Diving into the craft beer scene in eastern Europe
Water, malts, yeast and hops. In brewing process these basic ingredients are turned to beer, the most widely consumed alcohol drink in the world. Not all beers are the same, but on the contrary, they come with huge variety. Quantitatively, most of beer is made by large scale, multinational brewing giants, but on top them there are thousands and again thousands of small producers around the world. Craft breweries / microbreweries produce limited amount of beer, and typically are independently owned and quality-focused. You can learn more about craft beer and beer styles from www.craftbeer.com.
In this post we sum up our craft beer experiences in East Europe by countries, and introduce some great pubs and breweries. We will highlight some of our favorite beers from along the road, basically those for which we have given the best rating when tasting them. In the end you can find a short guide to tasting and rating beer.
It is said that the microbrewery movement began in UK during 1970s, but of course small scale artisan brewing has way longer roots centuries back. The easternmost parts of Europe have awoken to the craft beer boom a little late, just during past few years. In some eastern European counties the amount of microbreweries is still very limited, but growing fast.
While road tripping through Europe south and east from Finland, we have also been on a “beer hunt”, exploring the local craft beer scene. For rating the beers, we have mostly used Finnish app PintPlease, and for information gathering also more global RateBeer. We usually prefer ales over lagers, and are especially happy to taste new IPAs (indian pale ale) and APAs (american pale ale). We often consider fresh wheat beer as an excellent choice for hot and sunny afternoons. Actually we have even begun to like radler-type mixes of beer and lemon juice, enjoyed as a refreshing drink after a sweaty run.
Craft beers that we have tasted have been either consumed in beer restaurants or spotted from grocery stores. On top of that, we also have visited some brewpubs (meaning a pub that brews their own beers). When in Chisinau, Moldova, we had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours as guests at Litra Brewing Company, one of few craft beer producers in the country.
Visiting Litra Brewery in Chisinau
Litra Brewing was born in 2013, when the Litra brothers decided to conquer the hearts of Moldovans with hand crafted beer. Moldova for sure has long and strong history as a wine country, when it comes to beer, there are the usual few large scale commercial breweries but still only a few microbreweries today. Sergei Litra, the brewmaster, showed us around in the small brewery and brewpub, and explained that the total volume of the brewery is 40 000 liters per month, and that there are new and experimental products coming up all time.
Their mission is to educate the local market to craft beer and to create a wide range of various beer styles so that every beer drinker could find own favorite. When visiting Litra, there was an interesting brewing process ongoing. Sergei was making, together with a guest-star-brewmaster from Denmark (greetings to Jan and Knud 🙂 ) a new version of their awesome barley wine with grape juice as an ingredient. We got to taste the previous version, Tyask Barleywine 2016, made with red grapes. Such an interesting beer, somewhat wine-like, also reminds cider a bit, but has nicely biting bitterness. And a whopping 10 % ABV. Recommendation to this barleywine and other Litra products as well. Thanks for the visit Sergei, keep on rocking!
Craft beer tastings and recommendations by countries
In Finland the craft beer scene is flourishing right now, and new breweries are founded across the country. According to Suomen pienpanimot (site currently only in Finnish, sorry) there are more than 130 small producers at the moment. In our former hometown Oulu alone, there nowadays are four microbreweries and several restaurants and bars with craft beers in draft.
Before crossing the border to Estonia, we roamed couple of weeks around Southern Finland. Tasted some craft beers with friends in Paimio, Tampere and Helsinki, and found a decent pub serving products of few local breweries in Tammisaari.
Some of our favorites from Oulu are Kaira IPA by Maistila and Humalaja IPA by Sonnisaari brewery.
In Estonia we stayed few days on Saaremaa Island, and tasted some local craft beers of course. There actually are several breweries in Saaremaa and neighboring Hiidemaa Island, which is in line with the fact that throughout the country the craft beer scene has exploded. When in Tehumardi, we even planned to visit local Pöide Brewery, but it happened to be closed the day we were in town. When in Pärnu, we didn’t look for craft beer pubs, but bought some Estonian beers from grocery store.
Our favorites were Kolm Venda, IPA by Pihtla brewery in Saaremaa and Pöide Schlager, Amber Lager by Pöide brewery
Latvia and Lithuania
We only stopped in Latvia for two days on this road trip, but managed to taste some local beers when eating out in Cesis. Seems that the craft beer hype has not yet exploded Latvia, but surely especially in Riga you can find pubs with wide selection of both local and international craft beers, and new microbreweries are popping up constantly. We dived deeper in the Riga craft beer scene later on our travels, check out a separate post Riga for craft beer enthusiasts about that!
Our stay in Lithuania was also really short, so we don’t have that much craft beer experiences to share from there either. However, when in Kaunas we tried few local beers after having a dinner in downtown. Due to thunderstorm we kind of had to stay in the restaurant and keep tasting 🙂 Seems that there currently are all together around 80 breweries in the country by now, so craft beer clearly is going strong.
We gave the best rates to Lithuanian Raudonų Plytų Bėganti Kopa, witbier brewed by Švyturys.
Poland is a big country with really developed beer culture; there are around 350 breweries and craft beer scene is really thriving. Beer selection is just overwhelming, and in the bigger cities (well, probably also in the smaller) there are excellent beer houses with lines of craft beers both in draft and in bottles. If you visit Katowice, we recommend a bar called Biala Malpa; awesome selection of craft beers in draft and huge amount of bottles on top of course. And staff was professional and helpful.
In Poland we gave best rates to Hopernik APA by Microbrowan Reden, Hedge Hog Mango Wheat American IPA by Cystersóv Gryf, Pan IPAni by Brovar Trzech Kumpli, King of Hop APA by AleBrowar and Karuzela Chomiczówka APA by Browar Paltum.
It seems that Slovakia is also head over heels in the craft beer boom. Especially Bratislava has slowly become a beer lover’s paradice with new brewpubs and beer restaurants popping up. There are around 100 breweries in the country at the moment, and the number is rising. When in Bratislava, we stopped in Pivovar Shenk brewpub and in 100piv craft beer shop & pub. In Poprad we visited Tatra minibrewery and restaurant, and for the first time bought and actual tasting plate of 8 different craft beers in cute mini-mugs.
Best rated beer that we tasted in Slovakia was Unorthodox Wendigo West Coast IPA, brewed by Holíčsky Pivovar Wywar.
Hungary is better known as a wine country, but the craft beer scene definitely is sparkling as well. The boom is the strongest in Budapest, where the popularity of local craft beers has exploded during past few years. Before the boom, as in so many other countries, huge mass-breweries with somewhat dull products dominated. It’s kind of obvious that we didn’t have time to properly dive in to the craft beer scene during our short visit, but managed to taste couple of local delicacies in Budapest and Eger.
Highest points were given to pretty bitter but refreshing Rafa Sour IPA wild ale, brewed by Fehér Nyúl.
New microbreweries are founded in Romania as well, but the craft beer hype is not yet in fully blossom. Bucharest is the best bet for beer tourists, with several craft breweries and brewpubs. We were over three weeks in the country, but only visited one beer house, the Romanian Craft Beer Pub in Bucharest. Check it out when traveling to Bucharest, nice atmosphere and vide selection of craft beers.
Our favorite was West Coast IPA by Three Happy Brewers.
As written above, Moldova is not in the big league yet, but still has some newish craft breweries with quality products. On top of visiting Litra Brewery and brewpub, we found a great pub called Smokehouse in Chisinau. They had eight local beers on draft and wide selection in bottles, recommended!
Our favorites were the Victory Art Brew Tyask Barleywine by Litra and Aircraft IPA by Lumencraft brewery.
Ukraine is a huge country with more than 150 breweries. Craft beer revolution is ongoing there as well, and the center of the scene seems to be the capital Kiev, which we didn’t have chance to visit just yet. But we did find decent craft beer pubs in Odessa though, like Art-Craft Pub Downtown and Troubadour Brew Pub.
Best rated beers that we tasted were Hmelevus Weiss Hefeweizen by Cherninigivs’kyj Pizvavod and Doodle IPA by Troubadour.
Number of breweries is still relateively low in Bulgaria, but for sure also here the beer revolution is ongoing. Local microbreweries compete with so called client breweries, who order their beers from other breweries and import them then to Bulgaria. Sofia as the capital city surely has plenty of decent craft beer pubs nowadays, but we didn’t go there this time. Instead we admired the old town charm in Plovdiv and tasted some Bulgarian craft beers in pubs called Cat and Mouse and Beer Stop Pub.
Our favorites were Stolichno Weiss Hefeweizen by Pivovarna Zagorka and Glarus Premium Pale Ale Blind Ale by Glarus Craft Brewing Company.
When first visiting Macedonia few years back craft beers were not yet on the rise, and quite surprisingly the situation hasn’t changed that much still. The first Macedonian Craft Brewery, called Temov, has just started brewing in 2016 in Skopje. This family business operates in the old town just next to Skopje fortress, in a brewpub and restaurant called Old Town Brewery. It’s probably safe to say that in coming years the craft beer boom will spread wider and new microbreweries will be established in Macedonia.
Related post: Minsk for craft beer enthusiasts
Have you tasted microbrewery products in eastern Europe? Any comments or thoughts regarding craft beers around the world are very welcome!
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