Our tour around Europe has sadly now come to an end, but we’ve had a fantastic five-and-a-bit months traversing the continent and exploring the beer scenes old and new. Poppy and I are back in the UK for now – until we’ve saved up enough to go again at least! In the meantime, we’ve got plenty of festival volunteering to keep us busy – as I write this, Steel City Beer Festival is just a few days away and I’m sure it will be a success as always.
After the land of (admittedly rather good) lager that was the Czech Republic, the next stop on our tour was Slovakia. I had visited the capital, Bratislava, last year for a couple of nights so I knew there were a few new breweries popping up, but we wanted to see what the rest of the country had to offer too. First up was Trenčín, just over the Czech border. This was a unique stop on our trip; thanks to the extortionate accommodation prices, we only booked a single night. Nevertheless, we were determined to explore as much as we could in our limited time.
Predictably, our bus arrived into town almost an hour late, our short sojourn already shorter. The weather was terrible too, torrential rain pouring down. Unperturbed, we dropped off our bags and headed straight out. Sokolovna Pub, not far from the football stadium, was our first port of call and a good one it was too, with its varied range of local and international beers and stunning views of the 13th-century Trenčín Castle that looms over the town.
The highlight though was Lanius, a brewpub and restaurant on the main square. I’m not usually a fan of these brewpubs with their one light beer, one dark beer and (if you’re lucky) a wheat beer, but this one was a pleasant change. Alongside the lagers, there were various styles from around Europe: classic British-style ales, Belgian wits and German goses, all pretty enjoyable and reasonably priced.
Our 24 hours in Trenčín at an end, we headed to the railway station and boarded the very busy train to Piešťany. The town is known more for its abundance of spas and thermal springs, but we were here for the locally brewed beers. A pleasant stroll down the River Váh brought us to Piešťanský Pivovar, the home of ŽiWELL brewery. We spent the evening sampling the various offerings, along with some delicious pub grub. I particularly enjoyed Vandal (6.1%), a classic US-style IPA packed with citrusy Cascade and piney Chinook hops. Poppy, meanwhile, was a fan of the Black Elder Radler (3.4%), a refreshing low-ABV beer with elderflower syrup.
As nice a town as Piešťany was, there was precious little in the way of beer apart from the brewery, so a couple of days later we hopped back on the train to Trnava. Known as “Little Rome” for the abundance of churches within its walls, the city is also the home of Pivovar Sessler, a small brewery on the edge of town. The rains of Trenčín had been replaced by blazing sunshine and temperatures of over 30°C, so rather than walk out to the brewery itself, we decided just to visit the tap room in town instead.
At first glance, Krym seemed more like a pizza restaurant than a brewery tap, but it did indeed have four Sessler beers on offer. The brewery specialises in unpasteurised, unfiltered lagers and we diligently tried them all, from the light, bitter Trnavan 10° (3.7%) to the rich, slightly tart Svetlý špeciál 20° (7%). Most interesting though was the “rezané pivo” or “cut beer” – similar to a black and tan, but the top layer of Guinness was replaced by the brewery’s own dark lager for a striking visual effect.
Slovak beer so far had been solid if not especially exciting, so I was looking forward to getting back to Bratislava where I knew there were some great beers to be found. First though, we had to check into our hostel – this was Poppy’s first time sleeping in a shared dormitory and I don’t think it’s an experience she’s in a rush to repeat! Luckily, just a couple of minutes’ walk down the street was one of my favourite bars from my previous visit, Kollarko. It was exceptionally busy when we arrived, but we managed to find a table and enjoyed beers from some of Slovakia’s finest craft breweries such as JAMA and Beer Division.
However, the really good stuff was to be found in Bratislava’s Old Town. Žil Verne, with its walls decorated with scenes from some of Jules Verne’s most famous novels, offered 8 taps from mostly local breweries. We both chose beers from Hellstork: Poppy opted for the tart, refreshing Miami Weisse raspberry sour (3%), while I had the equally excellent MicroIPA (3.2%), which was hazy, juicy and full of flavour despite the low ABV. Directly opposite was Be Unorthodox, the tap room for Unorthodox Brewery; as well as six of their own beers, there were also a handful of international beers from the likes of Omnipollo and Wild Beer.
My undisputed favourite watering hole in Bratislava though had to be 100 Pív. It may be a tiny bottle shop with around half-a-dozen taps, but the range of local and international beers is one of the best to be found anywhere. We found room in the day’s budget for a real treat, a bottle of Omnipollo/J. Wakefield Brush (12%), a rich, boozy imperial stout with vanilla, hazelnut, chillis and more.
Thanks to everyone who’s checked out our blog over the last six months, your support has been very much appreciated. Now we’re back, we’re hoping to carry on adding new content from days out and beer festivals around the UK, plus we’ve still got quite a few of these Beer Matters articles left to write. Our website address, just in case you’d forgotten, is hoppingaround.co.uk – see you next month!