News roundup: my colleague Max Bahnson has a post on a few beers from Žatec, including the new Xantho (above). The label calls it a dark, but to me it seems more like a polotmavý (half-dark), aka jantar (amber), also known as granát (garnet), as well as “something like Vienna lager in the Czech lands.” Max will catch you up on pivo from the town otherwise known as Saaz, though he didn’t get to my current favorite from the brewery, Lučan Premium Tmavé, a chocolatey dark lager that my local corner shop usually stocks for just 8.50 Kč per half-liter, the equivalent of €.34 or about $.50.
Such low prices are on their way out, according to a recent article from Prague Monitor and Hospodářské noviny, who report that smaller Czech breweries are raising their prices (subscription required), following the lead of major brewers last November. Pilsner Urquell remains the most expensive, and if you want to know just how much your publican currently shells out for that half-liter of Urquell, the answer is 18.90 Kč (€.75 / $1.10). Smaller brewers, for all their quality, still charge far less, though last year’s 100% increase in the price of malt, the article says, results in a direct cost hike of about 30% for the breweries. At least some of that will be passed on to consumers in the near term.
Thirst is a powerful force, however, and the article notes that higher prices are unlikely to affect production. In fact, last year Czech brewers hit a record high of 20 million hectoliters (about 12.2 million barrels, if I’ve got the numbers right — feel free to check my math). The article concluded with more good news from the Bernard family brewery: Bernard’s production for January 2008 is up 28%, despite raising prices by 10% last year.
But wait, it gets better.
Several months ago there was a tasting in Prague of beers from Strakonice, a fine old South Bohemian brewery that makes decent Pilsner-style brews. But one of the most striking things at the tasting was how limited the brewery’s line was — three virtually indistinguishable golden lagers brewed at 10°, 11° and 12° — and how truly wonky their marketing is (the brewery uses the names Strakonice, Dudák, Nektar and Měšťanský pivovar, and the 10° golden lager, called “Měšťanská desítka,” or “Burghers’ Ten,” doesn’t have a visible “Strakonice” anywhere on the label.) Some of us pointed out that it is impossible to build brand loyalty when consumers can’t tell what brand it is they are drinking, and asked how freaking difficult would it be for Strakonice to brew a 13° amber lager, noting that this is hardly an obscure style at this point — in fact, it’s a growing trend here, as I’ve said before.
Well, last week the Czech newspaper Mladá fronta Dnes reported that Strakonice will launch its new 13° polotmavé pivo, Klostermann, later this month. Unfortunately, there’s still no word on the confusing labels and Strakonice’s multitude of heteronyms, which certainly isn’t helping the region’s last city-owned brewery — the article noted that Strakonice’s sales dipped by 2,000 last year to just 74,000 hectoliters. But given the unexpected appearance of Klostermann, dare we go on to suggest a wheat beer? Or even a dark lager brewed at 18° or above? Dare we recommend they offer a quality non-alcoholic beer, or even an amber non-alcoholic beer as Bernard has done? City-owned breweries can certainly innovate. The question is only if they can do it in time.