After the unexpected delights of Serbia, we headed into Romania with renewed optimism. Both of us had friends in the country who had warned us there might not be much in the way of decent beer. Luckily, they were wrong!
Our first stop was Timisoara, about 40 miles from the Serbian border. As we were strolling through the Fabric district, an interesting little place caught our eye. TapRoom was tiny with its pop-up bar and no more than half a dozen seats. It turned out that it was actually the main outlet for one of Timisoara’s newest breweries, OneTwo Brewing. In fact, the brewery was so new that none of their beers were ready to drink yet. Well, not officially anyway.
Being the only customers on a quiet Wednesday evening, we got talking to the owner, Alexandru, and it turned out that we both had a love of sour beers. Sours haven’t caught on yet in Romania, so he was excited to meet a fellow fan and conjured up a bottle of one of his own as-yet-unnamed creations for us to share. I must say I thought it was excellent, with just the right level of sourness. However, by the look on Poppy’s face when she tried it, I don’t think she’s a sour fan just yet!
Easily the best place in town, though, was Bereta. Another local brewery, they are a bit longer established and have gained themselves a reputation for excellent and varied beers. We’d tried a couple of their offerings at TapRoom and been suitably impressed, and their own bar didn’t disappoint. The 16 taps were brilliant enough, but it was the bottled range that really excelled. Poppy’s Hopdrops Northern Raven (10.5% imperial stout) was so good it literally brought a tear to her eye.
Next up, a six-hour minibus journey away, was Sibiu, one of Transylvania’s seven ancient cities. The city has a long history of German occupation and the influence was certainly evident on the beer front. Now, it’s not often you come across a craft beer bar in the middle of an open-air ethnographic museum, but that’s exactly what we found at Astra. We were treated to an hour or two of traditional folk dancing while sipping a bottle of Urban Brewery’s Oktoberfest-style Märzen (5.5%).
Back in town, the best option beer-wise was probably St Andrew’s Scottish Pub. Despite the name, there wasn’t a Tennent’s lager in sight. There was, however, an excellent selection of Romanian craft on offer. Big names such as Bereta and Hop Hooligans made an appearance alongside smaller local breweries like Bere Sibiu and Nembeer.
Having been pretty impressed so far, we were by now especially excited to visit the capital Bucharest. There are no fewer than 15 permanent breweries here (not quite Sheffield standard, but not a bad effort!), as well as a handful of gypsy brewers. Romania’s biggest craft brewery, Hop Hooligans, are technically based just outside the city limits, but they dominate the Bucharest beer scene – not a bad thing as they are generally excellent. One of the biggest selections of their offerings was at Zeppelin Pub, a British-style bar with a (possibly overly) friendly resident cat.
As you’d expect, many of the Bucharest breweries have fancy modern tap rooms, and it would have been rude of us not to visit a few. Ground Zero, located at the back of a car park in the business district, had a good selection of big, hoppy IPAs, while Zăganu and Sikaru’s brewery taps in the city centre both had decent ranges too.
By far and away our favourite pub in Bucharest though was Bere si Bere. The friendly owner was passionate about craft beer and the bottle list stretched to almost a small book. It’s safe to say that our daily budget took a bit of a hit as we treated ourselves to all sorts of beers from around the country. Berea Clujenilor (8.5% double IPA) was the pick of the bunch, a collab between Hop Hooligans and three breweries from Cluj.
Cluj was actually our ultimate destination, but there was time for a couple of nights in Sighisoara en-route. This isn’t a beer city by any means, but we did arrive just in time for the town’s “Oktoberfest”. The name somewhat oversold the actual event, which was confined to one pub and didn’t even have any German beer. The oompah music and free bratwurst were nice touches though!
Finally we arrived in Cluj, home to breweries such as Hopdrops, Blackout, Player One and Kutuma. We were surprised walking around town to hear lots more British accents than we expected. It turns out that the city has some of the lowest tuition fees for medical students in Europe, and is very popular with Brits in particular. The vibrant Sisters Bar in the city centre was the best place to find the biggest range of beers, and it was evidently popular with the student population too.
My friend Robi had managed to arrange us a personal tour of another local brewery, Hophead. The tour itself didn’t take too long (there were only two small rooms!), but we ended up staying a lot longer for the tasting session afterwards. The head brewer, Darko, guided us through the full selection of the brewery’s beers including the unique Othervice (5.8%), an American IPA at heart but with Belgian and German yeasts thrown in for good measure. The result was a hoppy pale with hints of banana-y wheat beer in the background – I can honestly say I’d never tried anything quite like it.
Sadly, Cluj was the final stop of our whole trip but don’t fear – there’s still one more Hopping Around article to come next month about our visit to Moldova, a truly fascinating little country. Now we’re back I’m hoping to start adding some more articles about beers closer to home to the blog (hoppingaround.co.uk) – at least until we’ve saved up to go away again!