The tradition of beer-making in Zagreb is not as venerable as in Prague or Munich, but it’s respectable nonetheless. The visitor can look forward to ales of all varieties, plus a classic regional lager brewed to historic German laws of purity.
The best known domestic brand is Ožujsko, often linked to Croatia’s football team and big rock concerts. Produced in the capital since 1893, it is named after the month of March, when the best brews were traditionally produced. Today, of course, this production is standardised but, just like yesteryear, without involving additives. 'Ožujsko has been making friends since 1893’, says its motto, and it’s not wrong.
The other important Zagreb beer is Tomislav, produced by the Zagreb Brewery since 1925, the 1,000th anniversary of the coronation of Croatian King Tomislav in 925. Tomislav is a powerful, strong, porter ale, with the marked taste of overfried malt and a seven per-cent alcohol tag; drink it carefully, in draught form from a wide glass. It best complements strong cheeses and steaks.
Velebit, both ale (smooth and commendably bitter-like) and porter (intensive but not too thick), is not produced in Zagreb but in Lika to the west. Over its recent years of production it has become cult favourite among Zagreb beer drinkers – you can’t buy it in supermarkets nor in many bars and restaurants. Even rarer is the third, Kasačko, variety, red-tinted, half-light and half-dark. If you do happen to spot any brand, do try it as the beer is produced with attentive care taken over the quality of all ingredients, from water to hops, yeast and barley, all according to the German Beer Purity Law, Reinheitsgebot, introduced in 1516 in Bavaria by Duke Wilhelm IV.
However, the best bet for the keen beer drinker arriving in Zagreb would be a glass at one of the beerhalls of restaurant chain Medvedgrad (www.pivnica-medvedgrad.hr), which produces its own beer. Ale (Zlatni medvjed, Golden Bear), porter (Crna kraljica, Black Queen), amber (Mrki medvjed, Brown Bear), wheat (Dva klasa, Two Ears) and extra strong (Grička vještica, A Witch of Grič) are named after Zagreb legends and can’t be bought at any other outlet. Here you should taste them along with the true beerhall food (sausages, pork shank, refried beans, goulash, Zagorje potato soup) at Medvegrad (Adžijina), Mali Medo (Tkalčićeva), Medvedgrad Samoborska (Samoborska), Mali Medo Samobor (Samobor) and Medvedgrad in Mokrice (Oroslavje, a village in Zagorje).
Although Croatians drink a modest annual 70 litres of beer per capita, Zagreb beer drinkers are blessed with choice – most bars will also have an imported Erdinger, Paulaner or Löwenbräu; BelleVue Kriek, Leffe or Hoegaarden; or a Guinness, Harp or Kilkenny. Even the most renowned punk band from Zagreb, Hladno Pivo, are named after 'Cold Beer'.
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