When he found the price of beer increasingly too expensive and believed the quality to be deteriorating the answer for one North Londoner was to start brewing his own.
Although living in the north of the capital Petr Skocek is actually a native of Pilsen in the Czech Republic so he is steeped in beer and it is therefore not so surprising that his choice of first style of beer to brew was a Pilsner.
Production of what became Victoria Pilsner (4.2%) officially began in May 2105 when he teamed up with another Czech native Zdenek Kudr and they took on the lease of a tiny retail unit as the base for their brewing venture that they named Bohem Brewery.
My recent visit to the brewery was not prompted by Victoria but by the second beer to come on-stream – Sparta (5.4%), so named after the Prague-based football team – which Skocek describes as being rather Dunkel-like or half-lager-esque. It’s certainly a bit of a mongrel, with its unusual combination of Pilsner and Munich malts mixed in with East Kent Goldings and Saaz hops.
It was during a visit to The Prince pub in London’s N22, around the corner from Bohem’s site, when I discovered that Skocek’s unfiltered Sparta delivers a wonderfully chewy, full-bodied flavour that has its bitterness but this is combined with a lovely offset of caramel sweetness. It’s deliciously addictive and whereas bands often have problems with second albums the pair at Bohem have certainly released a winner with their follow up to Victoria.
Apart from The Prince, distribution of Bohem’s beers is pretty limited at the moment – with Alexandra Park FC taking kegs and individual customers buying its 18 pint kegs that maintain the carbonation levels throughout the pour.
This is just as well because the pair are only brewing part-time – twice a week with an output of a modest three barrels. However, bottles are just about to be made available and the big news is that a second retail unit has been taken that will house a tap room, which at only 20 sq m will be run on similar lines to a micro-pub.
“This will move us forward. At the moment it’s just a hobby whereby we start the brew before going to work and then finish it off after work,” he says.
The tap room will be a showcase for Bohem, which Skocek admits has him presently working hard at creating some more beers as the idea is to have six on the go when the tap room opens in a couple of months.
Just off the production line is a rich Oatmeal stout (5.5%) that has a smooth mouth-feel that almost convinces the drinker that it has lactose in the mix. There is also a Belgian blonde beer that is part way through its development with the early iteration having a typical candy sugar characteristic but without that distinct Belgian yeast component. Skocek says it will eventually be dialled up to 7%. Another beer will be a lighter lager with less bitterness than Victoria and a slightly heavier 4.8% ABV.
The tap room will certainly make a big difference because Kudr fully recognises that the way to be profitable as a micro-brewery is to sell as much of your output direct to the customer rather than through third-parties.
“We want our own pubs. It’s the best way for small breweries to operate. For us it is more profitable to sell two kegs direct than it is to sell nearly eight to a pub. There are three-and-a-half times more profits this way,” he says.
Such profitability is absolutely vital of course for the longevity of Bohem, as it is for all start-up breweries, and it will ensure that I can continue to enjoy the delights of Sparta.
Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider