Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

Japanese Rats Prefer Czech Beer


Back to Czech topics, as the Prague Daily Monitor has an interesting-slash-weird story today, translated from the local newspaper Hospodářské noviny, on “drinkability” and Czech beer (subscription required). You have to puzzle your way through a confused plot before you get to the punch line:

“Japanese researchers once presented laboratory rats with a bowl containing water and another with Czech beer. ‘First of all, the rats went for the beer. But when the scientists replaced the Czech beer with a foreign brand, the rats preferred water,'” said a scientist at the Czech Research Institute of Malting and Brewing.

That’s right. According to Czech scientists, Japanese rats prefer Czech beer to water, though they prefer water to foreign beers. (Many thanks to OptaDesign for the illustration.)

How’s that for a buried lede? Reading through it again, the story seems to imply that it is “drinkability” — not low-sulfate water, not a decoction mash, not Saaz hops, not Haná barley — that is the hallmark of Czech beer, a term which is apparently still getting closer to becoming a protected name under EU law. (But not any closer than, say, last month. What is the point of this article, anyway?)

As for “české pivo” as a protected name, I’m not very optimistic, as it doesn’t differentiate a great Czech beer made by hand from a mediocre Czech beer made in a factory.

Instead, we need a Czech term for “craft beer” — or “artisanal beer,” promoted as “birra artigianale” in Italy — to differentiate the product on the basis of its quality and how it is produced, rather than its mere geography.

As Honza K0čka pointed out, the new craft brewery Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf won’t be able to use the term “české pivo” as it is outside the boundaries of the name as defined on the application, though of course the brewery lies within the boundaries of the Czech Republic. Presumably many of the larger Czech breweries making beers of lower quality would still be able to use the “Czech beer” term — rendering it, in my opinion, completely pointless.

Can we get back to talking about things that actually matter?

As long as “Czech beer” is being promoted for imprecise characteristics like “drinkability” or a questionably defined geographic area of origin, we’re a long ways from talking about real craft and variety.

(Another gem from the article: “To put it simply – after finishing the first Czech beer, a consumer wants another, though he’s not thirsty any more.” Really? That’s what makes Czech beer different from the others? Please allow me to point out that the homeless guys drinking in front of the supermarket seem to feel that way about every beer — not just those miracle brews from inside the magic boundaries of “české pivo.”)

Now that that’s over, can we do something productive? For example, could we come up with a way to promote those few Czech beers that are still made using traditional open fermenters? Unlike the beers produced in cylindroconical vessels, the beers made with open fermenters have a clear distinction: they almost always taste better.

I’m sure the rats will agree.


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  1. I understand (somewhat) the rationality for giving the geographic designation to Parmesan Cheese, and I’ve become accustomed to drinking Sparkling Wine. But Ceske Pivo? Is someone using that designation incorrectly? Perhaps some nefarious Polish operation is duping some poor Brits into drinking some Galician swill?

  2. Two not-entirely connected thoughts prompted by this interesting post.

    (1) We’ve blogged before about how we prefer the concept of “craft beer” to the UK “real ale”. It’s not that real ale’s not great, of course, but it’s not all-encompassing enough to admit many great beers we love. It’s a bit of a “four-legs-good, two-legs-bad” way of seeing the world…

    I think using the term “craft beer” in the UK would make you sound like a pretentious wanker though…

    (2) I tend to shy away from beers/brewers that use the word “drinkability” as a marketing concept. Great beers are all drinkable, but they’re other things as well. ergo if you emphasise the “drinkability”, to me that implies there’s nothing else going on…

  3. I really don’t see the point of the České Pivo label. Most of what you can find abroad is from the big three, and everybody knows they are Czech. Moreover, as you mentioned in the first article about the subject, if there is a list of ingredients, the we will have something akin to the German Purity Law, which is a great stupidity.
    To me, České Pivo is beer brewed in the Czech Republic. I would like to see, though, some kind of “Craft Beer” label, but I don’t see that happenning anytime soon, as the big three would strongly oppose it, and I do believe their lobby is quite strong.

  4. Boak, I think it’s very important not to sound pretentious when talking about beer.

    Sounding like a wanker, of course, is perfectly normal. If there were only some way to split the difference…

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