Beer focus: Czech Republic

One of the main issues was route to market. “After the Velvet Revolution, all the big boys flooded into the country and threw money at bar owners and multiple bar operators,” recalls Jamie Hawksworth, who runs the Tap chain of boutique beer bars and Pivovar, specialist importers of several Czech beers. “These bar owners, who had known nothing but state rule and nothing of capitalism, were desperate for investment and happily signed exclusivity deals with the big brands – and typically these contracts were for 20 years”.

This, Hawksworth explains, is why you rarely see different Czech beers sat side-by-side on the bar tops of Czech bars and why, up until recently, the vast majority of new breweries were brewpubs. “It was a closed shop for so many years and the only way to get your beer in the hands of drinkers was through a brewpub.”

However, as anyone with an abacus will note, the contracts signed back in the early 1990s are now beginning to expire and a new generation of bar owners, bar owners who have travelled and experienced an array of international beer styles, are no longer willing to be tied to just one Czech beer.

Dovetailing neatly with this demand is a Czech beer scene more buoyant than a pair of cork armbands in the Dead Sea. While sales of beer in the Czech Republic are down 12% in the last year, an array of new Czech micros have emerged who, not content with crafting some superb traditional Czech beers, are also broadening their brewing horizons and incorporating other styles.

In 1989, there was just one speciality beer, by 2004 there were 130 but it’s only been in the last several years where there’s been a real boom in left-field liquids. By 2009 micro-breweries were producing 178 speciality and unusual beers while the bigger breweries – keen to clamber on the bandwagon – were brewing a further 90 or so. There are now a dozen microbreweries in Prague alone.

“I’ve just come back from the Czech Republic and I was drinking top-fermented stouts, amber beers, wheat-bocks brewed with the rare W38 yeast strain and Pilsners infused with honey,” adds Hawksworth. “I genuinely believe that what is happening over there is more exciting than anything America is doing.

“The Czech Republic is experiencing a delayed beer revolution that it should have experienced in 1990 when it was denied a free and open beer trade.”

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