Becherovka: Standing the Test of Time

We take a look at this distinctive Czech digestif

Craig Monts

Written by Craig Monts Published on 21.08.2012 10:10:35 (updated on 21.08.2012) Reading time: 5 minutes

Alcoholic drinks, like garments and music, come in and out of fashion; over the years, the general public’s tastes change. Sometimes, these changes are due to external influences such the country’s seasonal differences or the economy. Or sometimes, let’s face it, it’s just about the all-important ‘cool factor’. Some brands just hit the spot when it comes to attracting people, by pinpointing their product’s unique selling point (USP) and passive-aggressively pushing those points to their target market. Clearly, a multi-national brand’s marketing plan would be a little more complex than the above, but you get the gist.

Some brands are blessed when it comes to USPs. Becherovka is definitely one of them. The beverage (in its earliest form) dates back to 1794, when it was known as Karlsbader Becherbitter. Becherbitter’s inventor, Josef Vitus Becher, was an Austrian/Hungarian chap with a keen palette. He was known to rent still houses (small, permanent buildings constructed specifically for distilling) where he would experiment with hard alcohol.

The savvy merchant came across a yellowy alcohol-spice mix and began selling it by the truckload to thirsty locals. The distinctive flat green bottled tipple received many accolades and awards; the affectionately named “Bitter Cup” earned the first prize at the 1900 World Fair after some skillful marketing from the Karlsbader Becherbitter team. Copycats were quick to jump on the “Bitter Cup” bandwagon, with many cheaper, low-quality imitators coming out of the woodwork, as well as many disputes over the exact recipe of the drink. By 1901, both the name and recipe had become the protected brand “Becherovka”. Josef’s son, Jan Becher, took control of his father’s colonial-goods shop and the production of the alcohol in the family house in 1838. This is considered to be the birth of Becherovka.

Becherovka: Standing the Test of Time

There have been few changes to the brand over its 200-year history. The 100% natural beverage is still sold in the distinctive green bottle, and still uses the same secret blend of around 32 herbs and spices. The Becherovka recipe has remained a closely guarded secret, with only two people privy to entire production processes. The brand has had its roots in the Czech City of Karlovy Vary since 1905, apparently utilizing the famous natural spring water found in the area in the recipe.

Although the contents and even the label design remain unchanged, it was important that Becherovka stayed relevant and pertinent to its customers in an ever-changing market. Nowadays, French-based pastis specialists Pernod Ricard own the Czech brand, and managed the marketing breath of fresh air the elderly “Bitter Cup” has recently enjoyed. Marek Grabovsky joined the Ricard ranks 3 years ago as a Brand Manager, and since January this year he’s been focusing on the Becherovka Original product.

How does one start to promote such an established brand to a market that has preconceptions about the product you’re pitching? Marek was under no disillusion about the brand’s situation and positioning. “Becherovka Lemond [Becherovka Original’s sister product] was my previous responsibility. Lemond is more focused on the younger audience. I found it fun and very inspiring to cooperate with young, talented people. But the [Becherovka Original] job was more challenging, as I was looking after a very important brand which is deeply rooted in the Czech history books. There was no room for mistakes!” Tense stuff, but Marek and his team were careful not to alienate the brand’s current loyal customers. “There were three of us working on this brand – great people on what turned out to be a great job. We were all from Czech Republic. Becherovka is quite a difficult brand, and for a foreigner it can sometimes be hard to understand the historical context.”

Marek was quick to point out how important it was to consider Becherovka’s history while reforming the 200 year-old brand. “We needed to be realistic; brand rejuvenation is a long-term process and it takes some time. Brand re-vamping is not a jump, but small steps forward. A step-by-step process,” Grabovsky continued. “Becherovka is a Czech brand, so we needed to reflect everything concerning Czech perception and history.” Marek and his team successfully revived the traditional brand and created a new positioning for the product.

The fairly recent Becherovka Lemond launch was very successful. One of the many marketing projects saw up and coming Czech & Slovak artists adding their own unique style to the classic bottle. It was an exciting and progressive stunt that caught the imagination of both the artists involved and the brand’s target audience. Marek and his team were bound by more restrictions when it came to the Becherovka Original re-vamp project. They opted for a series of refreshing, tasty cocktails. The team has come up with a number of delicious cocktails which, of course, feature the spicy tipple as the main ingredient. Each cocktail designed to tantalize your taste buds. Good thinking from Marek and his team, a simple and effective way of introducing a traditional product to a new market without alienating the brand’s loyal customers.



Becherovka: Standing the Test of Time

Probably the most popular Becherovka-based cocktail, Beton is a simple long cocktail that has been refreshing drinkers since its invention back in 1967.

4 cl Becherovka
slice of lemon (replace lemon with cucumber if desired)

Red Moon

Becherovka: Standing the Test of Time

A pleasantly refreshing long cocktail with the fruity black currant mixing deliciously with the herby Becherovka.

4 cl Becherovka
10 cl black currant juice
club soda
slice of orange

Magic Sunset

Becherovka: Standing the Test of Time

A summertime tipple. A two-tone cocktail that’s both pleasing to the palette and the eye!

4 cl Becherovka
15 cl orange juice
1 cl grenadine
orange or strawberry slice

So there you have it! A brief history lesson about the beverage, a sneak insight into the re-vamp process and even some cocktail recipes to enjoy in the summer sun.

Have you tried Becherovka? Share your thoughts with us below!

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