Dave Hopkins, Matt Merrick
The ‘Beeb’ still haven’t come calling. I’m beginning to wonder if my wish of an all expense paid trip around the globe to drink damn good beer is becoming increasingly slim. Is it really too much to ask for – to be paid for gargling copious amounts whilst mildly managing to pretend what I’m talking about down a camera? Move over Mary, we’ve seen enough ‘soggy bottoms’!
(I mean, who knows, I could even end up on one of those ‘100 weird celebrity crush’ polls, perhaps.)
So, I usually try my hardest to avert the word ‘craft’ as I feel it gets too freely bandied around these days from pillar to post by brewers and beer lovers alike. Though it seems craft beer has arrived in Croatia, but through the side door. Just 15 breweries serve the country, 7 of which are large scale mass producers of your typical ‘Euro lager’ styles, whereby 2 are owned by, you guessed it, Heineken & Molson Coors respectively…but I’m not here to discuss big time Charlie.
The southern city of Dubrovnik is where I’ve been loitering on my latest travels, and where better to kick start my voyage of discovery into Croatian beer than a micro-brewery!? Dubrovnik Beer Company LTD is the city’s one and only brewery having started up in 2016 purely by a group of passionate local beer lovers.
Located in Dubrovnik’s harbour district of Gruz, DBC also operates as a tap room for beer nerds like myself plus travel companion and big brother James to drink straight from the source. Here you’ll find three core un-filtered and un-pasteurised beers, ‘Maestral’ 5.4% lager, ‘Fortunal’ a pale ale of the same strength and ‘Grego’ a milk stout at 4.8%, though it were two specials that we had in our sights. Firstly ‘Django’ 5.4% mango pale. I love the use of mango in beer, certainly if it’s executed the flavour’s full potential, therefore it’s something of a must-have among a line-up of pumps. I’m not let down by the presence of the mango, decently hopped with a balance of bitterness, and a waft of more mango on the aroma too but sadly a soapy mouth feel texture is the lasting impression. Cohering to the zesty vibe I follow up with the ‘Fortunal’ – once more a deliverance of hops and fruity notes with a pleasant orange citrus aroma but again I discover an odd soapy texture present. Perhaps my taste buds were a little off this day.
Forever the enthusiast though, I soon get chatting to Dario behind the bar “As a nation, we are beer drinkers but getting our products out there is a challenge we’re determined to achieve” Approximately one half of the adult population are beer consumers, but you’ll only find DBC’s products within Dubrovnik. “We supply a handful of bars and restaurants but aside from this if you wish to drink our beers we welcome anyone not just beer lovers to share in our passion here in the tap room. We’re completely new to this, we had no prior background into brewing before we started, they’re only 3 of us, furthermore we are each a brewer, barman & salesman”. Having only been brewing for 18 months it seems fair to appreciate DBC are yet to ease out of their collective honeymoon period.
Anyone heard of that little show, what’s it called Game of something? Apparently its all the rage…. just kidding! You can’t visit Dubrovnik and not sit and have your picture taken on the iron throne! The following day commenced with a four-hour walking and boat ‘GoT’ tour to visit some of the filming locations such as King’s Landing & Qarth. Truth is, it’s thirsty work doing that ‘Walk of Shame’ so we head for a drink at ‘Beer Factory’ a well-hidden quirky bar down a back street of the Old Town. Through the unassuming entrance leads to the bar which becomes lively at night, popular with both locals & tourists with an unexpected courtyard at the rear. A good selection of beer both draught and bottled is complimented by the reasonable price considering how central this is.
We kick things off with a recommendation from the barmaid described as a hoppy IPA was in fact a lager according to the bottle – great label mind – ‘Baltazar’ from Pivovara Medvedgrad brewery based in the capital of Zagreb. It’s a thirst quencher, it had flavour! A sweet malty 5.4% pale follows this time from another Zagreb micro-brewery, Zmajska Pivovara. Scanning the near page long menu and spying everyone else’s drink who surround us its becoming clear that what Dario informed us earlier about being a beer drinking nation is certainly true, no fancy cocktails here, it’s always a welcome sight both men & women enjoying beer.
Time for a few more before we head to our next port of call and of course two bowls of chips to soak it all up, spot the British! ‘Fakin IPA’ – a smooth porter once more coming from the latter two breweries mentioned. An American style IPA which boasted the usual characteristics of this style, big bold aroma and much the bitterness. Scanning the label, I notice that dry hopping was one such method used to create this IPA – dry hopping lends itself to utilize the hop aroma which is traditional for this style of beer. It’s the first beer of the trip that provides a little detail into how the end product was achieved. It is just that extra touch that captivates me and connects me with the beer I’m drinking. Discussing our opinions, we agree the aroma cannot be faulted as a result of the dry hopping but sadly we confess to not finding much flavour going on, overall, it’s a tad too bitter for our palates. Finishing on a dark beer as I tend to do nowadays, the porter becomes a stand out of the trip so far, smooth, sweet, and hints of coffee. The Beer Factory is a hidden oasis of a gem and recommended if you find yourself wondering the streets of the Old town, oh and try the chips!
Gastro shop ‘Pomalo’ is a must for beer lovers in Dubrovnik! Whether your looking for locally crafted artisan products such as marmalades, pickled vegetables, barbeque sauces etc or still thirsty for Croatian craft then Pomalo has you covered. Located once more in the belly of the Old Town hidden amongst the charming alleys, Pomalo can be tricky to find but once you do it’s like unearthing a speakeasy you never knew existed. Shelves and fridges stocked full of a great range of beers are further complimented by the passionate and knowledgeable manager Anna.
As we enter the shop a big friendly American welcome is waiting. The place is quite compact, allowing space for a handful of customers to wander, there’s a nice private feel to the place, immediately you feel welcome, everybody’s friends here. We start things off with a 6.7% Milkshake IPA from The Garden Brewery, recommended by Anna. We’re told that we’re more than welcome to crack open and kick back in the shop or sit outside, but where? We didn’t spot any tables in this narrow alley. Cushions appear from behind the counter and we’re informed the stairs outside in the alley is a great hangout to drink and soak up the atmosphere of the Old Town, boy was she right not only about the unusual seating arrangements but the beer also! Its super milky texture is further enhanced with a sweet flavour of strawberries and cream, with some mango and vanilla attacking the nostrils, a right little juice box, it’s everything you expect from the name. It’s one for the notebook, we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for more Garden Brewery gems.
Meaning ‘to take it easy’ It’s easy to forget that Pomalo isn’t a bar but a bottle shop that feels a little like hanging out round your pals. Naturally it’s cheaper than any bar in the Old Town, and with the infectious Anna at the helm joined by friendly local Petar,she is only too pleased to offer her expertise. Snacks have appeared which are shared out and engaging conversation is flowing from our hospitable hosts. Anna hails from Birmingham, Alabama and admits she fell into the trade whilst travelling and studying in Europe. She met her now husband here in Dubrovnik who also is a barman. She laughs “When you’ve been a barman for 20 years in Dubrovnik, everyone knows you!”
Really, I can’t praise our gracious hosts enough, after spending the best part of the evening in their shop and many many rounds later we’re told of a local craft beer festival happening later this week that we might be interested in, the address is scribbled on the back of a receipt and were told Pomalo will be in attendance, of course we’re getting involved!
Whilst grabbing a bite to eat in charming little restaurant ‘Peppers’ the following evening, (a must for foodies) to our delight we have chance to sample the full range from The Garden Brewery. One such beer certainly worth mentioning is the ‘Citrus IPA’ 7.2% I will simply leave this here as ‘Elvis Juice vol#2’ if you know, you know!
A short 15-minute walk to nearby ‘Babin Kuk’, the beer festival hosted at a camp site is already in full swing, it’s Friday night, it is our first international beer festival, we’re keen to get started. A simple set up, stage for live music at the front, drinkers in the middle and pop up bars skirting the edges. Our first tipple sees us off to a flyer, Barba pale 5.4% from Lab Split brewery, “a couple more of these and I’ll be doing the caterpillar” – James.
Speaking to the guys from Lab Split it’s clear how proud they are to be here serving their offerings and chatting to like minded drinkers. In the pale I am inform it boasts 3 of the most popular hops from America – Cascade, Simcoe & Mosaic. I’m suitably impressed already by his knowledge but by this little pale too, when you’re dealing with these kinds of hops, especially when combined it can create an overly bitter beer in my opinion however its well balanced, light and above all highly drinkable. Mosaic just so happens to be one of James’s favourite hops, its earthy fruity flavour and floral aroma is instantly recognisable.
Affected by the pale, and touched by the enthusiasm from the guys at Lab Split we head back to their stall to sample the 7% Barba IPA. All the beers here are served via key-keg dispense method and they continue to tick boxes. As we glug on this juicy IPA it’s evident how keen the brewers from these micro-breweries are to push forward the craft beer scene here in Croatia. Their take on American pale ales and IPA’s are as good as any I have tried. They recognise an audience out here, and fair play, they are trying to rival established breweries across the globe with their take on craft beer. I’m certain its only a matter of time we see the likes of Lab Split and The Garden Brewery reach Birmingham and beyond.
WORDS: Matt Merrick