By Ayanna Craig
There is nothing like a cold pitcher of beer after a long walk through the city of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Zagreb has been ranked on the list of top ten locations of best brewers in the world by RateBeer, the world’s largest source of information regarding craft beer and its culture. Just like ordering a meal, people can walk into a pub, grab a menu and select a beer based off of the description of ingredients and flavors. Whether you are a traveler looking for something different, or a Purger (a resident of Zagreb) returning to enjoy the traditional flavors of the local brewer, craft beer is the perfect beverage to quench your thirst.
Craft Beer is produced by a small and independent brewery which prefers flavor and quality over quantity. Unlike the mass production, craft beer is known for its organic and high quality ingredients that keep travelers and locals coming back for more. Although Croatia is well-known for its great tasting wine and vineyards, Croatians’ daily selection revolves around beer. Every year, over 50 countries come together for the V. Hrvatsko Homebrew Prvenstvo, an international home brew competition with over 350 selections. According to information from Compare.com pulled by The Croatian Microbrewing Revolution, a Purger annually drinks around 135,7 liters of beer.
“The craft revolution is the beginning of a trend.” Co-owner of Craft Room Beer Goran Smiljanić stated when asked about the future of the craft beer industry in Zagreb. Craft Room is a traditional brewery located on Opatovina 35. With a presentation of a new beverage every Wednesday, Craft Room has become one of the most popular locations for home-made beer in Zagreb with hundreds of tourists and local visitors daily. “Craft Room is a project that came out of my imagination. It happened because Mladen makes it happen.” (Goran Smiljanić, personal communication, May 30 2016) With only 6 months in business, owner Mladen Spanac and Co-owner Goran Smiljanić have created a growing interest in the craft beer revolution as several businesses with big capital are now looking to turn it into a chain/franchise as early as the end of this year. “We started working with craft beer because we love it, but it is now transforming into a business deal.” (Goran Smiljanić, personal communication, May 30 2016). Although the craft revolution in Zagreb emerged just 2 years ago, it is only expanding as there are new developments and potential investors every day.
Medvedgrad, Zmajska Pivovara, Nova Runda and Varionica, were the first craft beer pioneers in Croatia. You will find these popular traditional Croatian flavors at nearly every pub in town as they are still increasing in popularity. Medvedgrad brewery is the oldest microbrewery in Zagreb. It is a family owned company that has been creating the finest beer for over 20 years. Their famous trademarks include beer such as Griča Vještica and Zlatni Medvjed that are sold all over Zagreb. Each beer is made with quality ingredients that are unfiltered and all natural. Medvedgrad was recognized for its success by Ratebeer magazine, which awarded Medvedgrad the best brewery in 2014.
Zmajska Pivovara, translated to mean “The Dragon Brewery,” was introduced shortly after. In its first year it was rated in the ten best newly open breweries in the world, with its Porter beer rating in the 15 best Porters in the world. The beer, Zmajska Pivovara, is made with dark chocolate, coffee, dried fruit and caramel. These are the aromas and tastes of this strong and balanced beer of classic English style. Six types of special malts were supplemented with a gallant hop variety which resulted in a pleasantly bitter aromatic brew. It’s a crowd favorite beverage, and the recipe continues to be handed down.
Nova Runda, translated to mean “another round,” is the third of the first microbrewers in Croatia. Nova Runda beers can be found all over Zagreb, as well as locations all across Split, Pula and Poreč. The founders of Nova Runda, Marko Filipin and Miroslav Šuvak, are home brewers with a passion for beer. Because Euro lagers have proven to be the governing beers in Croatia, Nova Runda is challenging this by focusing more on American ales. The company’s mission statement is clear: Croatian beer market is dominated by Euro lagers, and we want to change that. Our concept is based on the fresh, draft beer, and you can find our beers only in draft versions- no bottles. Our role models are American and UK brewers, so we are producing hoppy American ales, and one day we’ll be making cask ales as well. The signature beverage Nova Runda Brale is an American brown ale, made the Croatian way. It is a seasoned ale with 4.9 percent alcohol by volume, killing the myth that dark beers are heavy, as it is easy to drink. It has chocolate and roasty aromas but has a more bitter taste for those who do not favor a sweet taste. The citrusy finish stems from Chinook hops.
The last micro brewer is Varionica, founded by Matija Mrazek and Davor Simičić. After years of practicing and creating beer in the basement, the two finally joined the Croatian craft beer revolution in 2014. With a lighter amber color, Varionica offers Pale Ale tap beer with an aroma of hops, citrus and pine. It has a 5.2 percent of alcohol by volume and a 38 IBU (international bitterness units). “Varioncia is my favorite because it has a light taste, making it more enjoyable to drink,” says Petra Lukič, bartender at Craft Room. Varioncia microbrewery is currently producing a pine citrus scented ale as well as a coriander and orange scented Belgian wheat beer.
“I consider it a place from the people and for the people,” Josip Čulić, co-owner of Hop In Craft Beer Bar describes his business. Hop in Craft Beer bar is a pub that serves Zagreb’s finest home-made beers. Čulić started as a home brewer and is now looking to use his knowledge and skill to share with the public. Hop in Craft Beer Bar has only been in business for a month, but is packed with customers every evening. The name originates from “Hops,” the flavoring and stability agent in beer that imparts bitter, zesty or citric flavors. Hop in Craft Beer Bar is a great example of a new business on the rise to popularity due to its traditional beer. Each beer has a history behind its name, increasing the cultural immersion of beer to Croatia. Many home brewers are realizing the potential profit as craft beer is only increasing in popularity. Hop In has every Croatian original, Varionica, Nova Runda, Zmajska Porter and house beers.
Although Zagreb has already earned its name on the top ten breweries in the world, this city is still at the beginning of a long and successful road in the craft beer industry. Owners like Mladen Spanac from Craft Room and Josip Čulić from Hop In Craft Beer Bar each started as home brewers with a true passion for beer. They then used their gifts to share with the world, demonstrating that Craft beer in Zagreb is more than a business deal, it is part of Croatia’s culture.