No Buds in these Suds

The Prague Post

Authenticity is the name of the game for start-up brewer

If baseball and apple pie are all American, then beer is all Czech. The country is known worldwide for producing some of the best beer, and Czechs seem to view it almost as a patriotic duty to treat themselves to a quality draft as often as possible. In the era of globalization, however, not many “Czech” beers are truly Czech anymore, as they’ve been swallowed up by larger foreign companies. Enter K Brewery, a purely Czech venture, which since 2007 has been acquiring small Czech breweries and is now the fifth-largest beer producer in the country.

K Brewery currently operates the Platan brewery in Protivín, where one of its premium brands, Lobkowicz Premium, is produced, Ježek (Jihlava), Janáček (Uherský Brod), the Vysoký Chlumec brewery, Klášter Hradiště nad Jizerou and Rychtář (Hlinsko v Čechách). Its newest acquisition in April was Černá Hora, a Moravian brewery that has been churning out barrels of frothy goodness since 1530.

Beer lovers are all too familiar with the homogenizing effect corporate ownership can sometimes have on the small village breweries they acquire, but K Brewery CEO Zdeněk Radil said preserving local brewery traditions is a top priority for the company.

“We strongly believe that each of our breweries, which have a long tradition, is extraordinary and has its place on the market,” he said. “We see in them significant potential and an opportunity of doing successful business.”

He added that they have noticed an increased patriotism among beer consumers, who he says are now more likely to experiment and taste new beers and brands brewed at home. K Brewery is hooked into this trend and plans to continue brewing a wide spectrum of “interesting” beers.

“Černá Hora offers a lot of these specialties – for example, Kvasar, a yeast beer, or Velen, a wheat beer, which is quite unique in our country because only Černá Hora and Primátor in Náchod brew it industrially,” he said.

K Brewery’s line-up includes traditional pale ales and lagers as well as semi-dark and high-alcohol content beers, plus dark lagers and nonalcoholic options. Radil said the brewery is developing new beers as well as continuing distribution of a special mixed pack that includes seven beers from six different breweries. It also produced a special beer for Easter, Krasličák, a red-and-green colored brew.

“Our objective is to offer the customer a wide range of beer brands that differ from each other by the wide spectrum of their taste,” Radil said.

Customers seem to be responding positively. Max Munson, owner of Jáma Restaurant in Prague 1, switched from the SAB Miller-brewed Pilsner, Gambrinus, etc. to the K Brewery portfolio in February. He’s been very satisfied with the move.

“I switched because, when it comes to a price-quality ratio, there’s no comparison,” he said. “The clientele are happier with the selection and quality and the opportunity to try different smaller Czech breweries.”

He added he’s recruited more evening customers as businessmen in for lunch spot the long beer menu and head back to try some after work. Jáma currently has seven beers on tap permanently and rotates five different ones each week.

“That is only possible when you work with a company that has so many beers to choose from,” Munson said. “Because they are a small player, they can take better care of their clients.”

Another advantage of being a small player is that K Brewery can invest in upgrades for its breweries.

“We have been concentrating on the technology in the breweries. We have been and are making substantial investments. Hence, we are able to guarantee a high level of all production processes and a stabilized high quality of beer,” Radil said, emphasizing that traditional brewing techniques and quality ingredients will still be used.

Competition is steep however, and, with reports of annual beer consumption down in the Czech Republic, a precise strategy to compete must be undertaken. Radil notes that the economic crisis had much to do with the drop in the Czech beer market last year: Fewer people went to pubs and drank fewer beers when at restaurants.

“The domestic turnover fall especially affected the biggest market players, but the smaller breweries, including K brewery, grew,” he said. “We expect the trend of smaller beer producers expanding to the detriment of multinational corporations will continue.”

While many of the breweries K Brewery manages are well-known in the regions where they are produced, most are less recognizable on a national or international level. Radil said they are capitalizing on this, concentrating on the regions surrounding the breweries and supporting local activities there.

“There is tough competition on the Czech beer market, which consists of more than 100 breweries, from which the biggest three have an almost 80 percent market share,” he said. “However, we focus on traditional beer brewing, the use of original recipes and quality ingredients, and that is what our customers appreciate and why they prefer our beers to so-called ‘euro beers’ produced by multinational companies.”

Munson also sees the merits of a local strategy.

“They offer local conditions for a local market for local people,” he said. “They are making quality beer, not turbo-beer.”