Friday, 9 January 2015

On beer, consumer choice, and the Meaning of Life

Last night the boys from Błękitna Trójka (Third Polish Scout Troop from 1970s London) went for a beer or four at the PiwPaw on ul. Foksal, the splendid multi-tap bar boasting no fewer than 95 different beers on tap. This evening, a smaller delegation from the office visited the original PiwPaw on ul Parkingowa after work, which has a mere 50 different beers on tap.

These two bars are taking the multi-tap concept (as seen in Kufle i Kapsle on ul. Nowogrodzka and Cuda na kiju in the old communist party headquarters on Rondo de Palma) to new levels. Not 12 or 16 beers, but three times - eight times - more. Still, 12 different quality craft beers made by brewers passionate about making something memorable and excellent is a huge advance over what was the norm even three years ago. (Let us recall just how dire the beer was five years ago...)

The days when going for a beer meant a meagre choice between a small handful of mass-produced beers - made by industrial breweries and tailored for an aggregated consumer, defined by focus groups, produced down to a price not up to a standard - are over.

'PiwPaw' needs to be explained to non-Polish speakers. 'Pif-paf' is the onomatopoeic equivalent of the playground 'bang-bang' suggesting gun fire. The pronunciation 'peev-puv' and 'peef-puf' are almost identical. But there's another meaning. 'Piw' is the genitive plural of piwo (beer) - 'of the beers', or beers'. 'Paw' means peacock. So Piw Paw can mean 'The Peacock of Beers' or 'The beers' peacock'. As we can see in the logo (below).

The PiwPaw on Foksal has a range of ciders and perries at one end of the bar, dark porters and stouts at the other, and a wide spectrum of top- and bottom-fermented lagers, light ales, India Pale Ales and bitters in between. The PiwPaw on Parkingowa has a smaller range, though still massive by any measure (plus many bottled beers, so should you be unable to find what you like). You may think that all these unpasteurised* beers with their short shelf life would go off before the barrel's drained - but these bars are so wildly popular even on weekdays that the turnover of stock is satisfactory. [In stark contrast to the multitaps are traditional city-centre watering holes offering Lech-Żywiec-Tyskie; such places are either half-empty or totally dead.]

Helping you get that particular flavour, there's the option of a 1zł (18p) taster, a shot-glass filled with a beer sample. Try several, then buy a half-litre of the one(s) you fancy. Below: Atak Chmielu, ('hop attack') by Pinta, is a favourite of mine (along with King of Hop by AleBrowar). On the bar at PiwPaw on Foksal; in the background you can see around one-quarter of all the beer taps of this establishment.

Choice is what it's all about. The bar staff have been well trained in the stock; if you are after an American IPA with a high IBU (International Bitterness Units), you will be informed what does the trick. The Invisible Hand of the Free Market, which over the years has been denying choice through increasingly oligopolistic practices, has suddenly flipped and said to the consumer - sorry, this has been an anomaly, it's time to redress the imbalance.

Standing at the bar with a half-litre of Ox Bile, a beer from brewers Haust in Zielona Góra with an extraordinarily high IBU of 104, and a taste of, well, ox bile, I pondered on what this is all about - adventure, exploration, reaching out to try something new, pushing the envelope, learning. It is not about swilling back yet another meaningless glass of Tyskie. Which tastes like the last glass of Tyskie, which tastes like Lech. Or Okocim or Warka or Żywiec. [Note to bar person: Ox Bile is pronounced 'oks bajl', not 'ox bee-leh']

And how different the Ox Bile was from our previous round - Dupek żołędny, a dark IPA flavoured with... acorns, from Warsaw brewery Bazyliszek. Trying out such varied ales, made by tiny brewers who really care about giving the consumer something extra-special, become an infinitely greater event than just sitting about soaking in whatever product the global corporation thinks is right for our market.

The Meaning of Life? I think I stumbled upon it half-way through the second beer, but by the time I got home, I'm afraid I'd forgotten it.

* Louis Pasteur must be the only scientist to be name-checked for a process he invented and also for a product that has not undergone the process he invented! 

This time last year:
What's Cameron got against us Poles?

The time three years ago:
Anyone still remember the Przybyl case?

This time three years ago:
Wetlands midwinter meltdown

This time four years ago:
Jeziorki rail scenes, winter

This time five years ago:
Winter drivetime, Jeziorki

This time six years ago:
Kraków, a bit of winter sunshine


Joy said...

Thanks for explaining "PiwPaw" for us! :-) We love the new location on Folksal. I can't believe how much the beer scene has changed simply in the 2 years that we've lived in Warsaw. Just this week, I walked by a new multi-tap beer bar in Stare Miasto just off the rynek called "Same Krafty." Looks interesting!

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Joy

Will try Same Krafty - thanks for the tip!

Ian Wilcock said...

Also a new one in Natolin called train of beers (Pociag do Piwa) Warszawa, Dereniowa 2 which was pretty good. 10 taps from porter to IPA.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Ian Wilcock

Another one to discover! Incidentally, pociąg not only means 'train', it also means 'predilection' or 'fondness'. A good multi-tap name needs at least two meanings!

AndrzejK said...

The sad thing is that many bars and restaurants signed long term deals with the likes of Zywiec which in return for providing umbrellas, tables and chairs (of course bearing the Euro nats pee logo) are required to sell a beer which increasingly clients would prefer not to drink!

A large part of the success of speciality beers are the independant distribution companies, once it gets warmer and the "ogródki" are back on Foksal you can sit and watch the multitude of delivery vans.

What is interesting is that the revolution did not require any govnt or monopoly commission action as was the case with compulsory guest beers in UK tied houses.a said...

While there were a gratifying number of successful minority students who became outstanding lawyers, there were many others who failed, were dismissed or did not pass the bar.

Ian Wilcock said...

OK so fondness for beer as well, nice. I am going here tonight so will report back - Pod Mosteczkiem.

Wilkbury said...

what about trying L'Eroica Britannia beer this year in Bakewell, Peak District? Tickets are limited to 3000 riders for 2015 registration:

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Wilkbury

L'Eroica Britannia looks very interesting - and my 1985 Holdsworth Triath-Elan VS (with Campag groupset) is of the right vintage!

Sadly timing is tricky vis-a-vis my holiday schedules.. :-(

Wilkbury said...


just do the trick, please! It would be nice to meet you at the GBA.
Last year I thought GBA is not for me but I did it! I have managed to get there and back in three days, with the bike, tent, etc. against all odds...