Inspired by Zagreb, Croatia
Fourpure resident beer trainer, sensory expert and events hero Jethro recently headed to Zagreb. Here's how it unfolded;
Sometimes I sit and think about the weird and wonderful places (and people) that beer has connected me with. The back end of last week was up there for both the weird and the wonderful. I’ve worked in brewing for nearly 6 years now and I’ve met all sorts of people but this was the first-time beer was the reason for me sharing a can of Juicebox with an Ambassador.
Let me explain…
Fourpure were lucky enough to be invited out to Zagreb in Croatia by the Department of Trade and Industry. It’s their job to push British goods and services to the rest of the world and word on the street was that there was a gap in the Croatian beer market for some craft. From what I could gather their job is about to get a bit harder (Brexit) so they are currently making hay while the sun shines. As you can imagine we were first on their team sheet alongside 7 other cracking breweries from both modern craft and more traditional brewing backgrounds. Included on the list we had Tiny Rebel, Moore, Ilkley, Saltair, Shindigger, Abbydale and Vibrant Forest; all of which sent a brewer or member of the team out to represent them.
I think the best way to explain the trip would be for me give you a day by day timeline, this is pretty easy for me to do as the embassy kept us on a pretty strict schedule.
Thursday – I arrived at the hotel the ambassador had chosen to put us up in, I’m used to a cheap Air BnB or a hostel so this place was pretty swanky. We were all supposed to be meeting in the reception at 4:45 but due to snow in Vienna my flight was delayed and I arrived with about 3 minutes to spare, I had barely enough time to chuck my bag in my room and brush my teeth. This was my first meeting with the other brewers, they all seemed lovely but it was a bit awkward as none of us knew each other. At least we had beer to break the ice. I’m pretty familiar with Tiny Rebel, Abbydale and Moore but in all honesty, I wasn’t that clued up on the rest so enjoyed getting to know about them.
We were greeted by Monika who worked for the British embassy, she was to be our guide for the next few days. They rushed us into a minibus outside, it's fair to say there was a strong school trip vibe. The minibus took us out of town and to the ambassador’s official residence!!! The plan for the evening was for us to have dinner with him, some of Croatia’s biggest beer buyers, bar owners, and some Croatian press. Turns out the ambassador has a super swanky house which looked like something from grand designs, all white with lots of angles. After noticing the biggest picture of the queen the very moment we got through the front door, we were thrown into a spacious room full of eager/confused Croatian beer geeks and some confused/eager civil servants, nobody really knew what was going on but we wanted to find out.The ambassador did a speech about how awesome craft beer is and then passed the mic around the different breweries to present their wares (I hadn’t been told this would happen so I freestyled some info about making progressive, consistent and ever-changing beers, I also mentioned our SIBA awards). Once the official speeches had finished an open bar and canapes came out. I made a b-line for the ambassador via the bar, I’ve never met an ambassador and wanted to be the first to give him a beer. It is with great pride I can declare…the British ambassador to Croatia thinks Juicebox is delicious; as far as I was concerned my work here was done. So, I headed back to the bar and the canapes to celebrate. For the next few hours, it was a mix of chatting about all things 'British brewing' with anyone else in the room.
After dinner and chats everyone was ushered into minibuses and taken to what was apparently Zagreb’s best craft beer bar ‘Craft Room’. It was awesome, they had 14 taps serving only Croatian Craft, I’ll admit I’ve never tried any Croatian craft beer before, I was impressed. I’ll also admit my memory is slightly hazy (I’m blaming the ambassador) but the best beer of the night was called C4 by a brewery called Nova Runda, it was potentially the murkiest NEIPA I’ve ever seen which I just checked out on ratebeer and has got some cracking scores. The night ended with Croatia’s famous Rakija (a pretty potent spirit), I had one shot and left pretty sharpish but from what I heard in the morning some of the other brewers stayed out till the very early hours.
Friday – We were supposed to leave at 9:20 but it wasn’t till 10 that we got onto the minibus as we waited for Kev from Vibrant Forest, he had got on the Rakija a bit hard and not set an alarm. First stop was a visit to The Garden Brewery; a newish craft brewery just outside the centre. The first thing I’ll say is that I was very very impressed. They had a solid line-up of around 10 beers on tap ranging from a super clean Pilsner to a hefty Honey DIPA; all solid delicious beers. We got a tour of the brewery and their office space; the brewery was in great condition and the office space was the coolest office I’ve ever been in (they even had a room set aside for a record player for the guys to use after meetings and shifts to wind down). The taproom had an amazing laid back vibe and served burgers; my kind of joint. Our guide was a fella called Tom who was not Croatian but from Bangor in Northern Ireland; I’m confident in saying Tom was the nicest and kindest bloke I’ve met in a long while. We ended up hanging out for pretty much the rest of the trip and I’d like to think I’ve made a mate for the foreseeable.
After our brewery trip, we were taken along to what we were told was Croatia’s first ever craft beer festival. This was the second time we met the ambassador…he was there looking a bit like a friendly bond villain wearing a wide brim hat and a super sharp suit. He and us brewers hosted a press conference (in English) to some confused looking Croatian craft beer drinkers, posed for official photos and then officially opened the festival (red tape style). The rest of the day/evening was us trying out the beers Zagreb had to offer. Highlights included the rest of Nova Runda’s range, a brewery called Varionica who had the most intense habanero stout I’ve ever come across (not my usual vibe) and a raspberry and lavender sour from Garden.
Saturday – Monika picked us up bright and early to take us back to the beer festival; nobody was particularly up for drinking more beer before lunchtime had come but the guys organising the festival had organised for us to have brunch with some of the brewers and to try the coffee beers on offer (apparently coffee beers are a big thing in Croatia). Brunch ended up being tomato soup with a side of fried pigs ears…they looked exactly like pigs ears (I eat very little meat back in England so eating these was a bit stressful). After the soup, pigs ears, a few pints of different coffee beers and some conversations about how craft beer was going to be massive in the Balkans, the embassy team left and our official trip was over. I booked an extra night at a hostel in the centre of the city so spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday wandering around checking out what Zagreb has to offer. It just so turned out that Zagreb hosts Europe’s biggest Christmas market and it was its first day of opening, so Saturday involved a lot of mulled wine and various unnamed Croatian meats wrapped in bread (I’ve vowed that I won’t eat meat until Christmas day now as I’ve been back 4 days and my insides still feel weird).
What I will take from this trip is…Zagreb is a pretty cool city, Croatian beer enthusiasts are as enthusiastic as British enthusiasts, there's some great breweries out there, I don’t like eating fried pigs ears and…ambassadors love Juicebox!!!