Worrying times in Czech Republic
buy Czech Staropramen
There are strong rumours in Prague that the world beer giant, InBev AB, plans to off-load its Staropramen brewery in the Czech Republic, with Heineken poised to step in. Staropramen -- the Old Spring -- is second only to SABMiller's Pilsner Urquell group in the Czech Republic and is strongly positioned in export markets.
Staropramen was bought by Bass when the communist regime quietly folded its tent and walked away to numbered Swiss bank accounts. The brewery was privatised and Bass invested heavily in a new brewhouse and used its marketing muscle to sell the beer through its British pubs and in other export markets. When Bass quit brewing to run Holiday Inns, ownership of the brewery passed to the Belgian group Interbrew, which has since merged with Ambev of Brazil to become InBev, which subsequently bought Anheuser-Busch in the United States, owner of the world's biggest beer brand, Budweiser.
If Heineken buys Staropramen it will give the Dutch group a major presence in the Czech market. Heineken's style is to brew beer quickly and not bother with such niceties as long lagering times. When I visited its Polish subsidiary Zywiec last year I found that the entire brewing process -- from mashing to cold maturation -- for both Zywiec lager and Heineken was just 21 days. So we can expect the brewing process to be speeded up to Road Runner proportions at Staropramen.
But Heineken may cast its net wider. It has admitted it would be interested in buying Budweiser Budvar if the state-owned brewery in Ceske Budejovice were to be privatised. Heineken is a dab hand at closing plants and concentrating production into large units. If it buys Budvar at some time in the future we can expect the brewery to close with production moved to Prague. It would almost certainly spell the end for Budvar's famous 90-day lagering period.