Garden

Our friends in Croatia take the lead on a global brewing collaboration

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Thanks to lockdown, it’s been years since I was last at The Garden Brewery in Zagreb, and it appears to have used the time well. In 2018, I had to pick my way through a yard of Coca-Cola vending machines to find the brewery’s (albeit very cool) industrial estate home. This time I’m greeted by a landscaped oasis of grass and trees, through which laughing children run and play. It’s all rather more reflective of the brewery’s brand and, more importantly, of the values of the people behind it.

The new taproom is, fittingly, built into the shell of a former garden centre, with much better links into the city centre than the brewery’s old post-industrial base. The exterior is lush and expansive, with seating areas as well as large patches of well-kept lawn. Inside, the space is divided by a glass partition, between the taproom and the gleaming stainless steel of the brewery itself. Sunlight pours in through the glass roof and large windows, nourishing the trees and shrubs between the tables, and giving atmosphere that’s more Victorian glasshouse than craft dive bar.

PHOTO: Julien Duval

All of this literal window dressing is not just window dressing, however. A staggering amount of thought, planning and investment has gone into make Garden’s garden home a model of sustainable urban architecture, as the brewery’s founder David Plant (yes, really) explains:

“We worked with Werft Gardens & Landscapes and Milan Štrbac from US Architects on the project,” he says. “It involved removing large concrete areas to create this outdoor garden, complete with 40+ mature trees and a large lawn. This, as well as the indoor trees in our large glass atrium taproom, are irrigated using brewery waste water. The trees create a beautiful microclimate and natural shade. We also used fungi instead of chemical fertilizers, water permeable building surface materials, eco-friendly materials and native plants. Taken as a whole, it’s so much better for the environment, local birds and animals and our staff and customers.”

Read more about the hidden environmental innovations behind Garden’s new home here.

PHOTO: Julien Duval

The other side of the glass

Behind the scenes, the brewery itself has grown in capacity and capability, adding a row of large fermentation vessels, as well as a mash-mixer to its now four-vessel brewhouse. The extra capacity and flexibility has allowed Garden to switch to a four-day week on the brewery side, with staff working four days on, then four days off. 

Head brewer Pete Vick says: “The new kit means we can just keep running through, comfortably brewing four times a day, up from three on the old setup that would involve starting at six and finishing at nine. I used to have to have three brewers dedicated to one brew and that would take up their entire day. Now, we have two brewers just brewing twice; there’s a lot more automation, way less lugging stuff around… it’s just a much more efficient way of working.”

The brewing team moved into its new home just before Christmas, several months before the building opened to the public. As always with these things, there was a period of working out the kinks and dialling in the new setup to ensure complete continuity in the beers. The timing was perfect though, as Pete declared the brewery ready for primetime just as brewing for Restore Our Earth kicked off, and Beer52 confirmed its massive order.

“We certainly swallowed when we saw the size of that order, but in a way it made it easier for us to say ‘okay, we’ve had our time tweaking – we’re ready to really start brewing now’!”

As we wander round the brewhouse floor (with boulevards of space between rows of fermenters) Pete points to one improvement after another. The new reverse osmosis machine, smoothing out the hard edges of Zagreb city water, sits next to the former hot liquor tank, which is now used for creating kettle sours – something Garden simply didn’t have the capacity to take on before. There’s also a stack of barrels arranged tantalisingly against one wall; another clue that this technically excellent brewery is also heading off in new directions creatively.

The Head Brewer Pete (PHOTO: Richard Croasdale)

A brand new canning line forms the climax of our impromptu tour, and having seen Garden’s old setup, it’s easy to understand why – this is a serious upgrade, one of the first of its kind anywhere in the world, and everyone is clearly very proud of it. This might not sound like a big deal from the drinker’s point of view, but a good canning machine can make a huge difference in ensuring the beer arrives on your doorstep in tip-top condition.

Red carpet

As well as being the launch party for Restore Our Earth, today is the official launch of the new taproom itself, although it’s been low-key open to the public for a couple of weeks now. The bright, roomy bar and outside space begin to fill up from the early afternoon, with families giving way to groups of friends as the evening draws in. The iconic Garden Brewery signage – seemingly transplanted straight from the old site – switches on, bathing the street beyond the hedge with a warm incandescent glow, and a DJ begins to spin.

Any readers who visited the old taproom will no doubt remember the excellent Submarine burger shack, which plied its wares from a tiny container kitchen underneath the brewery offices. Happily, Submarine has moved with Garden and now has a snazzy new counter next to a second food partner, Full Circle, which specialises in fried chicken. Both are providing bite-size snacks for the evening, and everything I taste is excellent.

PHOTO: Julien Duval

The food is also something of a Godsend, as by this point I’m in the hands of Garden’s marketing manager Mario, who is honestly one of the most-travelled, best-connected people I’ve even met. His enthusiasm for sharing great beers (and the great stories behind them) propels us into a boozier evening than I’d usually aim for when I’m working. I meet food writer Hana and her partner Ivan, whose cold-distilled Croatian gin is quickly earning a cult following across Europe. I share pints with a group of teachers from the local American school, who are just there to let off steam at the end of a long week. In short, it’s an evening of music, hedonism and the kind of wonderful serendipity that we’ve all missed so much over the past couple of years.

Garden has always been a destination, not least because founder David’s musical connections have meant a steady parade of big-name musicians and DJs pitching up for a Croatian one night stand. But the new brewery tap honestly takes it to the next level. The whole thing feels precision engineered to foster a great atmosphere; cool but welcoming, roomy but intimate, decadent but with unimpeachable environmental credentials. This former garden centre is now the coolest place to drink in Zagreb.

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