Hopping Around: Serbia

It may be 2020 now but there’s still a few more countries from last year’s beery jaunt around Europe for me to get through yet. I hope everybody has had a relaxing festive break and is embracing the Tryanuary spirit. What better way to spend the long, dark winter nights than with a hearty stout or two?

Our journey to Serbia was an eight-hour train ride from Budapest. How they managed to make it take quite so long I’m not sure; the train crawled through the unwaveringly flat Serbian sunflower fields at a snail’s pace, but eventually we arrived in Novi Sad tired yet otherwise unscathed. Neither of us really knew what to expect from Serbia, but what we found was a beautiful, charming city nestled on the banks of the River Danube.

We spent the first morning exploring the town, but exploration is of course thirsty work and soon enough it was time to stop for a beer. My only previous experience of Serbian ale was a Dogma Hoptopod IPA that someone had brought to a Beer Central bottle share last year. I remember thinking it was decent enough, if nothing too exciting, so I had fairly limited expectations for the Serbian beer scene.

How wrong I was. The first place we came across was Mazut Beer Shop. It’s an unassuming place from the outside but step in and you find a beer lover’s paradise, with half a dozen taps pouring local beers, as well as a wall of shelves full of bottles and cans from all over the world, from Sweden to South Africa. One of the best local craft breweries is Kabinet, and we both opted for one of theirs. Interestingly, both were collaborations with some very big names: I went for the Vista Milk Stout (5.8%), a joint effort with Mikkeller, while Poppy sampled the De Molen collab Perfectly Imperfect (8.0%), an intriguing dark ale brewed with dark chocolate and roasted sesame seeds.

Our hopes raised, we set off around the city in search of more excellent beer. We weren’t disappointed; Beer Store, Brick Bar, Tehnolog’s, Škripa and Toster (the latter also serving wonderful Serbian-style hamburgers) all offered interesting local creations from breweries such as Dogma, Salto Pivo, Crow and 3Bir. While we were in Škripa, the barmaid informed us it was the last day of a free music and beer festival at Petrovaradin Fortress on the other side of the river.

Now, the fortress itself is stunning enough, but add in a beer festival and you really have a winning combination. There were stalls from breweries of all descriptions, from the bigger names we’d tried in town to tiny local nano-breweries like Libeeri, RazBeerBriga and Premier Beer. It was a wonderful way to round off a great start to our Serbian adventure.

Soon enough, it was time to leave Novi Sad and head to the capital city, Belgrade. Eventually we figured out how to use Serbian bus stations (they have a bizarre system where you have to pay not only for a bus ticket, but for a separate token to enter the platform too) and got on our way. Belgrade is a fascinating city where old meets new; the ancient citadel on one side of the river in stark contrast to the seemingly endless tower blocks of New Belgrade on the other.

It’s also a city with plenty of choice for the discerning beer drinker. There are craft bars and taprooms dotted all around the city, but we went for a different approach and decided to explore Belgrade’s bottle shops. Right in the city centre, we found 300 Čuda. Part bottle shop, part comic book shop, it offered a good range of beers from Serbia and beyond (whether the comics were much cop, I couldn’t say). We picked up a bottle of Dogma Plutonium (7.5%), a zingy orange milkshake Double IPA. The bar upstairs, Samo Pivo, was also pretty impressive, its horseshoe-shaped bar lined with dozens of taps.

Meanwhile, in Vračar district we found Pivodrom, a tiny shop with a surprisingly varied selection of beers, where we sampled 3Bir Shake (5.0%), a tasty milk stout. Nestled down a nearby alleyway was Pivski Zabavnik, a growler-fill shop which also sold beer by the glass to drink on their small outdoor terrace.

By far the best bottle shops, however, were to be found in the urban sprawl of New Belgrade. Thrifty as ever, we decided to walk the 4 km journey to Pivopija, located in the imaginatively named Blok 21 district. Luckily, it was well worth the hike. We found a couple of beers from breweries we hadn’t seen before, Dilemma Hefeweizen (5.9%) and Crna Ovca Black Sheep (6.5%) dark IPA – no relation to the Masham version! Beerville, situated at the bottom of a block of flats over in Blok 67, was great too, a modern place with yet more new breweries for us to try. This time, Academia’s Dirigent Porter (6.5%) was the takeaway of choice.

The last stop of our Serbian sojourn was Subotica, a small town in the north of the country with one of the few bus routes back to Hungary. It may be home to the third-largest synagogue in Europe (and possibly the continent’s fanciest branch of McDonald’s), but sadly there was precious little on the beer front. We made do with enjoying our purchases from Belgrade as our brief visit to the Balkans came to an end. We’ll certainly be heading back to this part of the world in the future!

As I mentioned earlier, there’s still a couple more countries to write about, starting next month with Romania. Or as always, you’re welcome to head to our website, hoppingaround.co.uk if you can’t wait until then.

Dominic Nelson

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