not sure of what their goals are (I will need to talk to some of the people behind it fist), but more and more micros seem to be interested in joining it. Let's see what happens.

    There's also the association of Czech independent brewers, it was set up by Mr Bernard and, among other things, they managed to get the current tiered tax scheme approved. Ironically, once Bernard sold half of its equity to Duvel he lost the the tax breaks.

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  3. But your beer is better than American beer, you sure wouldn't want our crap over there!!!

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