Interview with Pavel Prchal, managing director and CEO of Zemský Pivovar

Zemský Pivovar may have found itself a home in Braník’s Dominikánský dvůr

If two recent public meetings that generated a host of positive reactions from the citizens of Braník are anything to go by Zemský Pivovar, a new brewery brand that was established in August 2013, may have found itself a home in Braník’s Dominikánský dvůr. The brewery has been active in reaching out to local citizens prior to and after June 30th, the Prague 4 Town Council mandated deadline for the public to send in their feedback to the project lease agreement.

Most public reactions to the project thus far seem enthusiastic and happy that the old Dominikánský dvůr site, which has been in a state of disuse since the 1950s, will finally be rebuilt and be in proper use once more.

“I think that once they have had an opportunity to learn more about the project, people embrace it,” says Pavel Prchal, managing director and CEO of Zemský Pivovar. “Of course there are questions – will there be any noise and dust during construction, how many trucks will there be there, do you know that there are old people living right next door to Dominikánský dvůr. Of course we’re aware of those issues.”

“Many people worried that we would just destroy the Dominikánský dvůr building and build something modern. It’s important to reassure them that there is nothing we can do that is not approved prior by the National Heritage Institute,” Pavel adds. “The investors wish to keep the building “as is” in terms of its historic design, as well as opening it up to the public.”

But, as with most new ventures, the process is marked by bureaucratic trappings and red tape, and concerns around the potential effects the project could have on the Braník area. The lease approval for the Dominikánský dvůr property, which is within the competency of the Board of the Town Council, has been passed on to the plenary session of the town council for political reasons, given that local elections are around the corner. Additionally, the Town Council has also sought the aforementioned public feedback, turning the process into quite a lengthy one.

“We are still at the pre-start phase – we’re not even at the starting line! If we don’t have a signed lease agreement on 28 August, our investors have made it quite clear that we need to look at our other options,” explains Pavel. “But, if things go to plan and we have Town Council approval for the signing of the lease – at that point we know we can start the next step and that we’ll be on the true starting line. If everything goes according to plan, we think that we could be serving our first beer within about 4 years.”

At the heart of the project is the plan to resurrect the historical essence of Dominikánský dvůr, which during the 17th century was a brewery and roadside inn. Zemský Pivovar intends to build on this history by including not only a brewery but also a hotel, a restaurant and pub, a small hall for public meetings and social events and to transform the property’s courtyard space into a true public centre for old Braník – somewhere that residents can bring their kids and dogs and where there will be farmer’s markets and artisanal stores.

But of course the driving force behind Zemský Pivovar is its beer, Zemské Pivo, a true Czech draught beer made according to ‘beer law’ – the three phase bottom-brewed fermentation process that utilizes only three ingredients: water, barley and hops. The beer is currently produced in two breweries – Chotěboř and Strakonice – according to the company’s own unique recipe. Currently there are two regular types available, a 12° and a 10° beer along with seasonal specialities and the brewery is already getting good feedback from those who have tasted them.

“Our consumers so far have said that our 10° beer is quite unique in that it’s got a lovely bitterness to it, a nice fullness of flavour and a really interesting taste profile that is only matched by very small micro-breweries,” says Pavel.

Zemský Pivovar’s beer is already available in over 50 locations within Prague through the brewery’s partner restaurants and pubs, thanks to Libor Utěkal, the company‘s commercial director and one of its co-founders and co-owners. And publicans and restaurant owners are glad to have a true Prague beer on tap and one, whose shares they will be able to own via a unique publican share-holding program.

And this month Zemský Pivovar celebrated another milestone being voted the Beer of the Month by the Aliance P.I.V, a group of pubs that cooperate on introducing or presenting smaller brands of beers and ensuring some limited distribution in cities and towns outside of Prague.

But Zemský Pivovar’s plans don’t end with just its current beers. Apart from its seasonal beers, the next being its autumnal beer that will have a fuller, more bready taste profile and slightly higher alcohol level, perfect for the cooler months, research is also being conducted into original recipes made at Dominikánský dvůr during the 17th century. Another unique aspect the brewery would like to introduce to Prague is the concept of the “flying brewer”.

“What this means is that we will be doing small batch runs of other styles of beer, not just Czech beer, like India Pale Ale, stout, wheat beer and others,” explains Pavel. “For these special batches, a brewer will always fly in from the country or region that specialises in that kind of beer and brew it with us. We are really excited about producing not just Czech beer but also introducing the other 99 styles of beer that are out there in the world.”

It seems like Zemský Pivovar’s business approach couldn’t come at a better time, with consumers becoming much more discerning and wanting to establish closer links to companies behind the production of the items they buy to ensure their quality and authenticity.

“What we are seeing is that the market has changed and still is changing. There is a large consumer sentiment against what you would call the Euro-style beer, which is a beer that tastes the same wherever you go,” says Pavel. “And so on the back of that sentiment, which in other countries we have seen is a long-term sentiment, they’re looking for a beer or a beer taste that is unique – one that is specific to the Czech lands and which is based upon Czech ingredients.

So while success is booming in terms of the popularity of its beer, Zemský Pivovar still awaits final approval as to whether its vision of returning Dominikánský dvůr to its former glory will be realised.

“This is a business first and foremost and every business requires other options – if Dominikánský dvůr doesn’t work out it would be sad but we do have other options, like other locations in Prague and a green field investment,” explains Pavel. “But, we would prefer out future home to be Dominikánský dvůr - if of course the public wants us to be there.

“It is up to them to choose whether they want to see it be transformed into something aesthetically pleasing and functional, that is publicly accessible and yet respects the history and tradition and is not just another apartment or commercial building development. The ball is now in the public’s court – the Town Council has made it quite clear they are ready to support the project if the public is and we will be there every week during the summer to talk to them.”

Zemský Pivovar

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