15 May 2015

Post-industrial brewing

Łódź has two brewpubs, at opposite ends of the city's outskirts. There's room for plenty more, though: the old factory buildings which make up so much of the place are ideal for conversion.

Buddha Pub is to the south, based in Księży Młyn ("The Priest's Mill"), a vast factory complex that now houses a Swarovski crystal dealer in the premises adjoining the pub. The venue is appropriately blinged up, its crystal chandelier as much a feature as the gleaming copper brewkit. In the vaulted roofspace above is the Gronowalski restaurant, which is where I got to actually work through the Księży Młyn beers.

Atłasowe was the first, a märzen. It's as brewpubby as brewpub lager can be: hazy orange and tasting rich, rounded, wholesome and calorific. That warming malt is pretty much its only flavour feature and it's a lot more like a kellerbier than a clean factory-brewed märzen. Only the extra weight gives it away. It's one of those brewpub beers that is fine but unremarkable when cheap at the source but would never make it out in the world.

To the pils next, Bawełniane. This has the same sort of roughness as the märzen but is much better drinking. While hazy and far from clean-tasting, it's also beautifully crisp and thirst-quenching with some lovely tinned fruit hop notes. This is the one I'd make my usual when hanging out at the Buddha.

Wlokiennicze is described as an Extra Special Bitter and the signature house murk is very apparent here too, being an unattractive opaque brown colour. There's what seems to be a certain smokiness to it, suggesting perhaps that rogue phenols are at work. A harsh liquorice bitterness is apparent too. Drinking it is hard, dirty work, especially after that light and carefree pils.

The last two beers I don't have the official names for. Księży Młyn's Ginger Beer prompts an apology to all those over-sweetened un-beery sickly concoctions: this one makes them seem like finely balanced IPAs in comparison. It's purest black and just tastes of Christmas cookies and nothing else, roaring out ginger and cinnamon without even so much as a hint of actual malt. It's fun for a sip but I imagine the joke would get very boring very quickly. Księży Młyn's Honey Beer is another dark and dense one, heavily and messily perfumed and far too sticky and cloying to be drinkable. I'm all for playing with styles and recipes, but this place would be better off tweaking the regular beers instead of trying to be daring.

Bierhalle is the name of the brewpub to the north of the city centre, part of a chain of six around the country. It's huge but almost lost in the vastness of the Manufaktura shopping and entertainment complex, a grand project which has beautifully restored an enormous redbrick former factory. It's the first place I've ever seen transparent brewing vessels but unfortunately they weren't in use on the day.

German styles predominate once again and this time I kicked off with pils. Bierhalle Pils is another hazy pale yellow job, and is just as crisp as Księży Młyn's but with a more authentically German herbal hop character, popping with freshness as one would expect from a brewed-on-site lager. After an epic trudge around the shops at Manufaktura this strikes me as a very appropriate pick-me-up.

I opted for Bierhalle Pszeniczne next, their weizen. Rather soupy-looking, I thought. It tastes sweet and very banana-like, though not quite in Cornelius's league. There's a savoury characteristic from the yeast and that gradually grows as it warms, which is balance of a sort. Still not a great beer, however. Or maybe just not the sort of weissbier I like.

Just time to chug a last one back before we leave Poland altogether, and it's Bierhalle Weizen Doppelbock. Well, that's what they called it. It may have a different official name. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it is very good: a medium amber-brown and showing lots of hard toffee, caramelised to the point of burnt, and plenty bitter with it too. The texture is very smooth making it easy drinking for the beer blogger in a hurry. A stein might be too much but 40cl is just right.

I hope this week's posts have given a broad view of what's going on in Polish beer at the moment, even if it did concentrate entirely on just one city's offerings. Poland strikes me as somewhere a lot like Ireland, beerwise: lots of brewers on a learning curve in terms of recipes and quality, but one or two like Bednary and Doctor Brew really breaking ahead of the pack and ready for a place on the world stage. It's an exciting time, I'd say.

A massive thanks to Jan, Sara and all the team at Bractwo Piwne who masterminded the trip and proudly showed off what their local brewers are making.

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