Spirits producers slowly recovering from 2012 methanol scandal

Photo: Filip Jandourek

Friday saw major producers of spirits in the Czech Republic announce their half year results. While for many sales and profits have gone up, the general echo of the methanol scandal, during which 47 Czechs died of alcohol poisoning and the subsequent short-term prohibition two years ago, left marks that can still be felt. Czechs are wearier of buying hard alcohol and liquor producers have been forced to adapt to the change in demand.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
It has been two years since the sudden and costly outbreak of bottles containing lethal amounts of methanol cost tens of lives in the Czech Republic and four in Poland. While the origin of the tragedy turned out to be a relatively small operation headed by two businessmen with connections to organized crime, the large number of deaths and the fact that the men used labels from various domestic producers left many Czechs suspicious of any bottle of hard alcohol, particularly rum and vodka.

Liquor distilleries had to adapt to the subsequent decrease in demand for hard alcohol and many chose to introduce lighter alcoholic beverages such as sparkling wine into their production lines and sought to increase export. This was not easy either, because of the deaths and subsequent media fallout in Poland and Slovakia, but recent sales indicate a gradual smoothing out of the situation and income is returning to pre-scandal figures, especially for well established brands.

Evidence can be seen in this year’s sales revenues of Jan Becher, one of the leading alcohol producers in the country, which have gone up by 9 percent to 1.4 billion CZK.

“We are very happy with our results over the past financial year. They have exceeded previous expectations and even slightly surpass the figures we were making before the prohibition 2012. The growing trend in the preference of quality and premium products in this country has certainly helped us,” Pavel Dvořáček, CEO of the company told news website ihned.cz.

Rudolf Jelínek, another traditional brand whose plum liquor is the most popular in the country, saw profits go up by 5 percent since last year. The country’s largest producer of rum, Stock Plzen, which was particularly heavily affected by the fallout from the methanol scandal, is recovering slower but overall sales are still high.

The previous Czech government issued a law on compulsory labeling of spirits last year, but intense discussions on easing the law have recently sprung up. The head of Stock Spirits Czech Republic Petr Pavlík hopes the law will remain as it is, because he feels that any moderation would help unethical producers. Being the primary producer of low priced quality liquor in the Czech Republic, Stock would have a lot to lose from any new reappearance of methanol.