Radio Prague has a piece on a story that made headlines here this week: Pilsner Urquell is now cheaper in Germany than in the Czech Republic. I performed the role of the talking head in the story, a complicated mess of pricing, market share and currency fluctuations which ultimately boils down to the following:
Pilsner Urquell is now cheaper in Germany than in the Czech Republic.
Not everything I said made it into the web version, and there were quite a few things I didn’t get to mention before the interview ended. One part that got cut off from my take on the German appreciation for Pilsner Urquell was the fact that German Pilsner-style beers use a place name as an adjective in connection with the word, such as “Bamberger Pilsner,” in homage and in deference to the original.
However, I did get to mention something that has been bugging me for a while: Heineken is being promoted in the Czech Republic at the expense of quality local beers.
Recently my neighborhood supermarket was selling a half-liter bottle of Heineken “Pilsner” for 19 Kč, then about 72 cents in euro terms, about what it might cost in a supermarket in Amsterdam (now more, due to the recent strengthening of the Czech crown against the euro). This is not what anyone would possibly consider a fair trade: Pilsner Urquell is more expensive at home than outside the country, and supermarkets here compensate by offering us Heineken? (Edit: more to the point, this particular supermarket doesn’t stock any beers from small brewers like Primátor, Svijany, Opat, Herold, Černá Hora, Platan, Rebel, Louny, Velké Březno or Rychtář. From Klášter, it only stocks the 11° světlý ležák; from Bernard it only stocks the sváteční ležák. Everything else is a mass-production brew like Heineken.)
It’s hardly coincidental that the supermarket chain in question, Albert, is part of Ahold. Ahold is based in Rotterdam, while Heineken is based in Amsterdam. From the outside, this appears to be a case of “o nás bez nás,” or “about us without us” — in other words, decisions affecting consumer choice in the Czech Republic seem to be made in far-away countries without regard for local tastes, history and traditions.
It’s enough to make you want to write a letter to Ahold Czech Republic, saying “Please improve your beer selection at Albert. We don’t want Heineken. We are in the Czech Republic. We want to buy a variety of quality Czech beers, including beers from small producers like Primátor, Svijany, Herold or Opat.”
“Prosím zlepšete svou pivní nabídku v Albertu. Nechceme Heineken. Jsme v České Republice. Chceme mít možnost nakupovat různá kvalitní česká piva, včetně piva od malých výrobců jako jsou Primátor, Svijany, Herold nebo Opat.”
Feel free to copy and paste. And if you have the time to print that up and stick it in an envelope, the mailing address is:
Ahold Czech Republic
David Šátek, Purchasing Department
158 00 Praha 5 — Nové Butovice
In any case, Czech beer prices are all going up, as I mentioned last week, meaning we’ll have to get used to paying more for everything, not just Pilsner Urquell. The photo at the top of this page was taken in July of 2006, when you could still buy a half-liter of the original Pilsner in Prague for 23 Kč. Heineken may be many things, but it is no substitute for a great beer from a small Czech producer.