Ah yes, one of those days again. I’ve written about last year’s beer festival in Maribor in one of my first posts. Now we’re all a year older and I won’t lie to you, I still like a good glass of beer. Problem is, good beer doesn’t come round that easy in our parts. You might think it’s good, but then you haven’t been to a good beer festival. It wasn’t that long ago that you could only get cheap big-brewery pilsners around here, the two big brands being Laško and Union. They’re not much different from every other Becks, Heineken or all those international Pisswassers. They’re good if you don’t have anything else at hand, but otherwise unimpressive.
It’s been like that for decades, and nobody really minded much. Then, a few years ago, some people obviously got tired of drinking bad beer and independent small-time craft breweries started popping up all over the place and they made some wacky stuff. Perhaps the most internationally acclaimed establishment in the field would be Bevog, which actually operates just across the border in Austria. Still, they’re run by a Slovenian outfit and their know-how has produced some rather splendid brews. Right around that time things started growing and we got a number of craft breweries to choose from – Human Fish, Pelicon and Tektonik, to name a few.
Beer lovers rejoiced as they finally had something of quality to drink and it was soon realised that a good beer festival would go a long way. Sure enough it did, and similar events can now be enjoyed in many cities across the country.
The Makro Beer Fest was the latest such event, hosted at Maribor’s Main Square, just outside the townhouse. Sad to say Maribor has seen better days in years gone by, so events like these are not only good for beer lovers, but for locals in general. It reminds them that the city has a lot to offer and that it’s streets can still be a good place to enjoy a friday evening.
The event was largely organised by Andej Krštinc, the owner of a nearby speciality beer shop called Pivarna. I really enjoy these old town style small shops and the people who run them. They provide a very emotional alternative to big retail chains and it’s a shame that huge malls and supermarket chains have largely displaced these places that were once full of character.
A call went out asking for volunteers to help setting up the last odds and ends on the morning before the event, and as I had nothing else to do, I decided to bike my way over and lend a hand. A couple of busy hours later we had the stalls and tables set, the brewers had all arrived and it was time to start pouring. I scored a few tasty beers along the way, then got paid in still more beer tokens. It turned out it was just enough to last me throughout the evening tasting rounds that were to follow.
As darkness fell upon Maribor, crowds came out to enjoy the early autumn night. The weather was perfect for the time of year and the square was bustling with activity.It was a real joy to see people experiencing beer in a completely new way – most were probably used to drinking it from a tankard or straight out of the bottle, and definitely not from what was essentially a wine glass. Still, the nature of craft beer is such that it’s best enjoyed slowly, sip by sip, taking in the smells, colours and tastes of the brew – much like good wine.
There were more than a dozen different breweries offering 3 or even more beers on tap, so you really couldn’t go through them all. Including offerings from local young guns Lobik, Zmajska pivovara from Zagreb, the well-established Tektonik, and some other chance picks. Drinking mostly big-brewery lagers, you soon forget how much can be got from combining water, yeast, hops and barley. There is endless variety and even within one style of beer the differences in character are incredible.
What is incredible is also the culture behind the craft brewing scene. You meet all sorts of interesting characters at such events. For the most part, people who appreciate this kind of beer are also slightly unique and free-thinking. They really care about their product because it’s a labour of love and hard work. On top of that it’s a huge financial undertaking to start a brewery and keep it running. That glass of beer is not only a good tasting drink, but also a story of dedication, commitment and personal pride. When drinking such brews, one can not look past the people who make it happen and it’s precisely this that adds the experience even more value.
I’m really glad to see craft beers making their way into the mainstream. It’s not quite there yet, but it’s out in force and showing no signs of stopping just yet. If there were only 2 or 3 different beers available a decade ago, we now have shops which provide a selection of products from around the world. There’s still some effort in procuring these brews, specially if you live outside bigger cities, but there is little that can stop a man in search of good beer. It surely looks like the demand is there, and we can hope the supply keeps up with the trend.
Have a look through the rest of the gallery and don’t forget to leave your own thoughts and impressions down below.