Czech brewers bet on bottles as pubs dry up amid virus

Prague (AFP) –


Czech breweries have switched from barrels to bottles and cans after demand for draught went down the drain as pubs in the world's most beer-loving nation closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, experts said Wednesday.

To stay afloat, three out of the four largest Czech brewing groups -- Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Budejovicky Budvar -- said they have stopped filling kegs altogether.

"We (now) produce more beer in bottles and cans, we have seen 15-percent growth in domestic demand for packaged beer," Staropramen spokeswoman Denisa Mylbachrova told AFP.

The Czech government closed pubs and restaurants, except takeaway venues, on March 14 across the central European country where, statistically, each Czech consumes 141 litres (37 gallons) of beer a year, the world's highest rate of consumption.

Since then, demand for beer in kegs, normally making up 40 percent of total Czech beer output, has sunk to zero, Martina Ferencova, head of the Czech Beer and Malt Association told AFP.

Exports, in turn, were hit when the Czech government closed the borders on March 16.

Large breweries like Staropramen can still do relatively well owing to contracts with supermarket chains selling their products in bottles and cans.

But the once-vibrant sector of nearly 500 micro-breweries is on the brink of disaster.

"The average decrease in output is 80 percent, because small breweries don't have the filling capacities," said Jan Suran, head of the Czech-Moravian Association of Micro-breweries.

"The small breweries don't have the sales channels so they sell almost nothing," he told AFP.

Many Czech pubs have found a way to comply with the new rule by selling beer through a window, creating a makeshift take-away service.

Some craft breweries have also begun offering takeaway and delivery sales to avoid going under.

"They are holding on somehow, but if this (closed pubs) lasts until the end of April, which is highly probable, I guess about 20 percent of them may go under."

"And if it lasts a month longer, then it will be almost 50 percent," said Suran, a Prague pub and brewery co-owner.

An EU member of 10.7 million people, the Czech Republic had by Wednesday registered 3,330 confirmed cases of the virus including 32 deaths.