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A Foreigner’s Guide To Slovakian Beer

Eastern Europe

Slovakian Beer

We did an article on Slovakian girls. We did one on Slovakian dating sites. But, as awesome as this country’s women may be, a man can’t live on hot dates alone. If you are looking for inspiration on what to order during your next bar-hopping adventure (have a lot of those when in Slovakia!), read on. If you are a beer snob… Well, try to stay open-minded. Slovakian beer culture is not world-famous as it should be but it is awesome. Give it a shot! Or, you know, a sip (sorry, had to).

Slovakian Beer Vs Czech Beer

Slovakia was not separate from the Czech Republic until 1990. Needless to say, their history and culture are intertwined. This is valid for beer culture as well.

So why is Czech beer so much more famous? 

Firstly, because they invented Pilsner, that beloved pale lager. Secondly, I think it has to do with Prague. Bratislava is cool and all but Prague receives infinitely more visitors.

More tourists means more attention to local products, including the awesome beer.

Slovakian beer, however, is no worse than Czech beer. It could even be better! After all, there are no borders for tasty alcoholic beverages. Jot that down as a life lesson!

A Brief, But Exciting History

Slovakian Beer

Slavs love their beer, they always have. But while other Slavic tribes were slowly moving on to wine during the Middle Ages, Slovak beer production only kept growing.

Matthias Corvinus is a Hungarian king who loved it so much that it was all he served on his wedding. And during other people’s weddings in his court, too. Imagine toasting to the bride and groom with beer instead of champagne! Although, to be fair, champagne did not exist back then.

In the Banská Bystrica region, Tampliers themselves established a brewery or so says the legend. This is a mining region and they found a lot of success there. Miners would call beer liquid bread and drink it all throughout the day.

Beer was a surprisingly good choice for hydration and some extra calories. Back in those days, clean drinking water was not at all common. Even if you were drinking from a crystal-clear mountain spring, there was no telling if it wasn’t contaminated with bacteria and viruses. People who favoured beer didn’t have the same problem. Alcohol disinfects. And this is how day drinking saves people’s lives.

Slovakian Beer Today

When the communist regimen began, all private property was nationalised. That included breweries. There were initially 12 of them, which the comrades merged into three national companies.

But just because people were now living a happy, carefree socialist life, doesn’t mean they stopped drinking.

Not only did they not stop, but demand was constantly increasing. The regimen was forced to establish new breweries and increase the capacity of the existing ones.

When the regimen fell in 1989, there plenty of industrial breweries and not a lot of investors (some of these breweries had huge debts). Eventually, things did get better for Slovakian beer. Today, there are 18 industrial breweries, as well as plenty of microbreweries.

The large breweries are internationally owned – either by Heineken or SABMiller. They maintain a very high standard but you’d be surprised to find how much better craft beer can be. Spoken like a true hipster, I know, but these smaller breweries can afford to focus on a specific type of beer and get it exactly right. Huge companies have to produce in massive quantities and their beer is inevitably more generic.

Major Breweries

There are four of these:

  • Hurbanovo
  • Šariš
  • Steiger
  • Erb

Hurbanovo was founded in 1967 and put beer on the market for the first time in 1969. They are absolute newcomers in a place where some breweries have centuries of tradition. However, Hurbanovo quickly made a name for itself and today it produces most Slovakian beer.

It did not all go smoothly, though. When they merged with Heineken, they grew to be one of the largest malting operations on the continent. But Heineken started buying other breweries and moving all production to Hurbanovo. They even started making the beloved Martiner (which had been produced in the town of Martin since 1893) in Hurbanovo people were outraged. In protest, they stopped buying all Heineken-produced beer.

Hurbanovo-produced brands include:

  • Zlatý Bažant
  • Kelt
  • Corgoň
  • Martiner
  • Gemer

These are not fancy beers and older men will low-key mock you for buying them. If you ask me, they are still pretty tasty, so no stigma. Just don’t let your craft beer loving Slovak friends see you order them.

Erb Brewery: Miner’s Paradise

For most of the Late Middle Ages, beer production was centred around mining communities. The owners of the mines were also owners of the breweries. And, considering how much miners loved their liquid bread, these two enterprises perfectly complimented each other.

During communist times, these traditions were largely forgotten. The Erb brewery, although it has its’ origins in the 14th-15th century, was only reopened in 2010. But since then, they have quickly gained a reputation for the ‘last real Slovakian beer’.

The Erb brewery is also very visitable and tourist-friendly. The entire Erb team has embraced promoting beer as an important part of the Slovakian culture. They export ERB to faraway places like Japan and Australia. In the words of their owner:

I want tourists to say: I was in a country where they brew great beer.

Visiting The Erb Brewery

If you are looking for a day trip from Bratislava, why not explore some breweries. There are organized tours but you can plan it all yourself just as easy. The Erb brewery is a place to absolutely include in the programme!

The old mining town is charming and provides the perfect backdrop for their beer experience. They will happily show you around their ‘factory’. It is all set-up in the 16th-century synagogue of the town. Sacrilegious? Perhaps slightly, but you will enjoy it anyway.

Once you are done, head over to the restaurant for some freshly brewed, unfiltered beer, as well as a variety of delicious local dishes.

Slovakian Beer: Notable Microbreweries

If you see a craft beer at a bar, order it. Even if you do not see it explicitly mentioned in the next couple of paragraphs. There are now tons of microbreweries around Slovakia and I wouldn’t want you to miss out on something I forgot to mention it. The rule of thumb is: if the locals are drinking it, bottoms up!

Zámocký Pivovar is a must when in Bratislava. It’s just a couple of minutes away from the city’s gothic-Rennaisance castle, yet sadly overlooked by most tourists. With simple dark-wood interior, dominated by a huge brass beer tank, Zámocký Pivovar is the place to get the night started.

Starosloviensky Pivovar is a fancier spot, where you can sample both amazing Slovakian beer and traditional Slovakian goat’s cheese. The entire venue looks very ‘tradition meets luxury’ and they are incredibly proud of all their products. Order Pressburg, their own brew, which is rich in flavour and compliments the cheeses perfectly.

Try Egidius Brewery for your all of your aprés-ski alcohol needs. Right in the centre of Poprad, it’s a brewery within a bar and they serve a surprising variety of both local and foreign beers. As usual, my tip is to go with their own, locally-brewed beer, if only to avoid dirty looks from the waiters (which are inevitable if you order Guinness). Although Egidius do serve food, I’d say try the restaurant next door and then pop into the bar for drinks.

Slovakian Beer

A Final Bratislava Favourite

Meštiansky Pivovar is definitely not off the beaten track. This central restaurant/ bar/ microbrewery is always bustling – weeknights and weekends alike. Locals and tourists alike adore Meštiansky Pivovar and keep coming back. Here is a comprehensive list on why it’s a Bratislava staple:

  • Meštiansky Pivovar has the perfect location. It’s just off the main shopping boulevard, tucked down in a private, romantic, but still super central side street.
  • They cook and they cook very well. In Meštiansky Pivovar you can knock two items off your Slovakia bucket list at once – mouth-watering traditional food (order the beef!) and awesome local beer.
  • It has history. Although Meštiansky Pivovar only appeared in 2010, this is where a 1477 brewery once stood and the current owners do as much as they can to resurrect tradition. Meštiansky Pivovar, with its warm lights, and three floors of merry drunks, feels like stepping back a couple of centuries.

In conclusion, if you only have 8 hours in Bratislava, this is the microbrewery to visit. Of course, they get extra points for feeding you well, too. Besides, who knows, you might even cross eyes with a Slovakian cutie in there. Yes, women in Slovakia love their beer and they’re not ashamed to admit it.

What are your favourite aspects of Slovakian beer culture? Have you go any fun or embarrassing (or both) stories to share?

Say ‘Hi’ to us in the comments below! Happy travels… And drink responsibly, Western tourists already have a nasty enough reputation in nearby Prague.

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