Who you gonna call?

Small but mighty, TankBusters sings the praises of contract brewing as a practice that has strengthened the country’s beer culture, and allowed quality to drive the evolution of craft in Poland


“How our story started was pretty typical; homebrewers go professional,” says co-founder of TankBusters Michał Gref with a wry smile. He’s hinting, of course, at how similar the stories of almost all breweries are; usually, friends that want to drink better beer take matters into their own hands, and what starts as a homebrewing hobby, spirals into a commercial brewery. But far from being reductive, or belittling, TankBusters sees the things we have in common – like a fondness for Ghostbusters, the brewery’s namesake of sorts – as worthy of celebration. The more I speak with Michał, the more I see glimmers of this reflected in the wider Polish craft beer industry. 

Michał and Kamil Dworczyński, the second of TankBuster’s three co-founders – Kamil’s now-fiancé Aleksandra Garcon is the third – actually met at a contract brewing facility, after respectively pursuing the homebrew route, and then graduating to opportunities at a commercial brewery. Michał had helped design a brewery in Wrocław, which is where he met Kamil for the first time. Their next encounter would be while working at the contract brewery where Trzech Kumpli brews. From here, they decided to start a contract brewery of their own, and TankBusters was born in 2019.

Contract breweries are prolific in Poland, with most breweries I speak to for this issue sharing facilities with other brands. Even Trzech Kumpli, one of Poland’s best known craft breweries, is technically a contract brewery, even though it’s the only client of the facility where the beer is made. 

Michał says: “The difference between TankBusters and normal contract brewing in my mind, and from my experience, is that we are always involved in the process of producing the beer. It’s not like we send the recipe in an email, pay the invoice, and just work on making the brand. We want to be the full package.” In this context, TankBusters’ motto, ‘Trust us, we’re brewers’, makes a lot of sense; in a market where the people who make the beer aren’t necessarily affiliated with the brand, it’s easy to see how brewers – Michał and Kamil – being upfront about their role in personally overseeing the production of the beer goes a long way to helping consumers feel connected to the product. 

While addressing one of the possible pitfalls of contract brewing, Michał is quick to sing the praises of a practice that has unquestionably strengthened the Polish craft beer industry, and bolsters the quality of TankBusters’ beer. “Working at a contract brewing facility, you have a lot of clients, so you get to know a lot of people, and gain a lot of great experience, big breweries don’t get that,” he says. TankBusters now works across two facilities, each within a thirty minute drive of where Michał and Kamil are based. They know the owners of the facility, and the people who work there from their own contract brewing days. Michał says their communication is very effective as a result. 

“If we miss a brew on the brew house, we know the people working there, and know they’ll take good care of the wort, then we can be on-site to monitor fermentation, and ensure the quality is where we want it.” The fermentation process is really where TankBusters’ interest lies, and where it sees the best opportunity to shine. “That’s why we wanted to incorporate a (fermentation) tank, and not a brewhouse into our name. You can be great at making wort, hops are amazing, but you don’t get beer without what happens during fermentation.”

Michał says having great quality and a strong brand might be more important in Poland than the UK and Germany because unlike other big beer drinking countries, it doesn’t historically have a beer or pub culture. In some ways, Poland might be more similar to Spain, where beer is cheap, and consumed en masse but without any particular interest in the product itself. On the other hand, Michał is keen to also acknowledge that sometimes, not having a culture or tradition to contend with makes it easier to connect with consumers. He says people are curious, and interested in trying new things, so much so that now, 11 years after craft beer first kicked off in Poland, classic styles are quite unpopular. “People here are really into the new age IPAs, the pastry stouts – right now, the scene here feels like a small version of the USA,” says Michał. 

That Poland has gone from a country with maybe ten craft breweries, to one with just over a hundred in the space of 10 years, is only a good thing in Michał’s eyes. The contract brewing model has made craft beer accessible to producers, as well as consumers. In fact, TankBusters includes itself in that ‘second wave’ of breweries that opened because contracting offered it a route to market and even allowed it to stay open during the COVID years. Michał says that working in an environment where there’s more brands than physical breweries, means that breweries don’t have to shoulder the costs of energy, CO2 and grain alone. Everyone can support each other, and carry some of the load. 

Being well connected to other breweries in Poland hasn’t stopped TankBusters from seeking friends from further afield. The brewery attended the Great British Beer Festival for the first time this year, and had an overwhelmingly positive experience there, selling out before the end of the second day, and being invited back for GBBF’s winter session. Michał says it was particularly interesting to see craft through a traditional lens, and while he really enjoyed learning more about bitter, cask, and classic IPAs, he was glad to find drinkers equally intrigued by craft beer in Poland, and comments that he was particularly impressed by the friendly atmosphere and attitudes he encountered there. 

“To be honest, it was one of the best festivals I’ve been to when it comes to the behaviour of the people,” he says. “Everyone was very kind to us, and very curious about TankBusters. It was also pretty funny that it was probably one of the first times that the names of our beers were correctly spoken” he laughs, referring to titles like Alone in Space, All My Heroes Are Dead, and Hall of Fame, all of which hark back to movies, music and moments in history when culture was created, and things we have in common made us feel connected. 

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