Noriko Fukushi / Marubeni Corporation, Prague Office
The weather in Prague has been unseasonable all summer this year. So on a rare sunny Saturday, we went to the zoo, even though everyone in the group was an adult. As we walked around the grounds, draft beer and sausages were calling our names.
The Czech Republic is synonymous with beer. The per capita consumption of beer in the Czech Republic is the highest in the world (about 144 liters per year), and about three times that of Japan. Hops, the indispensable ingredients for the flavor of beer, are widely grown in the Bohemia region. Since sixty percent of hop exports go to Japan, accounting for eighty percent of Japanese demand, and in this respect, Japanese are actually drinking Czech beer.
Hop production in the Czech Republic dates back to the eleventh century. They say that in the old days there was a brewery every eleven kilometers (leaving aside the question of why eleven kilometers). That was the distance of both the brewery territories and the aristocratic territories. Beer was one of the sources of money during those days, and from about the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, the rights to the breweries were sold as well.
Draft beer is available at pivovars, which feature local beers, pivnice, which serve beers from major breweries, and very popular cheap taverns called hospodas. These establishments have signboards out in front with the brand names listed. The large beer mugs hold 500 milliliters, and small mugs hold 300. Large mugs cost more than [the equivalent of] 300 yen in places that are popular with tourists, but just a ways from the city center, prices drop to about 150 or 200 yen, and I have even overheard parents telling their kids that “your cola costs more than the beer, you know!”
When Czechs go drinking with friends, they have a meal at home first and go out just to drink beer. They don’t have a single snack as they chat for a long time, and they leave about a centimeter of beer at the bottom of their mugs when they nearly finish, and continue talking. If they empty their mug, the waiter will bring them a fresh beer, without mentioning that it will go on the bill.
When they drink at home, Czechs take the trouble to buy heavy bottled beer at the supermarket and bring it home. This is because for Czechs, “draft beer is the most delicious, bottled beer is next, and canned beer is for tourists.” As a result, even among brand-name beers, there is an overwhelming variety of bottled beers, and there are bottle collection machines at every supermarket. After you put your empties in this machine, you get a receipt which you redeem at the checkout register. Of course the contents is cheaper than cans, and bottles are friendly both to your budget and to the ecology, but the weight of bottles puts me off and I end up buying cans.
Those who really love beer pile up their empties in their car, bring them down to the direct sales area at their favorite brewery, and buy beer by the case. Since they are charged only for the beer, the price is just 20 to 30 yen—irresistible for beer lovers. The other day they were selling twenty-liter draft beer kegs at the supermarket (for about 4,000 yen), which serves a party of twenty two beers each. The kegs come with a cooling function, so how’s that for a house party?
Summer is hot so beer hits the spot, and there is nothing like drinking beer in a cozy room during the winter: there is always a good reason to drink beer. Well, I have filled up the whole article talking about beer, so there is no space left to talk about Moravia wines. We’ll save that for next time.
Marubeni Group magazine "M-SPIRIT" VOL.53 (September, 2009)