When it comes to beer, the Czechs are quite rightly proud of their brews which are sold and enjoyed all over the world; brands such as Pilsener Urquell and Staropramen are not unusual or exotic, they can be found in pubs and bars across Europe and beyond. You would be forgiven for thinking that the Slovaks don’t share this brewing tradition but nothing is further from the truth; Slovakia may not have any of the really big international brands but there are lots of smaller domestic brands and, better still, loads of good microbreweries.
Some tour agencies offer trips to the large brewery just out of town, but if it’s the local microbreweries you want to visit, you need to get yourself a city plan and get researching. There are few places around the city, but my favourites are the Bratislavsky Mestiansky Pivovar – for surroundings and location – and Richtar Jakub – for atmosphere and beer. The two are quite different: the former is quite touristy, though enjoyable, while the latter is off the beaten track and frequented more by young people who appreciate the good choice of beers and prices that are slightly lower than in the very centre of the city.
Bratislavsky Mestiansky Pivovar translates roughly as the Bratislava City Brewery; on the website it’s described as the ‘Burgher’ brewery but city brewery is a closer approximation for modern English. Although these are new premises and new owners, this beer hall, restaurant and microbrewery just off Bratislava’s main shopping street, Obchodna, has a long tradition within the city and numerous old photographs and drawings hanging on the walls act as a reminder of this heritage.
Although it’s fairly new, there’s a comfortable ambience at the Mestiansky Pivovar that makes it feel traditional, though it’s a tad more comfortable and stylish than your average beer hall. This may come from the fact that the food gets equal billing with the beer and the two times I’ve visited, I’ve noticed that at least half the customers have been dining. I haven’t eaten here myself but I can say that the food looks good – generous portions of traditional Slovakian/central European fare in the form of hearty main courses and the sort of snacks that go well with a beer.
The beer is brewed on the premises. There’s a light and a dark. The light is a decent unfiltered lager type beer, superior to your big mass produced lagers and pleasant drinking, if not remarkable. I’m not a particular lover of dark beers but my travelling companion tried it and I felt it wrong not to at least give it a try. This is a richly flavoured beer with a strong coffee flavour. The light is served in 300ml and 500ml, while the dark in 400ml only.
A fifteen minute walk away, Richtar Jakub is situated on Moskovska in a mostly residential district, and can be found in the basement of a residential building. I find it more atmospheric than the Mestiansky Pivovar and there’s much more of a local feel to the place. There are several cosy low ceilinged rooms; we sat in the first one. A line of beer bottles from all over the world runs round the room, along a narrow shelf where the walls are, and onto the window sill on the other wall.
As is the norm in these parts the beer strengths are designated with a degrees symbol rather than a by volume percentage. I don't really understand but the staff will happily advise. As well as a number of Jakub brews there are domestic and international beers including the on trend Brewdog beers such as Dogma and Dead Pony Club. The Jakub light beer is full of flavour but makes a good session beer.
The food is similar to that at Mestiansky Pivovar with a hefty plate of liver and onions served with mustard and a wedge of bread for €4.90. This is a popular joint and reservations are advisable at weekends if you want to eat.
Richtar Jakub is my preference because it's less touristy and more friendly but because of the walk you may find it easier to stay in the old town and if you do, Mestiansky Pivovar is still worth a visit.