Last weekend I spent an enjoyable long weekend in Krakow. I had always read that you don't go there for the beer or learn to drink vodka. I'm not a vodka drinker so it's a good thing I was able to find enough beer to keep me happy then.
Your average bar in Krakow is not only lacking in good beer, it's also hard to tell where they are and what they are like. In Ireland and indeed the UK, a pub/bar holds a place of prominence and usually has a window you can look in and see what the place is like. In Krakow, I found many of the bars were just signs on the street directing you down alleys and through unassuming doors. The only way to get an idea of what it's like is to actually open the door and walk in.
My first night I just tried some cans of regular Polish macro beer that was pretty OK. Okocim for instance and in particular, Mocne was rather enjoyable but bearing in mind that this was the first beer I had consumed in over 24 hours. Compared to the rest of the beers I had in Poland, it was pretty rubbish.
The next day, after walking around the city centre and making my way to the old Jewish quarter to see the number 1 beer bar in Krakow according to ratebeer, only to find it closed until 4 pm, we strolled back towards market square. It was well almost beer o'clock so we needed to find somewhere warm to sit and relax our weary and cold bones. We came across a Ukrainian place called Kawiarnia Ukraińska. There was some initial confusion because the Ukrainian restaurant appeared to be closed and opening in a few minutes at noon but we did not think it was the place we were looking for. Sure enough, there is a full restaurant but we were looking to get in to the little cafe that had beer on the menu. This turned out to be behind a wooden door that looked very official unless you speak Polish I guess. Once inside it was warm and delightful and we had it to ourselves for a while.
I started off with a beer that on the menu was called Lwowskie porter. The bottle arrived and said AbBIBCbKE and the word below it which sort of looks like HOPTEP literally says porter as it turns out.
Anyway it was a great start to the day because it's a warming 8% baltic porter. Pouring a deep ruby red witha frothy white head, it hit the spot with a lovely caramel base with chocolate and a hint of coffee. The alcohol was warming though not overpowering. Less cloying and more drinkable than many a Baltic porter, I could have had many more of these, well up until the 8% put an end to that idea.
Another Ukrainian beer, not knowing what most of them were, I pointed to one on the menu. My wife understands some Czech so thought the beer description (biala nic) said "Not White" which was the perfect description because what arrived was a wit that was not white. I think this may be the first dark wit I've had, plenty a German dunkelweiss but never a dark wit. The label said BiAa Hiu which I think is Beer Ahoy? Coriander and orange on the nose, Seems more like lemon than orange when tasting though. A mix of thin body at first then a stronger body later, seems a little odd in that respect. It doesn't taste like a dark beer as such but certainly a higher caramel content than your average wit.
Later we headed back to Omerta for Polish beer. This is the number one rated pub in Krakow on ratebeer and it's easy to see why. The pub is split in two. The first bar when you walk in the door contains all the Polish beers and not a macro to be seen. The second one on the other side of the pub has international stuff like Sierra Nevada, Brewdog etc. The menu is in the image above. Pinta seems to have plenty listed so I decided to start with one.
As you can see, there are two hand pumps but don't be fooled, there is no cask conditioned ale here. They are hooked up to normal kegs but the beer that comes out is still fantastic.
I immediately tried Atak Chmielu from Pinta. This was a gorgeous 6.1% IPA that's aggressively hopped and bursting with citrus goodness. At this time I assumed it was cask because it tasted like a dry hopped cask conditioned IPA to me. The beer engine must kill some of the carbonation. Luckily our barmaid had a good command of English and loved talking about beer so I had a very enjoyable time.
Next I had a 5.6% stout called Zawiercie Czekoladowe from Browar na Jurze. I think from the name that it's a chocolate stout but I can't be sure. A strong roasted malt backbone with a little chocolate, whether malt derived or added, I don't know. It's quite a nice stout with a light body and easily drunk but I prefer a little more character to my stouts.
Back to Pinta and Imperium Atakuje which as you can probably guess, is the big brother of Atak Chmielu. This is an in your face 7.8% DIPA. Absolute heaven, it had everything first one had only more so. Pure hop heaven. Handpump again but not real cask as I mentioned. Pinta has become my favourite Polish brewery.
By 8pm it got packed very quickly. Most people came in looking for craft polish beer and it was busier than the international bar. Omerta is an absolute must when visiting Krakow because of its dedication to small Polish breweries. The one thing to bear in mind is that it's a bit of a hike from the main market square area. Also nearby (around the corner) is BeerGallery and a few others dotted around so if you have the time, it might be worth visiting a few in the area. I did not alas so it was only Omerta for that night.
The next day, after a long walk around Auschwitz and Birkenau and then a further 3km walk under ground in the salt mines, we were seriously ready to sit down and have some beer. I was in charge of the pubs so I decided it would be shame not to visit the cities only brewpub, even if reviews are not very favourable. It's called CK browar.
I'm going to give them points for this alone. You can, of course order beer by the glass/pint or you can order 3.3L or 5L tubes with a tap. We got a sample tray and settled on the dunkel as being by far the best beer. Looking around, we were the only ones else everyone else had pale beer in their tubes.
I actually did enjoy my time there. The main complaint is the loud music, though it's not so loud that we could not talk, the problem is that it was terrible music, well to me anyway. I have no interest in top 40. We decided to move on after our beer was done. By the way, you might be wondering about the beers? Well the dunkel was pretty good as was the wit. The others were pretty meh and one was completely undrinkable, I think that was the ginger beer? It tasted like Becherovka. One last thing, I had heard that this was one of those pubs that charge to go to the toilet. This is the case but not if you're eating and we had some snacks. Somehow the attendant knew this when my friend went before leaving. Maybe a big brother type thing where she takes note of those eating and those just drinking? It was the only bar we were in that had this stupid practice.
We decided then to go to The Beer Gallery right in Market Square, sister to the one near Omerta. It looked pretty empty at 10pm on a Sunday.
Indeed, it was empty and we were told they were closing in a half hour. This was a pity because the place was warm and welcoming with soft couches all around. We sat at the bar with a view of the beer. The beer selection is mostly bottles but they have a fair few taps, it just did not seem to be as good a range as Omerta.
I decided on a Pilsner called Miłosław from the Fortuna brewery but to be honest, it was the wrong choice for my last beer of the night. I found it a little heavy and sickly for my taste.
I could easily have spent the entire day relaxing here and drinking. They had what seemed to be the whole range of Pinta beers in bottle, though not on tap. A couple of English men did come in while we were there giving the bar 6 patrons instead of just 4. The bar tender did not seem very friendly but perhaps that was because he was busy getting ready to close up. He had a lot of cleaning and accounting to do so maybe that was why.
So a surprisingly good range of beer and places to drink it in Krakow, added to the fact that beer in a bar costs about €2 and flights can be good value, it makes a weekend in Poland very tempting. Our hotel only cost €64 for three nights and it was an Ibis budget right by the train station. You can get to said train station from the airport. Everything seems to be about a third of the price it would be in Dublin. I managed to not drink any vodka on my trip, though perhaps that was a mistake? Maybe next time I will try one.