2 Mar 2016

The redundancy of "Řemeselné pivo(var)"


As someone who makes a living out of languages and loves to have fun with them, I facepalmed when I read the press release of Česká a Moravská Pivní Koruna. Not because of who was awarded (disclaimer: in January, the organisers asked me to nominate 10 minipivovaru, which I did, and then invited me to be part of the jury that would choose the winners, which I wasn't, so I don't know what criteria was applied; in any case it's irrelevant), but because of what they were awarded for: being the best Craft Pivovary in the country.

Craft Pivovar? What the lagering fuck is that?

I'd heard it mentioned in certain beer circles and I always dismissed it as “bollocks people say”. This is the first time, however, that I've seen it printed in an “official fashion”, but it doesn't make it any less stupid; quite the contrary, in fact. It is also further proof of how silly and redundant the ”řemeselné pivovar” denomination is, and has always been.

Last week, when I commented that last bit on FB, Zemské Pivo took issue on Twitter, which prompted a lengthy but civil debate on the matter. I won't link to it, nor embed it here (following an old Twitter conversation is disheartening, especially when more than two parties are involved and hashtag-prefixed are liberally thrown around) I will tell you why I believe řemeselné pivo(var) is a waste of time and intelligence. Bear with me.

It's redundant because we already have a denomination in widespread use that does a perfect job: minipivovar. Zemksé Pivo argues that it's not enough because it refers only to the size of a brewery and not its philosophy, approach or heart, or whatever. Notwithstanding the vagueness of those words, they're still wrong. Hospody nowadays tout ”piva z minipivovarů” just like “Craft beer” is touted by bars in other countries, which I see as clear indication that for the average Honza, minipivovar means a lot more than just a annual production volume bracket. And there's an alternative in case it was not seen as encompassing enough. The other day, the father of one of my daughter's classmates told me that when he goes on trips he likes visiting the local soukromné pivovary (which can be translated as “independent breweries”). I've heard it enough times to make me believe that it carries the same meaning as minipivovar, at least for people who might not know what IPA stands for, but still prefer to drink something other than Europivo. In contrast, I don't remember ever seeing řemeselné pivo in the wild.

There is, by the way, one detail that the řemeselnists seem to ignore (or conveniently forget): what we, and the entire world, understands as Traditional Czech Beer is not the product of idealistic iconoclasts fulfilling their dream of making the world a better place one půllitr a time, but a child of the industrial revolution; the birth of Pilsner Urquell, the most iconic of Czech beers, is a great example of that. But that is not why I think řemeselné pivo(var) is silly.

What Zemské Pivo et al are trying to do is shoehorn into the Czech beer vernacular a concept (for lack of a better word) that's been co-opted and debased by various business interests and marketing illusionists, to the point that a growing number of people are wondering whether it ever had any meaning to begin with, only because they feel that the words Czechs use to describe the very same thing are too objective and not romantic enough. Even if I shared that view (which I don't), I wouldn't see any need to import and translate an empty label when the Czech language already has a word for it: Poctivé. I know that I sort of dismissed it a few years back, but regardless, it is still a beautiful word, and one that, unlike řemeselné, needs no explanation; everyone will understand what Poctivé Pivo is. And maybe that's the problem? After all, “Craft” in any language mutation is known to have been used as an excuse for poor consistency and less than stellar brewing skills and attention to detail (as well as inflated prices).

But what would I know, I'm just an opinionated pisshead.

Na Zdraví!

5 comments:

  1. Great article. Twitter, truth be told, does not allow enough room for expression. So...
    Microbreweries or minipivovary currently account for approx. 1.3% of total beer volume. The rest is (in many cases very drinkable) industrial (průmyslové) macrobeer production.
    The word minipivovar (microbrewery) denotes volume as does průmyslový. We do not deny that it - luckily - also has positive connotations for "those in the know". However, those "in the know" are still few and far between. Řemeslné pivo should reflect in Czech, as should craft beer in English, a hands on, hand crafted, "product quality first" approach. These are not mere phrases but an attempt to clearly, in Czech, in several words, describe the ethos of the product and its production to the vast majority of consumers - there are great, local alternatives that a řemeslný pivovar can deliver to them (poctivé, tradiční pivo - not only). And they can deliver this by playing around with recipes, hunting down ingredients, experimenting with yeasts, seeking inspiration from abroad, collaborating, bottling by hand... the very essence of craft / řemeslný process. Paul Kucera, Zemsky pivovar.

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    1. It's not only about what a word means, but the meaning that people assign to it. Craft Beer (in whatever language) to me, and many others, has come to mean nothing of substance, really, let alone quality, philosophy, approach or any of that. The worst beers I've had in my life were from Craft Breweries, and likewise for the most overrated and overpriced (in relation to quality). Further, some of the most cynical and obnoxious beer marketing I've seen in the last decade was from Craft Breweries, But that is what "craft" means to me when applied to beer or brewery. Minipivovar, on the other hand has come to mean a lot more than just very small brewery: diversity and variety, new flavours, tradition (a brewery in every town) a more human face, etc. or at least that is the impression I get from listening to people, going around town, and following the media. I honestly haven't heard anyone in a casual conversation about beer saying that they like řemeselné pivo, but I've head many people saying that they like and actively seek piva z minipivovarů. Even among beer geeks I don't remember anyone using řemeselné pivo casually.

      But it's all marketing at the end of the day. You can call your beer what you want if you think it'll help you sell more. If people conclude the beer is shit, it'll be shit not matter what is called; nor will it matter much if the beer is good, quality can speak very well on its own.

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  2. How would one pronounce 'craft pivovar'? I can only assume it would be 'sraft pivovar'. ;) Can't wait for that other marketing canard to be used, chucking 'staro' in front of something to denote authenticity, 'starosraftni pivovar' has a certain ring to it, like a bell for Pavlov's pissheads.

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    1. I would posit 'ts'raft would be the pronunciation :).

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    2. Good point - I would therefore posit that it is time for me to return to the Czech Republic so my Czech doesn't completely lapse into disrepair along the lines of Rome during the Dark Ages.

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