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

Hats off to Hamburger Union…

…for their short but sweet beer list. I’m not usu­al­ly one to plug restau­rant chains, but I was very impressed to see Hook Nor­ton Best Bit­ter on the menu, and the fact that they have both­ered to get a decent bit­ter in makes it a pop­u­lar choice for a sneaky bit of qual­i­ty junk­food.

They also have Pil­sner Urquell – the orig­i­nal pils.

Ham­burg­er Union home page

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