Chroust Brewing, where “the beer speaks” for itself

Wife and husband duo Karolína (Kaya) and Jirka Chroustovský

Aside from classic beers like Pilsner Urquell or Kozel, Czechia is home to hundreds of microbreweries concocting unique craft brews. Operated by husband and wife duo Karolína (Kaya) and Jirka Chroustovský, Chroust has been brewing craft beers for the past seven years, with Kaya as their head brew master. The pair do not have their own brick and mortar location for their brewery, but rent space two hours outside of Prague at Clock Brewery (Pivovar CLOCK in Czech). You can find Chroust beer at various beer stores around the city, and on tap at restaurants such as Sandwich Rodeo and Big Smokers, which is where I met with Jirka to learn more about how the brewing business got started.

“I think the main part of us starting was because my wife was studying to be a brewer. I was this classic corporate guy, and after school I started working at Deloitte and City Bank, typical corporate jobs – but then I realized it really wasn’t for me. I started looking at different businesses that I could do, but since my wife was studying to be a brewer and we really love beer together, all of the business ideas were beer focussed.

“First, I tried to convince companies to do beer related sessions after work, so I would call businesses and see if they were interested in having a box of beer delivered to them once a week, and they all said ‘no, we don’t drink beer on the job’. After I called 20 companies, 19 said no, and I realized that this was not going to be our business.

“Then I started an e-commerce business with beer, and that also didn’t work so well. The margins were poor, and it was a lot of work – plus, the beer almost always got destroyed on the way to customers. DPD and PPL didn’t do the best job of packing the beer. But through that, I met a guy who owned a brewery – Ladislav Vrtiš from Raven brewery. We started going to beer festivals with the Raven stand and tapping beer. We actually made some money on the first festival we went to, and then we thought ‘okay, maybe this is the way to go’.

“Kaya (my wife), started working at Raven brewery, and from there, she came home one day and said ‘let’s do our own brewery’, and I thought ‘why not’. We bought our first kegs, and the story has been developing ever since.”

And how long has the brewery been open now?

“I think it’s going to be seven years now.”

It’s interesting that it’s your wife who is the head brewer, is this a unique thing in the beer industry here in Czechia, having a woman as a head brewer?

“Well, it’s still quite unique. When we started seven years ago, there were maybe five or six female brewers at the time that we knew. But as time has gone on, there are more female brewers. But they are still underrepresented in the industry compared to men.”

Karolína  (Kaya) Chroustovská | Photo: Pivovar Chroust

Has it presented any challenges for the business, or has it been an advantage?

“I think the beer speaks. People don’t really look at who is brewing the beer, but they taste it and decide if it’s good or not. If they get more into it, they might be surprised that a woman is making it. I actually think it’s been an advantage for us, because having a female brewer is interesting, it’s not ordinary or classic, so I think it’s been good for us.”

Can you tell me about the name of the brewery? In English Chroust translates to June bug, so what’s the significance there?

“Yea it’s May bug or June bug. But it’s my name – Jirka Chroustovský. We weren’t very inventive with the name, but since it’s the name my wife and I share, we thought we would name it according to us.”

You are currently brewing your beer two hours outside of Prague, correct?

“Yes. To explain, we don’t have our own brewery, we are what’s called a ‘contract brewery’. A contract brewery doesn’t have their own facility that they own, but use different breweries to brew their beer. We have used many breweries before, I counted it once and we have brewed beer in 20 breweries, until we started brewing where we are now – Clock brewery. We’ve purchased a bit of our own technology too. So now we have a base in this brewery, and bit of our own equipment.”

Karolína  (Kaya) and Jirka Chroustovský | Photo: Pivovar Chroust

Is it the goal for you and Kaya to one day have your own brewery?

“Selling beer is what drives the business, so we still have to sell the beer – that’s our main thing. But having a small brew pub right next to the brewery would be really nice, we’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. But as always, the problem is the money, you need to have ten or 20 million in your bank account.”

How is it right now to be a smaller scale brewery in Czechia? Is there a lot of competition? Or is it a community that helps each other?

“There is competition of course, because there is still a limited number of places that these kind of beers can be sold to. But I would say it’s not nasty competition or bad competition. It’s a small community of breweries, we all know each other. It’s difficult to be nasty to someone you know or have been drinking beer with. So we compete based on the beer and how good it is. If someone is in need actually, we like to help them if possible.”

Have you seen the beer culture change at all in Czechia with the emergence of more small craft breweries?

“I would say it’s still 98 percent the same as it used to be, but people have more variety now in what beer they can drink. Some people are really into that, and look for new flavours they can find, and we can provide that.”

Photo: Pivovar Chroust

And is that among all generations, or do you find that older generations are more bound to their traditional beers?

“It’s more difficult to reach the older generations. I wouldn’t say they’re stuck to their traditional beers, but they have less access to the newer beers. They don’t go to hipster pubs in Holešovice or in Letná where craft beer is really served. My experience is that if you offer craft beer to older people and explain to them that it’s not going to taste like normal beer, and it might be a bit fruitier because there are different hops, then they actually like the beer.”

“It’s quite difficult to reach these older generations, and usually it’s through word of mouth. But I think, that if craft beer is here to stay, which I’m pretty sure it will be, then it will eventually become intergenerational.”

If you were going to recommend one of your beers to someone who is not quite into the craft beer scene, which one would it be?

“I definitely would not recommend a lager, because it’s what they’re used to. I would probably recommend our ‘Hop-Topia’, because it looks like a normal beer, it has the bitterness of a normal beer, but it’s a bit fruitier because of the American hops that we put in, so there’s this special twist in it, but it’s not totally different than what they’re usually drinking. I think they might like this one.”