After a couple of months hopping around the Baltics, it was time for us to head to Poland. Poland is a country we’ve both been to several times before and always been impressed by, so we were very excited to see what it would have to offer on the beer front. A very slow train took us from Lithuania to our first Polish stop in Białystok. While it was a pretty town with a magnificent palace and café-lined main street, it unfortunately didn’t offer too much in terms of decent beer. One exception was the excellent 33 Krany, a multi-tap craft bar featuring Polish microbreweries such as Pracownia and Łańcut.
Next, it was on to the nation’s capital, Warsaw. Like any European capital there are any number of identikit bars offering craft beer from around the world. However, we decided to go a little off-piste and headed to the Nowy Świat Pavilions, a somewhat hipster complex of bars and eateries offering everything from cheap shots to Vietnamese cuisine. Easily the best place for good beer was Szprycer, which had a superb selection of bottles from around Poland. My highlight was Inne Beczki Cookie Monster (7.8%), a delicious chocolate oatmeal stout.
Not for the first time during our trip, it transpired that during our time in Warsaw there was a beer festival taking place. Lotny Festiwal Piwa was held in the shadow of Poland’s national football stadium and the beer coolers were definitely working overtime on the hottest day of our travels so far – over 40°C! Around 25 of Poland’s smaller breweries defied the heat and there were some fantastic ales on offer. Polish beer at the moment resembles the UK scene a couple of years back, so there were plenty of strong stouts and sours to be found. These included the beer of the festival winner, the delightfully refreshing kiwi sour Browar Moczybroda Kiwibonga! (3.5%).
Our next stop was Łódź (pronounced “wudge”), a city once famous for its sizeable cloth industry. We’d heard from a few people that it wasn’t the most tourist-friendly of places, but we found the city to have plenty of attractions and the locals to be very amicable. Łódź’s Piotrkowska Street is one of the longest pedestrian thoroughfares in Europe at over 4km, but the best beer was located just off the main drag. The Piwoteka Narodowa brewpub had the best and largest selection, with 15 taps offering a handful of their own beers alongside some weird and wonderful guests.
A few days later, we were on the move again. This time Czestochowa was our home for the weekend, a convenient stopping place between Łódź and Krakow. We weren’t aware but it turns out that the city is a site of pilgrimage for about 5 million Catholics every year who come to worship the Black Madonna. Religion isn’t our thing, but luckily there was some good beer to be found too and we spent our Friday evening exploring the many small alleyways which house the city’s best bars.
The weekend over, it was time to head down to Krakow where we met up with a special guest – Poppy’s mum! We briefly braved the Old Town and its hordes of tourists, but most of our time was spent exploring some of the city’s quieter quarters. One of my favourite areas was Kazimierz, the old Jewish district, which is now home to some of Krakow’s best craft beer bars. Craftownia, Nowy Kraftowy and Beer Street all offered fantastic ranges, but for me the best was Omerta. This quirky Godfather-themed pub had two separate bars, each with their own selection of beers from Poland and beyond. I couldn’t resist a taste of beer from back home and sampled a very nice Weird Beard Zombie (4.5% stout).
The south of Poland is famous for its mountains, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend a few days escaping from city life. We stayed in Zakopane and were shocked at how busy it was, even during the week. After weeks of relentless heat, the weather turned awful during our three nights in town. There were a few bars to take shelter in when the rain got too bad, although unfortunately the beers weren’t the best we’d ever had. Nevertheless, in such beautiful surroundings we were happy to simply sit and admire the views.
As well as mountains, the area is home to two of Poland’s biggest breweries in Żywiec and Tyskie. We booked a brewery tour at the former (which wasn’t very different from any other large brewery) and opted to spend a few nights in nearby Bielsko-Biała. I’ll be honest and say it wasn’t a place I’d heard of before this trip, but having been there now I’d certainly recommend it! It was here, in Pigal bar, where I found probably my favourite beer from Poland – Les Cassis Fous/Szalone Porzeczki (5.6%). A collaboration between Browar Pinta and Belgium’s Oud Beersel, this wine barrel-aged blackcurrant sour had the perfect balance of tart and sweet.
An hour’s train ride brought us to our penultimate Polish stop, Katowice. Here we were introduced to the world of industrial tourism, with many of the city’s attractions centred around the former mining and metal industries. There’s plenty for beer lovers to enjoy too, with the likes of Biała Małpa, Absurdalna and Kontynuacja all offering excellent ranges, including a couple of beers served from handpumps! It was Browariat which had the best offering though, with craft beers from around the world at very reasonable prices.
Last but not least came Wrocław, probably the most picturesque city we visited in Poland with its magnificent central square. It also has a thriving craft beer scene and we could have easily spent our four days in town just exploring the different bars! I’m always a fan of trying beer direct from the source where possible, so top of my list was a trip to the Browar Stu Mostów brewery and taproom (beer geeks of Sheffield may remember them from a tap takeover at the Rutland Arms a couple of years ago). Here we got to try the local speciality style, Schöps, a very lightly-hopped beer with a slightly sweet flavour.
As I’m writing this, we’ve just arrived in the Czech Republic – a country famous of course for its lagers. Poppy’s very excited about this but it remains to be seen whether I can be convinced! As always, if you’d like to follow what we’ve been up to, you can follow our blog at hoppingaround.co.uk.