Tweet Last Wednesday Sdružení Přátel Piva, announced their awards for this year at a party held at Pivovar Jihlava that once again I could attend, ach jo!
I'm not going to discuss who won what, you can see it for yourselves in the link above. My only comment is that I believe it's about time wheat beers get their own category, there are plenty of them already on the market (some, very good) and it makes no sense that they have to compete with Pale Ales, etc. But that's not what brought me to write this post.
The awards were given on Nov. 2, the day after dušičky (All Saints), a day when (not only) Czechs remember those loved ones who have passed away by leaving flowers and lightning candles at their graves or memorials. Because of this, SPP thought it would be a good idea to commemorate the breweries that have disappeared since 1990.
It's a rather long list (that only mention industrial breweries) and a bit sad, too. But it was the last entry what caught my attention, Zlatopramen, the fourth brewery that Heineken shuts down in the last couple of years. And all this at the same time that they are doing a very good job with their seasonal series (they already announced a new special beer for St. Martin's day) y with some of the all year round products, too. (Březňák is still very good, and SPP gave Krušovice 10° the first place in its category).
Unlike the three breweries that had been closed before, Hostan, Kutná Hora y Louny, Zlatopramen isn't a little known regional brand, but a pretty successful one nationwide, which in fact, brought life to the "jedenáctka" category.
The question here isn't why Heineken has closed this brewery (the answer is easy, the accountants didn't consider it profitable enough and/or decided it would be more efficient to shift the brand's production to Brno, and that's it, fuck tradition), but whether this and the other three above mentioned, and even perhaps Braník, could have survived if they had been left to their own fates.
To start getting the answer we have to go back to the list published by SPP. We'll see there that the bulk of the breweries is made from those that closed before 2000 (18 out of 27), while seven of the nine that have closed since belonged at the time to groups, two multinationals and a Czech one. This means that almost all of the breweries that made it to the 21st century are still going around today (and in some cases, doing very well, despite a drop in overall consumption). If we add the fact that many of those brands are still being produced, we could start thinking that yes, Zlatopramen, etc. could have managed to stay in business, more or less successfully to this day.
But things aren't that simple. Going through the archives of Pivovary.info, where you can find in more or less detail the history of the breweries from the list, you'll see that in most cases, the culprits were not the macros or the multinationals, but the breweries' own management and owners. And let's not forget that, save a few notable exceptions, in 1990 the Czech brewing industry was in a pretty sorry shape, as a result of four decades of lack of investments and overall neglect by the Communist regime (those who know Czech, check out this video, it'll explain a few things).
The answer then, is not easy.
But all this is nothing but speculation, we should perhaps ask another question, why don't Heineken, etc. sell those breweries to someone who would like to operate them? (and this is neither new, nor exclusive of the Dutch, remember the history between Staropramen and Svijany) Looking, for example, at the conditions the Dutch giant imposed the city of Znojmo when they sold them the facilities of the Hostan brewery, one is tempted to believe that they are afraid of competition, but I think that it's much more than that, and I wish someone could tell me what it is.
Anyway, even though I was never a fan of Zlatopramen, it's sad to see a brewery closing down, more so when it happens this way. I hope it will be the last one, at least for a while.
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