breweries Poland

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 – 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


10 replies on “Polish beer – why isn’t it good? (Polish beer history part 1)”

its just your opinion, dude

the fact is, obcjetively, that the polish beer is one of the best of the world.

OBJECTIVELY, comments regarding the TASTE of “Polish” beer will always be subjective — particularly comments making a ruling on whether it is “one of the best of the world”.

SUBJECTIVELY, Polish beers can be overtly bitter, with an unsettling chemical bite, lack of length, unbalanced hoppiness at least to the Australian palate, and jack is a douche.

Hey guys, as any economist could have predicted – the fact to which you point out, ie. the average taste of polish beer due to the major brands being bought out by big multinationals, led to new small tasty brands sprouting out since recently. I particularly mean the “Ko?lak”, “Piwo ?ywe” and some polish white beers I don’t remember the names but who were not here before. try it!

Actually, if you want to taste really good polish alcohol, you should try the vodka, but the real taste of traditonal polish beer you can find ex. in beer called “Noteckie” which was produced a long time before the big companies started taking over polish brewaries, and its still produced the same way, try it! It’s far better then this commertial sh*t. Trust me, i know something about polish beer 😉

The reason is that, much like in the United States, large beer companies in Poland produce mass quantities for mass consumption, which means that beers are brewed so as to appeal to as many people as possible. A beer like bud light, or zywiec does exactly that, whereas a microbew whose appeal is determined more by novelty, quality, etc. might appeal to joe, but not to billy and sue (for whatever reason; including price). The same is true in any industry – things that are made for mass consumption are generally lacking in quality compared to products that are made for the “select few”, connoisseurs of beer in this case. Poland has a lot of very good regional, or microbrew beers some of which were already mentioned above. In the US, if I had my choice, I would only drink microbrews – the US has some of the best beer in the world IMO.

Polish dark beer is very good. If you look up Polish beers on BeerAdvocate, the majority of reviews agree with your views (most Polish lagers are rated bland, indistinguishable, clocking in at “mediocre”). We probably have communism to thank for this — the phrases “People’s Republic” and “innovative microbrewery” just don’t fit in the same sentence.

But Polish dark lagers are an exception. Okocim Porter clocks in at an “excellent” rating on BeerAdvocate (4.1), as does Zywiec Porter (4.0), while Okocim Palone, another dark lager from Poland, also scores well (3.7). These are the three most commonly-available dark beer brands in Poland, and international beer drinkers obviously hold them in high regard.

I can confirm this from my personal experience. Whenever I am in Poland — which is often — I stick to the dark lagers, which were rare or nonexistent in the postcommunist 1990s but are now ubiquitous. Any of the three beers I listed here would easily defeat Guinness in a blind taste-testing. So while pale lagers in Poland continue to be bland and indistinguishable from hundreds of mediocre European pale beers, their dark cousins (the so-called “Baltic Porter”) are experiencing a resurgence in both quality and availability. If you’re passionate about beer, don’t miss this phenomenon.

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