Every now and again I receive invitations to PR events that more often than not get almost automatically dismissed. Not (only) because not few of them take place in other cities or countries (really, PR people, if you honestly want me to attend your PR do in England or Spain at the very least say that you can help me find accommodation – or better still, pay for the trip, he!), but because, well, they are corporate PR events where you are not likely to be able to have a good chat with anyone the brewery.
This time it was different. Last week’s e-mail from Heineken invited me to a “neformální předvánoční setkání nad dobrým jídlem a pivem” (informal pre-Christmas meeting with good food and good beer) and not to the launch of a new product. It was all made more interesting by the promise of a “krátký kurz pivního sommeliérství” (short beer sommelier course). Now, I’m not a big fan of beer tastings, but I was really curious (and a little skeptic, I should add), so I decided to make an exception and made my way yesterday to Pivnice Šalanda in Nardoní.
It turned out to be better than I expected, in more ways than one.
When I walked in, I ran into a couple of familiar faces from Sdružení Přátel Piva (I was afraid I would be alone, with nobody to talk to). There was a buffet already served with quite good stuff and beer was flowing freely by the half litre. What really surprised me, though was there was no product pushing, at no point. Only one poster on a column announcing the Christmas special (a decent brew), but it had not been put up for this event, but was part of the “decoration” of the pub. I was fearing we would be encouraged to try the Winter Radler, but it was nowhere to be seen, and neither were the Summer ones.
When the presentation started, it was all about beer, in general. Some basic things about styles and stuff like that, illustrated with some products that are not even made by Heineken! And all with the utmost respect for the intelligence of the audience.
The pairing exercise was fine, considering it was aimed at people who may not know that much about beer. The amuse-bouche sized portions in a four course setting were marinated salmon on toast, paired with a Weizenbier (Edelweiss, from Austria), a (terribly salty) pivní sýr with Světlý Ležák (Krušovice, of course), a chocolate praline(?) filled with candied fruit in beer jelly with a Dubbel (Affligen) and another praline (?) of bitter chocolate with a coffee bean, with Černé Pivo (Krušovice again).About the pairings. Salmon-weizenbier was good. The cheese paired better with Nefitrované Mušketýr. The first chocolate required something with more muscle than the Dubbel and the dark beer was a disaster with the second chocolate. But that’s not important here, the way it was done is. The pairings weren’t presented with an “our beer is better” attitude, but more like “this type of beer can go well with this type of food, and we just happen to have one in our portfolio”.
After the presentation finished, the host, Ondřej Koucký, Heineken’s Supply Chain Quality Manager, came to our table and carefully listened to our comments and feedback, staying away from any sort of corporate scripted bollocks. When we told him that the Dubbel was served way too cold, he immediately ask for another round to be brought, together with the pairing menu, so we could have another go (it still didn’t work). I stayed a bit longer, talking, drinking and eating and had a pretty good time overall.
Heineken Czech Rep. deserves a lot of criticism for closing four of the seven breweries they had, for terms they put when they sold the one in Znojmo, for being disingenuous about the way their Easter beer is made and not only that. At the same time, it’s hard to argue with the way their are handling Březňák and Krušovice, and how much they’ve improved the latter. And it is really nice to see when corporate giant like them putting, if only for a moment, the beverage above the brands.
Well done, Heineken.