Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Communal Brewing in Bohemia

I really don't have that many things I wish I had done in my ten years living in Prague. I do wish I had been more interested in hiking when I was there as I would love to get up into the mountains that form the borders between Czechia, Austria, Germany, and Poland. Probably my biggest regret, if that is not too strong a word, though is that I never went to Zoigl country.

I am not going to delve deep into the roots of Zoigl, what zoiglbier is or isn't, but it has been on my mind a bit lately because of a single word I came across in one of my jaunts through the Austrian National Library's newspaper archive (yes, again). If you are, though, interested here is an excellent video on Zoigl beer production in Neuhaus bei Windischeschenbach that is worth half an hour of your time. If you want to skip the wort production stuff and see the fermentation and serving arrangements, start from here, and wait for the side pour tap...

The word that leapt from the page as I was reading something completely unrelated in Der Böhmische Bierbrauer was "braucommune", which translates as "brewing commune". Naturally, given Czechia's proximity to Zoigl country over the border in the Oberpfalz, I wondered if what I was seeing here was the remnants of a Zoiglesque communal brewing setup in Bohemia?

Digging further, I discovered that in 1895 there were just 4 "braucommune" breweries operating in Bohemia that produced more than 10,000hl:
  • Asch (Aš)
  • Krumau (Český Krumlov)
  • Kuttenberg (Kutná Hora)
  • Náchod
I also found reference to several other "braucommune" breweries, that presumably had not reached the magic 10,000 hectolitre mark, including
  • Braunau (Broumov)
  • Petschau (Bečov nad Teplou)
  • Brüx (Most)
  • Sebastiansberg (Hora Svatého Šebestiána)
  • Trautenau (Trutnov)
  • Komotau (Chomutov)
  • Teplitz (Teplice)
  • Gottesgab (Boží Dar)
  • Bohdanetsch (Bohdanec)
Try as I might, I could find little more than names and production volumes for such "braucommune" setups. Was I really seeing Bohemian Zoigl or something different? As ever Google gave me a pointer in the right direction when doing a search I came across Braucommune Freistadt, apparently the last remaining "braucommune" in Europe. What then was the difference between a "braucommune" and a communal brewhouse in the Oberpfalz model?

Here I need to give a shout out to Andreas Krennmair for helping me with the meaning behind the words. While the concepts are similar in the sense that brewing rights are invested in houses within a given town, a "braucommune" employs professional brewers and manages distribution and sales on behalf of the braucommune. In the case of Freistadt for example, where the brewery used to give a share of the beer produced to those who lived within the walls of the city, they now pay dividends. If a person decides to sell their house, the dividend remains with the property rather than the person. In Zoigl world, the rights owners have access to the communal brewhouse to make the wort, which is then fermented, and the resulting beer served through their own "zoiglstub'n".

Given this, a "braucommune" was a type of business structure, based on ownership of property within town walls rather than shareholding. As to when the braucommune business structure came to its end in Bohemia, I believe it came during the Communist era of 1948 to 1989 first with nationalisation and then, somewhat ironically, collectivisation. The writing was perhaps on the wall in the latter 19th century as several of these braucommune breweries came up for sale or were placed in liquidation, such as the one in Karlsbad, modern Karlovy Vary, in 1892.

Sometimes it seems as though the braucommune decided to lease the brewery with a view to eventually selling up to a private concern, as was the case in Petschau (Bečov nad Teplou).

Interestingly, the advert above from 1896 touts the fact that this brewery had English malting technology, and that there were 15 taverns in the area as potential outlets. Unrelated, but is there a more perfect word for "hub" than "knotenpunkt"?

Will we ever see a revival in the braucommune concept? I doubt it given the mobility of the modern world, but I have to admit, if a house with rights came on the market in Freistadt...

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