Just ten years ago you would have been very lucky to find anything beyond the standard lager beer options in almost all of Croatia's bars. Let's be honest, beyond their cold temperatures, many of them had no merits to speak of – and still don't.
Such an absence of merits has been amplified over recent years with the explosion of craft beer culture in Croatia. For visiting and domestic beer connoisseurs, this expansion of choice hasn’t come soon enough. Their ranks have been swelled considerably as the word is out about the awesome beer options available in Croatia, much of it made at independent breweries within the country itself.
Helping to spread word about this growing craft beer culture in Croatia has been the craft beer festival. At first, you could count them on one hand. Now, every town has one and there can be several within Croatia's cities.
One of the best you could hope to visit is Zagreb's Beer Yard Festival. It is a craft beer festival with several distinct differences.
Held on the huge expanse of grass at Pogon Jedinstvo, immediately outside the city's much loved Močvara club, to the south of the city centre, it is a beer festival that also combines independent street food options and supports Zagreb’s underground, independent music scene. Of course, a music programme and accompanying food are not something unusual to find at a beer festival. But what really sets Beer Yard Festival apart are its ethics and dedication to independent brewers.
At this year's event, its third annual instalment, some of the customary 25 breweries represented will take part in lively panel discussions. This year, one topic covered will be the importance of maintaining independence and links between independent breweries as the big brand breweries attempt to encroach on the craft beer market. Another will be barrel aged beer.
19 of the breweries represented will be from Croatia, including 5th Element from Daruvar, the excellent Beckers from Osijek and Varionica and Nova Runda, which are both made in Zagreb. It is the latter who have been responsible for organising Beer Yard Festival for the past three years. Their pale ale is one of the country's best.
The domestic breweries will be joined by nine specially selected international guests. This year they will be Manchester brewery Cloudwater Brew Co (who in 2017 were rated second best brewery in the world by RateBeer portal), Romania's Hop Hooligans, Brew Your Mind, Horizont from Hungary, Piwne Podziemie from Poland, Meadly - Bulgarian Craft Mead, Estonian Põhjala Brewery and Slovenian Reservoir Dogs brewery. Every beer at the festival will be served by representatives from the actual breweries, affording the opportunity to discuss what you are drinking with those who know it best, its makers.
Last years event saw many families visit during the day, with under 16s welcomed free into the event. As the evening progresses, particularly when the music programme begins at 7pm, crowds of people in their 20s and 30s make up the attending demographic.
The music programme for 2018 includes hardcore punk band Stronghold ZGxHC, Zagreb's Sleepyheads, psychedelic rockers Killed A Fox and horror pop-punk trio Saucesce.
Advance tickets for the festival are 40 kuna, 50 kuna on the door.