The Slovenia Times

Beer is a Drink of Friendship



The material he collected and studied - "in the pre-Internet age" he is quick to point out - resulted in this book, which remains the only Slovenian publication about the popular drink published in the past several decades. There are dozens of books about wine, but this book is the only Slovene publication on beer available at public libraries. Since beer is something we all drink, rich in varieties, tastes, etc., why is it viewed as being so inferior? Wine tends to be something belonging to the elite. The nobility gathers to speak about wine lists. And sommeliers are always elegant people. Conversely, beer is a more common thing, a matter of the proletariat, or more likely the "everyman". People who drink wine at special occasions usually choose to have a beer with a friend. Briefly, how did beer conquer Slovenia? The residents of Roman Emona probably brewed beer, which was not the beer we imagine today, but a thick, slimy drink made of hops with a low alcohol content. Written records were found in the notes of feudal landlords, which show that a tax was levied on beer. In Slovenia, the earliest such document mentioning beer comes from Skofja Loka. ...and how did it finally evolve into big business? The global industrial revolution introduced "industrial" brewing. Slovenia joined in with gusto. The first person to establish a beer "brand" was Peter Kozler, who attracted investors for building the Union brewery. There were also other large breweries in Menges, Maribor, etc. So we ended up with two major brands - Lasko and Union? Where have all the others gone? Maribor's G"tz, for example, was a respected brand in the early 20th century. It disappeared. Big breweries tend to merge or swallow up the smaller ones. The only country that resists such tendencies is Germany. They have great respect for small, local beers, which allows these breweries to survive. England, Denmark and Belgium also had hundreds of small breweries, but many were taken over by big companies, which slowly killed the original product as well. Strangely enough, Slovenia started its process of "destroying" the small breweries in 1910 - decades before the more industrialized countries. Today, the market seems determined by these two major brands. There is hardly a place for a third beer in Slovenia. Nor would Lasko supplant Union or vice versa. A couple of years ago we had the Maribor brewery, which didn't make it. There is also almost no chance of anyone starting a new, large-scale brewery. We have imported beers from all over the world, but they only make up a small percentage of the beer sold. Small breweries generally supply specific local pubs. So where is this going? What is the prognosis? (My outlook) is very pessimistic. In twenty or fifty years there may only be some five mega-brewers, corporations like Coca-Cola, which will control the entire global production - definitely a bad turn for beer lovers. Beer is an alcohol, but it is rarely regarded as being extremely problematical in these terms. Were there ever any prohibitions or attempts to limit its production or consumption? There were certain limitations on beer production, but for different reasons. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was rich in vineyards, but had a constant need for more wheat. So they introduced laws to limit beer production and stimulate wine growing. The old Yugoslavia, dominated by Serbs, sidelined beer by stimulating the production of their liquors like Sljivovica. Before the Second World War, beer taxes were so high that it practically made no sense to brew or drink it. So we can say Slovenia encountered two indirect "prohibitions" on beer. This caused a period of a beer fadeout. The ratio of wine consumption versus beer only tipped in favour of beer in the seventies. Today the consumption of beer is some three times higher than other drinks. Beer dominates, but despite this, it is still too expensive (to produce). Our tax-policies still give wine an advantage over beer. There is huge brand loyalty among beer drinkers. Is it something that came along with modern marketing or has this always been the case? It is not the marketing. When a youngster gets in touch with a beer for the first time, they also get acquainted with a certain beer taste... then all other beers are compared to the first one. Very few people are ready to switch to another beer, if their favourite one is available. There was an opinion poll taken among beer drinkers and the majority claimed that they would stick to their beer even if there were an alternative being offered for free. This, of course, also incorporates local patriotism. Ljubljana doesn't have a beer-only pub, with fresh beer served the way it should be - on tap. Would one work here? Only a few countries such as England, Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic have beer-only pubs. There is certainly an opportunity in Ljubljana; the number of potential consumers is undoubtedly there. After all, beer is a drink of friendship and doesn't cause fights unless heavy liquor gets involved. Englishmen knew it; they considered beer a noble drink, unlike whiskey, gin, etc., which came with the Irish, Scots or Dutch and spoiled the (beer) ritual. Is a non-alcohol beer actually a beer? It is! Anything that is made of water, hops, malt and leavening is beer. Alcohol is not a necessary ingredient. In the latter half of the last century, breweries attempted to make low-alcohol beers and finally came to an alcohol-free beer. It was after all, a great challenge for brewers. ...and your personal preference? Well, if someone asked me to recommend a beer - I could not overlook the indisputable charm of Plzen or Budejowice beer. Prague is the place.


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