CBCC member interview – Zdenek Kudr, CEO and Founder, Bohem Brewery Ltd.

On his peculiar journey to beer making, aspirations and goals in the UK beer market, no-nonsense attitude to competition, the importance of forming the right team to succeed, and so much more…

When and how did you end up in the UK?

I’ve been living in London for more than seven years. Prior to that, I used to drive trucks across Europe and played guitar as a hobby, which led to forming a band. A daughter of one band member was living in London and came home for holiday. She spent two weeks there and we fell in love. It was in May 2010. I was dating her several months including several visits and in October 2010 we just made a decision: I packed my suitcase, came to London and moved in with her.

That was quick…

Yes, and I started from scratch. I was a van driver, handyman, builder, I did some maintenance work and later established a letting company, mainly for Czech and Slovak people in London. At peak I had about 80 tenants. By the way, the romance had a very short life.

How did you progress from letting business to making beer?

During my regular Sunday football matches with friends I met Petr Skocek who was brewing his own beer at home. I tasted it and it wasn’t bad. Later I was organising a party and asked Petr for a keg of his beer. I bought 50 litres for the party, we drank it, loved it and that was a turning point in my life.

I told Petr that his beer deserved to be on the market. Although he could make beer, he didn’t feel he’d be able to manage other things, such as paperwork, licences, commercial activities, investment, so he needed a business partner. We shook our hands in a week.

How many beer types do you currently offer?

Our strap-line is ‘Traditional Bohemian lagers, brewed by Czech expats, in London'. And it literally says it all.

We brew in the UK, a country with a long and deep tradition of ales and lagers, which many people consider very brave. The most important beers are Jan Amos (Czech Pilsner) and Sparta (Amber Lager). We also sell, for example, lighter and more bitter Pilsner called Victoria and black lager Druid. Additionally, we offer seasonal beers, such as honey lager called Henry, and we’ve recently brewed Raleigh, our smoked lager. There is also hugely successful Double India pale lager called Vasco. And there are beers to come – fruit lager or wheat beer – these are also seasonal beers to make Bohem Brewery more attractive.

Was the beginning tough?

Not really as we started doing this part time. Petr was driving a garbage truck from 6am to 2pm and spent afternoons brewing beer. I had my well-established business so was working for free in the mornings until Petr finished work. We didn’t make enough money so couldn’t give up our daily jobs. If we depended only on the business, it’d be more difficult. But then we might have grown significantly faster. Or we might have failed, who knows. In April 2017 we opened our first small bar and Petr left his job in May. I closed my letting business as brewery became more time consuming and started creating revenue for us.

Any growth aspirations?

We want to grow as much as possible. I don’t have any thresholds but there are some set by the UK government; for example, if you limit your production capacity by 5,000 hectolitres of beer per year, you can apply for excise duty relief. But I don’t think we should limit ourselves as I believe Bohem Brewery has a great potential.

Are you interested in growing outside London?

I want to get established in London as this market is huge, and then grow within the UK. Economic power in the UK is much bigger than in the Czech Republic and people are willing to spend decent money for a decent product. If we make sure we produce quality and strive for continuous improvement, I am not afraid of failure on the British market.

How many pubs do you supply your beer to?

We are quite conservative. There are breweries that make beer, supply it to as many pubs as possible, customers like it but it’s a one off and they never see it again. My aim is to supply to fewer pubs and bars but have a permanent tap there. And another segment is direct sales. We currently have one establishment here in Bowes Park and it performs very well. So we'll be looking to open more of Bohem(ian) bars and pubs in the future.

Have you got many competitors?

There are over 2,000 breweries in the UK. Most of them make ales though. Bigger breweries make lager, usually one and some of them are really good. But if I say competitors, I consider solely lager producers, of which is only a few here, or big, corporate breweries, which are more focused on mass production than the craft. I don’t want to compare our beers to others as a CEO or sales person. My goal is to make our beer as best as possible and then customers can compare. You’ll never hear me saying “this beer is worse than ours”. I don’t consider this a good practice.

How have you expanded so far?

Quality of our beers attracted a group of private investors exactly a year ago. Since then we have significantly moved forward. In the second half of 2017 we increased our production by 30% every month. We were approaching a maximum production capacity point of the current setup fast, so we would not be able to satisfy the demand in spring 2018. Therefore, we had to move elsewhere. I signed a long-term lease of a warehouse in Tottenham in January and couple of weeks ago we ordered a brand-new brew house in the Czech Republic as well as more fermenters. All this should be delivered in beginning of April and we would like to organise a big launch party later in May.

How would you define yourself in three words?

Straight, honest, hard-working.

Have you got any spare time?

I have a couple of minutes every day (laughing). I like travelling and we travel as much as we can, discovering the British countryside, or going on short breaks to European cities. However, even though I am off, I never stop working, which isn't good - I have to learn to switch off.

Last word?

Last word? Maybe a couple of thanks.

First of all to Jitka, my girlfriend. She supports me every minute of every day. She is understanding and very patient. Words cannot express how helpful it is to me.

I’d like to thank Petr, Head Brewer, for his professionalism and selflessness. We make the right team, and one wouldn’t achieve anything without the other. He currently makes beer himself, but we are now hiring a new brewer, so it’ll get easier. Petr is a self-learner, former home brewer as I said, and the new person is a professional and experienced brewer. We were lucky he had approached us just as we agreed that we’d hire someone. He’ll bring new ideas, creativity, skills and knowledge and this will help us.

Another thank you belongs to our investors for their support and trust in us, our abilities and our great beer. Namely Neil and Glynn who spend a decent portion of time helping the company for free.

For more information on Bohem Brewery, please visit their website by clicking here.

By Tereza Urbankova, member of the CBCC Executive Committee

We are looking for more CBCC members to be interviewed! Please email terezaurbankova@yahoo.com if you are interested.

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