Monthly review – June 2019

Already halfway through the year and we’re seeing all sorts of interesting developments. While June’s list of releases may be shorter than expected, any brewer worth their hops will tell you that it’s been a busy month. So in between brewing new batches of their core range, attending numerous festivals and planning new brews for the upcoming month, June has been packed with all manner of excitement.

New Beers

First and foremost, let’s take a look at the freshest new brews to hit the shelves. This month has been a bit of a mixed bag, but various types of IPAs stand out as the dominant style, which is only fitting for the summer months.

Bereta lead the proceedings with their 3 year anniversary IPA, Three Down. Featuring Galaxy, Simcoe and El Dorado hops, it is an apt beer to celebrate 3 hoppy years of Bereta shenanigans. If that’s not enough for you, their new Double IPA is a veritable hop juice, featuring Centennial BBC, Galaxy, and Simcoe, as well as a gorgeous label designed by Andreea Dumuta (their latest addition in the Call To Art initiative). 

Emerging from the rafters of Bereta are Owl Brewery, the newest gypsy brewers to hit the scene, and also the only new brewery to launch this month. Brought to you by two IT folk and a banker with a peculiar soft spot for owls, their Spotted NEIPA made its debut at the Timisoara Craft Beer Festival. Even though we’re not overly keen on Mosaic hops, the combination with Galaxy made their first beer a very delectable tipple.

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Coincidentally, we have a soft spot for owls as well, so it’s exciting to hear that each beer will be dedicated to a different species. This one goes out to the spotted owlet (photo credit: Owl Brewery)

As Timișoara is quickly becoming a craft beer hot spot in the country, Double Drop Crew also released their third beer this month. In less than two months since they opened, it’s great to see that their brewery is growing at a steady pace, and we look forward to more brews from them in the months to come.

Clandestin Beer have also had a steady growth, and after opening in March, this month they decided to make up for almost 2 years of waiting to open by releasing two beers: a Black IPA featuring the classic Simcoe & Citra combo, and an Amber Ale for those with a bit of a sweet tooth. Both beers come with some really interesting backstories, which we recommend reading on their website.

After just one new release last month, Hop Hooligans return to the IPA fray. For their first offering, they headed over to the Ground Zero brewery, for an IPA collaboration. Brewed with additions of acacia flowers, it celebrates 9 years of Bucharest craft beer staple, Beer O’Clock. Another collaboration, this time with Croatia’s Nova Runda, was the aptly named Delay IPA. It features the much anticipated Sabro hops, which were sadly delayed in transit indefinitely. Fortunately, Nova Runda were able to supply some, and the juicy result is worth seeking out.

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A huge cheers to Beer o’Clock for 9 years of providing us with excellent craft beers! (photo credit: Hop Hooligans)

Leaving the IPA train briefly, the Hooligans delivered another variation of their now iconic Sourpuss. Rather than the typical fruited Berliner Weisse however, this Salty Sourpuss is a delightful take on another old-school German sour, Gose. With a generous helping of cucumbers thrown in the mix, the result is an incredibly refreshing and moreish beer, which is definitely worth checking out. 

The curious case of craft beer festivals

With the onset of summer, the vast majority of breweries are poised on both meeting the increasing demand from bars, terraces and beer shops, as well as attending festivals. While this usually results in a decrease in the number of new releases, it is an excellent time to grab a bit of exposure and showcase your wares.

June has seen three festivals where craft beer took to the stage. First in line was The Giraffes’ Festival (Festivalul Girafelor) in Iași, between June 7 and 9, which returned for its second edition. This year has brought some very significant changes, in the sense that the venue moved to the center of the city, and it was free to enter (last year’s event was ticketed). Apart from the usual array of craft breweries, street food vendors and live music, we were very happy to see that they also organized the first homebrewing contest in the city. Timing the event with the Light Up video mapping international competition (which they shared the location with) was most fortuitous, as it attracted an impressive crowd of locals which may have, otherwise, not have been aware of the craft beer developments in the city.

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The iconic Palace of Culture and its surroundings played host to an impressive crowd for the city of Iași’s craft beer festival this summer (photo credit: Cearfisă)

Speaking of an impressive attendance, the Beer Crafters festival in Cluj, between June 6 and 9, brought almost 100,000 people out of their homes for the 4 days bonanza that was their second edition. This particular event has always been a mixed bag, both in terms of reviews as well as brewers’ attitude towards it. We have always been somewhat wary about referring to it as a craft beer festival, and we still stand by that, due to the fact that breweries owned by Haineken or Asahi were present on site, the fact that it has a street food festival vibe to it, or the fact that Romanian craft breweries did not get their own stands. The way the festival was devised, the organizers buy the beers in a similar way bars and shops do, straight from the brewers, and then sell them at a designated craft beer bar.

For the longest time, this has caused mixed feelings about the entire affair, and the general consensus among beer lovers is that not enough emphasis is placed on craft beer, which nullifies calling it a ‘craft beer festival’. However, there are certain points to address. While the majority of participating breweries were told they can’t come with their own tent and bar setup, as custom demands, we were surprised to find out that this particular clause in the contract can, in fact, be negotiated. Both Carol Beer and Klausen Burger were present on site with their own selling points (same as last year), showing that the old ‘ask and you shall receive’ saying has its merits. It is also worth mentioning that it is not an uncommon practice for craft beer festivals in the West to buy the beer from the brewers and sell it separately, while still allowing the brewers themselves to be present on site.

The festival is not without fault, and while the exposure it generates for breweries is currently unparalleled in the city of Cluj, there is still much fine tuning to be done. The organizers’ attitude towards the industry is a main aspect. While brewers were required to bring their own taps and chillers (in spite of the fact that their beers were pre-bought and ware due to be sold by the organizers directly), some found themselves taking back their equipment stripped of couplers, hoses and connectors, which is a huge hindrance when you are a small business, and can even cause setbacks for attending future events later in the year. Others found that their draft systems were used for selling other vendors’ beers, or were told that they are required to bring less kegs than was originally agreed on. The festival also coincided with a football match, during which all beer sales were stopped, and there were reports of altercations breaking out among supporters, which resulted in tear gas being used by law enforcement officers – not exactly what you want associated with a craft beer event.

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The craft beer bar (pictured in the top left corner) was the designated selling area for the majority of craft breweries attending Beer Crafters (photo credit: Beer Crafters)

Again, it all comes down to the attitude event organizing agencies have towards the craft beer industry, and the fact that they do not fully grasp not only the brewers’ expectations of how such festivals should pan out, or the way their decisions and lack of micromanagement impacts them for the remainder of the festival season. Unless this changes, we find it unlikely that big names in the craft beer industry will attend future Beer Crafters editions.

With craft beer events in Cluj, it is interesting to note that the city currently boasts two major venues a year dedicated to this market. While this may come across as great news for its beer loving denizens, it does cause difficulties in accruing sponsors for the event. Sponsors tend to prefer monogamous relationships, and their main concern is usually ‘why should I sponsor event X instead of Y’. To mitigate this, event organizers seem to have become quite fond of a contract clause that stipulates that vendors cannot attend similar venues twice in the course of 45 days. (This is not strictly related to craft beer, as the Timișoara Street Food Festival last month showed.)

Which brings us to the Cluj Craft Beer Festival, due July 11 through to the 14th. While we are not actively participating in organizing this year’s edition, we have kept a close eye on it and the list of attending breweries. The 45 days contract clause caused quite a bit of a stir last year as well, when breweries which attended the 2018 Beer Crafters event were originally told that they will not make the lineup. This year, breweries were caught having to chose between the Cluj Craft Beer Festival, Beer Hype and Beer Crafters. Sadly, Beer Hype did not see a second edition this year, yet the Beer Crafters dilemma remained. For the longest time, it seemed that the local breweries would not make the cut, as they attended the competitor’s event. It would have been an unfortunate turn of events, as the city of Cluj has a total of 8 breweries, and to deny their attendance would be a severe faux pas. So we were very happy to hear that intense negotiations from Bere a la Cluj assured the local guys a spot in this year’s lineup. Admittedly, breweries like One Beer Later and Bere cu Miere were refused their participation (they attended Beer Crafters earlier in June), however, given the fact that this year the festival is taking a more sensible approach to the number of attendees, we can somewhat understand their reasoning.

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(photo credit: Cluj Craft Beer Festival)

Even with the logistical and organizing technicalities, attending the Cluj Craft Beer Festival is a must if you’re in Cluj. This year marks its third edition (if you count the Craft Beer Days event back in 2017), and we are hoping it becomes a staple on the city’s festival map. It will be a great opportunity to try out new beers from Player One, Blackout Brewing and Oriel Beer, as well as new batches from many breweries across the country. And with their initiative to reduce plastic waste by introducing branded glassware, we’re confident it will have a positive impact on the city’s craft beer scene, as well as the festival industry as a whole.

Last but not least, June also saw the second edition of the Timisoara Craft Beer Festival between June 14 and 16. Organized by Bereta and Bibliotheka, it had a very sensible approach towards festival setups, and we had a great time attending it last month. We wrote a very in depth post about it recently, so if you’re curious about how things went down, you can read all about it here.

Breweries twisting and turning like a twisty turny thing

As it happens, breweries that we think we have a handle on suddenly change tact and surprise us by doing something out of character. This month has seen this happen a few times, and we feel a whiff of change in the air. This is seldom a bad thing, as it often means more opportunities, and new avenues to explore.

We always had Oriel Beer down as a fairly traditional brewery. They brew their own take on classic Belgian styles, and were always quite strict about how they would serve their beer; always from the bottle, and always in a glass at the adequate temperature. This old-school approach never got in the way of a bit of experimentation however, and they’ve always been keen to collaborate with entirely different breweries, producing some fantastic beers as a result. So it came as a surprise when they announced that they’d be appearing at Festivalul Girafelor in Iași in full festival regalia. 

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Thanks to all who dropped by their stand to say hello as they made their festival debut this year (photo credit: Ioana Coca of Oriel Beer)

June also brought Oriel Beer new releases: a Tripel brewed with Sri Lankan Ceylon silver tips tea (the most prized part of the tea leaf), an intriguing and flavoursome brew that Belgian beer lovers will adore. Another variation of this beer is currently aging in Chardonnay wine barrels from the Lilac winery. On top of that, they have a Dubbel aging in a Merlot barrel, also from Liliac, and a sumptuous blackberry and vanilla version of their Quad, which is launching next Monday at The Beer Institute.

Oriel Beer are certainly branching out and their efforts are being recognized internationally, as they took the gold medal at Meininger’s International Craft Beer Awards. Pitted against hundreds of other beers from commercial breweries around the world, their Belize Rum Barrel Aged Quad fought off fierce competition to take the top spot. Congrats guys!

It’s also good to see One Beer Later trying something new in Bazău. They have 2 new beers coming out soon, both featuring new methods for the brewery. First off we have an American IPA, the first beer in their repertoire to feature dry hopping, so expect an abundance of flavour and bitterness. The second one is even more intriguing, as we’re talking about a bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout. A bold move, and a shift in pace from their fairly tame core range, yet a welcome development nonetheless.

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We’re also tipping out hat to François-Xavier D’Hollander for this sneak preview of their upcoming American IPA label

Expansion is a tricky subject for many breweries, as it typically requires a large investment in new premises and equipment, and a disruption of typical brewing schedules. For some of the smaller Bucharest based breweries however, there’s an alternative. Carol Beer currently have the largest micro brewery facility in the country, and they’re happy to share. Over the past few weeks, they’ve helped Sikaru with a batch of Vienna Lager due to hit the Carrefour supermarket shelves, Amistad with a new batch of Pale Ale, as well as White Collar keep up with demand by contract brewing larger batches of their beers for them.

This interesting development further proves that collaboration within the craft beer industry is fairly common, and it’s always great to see the brewers giving each other a helping hand.

Future developments

July’s newcomers are already starting to loom on the horizon. After several years of avid homebrewing, it is finally the time to welcome the newest addition to the craft beer scene: straight from Oradea, Addictive Brewing are launching at the upcoming Cluj Craft Beer Festival. Their homebrews showed a pronounced Belgian streak, with experimental batches of Saison and even Kriek, so it would be interesting to see whether they will stick to this avenue or aim towards something on the tamer side.

So far it seems that this year will be a good one for sours, as Bereta are also furthering their repertoire with the addition of a Gose. Packed full of raspberries, sour cherries, rhubarb, lactose, salt, vanilla, as well as a sprinkle of Vic Secret for dry hopping, expect this little beauty in a couple of weeks or so.

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In the meantime, here’s a pic for you to ogle (photo credit: Bereta)

Bereta‘s Safe Spot Landing is also back for a limited time only. Originally brewed for the Budapest Beer Week, this Sour IPA owes its exclusivity to the fact that the quince and vanilla additions are mixed directly in the keg. With only two kegs made, there’s still time to drop by the Bereta Taproom and see if you can still get your hands on it.

Wicked Barrel are also expanding into foreign territories, and after their Belgian Imperial Stout collaboration with Oriel Beer, they decided to stay local and brewed a Saison, which is also due to come out in two weeks-ish.

Collaborations are still afoot at the Hop Hooligans brewery, seeing brew days with Brokreacja from Poland or Dogma Brewery from Serbia. The 100th batch of Crowd Control should also be around the corner, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

There are two more breweries that are not yet featured on our website, but we thought we’d give them a brief look over.

First off is Artisan Brewing, whom we’ve kept an eye out since early April. They now have a Facebook page for those who want to check for updates, but unfortunately, there’s not much available out there. We’re hoping to drop by Oradea this year, and get back to you with more details.

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Having your own branded glasses is great and all, but displaying information about the brewery and the styles it makes is more important in today’s craft beer climate (photo credit: Artisan Brewing)

There’s also the newly opened Fabrica Grivița in Bucharest, which we’re also not too sure about. We are at a point in the industry where labeling your beers with ‘artisan’ and ‘unpasteurized’ doesn’t make you craft (not when you also ‘forget’ to mention which style it is), and the 1 million euro investment in this operation doesn’t help tip the scales in that direction either. As our website only focuses on breweries with a yearly output of max. 5000 hl, this is another brewing setup we will need to look into before deciding whether to add it to the database.

And to wrap things up, here’s this month’s list of new releases:

Berărescu – Pops on Hops – American IPA – 6.2% ABV

Bere a la Cluj – Vișine – Sour Cherry Beer – draft only

Bereta
– DIPA – DDH with Centennial BBC, Galaxy & Simcoe – 8.2% ABV
– 3 Down  – 3 year anniversary IPA – 6.6% ABV

Clandestin Beer
– Terente – Black IPA – 7% ABV
– Lupanar – American Amber Ale – 5.2% ABV

Double Drop Crew – Double Trouble – Double IPA – 8% ABV

Ground Zero – 9 Years O’Clock – IPA with acacia flowers (with Hop Hooligans, brewed for the 9 year anniversary of Beer O’Clock) – 6% ABV

Hop Hooligans
– Delay IPA – IPA (with Nova Runda) – 6% ABV
– Salty Sourpuss – Cucumber Gose – 4% ABV
– Shock Therapy – Version 19: Enigma & Loral – IPA – 6.5% ABV

Oriel Beer – Oriel Tripel – with Ceylon Silver Tips tea from Sri Lanka – 9% ABV

Owl Brewery – Spotted – NEIPA – 7% ABV

Three Happy Brewers – Berea Nației – Lager (brewed for The Beer Institute 1st year anniversary) – 5% ABV

 

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