4 Sep 2015

A Measure Rant


Beers served in 0.4 l portions aren't anything new. Flekovský, Sv. Norbert, Staropramen Granát, Velvet and Kelt (when it was around), and Ferdinand Sedm Kulí have always been available on that size, only. But it seems that recently, this plague has multiplied. None of the three newest brewpubs in Old Town, U Tří růží, Národní and U Dobřenských, serve any of their beers in a full, adult portion of half litre. There are also pubs like Pivo a Párek and Pivní Rozmanitost that are now selling some beers in 0.4l sizes, and even bigger companies like Plzeňský Prazdroj and Pivovary Lobkowicz have got on the game.

I don't like it, at all.

When I think of točené (or, to speak correctly, čepované) pivo, I picture a half-litre glass or mug (or a 0.3 l one, for those rare occasions that I want a malé pivo), so a 0.4l serving gives me the sensation that I'm being short-changed.

I know it’s only a sensation, it's not true (though if you can buy at Vojanův dvůr a half-litre of a beer from U Tří růží at the same price as a 0.4 at the brewery, or if a 0.4 l of Bernard Černý costs the same as 0.5 l used to, at the same pub, because of a gimmick, I'm not that sure). The way I see it, this portion size is a psychological trick similar to pricing a product at 99.90 instead of 100, as it's used mostly for the more expensive beers.

That makes it a bit silly. For better or worse, there's a growing a number of people, at least in Prague, who've got used to, and are OK with paying top money for beer they believe is worth it. Price has stopped being a default barrier for the success of a microbrewery, ask Matuška, if you don't believe me. So, if a pub is charging me 56 CZK for 0.4 l, why can't they charge 70 CZK for a full portion? I don't get it. (The case of Národní is even harder to understand, 35 CZK for a 0.4 l? What's the problem with 45 CZK for a half litre?)

To be fair, though, you could say this is a pet peeve of mine. After all, by volume, I'm still paying the same, glass size notwithstanding (with the exception of Bernard Černá Lavina, that is a rip-off). The 75 cl glass bottles, however...

I used to buy Antoš Tlustý Netopýr quite often. It wasn't cheap—110-120 CZK for a 1 l PET bottle—but I thought it was worth it. Lately, though, I've seen it only available in a very pretty 75 cl bottle FOR THE SAME FUCKING PRICE! Likewise with the beers from Frýdlant, and a few others I can't remember now.

Am I the only one who believes this isn't right, having to pay a 25% surcharge for no equivalent value in return?

We can thank the glass-bottle snobs for this; the people who believe and will tell anyone who wants to listen, and those who don't want, too, that PET bottles are not a worthy container for a precious liquid like good beer, and should only be reserved for crap like Braník, or whatever. They are, of course, unaware the the same was being said about glass bottles a century ago or so.

It is true that PET isn't an ideal material, I agree with that. But neither is glass*; I've bought my fair share of glass bottles (brown ones) with beer that was oxidised, light-struck, or even worse. I try to be more careful now, and the problem has all but gone, same with PET. It's not that hard, really.

So, what I've decided to do is to boycott all Czech beers with an ABV lower than 8% in 75 cl bottles (and their even more awful siblings, the 33cl bottles). I'm not buying them anymore, to drink at home; to take to a dinner-party, or as a present, even the most overpriced ones are still better value than a wine for the same money.

Na Zdraví!

* Unless we're speaking about bottle or cask conditioned, anything other than drinking a beer straight from the conditioning tank is a compromise on quality.

11 comments:

  1. Fully agree with you. Its starting to feel like a rip off. One of the things i love about czech beer culture is a good old half litre mug, when ive been in places like u tri ruzi i cant help but feel short changed

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  2. Reducing the size but not the price is a common method in price sensitive segments like goods for daily life in supermarkets where you cannot rise the price for various reasons. It's sad to see that this method found its way into czech pubs. But it doesn't surprise me since Czechs are known to be price sensitive in the beer segment, too. But I'm not sure whether this will work globally since I'd expect that Czechs are 0.5 l mug sensitive as well. Here, in Germany, nearly no one would would notice the different size since some pubs offer the beer in 0.2 and 0.4 l others 0.3 l (except in Bavaria where 0.5 l is more common, too).

    But there is also hope against a "silent rip off": the tooth crème manufacturer Colgate reduced the size of one of their products (100 ml --> 75 ml) but demanded the old price. The chemist dm de-listed the product recently and informed the consumer about the move of the manufacturer.

    But besides the microbreweries speaking about the large companies like Plzeňský Prazdroj and Pivovary Lobkowicz: do you think it's a move of the pub or by the brewer to offer the product in 0.4 l? There have always been restaurants in Prague which offer just the 0.4 l size (for an - relatively spoken - expensive price), e.g. U Prince in Staré Město (Staropramen).

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    1. As I say in the post. I don't think pubs serving 0.4l measures are ripping me, or anyone off. It's a pricing trick. For some reasont hey don't want to charge 70 CZK for a glass, so they charge 56 for a smaller one instead. Fair enough.

      Is the bottles that really bother me. They're expecting me to pay the same for less. Now, let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say those fancy bottles are driving indeed their costs up in the same proportion, they are, after all, more expensive than a 1l plastic bottle, it's more work to fill them, they're heavier to transport, etc.. Don't care, I will still be paying a 25% surcharge for something that I feel isn't worth that much.

      As for your last questions. It's a move by the brewers. Prazdroj this year introduced a Brewer's Seletcion, or something--something similar to Lobkowicz's Cesta Pivních Znalcú, but a lot less interesting. The promotional materials at the taking part in this campaign announce the beer being sold in 0.4l glasses, but I think that it's up to the pub to decide whether they want to sell it in half litres. Lobkowicz, on the other hand, is selling only their IPA on this size, I think. But once again, is up to the pub at the end of the day. In any case, I don't quite get it.

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  3. I'd forgotten about all that Velvet / Kelt shit. When I lived in Prague my flat was on Ostrovni, on the corner directly two floors above what was "the Dog's Bollocks" and is now a Jama pub. Despite the name it was quite a smart place. They had the full range of InBev products availabe in Cz: Star, Stella, Hoegarden, Bellevue and then Kelt and Velvet. Not sure I ever tried either.

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    1. Kelt was a pretty decent beer, a bottom fermented Stout, you could call it. Velvet, on the other hand, it was apparently quite popular with the girls back in the day; I was never too keen on it. Kelt was discontinued in 2008, I think, Velvet is still going around, but it's popularity is a shade of what it once was. I think only the Potrefená Husa chain has it and I only know of one other place.

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  4. Obviously this whole situation is about bigger profits for the pub owners and brewers at the expense of us punters the consumers. Noticing this situation too, I've been voting with my feet. If places like Prague Beer Garden, Kulovi Blesk, Pivo a Parek and Pivni Rozmanitost want to charge rip off prices for tapped beer and glass bottle specialty beers, they're going to have to find someone else to be their sucker. I'm not going to play their game. Meanwhile, thank God for the fine folks at Na Palme who are doing things right for their loyal customers.

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  5. Opinion from Monastic Brewery Strahov – Sv.Norbert beer.
    At first I have to say, I drink only small beers whole my life, it suits me better. I have to be very thirsty to drink large one and this kind of drinking is not much about taste for me.
    The only plague is a cheap beer. I know two kinds of beer - good one and bad, worthless beer. For the fisrt one I pay, the other one I don't buy. Your right is to choose and comment, brewery right is to set price and measure that most suits them. In times of socialism people used to drink cheap and weak beer for amount, logically the change was (at least in new microbreweries ) - stronger beers for bigger price, but targeting to tasting attitude. I remember year 2002 when common czech man was still afraid to drink strong beer ( by strong I mean 5,5% ABV ) and 0,4 lor 0,25l helped them to try it. Still today for many people 13% plato beer is too strong and if we would like to change/open their mind and taste, smaller glasses can help. I agree with you "desítka" in a classic czech pub would be in 0,5 l, but I thought you will be last one who will deal with measures in beer bars selling craft beers. I ordered 0,2 l glasses for our Barley Wine or you would like to drink from 0,5 l? I agree with you that pricing 99,99 is stupid, but I start to think that some people want taste of american Imperial IPA for the price of czech lager. This is impossible . I know this not about measures, but still connected. I understand you and see what is it about, but hate when people telling me what price or measure I should use. Do you know prices of ingredientes, energies, sallaries etc… and their development in last ten years? Do you think czech beer is overpriced?. Do you think that we fool somebody with 0,4 glasses? It seems that you think, czech brewers are cunning and they want money for yachts, holidays or what? Myabe somewhere, but in most breweries I know, they are returning earnings back to their business. Do you know that old czech measure “žejdlík” was 0,46 l (moravian was 0,35 l), where do you see tradition of 0,5 l – this tradition comes from time of socialism / normalization. I don’t want to follow this . I follow tradition, which is worth it. How do you know 0,5 l is best suitable, adult portion, why not 0,6 l or more? Before 90s most of czech breweries were adding sugar, should we do it, because it was tradition? By the way customer has the last word, you will have 0,5 l glass allways prepared at our brewery. Marek Kocvera Brewery Strahov.

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    1. I believe you misunderstood what I wrote above, badly.

      As a capitalist I'm happy to be living in a system where brewers can set any price they see fit for their products.

      If you want to charge 50, 75, 100 or 150 CZK for your beers, I'm cool with it, really. This does not mean that I will want to buy them, but I respect, and stand by your right to set those prices; regardless of what the reasons might be--to donate the proceedings to a charity, to cover the high rent, or to afford an orgy with supermodels, I don't care, it's none of my business.

      Now, if I do choose to buy that beer, I will expect equivalent value in return. If I feel I'm not getting that value (a very subjective thing, it should be said), I will probably consider that beer to be overpriced, and it won't make any difference if the price is because of the high costs or because you want to buy a Ferrari, the beer will still be overpriced (and mind you, I've had beers from 30 CZK that I felt were over-priced). That is, for instance, the problem I have with beers in 0.75l glass bottles, especially with those that used to cost X CZK for a 1l bottle and now cost the same for 25% less beer, that's not quite right.

      The adult portion thing is a figure of speech, a play with words.

      But about the measure itself. Whether the 0.5l measure is traditional or not, or when that tradition got started, is besides the point. The fact is that nowadays it's pretty much a standard--půl litr piva. To me, it's the best portion size for pretty much anything south of the 8% ABV percentage mark. And it's nothing new, it's been my preferred size for about 20 years, well before I moved here. It's enough to quench my thirst, if that is the reason why I'm drinking, and the right size for me to properly appreciate a beer and its drinkability.

      But case, those are personal preferences, and it's not my intention to impose them on anyone.

      As with the price, I've no problem with your selling your beers in 0.4/0.25l measures. It's your brewery, your business and I'm not going to tell you what to do with it (unless you ask, politely :)).

      In any case, I think your beers are excellent--some of the best stuff being currently brewed in the country, and I would certainly drink them a lot more often if they were served in half litre glasses, and a bit cheaper (not because I necessarily believe they are overpriced, but because they cost more that what I'm willing right now to regularly pay for a beer). But you seem to be doing pretty well with that policy (every time I've been there the place was full, no matter the day and time), so the problem is, apparently, mine.

      Dej Bůh Štěstí!

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    2. Thank you for your reply. Yes my mind was little bit obcured with your sentense, that we are spreading some plague. I also hate gimmicks some businnesmen are using with bottles. Now it is clear what was the main target. And I think we all agree that we pay for appropriate value. Dej Bůh Štěští dobrému pivu.

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  6. I've got used to the .4l at Stahov, but I'm surprised to read that Zly Casy is doing this too (is it really that long since I've been there?). Last night I went to Ungelt Jazz & Blues Club to see a band and lo - .4l measures of Kozel and PU, even though they are advertised on their website as .5l...

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    1. It came into effect last December to lessen the impact of a 20% price hike.

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