Chris Mercer

Czech mate for beer?

By: Chris Mercer - 28 September 2011 17:27

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Czech beer consumption has fallen back considerably for the past couple of years, not that you would necessarily know it from the Prague cafe that I have just been sitting in.

It's 11:00am in Prague and three quarters of the tables here at this airport cafe are adorned by lager, mine (ahem) included. Ok, perhaps airports are a special case, but there surely can't be too many countries in Europe where this is the social norm, rather than the exception.

Czech is synonymous with beer, from its renowned Saaz hops to its position as the world's top beer consumer - per capita, naturally. But, under the surface, all of this is changing and brewers in Czech face tough times.

Excise tax has risen by more than 10% in the past two years, the global economic downturn has eaten into consumer spending power and, what's more, wine appears to be turning heads in Prague's trendier quarters. Per capita beer consumption in Czech has fallen from 158.1 hectolitres in 2008 to 144, according to a report published this month by Brewers of Europe

It's not just home consumption, either. The Brewers of Europe figures show that exports of Czech beer fell by 14% between 2008 and 2010. Inevitably, jobs have been lost in the sector.

However, from what I have seen, there are still signs of vitality in the beer sector. For one thing, a flowering of microbreweries has taken the total number of breweries in the country up by 13% in the last two years, to 145. Then, there is innovation. StarBev, who invited to me Prague, this summer launched Staropramen Cool Lemon, a 2%abv lemon beer that has, according to the company, been flying off the shelves. 

Winning over a new generation of consumers with new products, then, may offer a lifeline to the industry.

 

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