12 May 2015

Pillar to post

There was one pub missing from yesterday's pub crawl through Łódź: Fermentacja is in a cramped basement down a narrow staircase off the street. It's well-kept, however, and offers a good selection of Polish beers, mostly by the bottle. The one relevant to this post is Ciechan AIPA, Ciechan being the craft offshot of the Jakubiak brewery. It's low in ABV by the standards of the other Polish IPAs I drank, at just 5.4% ABV, but there's plenty of weight here: sweet malt and oily hop resins. And while the chewy biscuit malt dominates the taste, there's a nice burst of fresh grapefruit right on the finish. Decent stuff, if not spectacular.

I mentioned Z Innej Beczki in yesterday's post. Subsequent visits turned up beers like Pinta's Stare Ale Jare (left), a pretty much bang-on 5% ABV alt, limpid red and perfectly balanced between sweet dark malt and a green noble hop bite; and also their Ota Mata IPA: a clear yellow job brimming with juicy honeydew and tart, refreshing grapefruit. They were also pouring Opactwo Olbrachta, a Belgian-style IPA by Jan Olbracht. I'm not sure exactly where the Belgian credentials of this 7% ABV dark amber beer lie, but I do know it has some fantastic dry lemon tea flavours for supreme refreshment in what should be quite a weighty mouthful.

Don't get too comfortable there: we also have a beer festival to go to. A few dozen of Poland's regional brewers had taken over the city's Expo hall to stage a compact but interesting festival of their wares. We didn't have long to explore it, but from the queues at one stand it was clear that one brewery in particular was giving the people what they want.

Browar Bednary is in central Poland, about half way between Łódź and Warsaw, and trades under the Łowickie brand. Łowickie Pale Ale is a reasonable enough beer: there's a little bit of bath-bomb herbs and flowers in it and quite a sticky texture for just 4.7% ABV, but there's enough mandarin and jaffa pith for it to pass muster. Bednary Hop Artifact black IPA, however, is the one that had people returning to the end of the line as soon as their glass was filled. It's a veritable explosion of straight-from-the-freezer fresh hop aromas, leading on to deliciously mouth-coating tropical fruit oils and yet, very cleverly, hardly a hint of bitterness. The texture is pure sherbet and the whole drinking experience sublime. Certainly one of the best black IPAs I've ever encountered.

The other beers at the festival didn't come close to that. The cod-mystical branding of Celtyckie was more entertaining than the amber lager itself: a saccharine-sickly malt base and a dull metallic clang of boring hops. And finishing on Czarny Kot because, hey look, a cat. It's a 6% ABV dark lager, though tastes unpleasantly stronger and once again is far too sweet, even for my palate.

More and better dark lagers to come tomorrow, but on to the final engagement of the weekend: Bractwo Piwne's birthday party, combined with the regional beer and brewing awards. At the gala dinner afterwards I mostly drank Kormoran IPA, yet another dark malt-forward Polish IPA imbued with an oily, spicy bitterness. The resins are as apparent in its aroma as they are in the flavour. Invigorating when cold, it's definitely one to enjoy before it gets too close to room temperature and all that sticky caramel malt starts to wake up.

Just at the end of the night our hosts put a keg of Reden's rauchbier on, the delightfully-branded Darth Lager. It's the same murky brown colour as the Schlenkerla classic with just a nonchalant wisp of smoke in the aroma. It goes full heavy-metal-stage-effects in the flavour, though: a thick, heavy fog of smoke and a distinct tang of iodine. There's no messing about here, and I rather liked it for that. Or respected it, at least.

That's enough running about for the moment. Tomorrow we'll sit down, relax, and take our time over Poland's national beer style.

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