Forced Out of the Pub

Rising beer prices encourage “some” Czechs to drink at home

By Tori Markus

There are only two types of beer on tap at Krusovicka Pivnice, a pub in the small town of Melnik, 40 minutes north of Prague by car.

The cramped establishment resembles a long hallway, with chairs and tables in the back and tall bar stools up near the bar. A local customer sits on a stool, talking with Kristina Mistikova, 48, the waitress who has worked there for eight years. As she refills another customer’s glass, Misitikova said that business is a little slower because there are some Czechs who are drinking at home because it’s cheaper for them. But, she said that the “beer-hearted” Czechs are still willing to pay more for beer on tap.

“If they know the brand they like, they like it from the tap better than the bottle,” said Misitkova. She explains that this is how a “beer-hearted” person drinks. However, some Czechs are starting to go by what’s in their wallets rather than what’s in their hearts when it comes to beer.

There is an increasing number of Czechs drinking beer at home because they are finding it cheaper to buy beer in bulk.

Prague Wandering Summer 2013 Issue Number 3 Beer

“If they know the brand they like, they like it from the tap better than the bottle.”
Photo by Marcia Caceres

Last year was the first year Czech breweries sold more beer in bottles then in barrels according to the Czech daily newspaper Hospodarske Noviny. In addition, the leading producer and exporter of Czech beer, Plzensky Prazdroj, maker of Pilsner Urquell, reported that the company is experiencing a decrease in sales to pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels, or on-trade sales. Plzensky Prazdroj also reported that this was compensated by the one percent increase from last year’s in sales of beer to supermarkets and stores.

“There is a visible trend of beer consumption moving from pubs to homes,” brewery Plzensky Prazdroj’s spokesman Vladimir Jurina said. “Impact of economic crises is one reason, another is changing life style. Accessible electronic entertainment and communication makes it much easier for people to enjoy their lives without going outside their homes.” The Czech Republic has the highest beer consumption per capita in the world, beating out all the other countries with 145 liters per capita as reported in 2011.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the average annual household disposable income in the Czech Republic is $16,957 a year – compared to the United States’s average income of $38,001. There is also a growing gap between the richest and poorest classes, where the top 20 percent of the population earn four times as much as the bottom 20 percent according to the OECD.

“People in general are afraid of the near future, so they think twice about their money,” Honza Kocka, founder of Czech beer website Svet Piva, said in email correspondence. “More people are buying cheap beer, private labels from supermarket chains, but on the other hand there are more and more people enjoying beers from new microbreweries.”

This clash of quality versus price has been a recent phenomenon in the Czech Republic, where despite the increase of beer prices, there is more selection and choice amongst the brands.

The Pivovarsky Klub in the center of Prague, where prices are much higher than in the rest of the country, attracts a subset of Czechs that are into elite beer tasting. The decor gave away the pub and restaurant’s big selling point: the wide selection of beer. Dozens of beer bottles and glasses stood at attention on the shelves that lined the cream walls of this Prague pub and restaurant, displaying the vast beverage choices. Prices ranged from 23 to 45 crowns for a half-liter beer. Both the Pivovarksy Klub and its sister establishment Pivovarsky Dum, which houses a microbrewery on its premises, is part of a boom of microbreweries and pubs with more beer diversity. According to Ales Dockal, manager of the Pivovarsky Klub, there were only 20 microbreweries in the Czech Republic in 1998, but now there are over 180.

Prague Wandering Summer 2013 Issue Number 3 Local Bar

“If there is a social life in the community, the local pub will survive.”
Photo by Marcia Caceres

“The typical beer drinker used to be very conservative, always sticking to one brand of beer all his life,” Dockal said. “All other brands were considered junk, only his beer was the best.”

Dockal said how forty years of communism closed “both the country’s eyes and minds about drinking.” He describes the microbreweries and pubs with more beer selection as an eye-opener to the Czech Republic, which did not come about until the early nineties.

“Now, most conservative beer drinkers are dying out,” Dockal said. “What was unthinkable 20 years ago is now a growing trend.”

Despite the boom of microbreweries and other new types of bars, some pubs are still feeling the decline in attendance.

“There are a range of pubs and restaurants being closed now,” Kocka wrote. “I think there were just too many new places opened in last 20 years, and due to the economic crisis and natural selection of good and bad places, many are being closed. I don’t think it is just the sector of cheap low class places that suffer the most.”

The price of beer is a vital influencer on pub attendance. When the Czech Republic was under communist rule, their breweries were owned by the state and were able to offer affordable prices: for either a bottle or glass of beer under communist rule in the 1950’s, the average price was about 1.70 crowns, less than a penny.

Now, beer from the tap comes at a price of about 25 crowns, or $1.23, in small towns like Melnik, almost 20 times the price it initially was under communism.

“The typical beer drinker used to be very conservative, always sticking to one brand of beer all his life,” Dockal said. “All other brands were considered junk, only his beer was the best.”

Bottled beer remains the cheaper option, and when bought in bulk, some Czechs are finding it the most frugal way to enjoy their beer.

Adam Rosenberg, 22, a medical student at Charles University, said that his family waits for the supermarket to have a big sale on beer, and then his father goes out and buys 40 cans of beer at one time. “And it’s really worth it. I think many people do this, wait and buy the special discounts,” Rosenberg said.

Anna Pavuskova, 55, said she has no reason to go to pubs anymore. She only drinks one beer a day with her husband at home, and usually one case of beer can last them an entire week.

Kristjna Kucerova, 21, a third year medical student at Charles University, said that her family not only buys beer in bulk and drinks at home, but produces their own hard alcohol at home as well. She said her father, who works at a factory producing computer hardware, goes out to their village’s sole pub only about once a week.

“The price gap between bottled beer and beer on tap grew wider and wider, which discouraged economically weaker citizens to go to pubs,” Dockal said.

While the increase in beer prices have some Czechs switching up their drinking habits, some locals believe the Czech tradition of drinking beer at pubs will still remain intact.

“Money talks, but its not only or solely a matter of money. It’s how people live in the community, and the pubs survive off that,” Dockal said. “If there is a social life in the community, the local pub will survive.”

“Czechs are a nation of alcoholics,” Merta Radka, 23, a waitress who works at the Melnik sports bar Na Vlakau said. “We can make our way through it.”

Tori Markus is in the NYU Class of 2014, majoring in Media, Culture, and Communication and Journalism. Her hometown is Andover, Massachusetts.

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Categories: Culture, Food, Summer 2013 Issue Number 3

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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