Monthly review – August 2019

Romanian breweries took July by storm, with a good number of new releases across the board. And in spite of August being generally considered the last holiday month right before sending the kids back to school, brewers have been very productive. With 28 new releases, we’ve seen a wide array of styles, collaborations, as well as exciting beers to look forward to this autumn.

Cue the fruity twists

If you’re proficient in the Romanian language, you might have noticed that ‘August’ literally translates to ‘have taste’, and rightly so. Cherries, blackberries, and melons are all familiar sights across the marketplaces at this time of year, ensuring copious amounts of mouthwatering. It’s safe to assume that many of Romania’s brewers have been tempted by these succulent morsels, and it seems a fair few of them have made it into quite a few fermenting vessels. The brewers have done the month the promises taste justice, supplying us with a wide array of beers packed full of summer punch.

Bereta and Hop Hooligans are of course the main offenders, pushing out 6 fruity brews between them. Together with Wicked Barrel, they kicked off this fruit packed barrage with Tetraphobia, a double IPA packed with lashings of blackberries and elderberries, and tied together with lactose to create a veritable fruit smoothie of a beer. This rich and sumptuous offering was brewed to celebrate the 4th anniversary of Berero Store.

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Dark enough to rival the red wines Berero founder Ioan is so fond of, this fruit packed DIPA hid its 8% ABV well (photo credit: Berero)

Bereta and the Hooligans partnered up a second time this month, melding the tartness of rhubarb with the sweetness of melons, to create their very own Melon Party IPA, a curious brew that packs a punch beyond its 7% ABV. When not rubbing rhubarb sticks with the Bereta boys, the Hooligans also treated us to the second offering of their Slice of Pi range: Key Lime. Despite only using lime, vanilla, and lactose in the brew, they successfully managed to capture the flavour of an authentic Key Lime Pie in a can, with a slight touch of cinnamon and Graham crackers rounding everything off. They also continued their Sour Puss range, this time taking inspiration from a sour cherry milkshake to create Milky Sourpuss. The final foray for the Hooligans came during a collab with Poland’s Brokreacja, where they combined exotic coconuts with exotic coffee to create the aptly named Coffee Hooligans, a powerful foreign extra stout. Packaged in your usual glass bottles, it was also a welcome sight for all those (still!) bemoaning their transition to cans. 

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After meeting the Hooligans back in December 2018, the lads at Brokreacja decided that a collaboration is a must, and the result is finally available on the market (photo credit: The Beer Institute)

While we’re talking about coffee, we pass the mic back to Bereta, who concocted a beer using an unlikely duo: cold brew coffee and blackberries. Cold Bru is a perfect blend of berry tartness and smooth coffee, creating a mouth puckering beer that leaves you craving more. Delving deeper into the world of sour beers, they also released Shapes, Colors & Flavors, a sour IPA with persimmons and coconut. Dubiously green, this brew packs an exotic splash of colour and flavour, with some exciting shapes brought into play on the label, via their collaboration with Iluc, as part of their Call to Art initiative

After some exceptional barrel aged releases, Oriel Beer changed tact over summer, and played around with some more unusual additions to their exquisite beers by partnering up with other breweries. Their collaboration with Brouwerij De School, brewed in June, on the longest day of the year, resulted in Summer Break Saison, a curious concept that involves pitching violets into the brew. The result is a wonderfully fragrant beer that does the flowers justice. Their second collab release with ‘t Hofbrouwerijke features another Saison, this time dry-hopped to create an easy drinking, thirst quenching summer refresher. The long awaited Blackout Brewing collaboration, Get Your Hands Off – Brett IPA was also released this month, a collab-gone-wild in which Wakatu & Hallertau Blanc hops mingle with souring yeast strains to create a savagely funky brew.

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(photo credit: Oriel Beer)

Beyond the Fruit

Purists and traditionalists might be a little concerned at this point, shuddering as they witness how each day we stray further from the Reinheitsgebot. Alas, have no fear! While the world of Romanian craft beer has seen a sudden influx of fruity additions, there are a number of more ‘beery’ beers, most of which fall under the pale ale umbrella.

Perfektum have been on a roll lately, with 2 new releases this month. Their latest IPA, From East With Love, showcases a blend of old world meets new world, with a dry hopping schedule featuring Slovenian hops, while Rye Storm puts a twist on the ever popular NEIPA style, bringing a generous addition of rye to the mix to add a touch of spiciness.

In a surprise turn of events, it’s Bereta that appear to have gone back to a (modern) classic combo of Cascade and Centennial in their latest pale ale release, proving that the boys are well versed in the styles they love the most, and are quite capable of pulling in the reins and going back to basics. Their 3.6 – Not Great, Not Terrible – session IPA, is further proof of this, and serves as a reminder that great beer doesn’t have to be overloaded with hops and adjuncts, nor does it need to be very strong. Also in this vein, their last minute collaboration release with Brasserie du Bas-Canada – Change of Plans DDH IPA – was a welcome, hoppy reprieve in a month where fruit took the stage. Featuring Citra, Galaxy and Vic Secret hops, it is also the first international collab for this Canadian brewery, and the Bereta lads were stoked to see it take place in their backyard.   

Session beers seem to be increasingly popular these days, and Three Happy Brewers have been more than willing to rise to the challenge. Carioca is a hazy session IPA, and the first beer to showcase the new branding from THB, but it’s certainly not their first extremely drinkable beer. In a country more familiar with higher ABV craft beers, THB continue to stand out for their more restrained range of brews that leave you wanting at least one more.

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New beers aside, the Three Happy Brewers core range has also undergone a serious makeover in terms of design – label collectors beware! (photo via Untappd)

Meanwhile, Ground Zero had an interesting take on what is generally considered ‘sessionable’, with their 6th XperimentAle beer: an Imperial Session IPA, which combines the dry-hopping schedule of their Imperial IPA with a lower ABV. At only 5%, and featuring Kohatu hops, the result was enjoyable, albeit intriguing – oxymorons aside, we’re still not convinced that Session Imperial IPAs are really a stand-alone style, even if breweries like Sierra Nevada had their own take on it before. But then again, that might just be the English publican in us insisting that 5% is not applicable to session beers. 

In the haze days of 2019, it’s nice to see more breweries embracing classic styles such as American Pale Ales and West Coast IPAs. While there’s lots to love about the hazy juice bombs that some of the best breweries are pushing out, it was also exciting to hear that Zburătorul’s Gilă-Păs-Lungilă would be a classic West Coast IPA. Great news for those who appreciate the bitterness and dankness associated with the style, and a treat for the taste-buds of those who have yet to try this old-school classic.

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The series of circus themed labels continued at Zburătorul, with the release of their 4th beer at the Bucharest Craft Beer Festival (photo via Untappd)

Another more old-school pale ale is Zăganu’s Sturionul, brewed as part of the WWF Endangered Colours Project. Zăganu have had a soft spot for endangered species since the day they picked their brewery name and rolled with it, and this particular beer is dedicated to the 6 species of sturgeon native to the Danube, 5 of which are on the endangered list. When not looking after local fauna, Zăganu have also brewed batch 2 of their Hop Hooligans IPL collaboration, and there’s a rumor of a Double Rye IPA in one of the fermenting vessels at the brewery, due to be released some time in September. 

While summer is indeed a time for easy drinking beers on the paler end of the spectrum, one brewer is keeping it real, and remembers that winter is coming, or at the very least, you’ll still need something with a bit of a kick to get you through the drudgery of a typical Monday. Wicked Barrel mastered darker, stronger beer styles early on, and Monday Fuel, a coffee stout showcasing Ethiopian Jigesa Weysi coffee from Origo, is the latest addition to an impressive portfolio. 

The last of the summer festivals

August has seen 3 beer festivals make the list, from the iconic Bucharest festival, to smaller venues. The first one on the list was a rather curious event in Brașov, which raised quite a few eyebrows from the moment it was first announced. Set at the beginning of the month, the lineup featured several breweries, yet the way the event was announced focused more on a country-fair vibe rather than fully fledged craft beer festival. Unfortunately, the event page has been deleted since, so no official lineup is available, however, 5 breweries did set out from across the country to meet the locals in what was supposed to be Brașov’s first craft beer event.

The scene was up for a bad start. While the 5 breweries that did agree to go (Zăganu, One Beer Later, Mustata de Bere, Carol and Bere cu Miere) and make the most of it, the weather immediately raised some concerns, and rightly so: the city of Brașov was badly hit by a storm that weekend, which resulted in severe flooding in some areas of the city. Admittedly, summer festivals and iffy weather go hand in hand, so things might have worked out one way or another. However, for the brewers, the last straw was arriving on site to discover that the organizers had decided to sell Heineken-owned Ciuc on tap, at less than half the price of what their craft beer would be selling for. With over 1500 liters of macro beer just waiting to be sold to the unassuming public, the brewers were set up against a difficult competition. And at that point, they decided to call it a day, packed up their stands, and went home. All with the exception of Carol Beer, who decided to make the most of the situation, instead of forming a common front.

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(photo via François-Xavier D’Hollander)

While the Brașov festival was a fiasco as far as craft beer events go, it is worth mentioning simply because it is the first case of brewers taking a stand against event organizers who misunderstand not only the product and its relationship to competitors, but also the image craft brewers aim to portray by attending such events. As François-Xavier D’Hollander, head brewer at One Beer Later, points out, this particular event will make other brewers more cautious of which events and festivals they will attend in the future, which will hopefully prompt organizers to try and better understand this market, rather than jumping on a trendy bandwagon.

In a happier turn of events, the second edition of Craft Beer in the Park in Sibiu brought together not only local breweries, such as Nembeer, or big guns such as Csíki Sör, but also smaller names, such as the elusive Artisan Brewing, who attended the venue with 4 beers on tap, three of which were new releases. Nembeer stood out not only with the release of their (currently) limited edition, draft-only Weizen, but also an eye-catching 300 liter tank which they served beer from. While the event followed the typical format of craft beer + street food + live music, it was a nice reminder that a classic approach can be both fail-proof as well as user-friendly, especially in terms of attracting a new crowd.

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While mainly sticking to local events, Nembeer always know how to put on a show at craft beer venues (photo credit: Nembeer)

By now, it’s generally agreed that no summer would be complete without the Bucharest Craft Beer Festival, the first of its kind in the country, and also the one that sparks very heated debates each year. The main controversy surrounding this particular event is the fact that it is the only recurring ticketed venue in the country, and the fourth edition was not exempt from the tradition. This year, the organizers switched from the regular Verde Stop Arena to Hotel Caro, which was also the location for an entirely different festival, Festin. Now, here’s where it gets tricky. The previous editions of the Festin event have never been ticketed. Admittedly, this is most likely due to sponsorship contracts, however, the main gripe event goers had with the Bucharest festival was the fact that the ticket only granted access on site, without offering any amenities such as branded glassware or tasting samples. Add to this the fact that this year’s edition was lacking in terms of not only content (as opposed to last year’s edition, which featured workshops as well as live bands, instead of just DJ sets), but also the fact that some of the country’s iconic breweries were not present in person (such as Bereta and several others, which were represented by the Berero and Hops Club stand), and you get a set of mixed reviews from the general public.

The Bucharest festival did play host to 10 of this month’s new releases, featuring beers from Oriel Beer, Perfektum, as well as the 6th XperimentALE beer from Ground Zero. However, concerns still remain regarding the long-term feasibility of this particular festival. One such concern is regarding the branding association. Hotel Caro is primarily associated with the Festin event, and although one would assume that the public can tell one festival from another, the fact of the matter is that, with an event market as young as Romania’s, that borders on wishful thinking. For example, the Cluj craft beer event scene was mostly centered around the same location as festivals such as Beer Crafters, Street Food Festival and even the gargantuan Untold, so we were glad when this year’s edition of the Cluj Craft Beer Festival distanced itself and landed a new location at Iulius Park.

On the other hand, this year’s edition of the Bucharest Craft Beer Festival did raise some question marks for us, as watchful keepers of the market, when it comes to the the drastic drop in sponsorship. One would assume that a large scale event such as this, now on its fourth edition, would start to catch the eye of sponsors and investors, and start generating enough revenue to help its growth. Sadly, it wasn’t the case this year, and it begets the question of why. Regardless of circumstances and the technicalities, it is perhaps time for the organizers to try a different approach in terms of the venue. One noteworthy example was this year’s edition of the Giraffes’ Festival in Iași: the event was ticketed last year, however this year they partnered with the Light Up video mapping international competition, which ensured both exposure, as well as enough backup from sponsors to get rid of the entrance fee altogether.

It is worth pointing out that ticketed venues are not set to fail by default, if targeting the right market. Earlier this month, Bereta announced the first edition of their second (hopefully) recurring festival, this time in collaboration with Hop Hooligans: Haze Fest, due in October. What makes this festival stand out is not just the fact that it will feature both Romanian and international names (including heavyweights such as De Molen) but also the fact that it encompasses everything about the Western craft beer festival festival mentality: ticketed event, true, but with branded glassware, indoor location, all you can drink, as well as a focus beer rather than accessories such as food trucks and music. We’ll be honest with you: this is probably going to be the most important craft beer event in the country this year, setting the bar for future events quite high, and we’re very lucky that the people organizing it are a bunch of craft beer geeks. And we’ll let you in on something else as well: we were hoping to do something like this since last year, and even started working on something along these lines, but alas, great minds think alike, and we’re glad that two of our favourite breweries did it first. We know we’re in good hands, and we hope to see you there!

Coming up next…

We’re going back to them fruits, and if there’s one fruit that defines August in Romania, it has to be the watermelon. These beauties appear by the truckload in makeshift stands across the country throughout the month, and it’s no surprise that the brewers have taken notice. It’s great to see the new boys on the Timișoara block, Double Drop and One Two, teaming up to dedicate a new Gose to the sweet and sumptuous watermelon. We’re guessing there must be a surplus of watermelons in Timișoara, as Bereta have also promised something sour with watermelons coming soon.

Nembeer also have fruity concoction coming up, a raspberry ale that promises to be both tart and refreshing, and, judging by its description, very much on the sensual side. Meanwhile, Capra Noastră are due to launch their lavender beer soon, and while we haven’t had a chance to try Artisan Brewing‘s take on this floral addition, we’re hoping that this Belgian style beer will be more readily available for the general public.

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In all fairness, goats are famous for grazing on just about anything, so a bit of lavender was bound to be on the menu sooner or later (photo credit: Capra Noastră)

Lastly, local intel tells us that there’s a new brewery due to open in Cluj in the months to come. With a brewery already in place and currently awaiting authorizations, keep your eyes peeled for the up and coming Beer Next and their wares.

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

Addictive Brewing – Volver – IPA – 6.2% ABV

Artisan Brewing:
– Reise Reise – Kölsch – 4.8% ABV
– Columbus – Session IPA – 5% ABV
– Hop ’em All – DIPA – 7.8% ABV

Bere a la ClujPlanetarium Session IPA – Session IPA

Bereta:
– 3.6 – Not Great, Not Terrible – Session IPA – 3.6% ABV
– Pale Ale with US Cascade & Centennial – 5.1% ABV
– Shapes, Colors & Flavors – Sour IPA with Persimmon, Coconut & Lactose – 6.9% ABV
– Tetraphobia – Blackberries, elderberries & lactose DIPA (collaboration with Wicked Barrel and Hop Hooligans, brewed for Berero Store 4th anniversary) – 8% ABV
– Cold Bru – Blackberry & Coffee IPA (with coffee from Staţia de Cafea) – 6.6% ABV
– Change of Plans – DDH IPA (with Brasserie du Bas-Canada) – 6.7% ABV

Double Drop Crew – Hazy Bubbles – NEIPA – 7% ABV

Ground ZeroSession Imperial IPA – 5% ABV

Hop Hooligans:
– Slice of PI: Key Lime – Vanilla & lime Milkshake IPA – 6% ABV
– Milky Sourpuss – Sour Ale with Sour Cherry – 6% ABV
– Melon Party – Melon and rhubarb Milkshake IPA (with Bereta) – 7% ABV
– Coffee Hooligans – Coffee & coconut Foreign Extra Stout (with Brokreacja) – 8.5% ABV

Nembeer – Weissbier (draft only)

Oriel Beer:
– Summer Break Saison (with Brouwerij De School) – 7.1% ABV
– Hop-a-Billy – Hoppy Saison (with ‘t Hofbrouwerijke) – 6% ABV
– Get Your Hands Off – Brett IPA (collaboration with Blackout Brewing) – 8% ABV

Perfektum:
– Rye Storm – Rye NEIPA – 5.5% ABV
– From East With Love – IPA dry-hopped with Slovenian hops – 5.5% ABV

Plan Beer – Golden Shower – Festival Edition – official beer at the Bucharest Craft Beer Festival – 2019 edition – 4.5% ABV

Three Happy Brewers – Carioca – Hazy Session IPA – 5% ABV

Wicked Barrel – Monday Fuel – Coffee Stout with Ethiopia Jigesa Weysi coffee from Origo – 7.8% ABV

ganu – Sturionul  – Pale Ale (brewed as part of the WWF Endangered Colours project) – 5.6% ABV

Zburătorul – Gilă-Păs-Lungilă – West Coast IPA

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