“Stone the crows Paweł, is there nothing else we can do with all this grain than goddarned bison grass vodka? Even the bison are bored with it. Kurwa.” Well it’s funny you should say that Mariusz. I just got back from a trip to Oregon and Colorado, and you’ll never guess how they use it there.”
The Craft Beer Revolution (™ every craft brew company’s PR department) has swept through every Anglo-Saxon section of the globe in a veritable tidal wave of euphoric marketing and trend hype. When the largest nationwide chain of mass market discount boozers in the UK counts no fewer than a dozen officially recognised craft beers, you know you are in the eye of the hop storm; even traditional bastions of alcohol nobility such as France and Italy are slowly being convinced and conquered by the new nectar thirst. But what of the Wild East, what of the former communist heartland of potatoes, beetroot, vodka and crisp central European pilsners? Here I was in the Polish capital, Warsaw, thirsty and on the hunt for some good hoppage. A 48 hour snapshot of the local beer scene with no vodka, this is…
CUDA NA KIJU – Nowy Swiat 6/12:
Just off the plane, clear head, excited palate and 23°C blue sky sunshine – this bar could have been a single tap of Fosters at a Subway in suburban Southend and it would still have been our Valhalla in waiting. Fortunately for us, and in a remarkable twist of fortune favouring the brave and soon to be sunburnt, Cuda Na Kiju was the perfect start to the weekend’s beer exploration. A table in the sunshine just off the main drag, two hit-the-sweet-spot stone-baked pizzas and 16 taps of local and foreign liquid merriment made for the best start to a weekend since Ferris Bueller unwittingly contracted Ebola in order to skive off school. The slightly bizarre prosecco tap aside, the mix was heavily in favour of local beers, with a dash of Belgian, Norwegian and American curveballs thrown in to create a balanced palette. Saisons, gueuze, pale, IPA and stouts all featured equally and the super friendly bar staff were quick to offer both tasters and advice. Two flights of four beers each and two pizzas for £24 = winning – stick with us at the craps table baby, ‘cos we’re going places.
Bar score: 18/20 – a perfect start. Enjoyment is all about context, and whilst this bar didn’t have the best selection of beers I have ever seen and we didn’t party like Mötley Crüe, it was the absolute perfect start and a level of enjoyment that set us up for the whole weekend.
KUFLE I KAPSLE – Nowogrodzka 25:
The classic craft beer joint. Classic in every sense: classic chalkboard beer listing, classic bottles, Belgian and otherwise, classic mismatched eclectic furniture and classic proliferation of beards. As American-inspired as one can imagine, but minus the service or friendly beer camaraderie. The two servers show equally astronomic levels of disinterest and refuse to be engaged in any conversation about the brews on offer, despite the lack of clientele. Disappointing, and with another 4 bars to hit in just 36 hours, it makes me want to waste little time here. A flight of four tasters, admittedly good local beers and it’s do widzenia.
Bar score: 13/20 – craft-bar-by-numbers. Looks good, beers are good but the uninvited vibe made us leave rather than want to sample more. Large but ultimately uninspiring selection of Belgian (Rochefort, Delirium) or American classics (Anchor, Sierra Nevada). The 20 beers on tap were a nice mix, but nothing we were not to see at the other venues visited over the weekend. The most potential often brings the biggest disappointment (old Apache saying*)
PIW PAW 1 & 2:
BAM! 57 taps. 450 bottles. Opening hours – 24/7. No fancy words or sexy syntax, no attempt to reference beers or review the range: just three simple statistics. I recover my jaw from the floor, where a pool of drool the size of Lake Ontario has quickly formed, and pinch my forearm to the bone. Since I have not teleported to Portland or San Diego, I can only surmise that I have died and gone to beer geek heaven. But I am merely in its antechamber, as I soon find out. “You should go to our sister bar, it has 100 taps.” One. Hundred. Taps. See you later weaker sibling! [after a cheeky IPA, naturally, politesse oblige]
A short walk later, and there they are: one hundred taps on two rows behind the length of the ten metre bar, like two standing and kneeling rows of redcoat rifles about to face the spear-chucking might of the Zulu nation. This is an awe-inspiring sight. And thirst-inspiring. The beers are inviting, the staff appears knowledgeable, so what’s the catch? The serving sizes, sadly. There are no half pints, let alone thirds; and to my quite genuine surprise and uncontainable disappointment, there are no taster flights. This is a jagged ice pick to the beer lover’s heart. This basic inn stinked. One hundred beers and I can have only full pints. But hold on, what’s that you say, kind lady server of beers? You also do 5cl liqueur glass tasters for 1 złoty a pop?
*** evil machinations and whirring cogs in the empty space where my brain should be ***
“One hundred tasters please, one of each.”
Hell hath no fury like a beer hunter scorned, and I feel the smuggest of grins take over my face. Clearly this is not the first time this has happened, however, as the two barmaids get busy pouring with military precision. In fewer than 5 minutes, one hundred liqueur thimbles line the bar in a hoppy rainbow of gold, amber and black. There are five of us, and one hundred of them, so we decide to play beer roulette and each take every fifth glass. Amazingly, the taps are even in logical order of ascending ABV and style as saisons give way to lagers, followed by pale ales, IPAs and the heavies. By the time we reach the barleywine, imperial IPAs and oatmeal stouts our taste buds are annihilated and we have drunk two pints each in under half an hour. My stomach feels like an out of control mash tun and I am guessing that a Dutch oven may prove fatal tomorrow morning. But what fun, what high jinks.
Bar score: 17/20 – very little atmosphere, and I didn’t actually like the bars per se, but can you really argue with 100 taps and 24/7 opening? Nope. Spectacular choice, possibly the most variety I have ever seen in a bar.
CHMIELARNIA MULTITAP – Twarda 42:
The kind of bar you would never find in a million years unless you fell into a time continuum vorticised black hole. Or searched for craft beer in Warsaw on Google. In an obscure unmarked building, down a dark stairwell, with the interior decor of a Balkan whorehouse and bizarrely doubling as a Nepalese-Indian restaurant, I very nearly do an immediate about-turn before a lucky last-minute glance chances upon the beer board. And what a board it is, matched by the stunning contents of the fridge to its right. 11 of the 16 taps are of local offerings, but the remainder are a heady and impressive mix of Evil Twin, Mikkeller, Brew By Numbers and Kernel. Kernel! In a dingy basement on a dodgy Warsaw side street! And the fridge, the fridge! Stocked with more BBN and Kernel, as well as Partizan and Fourpure, this fridge is more Bermondsey than Bermondsey itself. I can last only two Browar Pinta beers and an Evil Twin Molotov Lite before the surroundings get the better of me. I cannot imagine this place packed, heaving with beer lovers in a happy, hoppy embrace. I have to go before my mood sinks as far underground as the bar itself.
Bar score: 13/20 – all 13 marks for the beer. The locale is not inviting, positively unwelcoming, there is no future in brothel/craft bar fusions.
JEDNA TRZECIA – Wilcza 52:
‘One Third ⅓’ is the name and it is at the third time of asking that I manage to get into the place, following its unexpected closure on day one and a much later than stated opening on day three. I soon find out that this is due to its relaunch, which is happening right now, with yours truly as the first customer. From the exterior signage’s loud proclamation that this is a ‘CRAFT BEER BAR’ and a squeaky clean polished interior, this is clearly a commercial venture rather than a labour of love. Sadly, neither the manager or the barmaid, both on their first shifts, know anything about any of the beers on tap or in the fridge so I am flying blind as I taste what is listed on the board as an IPA but is in reality a sour. Close. A placation bribe of some free nachos clears my mild annoyance and pushes me to order the unmistakeable bottle of AleSmith Grand Cru I spot in the back of the fridge. At £12 it is cheaper than it would be in London, and I decide to share it with an attractive and clearly hungover girl propping up the bar with her head in her hands. Two minutes and three sips later and she rises, Lazarus-like, from death’s door. My work here is done, this bar’s is not, clearly. After such an unexpectedly fine weekend of surprisingly good local craft beer, however, and brimming with sanctimonious snobbery, I will give it the benefit of the doubt and hope they can learn their chosen trade quickly.
Bar score: 14/20 – could do better, but with 8 taps and 100+ bottles still has potential.
An unexpected and resounding success, a choice of beers and bars to fill an entire weekend and slake even the driest thirst. This is a scene that caters to the novelty, the classic, the dirty and the upmarket beer connoisseur, but crucially one that offers plenty of good local options to complement the smattering of foreign imports that have made it into the country. Who needs vodka? Ok, we all do, but not this weekend.
Browar Pinta – possibly the BrewDog of the Polish craft scene, as much for its ubiquity as its reliability. The Atak Chmielu and Oto Mata IPAs were both excellently fresh, hoppy offerings and the Viva la Wita! a great witbier.
Califia IPA. Available in 5 of the 6 bars visited and the go-to drink to restore partial sanity to increasingly confused taste buds. A classic West Coast IPA.
LOST IN COMBAT:
Czarne Mleko – ‘Black Milk’ in Polish, brewery unknown; this was a beautifully viscous imperial milk stout, with an estimated abv of at least 10% but without any overwhelming alcohol trace. A lovely, if slightly rushed parting beverage offered by my co-taster of the AleSmith Grand Cru as the airport bus was about to leave. Sadly, due to Jedna Trzecia’s inaccurate beer board (or an unlikely anomaly on Untappd), it shall forever be the unknown soldier of the Warsaw craft weekend, taken down Platoonesquely by one last sniper bullet as the rescue chopper was taking off**.
* 100% pure lie
** possibly the kindest description ever bestowed upon any Ryanair flight.