It took a few months, but my feature story on craft beer in Italy finally appeared in the NYT travel section this weekend. Seeing it, I started thinking again about Italian beer culture and how different it is to the Czech Republic and other countries which are better known for beer and brewing.
The point I stressed in my first post from the Italian beer trail is part of it: in Italy, the enthusiasm for beer is very high. But beyond mere enthusiasm is something that seems to be missing from the beer culture in the Czech lands and in Germany: education.
Take a look at the photo above, and in particular the big sign on the right. This was taken in the fabulous Eataly grocery store in Turin — a sort of massive, Italian take on Whole Foods — and the sign stands at the entrance right when you walk in, quite far from the store’s extensive beer department in the cellar.
The sign asks if you know the difference between Belgian white beer and German Weizenbier, and then goes on to explain the differences between the two styles in terms of ingredients, tasting notes, and suggested dishes to pair with each. It then lists some examples from its stock.
Please tell me if you’ve ever seen a display in any other grocery store which explains the nuances of two similar wheat beer styles.
I know that I’ve never found anything even remotely like that in the Czech Republic, though it sounds like a great idea: there isn’t much awareness that such things as beer styles even exist here, let alone beer styles beyond our borders. (And it’s not just the average consumer who remains in the dark. At a tasting last month in Prague, I heard a brewer mention to someone from the beer consumers’ movement that a particular Hefeweizen tasted like a Belgian wit, and the man from the consumer movement had to ask what that was.)
Of course, if you only sell one type of beer, there’s no need to educate consumers about what kind it is and the distinctions between it and another style. Considering the Czech Republic’s pale lager consumption rate of 95% and the country’s continuing mergers and brewery closures, I’m afraid most people would say there isn’t much point to beer education here.
But there are forces working against the tide. Last week I stopped by Tlustá Koala to try the new stout from Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf. Not only did I recognize the distinctive Kocour logo and colors on the tap, but when I took my seat I was surprised to find a brochure from the brewery explaining just what a stout is, how it is made and how it should taste. “Don’t be afraid,” it said.
No, I thought. Suddenly I wasn’t afraid at all.