Hopping Around: Moldova

Our trip was drawing to an end, but there was still time to fit in country number 11, Moldova. The quick way from Bucharest to Chișinău would have been to fly, taking just over an hour. Being as thrifty as ever, we opted instead for the 10-hour night bus instead. This was as fun as it sounds, but eventually we made it to Chișinău, a mere seven hours early for our hostel check-in. Luckily, they let us drop off our backpacks and we set off exploring. Walking around Moldova is almost like stepping back in time 30 years or so. The Russian influence is still strong here, with grey concrete buildings and orthodox churches dominating the skyline.

Now Moldova probably isn’t the first destination on most beer drinkers’ radars. This is unashamedly a winemaking region. In fact, just a few kilometres outside the city is Milestii Mici, the world’s largest wine cellar with almost 2 million bottles (well worth a visit by the way). Nevertheless, we were determined to find some beer worth writing about.

Our hostel gave us a handy map of the city, marked with dozens of bars and restaurants. We picked out the Smokehouse, an American-style BBQ joint also promising a range of local craft beer. It didn’t disappoint: on the extensive beer list were plenty of local breweries. Poppy went for the Elvis Coffee Porter (7%), while I went for LaBREWtory Merge (4.2%), a delicious session IPA showcasing juicy Mosaic hops not often seen in this part of the world. The food was alright as well!

Smokehouse

Just next door to Smokehouse was the pun-tastically named Taproom 27: A Hoppy Place. Actually, the two have the same owners and much the same beer range. However, the vibe is completely different and if it’s just beer you’re after, you can’t go far wrong at the Taproom. We decided to stay for a couple, my favourite being the fiery Tenemu Lemur Ginger Ale (4.6%).

Anyone who’s read these articles over the past months will know how much I love a brewery visit, so you can imagine our delight at learning that the LaBREWtory Brewery was just a short bus ride from town. We hopped on the charming number 5 trolleybus – a true bargain at just 2 lei (10p!) per person – and arrived at the brewery, a fairly typical-looking building in a small industrial complex. It seemed strangely quiet, but we ventured inside. We entered a small room with a desk and a door but nobody in sight. We thought we must have got the wrong place and were just about to turn around and leave when I felt a tap on my shoulder and heard an American voice: “You’re not from around here, are you?”.

He led us through another door and suddenly we were in a warehouse with a bar and seating at one end of the room, and a full brewery setup at the other. Our American hosts introduced themselves as Bill and DeEva and guided us to the bar. There were 5 beers on offer; the Merge IPA I had enjoyed at the Smokehouse, alongside a pale, an amber ale and even a Belgian-style grisette. The best of the bunch though was the Brut IPA 3 (6.4%). It’s not usually my favourite style, but this was a really good example, pale and dry but still with the fruitiness you expect from an IPA.

LaBREWtory brewery

We got chatting to the owners and they told us how they had originally moved to this part of the world for Bill’s work. Bill, a keen homebrewer, dreamt of starting his own brewery and in 2016 the couple found two locals to help them get started. While showing us around the brew-kit they told us of their trials and tribulations with the Moldovan authorities, especially getting their brewing vessels into the country from neighbouring Ukraine. All’s well that ends well though, and the pair are now regularly crafting beer styles never before seen in this corner of Eastern Europe.

There was still time to squeeze in one or two more beers before our night bus back to Romania. We hopped back on the trolley and headed to the Botanica district in search of Craft Baza, recommended to us by Bill and DeEva. This was a good find, a classic craft beer bar with bare brick walls and 18 taps offering different local beers. Poppy, still loving the dark beers, went for the Elvis Porter (5.4%), while my beer was at the opposite end of the spectrum. Litra Smoozik Blackcurrant Sour (3.5%) was decent but could’ve been a bit sourer for my liking. Nevertheless, it was great to see the local breweries branching out to new styles. Who knows what they’ll have by the time we make it back?

It’s been a pleasure writing these articles over the last few months – thanks for reading and hopefully we’ll have some more adventures to bring you soon!

Dominic Nelson

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