10 Aug 2012

Friday Morning Musings


Some of you will find it hard to believe, but I'm not the kind of person that goes around preaching the gospel of good beer to anyone who doesn't want to hear (unless I'm shitfaced). If I'm not in the company of people who are interested in beer, I keep my opinions pretty much to myself; I have learnt to drink and let drink. When I'm a guest somewhere I am able to switch off certain parts of my brain and drink what I'm offered, trying to enjoy the moment and the company, with the beer as a spice to make them more interesting. However, it often happens that someone introduces me as the guy "who knows beer", which is almost invariably followed by the question "What's your favourite beer?" or other similar conversation triggers.

In this situations, it never ceases to amaze me how many people are there who want to speak about beer, how excited they get when they can share their experiences with new brands and/or places. Names like Svijany, Bernard or Černá Hora, and more recently, Únětice are uttered almost with awe. This is proof that there are more and more people who have lost the fear and mistrust of alternative brands, which is itself the first step to loosing the fear of different colours, aromas, flavours, ingredients and stories. What's interesting, though, is that people are still speaking about brands, they are still drinking "the same stuff", style-wise. It wasn't until I read this post in Jeff's blog that I started to think about the implications of this and why it might be good for the market and the consumers.

In his post, Jeff explains why he believes the US is an IPA nation, or something like that. I won't discuss it (and if you want to do it, go to the linked page), I'm going to trace a parallel with what is happening here. Warm fermented beers have are rapidly growing in popularity (a good thing, no doubt), but the truth is that the Czech Republic is and will always be Lagerland. The renaissance of the regional brewers rode on jedenáctky and dvanáctky, and pale lagers of one kind or another are still, by far, the biggest source of income for the more than 130 microbreweries that are working today; in fact, I think you can count with your fingers the breweries that don't make a světlý ležák.

The biggest advantage these beers have is that they don't need to be explained. Even the most obtuse drinker knows what Světlá 12º, means, they won't be afraid of it, it is something they are familiar with, they won't need to "be ready", there's no transition necessary. There's also no risk that this drinker can get scared by flavours that are very different to what they are used to. And the best of all is that they will be able to compare that Světlá 12º with the ones they drink, or used to drink, as equals and probably the new beer will fare better. What you should take into account is that saying that the Trippel-Imperial-Barrel-Aged-Sour-Belgian-Black-IPA of the day is better than Krušovice is stupid, they might both be labeled as "beer", but they are way too different to make a fair comparison. On the other hand, saying that Kácov 10º is better than Gambrinus 10º...

This, needless to say, is a risk for the Czech macros, and they know it. They are well aware that the number of people who say that Gambrinus, Staropramen, etc. are watery, headache inducing, or simply crap is growing. No surprise then that all of a sudden they started selling some of their brands unpasteurised or unfiltered or to assign them specific Plato graduations. I wonder if it isn't a bit too late already. Time will tell.

I don't like chauvinisms and I am well aware of the shortcomings of the current beer scene here and how interesting the beer scenes of other countries are, but let me tell you that as someone who can be legitimately considered a beer geek, but who's actually a beerophile, I wouldn't change the Czech Republic for any country in the world right now.

Na Zdraví!

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