It’s no secret that Poland loves its beer. It’s understood with Poles that if there’s no beer, they’re not going. One of my favorite local stories is about a duke of Kraków, Leszek Biały (leh-shek bee-ah-weh; Leszek the White), who really did not want to get entangled in the Crusades. He actually told the Pope that Polish troops could not possibly participate because there was no beer in the Holy Land, and they simply couldn’t do without it. The best part of that story? It worked.
Poznań is the perfect example of that very same attitude. Whether you like name-brand beer or micro-brewed beer, Poznań’s got you covered.
While in Poznań I sampled the local fare, starting with a tour of a large brewery: the Lech brewery (leh – it’s a hard ‘h’ sound). If you know anything about Polish beer, you know that Lech is one of the most popular brands of beer in Poland. It’s brewed and bottled in Poznań, along with several beers made by subsidiary breweries, including Tyskie (tysk-ee-eh) and Żubr (zhoo-br). The tour was very interesting. It was the first time I had toured such a large brewing complex, and the system involved in brewing that much beer is very different from the system you would see in a microbrewery. We followed a tour guide through the massive complex, listening as she explained how the very distinct Lech taste was accomplished. I went on a Saturday, so only about a quarter of the complex was functioning. Even so, we saw all the major stages of the brewing process, a bottling line, and a canning line.
While explaining the filtration process, the tour guide described how there were people whose job at the brewery was to taste test the beer as it is prepared for bottling or canning. This caused some excitement among the people on the tour. Everyone started paying much more attention, no doubt wondering how they could apply for that job. The guide proceeded to inform us that, in order to be a taster, you need to already be employed at the brewery. The tasters’ job lasts about forty-five minutes per day; they simply taste samples of the beer, give it either a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, then return to their other posts.
I, being an amateur in the beer department, learned something that I found interesting during this part of the tour. Unlike in wine tasting, in beer tasting, the beer must actually be drunk. In tasting wine, it’s enough to smell the wine, swirl it around in the mouth, and spit it out to see if it’s ready for bottling. However, because a great deal of the flavor of beer comes from its bitterness, the beer actually needs to be swallowed. This is because the taste buds that register bitter flavors are in the back of the mouth, and the beer can only get to them by being swallowed completely. I know there are beer experts out there that would roll their eyes at me, but I hadn’t been aware of that before. After all, one of the reasons of doing a brewery tour is to learn something about how that brewer makes its beer.
The other reason, of course, is the free sample at the end of the tour. At the Lech brewery, you can sample one of three different beers: Lech Premium, Lech Pils, or Lech Free (the non-alcoholic option). In the visitors’ center, there’s a pub serving up the signature Lech beers, and at the end of the tour, guests take their tickets to the bar and pick their poison. I had tried the Lech Premium before, and I wasn’t driving, so there was no need for a non-alcoholic drink. I tried the Lech Pils, which I enjoyed very much. Personally, I found it better than the Lech Premium, which is the more popular of the two.
After a long brewery tour – two whole hours! Plus a beer tasting! – I needed some food. I had read about some microbreweries in Poznań, the most popular of which is Brovaria on the stary rynek. This place is much bigger than it looks from the street. Once you’re inside, there’s a traditional restaurant, a bar, and a casual, beer-garden style restaurant upstairs. There was no room in the bar, and I was in the mood for eating, so I snagged a table in the restaurant.
The menu in Brovaria is impressive. Not only is there a good selection of home-made beers, but there’s also a variety of hard liquors and a range of food that’s hard to compete with. The star of the drink menu, for me, was the sampler option. For 15 złoty, you can sample three different kinds of beer (.2L each): the pils (pilsner style beer), the miodowe (mee-od-oh-veh; honey beer), and the pszeniczne (p-shen-eech-neh; wheat beer). Of the three, my favorite was the miodowe, which surprised me. I don’t usually like honey beers, but this one was on the darker side, not too sweet, and smooth. All three beers were very good, though.
The food at Brovaria also deserves mention. The food menu includes everything from upscale dining, such as pork braised in beer and served with potatoes and sauerkraut, to bar favorites, such as hamburgers. I opted for what the menu described as ‘beer snacks.’ To be honest, I had almost no idea what I would be getting, but I figured it would be good. The ‘beer snacks’ turned out to be a finger food tray, including deep –fried soft cheeses, some fried chicken, some bread, and – my favorites – bacon-wrapped potatoes and dates. Everything on that tray was the embodiment of tasty. It was a lot of fried food, but none of it was greasy, and, let’s face it, nothing goes better with beer than deep fried things. That, for me, was the most important bit: It all paired perfectly with each of the beers that I tried.
Bottom line: If you like beer, this is the part of Europe to be in. If you like Polish beer, and some tasty things to go along with it, Poznań is the place to be.