First sprouts of spring – A quarterly review

It may feel like spring is a long way coming (we’re sure we’re not the only ones with their heating still on), but that doesn’t mean the craft beer industry in Romania is still in hibernation. In fact, much has happened in the first three months of 2018, from new breweries popping up, to new beers being brewed and very lucrative collaborations, as well as the first beer festival of the year already looming on the horizon.

Breweries – gypsy brewing and long awaited authorizations

December of 2017 has been, by far, one of the busiest periods of last year, with a record of 4 breweries opening up within the span of just one month. The start of 2018 carried on that momentum, as Bere a la Cluj have finally moved their production line to Cluj-Napoca and, after brewing in Hungary for nearly 2 years, are set on a remake of their core range of English-style ales.

Meanwhile, Ground Zero deemed their 7000 liter brewery in Băneasa too small for not only their increasing demand, but also all the gypsy brewers it was fostering, and decided that an expansion was in order. And while their more central location is still in the making, it sounds like they have struck gold, with a sprawling setup of over 200 square meters – which could allow for an impressive 22,000 liter output, as well as a separate area for a bar and kitchen.

Speaking of gypsy brewers, the first brewery to launch this year came out of the spawning grounds of Ground Zero. After toiling over their mash tuns and fermenting vessels as a brewer for several months, Zburătorul launched its first beer, an American Rye Amber Ale, at the beginning of March.

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Zburătorul, with its American Rye Amber Ale, was the first (gypsy) craft brewery to launch in 2018 (photo credit: Zburătorul)

Earlier this year, another gypsy brewery received international acclaim, courtesy of the RateBeer website, as they took home the award for the 2nd Best New Brewers in the World. It was a tremendous achievement for Wicked Barrel, going hand in hand with the award they received last year with The Black Pot, which was then crowned the Best Beer in Romania, also according to RateBeer reviews.

And while some gypsy brewers were busy launching new beers or simply collecting the laurels of success, others decided it was time to put their travelling gear to sleep. With their brewing equipment in place yet gathering dust since August of last year (the tedious Romanian bureaucracy seem to be the bane of every brewer’s existence), Bereta finally sat down and started brewing in-house, already giving us a sneak preview of yet another hazy, hoppy concoction.

The mash tuns have also been fired up at Patos Brewery, who started brewing their first batches of beer earlier this week, after wrapping up their apprenticeship in Croatia and finally receiving their authorizations. We’re definitely hoping to see them make an appearance on the market in the months to come!

Beers – new styles and collaborations

We’ve had a cold start to the year, which seems to have prompted a fair few brewers to huddle together in one another’s breweries and partake in various collaborations. The bromance between Bereta and Hop Hooligans is still going strong, as the lads came together to brew yet another hoppy and thoroughly fruity IPA, Pulp Friction. The dark, cold winter nights were enough to make even some of the more reserved brewers seek companionship, as Hophead decided to head south for their first collaboration, with none other than the Hooligans themselves, which took the shape of Screwed Up, a Triple Dry-Hopped Rye IPA launched in February. The Hooligans were also very accommodating of Wicked Barrel, as they gathered round a bubbling kettle of New Lands, the first commercially brewed farmhouse ale in Romania, complete with the closest equivalent of the traditional Norwegian kveik they could get their hands on.

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Screwed Up – this triple dry-hopped IPA was the first collab brew for Hophead, in partnership with Hop Hooligans (photo credit: Hop Hooligans)

And speaking of collaborations, Three Happy Brewers have also been thoroughly productive, first in their contract-brewing of Bere București, an easy drinking lager targeting the Bucharest market. Their collaborations also took them across neighboring countries, as they launched Trojka, a Pomegranate Saison in partnership with Browar Szpunt from Poland and Ah Craft Beer Project from Bulgaria (which we’re hoping you’re enjoying as we speak, over here).

Bereta have also been very keen on collaborations, probably in preparation for their days of settling down. Apart from their collab with Hop Hooligans, they also launched Orange Snow, a Citrus Hoppy Saison with Ground Zero. And while at the brewery in Băneasa , they decided to give us all a parting gift, as they got together with Wicked Barrel in February and concocted a relaunch of The Black Pot, in two versions: a 500 batch of the regular brew, as well as a remake, spiced up with the addition of Bourbon chips and vanilla. Needless to say, both version stirred such a huge hype that they sold out before most of the common folk even got a whiff of them being on the market.

Yet it wasn’t just collaborations that brought their shares to the ever growing number of beers launched so far this year. Just when the Romanian beer drinkers were beginning to ease into an array of more hop and malt forward beers, sours started stirring their palates and preconceptions alike. Back when Hop Hooligans were launching Sour Puss last year, they made sure to let everyone know that their tame Berliner Weisse was meant to be sour. They even went as far as tarting it up with the familiar taste of blackberries, so as to not startle everyone. Ground Zero were not as keen on disclaimers, so when they introduced the first truly sour beer to Romania in January, they went all out on their Gose, proudly and boldly named Angel Piss. It was an interesting development, especially in the light of our speculations late last year, on whether the Romanian crowd was ready to indulge in such new flavour profiles. Turns out they secretly were all along.

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Tart, salty, with a slight hint of lemon peel and coriander: Angel Piss Gose (photo credit: Ground Zero)

Other breweries have also been bringing their contribution to the increasing repertoire of Romanian beers. One Beer Later, for instance, recently launched their second beer, an American Pale Ale, while Bere a la Cluj have expanded their predominantly ale type portfolio with a lager. Carol Beer have also expanded their range with 3 new beers, a Lager, a Weizen and an IPA. And on a slight tangent, we were pleased to notice that the elusive beers of Urban Brewery in Sibiu have started making a more prevalent appearance on the market, especially on online platforms, where they are now easily available nationwide.

What’s in the making?

There are many things to look out for in the near future. The near future meaning tomorrow (March 30th), for instance, when Hop Hooligans are launching their Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Stout in this location. Or, if pastry stouts are not really your thing, you can join in the general festivities at Ground Zero, as they celebrate their 3 year anniversary in their new brewery location, with a limited edition Triple IPA as their birthday cake.

Speaking of birthday cakes, Wicked Barrel are celebrating their first year of being out on the market next month, and to keep in tune with their predilection for dark beers, they have an Imperial Porter due to come out for that very occasion.

Oriel Beer are also promising us a Saison in the near future, while at the same time moving the release date of their long awaited Quadrupel by yet another month, now due in June. On the flip side, their second batch of Quad has already been brewed and set to mature in a rum barrel, so the wait should be shorter the second time around.

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Oriel Beer‘s first and second batches of Quadrupel, patiently maturing away in their barrels (photo credit: Oriel Beer)

While the brewers at Patos and Bereta are busy getting their beers in the fermenting vessels, there’s word of new breweries due to come out this year. Clandestin Beer is one of the many breweries with equipment in place, yet waiting for paperwork. It may be difficult, however, to gauge just how many new faces will join the industry this year. With Ground Zero relocating to a larger facility, they have started their Gypsy Program, which allocates one of their 1000 liter vessels to anyone eager to embark on a brewing endeavor. So far, 4 out of the 5 allocated slots have already been filled, so technically speaking, that’s at least 4 gypsy breweries to look out for. And with the little rumor we heard about Kutuma looking to aid gypsy brewers in a similar way, their number is sure to grow even further.

Last but not least, it is perhaps time to start looking at the craft beer festivals scheduled for this year. While the Bucharest Craft Beer Festival or Beer Craft @Art in Sibiu are still a long way coming, it looks like Cluj-Napoca will be kicking off the festival season. After we helped the denizens of Cluj build up an appetite last year with our Craft Beer Days, it seems that people are more than eager for a second serving. To their luck, so are the organizers behind Beer Hype, with the first large scale craft beer event in Cluj-Napoca seeing its debut edition in May. They also plan a series of local events leading up to the big day, such as the launch party for Ground Zeros Merlot Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout earlier this month, so keeping an eye on their Facebook page is definitely a must.

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Răzvan Matache, the head brewer from Ground Zero, talking about Ticket to the Stars while on his visit to Cluj Napoca, as part of the Beer Hype series of events (photo credit: Beer Hype)

In the meantime, feel free to crack a beer open and enjoy what has been launched on the market so far:

Bere a la Cluj – Cosmobaut – Lager

Wicked Barrel & Bereta – The Black Pot – Imperial Stout
– 500 bottles batch relaunched in February 2018
– Bourbon chips and Vanilla edition launched in March 2018

Ground Zero
Orange Snow – Citrus Hoppy Saison (Collaboration with Bereta)
Angel Piss – Gose
Ticket to the Stars – 11 months Merlot Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout
Triple IPA – 3 year anniversary beer

Hop Hooligans
Sourpuss Raspberry – Berliner Weisse
Heartbreaker – Hibiscus, Lime and Jalapeño IPA
Why the Long Face? – Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Stout
Pulp Friction – Pineapple, Passion fruit and Apricot IPA (collaboration with Bereta)
Screwed Up – Triple dry-hopped Rye IPA (collaboration with Hophead)
New Lands – Norwegian Farmhouse IPA (collaboration with Wicked Barrel)
Shock Therapy IPA – V8 (Citra & Ella) and V9 (Falconer’s Flight)

Three Happy Brewers
Robust Porter
Bere București – Lager
Trojka – Pomegranate Saison (collaboration with Browar Szpunt and Ah Craft Beer Project)

Carol Beer
Premium Lager
Weizen
IPA

Hophead – 2 Years of Bujolé – anniversary coffee IPA brewed for Bujolé Restaurant

Zburătorul – Joc de Foc – American Rye Amber Ale

One Beer Later – Drink Different – American Pale Ale

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Blink and you’ll miss it – the relaunch of The Black Pot has been so successful that the beer sold within hours of reaching the shelves (photo credit: Viniloteca)

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