Czech mate

June 2001

By Gary Monterosso

As a writer, I strive to sample most new beers on the market (for educational purposes, of course). Like everyone else, however, there are limits as to what I am able to purchase. In some cases, there may be a beer that is "regional," or not available in my area. For example, there are plenty of superb West Coast beers that just don't make it to our borders. Another obstacle may be that not all distributors stock a beer which I have an interest in trying.

A somewhat unusual case is that of Budweiser. No, not the product created by Anheuser-Busch; rather, the import made by the brewers of Budweiser Budvar from the Czech Republic. Available throughout much of the world, Budvar had been outlawed in the United States for over 60 years. You see, back in 1939, Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar and Anheuser-Busch signed an agreement that kept Budvar out of this country and prohibited A-B's Budweiser from using that name in parts of Europe.

Then, in late 2000, Budejovicky Budvar started shipping the beer to California, calling it Czechvar. The ingredients looked strikingly similar to that of their original Budvar but those involved were careful not to say it was the same beer. A-B had no problem with it. Czechvar's California importer, World Wine Ltd., knew the "beer geeks" would catch on when they chose to use the phrase "It is what you think it is" in their advertising slogan.

The campaign worked. Sales exceeded all expectations and by spring, officials pledged to expand distribution to Florida, New York, Georgia, Massachusetts, Illinois and North Carolina. Yet still no New Jersey.

I had wanted to try Budvar (or Czechvar) for years. One day, while visiting a brewery in the Garden State, I noticed an empty bottle of the stuff on a display wall among other rare beers. I asked the owner about it and he said, "I just had that two days ago. A friend flew in from Germany and brought some of it for me to try. If I had known you were coming over, I'd have shared it with you!" Oh, wonderful!

Recently, I had heard it was being distributed in New Jersey, but I still had yet to see it. Then, while vacationing in Cape May, I stopped into Collier's Liquors, to see what they had in stock. Among the many beers which I have yet to see in my immediate area sat a six-pack of... yup, you guessed it, Czechvar. Well, I seized that before anyone else could get to it, not even paying much attention to whether there were more available (there were). A person next to me said, "Man, you really must like that beer!" I answered, "I really don't know yet," and walked off to a very bewildered look.

I've finished that six-pack and will be purchasing more shortly. Was it worth the long wait? My impressions were quite favorable. It is a lager and by nature it is crisp, clear and smooth. It is a light golden color, medium bodied, refreshing and moderately carbonated. Hop bitterness is more noticeable early and is mild at the end.

For the immediate future, Budejovicky Budvar envisions continued growth with hopes that the number of stores carrying Czechvar continues to increase. Current projections call for those outlets to double in 2002.

®Gary Monterosso. All Rights Reserved

Gary Monterosso