19 Apr 2015

Popularity, personal tastes and beer culture


There was a time, a few years years ago, when it seemed that Statorpramen was improving. It was back when the brand from Smíchov had been made the flaghsip of a bunch of Eastern European breweries a Belgian investment fund had bought from ABIB, and named Starbev.

It didn't last too long. In 2012, Starbev was sold to Molson-Coors and those days are now gone. If they existed at all. My impression might have been a product of wishful thinking, or of drinking the beer in one of those where-and-whens that make everything taste good. Whatever. The thing is that today I find myself in agreement with Pivní Recenze's review of Staropramen Světlý.

The closing comment on the other hand. Well...

According to Moro, the author Staropramen je českou dvojkou na trhu – toto dosti vypovídá o pivní kultuře v našem státě. (Staropramen is second on the Czech market – this says enough about the beer culture in our country).

Really?

If Staropramen says that much about Czech beer culture, I wonder what Jupiler, Oettinger Pils and Carling Lager say about the beer cultures of Belgium, Germany and the UK, respectively. That they are the same as the Czech, and everywhere else, for that matter?

This map shows the best selling brands in every country. As far as I can tell, they're all mass produced, Pale Lagers of the sort we may call bland, characterless, if not downright crap; owned by multinational corporations, most, if not all of them. Just like Staropramen. (The only exception, Ireland, provides a distorted picture. According to a comment by the Beer Nut at Stonch's, Pale Lagers outsell Guinness 3-to-1, but the market is split among several brands, all of them big, multinational ones.)

Is this telling us that distinctively local beer cultures do not exist, that they're only a myth; something artificially preserved for tourists and romantics?

Now, that'd be a pretty stupid thing to say, wouldn't it?

Pivovary Staropramen's position as (a distant) second on the Czech market has little, if anything, to do with beer culture. It's due to other factors, the most important of which, in my opinion, are availability and general consumer behaviour.

I don't think there is a single supermarket, samoška, večerka (vietnamská or otherwise), smíšené zboží or nápojka in this country that doesn't sell at least one of the beers of Pivovary Straropramen. This is very important, more so now that 59% of the beer sold in the Czech Republic comes in bottles (PET or glass) and cans. There are people who may prefer another—let's say better—brand, but if they don't find it while Akce! chasing at Kaufland or Albert, they will buy Staropramen, Braník, or something similar, because they're cheap and do the job just fine thankyouverymuch—just like most of the other stuff they have in their shopping cart. Add to this the still more than considerable number of pubs, bars, restaurants, etc. that sell Starorpamen, and the picture will be very clear to anyone willing to look at it.

What do we get from this, then?

a) That unless we're willing to re-examine the concept of “beer culture” as a whole, what Staropramen's popularity says about the Czech beer culture is fuck all.

b) That personal preferences and tastes are hardly ever a good vantage point for broader observations.

Na Zdraví!

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