Funky by name, funky by nature
Having just celebrated its fifth birthday, Funky Fluid is well positioned to reflect on achievements, challenges, and the trajectory of Poland’s craft beer industry
Saturday 18 November 2023
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The fact that Funky Fluid has just celebrated its fifth birthday is a testament to just how much of a timewarp the pandemic was. The brewery wasn’t even two years old, when – what feels like just yesterday – its Gelato series first hit fridges and the brewery went stratospheric, being named the third best brewery in the world by Ratebeer.
Riding the wave of its success into 2020, it entered the COVID years a fresh-faced brand, and emerged a brewery that could do it all; export to 20 countries, supply supermarkets and speciality bottle shops, all the while collaborating with breweries all over the world. Now five years out from where it started, Funky Fluid can look back on beers brewed with the likes of Mikkeller and Omnipollo, but it also has to look forward into a future where it must maintain networks that it created during a period of peak growth.
Sales director, Grzegorz Korcz says: “at the moment, it’s more difficult to sell beer in Poland than it was during COVID times. With inflation, and the cost of ingredients and transport going up because of the war in Ukraine, people are looking more and more into their budgets. Craft beer is one of the first things to go when people are cutting costs, so one of our biggest challenges recently has been to keep our prices in line with what people can afford.”
Similar to changing trends in the UK, tighter consumer budgets are driving craft producers towards lighter styles, and lower ABVs. Mind you, lower ABV in Poland, and indeed the rest of Europe, is considered 5-6% rather than the 3.4% we think of as low ABV in the UK, so the adjustment is still well within the comfort zone of this renowned producer of fruit-filled pastry sours, stouts, and hop forward IPAs.
Grzegorz sees this shift towards lighter styles as unfolding within a wider framework, that’s specific to the Polish craft beer industry. Funky Fluid considers itself part of a “second wave” of Polish craft breweries, a term that seems a common identifier among brands of a similar age. In Funky Fluid’s case, identifying as a second wave brewery pays homage to the craft breweries that opened before it, had a much harder time getting established, and introduced Polish people to craft beer by offering big, bold, crazy styles.
This second wave is increasingly being defined by lighter versions of cherished styles, like sours and stouts. Funky Fluid’s generation also benefited from the positive attitude consumers now have towards contract brewing, a model that its predecessors had to establish and introduce the market to. Grzegorz says that where a small percentage of drinkers previously held reservations about the provenance of contract brewed beer, they’re now more invested in quality than where it was made.
He also points out that belonging to the second wave of craft beer in Poland, sets a brewery apart from the new, emerging generation of breweries that is currently struggling to carve out its own niche while weathering the challenges facing our industry today. “Right now, it’s really difficult to start new projects, and find space for yourself in the market, but on the other side of that challenge; a lot of established breweries with well known names struggle to change and evolve, because of the expectations that drinkers have for them. What you do can become idealised, and from there it’s difficult to do anything new, so in this way, emerging breweries have an opportunity to do something different.”
Now on the cusp of what feels like change in the Polish craft beer industry, Funky Fluid is well established enough to weather whatever lies ahead, but is still keeping an eye on the ball. “We are trying to always find a good balance between collabs, festivals, servicing the domestic market, and even sending some beers to supermarkets in Poland as well. We’re working hard at finding the balance between all these parties, as it’s the key to success I think.”
It’s most likely the next big change for the brewery will take the form of a bricks-and-mortar brewery of its own, a step many Polish breweries don’t ever take, on account of how comprehensive the infrastructure of the contract-brewing industry already is there. So why take the leap? “Our brewers live in their cars,” Grzegorz chuckles, referring to how the team have to travel between the various facilities that Funky Fluid uses to brew its beers. “Different breweries have different set-ups, and some are better for brewing certain styles than others, so we brew across a lot of different locations,” he continues, concluding that as good as this is for the beer, the travelling definitely gets tiring.
Funky Fluid is still a long way away from realising its dream of brewing all its beer under one roof. It’s not even at the stage of looking for possible sites yet, and Grzegorz almost seems reluctant to admit that the team is discussing it. But he’s obviously excited, and I can’t help but be excited for him. God knows we’re now all too aware of how much can change overnight, but if the last five years have taught us anything, it's that it’s more exciting than frightening, that anything is possible.
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