Clash of the Beer Titans

Monday, May 24th, 2004

Today’s Gazet van Antwerpen has a brief report about a newcomer to that noted beer-land Belgium, namely the flagship brew of that other noted beer-land, the Czech Republic, whose citizens year after year stand at the top of international tables of per-capita beer consumption.

Of course, Pilsner Urquell has been for some years now under new, more-aggressive management from SAB Miller (formerly South African Breweries), which among other things has put it on the American market. But hitting the States, with that country’s generally watered-down, mass-consumption pseudo-beers (shunned by anyone in the know over on this side of the Atlantic), hardly compares to taking on the various noteworthy Belgian beers on their own turf. The GvA article speaks of Pilsner Urquel first seeking to gain ground in the Belgian café and restaurant sector, although it also says it expects to be assisted there by the Delhaize supermarket chain – originally Belgian itself, but also operating in the Czech Republic. The preliminary goal is selling 10,000 hectoliters in Belgium yearly within ten years.

Regular readers know that I am often in the Czech Republic, having lived there a number of years in the past, and I never recall ever seeing a Belgian beer for sale. In Hungary and in Poland, yes: there was often Stella Artois, and even Hoegaarden. But in the Czech Republic, to many Stella would simply have been superfluous. (Now, there’s plenty of Guinness, and even Kilkenny, in all those countries, but that’s mainly at the Irish pubs, and besides, everybody knows they are dark beers, and so in another league.) Will Pilsner Urquell seem equally superfluous within Belgium? The next time I’m in Antwerp I’ll try to see if I can find some and ask how it is selling.

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