Warsaw Among Top World Beer Cities

Note: I did not write this piece. Link appears at the bottom of the article.


Would you beer-lieve it! CNN names Warsaw as one of the top cities in the world for craft beer


According to the American news station, Warsaw stands on a par with Portland and Brussels as one of the world’s best cities for craft beer.

CNN Travel have named Warsaw as one of the Top 15 cities in the world for craft beer, placing the Polish capital in the same bracket as big hitters such as Berlin, Brussels, Portland and Melbourne.

Published earlier in August, the American news network’s countdown of the world’s most “brew-centric cities” has caused much online furore, with critics quick to point out the perplexing exclusion of market leading cities such as Copenhagen, London and Denver in favour of wildcard entries like Shanghai and Tallinn.

Rafał Kowalczyk, a prominent figure in the craft beer circles, is certain that their choice of Warsaw was correct.

Warsaw, however, has largely escaped the puzzled sneers, a fact rooted in the city’s burgeoning reputation among foreign ‘beer experts’.

“Warsaw was the right choice to make,” says Rafał Kowalczyk, a prominent beer judge and the owner of the Jabeerwocky brewery and pub. “It’s increasingly obvious to those who follow craft trends that something special is happening in Poland, and that’s especially true in Warsaw.”

Kowalczyk, who began his own beer journey 15-years ago, has risen to become, by his own admission, “Poland’s oldest and most active beer judge.”

Kowalczyk’s Jabeerwocky bar has, in the past, been itself singled out as one of the top craft beer pubs in the world.

His credentials are difficult to dispute. “Originally, I began by home brewing,” he says, “and basically took a few courses, entered some competitions and won a few prizes.”

This modesty, however, masks the reality. One of the most respected figures on Poland’s craft beer circuit, Kowalczyk’s Jabeerwocky project has seen the birth of one of Warsaw’s most stellar pubs (which itself, has in the past been named as one of the Top 50 best craft beer bars on the planet), as well as off-shoot ventures in the Warsaw suburb of Ursynów and the centre of Poznań.

Increasingly, foreign beer judges and other industry experts have found themselves looking towards Poland.

Privately, Kowalczyk hopes that Wrocław will be added to his portfolio in the future, and possibly even Berlin.

But international ambitions aside, Kowalczyk’s gaze is locked on Poland – as too are those of many others.

“People are now looking towards this country,” says Kowalczyk, “practically all of the beer judges I meet from places like England, Denmark and Sweden know what’s going on.”

According to American beer guru Steve Dresler, it won’t be long till Stateside brewers will be looking to Poland for their inspiration.

The point is affirmed by Paweł Leszczyński, the co-founder of the Warsaw Beer Festival. “We had Steve Dresler (editorial note: the beer guru that evolved Sierra Nevada into one of the world’s top breweries) at last year’s event,” he says, “and he noted that while Poles are taking inspiration from the States, that it wouldn’t be long till the situation was reversed.”

“And yes,” Leszczyński adds, “things are happening here. Polish brewers are learning, inventing and creating their own ways of brewing. At the same time, they’re also involving and evolving a lot of traditional techniques which other countries aren’t.”

“Polish brewers are learning, inventing and creating their own ways of brewing,” says Paweł Leszczyński, co-founder of the Warsaw Beer Festival.

“We’re different to, say, Brussels,” says Kowalczyk. “There, brewing is an art and its beer culture has been recognized by UNESCO. Naturally, therefore, they’re focused more on traditional styles.”

“Those are great,” he continues, “but here in Poland, we have no tradition really – that was all killed off by decades of bar beer production. In many ways, you could compare it to the Prohibition period in the States.”

This, in the long-run, has proved beneficial to Poland’s craft scene.

Poland’s lack of brewing tradition has, in the long-run, proved beneficial to the development of the craft scene.

“Like the Americans, we had to take the same path with our craft scene,” laughs Kowalczyk, “but we’ve done it quicker – we copied them well!”

Lacking the outright tradition of neighbouring countries such as Germany and the Czech Republic, Poland has been able to use this to its advantage says Kowalczyk. “Because of this,” he says, “we’re more open to other styles, we don’t have that same ongoing battle between the old way of doing things and the new. We’re a great template for other nations new to craft.”

Across Warsaw, craft beer bars have thrived since the early days of the ‘beer revolution’. Among them, Cuda Na Kiju.

It is Warsaw, though, that has become the buzzword – both at home and abroad.

This point resounds the loudest on the capital’s Nowogrodzka street, the de facto capital of the local craft scene. Here, inside atmospheric pre-war interiors, bars such as Jabberwocky, Drugie Dno and Kufle i Kapsle conduct a roaring trade that’s often blurred by a multinational babble of tongues.

Within a stone’s throw, other craft pubs can report much the same scene: the pioneering Cuda Na Kiju, traditionalist Gorączka Złota, neighbourly Cześć, contemporary Hoppiness and the acclaimed Artezan (run by the leading-edge brewery of the very same name).

The Jabeerwocky portfolio currently includes a brewery and three bars – now, locations in Wrocław and Berlin are on the radar.

And there are more. From modest beginnings in 2013, the capital’s craft scene has exploded to number little under 50 specialist pubs on the last headcount.

“We hired a company to study our potential client base,” says Kowalczyk, “and they reported back that we had a potential 300,000 customers within a five kilometre radius – in Poznań, that figure was only 30,000.”

Inside atmospheric pre-war interiors, bars such as Kufle i Kapsle conduct a roaring trade along Nowogrodzka street.

But why the difference? “It helps that Warsaw people can spend a little more on beer,” says Kowalczyk, “but there’s other factors at work as well.”

“As a capital city,” he says, “people are naturally more tolerant; there’s more diversity. You have people of different orientations and other scopes of interest. People are more open-minded and the success of craft products is a reflection of that.”

Kowalczyk is, however, quick to extend credit to cover other areas of Poland.

“People are more tolerant in Warsaw,” states Kowalczyk, “and the success of the craft scene reflects that.

“Warsaw is special, but when you look across the rest of the country, you can see that the Polish people in general have been very open to the philosophy of ‘slow food’ and such like. Craft beer is an extension of that. It’s on the same shelf as ‘slow food’ in that it’s been crafted with passion. We like that!”

Whilst the wild years of near-daily beer premiers might have come to an end, the beer revolution that brewed several years ago has not by any means waned and died.

Defining the domestic market as “stable but growing”, Kowalczyk interprets the current climate as having the tell-tale signs of a maturing sector.

“People are more familiar with what they want nowadays,” he says, “they expect good quality and as bar owners we need to be more careful about what we stock – that means great beers from reputable breweries, and while we do have several international beers, we remain 70% Polish in our offer. We want to support our friends.”

In a sign of maturity, the craft beer sector has calmed since it’s early days and is today defined by its stable growth.

Furthermore, although new bar launches have become a little rarer, there still appears to be enough space on the market for more to enter.

“The crucial thing you have to remember about the craft beer industry,” conclude Kowalczyk, “is that by in large, once someone tries craft, they don’t go back to the Big Brother, mainstream beers.”

By no means is this an idle speculation – let Warsaw, and it’s blooming craft scene, be the evidence of that.



Just in time for Holiday Season (but barely)

One curious drink that I encountered in Poland was mulled beer. It was on menus (along with mulled wine) and on sidewalk signs as winter approached. On this particular cold November night, we met up with friends for dinner at Pikanteria in Warsaw’s Saska Kępa neighborhood. After dinner, our waiter asked if I’d like a mulled beer to keep me warm. I was told it is a traditional after dinner drink, so with my wife ordering a mulled wine, I went for it.

Pikanteria had a decent selection of bottled Polish craft beer, but our waiter recommended I go with a pale lager (AKA pilsner) instead. He said lighter flavored beers pair better with the spices in the drink, so I chose Tyskie Gronie. Besides, I’d had Tyskie Gronie before, so this made easy to compare between the spiced and plain versions of the beer.

When my drink arrived, it was unlike any beer I’d ever seen. Being from California, I’m familiar with michelada (sometimes called chelada) beers, but this was something else. While they vary, micheladas are usually served cold and typically mixed with Clamato (mixed clam and tomato juice), hot sauce, lime, and chili powder served in a glass with a salted rim. Some common variations are even topped with cold cooked prawns or cucumber slices. Think of micheladas as a Mexican version of bloody beer. This was something entirely different.

My mulled beer arrived hot and served in a tall slender mug with a few whole cloves and a cinnamon stick floating in the concoction. One the side it was accompanied by a lemon wedge and honey. After removing the cinnamon stick and cloves, I squeezed in the lemon and added some honey to the drink. I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t a fan. It tasted like an herbal tea brewed in beer. Maybe it was because I was still wrapping my mind around the idea of drinking a warm, spiced beer. Like I said, this was unlike any drink I’ve ever had. While researching for this post, I found that mulled beer is a thing in parts of the American Midwest and Northeast, possibly due to the common Central and Northern European heritage in those areas. However, this California boy was bewildered by this strange drink.

Would I have this again? Maybe. Was it completely repulsive? Not exactly. To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of mixing stuff into beer. I jokingly tell my michelada drinking friends that if they need to mix something into their beer in order to drink it, then something must be wrong with their beer. I figure, to each their own. Both drinks are influenced by local foods and weather. Micheladas were made for warm weather drinking. Mulled beer was obviously made for the cold of winter. In the end, drink what you want to drink.


Miguel Ruelas

Beer, Resurrected

Beer history is an interesting creature, with many styles having been lost to time. Others have died out, only to return to glory. Gose and witbier are two examples of this. When it comes to Poland, grodziskie (also known as grätzer in German) is the obvious example of a beer style that has come back from the dead. However, another style harks back to Poland’s farmhouse beer tradition.

Saison’s Long-Lost Sibling
Rosanke (pronounced ro-sahn-kuh) is the name for farmhouse beers from the regions of Warmia and Masuria (roughly corresponding to the modern day province of Warmia-Mazury in northeastern Poland), at least since the period of Prussian occupation. Since literature of these beers is hard to come by, most of what I have to go by are accounts from breweries themselves. That being said, they pretty much all tell the same story. Rosanke beers were malty, low in alcohol, and brewed in the spring for refreshment during the summer harvest season. Brewed by and for peasant farmers with whatever they had on hand. The grain bill could contain any combination of barley, oats, rye, or wheat. Rosanke is starting to sound quite a bit like a traditional saison if you ask me.

Rosanke Reborn
So far, modern examples are more or less based on these guidelines. Rosanke beers appear to have been lightly hopped, but based on these modern interpretations, they were also flavored and spiced with available adjuncts. Rosanke has sort of a cult following with Polish homebrewers, and at least one brewery (Kormoran) brews its yearly rosanke in collaboration with award winning homebrewers. In fact, Kormoran was the first to have recreated a commercial example of rosanke back in 2014. This was the same year that I arrived in Warsaw, and I distinctly remember seeing their 2014 rosanke in a couple of alkoholes, but didn’t pay it much attention. I had no idea what I was looking at, and probably wouldn’t have appreciated it much since I had no knowledge of what it was. Oh well.
Before I forget, at least a couple of breweries have taken to using Fermentis Safbrew S-33 yeast for fermentation. It looks like they are going for a Belgian farmhouse type character in these beers, but I have no idea how this lines up with traditional examples. The following are detailed descriptions on a few of the beers. Rosankes are typically spring seasonal releases, and while most may or may not tweak their recipes, Kormoran changes theirs yearly. Kormoran’s 2018 version is on the low end at 3% ABV, while the rosanke made by Browar Widawa is on the high end at 4.7% ABV. PiwoWarownia in Szczyrzyc makes not one, but two versions of rosanke. One is Ostatni Wianek, the floral “Ladies Rosanke”, while the other is “Moc Kupały”, the spicier “Mens Rosanke”.

Ostatni Wianek by PiwoWarownia

Rosanke Ladies with spices of love, 11 ° Blg 3.5% ABV
For centuries we have been strengthening our love efficiency with natural characteristics. Especially for the ladies, we seasoned our beer with lovage, honey, vanilla, lavender and rose petals.

Grain: Barley, wheat, oat, barley, oatmeal, rye and barley
Hops: Lubelski
Additions: lovage, honey, lavender, vanilla, rose petals
Yeast: S-33

Rosanke Ladies Ostatni Wianek

Moc Kupały by PiwoWarownia

Rosanke Men with spices of love, 11 ° Blg 3.5% ABV

For centuries we have been strengthening our love efficiency with natural characteristics. Especially for men, we added our beer with lovage, hot pepper, cayenne pepper and cinnamon.

Grain: Barley, wheat, oat, barley, oatmeal, rye and barley
Hops: Lubelski
Additions: lovage, hot pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon
Yeast: S-33

Rosanke Mens Moc Kupaly

Młócka by Browar Widawa (collaboration with Browar Solipiwko)

11.6 ° Blg 4.7% ABV
Grain: Pale ale malts, Munich, caramel red, red crystal
Hops: Marynka, Lubelski, Simcoe
Yeast: S-33

Rosanke Mlocka

Malts N’Roses by Piwoteka (collaboration with Jabeerwocky)

10.5 ° Blg 4% ABV 19 IBU
Grain: Barley malts, wheat malt, rye malt
Additions: Oats, honey, lovage, rosemary, hops, yeast

Rosanke Piwoteka

Rosanke 2018 by Browar Kormoran

10.5 ° Blg 3% ABV
Grain: Dark barley, rye, oats, spelt
Hops: Lomik
Additions: Juniper, lime, chamomile, yeast

Rosanke Kormoran


From the look of the ingredients, rosanke is somewhat open to interpretation. My impression is that they inhabited a space somewhere between traditional Wallonian saisons, the grisettes of Hainaut, and English milds. Low ABV, low hopping, varied grain bills, and spiced. I can’t wait to go back to Poland and have a few.

Na zdrowie!

– Miguel Ruelas


P.S.  Here are some source links so you don’t think I’m making this all up!







Who’s That Lady (Part III)

Today marks a year that I last heard from my contact at the Department of Plant Breeding and Biotechnology at the IUNG Institute regarding the cucumber and melon scented hops that I found growing wild on an abandoned property in Warsaw. Last night around midnight (around 9 AM in Poland), I sent her an email to ask about my mystery hop plant and went to bed. By the time that I had woken up this morning, she had replied.

Update: She made it to Warsaw and apparently located the property and hop plants, but it was late in the season by the time she arrived. By that time, the hops were all overripe and none of them really smelled like hops anymore. As mentioned in the first Who’s That Lady post, the plant was growing intertwined in a cluster of four or five hop bines, so she took cuttings (rhizomes) of the plants. It looks like plants did indeed grow from the rhizomes, but none of them flowered this year. Her plan is to move them to the hopyard at IUNG next year to see if she got rhizomes from the right plant. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!! I would love to name those hops if at all possible!!!

Na zdrowie! (Cheers!),

Miguel Ruelas

Three Years Ago (AKA I see you!)

No beer this time, just a pledge. Three years ago today, my family and I moved to Warsaw. This is my son and I at Chopin Airport (my wife snapped the pic). My pledge is to ramp up the posts and more or less keep up with my beer posts and Poland memories in chronological order, as close to the original date as possible.

The ‘I see you!’ part is a big thank you to all who view this blog. Everyone from Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, France, Peru, Chile, India, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Canada, Belgium, Germany, the US, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and anywhere else I forgot to mention. I’ve had a few beers while watching the #CaneloGGG fight tonight, so please forgive me. There will be more to come soon, you’ll see.

Miguel Ruelas

Who’s That Lady? (Part II)

Since my last post, I’ve been in touch with the Plant Breeding and Biotechnology Department at the IUNG Puławy. For anyone keeping score at home, the IUNG Puławy is the Institute of Soil Science and Plant Cultivation in Puławy, Poland. The institute has developed most of the hop varieties to come out of Poland in the last quarter century or so. They were “very interested” in this mystery plant, and said they would go searching for it with the info I provided, as well as keep me posted. I’m happy, this is good news to wake up to on one’s birthday.



Who’s That Lady?

Now before we get started, I want to say that I am by no means a hop expert. I’m just a beer lover who loves hops; a self taught hop head who loves Cascade, Citra, CTZ, Saaz, Tettnang, Idaho 7, Nelson, Galaxy, Jester, and the rest. This means that my first couple of months in Warsaw were like heaven with hops growing wildly all over the city. I would literally pick hops while walking down any number of streets and parks and split them open to smell the lupulin. I dry hopped a few home made ciders and a kvass with locally grown hops. Heck, I even made teas with them. They pretty much all smelled and tasted similar to Saaz or Tettnang, Noble Hops from the neighboring Czech Republic and Germany, respectively. I did however come across something completely different one day.

On a trip to the outskirts of Warsaw, we got off at an unfamiliar bus stop to switch buses to get to our destination. This was in a rough looking patch of Warsaw. We were far from the Centrum and Stare Miasto sections of town, places where three foreign faces wouldn’t have seemed too out of place. However, this was a working class area that felt more Eastern Bloc than EU. Since we had a few minutes to spare until our bus arrived, the family and I went for a short walk around.

As always, hops were growing along streets and open lots. We came across a gnarly mix of about four or five large hop plants growing outside of an abandoned building. I picked a few hops, ripped them open and sniffed them. As usual, they smelled like floral and spicy Continental Hops. Then, I picked some more and smelled something unusual, specifically cucumbers and honeydew. I yelled in excitement to my wife, “Honey! Check this out!”. She sniffed them too and I asked her what she smelled. She said she got the cucumber aroma as well. I was ecstatic. I frantically started tracing the bines through a tangled web to see which plant these peculiar hops were growing from. Just then, we could see our bus approaching so we ran back to the bus stop to catch our ride.

On the way to our destination, I was already making plans to go back with a shovel in hand and dig up rhizomes (pieces of roots used to propagate plants) for replanting. I figured I could get them back to California somehow. To make a long story short, I didn’t get to dig up any rhizomes for planting later. With my wife in school all week, I was child care, I was the home maker, and winter was arriving quickly. So by the time I actually got an opportunity to go out there, the hops and bines had yellowed and had lost their aroma, so it was impossible to see which was which.

For a while, I figured I would just need to go out to Warsaw in the fall again. As time has passed, I’m not sure when I’ll be going back again, so I’ve began to reach out to hop growers and other beer people in Poland. My fear was that this property would be developed and the hop plant would be destroyed. While melon scented hops aren’t unheard of (the aptly named Huell Melon hop varietal from Germany does this well), this is something growing wildly in an urban environment, not a plant that was purposely bred for certain characteristics. Another reason I’ve reached out is terroir. The same term used to describe differences in wine grapes growing environments is also very much a thing with hop growing (see my previous post, Hops, Off the Beaten Path ). Even if I was able to get some of these rhizomes back to California, the changes is soil composition, temperature (especially the heat), lower latitude, and who knows what else would most likely create something way different than what was growing wildly on that abandoned patch of Warsaw, IF they managed to survive.

I believe this could be something special, definitely something different than the neighboring plants. One hop grower who shall remain anonymous, told me that he didn’t think he could sell “even a pound of cucumber hops here in Poland”. I get where he’s coming from. Cucumbers are ubiquitous in Polish cuisine. It seems that every produce display in the country has a mound of them, and jars of pickles are everywhere. It would be like stumbling upon potato or tomato scented hops here in the States. I tried convincing him that they would be a hit outside of Poland, but he didn’t see it. At the very least, this hop could provide new breeding material to develop new strains. I’ve since reached out to another breeder who seems to be taking this a little more seriously. I’ll post an update when I have more info, hopefully sooner than later.



Miguel Ruelas