If you have spent time in the Czech Republic, you will know that the beer comes in degrees. Beers have traditionally been sold either as 10 or 12 degree. This may cause confusion to tourists, who often think it refers to alcohol content and must wonder how it is that Czechs don't all have permanent hangovers, but for Czechs "desitka" and "dvanactka" are very much an institution. Now a 'degree war' has broken out. In 2002 Drinks Union, decided to go for a new niche market, and launched its 11 degree Zlatopramen. Market leaders SABMiller have got on the bandwagon, with their own 11 degree Velkopopovicky Kozel. David Vaughan asked Lyle Frink what, in today's competitive beer market, this is all about.
"This is all about marketing perception, because most Czech consumers really do not know what 11 degree, 10 degree or 12 degree means."
What does it mean? It's nothing to do with the alcohol content, is it?
"Indirectly yes. The 10, 11 and 12 degrees refer to the Balling-Plato Scale of the fermentable sugars in the barley 'wort' before it is fermented."
And in layman's terms, what does that mean?
"It measures the sugars which the yeast will later transform into alcohol."
So a 12 degree beer is going to be stronger than a 10 degree beer, but it's not 12 percent alcohol.
You say that this is a marketing measure. What is it all about?
"If you would jump back 10 years, on a trip to your local grocery store you would see beer with 10, 12 or 8 written on the label or on the bottle cap. This was a mandated part of beer labeling. And so consumers would go to the store and say, 'I want a 12 degree, I want a 10 degree,' and pick their bottles accordingly, by degree even more than brand. However, prior to joining the European Union the Czechs changed their food laws, which did away with the mandated marking of 10 and 12 degrees. Then they went to a text driven system, where they called it 'lager', 'vycepni lager' and things like this. The degree as a number vanished. But it was brought back in 2002 by the Drinks Union group with its Zlatopramen beer, which was '11 degree, one degree better!' So they actually created this split segment between 10 and 12 degrees, and they priced their beer just a little bit above 10, substantially below 12, and said, 'Pay a little bit more, get a degree better!'"
And is it absolute nonsense in terms of the content of the beer?
"I don't think so. I like 11 degree beer. There are some 11 degree beers in this country that are my favourite thing to drink, and I like them more than 10 and 12. There is a flavour and strength niche there, a real one - not just perception."