Last week I got a call from the English service of Czech Radio . They wanted to me join a couple more people at a tasting of a bunch of new, untraditional Czech beers. I thought they meant some of the exciting stuff that micro and not so micro breweries are putting out. I was sooo wrong. The tasting turned out to be of the new Radler/Shandy kind of stuff the multinational owned brewers have put out.
To be honest, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Staropramen Cool Lemon was an enormous success last year, it almost singlehandedly helped the Smíchov brewery have its first growth in sales in the last three years or so. It was expected that the other two biggest players, Plzeňský Prazdroj and Heineken would come out with something similar to help reverse the, at best, stagnation they are in.
The tasting included Staropramen Cool Lemon and Cool Grep (the new member), Zlatopramen Radler Citrón and Pomeranč se Zázvorem (Lemon and Orange with Ginger) and Gambrinus Řizní Citrón and Limetka a Bezinka (Lime and Elderberry), all of them beer and juice mixes with around 2% ABV, and they were joined by the extract flavoured Bernard Nealko Švestka and Višeň (Plum and Sour Cherry). It was four of us, plus the host and we all agreed that non-alcoholic beers from Bernard were the best of the bunch. As for the shandies, they ranged from Fanta-like to toilet cleaner-like. The “winner” in this category was the lemon radler from Zlatopramen because there was a hint of beer in the taste, but nothing could compare to Gambrinus Limetka a Bezinka.What an awful, repulsive, horrid concoction! It’s utter shit! No, sorry, I got carried away. That’s disrespectful, to shit! Has anyone at the brewery tasted this rubbish? It’s really disgusting. Outside, on a hot day, I wouldn’t mind drinking any of the others if the alternatives were mineral water, a soft drink or another glass of wine, but not Limetka a Bezinka, I’d much rather drink a cocktail of mineral water, cheap white wine and flat Kofola.For all its shortcomings, Fénix is a product with some dignity, it can look at you straight in the eyes and say “At least I’m trying”. This potion from Gambrinus, on the other hand, has all the dignity of a chihuahua turd left in the middle of the pavement. Who is the marketing monkey responsible for this?
Actually, there seems to be something pretty wrong in the marketing department of Gambrinus. A year and a half ago they presented the stupid ball of clichés of Gambrinus XCLNT, then they tried to keep on touting the benefits of buying cans when people were happily buying PET bottles and now, at the same time they are defecating those shandies on the market they announce Gambrinus Originál 10º . Nothing wrong with that, it’s something that worked really well for Krušovice with their brilliant “Chutná jako tenkrát” last year. It’s the timing that makes no sense. On the one hand they tell you “Look, we are improving Gambáč”, while on the other the say “Look, we are debasing it even further”. Last year, Staropramen waited to launch their Nefiltrované until the Cool Lemon season was almost over.
But that’s not it, with Originál 10º Gambrinus might be shooting their own foot (provided they have any left to shoot, that is). When Heineken launched Krušovice 10º and 12º they discontinued Světlý and Imperial, while in their website they claim that the beers are brewed at an original gravity of 10.2º and 12.2º Balling respectively, implying with this that they don’t use High Gravity Brewing, an increasingly hot topic among Czech drinkers, but not Gambrinus, Světlý, a.k.a. desítka (10º) is still out there. It’s a well known secret that Gambrinus Světlý and Premium are both brewed at 13 or 14º Balling and then watered down until they reach their respective gravities, which are somewhere below 10º for the former and somewhere below 12º for the latter. That brand is suffering serious image problems (a taxi driver in Pilsen, someone who still believes Urquell is the best beer in the world, once told me that Gambrinus was crap). The question is will Originál 10º (and the eventual Originál 12º) revitalise the brand or will it make more people realise that what they’ve been drinking thus far wasn’t that good after all?
You can read more beer ranting in my own blog Pivní Filosof – Beer Philosopher.