Polish beer – why isn’t it good? (Polish beer history part 1)

I’ve got a great fondness for Poland and the Poles, and starting this blog has finally motivated me to try and answer a long-standing question – Why isn’t Polish beer very good? Why are brewing traditions so strong in the Czech Republic and Germany but not (it seems) in Poland?

Zywiec

Zywiec – ubiquitous in Poland, now available in Wetherspoon’s pubs in the UK

Don’t get me wrong – Polish beer isn’t bad, it’s just that the big brands are not particularly impressive or original. I’ve tried most of the major Polish brews in my time (Zywiec, Lech, EB, Okocim, Tyskie to name a few) and have barely been able to tell the difference.

I thought this might have been my unsophisticated tastebuds, but a quick bit of internet research confirms that the vast majority of Polish brands are owned by 3 breweries, who are in turn owned by foreign multinationals who tend to specialise in bland lager;

  • SABMiller own Kompania Piwowarska, who make Lech and Tyskie (also Zubr and Debowe Mocne, which seem ubiquitous in London cornershops)
  • The Zywiec group is owned by Heineken, who also own Elbrewery (EB) and Warka
  • Carlsberg produce Okocim

Following the fall of communism, state-owned breweries were rapidly privatised and were a good target for merger activity, a process which is described in an academic paper by Michal Gorzynski – which accounts for the current position.

But were the breweries any good before this? I would love to find out more about this, but it would seem that the old state-owned breweries were even worse. Michal Gorzynski states that breweries in the early 90s started to produce beer of better quality. There has certainly been a huge growth in the beer market in Poland since privatisation (according to Rafal Tarnowski, “Industrial Relations in the Brewing Industry” beer sales rose 135% in the 1990s. Is this down to a triumph of marketing (check out the Zywiec link to see their award winning campaigns) or a better product?

Beer is certainly a young person’s drink in Poland – the over 30s tend to prefer vodka. Is the lack of excellent Polish brews down to the fantastic range and quality of the vodka?

An even more interesting question – given that a lot of modern day Poland was part of Germany, what happened to all the breweries?

More research to come on this (if anyone has some good sources of information, please let me know!).

In the meantime, here’s a link to a very informative site (in English) about the types of Polish beer, including a fascinating piece on the one “native” Polish beer, “grodziskie” or “Gratzer”, a top-fermented smoked wheatbeer. It also includes a list of Polish breweries, including some of the new exciting brew pubs. European beer guide – Polish breweries

Boak

Keeping a head on your pint – here comes the science

Scientists have carried out research into how a pint keeps (or loses) its head (BBC News Online). One of the scientists involves speculates that the long-lasting creamy head on Guinness might be the result of “a little surfactant“. Eugh.

Ochsenfurter Kauzen

The article also asserts that “the foam on a pint of lager quickly disappears”. Well, perhaps on a pint of Fosters in a dirty glass, but the head on a glass of lager in Germany sticks around for quite some time. And they’re not using “surfactant” – the sinister and secretive arbiters of the German Beer Purity Law wouldn’t stand for it.

Nice places to drink in Regensburg, East Bavaria

Kneitinger Bock

Regensburg is one of my favourite cities. It’s beautiful (a medieval bridge and town centre spanning the Danube) with an oddly “Latin” feel. Apparently it’s known as “the northernmost city of Italy”, which could be because of the mild climate, the Italian-style architecture, or perhaps the hundreds of Italian restaurants and ice-cream cafes.

One thing that is resolutely German, however, is the availability of fantastic beer. There are three breweries in town – Spital, Bishofshof and Kneitinger – plus lots of local producers with outlets in town. There are hundreds, if not thousands of places to drink, so these suggestions are not supposed to be exhaustive – just enough for a taster. See link below for a Google map of the area.

Spitalgarten

A large beer garden on one of Regensburg’s islands, serving, unsurprisingly, Spitalbrau. Helles and Weizen very nice, but the pils is outstanding – very distinct hop flavour and aroma, which distinguishes it from other beers of this style.

There’s another beer garden, “Alte Linde”, slightly closer to the town centre, which all the guidebooks rate. They serve Kneitinger.

Kneitinger

The brewery and pub are connected; the pub itself has several sections, from a rough and ready beer hall to a more upmarket restaurant area. It’s an interesting building – presumably it was once a stable or something similar, as the floor of the “beer hall” bit is cobbles. Kneitinger do an Edelpils, a Dunkel, and a Bock.

The Bock is something special – it’s dark, rich and chocolatey, and they’re justifiably proud of it. It’s featured in Michael “The Beerhunter” Jackson’s Great Beer Guide. Amazon link

Bishofshof

You can drink Bishofshof within the Bishofshof (Bishop’s Palace) itself. We also found a lovely quiet beer garden just round the corner from Kneitinger which had the full Bischofshof range together with Weltenberger Klosterbrau (the two breweries are related, though I don’t know who owns who). Weltenberger Barock-Dunkel and Dunkle-Weiss both make it into Michael Jackson’s 500.

Fuerstliches Brauhaus

This seems to be a spin-off from Thurn und Taxis, a brewery which used to be based in Regensburg. They brew their own on the premises and also stock the full T&T range. Nice airey beer hall, with a picturesque beer garden set in the T&T castle grounds.

Zum Augustiner

A beer hall and garden stocking Thurn & Taxis.

Links

Google Map of Regensburg with these pubs marked

Spital, including cheesy picture from Spital beer garden – check out the virtual brewery tour!

Kneitinger (in German)

Bischofshof (in German)

Weltenburger Kloster (in German)

 

Wikitravel – Regensburg

Boak