We all know that the Czech Republic’s drink of choice is a delicious ice cold pivo. Brewing is big business here and litres of the amber nectar are pumped out on a mass scale every day. But what about the independent drinks companies forging their way through the refreshment market? How does a small business offering locally produced, small-batch products succeed here? We heard the stories of two business owners doing just that.
The company was founded almost 3 years ago by school friends Vašek Binar and Michal Hora. Binar runs a small financial consulting company (among other businesses) and Hora is a lawyer. Binar told me his dream has always been, “to make a product and follow it through all the stages from development, introduction to the market to building a brand.”
Along with a third colleague Jakub Dolansky (originally studying to be a priest), Binar tells me “We are three partners: me taking care of money, Michal solving legal issues and Jakub responsible for matters above the Earth’s surface.”
The trio’s love affair with iced tea began when Hora brought a bag of Yerba Mate home from a trip to South America which rapidly became the office drink of choice. Binar explained, “From there it was just a step to learn that the ice tea sold on the market has very little to do with actual tea. We thought if we offer people true iced tea, which we love ourselves, it should work. We searched the world to find good tea and developed the products with university experts and ended up with three products in a bottle.”
Yerba Maté sourced from Paraguay: “A tea packed with caffeine and its derivatives to empower your body and mind, and antioxidants which restore and protect the balance of your organism.”
Earthy tones and botanical designs adorn the attractive, off-white labels which work well with the natural, additive-free colour of the tea inside. “The design was quite a long process,” explains Binar. “We knew what we wanted, but to find a designer who will transform your vision to a bottle and other design was not easy.” A handy insider contact at ad agency McCann helped the team to navigate the route from idea to reality which Binar says was well worth the effort. “We often hear from our customers that we are the first small starting Czech brand with a moderate promotion package but quality equal to or better the multinationals.”
Binar told me, “Our goal is not to be everywhere but to be in great places we want to be at.” The suitably select list of quality sellers includes popular venues such as Cafe V Lese, Bio Zahrada, Love Kido and NoD as well as a handful of shops and restaurants. A full map of outlets can be found on the website.
Says Binar: “We are exporting to a few markets where we were approached by a distributor (Slovakia, Italy and now starting Russia), but we were not seeking exports actively till now. We believe we have to first prove ourselves on the domestic market before we start going big for other markets. And believe me we still have quite a lot to do in CZ…”
Named after the legendary Czech cider maker František Hubert Prager, the company was built from scratch by two friends with no knowledge of drink production and a starting capital of about 20,000 CZK.
Co-founder Cyril Holub told me “It all started when Ondřej and I were sitting in a pub and we realized that drinking beer didn’t excite us very much anymore. I was recalling drinking cider during my studies in the UK and Ondřej noted how easy it was to make cider – he had seen a Youtube DIY cidermaking video.” The rest was history. The pair spent several months of researching their new craft and first trials with juice were made with two kitchen juicers (making 20 litres of juice took a whole day!). “We were hooked” says Holub “We have been on the market for two years now (though it seems like eternity to us) and we are currently residing in magical old cellars of a 19th century brewery in Kročehlavy”.
The company originally only produced apple cider and pear perry but soon realized the equipment could also be used to make quality soft drinks too. The range of Pragomošt fruit drinks are high end products with real fruit content and with no synthetic colourants, aromas, sweeteners, preservatives.
The range currently includes: apfelschorle, ginger beer, mate, rosehip, and aniseed with liqourice.
The bottles are the creation of local designer Klára Zápotocká whose experience is primarily in book design, her clean and minimalist style showing through in the asymmetrical labels. “We wanted the bottles to have a retro look,” says Holub. “Engaging with customers’ sentiment for the good old days – be it the avant-garde ’30s of František Hubert Prager, or Czechoslovakian “Brussels style” of the ’50s–’70s.”
Holub reveals that the irregular shape of the labels originated from the early days of production when the team were applying the labels manually to each bottle “It was impossible to get the labels straight so we came up with the irregular shape to mask the issue!”
If you want to try the cider on tap you’ll need to head to Jarda Mayer Café at Anděl, Bajkazyl on the riverbank by Palackého náměstí or Café Sladkovský in the hipster-tastic Krymská area. The bottled drinks are available in a handful of bars and cafes in Prague as well as three or four of the Náš Grunt chain. A full list of outlets can be found on-line.
Holub told me that the future is looking bright for the company. “The demand is higher than we can manage to produce so we have undergone major investments in August to prepare for next season.” The team also have exciting plans to open the first cider bar in the centre of Prague soon.
What’s your favorite Czech bottled beverage?