Pinta the good stuff
Words: Richard Croasdale
Monday 28 May 2018
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It’s not hyperbole to say that Pinta single-handedly kickstarted Poland’s craft beer scene. Although the brewery arose out of an already healthy homebrew community, of which founder Ziemowit Fałat was an enthusiastic member, Poland had previously been a virtual wasteland of commercial lagers, weizens and schwarzbiers.
All this changed when Ziemowit decided to take his home-based experiments with the traditional Polish oak-smoked beer style of Grodziskie – which had not been brewed commercially in Poland for 25 years – and scale it up at a contract brewery. When he crunched the numbers though, the results made his heart sink.
“So in 2010 I brewed 1666 small bottles of Grodziskie, we counted the cost and it worked out at 5 Zloty a bottle: more than double the regular price of beer, even if we sold it at cost. We though ‘oh my God, how can we sell that?’ We didn’t even know if it was a style that held any interest outside the homebrew community.
“We sold out that first batch in one day. At that time there was no market for craft, but people saw that it was cool – the label, the idea. The success of this beer started the fire and started us thinking about other varieties of commercial beer.”
A year later, Pinta was born with the release of a very different style of beer, its American IPA Atak Chmielu (“Attack of the Hops”). “IPA was nowhere in Poland, but we just thought people would be interested in something with more body and aroma than they were used to,” continues Ziemowit. “In the end it sold twice as well as the first batch of Grodziskie and still makes up around 25% of our total volume. We sold over a million bottles last year.”
Since then, Pinta has brewed around 100 different beers. As the market has evolved rapidly around them, with more breweries springing up and ever-more sophisticated drinkers, Pinta has successfully stayed ahead of the curve, delighting its fans with this steady stream of new styles.
“We’re definitely not dragging Polish drinkers along in terms of their tastes,” continues Ziemowit. “It’s important to be authentic in Poland - you cannot cheat, no shit. People are very sensitive. It’s still very important not only for a couple of thousand beer geeks, but for many more thousands of ordinary drinkers.”
Around one third of the brewery’s output consists of what might be considered ‘traditional’ styles from across the world, while fully two thirds are more experimental. Ziemowit is keen to emphasise, however, that his focus is and will always be on drinkability.
“To be honest, we are not 22 years old,” he jokes. “You see a lot of beers with amazing tropical characters, cocoa and so on, but people also need a beer for regular drinking. Well-brewed, well-crafted, day-by-day drinking. What Pinta does is brew very well-brewed beer for regular drinking, and then two or three times a year put out something very special and innovative, but which we’ve really thought through. There’s a buzz when we do those special beers.”
Another related part of Pinta's DNA is a love of travel, and of collaborating with like-minded breweries from around the world including Ireland's O'Hara's and France's Brasserie du Pays Flamand. One of its earliest such collaborations was on a sour beer, Kwas Alfa, with Tobias Emil Jensen from legendary Danish brewery To Øl brewery, which is soon set to be repeated.
Pinta has also founded an ongoing project, the Pinta Hop Tour, which sees the guys visit countries not recognised within Poland for hop production, and then brew a beer back home with the hops they discover. Countries visited so far include Argentina, South Africa, Tasmania and New Zealand, Ethiopia, Japan, Ukraine, Romania, Russia and even North Korea (“depending on how it goes with Trump”) are also on the list.
While all these beers are currently still brewed under contract, Pinta will soon have its own custom-built brewery, scheduled to start brewing next Spring.
“The new brewery will give us the flexibility to make as many styles as we want and control the production process from beginning to end,” Ziemowit says. “Of course we’re very happy with the quality of our beers, but we know it can be improved. It also means we’ll be able to do things like bottle into 330ml bottles for export much more easily; 99% of the Polish market is into 500ml, but we’re unusual in that respect. As we grow our export business, we’ll be bottling more and more into 330ml.”
Export is becoming increasingly important to Pinta as Poland’s domestic craft scene matures. As it stands, Ziemowit firmly believes that it wouldn’t be possible to remain “honest and authentic” beyond 50,000 hectalitres a year, if it just served the domestic market.
“After this level, I don’t think you can do it right, as you’d have to make compromises,” he says. “It’s not so much a production cap, but about how you work with distributors; you’d need to start selling to the big shops, for example, which would fundamentally change how the beer is positioned, and where your focus would be. That’s just in the Polish market, it might be different elsewhere.”
Times are definitely changing and, having now chatted with the oldest craft brewery in Poland, there is a definite sense that the whole Polish craft scene could be moving into the next stage of its evolution (as all scenes inevitably do). However, with Pinta continuing to set the pace for such a quality-conscious crop of other young breweries, all backed by an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and sophisticated community of beer lovers, the future is something to be welcomed rather than feared.
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