Keeping it real
Meet one of Poland’s original craft heroes
Saturday 28 November 2020
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In terms of Poland’s rapid ascent to craft beer superpower status, AleBrowar – founded in 2012 – is considered something of a founding father, having set up shop just shortly after Pinta.
Founder Michał Saks started his love affair with beer as many of us do - sampling local beers on holiday, where he discovered the delights of Helles, schwarzbier and hefeweizen. He studied food biotechnology and, just a few weeks after finishing his final thesis, landed a job in one of Poland’s first brewpubs, where he became head brewer.
“I was brewing all the styles I’d really admired during my travels, which also happened to be what the brewpub was best known for,” he says. “But already I could see the craft beer movement beginning to influence people’s tastes. They were looking for different styles and different approaches. I felt the same; I’d become fascinated with other beer cultures and the historical contexts behind them. I was reading more than I was drinking though. I experienced so many beers through the writing of people like Michael Jackson before I’d ever had a chance to taste them in person.”
Michał was still working at the brewpub when he met his future business partner - a fellow beer enthusiast who wanted to build his own craft-focused brewpub in a small town in the north of the country.
“He had money to invest, and first approached me about consultation, because he knew a lot about beer but very little about the brewing process itself. So I started teaching him to brew at home, which in time evolved into gypsy brewing at a commercial brewery. We started to employ people, and within a year we’d reached a scale where we were a fully fledged craft brewery.”
AleBrowar’s first employee was a well-known Polish beer blogger, which is fitting as the internet played a huge part in the brewery’s early success, as it won the hearts and minds of beer geeks by publishing its recipes online. And success certainly came quickly; in 2014, AleBrowar made Ratebeer’s list of the world’s top 100 breweries, and a celebratory trip to California finally convinced them to make the leap and build their own brewery. This wouldn’t be the small provincial brewpub they had originally planned though, but one of the largest craft breweries in Poland.
Obviously heavily influenced by US beer culture, Michał was focused on hops from the offset.
“We brewed West Coast IPAs, then East Coast IPAs, even some variation of the Belgian style beers, but always with a hoppy twist. Of course over time that’s evolved into DDH, hazy stuff; it’s our core and what we’re best known for, but it also brings us the most joy to brew it.
“So hops are a very special ingredient for us, but we don’t just copy US beers with US hops. We love European hops and work with a lot of Polish varietals. Our Hop Sasa beer uses Zula from the Polish Agricultural Institute, and we have a series of New England DIPAs, which use rotating pairs of hops - whatever is looking particularly good - and that’s our best seller.”
It’s no surprise that Michał has good relationships with all the hop dealers, and is constantly on the lookout for new flavours and aromas to bring to AleBrowar’s legion of thirsty fans. This restlessness has always been a distinctive part of Poland’s craft beer culture, possibly because the scene developed so quickly from an essentially cold start around 2010.
“We all come up experimenting with many beer styles, growing this community of real beer geeks who are very open to these new beers and new styles. Maybe too open! Particularly the guys who are making content for their podcast or internet, are always wanting a new beer, every week. I love that, but really good breweries can’t neglect their regular beers. In terms of volume, 75% of what we brew is beers that we’ve had for more than five years - we’re still refining and improving those, because we believe you can still innovate with an existing product.”
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