17 Nov 2014

Just a quick question

Let's see if any brewers out can give me an answer to this.

At equal capacity in hl, will the geometry of the brewing equipment affect the water and energy efficiency of the brew in any significant way?

This just popped into my mind for no particular reason. I'd say it will, but I'd like to be sure.

Thanks in advance.

Na Zdraví!

16 Nov 2014

Here you have a bit of Sunday bollocks from Spain

A specialised store form Catalonia has been kind enough to explain to us the reason why craft beer isn't so cheap (in Spanish) with four, very simple arguments that will surely end the heated debate about prices. The following is the first of them (translation mine):
Limited production. This kind of beer can't be bought in another city or region, unless it is an on-line store, specialised in craft beer like Beer Delux. The range of craft microbreweries is no more than 100 km. It is a quality product that could be altered if exposed to inadequate temperatures. The production is limited and sells-out more easily. It is an exclusive product (emphasis in the original) and clients are aware that if they don't buy it at that moment, they might not be able to buy it until a year later.

Bugger me! And all this time I thought it was because of the economies of scale, the margins set by distributors, retailers, restaurants and bars, and the acceptance of a certain part of the market. What a fool I've been!

No, really, mate. You must be joking!

I could go on with the thing about the indigenous raw materials, the innovation, and other gems that can be found in this box of bollocks, but I believe the quoted paragraph says more than enough.

It is hard to believe that in this day and age there are still people who take us for such idiots.

Na Zdraví!

PS: Personal preferences aside, I don't subscribe to the argument that good beer must be an everyman's drink, nor that it must a drink for the privileged. It can be both, and every company is free to target any kind of consumer they want, but they should do it without insulting our intelligence.

13 Nov 2014

I'll be fair with B:CRYO

The comment I posted this morning on my FB page about B:CRYO, the new product of Budějovický Budvar came out a bit negative, and perhaps not very fair.

B:CRYO is, basically, an Eisbock. According to the video you can see in the above linked website, it was created by an accident (where have I heard that one before?) that resulted in one of Budvar's regular beers being cryoconcentrated (I like that much better than “cold-distilled”, it's a lot more accurate) to 21% ABV (which makes it hard alcohol, legally speaking)

The product, which took two years to develop, will be of very limited availability—only at a few selected pubs—and is served in a rather strange fashion (you have to look at the video to understand it, and yes, that bottle is plastic).

As a consumer, this is not the kind of thing I can find interesting. Firstly because of the price—Pivní.info mentions 300-400CZK for 0.3l, which is a lot more than I'm willing to pay for, basically, a glass of booze at the moment, octanes notwithstanding. Secondly because of its limited availability—I don't want to go to a specific pub just for a novelty product. And thirdly, because they way it's served is way too gimmicky for my taste (I wonder how much of the price goes into that “ritual”), and I don't like attracting that sort of attention at a pub.

As a keen observer of the local beer market, on the other hand, B:CRYO is pretty interesting. It's the first beer of its kind in this country, and it's not the product of one of the progressive micro-breweries that have appeared in recent years, but it comes from one of the biggest, and perhaps most conservative, breweries in the country, that also happens to be state owned.

Whether this Eisbock turns out to be a good thing or not, I leave others to decide. I can't evaluate it one way or another until I've drunk it, and chances are that I won't. But if you happen to come across it, with a few hundred Crowns to spare, let me know it went.

Na Zdraví!

8 Nov 2014

It's just good business

In the years since Evan Rail's The Good Beer Guide—Prague & The Czech Republic was published, the number of microbreweries in this country has grown almost fivefold (Prague alone has 23 right now, from 6 in 2007, and there is at least one more planned).

Regardless of what some people believe, or expect us to believe, this has nothing to do with a revolution, let alone a movement, but with money. I said the other day
We have a microbrewing boom in the Czech Republic not because in the last few years almost 200 romantic, beer enthusiasts decided to realise their life-long dreams, but mostly because business people see microbreweries as a sensible investment—provided you have the space, having your own brewery up and running it's not too expensive...
And I have the figures to prove it. I've spoken to some people who know that part of the industry really well, and what they told me it's quite interesting.

Not counting any construction works that you may have to do to accommodate all the equipment, you can have a brewery with a 5hl brewhouse for less than 3 million CZK, or a bit over 4 million, if you want to have a 10hl kit—in both cases, more than enough for a brewpub with decent capacity.

Once the thing is ready to go, and all the paperwork and permits have been sorted out, you can make a Světlý Ležák for as little as 14-15 CZK/l (about the same as the wholesale price for a pint of keg Gambáč), including, energy and labour costs, and taxes. A Světlý Ležák that not only you can sell it for 30-35CZK/0.5l without anyone complaining, but it'll probably also help you to bring people through the door. No wonder then that everyone an their aunt want to have a go at this business; and I doubt it'll stop any time soon. I believe the market has as much room as there are towns and neighbourhoods that can support at least one big enough pub or restaurant.

Unfortunately, as it usually happens when an industry attracts everyone and their aunt, the average quality ends up suffering, and microbreweries are no exception.

On paper, however, it shouldn't be like that. It is true that there is a massive shortage of skilled brewers in this country, a situation that is not likely to change in the foreseeable future. (On a side note, Brewing is a regulated trade in the Czech Republic, for companies, this means that they must employ a certified brewer, if only to put their signature in the brewing logs—the law doesn't require them to actually do the work, but only to be the person responsible for the production). But the equipment available today can be highly automated. It works not too differently than those automatic bread making machines: put the ingredients in the right quantities, choose the appropriate program and the computer will take care of most of the work. Just like with the bread, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to make decent, or even very good, beer with that. But beer is no bread.

According to what people have told me, there are two things that happen that often result in dodgy beers: the owners start pissing about with the machine; they believe that after a few successful batches, they can put together their own recipes, without too much of a clue about what they're doing. That's not that serious an issue, anyone should be wary of new breweries with too many different beers. The other thing, however, is far worse, and you won't notice it until it's too late; it's also related to the lack of skilled brewers on the market. Some owners tend to disregard things that are a matter of course for someone with a minimum of professional training, the TL;DR of it would be “the brewing process doesn't finish at the brewhouse”. Add to this the corner cutting and a the general notgivingafuckness not uncommon in people who expect to make a quick buck out of a hot fad and it's no wonder you get poorly made, or even stale, beer at some brewpubs.

Which is the reason why I've stopped getting excited about new breweries just because they are new, and I'm not alone. My philosophy now is to by and large ignore them until I get some sort of good references. It's prejudiced, I know, but there's nothing wrong with being a prejudiced consumer. My time and money are limited and I rather spend it on beers that will make both worth it. Fortunately for me, there isn't a shortage of them around here.

Na Zdraví!

PS: If anyone can provide different, perhaps more accurate figures, they'll be welcome