11 May 2015

Wotcha Łódź!

The biannual summit of Europe's beer consumer organisations took place in Poland last month, hosted by Bractwo Piwne which was celebrating 20 years of campaigning. The venue was Bractwo's mother city of Łódź, a place which grew large and wealthy in the textile trade but is now more famous for its universities and the imaginative uses it has found for grand nineteenth-century industrial buildings. The beer scene is healthy and thriving, much like most other Polish cities, it seems. Reuben and I managed to squeeze a bit of pub-hopping around the busy business schedule over our three days there.

Most of the venues are just off the long straight spine of Piotrkowska, the main commercial street. Our first port of call was Rademenes, where we followed a sign advertising regional beers through an archway and into a diner-style pub, all tiled floors and vinyl banquettes. The pub's mascot is a black cat who likes to drape herself across the patron's shoulders as he goes about his duties. The taps are few and unmarked so we opted for pointing at bottles from the sizeable collection on display. Funnily enough the first one I noticed was Lublin to Dublin, brewed by Carlow Brewing as a collaboration with Pinta, a brewing company down south near Katowice. Next to it, some other Pinta beers, so that's where I started.

Atak Chmielu ("Hop Attack" - chmielu is about the only word of Polish I learned all trip) is a 6.1% ABV IPA. Quite a sweet one too, despite the name: I got lots of brown sugar in the aroma and caramel in the flavour. There's a very slight herbal citrus element and an acrid bitterness, both of which put me in mind of hop-forward beers that are past their best. I'm not sure if that's the case here, but it's certainly one that didn't live up to the promise of its name. You can read more about the iconic status of Atak Chmielu on Zythophile here. Reuben chose Hopus Pokus, also by Pinta. This black IPA is 6.3% ABV and big on hop bitters and stout-like roast. Smooth, drinkable, but maybe shading a little towards bland, especially given the strength.

The next stop was rather more geek-focused. Piwoteka is a long narrow sequence of rooms on the ground floor of a grand building, with a short bar up at one end. A blackboard lists a dozen or so draught options, including several on cask. And it was to the handpumps I turned first, choosing Black Hope by AleBrowar, a contract brand from up near Gdańsk. This was altogether more complex than Pinta's effort, with lots more roast up front, giving way to crunchy green vegetal depths. So far so stout-like but then there's this odd floral flourish in the finish indicating some generous late hopping. The low carbonation makes it a very gulpable beer, though I wonder if the hops might be more pronounced in a keg version. I enjoyed it, though. Reuben's choice was Reden's Zabobon. Thankfully the descriptions were in English because I don't know how long it would have taken us to decipher that this is designated a smoked imperial India brown ale. Chestnut red, it opens with a lovely freshly-grilled kipper aroma and the smoke really dominates the flavour to begin. Underneath there's a smooth and sweet red ale given just an edge by assertive bittering. But you only get a glimpse before the smoke clouds cloak the palate once again. I'm normally quite sceptical about the place of smoke in heavy sweet ales like this, but it really works well here.

On the next round I wanted the black saison by Kraftwerk (another contract operation) but it was just about out so I had to content myself with the small sample in the middle of the photo there. Południca is advertised as merely containing "spices" but that's not the half of it. It smells strongly, we agreed, of stuffing and gravy, all dark meat and oily sage. That sage is so strong in the flavour it made my tongue numb and totally destroyed any other flavours present. Even the signature dry saison bite was barely detectable. An unsettling beer, and I'm slightly glad there wasn't a full measure left.

As a substitute, Reuben chose a different saison, Niezłe Ziółko brewed especially for the pub by local brewer Jan Olbracht. This is herb infused as well, but a little more subtly. It's a hazy gold colour and offers an enticing crispness in its aroma. It tastes quite gruit-like and there's a complex mix of basil, parsley and pepper, resulting in a strange but pleasant sausage flavour. It's another one that may disappoint saison purists, but I liked it.

And on the left of the picture, So Far So Dark, another one from AleBrowar. Fresh coffee and beefy autolysis are the aroma but on tasting it's much less weird, being mainly quite dry with some very pleasant lavender and chocolate. The texture is one of its best features, heavy and filling, and I was surprised to find it's a mere 6.2% ABV.