31 May 2016

On Abstinence, Ritual and Apathy

I felt I'd been drinking a bit too much in the previous weeks—more than what I usually drink, which might be already too much. I was thinking of taking a few days, perhaps a week, off the booze after Vysmolení (where, by the way, I had great time! Thanks everyone at Černoskotelecký Pivovár for letting me crash at the brewery, like every year—and this one in particular, for carrying me to bed). The Jurassic hangover I woke up with the next day made the decision very easy.

To be honest, I don't know what I was expecting of this attempt, but it wasn't hard; at all. Yes, there were times when I fancied a beer, especially while preparing dinner, but they were fleeting moments; as if I suddenly realised that something was missing from the alchemical ritual of transmuting produce and other ingredients into something greater than the sum of their parts, only to see that it's not that important; its absence wouldn't affect the outcome.

By the third day, I think, what I was feeling wasn't thirst or cravings or withdrawal; it was apathy. My interest in beer was no greater than that of any other topic I like reading about. Maybe it was a defence mechanism—you can't crave something you aren't interested in (it also helped that I had a pretty busy week that didn't leave time to hit the pubs. Though I did walk past a couple of old favourites, without feeling tempted to walk in). In any case, I wasn't counting the hours or days that I'd spent without a drop/until I would taste beer again.

I didn't complete the week, however. We had a trip to Ríp planned for last Saturday with the families of some of my daughter's classmates. It was a fine day, despite being around way too many children (anything more than one—my own—is way too many, actually).

After walking a couple of kilometres between fields from the Ctiněves train station, we climbed that legendary hill from the steepest side. I was the first to make the summit (that sounds grandiose; it's only a bit over 450m high). At the top, there's a wasted opportunity that passes for a watering hole; a place run by professional notgivingashitters who know that the people who make it all that way up will eat and drink whatever crap they are sold (to give them credit, though, the prices are at least reasonable). As approached it, I told myself Fuck it! I'd proven that I can go days without booze and suffer no consequences, and went to get a beer. It'd be a sin not to—some rituals must be observed to their fullest.

The beer they have is Bakalář (perhaps because they get it cheaper than others, or it's the only company willing to deliver there), served in plastic cups, of course. After patiently queueing, I got my velká 11° and found a place to sit under a tree and enjoy my reward.

It was crap. You can't see the taps from the window, but judging from the looks of the head, my pint was not served in one pour, and I'd wager that a no small part of it was the drips from previous pours, as the beer was likely foaming too much; all dispensed from taps that I doubt are cleaned as often as they should.

I finished it, I was really thirsty and needed to drink something more than mineral water, but I didn't feel like having a second one, I had an ice-cream instead. Yeah, that's how crap it was: after almost a week of not even sniffing a beer, and having walked several kilometres and climbed a hill in the middle of a warm, humid day, I didn't feel like having a second pint.

But the day didn't end there.

After a rather funny situation with the train back to Vraňany, where we had left our cars (the train that we were waiting Vraždov had broken down, but the machinist came to pick us up with a bus and took us to another station, where he would get another engine running so we could go to our destination), the day went on at the house of one of the families of the group. When the rain stopped, we made a fire in the garden to roast špekáčky, while the kids played. The host went to the local pub to fetch some beer with a couple of empty plastic bottles. I was offered some, which I gladly accepted; more out of politeness than crave—again, the ritual. It was Svijany Fanda this time, and was OK, but after finishing the small glass I'd been given, having another one didn't even cross my mind—apathy had once more taken over.

Since then (Saturday evening) and now (Monday late afternoon), I've only drunk one of the bottles UzenejŽitnýVideňák (a.k.a. Mad Max, the beer that Pivovarský Dům brewed on my recipe, or idea) that had been lingering in the fridge for 10 days, while watching a film last night; almost ritually.

What did I get from all this? I don't know, really. Not drinking for a few days is fine—and I'm sure my liver appreciated it—but not something to be proud of. Perhaps what I've realised is that, at least for me, beer is more than anything else, a part of a ritual: cooking, having dinner, a reward, an accessory in a social meeting. Come to think of it, that's nothing new.

Na Zdraví!

13 May 2016

A Reminder for Next Saturday, 21/5

This Staruday, 21/5, Černokostelecký Pivovár is hosting the 5th edition of Vysmolení, one of the two local beer festivals I can be bothered with going (the other being its sibling event, Vykulení, in Septermber). It just has pretty much everything I believe a good beer festival should:
  • Free entry—paying an admission fee to buy beer? Fuck that!
  • A fairly limited but well chosen range of beers, several drawn from wooden barrels.
  • All the beers are available in proper, half litre portions—to drink in earnest.
  • Plastic cups for those who can't be arsed with the inconvenience of a glass, while those who don't mind it, can either buy a glass on site or bring their own (provided is marked).
  • It's not too crowded and the venue is great, and outdoors.
  • The music doesn't start until later in the afternoon, by which time you are probably quite pissed and don't mind it.

In addition, you get to see master coopers practising their craft and visit the brewery proper, which is in the last stages of its reconstruction.

As every year, I'm very much looking forward. Spending a whole day drinking good beer among friends is always a great pleasure. See you there.

Na Zdraví!

How to get there? Buses 381-387 leaving every hour from Háje to Kostelec n.Č.l.,nám

6 May 2016

Pilsner Urquell is Looking for a New Owner

I can't have been the only one who last year exclaimed “Well, fuck!” upon learning that the same people who fucked Staropramen—and other brands in several countries—were going to own Czech Republic's flagship beer.

Fear no more!

As, I reckon, most of you must are already aware, in order to placate those pesky EU anti-trust regulators, ABIB has undertaken to divest a bunch assets in Eastern Europe, among which is Plzeňský Prazdroj—apparently, getting rid of Grolsch, Peroni and Meantime was not enough.

What I find most interesting is that this is basically the same thing ABIB did back in late 2009, when they sold to an investment fund a bunch of breweries in Eastern Europe that included Staropramen—which happened about a year after the merger with AB and, if I recall correctly, at about the same time that rumours about their interest in SAB-Miller were beginning to go around. That can't be a coincidence.

This shouldn't surprise anyone, really. The ageing Central and Eastern European markets are stagnant at best, and, save a couple of exceptions, there aren't brands with any value outside their respective backyards—'I really fancy a glass of that famous, generic Hungarian Lager,' said no one ever. It's the developing countries the Brazilians are after, which still have massive potential for growth.

The question is who will buy the package. The other big boys—MC, Heineken and Carlsberg—are out of the question; unless they're themselves willing to divest in the same region, which I doubt. The money seems to be either on Asahi, who've already committed to buy Peroni et al, or an investment fund, like in 2009.

When the news of the mega-merger came out, some people—myself included—speculated whether the new conglomerate would shut down one of the four breweries that Prazdroj operates, with Kozel being the most likely candidate. We had no basis for that, other than it being what corporations of that ilk tend to do—ask Heineken, for instance. Will that be the case with these yet-to-be-known new owners?

If I had to choose, I'd pick Asahi. They are more likely to be in for the long run (and they are already in the business of beer), whereas an investment fund will probably restructure the package in order to sell it for a profit a few years later, just like CVC did.

Brace yourselves, interesting times are coming.

Na Zdraví!

PS: It's really amusing to see the mental contortions of those crafotphiles who really, really hate it when Craft breweries are sold to macros, but see no problem with they loose their “Indie” status to a investment funds.