Changing times reflected in a glass...



The collapse of Communism in the late 1980's heralded many unforeseen changes in Eastern Europe, the repercussions of which still resonate today. Whilst some claim it has been for the better, many mourn the loss of the old order.

For the brewing industries of Eastern Europe the changes were equally profound, and the prospect of moving eastward also proved a tantalising temptation to the global brewers of the west in their constant quest to find new and expanding markets.

As the chaotic and unruly 'democratization' of the east gathered apace, so a stampede ensued, as western multinationals begun to acquire breweries at a staggering pace.

Often such purchases were performed against a backdrop of much needed investment, as years of state control left an industry underfunded, inefficient and antiquated.

Global brewers such as Carlsberg, Heineken and SAB Miller were becoming closely linked with such change as they pumped money (and corporate know how) into such enterprises.

Whilst this was being welcomed in many quarters some begun to question what the effects would really mean for the breweries involved. Fundamentally, would it change the flavour and nature of the products. 

The global brewers had learnt from previous mistakes when acquiring breweries in the west, and in many cases the changes in flavour would be gradual, rather than instantaneous ( which had caused a backlash in the past)  plus the realisation that you cannot purely replace a local brand with an International name.

Localised loyalty toward a brand counted for much, and familiarity provided a constant and stability. The global players were now happy to embrace a different approach and philosophy to their new charges.

Investment often meant change (styled as up-grades) in areas which can cause the greatest change to flavour, such as fermenters. House yeasts often produce distinct flavour characteristics over many years and the shape and size of fermentation vessels all determine the 'house' style.

'Lagering' time (the German word for 'store') is also a factor in contributing to the flavour, and the classic lagers of Europe would be given generous time in storage to 'ripen' and harmonise flavours. It has often been claimed that a constant quest of the global brewers has been to reduce traditional lagering periods afforded to such brews, in the interest of economy and increased production.


The Krusovice Brewery of Bohemia in the Czech Republic, founded in 1581, was one such brewery to come under new ownership belatedly in 2007, and is now part of the Heineken group. I recently had the opportunity to try two of their products to see just how they tasted today in the wake of such change.

The first, Krusovice Imperial at 5%alc/vol. is regarded as the 'Premium'  lager within the range and has a clean aroma of light malt with a medium weighted palate of cereal grain, and a touch of fruitiness. The emphasis is clearly on producing an easy drinking style for mass appeal, and in that respect it fulfils its role.

The second is Krusovice Cern, a darker lager that ways in at 3.8%alc/vol. There is a touch of dark grain on the aroma leading on to a light bodied, simple, easy drinking style. With more emphasis today being put on lower strength brews (especially amongst ale producing brewers currently trying to achieve a better flavour to strength ratio) the Cern may find a niche.

Both brews are a good example of the changing face of post Communist brewing in Eastern Europe, some may say for the better, whilst others may disagree.

Thought provoking they certainly are, and in terms of flavour, a sign of the times.


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