Poland and Central Europe’s Craft Beer revolution

Visit any international beer festival across western Europe and there is likely to be a handful of breweries from Central Europe, the Baltic states and Russia.  Even just a couple of years ago, the likelihood of encountering a brewery from Poland, Hungary, Slovenia or beyond at a beer festival was low.  And then the beer-revolution arrived from the east.  The Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia seemingly led the way by not simply opening a door and paving the way for a new generation of breweries to present its beers to a wider audience at beer festivals across Europe, but by firmly knocking the door from its hinges and arriving with an almighty hullabaloo.

The skill of the brewer and quality of the beers from the east was a shock to western palates.  It was Craft Beer brewed by a new generation of brewers who had little desire to replicate or preserve any national beer culture that may (or may not) have existed during their parents’ or grandparents’ generation.  The pre-Reunification beer culture happening east of the West German border developed and adapted slowly over many decades in only one or two small regions of brilliance; and nowadays, only a handful of important remnants from yesteryear’s beer and brewing habits remain to ensure today’s beer culture in the east retains a unique heritage and national identity.

It is towards the Central Europe countries of Poland and Hungary that many beer connoisseurs are now facing in thirsty anticipation of the next great beer, the next artisanal brewery, the next wave of developments that will influence beer recipes and consumer tastes across the world.  Both countries take a different approach and operate on a different level, of course, yet to the eyes of outsiders — Craft Beer fanatics across the rest of Europe — both countries appear to be on the same trajectory.

Poland, for example, is taking great steps to effortlessly establish itself as a centre of Craft Beer, a country of adept brewers and quality breweries, the next global destination for the beer-traveller eager to discover something new and unique.

Within only six years, the number of new breweries in Poland has doubled to around 235 (plus the so-called “gypsy” or “nomad” brewers), releasing about 1,700 new beers each year.  The number may not seem impressive when compared with the growth in number of breweries now operating in other countries, but Poland remains an emerging beer market on the verge of something big.

More importantly, however, is that Poland has been disengaged from the global Craft Beer culture for a long time, cut-off from the practices and procedures being used and developed in more established countries.  Much as many western countries developed Craft Beer through an active and passionate home-brewing scene, Poland’s homebrewers took their cue from the USA, learnt the basics, experimented, and created their own rules to kick-start a national Craft Beer movement that is still continuously learning from its more established peers in the brewing world across the world.  The dynamism and passion within the Polish Craft Beer movement is ensuring its growth is rapidly accelerating, though, and may potentially overtake the big players sometime soon with its unique tastes, styles and adaptations that are in some respects uniquely Polish and uniquely contemporary.

Poland still has its Baltic Porter and Grodziskie — a traditional beer made with smoked wheat malt — yet it is the crazy experimentation that separates the good from the great in the ever-changing world of beer-tastes.

Around 50 of Poland’s best Craft Beer brewers will be presenting their great beers at the biannual Warsaw Beer Festival, the autumn edition of which takes place on 25-27 October 2018 at the Legia Warsaw Municipal Stadium.

Warszawski Festiwal Piwa

(Photographs courtesy of Browar Maryensztadt)