At the Hop: How Slovenia Rekindled its Love of Beer
08.04.2015 | Slovenia Estates
Slovenia may be known as a wine producing country but beer is mounting a spirited challenge! Until the last couple of years, you’d only really see the two domestic beers, Laško and Union. Recently, however, the choice has increased and craft beers from small independent breweries have become big news.
It took the emergence of a microbrewery launched by an Australian living in Slovenia to highlight the work of small scale brewers. Matthew Charlesworth set up the Human Fish brewery (the ‘human fish’ is a miniscule creature that lives in the caves of the Karst region of western Slovenia) and launched a beer of the same name which he persuaded a number of open-minded bar owners to serve. Now bars all over the country are selling this beer, and the others that the brewery produces.
There have long been independent brewers in Slovenia quietly making beer for their own consumption but the emergence of Human Fish served to really commercialise this hidden industry. Beer drinkers might have known about someone in their locality who was making beer, but they would have found it difficult to recommend a craft brewer elsewhere in the country.
That it took so long for Slovenians to capitalise on the demand for an alternative to the two mainstream beers seems odd when you know that the central part of the country is home to a significant hop growing area. In fact, Styrian Goldings (or Celeia as it is also known – Celeia being the Roman name for Celje, the nearest town to the hop fields) is the best known hop grown in Slovenia and is widely used by craft beer makers all over the world.
At one time you’d have to ask around to find out where these small breweries were. Now you’ll see chalkboards outside bars proudly announcing the availability of locally made ales. Want some beer to take home? No worries – Ljubljana’s Pivoljub and Pivoteka Za Popen’t, or Maribor’s Pivarna can satisfy that beer craving, offering some excellent bottled beers from around Slovenia.
As well as Human Fish, a few other brewers are putting Slovenia on the beer map. Bevog is actually located just over the border in Austria but it’s the brain-child of Slovenian Vasja Golar who found during the planning stages of Bevog that the wheels of Slovenian bureaucracy were turning too slowly in those days and decided instead to locate his fledgling enterprise across the border. Beer lovers can drink at Bevog’s brewery taproom just outside Bad Radkersburg, or look out for its products in specialist beer stores and at bars that specialise in craft beers such as Maribor’s Isabella Food & Wine, or Ljubljana’s Sir Williams Pub. With brews such as a smoked porter and an oatmeal stout, Bevog is certainly at the innovative and experimental end of the beer spectrum.
Beers from the Ajdovščina-based Pelicon brewery, Kamnik’s Mali Grad and Reservoir Dogs, who currently brew in Ajdovščina but hail from Nova Gorica, are also getting rave reviews and are finding stockists around Slovenia. They are proving that there’s more to beer than ‘svetlo’ and ‘temno’ (light and dark), producing pale ales, stouts, porters and IPAs among their varied offering. Ljubljana-based Tektonik have made it to the shelves of the supermarkets and its diverse range of beers are hugely popular, testifying to the fact that Slovenians have welcomed the craft beer trend with open arms.
Annual beer festivals held in Ljubljana and now Maribor (Pivarna is holding its now annual 2-day "micro beer festival in the city's main square at the end of September 2017) al are a sign of how popular craft beers are becoming and with more breweries setting up all the time, the future looks bright for beer lovers living in or visiting Slovenia.