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Monday morning musing: Czech reality check

I had planned to muse on women and beer this morning — it seems like such a pleasant way to begin the week. But that’s going to have to wait.

We start with good news for the Beer Blogosphere: Roger Protz has started blogging. (Thanks to Jeff Bell for the heads up.)

Protz’s credentials are impeccable, and he writes in a way that makes you feel smarter just reading him. His posts are bound to be great conversation starters. Just look at Friday’s about Budvar.

It gave Evan Rail has so much to say that he put together The Truth About Budvar at Beer Culture, his view of Budvar “as it appears on the ground here in its home country.”

Must reading for a reason that Evan gets to up front: “I do think that foreign beer lovers’ emotional attachment to Budvar sometimes tends to cloud their our judgment: it’s as if we are certain Anheuser-Busch is pure evil, therefore Budvar, as its opponent, must be perfectly righteous. Of course, this line of thinking would make sense only in a comic book — in real life, situations are generally more nuanced.”

Evan carefully provides facts about Budvar and its large and small competitors you may not have seen before.

The Internet doesn’t always work this well. Misinformation abounds, but this single blog-to-blog exchange offers proof of all that Andrew Keen gets wrong in “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture.”

For me and others concerned about if there is a where in our beer, Evan offers a bonus by pointing to Primátor. Not just because of the the innovative beers he describes.

With a list like that, Primátor is among the most innovative breweries in the country, and it doesn’t hurt to know that the profits go to its owner, the eastern Bohemian city of Náchod, paying for schools and roads and parks and more.

That’s a brewery I want to visit.

12 Responses to Monday morning musing: Czech reality check

  1. SteveH January 21, 2008 at 8:21 am #

    “Protz’s credentials are impeccable,”

    While I certainly agree with this statement, the responses at BeerAdvocate were near to horrifying when Roger proclaimed Goose Island’s IPA as the best in the world. I just had to groan at all these newby beer geeks questioning his “expertise.”

    To Evan’s comment, “it’s as if we are certain Anheuser-Busch is pure evil, therefore Budvar, as its opponent, must be perfectly righteous.” I say, Yeah, so? While I agree with his comment for the most part, I could think of worse beers than Budvar to champion our angst (and Evan, don’t go dissing comic books now!) — and now I’ll go and actually read both articles for a more informed opinion…

  2. Alan January 21, 2008 at 10:33 am #

    While one has always to take any claim to expertise with a grain of salt, it is good to see that Evan focuses on the specific and was able to provide the basis for his differences with Protz through the use of actual quotation and HTNL linking. Any blog post that fails to link to supporting basis for the proposition suggested can only welcome this sort of complete and correcting response.

  3. Evan Rail January 21, 2008 at 12:24 pm #

    Well, Roger and I actually corresponded before I wrote my post: I’d noticed a typo in his amount of increase in exports for Budvar and he thanked me and said he’d put it right (though I think the number is still incorrect at this point; trivia fans should note it is 5.8%, not 3%, according to Budvar’s own press release at http://www.budvar.cz/en/web2/Tiskove-centrum/Tiskovky/en/2008-01-07-sales.html).

    After the post came out, Roger gave me a thumbs-up. He’s a great guy who deserves all the respect he’s got, and not just for his outstanding expertise and writing: he also gave me some much-needed advice when I was starting on GBGPCR, and he’s thanked him by name in the book’s acknowledgments. I owe him more than just a beer.

    As I said, my point with this post was only to provide the local angle as I understand it. (I’m an outsider, too, albeit one who has lived here for a long time.)

    What I’d like to reiterate is that the outside view is sometimes right: Budvar can look like David when it battles the Anheuser-Busch Goliath. But for small Czech breweries like Rebel, Herold, Chodovar, Svijany and others, Budvar is no longer David. Instead, it’s Goliath, 10 times larger, a massive enterprise which sometimes acts like a Goliath, too. It’s fine to root for Budvar from afar. But if you’re up close, you’d probably want to pull for the little guys.

    Steve, you said you can think of worse beers than Budvar to champion. So can I. But in Czech terms, I can think of some far better ones, too.

  4. SteveH January 21, 2008 at 12:32 pm #

    “But in Czech terms, I can think of some far better ones, too.”

    I would probably tend to agree, but are they available in the U.S? And, big deal here — do they poke the tiger’s cage by saying they’re the true, original Budweiser? That’s where I think we delight the most!

    And for the record — I’ve often said I like Urquell and Golden Pheasant better than Budvar, but when rubbing the big cat’s fur in the wrong direction, nothing like the “true” Bud! 🙂

  5. SteveH January 21, 2008 at 12:41 pm #

    BTW — is Primator available in the U.S?

  6. Evan Rail January 21, 2008 at 1:53 pm #

    Well, I’ll post on this later at Beer Culture, but my vote for the “true, original Budweiser” isn’t Budvar. It’s the brewery known as Budweiser Bürgerbräu, aka Samson. And yes, that beer should be available in the US. (Though if I understand it correctly, Primátor is not.)

    Golden Pheasant, huh? How does that compare to regular Heineken?

  7. Stan Hieronymus January 21, 2008 at 2:41 pm #

    We had Bürgerbräu for AABM’s “Beer Talk” three years ago. I vaguely remember a spicy element in the flavor, and thinking it would be better closer to home.

    Imported by Classic Beverages (the link is to their website, which doesn’t seem to say where Bürgerbräu would be available).

  8. SteveH January 21, 2008 at 4:02 pm #

    And yes, that beer should be available in the US.

    I’ll look for it on the shelves.

    Golden Pheasant, huh? How does that compare to regular Heineken?

    No comparison in the least — man, I can tell you’re being spoiled over there! The last GP I had was at a quaint Bohemian restaurant in Wisconsin, Vom Faß, on a July afternoon with the temp in the mid 80s F — man, did that go down nice.

  9. jesskidden January 22, 2008 at 5:03 am #

    In some respects, “Budvar” in the US (well, when it finally got here as “Czechvar”) *benefitted* from the long history of the A-B/Budvar lawsuits, in that it had a build-in “word of mouth” as the “true” Budweiser. Otherwise, it might just have been just another green-bottled imported from “somewhere over there in Europe”.

    Granted, the official PR had to be worded in a certain cryptic way, but many retailers with magic markers had no such restrictions. In fact, over the years, those same retailers had been selling a number of beers as the “true Budweiser” (I recall hand written signs for “Crystal” and either Samson or Burgerbrau over the years, all from the same brewer IIRC). Go far enough back, and that’s how the original Prior (from PA brewers Scheidt and then Schmidt’s) was marketed.

    In fact, one would have to say that the original Czechvar importers (there’ve been a few in it’s short life, right?) kinda squandered the “rep” the beer had, after an intial burst of promotion and press. In NJ, (a huge market for imports, where Pilsner Urquell is quite common) I *never* see fresh Czechvar anymore (I know one pretty well-stocked store with 1/2 liter brown bottles with “Best By” dates of Feb. 2006). Some of that maybe the due to problems with switch to A-B distributors, but the InBev beers in this area had few problems that I saw.

  10. jesskidden January 22, 2008 at 5:20 am #

    From the “don’t get up for ‘nother cup of coffee in the middle of writing a post and leave your thought incomplete” department.

    “Go far enough back, and that’s how the original Prior (from PA brewers Scheidt and then Schmidt’s) was marketed.”

    Prior, of course, was based on Pilsner Urquell (which stopped shipments to the US during WWII), and distributed by the original P/U importer. My point? I’m not sure, now (after that extra caffeine) since, in some ways, it’s closed to A-B Bud vs. Budvar but, the point was, it was sort of “guerilla” marketed as the “true” Pilsner Urquell for a time.

  11. SteveH January 22, 2008 at 6:17 am #

    “…(well, when it finally got here as “Czechvar”) *benefitted* from the long history of the A-B/Budvar lawsuits, in that it had a build-in “word of mouth” as the “true” Budweiser. Otherwise, it might just have been just another green-bottled imported from “somewhere over there in Europe”.”

    Actually, Budvar had a history as “Budvar” here in the U.S. — I have a brown .5 liter bottle I kept as a collector when I knew the label was going to be swapped due to the legal battle.

    But your point reinforces what I was trying to say above, and get across to Evan, beer “afficianados” here in the U.S. made Budvar popular because they knew it was what U.S. Bud was really supposed to be (give or take).

  12. Pivní Filosof January 26, 2008 at 4:27 am #

    Protz piece does not say anything that is not true. The problem with it is that it’s seen from a long distance.
    I also live in Prague, and I do agree 100% with Evan Rail. The difference between Budvar and the averagle Czech bottler are much bigger than between A-B and Budvar. And it is actually breweries like Primátor who consumers have to champion. It is not available in the US? Ask your specialist shop to contact someone who will import it. It is that simple.
    But to be fair, for a brewery of that size and output, Budvar still produces really good beers and there are few other breweries of similar size that can match it.

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