When I first started visiting Slovenia in 2004 there was always a choice of two beers, Union or Lasko. Generally if you asked for one of those you’d get the lager beer, occasionally a request for Lasko would get the response ‘Zlatorog?’ which is the name of the lager the brewery produces. In those days both breweries made a dark beer but it was always assumed you’d specify the dark if that’s what you wanted.
Both brands are available nationwide but Lasko, made in the town of Lasko just south of Celje is the preferred brand of people east of Celje (as a general rule of thumb) while Union, brewed in Ljubljana is more popular everywhere west of Celje. Lasko are the sponsor of NK Maribor, Slovenia’s most successful football club, while Union sponsor Ljubljana’s massively popular basketball side. Around the northern border you might find beers like Puntigamer sneaking in from Austria but generally the only non-Slovene beer you might have found when we first started visiting was Guinness. Even beers from the other countries of the former Yugoslavia were absent although, in 2003, we drank Lasko in Zagreb.
These days there’s much more variety. Yugostalgia is growing and the supermarkets sell beers from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. You can also find these beers in Serbian and Bosnian restaurants. Heineken is common and found in supermarkets and pubs; a few other well known European brands also make it into supermarkets and a few pubs.
The Slovenian beer scene is starting to change for the better. There have been microbrewers for many years and so there should be given that Slovenia is one of the major producers of hops and, chances are, if you are drinking a real ale made in the UK, some of the hops came from Slovenia. Based in Slovenj Gradec in northern Slovenia, the Humanfish Brewery, run by Matthew Charlesworth, supplies a number of excellent beers to outlets throughout the country and is fast becoming one of the best known small breweries in Slovenia.
There’s a number of excellent microbreweries dotted around the country but you have to know where to look – or you have to get lucky and stumble across them. A small pub with its own microbrewery in a suburb of Maribor has a small map on the wall that shows the location of microbreweries in Slovenia; it’s an old map, though, and while some have ceased to exist, new ones have opened. The barman there told us which no longer exist and we’re slowly trying to visit those left. A visit to any new place requires a visit to the tourist information office to find out whether there’s a brewhouse in town. In Ptuj the assistant shook her head with regret but called us back just as we were at the door – she’d remembered one and it was great!
One wet Wednesday we jumped on the bus and trudged around the border town of Sentilj. We were crossing the carpark of a restaurant at lunchtime and spotted a van marked with the name of a brewery. We asked our waiter where the brewery and blow me down if we weren’t sitting in the brewery tap!
As well as microbreweries becoming more popular and more visible, there are a handful of specialist beer shops and pubs selling a variety of beers and ales from around the world. Beer Shop Celje now has its own pub and the Sir William pub in Ljubljana hosts regular beer tasting evenings. Pivnica Zorro in Velenje is an unexpected treasure tucked away in a little shopping centre; there you can buy Humanfish beer as well as bottled beers from around the world.
In this journal I’ll be including reviews of brew pubs and pubs selling a wider range of beers, giving advice on where to buy real ales and beers outside the two main Slovenian brands, and I hope to be reviewing the Museum of Brewing in Zalec.
Please remember that Slovenia operates a zero tolerance policy with regards to drink driving. You may find that, especially in rural areas, local people do not observe the rules but please don’t be tempted to follow them. Wherever necessary (due to location) and possible (if options exist) I will attempt in these reviews to offer public transport suggestions.