The demand for craft beer from mini-breweries has been growing the world over. The Czech Republic had just 40 mini-breweries a decade ago, whereas now it has over 400. And given the reputation of the country’s golden brew, it has plenty of know-how to share. The company TechOrg is engaging in one such venture in Bosnia, where it is offering the locals advice in terms of financing and technology as well as the know-how of Czech beer-masters. The aim is to support the rise of local breweries which would cater to local tastes. I spoke to the coordinator of the project Vít Rejšek about what it would entail and why the company selected Bosnia.
“The culture of Bosnia is very close to our middle-European tradition. So there is a tradition of drinking alcohol and of course a tradition of drinking beer. They also have a tradition of craft beer, in fact they have a brewery dating back to the Hapsburg monarchy. And because of the warm climate and large number of visitors there is a growing market for beer in Bosnia.”
Have you tried their beer?
“My wife is from Bosnia and I have regularly visited the country for over 20 years now. I visit the family and have friends there, so I am not a tourist living in a hotel on the main street. I am really in touch with the culture, with the way of life there.”
So you know that there is interest from the locals in this project?
“There is. The problem there is the same as we had in the Czech Republic twenty years ago - that large international beer companies are making inroads into the market and are eliminating local producers, because they want to control the market with their industrial brews. In this way we are losing two important aspects of beer culture. We are losing quality, because in large-scale production you lose the vitamins, minerals and bacteria, and we are also losing control of what we are doing in our location, in our region. That is why mini-breweries or local breweries were established in various towns and cities and that is why this was supported by the government. But now this scheme is attacked by large international companies and what happened in the Czech Republic twenty years ago is now happening in Bosnia. Seventy percent of the beer they now consume is imported. So imagine a truck making its way through Bosnia, over the hills, over the mountains to deliver beer from a factory 500 kilometres away, which is owned by a Dutchman, a Chinese man, who knows... We think it is a good idea to support the old order and small local breweries and judging by the feedback we are getting from Bosnia it seems that they really understand this and they really want to cooperate.”
So you are going to build a mini-brewery somewhere in Bosnia?
“That is our goal – we want to go to Bosnia and drink “Czech” beer, from local products, from the local water made by the locals because we truly believe that this will make the local people happy and it will also bring us happiness.”
How difficult is it to build a mini-brewery somewhere?
“Not so difficult. We are talking about an investment of 100,000 or 200,000 euros. Everything is from stainless steel –really high quality equipment -so the production can run for 50 years. And you get your money back in say five or seven years, so it is a really interesting investment.”
Are you providing know-how as well?
“We are an engineering company that is able to draft a project which we are offering the locals. We have selected four localities away from the mainstream. We are not interested in starting an enterprise in Sarajevo, Mostar or Banja Luka because there are enough international investors there. We are interested in small towns, interesting towns, we are interested in localities on the coast of Dalmatia because we see the tourist potential – millions of tourists travel there every year. And our strategy is to help the local people to choose the solution that is right for them. Because there are many options as regards ownership, technology and equipment. We are able to sell or organize the project and tender for the right equipment. In the Czech Republic there are maybe three or five producers of technology for a mini-brewery.”
So they would be making all the decisions?
How much beer would such a brewery produce?
“To give you some idea – if you have a town of 10,000 inhabitants one such brewery is enough to cover their needs, all year round. But if you have a town that size with surrounding villages where they like to have weekend parties for a large number of people and they go and buy a barrel of beer for that occasion, then two breweries would be optimal. The culture of local breweries is now developing in the Czech Republic, you will find it in Germany or Austria.”
What about the recipe? Will you cater to local tastes? Or offer them a popular Czech brew and let them develop it?
“Good question. We have local tastes in beer and some people like to taste a different kind of beer when they travel abroad, others want the beer that they are used to. Maybe in the future we will learn something from the Bosnians. But in the first phase we want to offer them Czech specialists and I think that the first season, the first brew will be made in cooperation with Czech experts.”
So you will be training local beer masters?
“Yes, at the outset, and maybe in the future they will chose their own way. Now in the Czech Republic there is a fashion to make ales, which is not traditional Czech beer. You go to the craft beer pub, you taste one ale and you’ve had enough. But for instance my wife –she doesn’t drink five beers, one is enough for her, but she wants to try a new taste. And a mini-brewery in a small town needs a regular clientele so you need to cater to different tastes and target women. They do not have to drink like men, but they can have a beer a day, because it is healthy.”
So this brewery could produce different kinds of beer?
“Yes, we will share our know-how and they may choose to do what we are now doing in the Czech Republic or to go their own way. The Czech Republic as a beer country is now really opening up to the international market so we are catering to US tastes or British tastes in beer. What will happen in Bosnia –we do not know. But it is important to start and to stop the international invasion of not-good beer and maybe in five years’ time we will find ourselves sampling something good in Bosnia. They really know how to make local products, that is unique in the region. They are not in the EU and are not so controlled by regulations and are very open to experimenting.”
What is the secret to good beer – it is about hops, about malt about the kind of water you use– do they have those things there?
“Yes, they have all the products needed to make good beer. Also, if you want good hops you buy on the international market – Czech brewers do that as well, it is not true that every Czech beer is made from Czech hops. And I truly believe that the quality is the responsibility of the beer master because if you attract the local clientele to your brew you have to be really stable with the taste. And because it is a natural product every change of the weather, or season or temperature can change the taste of your beer. And I think that the secret to good beer is in the water. You have to have positive, well-polarised water which comes into minimal contact with technology, with pumps or not-good energy.”
You say you are planning to establish a beer culture there and you clearly know the place very well –how much beer do they drink now in the places you visited?
“The alcohol most frequently consumed is rakia, which is high on alcohol content, but they do consume beer as well, I would say that they drink about half of the beer consumption in the Czech Republic and that’s quite a lot, because we top the world ladder. As I said that is the tradition of Central Europe, the legacy of the Hapsburg monarchy and what is interesting is the price they are prepared to pay for beer. The price of beer there is 70 to 80 percent of what it costs in the Czech Republic but their average salary is less than half of ours and they are still willing to buy beer.”
Would the mini-brewery be competitive when there is so much competition from big international brewers?
“Well, imagine you want to set up a mini-brewery with your friends. You get the finances together and build the mini-brewery. Then you decide about the price and your strategy will depend on how quickly you want the investment back. If the brewery is owned by the municipality –the way it used to be 150 years ago in our country – the municipality can say, OK we can make the beer cheaper in order to attract the local people and we will get our investment back in 15 years, why not? So that will be the responsibility of the local people and they have to understand the strategy and the technology. That kind of involvement and the right decisions will bring them a profit in the future.”
You have partly answered this question –but you are getting support from the Czech Development Agency within the B2B program which only supports sustainable businesses where the entrepreneurs help the locals. Can you sum up in what way you will be helping the locals in Bosnia?
“That’s just it. We do not want to sell them a finished product that works for us in the Czech Republic and in five years’ time say sorry, it doesn’t work in your location. We want them to make their own decision and each location needs to meet its specific needs. So we are offering a project, a strategy and providing know-how. We do not believe that if you buy someone a beer brewery it will become a sustainable business. It is necessary that they make their own decisions, about everything involved including the taste of the final product and their children will one day buy beer there as well, because they will be supporting their own community. Maybe that is why we are getting support from the Czech Development Agency, because that is their thinking as well. The accent is not on business, but on cooperation.”
When do you think you will be able to sit down and enjoy your first beer from this mini-brewery project?
“If I am very positive, then in two years’ time. We do not want to rush this and we really believe that we have to wait for the locals to make their own decisions in this matter. That is our strategy and we want to do our best to help them and give them all the necessary information so that they make a good decision when the time is right.”
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