Sunday, 21 June 2009

In search of decent Polish beer

The Polish breweries are now mostly foreign owned. SAB Miller, Carlsberg, Heineken have snapped up the big brands and dominate the market. The few surviving local independent breweries have fallen on hard times.

The beers that are readily available tend to be sweet and heavy like a late-August afternoon; sunny, humid, with more than a hint of thunder, plenty of fruity smells in the air. Gone are the Polish beers that reminded me of British Light Ales and Pale Ales (remember those?) before the UK market went under a tide of taste-free fizzy lagers. (Thank God for real ales, however; but the saving grace of British brewing is to be found in Poland only in the largest urban hypermarkets and specialist shops, with beers from Shepherd Neame, Youngs and Fullers imported by John King).

Żywiec gives me dreadful headaches. Tyskie, which used to be a reliable tipple, is now little different to Lech, which to me tastes like a suspension of dust in sugary water. Warka is dreadfully sweet. Beers I liked have disappeared - Okocim Zagłoba, Heweliusz, Dojlidy Magnat.

So it was with a measure of optimism that I tried Okocim Premier Pils, recommended by my friend Krzysztof. Same old story - too sweet. On Saturday I came across something called Grand Imperial Porter - very dark, good head, strong - but ruined by what tasted like half a sackful of sugar added to it.

I conclude that sweetness is a measure of the Polish beer-drinking demographic - young and very young. The predominance on the market place of young beer drinkers has shaped the taste of the nation's ales.

Wherever Poles take their beer, there's always large plastic bottles of fruit syrops about. If an Englishman asked for a large dash of raspberry syrop in his beer, he'd be considered effeminate, to put it mildly. Here, you'll see many a shaven headed, bull-necked type knocking back the Tyskie, the Zywiec or the Lech discoloured by syropy, sugary goo.

The beer companies have not been slow to spot this, and have launched their own sugary fruit-flavour concoctions - 'beers' like Redd's, FreeQ, Gingers. And mainstream beers have become sweeter. New launches, like the 'English style' beer 'Dog in the Fog', posing as a 'smooth beer' (thinks draughtflow beer like Boddingtons), turn out to be ghastly in taste. Even the much-praised Perla from Lublin, said to have a strongly hoppy flavour, is actually quite lacking in hops. If you like hoppy beers, try the German Jever pils.

And so after 12 years in Poland my quaff of choice is not Polish, but Czech - Pilsner Urquell.


Dinolaure said...

Will try each one , one more to do list ... :-))

Aphelion said...

That sounds dreadful...time to build a beer pipeline from Bitburg, I think! :-)

pinolona said...

Zywiec gives me headaches too... I thought it was just my fault for drinking too much.
I like ginger syrup in beer because it takes away the bad taste you get from badly maintained barrels/pipes etc in the centre of Krakow.

When I worked in a pub in Bath as a student we had a lovely pale guest ale called Butcombe Blonde. Comedy name, fantastic beer.

Anonymous said...

You should try the non pasteurized
Polish Żywie from Amber Brewery


A. Belluzzo

Michael Dembinski said...

I have tried unpasteurised beers, but other than that brewed in the excellent Spiż brewpub in Wrocław, they are all too sweet (Kożlak, Mazur - yeuch!)

Bitburg - when I come across it in BP petrol stations, I buy it; but it's very rare. Good and hoppy.

U Szewca in Lublin - a real ale pub in the old town that's to be recommended, various UK guest ales.

Krzysztof H said...

Hej Michael,

Try Noteckie or Ciechan - those are my choice


Anonymous said...

I liked Lezajsk beer when I was in the southeast (Zamosc). Impossible to find in the north, though.

Going to the market, there is very little choice amongst the Polish beers. There are the brand-name Lech/Tyskie/Zywiec varieties, but far more no-name brands. I think the locals are far more interested in the alcohol content than the taste!

Rubeus said...

Michael - did you ever try beer from Jabłonowo brevery or Łomża ?
I discowery that in Konstancin exist a local brevvery !!! You can dirnk beer which they product in small pub/restaurant at Imbirowa street (neer Nowoursynowska )

Michael Dembinski said...

Rebeus - Your comment has prompted me to try a Łomża Export. And hey! It's not too sweet. First taste suggests it was brewed from left-over glue at a bookbinder's, but well-chilled, I found it refreshing after a long, hot, walk. Better than Lech and Tyskie.

Next up will be Perła from Lublin, much touted for its hop content. I've had two sessions in Lublin with Perła, both of which resulted in crippling headaches the next day (cf. Żywiec).