I don’t drink beer myself (it’s too bitter for my liking), but when I was documenting its history and production in Slovakia, I met so many wonderful people with such a great passion for what they did that I really feel tempted to give it another try. If I do, I’ll certainly go for small brewery labels, which are more expensive but, as the experts say, you’ll get more character and goodness in a couple of these curvy, original bottles than in a pack of mass-produced beer cans.
Despite its diminutive size, Slovakia has more than 50 small breweries (or micro-breweries, as they are often called in English) on top of two medium-sized Slovak companies with a long beer-making tradition, and two giant corporations that produce ‘eurobeer’, as our beer gourmets often say with a scorn. I’m not the right person to judge the contents, but I like the variety of colours, shapes and labels small breweries bring to the market. Like the ones above and below, which I had a pleasure to shoot at Na siedmom schode beer bar in Žilina.
On my travels around Slovakia, I learned a lot about the art of beer making. I was told that, unlike well-known European breweries, whose beer is sold in most shops and supermarkets, the ‘craft beer’ from small breweries is unfiltered and unpasteurized, which is why it is sold ‘on the spot’. In practice, it means that you can taste it in a pub or an inn adjacent to the brewery, and it often comes with wonderful local food. Turák & vnuk Brewery in Stará Turá only opened last summer, but it has already grown a sizeable body of regular visitors.
Slovak pubs that I remember from my childhood were scruffy, smoke-filled places frequented by working class men. Women weren’t encouraged to join in, so when Mum had sent us to call Dad for a Sunday lunch, we patiently stood at the door until he took notice. My university encounters with pubs weren’t much better either. I did take part in a few nights out with my classmates, but felt like a fish out of water, although I have to admit I liked (and still do) a large glass of kofola after a stressful day at school, or a long hiking trip in the mountains. Kofola is a Slovak trademark that resembles Coke in colour, but it tastes different and has much less sugar in it. It’s been sold on draught in our pubs for – well, as long as my memory can travel back in time.
When doing my research on Slovak beer on the Internet, I came across a quaint-looking small pub that immediately caught my attention. I was curious to see the place, so I invited my son there for a pint on his birthday. What a delight it was to feel and savour the unique historical ambience of Múzejný pivovar pub near Bratislava!
Not only did I change my view on Slovak pub culture, but I also took a few pictures for the forthcoming book. My son was a connoisseur; he had a chance to taste a new brand of high quality beer, and he was happy to show me what a good draught looks like.
Can you guess what he said the secret behind a well-draught beer was?