For years, Polish beer has been overlooked and underrated. In the UK, when you think of Polish beer all you think about is a cheap lager in cans from Off Licences. But beer in Poland is so much more than that. In the last few years, Polish beer has begun to build momentum.
Beer is incredibly popular in Poland, mostly lagers and pilsners. But there are also some excellent Baltic-style porters. Tyskie, Lech, Zywiec, and Okocim are the biggest breweries in Poland. Since Pinta brewery opened in 2012, the craft beer scene has exploded.
In this article, we will explore the world of Polish beer. We will take a brief look at the history of beer in Poland and how it has been influenced by Global events. We will also look at the most popular beer, the craft beer scene, and some of the best places to drink beer in Poland.
The most popular breweries in Poland are Tyskie, Zywiec, Lech, Brok, Okocim, and Dojilidy. While these breweries currently brew a range of different beers, it would be fair to say that lagers and pilsners are by far their most popular beers.
Czech and German beers can also be found in Poland, which makes sense due to the closeness (geographically) of the three countries. Until 2012, craft beer in Poland was non-existent. Today, Poland is one of the fastest-growing craft beer markets in Europe.
I do not want to get sidetracked here, the history of Poland is so long and complicated that to do it any justice would take several massive articles. Or one never-ending Wikipedia page. However, it is difficult to talk about beer in Poland without at least mentioning some of the history.
If you watch the video above, you will see that Poland as a nation has had quite a turbulent time of it. From the peak of the Polish-Lithuanian alliance to not existing for decades at a time. The borders of Poland have moved constantly over the last 400 years. This has led to quite a bit of friction between the countries surrounding Poland but also has led to many similarities. Beer is one of them.
Poland is currently the third biggest producer of beer after Germany and the UK. They are the third biggest consumers of beer after Germany and the Czech Republic. Yet, their beer scene is relatively small. Unlike countries such as Germany or England, where you can find breweries in pretty much every town and city. Polish beer tends to come from just a small group of breweries.
The reason for this has a lot to do with early 20th-century history. World War II kicked off after Poland was invaded by Germany in 1939, then in 1944, the Soviet Union marched through Poland “liberating” it. The Soviets installed a communist leader in Poland, to the dismay of the Polish government who were in exile in London.
Poland would become a communist country, that was overseen by the Soviet Union. This lasted until 1989 when the Polish United Worker’s Party (the main political party) was defeated in the first democratic elections to be held in Poland.
After breaking free from communist rule, Poland took several years to rebuild its economy. But by 1995 Poland had recovered, and in 2003 Poland joined the EU. It is now one of the largest economies in Europe (based on GDP).
So how did history affect beer in Poland? Well, after the communist party took over in 1945, all of the breweries in Poland were nationalised. As you can imagine, this led to stagnation. With no competition from 1945 to 1989, there wasn’t much chance for beer to grow. During this time, Vodka was the most popular drink in Poland. Once democracy came to Poland in 1989 you’d think that the beer scene would explode.
It did, in some ways. Many European brewers were allowed to start selling their beers. But as you can imagine, this didn’t help Polish beer. For many years, it just meant that there were the traditional Polish beers and beers from Germany, the Netherlands, etc …
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, the Polish beer that had been around for centuries is excellent beer. Sticking to tradition is not a bad thing. But the lack of competition did leave the beer scene quite stale.
Craft beer didn’t hit Poland until 2011 when Pinta brewery was born. Today, craft beer is massive in Poland. With many micro-breweries and craft beer bars. Combine that with the emergence of traditional Polish beer on the international scene, and you can see why I’m excited about the future for Polish beer.
The beers in this section are all traditional Polish beers, I will talk about craft beers in another section.
Okocim is a brewery that is just outside of Krakow. It was founded in 1845 by the Götz family, who ran it until the Germans invaded in 1939. Okocim was owned and run by the Nazis until the Polish communist party took over and nationalised it.
While Okocim is mostly known for its lager, the porter is particularly impressive. It is the only Polish beer to have made it into the “Great Beer Guide” by Michael Jackson (the beer enthusiast, not the musician). The porter is described by Jackson as:
“It has a soothing, almost medicinal character, with hints of cinnamon.”
M. Jackson: “Great Beer Guide” (1998)
While we’re on the subject of Okocim beer, it would be crazy not to mention Mocne (pronounced “Mozne”). Mocne is the Polish word for strong and explains the 7.5% alcohol content. This is a strong lager and is often nice and cheap to buy. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that it is “cheap and cheerful”. This beer tastes excellent, has a lot of character, and is an excellent example of strong Polish beer.
Not the easiest Polish beer to find in the UK, but I’ve seen it a few times. This Polish pilsner has taken a lot of influence from the Czech Republic, even using Czech yeast to brew this beer. This is an excellent example of Czech-influenced Polish pilsner.
Another Polish brewery that is over 100 years old (founded in 1846), with a similar history to Okocim. Founded by a family, taken over and nationalised during the communist era, privatised after the fall of the communist party. Perla (Polish for “Pearl”) is another Czech-style pale lager that Poland specialises in. This is another strong beer, hitting 6% abv.
Another Baltic Porter, the Zywiec Porter is a real treat for porter lovers. This beer has been brewed since 1881, using the same brewing process. Adrien Tierney-Jones describes the unusual brewing process in his book “1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die”:
“After fermentation, the Porter travels to the lagering cellars, cold and musty spaces built into the side of a hill. Here, the Porter undergoes a long slumber, and its flavours are smoothed out”
A. Tierney-Jones: “1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die” (2010)
Now tell me you wouldn’t want to give that a try! It makes you wonder just how big Polish beer would have been had they not been taken over by communists!
No list of Polish beer could be complete without mention of Tyskie Gronie. The most popular beer in Poland, and its most popular export. The Tyskie brewery is one of the oldest breweries in Europe, having first opened in 1629! Tyskie Gronie is a pale lager, much like Perla Chmielowa and Brackie Pilsner. But slightly lower in alcohol. Perfect when served chilled.
I was first introduced to Polish craft beer through my Beer52 subscription, I got sent a bunch of Polish craft beers and a magazine (Ferment issue 27) that told me quite a lot about a scene that hadn’t existed before 2012 and was now taking over the Polish beer community. There are many Polish craft beer breweries, but I am only going to mention the ones that I have heard about through Beer52.
The first craft brewery in Poland, Pinta kicked things off with an American IPA called Atak Chmielu which translates as “Attack of the Hops”. This is probably a good description of a type of beer that many in Poland may not have ever tasted before. It certainly appears to be the first commercially brewed IPA in Poland.
Compared to many craft breweries, Pinta may appear to be quite conservative. They brew beers very well and don’t often use crazy ingredients like other craft brewers.
I’ve had two of their beers. The Hoplaaga and the Vermont IPA. Both were excellent, quite strong (6.6% and 6.1% respectively) and very hoppy. The Vermont IPA uses English yeast, so I felt at home drinking it! Pinta has branched out from their first IPA, and have brewed over 100 varieties of beer since 2012. Expect to hear a lot more from them in the future.
Brokreacja is one of the most popular craft breweries in Poland, and they have a reputation for bold brews. The label designs alone are enough to grab your attention. Beers such as “The Fighter” stands out thanks to the cool name and the cartoon depiction of a bare-knuckle boxer.
But the beer is good, well made, with powerful flavours. Brokreacja back up the grandstanding with good quality beers, which will stand them in good stead for the future. They also own one of the best brewpubs in Poland (which is why you’ll see their name further down this article).
They have a Salamander range a WRCLW range (spells out Wroclaw), an art range, and several more. The Salamander range is probably best known though due to the distinctive labels.
The final craft brewery on this list is Trzech Kumpli (or three companions). What I like about this brewery, is that the three founders have known each other since primary school. The idea that three old school friends sat down and said “We should start a brewery” … then actually did it, is amazing! Trzech Kumpli has four main ranges:
This is in no way a complete list! I have also chosen craft beer bars because you can get the normal Polish beers in any bar or restaurant in Poland.
Krakow appears to be the number one spot for craft beer in Poland (please correct me if I’m wrong). There’s Brokreacja, the brewpub I mentioned earlier. The craft beer selection is going to be pretty specific to Brokreacja! But it has rave reviews.
You’ve also got Miejscowka, which is partnered with Trzech Kumpli and serves their entire range (as well as many other guest beers). There’s House of Beer, which opened one year before the craft beer revolution hit Poland. But has embraced it happily ever since. Finally, there is Strefa Piwa. A craft beer bar with an amazing range of beers, and the world’s most confusing website! To be fair, I speak no Polish. It probably makes a lot of sense if you do.
With 200 bottled beers, and 16 beers on tap. Piwna Stopa Craft Beer Pub is going to be on your list of places to visit in Poznan. Apparently, “Stopa” means “foot” in Polish. Which explains why the logo is a foot.
“The admission ticket is love for beer – love for the feet is optional.”
You also have Jabeerwocky Craft beer, which is a small chain of pubs (one of which can be found in Warsaw). The bar/pub is very cool and has an excellent assortment of craft beers to try. Alongside the standard craft beer food (pizza, burgers, wings etc). You can drink above ground, or in their cellar – which is always a fun experience!
Alongside Warsaw’s Jabeerwocky craft beer bar, you also have Artezan. Another brewpub, owned by Artezan brewery. The bar offers 8 taps of beer, and does tasters so you can get through the lot! You’ve also got PiwPaw which has an absolutely MASSIVE range of beers on tap, as well as regular beers. You can also find Belgian beers, Dutch beer, and German beers here.
As in Warsaw, there is a PiwPaw in Łódź with the same massive range of craft and regular beers. Łódź also has a craft beer bar called Piwoteka. This is owned and run by the Piwoteka brewery, but also offers other craft beer from Poland and the rest of the world.
As with craft beer, beer festivals in Poland are fairly new. Unlike Germany’s Oktoberfest. The beer festival that led Beer52 to discover Polish craft beer (which then led me to discover them) is called Beer Geek Madness. This is held in Wroclaw every year (though thanks to the Coronavirus, it’s difficult to say what is happening in 2020) and is a small craft beer festival.
You’ve also got the Krakow BeerWeek festival, which again is affected by Coronavirus (sensing a theme?). There are also beer festivals in Warsaw and many other towns and cities in Poland. You feel that craft beer has stoked the fires of beer in Poland.
Put that all together and you get “Jedno piwo proszę!” or “Dwa piwa proszę!”