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

4 comments:

  1. Ten years ago during my brief period living in Prague I think the cheapest beer I had was a Gambrinus in a pub in Kutna Hora for 13 Kc. Amazing that ten years later that's now the wholesale price! I'd assumed the steep prices rises in pubs I've observed over the years would be confined to the capital but obviously not. The cheapest beer I regularly drank in Prague was 20Kc in the Radegast pub and usually we paid in the low 20s.

    I must admit I haven't visited a single on of the new brewpubs in Prague that have opened in the last decade. Indeed I still haven't made it to Richter, which was one of those six in 2007!

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    1. I also remember drinking desitka for 13-14CZK (or less than 20CZK for PU), and I've been only around since 2002!

      The growth in prices is a topic on itself. If you go to any big supermarket, chances are that you can get a bottle of Gambrinus 10º for less than 14-15CZK. Basically, they're subsidising the supermarket prices with what they can get away with charging to the pubs, shooting themselves in the process to some extent.

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  2. ah so they've kept the supermarket prices down. I remember I used to pay 9 Kc for a Kozel Cerne (the beer I used to keep in the fridge at home) at the Tesco at Narodni (which was my nearest shop - being that central meant I didn't stay in very often!)

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    1. Just checked the price of Kozel Černý at e-shop of Tesco, 12.90CZK. Not a big change, and it can get as low as 9-10 CZK when it's discounted. At pubs, you'll be lucky if you find it below 30 CZK, and I remember paying 15.

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