Time is always said to be of the essence, but for the producers of Czech ‘gold’, they know that it takes the time that other European beer producers fail to allow. This was certainly the impression that those attending this year’s ‘Czech Beer Day 2017’ up in swanky Hampstead heard this July.
Indeed, beer produced these days in the Czech Republic, a nation that lays claim to the world’s first-ever pilsner blond lager - Pilsner Urquell in 1842 - takes between 100 to 200 days to brew. That bottom-fermented beer in fact inspired much of the beer produced around the globe today.
“We are a small country but we are very strong in certain aspects and beer is something we consider ourselves being a Super Power. The beer is so precious for us that we say Czech beer is the Czech gold,” Libor Sečka, Czech ambassador to the UK, told a well-attended gathering at his residence that attracted over 200 people.
They included beer distributors, hotel operators, bars, some casino operators as well as blogers and journalists at the industry event, which organisers Czech Trade had spent a year putting together to showcase the breadth and diversity of what the nation’s brewers can offer.
Sečka expressed his hope that there would be “more opportunities” in future to see Czech beer brands on the British market, which in 2016 gulped up 223,097 hectolitres of their global beer exports. Last year the UK accounted for a little over 5% of total Czech beer exports - placing it behind Slovakia, Poland and Germany in the rankings of top export markets.
It was in the extensive garden of Villa Magnolia, the poetic name of the ambassador’s residence in a prestigious part of Hampstead, which hosted representatives from 13 breweries who served draught and bottled beers - alongside a barbeque. Beer heaven you might well think. There was even a stand exhibiting spirits.
The protagonists ranged from the big players like Budweiser Budvar (the 'Original', www.budweiserbudvar.co.uk) to Czech beers from small- and medium-sized regional breweries and micro-breweries from right across the country.
Martin Macourek, Director of Czech Trade - UK & Ireland (www.czechtrade.cz), commenting said: “Czech beer and Czech craft beer - as we call it ‘real’ Czech lager - is unique in many ways. In the same way that real ale is unique to Britain and quintessentially British…real lager is unique to the Czech Republic.”
Remarking further on the uniqueness of Czech beer, Macourek pointed out: “It takes a lot of time to brew Czech beer and all in all between 100 to 200 days, which compared to 10 days for mainstream lager brands in Europe.” (For Budweiser Budvar it's stated as being '102 days'). It’s also down to process of mashing where in the Czech Republic “you will find double or tripling mashing,” he added.
Czech Beer Day introduced beers from the country that have the capacity and lifespan of beer suitable for export to British merchants. They certainly know how to produce high-quality lager beer and for me there were some real gems to be found besides Budweiser.
Other Czech breweries exhibiting on the day included Bernard (distributed through York-based Pivovar Ltd), Primátor, microbrewery Matuška (conceived by ex-Pilsner Urqell head brewer Martin Matuška), Ferdinand, a group of breweries represented by Lobkowicz Group (Lobkowicz, Platan, Vysoký Chlumec, Ježek and Rychtář) that is the number 4 Czech brewing group by local sales, Zubr, Pernštejn (with its excellent flagship porter dark beer, ABV 8%), as well as Únětický Brewery from just outside Prague and Aurosa, a beer for the fairer sex.
The breweries of Matuška and Pernštejn (http://en.pernstejn.cz/), besides presenting traditional Czech lager, also introduced the Czech concept of an ‘ale type’ beer, with a mixture of Czech, British and American ingredients. As a side note, Ryanair are to start thrice-weekly flights later this year from London’s Stansted to Pardubice where Pernštejn, which since 1891 has been brewed and exported worldwide including to countries like Egypt.
The presentation was rounded out by the famous spirits distillery Rudolf Jelínek (www.rjelinek.com), the country's top fruit brandy maker which produces slivovice and absinthe among other brands. It has been a tradition in Vizovice (www.czechtourism.com/t/vizovice) in the Zlin region of the Czech Republic since 1894. With a three-stage distillation process, their slivovice range includes Gold plum brandy 3-year old (ABV 45%), Bohemia Honey (ABV 35%) and Pears William Brandy (ABV 42%) is exported to more than 30 countries
The Jelinek brand, which was introduced to the United States in 1934 by Mr Rudolf Jelinek, is currently distributed in more than 30 U.S. states from east to west coast. It is available in over 5,000 liquor stores and restaurants throughout the U.S. including the major markets of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Zdenek Chromy, deputy chairman of R. Jelinek, who was on hand at the Hampstead event told me: “Basically all our U.S. slivovize portfolio and everything we sell to that market is Kosher. It’s a good key to market because with this speciality we have to find special clients.” It also fits with tradition as the Jelinek family were Jewish. "So from that time we keep the tradition." During his time working in the U.S. for a couple of years to promote the brand, Chromy said he had "counted over 50" slivovize brands. So having an extra niche can help.
There was also luxury in the air with a niche product called Aurosa (www.aurosa.cz), which is tailored to a woman’s taste and conceived by a woman. “It’s not just a beer. It’s a lifestyle”, their marketing literature read and the Aurosa bottle is described as functioning as “an element of décor” that exudes elegance and touts a “luxury approach to product experience.” However, the stand courted a bit of controversy in despatches from a couple of UK national papers.
It gained 'coverage' in The Daily Mail and The Independent, who interestingly both omitted details of the other beer gems showcased on the day or where exactly the event was held, and indicating that it had caused something of a stir and 'outrage' among feminists.
Notwithstanding that press coverage it is understood that the Edwardian Hotel group in London initiated contact afterwards to discuss taking the Aurosa product. The Aurosa Premium beer is a Bohemian semi-dark lager (ABV 4.5%) with a smell of caramel-coffee and offering a malty after taste.
The Czech Beer event will be repeated next year when the 100th anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia’s First Republic is marked.
About the author: Roger Aitken is a freelance writer who contributes to Forbes (www.forbes.com/sites/rogeraitken) amongst other titles and was a former FT staff writer.
Photo by Jolly Thompson (www.jollythompson.com). For more photos of the event see: http://html.jollythompson.dphoto.com/album/3f36bp