A Revolution in brewing

Related tags Beer orders Czech republic Brewing

One of the curious things about the timing of the Beer Orders that - as far as I know - nobody has ever touched on, is that they came into force just...

One of the curious things about the timing of the Beer Orders that - as far as I know - nobody has ever touched on, is that they came into force just one month after the 'Velvet Revolution' in what was then Czechoslovakia.

To us at the time it meant that the liberated brews of a beer-superpower, facing westward for the first time since 1947, were going to find a ready sale in the UK's pubs - freed from the controls of their brewer owners by the UK's Beer Orders that were coming in a month later.

It was the perfect 'they all lived happily ever after' scenario of the classic fairy tale, but it didn't work out like that - or maybe we just forgot that real fairy tales usually have dark endings.

This one certainly did. The big names in the newly liberated Czech brewing industry, with the exception of Budvar, were quickly eaten for breakfast by Big Brewing, who immediately set about undermining the traditional practices of the Czech brewers; practices that had been sustained and cherished even during the nightmare years of the German Protectorate and the Soviet hegemony.

Thus proving nothing is more destructive of the individual and the local than global capitalism.

No tied tradition

Fortunately, there was no tradition of tied estates in the Czech lands, so the international invasion ended at the brewery gates.

In the UK, meanwhile, it soon became evident that the Beer Orders were not going to lead UK drinkers and hosts to the promised land. Rather, they were simply going to shift the centre of power from the big brewers to new equally big pub groups. The road to hell is certainly paved with good intentions.

Besides being a singularly half-arsed attempt to tinker with the natural evolution of a complex sector of the economy, the Beer Orders can be seen as the beginning of the non-stop, almost demented interference in our business, which has characterised government ever since. Ministers opened Pandora's Box with the Beer Orders and subsequently have been trying to shut it again with increasing bureaucracy and legislation. Or, to put it another way, with ineptitude and incompetence.

Feather-light touch

On the Czech side a feather-light administrative touch is the order of the day.

Hosts can stock what they like, open and close when they like and decide whether to smoke or not to smoke. It also follows they are not plagued with hordes of local government weasels whinging about earth shattering matters like where you can place an A-board, medics declaring war on alcohol and senior policemen putting the metaphorical boot in.

Since the Beer Orders, our industry has more or less sunk into a nauseating servitude to government, while our representative bodies seem to do nothing more than appease the enemy.

While the Czech business can celebrate its real freedom 20 years on, we have been busy reversing the other way. It's about time we had a revolution here as well.

Denis Cox is public relations controller for Budweiser Budvar UK

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