Craft Beer: A Boom of Local Flavours

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If you look around, you’ll easily notice that beer is the national drink number one in Croatia, traditionally an old wine country. Beer arrived a couple of centuries ago and put down roots all over the place. For a long while, steady industrial-scale beer production coexisted with local pubs that brewed crowd-pleasing beer on premises. The definition of beer was carved in stone – it’s that fizzy yellow lager thing found in all supermarkets and bars. Then a decade ago things began to change.
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Riding the wave already seen in other European countries, modelled after the American craft beer revolution, the beer scene in Croatia exploded in 2013. Winds of change started blowing from the small town of Buje in Istria, where San Servolo brewery was founded with the idea of offering a different kind of beer, to stand out among the uniformed lagers on the market. When their fancy label with unfiltered, unpasteurised and bottle-conditioned beer appeared, it was something else. Their success led to a whole beer themed resort, with the first and only beer spa in the country.


But the real big bang for beer happened when two craft breweries in the strictest sense of the term were established in Zagreb: Nova Runda and Zmajska. Who are these pioneers who changed the game? If you picture guys with lumberjack beards and Wayfarer glasses in flannel shirts, not quite. The leaders of the craft movement were just ordinary guys whose hobby was homebrewing, and they became very good at it. Both Andrej from Zmajska brewery and Miro and Marko from Nova Runda quit their well-paid jobs in IT, banking and engineering to chase a dream. After an inspiring crowdfunding campaign, Nova Runda launched their legendary American Pale Ale, paving the way for others. Zmajska followed with their benchmark Pale Ale. Only a year later, the highly influential RateBeer put Zmajska on their list of top 10 best up & coming breweries in the world.

Other craft breweries started popping up all over Croatia. Zagreb may have been the hub at first, with names like Varionica, Pulfer and Primarius, but wherever you are in Croatia, from Vinkovci to Dubrovnik, there’s surely an eager little brewery somewhere around. In Istria, Poreč-based Bura brewery was established in 2015; Kampanjola from Svetvinčenat still holds the title of the only certified organic beer in Croatia; while Fabrika from Vodnjan is the latest member to the regional craft family. Although they all make globally popular beer styles with international ingredients (most often ale because it allows a lot of experimenting), the best thing about craft breweries is that they always bring something authentic and original to the table. For example, San Servolo has a special edition blonde ale with truffles, while Brlog cooperative brewery from Zadar made a sour with the local marasca cherry.

Croatian craft beers

A great example of uniting the old and the new is Medvedgrad from Zagreb, the oldest existing microbrewery in Croatia. Since 1994 they have been making easy drinking lagers served as draft beer in their pubs. When the sons took over, they introduced a new vision. Suddenly, in addition to the old-school lagers there was a whole range of new beers for the next generation of beer geeks.

On the other hand, the equally prolific Garden Brewery is a modern venture. Initially established by an expat businessman to supply beer for his music festivals on the Adriatic coast, the hip brewery located in Zagreb’s industrial area became much more than just a plant for producing an alcoholic beverage. Garden is also known as a cool venue for daytime and night partying; it sells a whole lifestyle.

Beer bottles

Ten years later, Croatia’s beer scene is looking quite different. Although still a small niche, craft beer is definitely a force to be reckoned with. At the moment, there are around 80 craft breweries in Croatia. The quality bar is high and for the small size of the country, the number of labels on the market is impressive. Our palates are exposed to an amazing range of flavours and ever more bolder styles. You’ll find specialised beer shops (like Goblet and Ambasada in Zagreb or Craft Beer Shop in Medulin), craft beer bars (Valhalla in Zagreb, Leopold’s in Split and Gajba in Osijek), tap rooms, brewpubs, craft beer festivals, tastings and workshops. What everyone involved has in common is palpable enthusiasm for beer, good vibes and a sense of community.

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Bloggers, journalists, tourist guides, artists, entertainers and all kinds of hospitality experts and enthusiasts have gathered under the ValamArtists handle to lovingly bring you the best out of the Croatian holiday experience. Enjoy the ride!
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