A green thumb and an organic chemist are crafting some of Czechia's finest spirits

Landcraft distillery is part of a delicious project designed to boost the growth and visibility of small craft food and beverage producers.

Morgan Childs

Written by Morgan Childs Published on 25.10.2023 14:13:00 (updated on 13.12.2023) Reading time: 4 minutes

If you think you enjoy your job, have a chat with Ondřej Kopička. Whirling his sedan through the fields just northwest of Prague with the car windows rolled all the way down, Kopička tells me the tale of how he and his business partner, Petr Alexander, came to found Landcraft, the boutique distillery based in the village Tursko. 

Kopička, a sometime “traveling agriculturalist” who satisfied his green thumb by mowing the lawns and tending the crops on private properties, and Alexander, an organic chemist and coordinator of the Life Sciences Film Festival, decided to monetize their boozemaking side hustle during the pandemic. Now business is booming, and rather than monitoring the bottom line, both men are trying their best to keep doing what they enjoy most. 

“The ultimate purpose is to have fun,” Kopička says. “To do the things that we want to do and not to get stuck in an endless-growth rat-race system, you know?” 

Enter: Crafted for Friends, an initiative of Prague’s largest restaurant, Červený Jelen, designed to boost the growth and visibility of small “craft” food and beverage companies on the Czech market. The Crafted for Friends portfolio includes Živina, makers of health-conscious pantry staples, the Real Meat Society, which touts itself as “Prague's only certified bio butcher shop,” and coffee roastery Dos Mundos. As members of the group, and with the support of Červený Jelen, these small companies can focus on what they do best.

Crafted by Friend portfolio includes health-conscious pantry staples by Živina.
Crafted for Friends portfolio includes health-conscious pantry staples by Živina.

“Crafted for Friends is based on the philosophy that together we can achieve more than we can alone,” said Katarína Machytková, the director of the project. The food and beverage brands in the portfolio represent a vast array of products and specializations, and Machytková notes that this diversity allows for a “strong and open alliance” of entrepreneurs. “This alliance is committed to supporting its members in their growth and development, as well as expanding awareness of the Czech craft industry internationally,” Machytková said. 

According to Kopička, Landcraft is growing “by accident.” Step foot into Landcraft HQ, and it’s clear that Alexander and Kopička have their hands full—quite literally.

The distillery is stacked high with jars of dried herbs and plastic buckets of macerating roots, seeds, spices, and leaves. In the backyard, the owners maintain a small vineyard. They now employ a team of five. What was, just three years ago, little more than a hobbyist outfit now distributes hand-crafted gins, vermouths, tonics, and an evolving catalog of one-off liquors and distillates across the country, as well as to the U.S., Hungary, Japan, and Thailand. 

Yet the duo still grow the lion’s share of their own ingredients and keep their own bees. “You can only grow so many botanicals in your garden or in your field,” Kopička said. “And, of course, you can expand your production. But I think the biggest question behind [that] is what you're actually doing. Is the purpose of what you're doing making money, or is it to have fun and make some money on the way?”

As Alexander poured a snifter of Super Pommeau, an intensely concentrated apple liqueur, Kopička recalled a conversation his business partner had had with a potential investor, who was curious to know how the duo planned to scale up their production. Alexander had taken the question as an opportunity to explain how Super Pommeau is made.

“Petr said, first we take these heirloom apples….we contact the people who have them,” Kopička said. “We prune the orchards, then we pick the apples, then we crush them, then we juice them. And then we cook the juice for three days.” He explained to the investor that they fortified the caramelized apple juice with two-year-old Landcraft brandy, then sealed the mixture in a barrel to let it fortify for another two years.

“The guy looked at him funny and said, ‘Okay, okay, now the real story,’” Kopička said. Laughing, he recalled that Alexander had raised his apple-stained hands and dirtied fingernails and shouted, “You [expletive] idiot, look at my hands!”

Neither of Landcraft’s co-owners dream of scaling the company’s production beyond the size at which they can keep their hands in the dirt. But as Landcraft continues to grow, they believe Crafted for Friends can support its evolution. And the craft distillery now finds itself in the company of a dozen other promising Czech brands, many of which face similar challenges as they develop on the (famously bureaucratic) Czech market. 

That’s a relief for Kopička, who professes a desire to remain as close to the land, and as far away from paperwork, as possible.

“We’re really more herbs people and apples people and bees people and molecules people,” he said.

This article was written in association with Červený Jelen. To read more about our partner content policies see here.

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