“Passion”, “following a dream” are words you often hear associated with new brewing enterprises, but you hardly ever hear “ambition” mentioned. I wonder why. It might be because many an alternative brewer would like us to believe that they aren't “commercial”, that they don't make beer for money, but for flavour or other bollocks along those lines; as if wanting to get rich working was something to be frowned upon.
To me, however, ambition is, to some extent, much more important than passion. Someone ambitious is more likely to know what they are doing and what they are getting into, to have a plan, and to know what is necessary to do in order to succeed. In the local beer ecosystem, at least as far as Prague and its immediate surroundings is concerned, that would be making beer of good quality, having a good brand and knowing how to sell it, and I believe Zemský Akciový Pivovar meets that criteria quite well.
I first saw Zemské Pivo in one of the 48 taps at Zlý Časy. What caught my attention was the information card mentioning that it was from Prague. A new brewery in the city? Not quite, I was told. it's still a “létající pivovar” (flying brewery – the local denomination for gypsy/contract breweries). I was about to dismiss it as another new brewery I have no references of, but the tapster recommended it and I must say I was quite impressed. The beer was a really, really nice světlý ležák that hit all the right spots, the same can be said about their desítka.
As the weeks passed, I started to hear more about this brewery, and I learned that one of the people behind this enterprise is Max Munson, owner of the Jáma restaurants. I met him the other day to ask him a few questions about this brewery. He told me, among many other things, that the company's director is Pavel Prchál, someone who comes from Pivovary Lobkowicz and has 15 years experience in the business.
Max also explained me that the recipes for the beers was put together by Chotěboř's Brew Master Oldřich Zaruba. One of the reasons they choose Chotěboř was that the company that owns it will provide all the technology for the future brewery (it's already well known that the brewery in Vysočina is actually a sort of showrrom for a company more interested in selling brewing technology than actually beer).
Not long before coming across Zemské Pivo, I had heard that there were plans to open a brewery in the old Pivovar Braník, which InBev had shut down in 2007. If true, that would be great news. Like many other people, I believed that this was related to Zemský Pivovar. It turned out not to be true. When I asked him about it, Max told me that they have nothing to do with that. He said that the brewery, which they expect to have ready next year, will be in Prague, but he was not in a position to tell me exactly where, as there are still some contractual and official issues that need to be sorted out. Based on this image, though, there seems to be some historical link, Zemský Pivovar will be located where a now forgotten brewery used to be.
So far, so good. They have experienced people, the beer is very good, they are building the brand very cleverly, but what really sets them apart from all the other new, and not so new, breweries in Prague and nearby is their scale. Zemský Akciový Pivovar is not going to be a brewpub, not even a distribution based micro like Břevnovský or Matuška, they are going to be, as they themselves say it, a malý průmyslový pivovar (small industrial brewery) with a 20,000hl/year capacity from the get go, which is twice the current capacity of Únětický (n.a. according to Czech law a mini-pivovar is one that makes up to 10,000hl/year). That's ambition!
But can Prague support such a big brewery? Max assured me that yes, it can. They are aware of the hard competition they face with the likes of Kout na Šumavě, Kácov or Únětický, against whom, Max believes, their beers will be most likely compared. But he also believes that there's still a lot of fertile ground. And he might be right; as I discussed here, in a shrinking market, more and more pub owners are looking for ways to revitalise their businesses and having an alternative beer to the big brands has proven to be a success for not few, as Max Munson knows first hand. Right now, besides Jáma v Jámě, Zemské Pivo has a permanent tap at a pub Smíchov called Hospůdka Sokol, where it seems to be enjoying success. Other future plans once the brewery is working include expanding their product line with non traditionally Czech styles, brewed in collaboration with foreign Brew Masters, specialists in those styles. At the moment, they are preparing their Christmas beer, which should be a Polotmavé.
Let's hope their vision is right. As far as I'm concerned, smart, ambitious people are always welcome in the beer market. Here's to them.