Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Not Much To Celebrate

Friday afternoon saw the grand opening of the Czech Beer Festival here in Prague, an event which is scheduled to last until this Sunday - as Pivní Filosof has already mentioned on his blog, himself, Evan and I, along with Mrs V, went up for the beginning of an event which bills itself as "the largest gastronomic event in the Czech Republic", and we were not unduly impressed by what we saw:
  • 5 tents out of 6 with no beer (is it a coincidence that the "media tent" had beer?)
  • a general unavailability of the festival's currency, the tolar
  • a general lack of organisation

These things eventually got sorted out, but we waited nearly an hour and a half for our first beers. However, I think there are bigger problems with the festival than just poor organisation.

Firstly, the event lacks a back story - why does it exist? Why at this time of the year? It seems that somebody had the bright idea of putting a few big tents up in a field (a very wet field on Friday) and selling beer, and that's the extent of its raison d'être. I am sure that this comparison is not entirely fair, but from the get go Oktoberfest has had a clearly defined reason, to celebrate the marriage of the then Crown Prince Ludwig in 1810.

Also as part of the back story, it would be interesting, at least for geeks like me, to have the tolar explained - why that particular name? For those who have never seen the Connections TV series, a tolar, or "thaler", was a silver coin minted in the town of Joachimsthal, modern Jachýmov in northern Bohemia. Whilst on the issue of the tolars, which is a very good idea, whoever set the cost of a tolar at 40kč must be living in cloud cuckoo land. Each and every beer at the festival costs 1 tolar, regardless of brand, size or alcholic content, thus 0.3l of Primátor Weizen costs the same as a half litre of their Stout even though it is only 0.2% stronger.

Possibly though I biggest gripe about the event is the sheer dullness of the beer selection. Don't get me wrong, it is great to see the likes of Kout na Šumavě, Primátor and Rampušák at the event, but other than Primátor's Stout, Weizen and English Pale Ale, what was really on offer? Large amounts of pale golden lager, and not much else. Yes, Kout and Rampušák are good beers, but come on guys do something different and encourage me to part with my tolar, especially galling when just round the corner I can get Kout for 20kč! Perhaps the organisers of the event could include a condition for participation that each brewer has to make a special festival beer, with a different style selected every year? In 2010, along with all the golden lager, how about getting everyone to brew a bock for example, thus encouraging brewers to innovate, and consumers to experiment.

An event like the Czech Beer Festival could be so much more than it currently is, unfortunately it is nothing special and not something I would recommend people to bother with - rather I would give them a list of pubs with the same beers at reasonable prices to go to. If I compare it to an event like Slunce ve Skle, then it really has a long way to go before it matches up.


  1. Tradition's gotta start somewhere :)

    But seriously, even with all the shortcomings of this event, if one Gambac fan decides to try a Primator Stout at this festival then we've won.

  2. I think the average Gambrinus drinker would probably die of sensory overload if he were to try Primator Stout!

    Perhaps what Prague needs is a Prague Pub Festival, where the pubs selling beer from the smaller breweries work together to have a week long celebration of pubs and beer?

    Perhaps the birthday of Jan Primus - whose name was corrupted into Gambrinus - would be the catalyst, given that it is this Thursday?

  3. just a question - what else other than pale lager do you expect to see there, when we have only one brewery making ales here?

    How many people need a story to go for a beer? Comparing beer geeks and regular Joe?
    And what about micros there? Is it better promotion to be at Letnany rather than at Zly casy, where all drinkers know all the breweries...?
    Honza, svet piva

  4. Honza,

    I can think of at least 2 breweries here making ales. But on the point about what to expect to see there, that is where I am coming from with the absence of festival specific beers - if you are not a beer fan already, why go to a festival and pay 40kc for a beer which you can get cheaper closer to home?

    I don't think you can equate going for a beer with going to a beer festival. If I go to a beer festival I am likely not to be an average Joe drinker, but rather to at least have some interest in beer, if not a dedicated beer geek.

    For the micros, of course being at Letnany is important and I would say that their presence is a major reason for beer geeks heading up there - certainly in my case.

  5. I dont know about Friday, but I had good feedback about Saturday. May be partly because of the weather, but hopefully also because of the beers - at least all the speciality from four micros were gone.

    Yes, it could look better, it should have more info about tapped beers, and may be it could have a better selection of beers. But when the breweries sell mmajority of their beers as pale lagers, than they want to promote it everywhere, including Letnany.

    And yes, we have weizen and IPa there. So may be three breweries with ales out of 100?:)

  6. I still have a few tolars in the flat, so maybe I will run up there again this weekend.

    I understand that the majority of brewers make and sell pale lagers, but as Kocour and Primator are showing, there is a market for ale and if more brewers are encouraged to try new things then that can only be good for the consumer.

  7. Whether we like it or not, it is a Czech beer festival and most beers brewed in these lands are pale lagers. Even if you go to the geekier festival at Zlý Časy you will find that most beers are pale or dark lagers. Ok, they might be more interesting than your average industrial one, but they are still the same concept.

    I love the idea of the festival, and I agree with Honza, you don't really need a back story for one. Most festivals around the world don't have it anyway. Since Friday, I've spoken to many people and almost everyone agreed that things at the festival are fantastic.

    I think we are a bit overreacting here due to the bad taste that embarrasing beginning left in our mouths. That we had to wait 90 minutes to get a beer at a beer festival is unforgivable, but things are running really smoothly now.

  8. The vast majority of beers in the world are pale lagers, whether industrial or otherwise - so there is nothing special about Czech beer being predominantly pale lager.

    But your statement does indeed raise an interesting question, is the festival a celebration of "Czech Beer" as defined by the ridiculous appellation or is it a celebration of the beers made in the Czech Republic? If it is the former then you could argue that Primator shouldn't sell their stout, weizen and EPA at the event. If it is the later then brewers should use the event as a showcase for their skills - you could even have awards for brewers as part of the festival.

    I must admit that I am playing devil's advocate quite a bit here, but that's how things improve and one thing I would love to see here - even though I am leaving - is a world class beer festival.

  9. It is true, most beers in the world are pale lagers, but here in CZ, even the craft brewers brew mostly pale or dark lagers. Lately there have been more top fermented beers made, but they are still a tiny minority.
    As for the festival being a celebration of Czech Beer. Needless to say, that has nothing to do with that idiotic appellation. It's a celebration of beers that are brewed in the Czech Republic.
    But I agree with you that there is a lot of room for improvement. There has been some this year, compared to the previous one (more breweries, micros, free entry, wider choice of food), but more will have to be done for this festival to become what the organisers want it to be, one of the top beer events in the European Calendar.

  10. After reading this blog and max's, I've been having 2nd thoughts about going all the way up there. Im suppose to go there on friday the 29th .. me and my friends actually been planning for the last month or so. The last festival in Holesovice was great for me, more the atmosphere than anything else; now here in Letnany there are more kinds of beer, yes. But after seeing the pictures it does not look like things have changed for the better(perhaps our friend is right about the lack of trees, but in munich it's the same, but of course it would be unfair to compare them).I know I will end up going, it's more like I HAVE TO, I just have to... I will pay the 40czk for the weizen that I can get here at U sadu for 30czk. And all of us want this "festivals" to get better, personaly I will keep supporting them, even if it takes ten years to start the tradition and a decent event... I agree with AL about the slunce ve skle festival, now this one really rocks.

  11. Javier,

    I am planning to venture back up to Letnany this weekend - probably on Saturday once all my belongings have been crated up and started their journey to the US.

    I want to see the event in full flow and see if I can draw more positives from it.


Rauch Against the Machine

I am just going to come out and say it, I have loved rauchbier ever since I first had Schlenkerla's iconic Märzen back in Prague in 2008...