The Slovenia Times

Size matters



It may escape most people's notice, but there are more than two breweries in Slovenia. And we're not talking about Celjski Grof, with their ludicrously pornographic adverts and even less palatable product. Neither are we paying any heed to the recent invaders, be they Austrian or Turkish (as in history, so in beer, it seems). And as for the various pubs that try to persuade the punters that their English or Irish ales bear any resemblance to the real product, well, you wouldn't drink a six-pack of champagne, would you? No, it's the rise of the microbrewery that deserves a little attention, and in a country where the fair trade office ruled that there was no hindrance of competition by the takeover of one of the two main brewers (Union) by the other (Lasko), giving the latter a 97% market share, this rise is surely to be welcomed. Like so many facets of modern consumer behaviour, the blossoming of microbreweries and their close relations, brewpubs, began in America. Back in the seventies, beer in the USA meant mass-produced, light-flavoured, anaemic lagers. You know the ones: they gave you a hangover before you got drunk. Then the Reagan years brought a demand for imported brands and designer beers. With their flash labels, suave marketing and foreign kudos, these beers were a major success. But they still tasted rubbish. And slowly this began to dawn on enthusiasts who had tried the original versions of some of the great European ales. Rejecting the export versions, they decided to create their own products, and relaunch brewing as the cottage industry it traditionally always had been. Armed with a little history, a little more investment, and a good deal of imagination, these dedicated craftsmen built and ran their own small breweries, with some also taking advantage of recent changes in legislation to open their own taverns, or brewpubs. Slowly, word spread: the beers made by microbreweries were vastly superior in flavour terms, with a more interesting range to boot. Indeed, it was the sheer range of products made by single breweries that did as much as anything else to popularise the concept: ales, lagers, porters, stouts, wheatbeers, barley wines, festive beers, traditional beers. Suddenly beer could attract as much study, debate and prejudice as wine. Taking their lead from the Americans, beer enthusiasts around the world have been launching microbreweries and brewpubs for two decades, particularly in areas where the traditional breweries had lost out to the megabrands. And Slovenia is no exception. Would it surprise you to learn that there are about forty micros in the country? They certainly keep a low profile. In fact the vast majority are in the form of brewpubs, which would partly explain the absence of scores of different Slovenian beers from the retail shelves. For some reason these brewpubs are mostly in the form of giant pizzerias in industrial estates, which is hardly the most enticing concept. And while the Primorska region appears to be home to many (perhaps feeding off the Italian beer trend), there are four in the Ljubljana area. So although I haven't yet had the chance to try the much-esteemed Gold in Sezana, I did manage to do a quick local tasting. Of these, the most impressive was Adam Ravbar, a well-known brewpub in Domzale. The svetlo was lightly carbonated, slightly floral, with a nutty finish and the fruity flavour that comes from using Slovenia's own Styrian Golding hops. Full marks for their expression of local flavours, and the clean finish and low carbonation make this a very refreshing beer. The temno had a clear roast coffee aroma, and was light bodied and not too sweet, which again makes it a good thirst-quencher. Another to look out for is Zlat' in Medvode, which rejects the industrial pizzeria look in favour of rather excessive rusticity. It still punts out the pizzas, though, as well as some more traditional dishes. Their beer is made from French barley, Hungarian yeast and Bavarian hops, all very European, but a little in violation of the local principle. Nevertheless, the svetlo has a creamy texture reminiscent of great Czech pilsner, and a bit more gas, while the dominant flavours are fruit and yeast. Indeed I was powerfully reminded of sparkling wine. The temno is a much milder beast, with more sweetness and a light, gassy body. Both breweries do just the two beers, and sadly this is now the case too at Kratochwill, whose exemplary summer-brewed wheatbeer is no longer available to quench a seasonal thirst. So, would I recommend them? By all means, yes. They've got to be worth a try, given the alternative. And if enough of us go along, ask questions, and support and value their work, then who knows what the future will bring? Perhaps a whole range of new local beers will burst forth, and drinkers will be able to have a joyful and meaningful debate about the merits of each. In the meantime I'll be returning to Adam Ravbar more often, on those hot days when only a beer will do.


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