With temperatures in the 30s more people than ever are reaching for a frothy pint of the golden brew to quench their thirst. And, after years of strictly conservative tastes, many Czechs are now ready to trade their Pilsner or Budvar for a new experience – a craft beer from one of the country’s mini breweries.
After years of struggling in the shadow of such giants as Pilsner, Budvar or Radegast, mini breweries are finally able to hold their own on the Czech beer market. This is largely due to the fact that Czechs, particularly the young generation of Czechs, are willing to experiment with new tastes and connoisseurs are ready to pay more for a select, craft beer. Specialized beer shops are now cropping up alongside specialized wine shops where one can sample a wide variety of tastes –from fruit laced brews to century-old recipes revived, and even a beer made for special occasions containing particles of gold dust. Traditional Czech beer lovers – raised on Pilsner beer – will shiver at the very idea, but these brands are selling well enough to keep small brewers on the market and make room for newcomers.
In the past three years the number of small breweries has doubled and their number is expected to grow further. At present there are some 230 mini breweries on the market, fifty of which were established last year and 22 more in the first half of this year. Before the end of the year their number is expected to reach 250, and a hundred more the year after. According to a map of small breweries posted on the Internet, the densest network of mini breweries is in Prague and Moravia, but southern Bohemia is fast catching up.
The head of the Czech-Moravian Association of Small Brewers Jan Šurán says the growing popularity of mini breweries is part of the general backlash against globalization and mass production. Small brewers who produce 10 to 20 hectolitres of a new brew to start with, have a huge advantage over big brewers in the fact that they are extremely flexible. If the product fails they can offer something different in a short space of time and unlike the big producers they are not afraid to experiment. As Czechs travel more, and taste a wide variety of different beers abroad, demand on the Czech market for unusual beers and new tastes is growing. Restaurants, which in the past only offered the country’s traditional brews, now often have a line of craft beers on tap from a local mini brewer as well.
And even the big brewers on the Czech market who in the past looked down their noses at the competition are beginning to take them seriously. They may have just one percent of the Czech beer market but they are clearly there to stay and are viewed as small labs which try and test new beer trends in the country. The rise of small breweries has also resulted in growing interest in the process of beer brewing as such with the tradition of home brewing – originally restricted to Czechs abroad –is taking root in the Czech Republic as well. According to available statistics there are now over 1,000 home brewers in the country, all working on producing the perfect golden brew.