As a follow-up from last week’s post on two new wheat beers in the Czech Republic, I’ve got more details about the new Dožínkové pivo appearing at outlets of Heineken Česká republika around the country. And no, it’s not exactly from Krušovice. And it wasn’t brewed at Starobrno, either.
Tag: Heineken (Page 1 of 2)
Although I believe in the importance of local ownership for breweries, I’m not totally convinced that that local owners are always better owners. Sometimes local owners can screw things up. Sometimes foreign owners can improve things. Look at what happened with Krušovice Černé, the legendary black lager from the brewery once owned by Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: It now appears that Heineken did not apply for the “Czech Beer” designation for its own brew, but rather on the part of Krušovice. This post has been corrected.
Today’s Prague Daily Monitor has a translation of a story from the Czech newspaper Hospodářské Noviny on the first beers to use the České Pivo (“Czech Beer”) label. Officially approved by the EU last autumn, the label is a mark of Protected Geographical Indication that indicates minimal levels of local products, traditional methods of production, and the beer’s place of origin.
And the first brand listed in the story is Heineken.
Hungary is wine country, but it has a long tradition of brewing as well, with the legendary name of Dreher — as in Anton — the brand of one of the country’s best-known pale lagers. Unfortunately, finding good craft beer from the country’s small producers is tricky. Just about everywhere you go, you’ll come across Dreher (part of SABMiller) and Soproni (a Heineken brand). But great local beer? Microbrews? Not so easy to spot.
We spent most of the last two weeks in Hungary, first at Lake Balaton, then in Budapest, where we I finally found a couple of interesting beers. Or at least, what looked like interesting beers. My Hungarian is limited to the five words most commonly found on restaurant menus, but when I saw the sign above, I was pretty sure that “házi” might be something like “domácí” in Czech, the equivalent of “house-made,” and I knew that “sör” meant beer. So I picked up a bottle of each brew: a világos, or pale, called Gutberger, and a barna, or dark, called Braunger.
The St. Louis Business Journal is reporting that Anheuser-Busch InBev is negotiating with Heineken to sell its Czech brands to the Dutch brewer. The paper places Staropramen’s valuation between $255 million and $306 million.
We’ve seen this before. Almost exactly a year ago, Heineken’s takeover of the Czech Drinks Union brands was given the green light. That move pushed Heineken into third place on the Czech market, just ahead of the legendary Budweiser Budvar, but still lower than Heineken’s traditional market share. At the time, Ron Pattinson sagely noted that Heineken doesn’t enter a market to take third place.
Last year I was invited to work for the Czech newspaper Lidové noviny as their weekly restaurant reviewer. For most of us, that might sound like a dream job, but I had already spent more than five years as the restaurant reviewer at the Prague Post, even seeing a story from there included in Best Food Writing 2005, and I had little interest in returning to the same task, especially since I was having so much fun writing travel stories from all around Europe. Despite being flattered by the offer, I passed, suggesting instead that the editors contact the Prague Spoon‘s Laura Baranik, who has since taken to it swimmingly.
But resolutions are meant to be broken, and I’ve recently agreed to occasionally review a few restaurants for Lidové noviny, either when Ms. Baranik is on vacation or as a means of helping out with what I know is very stressful, very demanding work.
To be honest, I’ve enjoyed writing reviews again much more than I thought I would. I even managed to get something about good beer into this weekend’s article.
It’s the start of the travel season, and that means I’ve been on deadline for a handful of stories. Consequently, my thoughts are fairly well fragmented at this point. Here are some of the many beery notes that are bouncing around my cranium.
Yesterday I saw the first poster (at a bus stop) for the Czech Beer Festival. Considering the starting pistol is set to go off in just 10 days, you’d think there would be a wee bit more coverage — is the word getting out? Someone, at least, should follow-up on the fact that they told us they’re brewing and serving a beer for dogs.
I recently tried another Lučan Premium Tmavé, a once-great dark beer from Žatec, and found that it was nowhere near as dark — nor as flavorful — as it was in my earlier tasting notes. Max Bahnson came to a similar conclusion about the whole line of Žatec beers at Pivní filosof. It reminds me of how different beer (and beer writing) is from wine, given beer’s ephemeral nature: a great beer can become mediocre with the next batch, but a great wine often seems more permanent, or at least more permanently great, because everyone knows you’re talking about (at least if it were beer) the 2007 Lučan Premium Tmavé, not every Lučan beer ever made. This is different in the case of beers marked with a vintage, but how many of those are there, anyway?
I’m not sure if it had anything to do with our anti-Heineken email campaign (more on this later), but there’s clearly much less Heineken on display at my local Albert supermarket: it used to take up about a meter of shelf space, plus several grab-a-beer cases on the floor. Now it takes up half a meter of shelf space and that’s it. Did someone hear us?
In related news, I had a Starobrno Medium (owned by Heineken) yesterday and thought it was great. Not craft beer, but a good factory-made lager by any measure. So perhaps foreign ownership of local beers is not the end of the world — aside from the repatriation of profits, that is.
To judge by numerous recent tastings, Primátor’s Weizenbier is currently firing on all cylinders. Just in time for summer…
The news yesterday was that Czech regulators have given a big green light to Heineken’s takeover of the four Drinks Union breweries (Zlatopramen, Louny, Velké Březno and Kutná Hora). According to Reuters, the Czech anti-monopoly office has no problem whatsoever with the deal.
There’s a great quote at the end of the story: “The office came to the conclusion that the merger will not result into a substantial breach of competition given a relatively low market share of both competitors and the existence of significant competitors.”
In other words, “Since SABMiller already has 49% of the market, what difference does it make?”
Heineken announced yesterday that it is taking over the four great brands of the Czech Republic’s Drinks Union brewery group (Zlatopramen, Velké Březno, Louny and Kutná Hora), which have an overall market share of 4%. The takeover will make Heineken the third-largest player in the Czech market after SAB-Miller and InBev, bumping Budvar to fourth place.
It’s not exactly a surprise — news of the proposed sale was floated last autumn — but it still caused ripples across the small pond of the beer world: within a few hours I was contacted by friends at CAMRA about the purchase, and EBCU members apparently all got the message via email. Back here at home, Pivní deník reported the story, posing some interesting questions.
To paraphrase: If Heineken decides to close some of its newly acquired breweries in the name of streamlining and efficiency, who will be the first? Louny, which is closest to Krušovice, which already has plenty of unused brewing capacity? Or Kutná Hora, which Drinks Union doesn’t actually own but only rents from the town? Or one of the twinned breweries of Zlatopramen and Velké Březno? Would two breweries in the same town really survive a takeover by such a major international brewing group?
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.