Roll out the barrel! Simply said, great beer comes from a great country. Now whilst some might disagree as to which nation is the ‘World Champion’ when it comes to produces the best beer - lager, ale or call it what you will, the Czech Republic is certainly up there with the best of them.
The Germans will naturally claim that their beer can be considered the best and especially so around the Oktoberfest, while Belgium’s output cannot be discounted for its rich variety of beers with over a thousand different beers including Belgian Abbey beers.
Nor for that matter can the British and Irish be ignored, especially if you have had the pleasure to meet Peter, the Irish landlord of The Porterhouse in London’s Covent Garden (www.porterhouse.london), which hosts an annual ‘Velvet Revolution’ party with Czech Tourism each November. The Danes cannot be discounted either, with “Probably the best lager in the world” adverts for Carlsberg.
That aside, further efforts to promote Czech craft beer – or craft lager- are being made after a successful outing at the ambassador's residence last year at Villa Magnolia up in Hampstead, north London. Czech Trade (UK & Ireland) has been instrumental in hosting several events in London this summer to promote the wares from Czech regional brewers.
According to a number of sources, which include the Czech Brewery and Malt Association (2016) and Euromonitor Research, the Czech Republic was recently ranked the seventh largest beer producer in the European Union (EU) with an estimated 1.88 billion litres output, with the nation’s industry employing around 55,000 people today - directly and indirectly.
For 2017, the U.K. ranked as the fourth top export market behind Slovakia (first), with Poland in second and Germany third - and one spot ahead of Russia ranked in fifth place.
This year's ‘Czech Beer Day’ was the third such annual event and convened in the shared grounds of the embassies of the Czech and Slovak Republics this summer on a sun-drenched in June.
One could say we were participating in a bit of history, since the shared garden that sits between the Slovak and Czech embassies at 26-30 Kensington Palace Gardens came about when the two buildings were constructed in a "brutalistic style" during the period when Czechoslovakia was still a nation.
Construction started as 1970s were approaching and it is hard to envisage now, but the building won the coveted Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) award for architecture in 1971.
Libor Sečka, the Czech ambassador to the UK, commenting on the steps of the Slovak embassy facing out to the garden to a throng of people, remarked: "To us beer is like bread and so precious. And, there is a joke we have. When two Brits in a pub ask to the other - 'Two beers or not?' - Czechs might rather say 'To beer or not to beer?'"
The summer event, which follows similar events held in Liverpool (the first Czech Beer Day) and at the ambassador's residence last year, this time saw 16 breweries represented. The trade, pub and hotel operators from the UK were to be seen. One - Alan - even made the trip down from Liverpool.
Little Greta, a digital marketing agency (https://littlegreta.co.uk/), had representatives on hand from Prague led by Jan Blazek to discuss their work with Jarosov lager, which has won an award at a recent ‘World Beer Awards’ for best label design using Moravian motifs that was conceived by the firm.
Petr Dvořák, managing director of Budweiser Budvar (‘The Original’), a brewery that effectively belongs to all Czechs, speaking beside the ambassador, said: “Having worked in the brewing industry for around twenty years - fourteen outside the country - I might be biased, but I believe that Czech lager is the best in the world.”
Despite trade mark disputes over the years with Anheuser Busch in the United States over the “Budweiser” name, Budweiser Budvar that is brewed in České Budějovice in southern Bohemia holds its own heritage.
In fact, there is over a 700-year long tradition of brewing Budějovice beer. And, they take no less than 102 days to brew and condition Budweiser Budvar (www.budweiserbudvar.co.uk). That is about seven times longer than most other beers by producers elsewhere in Europe. And, the water comes from artesian wells plumbing depths of around 300 metres.
In Britain, the brand’s growth rate year-on-year stands currently at around. And, having myself recently returned from the Czech Republic to visit the Budweiser plant among with a number regional breweries, a new bottling facility was expected come on stream towards the end of this year or early 2019. It is part of an extensive investment estimated at around CZK 2,000 million (£70m).
This is expected to boost production by c.20% according Petr Samec, spokesman for Budweiser Budvar, a national corporation and considered the “biggest micro-brewery” in the Czech Republic. Overall there are in fact around over 400 micro-breweries that have sprung up across the nation in recent years.
In 2016, Budweiser Budvar produced a historic record volume of beer - a total of 1.615 million hectolitres, representing a 0.8% year-on-year increase. They admit that beer sales that year could have been even higher, but the brewery had already reached the upper limit of its production and logistics capacity in 2015. Consequently, significant customer demand had to be turned down in many cases.
Dvořák, speaking on the sidelines of the embassy event, told me that a “Czech lager category” should be created, rather like South African wine as a category. Now while Czech pilsner is not an ordinary larger and the category exists, it is nevertheless not official.
Zdenek Kudr, managing director of London-based Bohem Brewery, which is run by Czech expats and lays claim to being London’s first Bohemian brewery, adding to the debate on best beer in the world, said diplomatically: “It is, from my point of view. However, there are many different perspectives, which would not necessarily concur with this view.”
As well as running a Taproom in the Wood Green area where they sell a range of beers, they recently enlarged their brewery operations with new space in Tottenham and have seen increased sales in the British capital.
The June beer event was in fact the largest and most prestigious showcase of the breadth and diversity of Czech beer in the U.K. to date. Effectively the day also served as a launch platform for the Czech Craft Beer Alliance (CCBA).
For its part, Czech Trade has been offering considerable support to the recently incorporated CCBA, which in a former guise has been exporting beer since around 2008 and particularly to the Republic of Ireland - mostly to wholesalers and supermarkets.
The CCBA, which invested around £30,000 into its project, aims is to introduce small and medium craft brewers to the U.K. and Irish markets. Today it represents six breweries committed to traditional brewing such as double mashing (grain mixed with water), fermentation in open vessels and long maturation in cellars. The goal is to expand the portfolio to 10 by the end of 2018 and twenty in 2019.
Current names the Alliance is seeking to promote include: Hubertus (Pivovar Kacov), founded in 1457, Permon Craft Brewery; Cvikov Pivovar, which uses water sourced from the Lusatian mountains; and, Kutná Hora, a brewery shut down by Heineken but restored in 2017 by beer enthusiasts and now exporting to China.
Dr Filip Celadnik, a London-based lawyer and managing director of the CCBA, commenting at the event said: “In the four months since the CCBA was formed we have six craft Czech beers our organization’s umbrella. But our aim is to represent ten by the end of this year and twenty by the end of 2019."
He added: "The over-arching goal and vision is to support small breweries and Czech beers that are the ‘jewels’ if you like. And, now we want to expand to the U.K. - including Scotland - which is a big market.”
Fast forward to this September, and Czech Trade hosted a trade gathering at the embassy to promote a number of beers including Kutná Hora, Hubertus, and Kanec from the Zamecky Pivovar in Breclava.
This followed news that Urban Inns, which runs The Royal Oak pub in York Street, near Baker Street, has become the first pub in the UK to sell Kanec (5% ABV) on draft. And, certainly we all had a barrel fun during these proceedings.
Note: A full list of the participating companies in the beer event for 2018 can be found on Czech Trade's website via this link. www.czechtradeoffices.com/en/uk/events/tradeshows/2018/czech-beer-day-2018