Last Updated : 25/10/08
The March 2008 report is finally here!
t a guess, Croatia probably isn't the first place you'd think of for scooping beer and, in the main, you'd be right with most beer being produced by large multinational-owned concerns. Despite this, however, there are some decent beers around to be sampled by the adventurous tourist as well as superb scenery down towards Split and a peek into a corner of Europe most people know nothing about - or want to due to the scenes of war witnessed on TV during the 1990's.
I visited both Croatia and Slovenia in early 2003 with 5 others, mainly for the railways but also for the beer (pivo), and wrote one of my first ever "gen pages" about the trip which was also one of the first Foreign pages to be uploaded to Scoopergen when it burst onto the scene in May 2003... well, I needed something to fill the space!
Now I've finally been back to Zagreb, mainly to scoop the remaining heritage trams before a tidal wave of blue plastic tapeworm-looking junk sweeps them aside in the name of progress, and whilst there we managed to scratch a few beers too and get a proper sense of what the city is about. Consequently, I've rewritten this page after the visit with all the new gen added, but if you know anything else then please let me know... after all, we didn't find much to get excited about although that was expected!
Thanks to Marko (of Split) for all the corrections he's sent me and for ignoring my ignorance - cheers!
As I've stated, multinational beers rule with the three major producers being seen everywhere. Of them, Zagrebačka (owned by InBev) is by far the best, as their standard lager Ožujsko actually tastes of Slovenian Goldings whilst their dark beer, Tomislav, is a 7.3% stunner which can be found on draught at a select few bars in Zagreb (including the brewery tap, see above) and in bottle at a great deal more plus most supermarkets; Tomislav is the name of the first Croatian king who ruled over 1,000 years ago and his name adorns many squares, roads and bars all through the country. This particular beer is roughly based on the "Baltic Porter" style and is dark, sweetish and caramelly with a bitter finish and a good alcoholic kick meaning it's probably the best beer InBev produce anywhere! The winter beer, Bozčino, is basically a 6% version of Ožujsko with less hops and a more caramelly aftertaste.
Another major brewery, Karlovačka, (owned by Heineken) makes a standard lager with almost no flavour and has now discontinued production of the slightly better Crno which was very caramelly and smooth, and the Zimsko (winter) beer, formerly a mid-brown and fairly rich brew. I've sampled both of the main beers from Panonska in Koprivnica (owned by Carlsberg and now called Carlsberg Croatia!) which are pretty common throughout the country and also very bland; their standard lager, Pan, should really be called Pants and their other major beer, Podravka, is way too toffee-ish and laden with diacetyl to be serious.
Now to the more interesting brewers, the regionals and micros; we sampled beers from the Bohemia Pivovara which were distinctly average and not really worthy of the "Bohemian" connection. A new-ish micro (1997) called Ličanka from Donje Pazarište in the centre of Croatia produces tasty beers under the Velebitsko name which are becoming more common throughout the country maybe at the expense of some character. The beers from the large-ish Pivovara Osijek were generally thought to be the worst of the trip with a tasteless Svijetlo and a Crno which admitted to containing caramel on the can (we never saw it in bottles); I’d put money on it that it was just the Svijetlo with added caramel, which gave a tasteless dark beer (as opposed to a tasteless light one).
One decent beer was from Regent (now Tvornica) brewery; Svijetlo 5.2% was fairly bitter and tasty, with a generous dosing of hops - something quite rare in Croatian beers. Another small concern is Daruvarska in Daruvar whose Staročeško beers we felt to be fairly bland although we had a lot worse! We couldn't really understand the "Old Czech" connection with this brewery either; it seems like a few of them try and make connection with the quality beers from the Czech republic to try and create a market for their beers which the quality doesn't really deserve.
We tried some beers from
Jadranska in Split, a division of the
large Laško brewery from Slovenia, which were basically just versions of the
Laško beers; pretty boring really. Laško also allegedly have a plant in
Varaždin, but working out if this still
existed was almost impossible although there were a lot of Laško beers available
in town on our visit, so maybe it does brew? At least they have the
decency to put the source brewery on the cans and bottles so you can tell if
they are Slovenian or Croatian!
The only brewpub we found in Croatia was the Medvedgrad (city of bears) in Zagreb, which resembled a large German beerhalle. All 4 standard beers were on during our visit (the wheat not initially, but the barman came to our table to tell us it had come on as he realised we were there for the ticks!) and were the best we sampled in Croatia. Zlatni Medvjed (golden bear) was hoppy (Slovenian Goldings - very lemon jelly-ish) and bitter and of full malty body; Crna Kraljica was rich and roasted: Mrki Medvjed was probably a mix of the other 2 (not done on the bar as far as we could tell) and was superb whilst the wheat (pšenično) was not to my taste but the sip I had told me that it was very bubblegummy and wheaty.
Medvedgrad has now moved to Božidara Adžije 16 as of 2005 although a new brewpub has opened on the old site, namely Mini Pivovara i Pivnica Zlatno Pivo at Savska Cesta 56; to reach it take tram 4 from outside the main station (Glavni Kolodvor) going to Savski Most to the Zagrepčanka stop and the brewpub is obvious on the right hand side of the road, with large glass windows and brewing vessels visible, at the junction of Savska and Vukovarska. I'm not convinced that Zlatno still brews it's own and suspect the beer is simply rebadged Medvedgrad, but if anyone sees brewing occurring then please let me know...!
To reach the new Medvedgrad pub take a No.2 tram from the
central station, direction Črnomerec, to the Adžijina stop and from there
go under the rail bridge, follow the road, and you'll see the large building on
your right down a track after a few hundred metres. Medvedgrad are opening more beer halls
throughout the city, all supplied from their brewery which is now out of town
near Zabok, the first to the
north of the city centre is at Tkalčićeva 36 on the main tourist drag
We also scored a beer from Serbia on a train from Ljubljana to Zagreb, en-route to Beograd, so I checked out the buffet car, as you do. The crew were Serbian and my request for “dva piva, molim” (2 beers please) brought forth Beogradska Industrija Piva Premium Pils 5%, not too bad, it actually had a bit of hop taste and was reasonably balanced.
So, all in all, Croatia isn't a destination I’d recommend for the beer tourist but it is a fascinating place with some decent beer; if you’re there you won’t go thirsty, put it that way. Go for the scenery and to see at first hand a very disturbing snapshot of Europe’s very recent history but watch out for the dangers - there are still minefields and lots of bullet/shell holes in buildings as well as burnt out houses especially near Knin and Osijek, although these are now being repaired quickly as Croatia tries to join the European Union.
Gazza's 5 favourite beers in Croatia.
This is actually quite embarrassing as one of my best beers is from InBev, although in a country with few decent breweries it wasn't that difficult to pick some winners...
Medvedgrad Zlatni Medvjed ()
Medvedgrad Mrki Medvjed ( - in 2003)
Zagrebačka (InBev) Tomislav Pivo ()
Ličanka Velebitsko Svijetlo ()
Ličanka Velebitsko Tamno () - it scored 4 in 2003)
Breweries (Pivovara) in Croatia (Hrvatska)
This list was compiled by "Little" Andy Buchan before we visited the Balkans and updated by Marko from Split.
© Gazza 25/10/08 : v4.1