Just spent a week in Kraków, where they do like their beer, even though vodka in many forms dominates the scene. Sadly, Zywiec is the market leader and I've already had my speak on that one. So what else have they got?
The range is impressive and I didn't even try to scratch the surface of what's available. Instead I picked a few seemingly interesting bits and pieces off the shelves. I suspect a lot of Polish beer is plain lager in the Zywiec mould, Ksiazece Tyskie certainly is (I'm not sure how it differs from the other Tyskie, but the label is different). Dog in the Fog I picked just on the name. It's a very fizzy lager with sweet maltose overtones. Another animal-themed lager is Zubr, featuring the European bison on the label and proceeds from which go towards bison conservation. Ethical, but not very interesting as a beer.
Given the dullness in evidence, it's not surprising that adding fruit syrup to beer is the done thing in Poland (they even do hot mulled beer, which is, um, odd). To save one the bother having to actually add the syrup there are a number of ready-flavoured beers on the market. Freeq is one of the better ones, raspberry and cranberry flavoured and resembling a light kriek. It's quite a bit sweeter, however, and lacks the dryness and crafted subtlety of Belgian lambics. Redd's comes in several flavours and I tried the Apple and the Red (raspberry and strawberry). They both just taste like a soft drink, with no beer flavour at all. The same goes for Classic Ginger's Beer, a light ginger beer which is more like an alcopop.
There is good news, however. Debowe Mocne is a bitter but flavoursome strong amber lager. It's all too rare to find a lager where high alcohol means a stronger flavour, but this one manages it. Zywiec also redeems itself with Zywiec Porter, a very sweet, dark stout. The sweetness makes it a bit cloying, but it's very good in small doses.
Kraków has one brewpub, CK Browar, selling four beers. Jasne ("Light") is cloudy and easy-going: quite inoffensive, really. Their weissbier, Weizen, is in the dry French style, though a touch more palatable than most of the genre. Dunkel is dark and sparkly with a classic burnt grain taste. Finally, there's a ginger beer called Imbirowe. Mind you, so subtle is the ginger taste that you'd need to know about it in advance - only the fainest spice aroma comes through.
Kraków, unfortunately, isn't a great beer destination. There's so much choice, however, that I'm sure it's perfectly possible to have a completely different experience. And if you don't like the beer, there's some magnificent vodka.
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