Craft beers, as any fan will tell you, are the sort you sip and savour, perhaps reading a book in front of an open fire; they are not the sort of beers which you drink quickly nor excessively, for to do so would be unforgivably wasteful.
Generally speaking craft beers would be shunned by mainstream outlets- why would some major retail chain dedicate shelf space to such a limited product, knowing all too well that it would be gone that same day, and no new returning customers likely gained as a result? More acceptable for the profit line to focus on your core beers – in Croatia’s case these being those produced by Zagrebačka pivovara and Karlovačka pivovara, which include, respectively, Ožujsko, Tomislav, and Karlovačko.
Croatia has seen a craft beer boom within the past 2 years, a boom that was clearly long overdue. The country already had Velebitsko, both light and dark, coming out of Lika, and truly wonderful beers at that. Vukovarsko, as you would expect, coming from Vukovar, an unpasteurised beer, and so requiring that it be drunk not long after bottling. Any hostelry around the country, which stocks Vukovarsko, knows that a quick phone call, or post on social media, will ensure that it won’t spend too long in the fridge. And it’s that sort of brand awareness, however ‘underground’ it is, which tends to characterise craft beers.
And no article about Croatian beer is even possible without mentioning the Medvedgrad pivovara family – sundry beers, including the heady Grička vještica, and present in several locations around the capital (Mali Medo on Tkalčićeva, a place on Ilica and one way out towards Samobor) as well as (in recent months) in bottle form in pubs, cafes, clubs, and even on the shelves of Konzum (well, it is a Croatian mainstay after all).
The aforementioned boom has seen many actors involved – Zmajska pivovara, Nova runda, both giving some excellent IPAs, both on tap and bottled. Bujska pivovara is a tad more upmarket with its divine San Servolo, which comes in 3 types – light, red, dark. But while you’re paying a bit more for this than for other local beers, it’s no Grey Poupon you’re buying; you’re getting a kick for your kuna here. There are other small outfits, ABA 5th Element, BaD Brewery, and recently opened in Oroslavje, maybe an hour from Zagreb, Punkt, and they’re brewing their own beers for their own customers at their attached restaurant.
Within the city centre, without even having space or time to look at the suburbs, you have several great spots to try all of these beers and more – Tolkien’s (C-1) up on Opatovina is probably the first place you should visit, being Zagreb’s #1 beer-lover hang-out. Tituš (B-1), at the top of freshly renovated Mesnička has craft beers available, as well as a sort of bluesy-jazzy chic. Beertija (D-3), part of the Tvornica Kulture group, was opened specifically to cater to the ever-growing beer culture. You have Caffe Bar A'e (I-5), opposite the Velesajam Pavilions, Sheridan’s Irish Pub (I-3) which stocks imported Irish and European beers as well as the local stuff, and Zagreb’s newest craft beer pub, the Craft Room (C-1), which has opened in the premises of the former Kulinarijat, also up on Opatovina. And what’s on offer in terms of imports is set to increase that much more – keen readers will have already noted that the two main breweries listed above have changed hands in recent years, with Karlovačko recently rebranding as Heineken Croatia, and Zagrebačka being purchased by Molson Coors…this latter deal is important here, because Molson Coors have been buying up craft beer breweries around the world, and have now introduced their new products to the Croatian market (try Cork’s own Rebel Red, and trust us when we say that the bottled beer tastes just as if it were a freshly poured pint).
And it doesn’t end there, either! At least one company has made its plans known to set up a craft brewery to rival anything else present in the country right now… Exciting times!