More surprises from Serbia's wildest brewer
Saturday 05 June 2021
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Last time I saw Vladimir Stojkovic, co-founder of Belgrade’s Dogma Brewing, we were at the most insane beer festival I’ve ever attended. It had bumper cars, a ferris wheel, and stadium rock from Serbia’s answer to Neil Young. Vlad was also pretty much a rock star in his own right there; waving, gladhanding and swapping beer with everyone he knew (which was, in fact, everyone). From its huge stand opposite Cabinet, the other big name in Serbian Craft, Dogma was dishing out pint after pint of its high-strength, hop-forward beers across a bar that was often five-deep. It was, in short, perfect.
On the other side of the party king persona though, Vlad is also a hugely inventive brewer, with big ideas and an earnest passion in what he does.
Where some of Serbia’s craft breweries were forced to suspend brewing or even close over the course of the pandemic, Dogma has continued to flourish, with business in the first four months of 2021 having already exceeded 2019’s total. As well as innovating on the brewing side and finding new ways to sell domestically, its export business has also grown significantly, into markets including the UK, France, Italy, UAE and China. This has no doubt been helped by the brewery’s shift from bottle to can, thanks to a partnership with a large bulk packaging company based right in Belgrade.
“Our exports went up 70% during 2020,” says Vlad. “So we’re in good shape going into our fifth birthday celebrations in July; there will be some special anniversary beers and hopefully we will be allowed to have an outside party.”
Dogma’s regular range has also expanded, with the legendary Hoptopod being joined by Svetionik pale ale, New Pils on The Block and several hazy modern beers which have proven extremely popular.
“We’re always listening to what people want, of course. These days, I work to a three-month brewing plan, telling buyers which beers will be available, what we’ve got coming up that’s new. So during May we will have a rosemary sour that will be new. And then on the same day we will launch two beers from our SMASH session IPA series. Everything will be leading up to that big birthday celebration in July.”
With so many new beers in the works, plus a nascent barrel ageing programme, it’s little wonder that Dogma has maxed out its 6000 hectolitre capacity and is looking to increase its tank space by around 30% later this year. But you can tell it’s the prospect of fully re-opening his taproom and getting out to some good festivals that has Vlad really excited. Business is booming, the beers are great, but he’s still most in his element in the crowd, causing mayhem. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
IN THE LIGHT BOX: Miss Quince Ale
“Before I started the brewery, I was working for five years in a Serbian distillery as a master distiller. It’s an old joke that most brewers secretly want to be distillers; well, I did it the other way round! Anyway, quince is one of the most popular fruits for making brandy in Serbia, so the aromas of fermenting quince wine has always been special to me. It’s a lovely smell; in Serbia, grannies like to put quinces on their furniture, to get the aroma in the room.
“So when we started with the brewery, I was like ‘okay, let’s do some pale ale now – really clean, really dry – but let’s add quince for a Serbian touch. We add it during the boil and 10 minutes before the end, rather than during fermentation. Then at the end of fermentation we add some macerated quince, to give it that extra fresh layer.”
IN THE MIXED BOX: Docker’s Hook Robust Guatemala Porter
“The story here is nice and simple. I’m a big fan of some old school porter and also a big fan of coffee. In my block in new Belgrade, I have a really nice small roastery and cafeteria, where I end up drinking espresso every day. I really like their house blend, but they’re always giving me the latest single origin unusual coffees that they’re really excited about.
“When we did the first Dockers Hook robust porter we used Colombian beans, cold brewed and added at the end of fermentation, two days before packaging. And this year we’ve done it with Guatemalan, so it will be slightly different. The idea is that we make it into a series, with a different coffee each time.”
Take a swing
Did you know that Serbia has its own 24/7 golf channel? Well, it does, apparently due to the fact that the chairman of the major cable operator there just really likes golf; how’s that for a power move? Equally unexpectedly, Vlad was a presenter and golf journalist for this channel for five years. While his days in front of the camera may be over, he still loves to get out for a round when he can.
“The chairman was also the president of Belgrade Golf Club, decided Serbia needed educating about the sport, so set up the SK Golf channel. That was a great job. When I started the brewery I didn’t really get to play much, which was terrible because we’re right across from a great course on the Ciganlija peninsula.
“Now though, I’m playing two, maybe three times a week. When the day is over, I’m at the golf course within 10 minutes and everything is cool. My handicap is finally going down, and I came fourth in my category in a tournament recently. I enjoy that it’s a game of focus, you know? I can gather all my things in here; all my ideas, all my mindset. I think everyone needs something like that in their life.”
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