Frothy market for craft brewers in SEE, still room for newcomers to hop on board

By Petar Galev, Perceptica

Perceptica (www.perceptica.com) is a team of professionals specialised in creating innovative in-depth reports based on online media analytics. Mapping brand perceptions among customers provides valuable insights for helping brands, individuals and organisations thrive.
The report looks into the online image of SEE craft beers – in terms of both sheer popularity and users’ and experts’ opinion of their quality. Each market has been examined on its own, while beers were assessed using a single methodology (thus, the best performers from the region have the highest score). Each brewery was represented by one product only (usually their most popular one). The only exception to the rule was made for countries that simply do not have that many brewers that are at least known online.
The scoring system goes on a scale from 1 to 100 (with 100 accounting for the perfect beer). 20% of the score takes into account the beer’s popularity online – the number of comments and online mentions. The opinion of users and experts (whether they liked the beer or certain aspects of it) accounts for 40% of the score each. Thus,each country is represented by the five beers (if that many were available) with the highest score.

Craft brewing has been gaining popularity in Southeast Europe over the last couple of years. Demand for locally-brewed, highquality ale led to the emergence of a number of microbreweries around the region, inspired by Western brewers and sometimes even founded by Westerners. Although not particularly famous for its beers, the region turns out to be home to a surprising variety of craft beers, some of them even competing with the very best in terms of taste and creativity.

Slovenia

Slovenia has by far the best developed craft beer market in the region. In fact, with its huge number of breweries and impressive beer quality, the country seems more Western than Southeast European. Over 55 local breweries have received online comments – a number far greater than that of any other country included in the report.

Slovenia

The local market seems to have reached a mature state where the quality of products satisfies the criteria of both connoisseurs and regular consumers. Local craft beers lack the online popularity they have in other countries (most notably Croatia) where craft brewing is just beginning to boom. There are very few local crafts of sub-par quality contributing to Slovenia’s impressive performance in terms of consumer and expert opinion. Nevertheless, the country does lack a brewery that has the sheer amount of variety offered by Serbia’s Kabinet.

A number of top quality craft beers vied for the top spot in Slovenia. Although the Pelicon 3rd Pill has been described as a world-beater and also seems to be the more popular local brand, Reservoir Dogs Starvation gathered the highest total number of points, entirely thanks to its superior quality.

The beer received praise from Belgian, Dutch, German, British, Italian, Bulgarian, Scandinavian, and even the ever so critical Russian online connoisseurs. Reservoir Dogs Starvation is a Black IPA (standing for Indian-style pale ale) and one of the world’s top 50 representatives of this particular beer style. It is dark brown in colour and it is described as having a characteristic somewhat bitter taste. Users describe it as tasting like roasted malts, chocolate, resin, wood, smoke, peppers, nesquick, coffee, citrus, caramel, and even pine.

Top 5

Slovenia also showcases the creativity of microbrewers – both in terms of the brewing process and of the naming of their products. While HumanFish Combat Wombat is a good example of that naming convention, Reservoir Dogs have taken an even more unorthodox approach. They name their beers after the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, such as the Grim Reaper (Death) and Starvation (Famine), or demons – Incubo (incubus) and Sucubo (succubus).

 

Croatia

In recent years, Croatia has experienced a self-proclaimed Beerevolution, with rapid growth of demand for local craft beers and a corresponding increase in the number of breweries. The popularity of locally-brewed varieties has never been higher and it promises to remain this way for the foreseeable future. Both the number of breweries and the variety of products they offer should continue to grow in the coming years. What is more, consumers seem more than happy with the quality of the beer at offer. Experts are also content, although, judging by their opinion, there is even more to be desired from the local craft scene as a whole.

Croatia

Zagreb-based Zmajska Pivovara is not only the first craft brewery in Croatia, but also the most popular one (and by some margin). Its beers are a great commercial success and could be seen in a variety of restaurants, pubs, and even supermarkets in Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, and even Slovakia. Quite predictably, Croatia’s top craft beer is part of Zmajska’s portfolio and its Pale Ale in particular.

As its name suggests, the beer is a Pale Ale – an American-style pale ale (or APA). A combination of four distinct U.S. hop varieties are used in the brewing process, giving it a unique citrusy taste. Experts also have a good word for what they describe as a proper bitter aftertaste. The Zmajska pale ale also receives praises for its looks. Users describe it as clear, albeit slightly hazy, and orange amber in colour.

Top 5

With Croatia being a popular tourist destination, many foreigners have also had their say on the beer. Finding such high-quality ale in Croatia has surprised many foreigners. A proper pale ale is not easy to make, a fact often mentioned by online users signing their praise for the Zmajsko.

 

Serbia

Serbia is another SEE country where the craft beer mania is starting to secure a firm grip. Local microbreweries are increasing in number, as is the variety of beers they produce. Serbia is, in fact, the country that offers the best variety of craft beers in the region. This is mainly thanks to the Kabinet brewery which offers over 20 different types of beer. Interest in craft brewing is yet to reach its peak, as it already did in Croatia. Given that consumers hold local craft beers in really high regard, the number of breweries could be expected to increase, alongside the popularity of beers. Experts’ opinion puts Serbian crafts just behind Croatian ones in terms of quality. Given its dominance on the local market, it is hardly a surprise that Serbia’s top craft beer comes from the Kabinet brewery. Kabinet SuperNova is yet another pale ale – IPA. The style seems to be a sort of specialty for Balkan brewers. Once again its taste is described as citrusy, with some users referring to a taste of grass, spices, grapes, and even cat piss. The aftertaste is bitter as befits the style.

Serbia

Kabinet is also noted for its collaboration with breweries from neighbouring countries. The joint effort with Bulgaria’s White Stork led to a very interesting result in the Kabinet/White Stork Pop My Višnja sour-cherry-flavored ale.

While it could be argued that Kabinet SuperNova made the top spot its own thanks to its sheer popularity, the beer also receives a lot of praise from experts and consumers. However, this is nothing compared to the ratings of the Dogma Hoptopod IPA. In terms of consumer sentiment alone, this is the best beer in the region. It is another IPА described by its brewers as a “real hoppy monster”.

Serbia

Romania

Romania is the largest country included in the report. Nevertheless, its craft beer market lags behind smaller countries, such as Croatia and Slovenia. That said, the local market has a huge potential and has an additional advantage in local German brewers who have already kickstarted their brewing business. There is still lots of space for new players who face an additional challenge in diversifying the market.

Romania

As was the case with other countries in the region, consumers really enjoy local craft varieties. However, their opinion seriously differs to that of experts who see the average beer as mediocre. Still, Romania is home to at least one brand popular throughout the entire region.

Ground Zero’s Morning Glory is far ahead of the competition in terms of both quality and popularity. Not only that, but Ground Zero has also occupied the second spot with its collaboration with the Hop Hooligans brewery. Just like Kabinet, Ground Zero has already made a couple of very successful collaborations, including one with Bulgaria’s White Stork brewery. Yet another collaboration with Bulgaria resulted in the KANAAL Session IPA – the beer with which a Bulgarian pub celebrated its fourth anniversary.

Romania

The Morning Glory itself is also an IPA – again one with a citrusy, but also floral, taste, and a bitter aftertaste. While it is mostly offered in Bucharest, it also receives plenty of positive words from Bulgarian users.

Leaving quality and taste aside, users seem really impressed with the ale’s label. The text and visual of the label perfectly sum up the brewer’s idea of “breaking all rules and burning all boundaries in crafting beer”.

 

Bulgaria

Bulgaria is another country with an emerging craft beer market. It resembles the Romanian one to a large extent. The differences between the two come in consumer opinion, which is rather higher when Romanian ales are discussed, and variety – Bulgarian breweries offer a more diverse choice of ales, albeit still mediocre when compared to Slovenia and Serbia.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria still has about 10 microbreweries, a number that includes ales brewed and offered only by pubs. Nevertheless, the country already hosts events dedicated to craft beers and has notable bars that offer ales from around the world.

Bulgaria is a curious case where smaller brewers like Ailyak and Blek Pine received better scores than the more commercially successful White Stork, Divo Pivo, and Ah! Ale. The latter three have found a place in supermarkets and regular stores, while still remaining true to the craft beer spirit. Nevertheless, the most popular Bulgarian craft beer – Glarus – failed to make it into the top 5 due to its low rating among experts.

Bulgaria

Ailyak is yet another IPA with a rather curious name. The word “Ailyak” stands for a chilled and laidback person and attitude to life that the beer aims to replicate. It is associated with the second-largest Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, which fools online consumers into thinking it is brewed there. In fact, it comes from the capital Sofia. While remaining largely underground, Ailyak attained its high score (sixth highest amongst all beers included in the report) thanks to its quality and extremely good user ratings (78% of comments were positive).

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Most people think of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a war-torn, predominantly Muslim country whose people hardly have time to pursue any hobbies that have anything to do with alcohol. Few could imagine that Bosnia, too, has a small, but vibrant craft beer market. While local microbrewers are not amongst experts’ favorites, they still offer a variety of craft ales far greater than that in Bulgaria, for example.

Bosnia

Similar to Serbia’s Kabinet, Oldbridz is Bosnia’s leading craft brewery by some margin. The name of the brewery refers to the famous historical landmark in the town of Mostar. Most often than not mentions of the beer are accompanied by a picture including a pint and the Ottoman-era bridge.

The Oldbridz brewery offers no less than 13 different ales, the most popular of which is the Pale Ale – a cloudy, colorful ale with the traditional citrusy taste. It has been criticized, however, for its sourness and high carbonation. Online users were more positive towards the likes of the Semizburg Karandoloz and the Castrom Gruit. Despite their good reviews those beers remain largely unnoticed online.

Top 5

Moldova

Moldova’s market is one of the smallest in the region. While the country has a distinct lack of local craft breweries, users’ enthusiasm for locally-brewed ales suggests that a boom could be expected in the near future. While experts do not think much of Moldovan crafts, it could be argued that the country offers a great variety for its size.

Moldova

Once again, a pale ale makes it to the top of a country list. And this despite the fact that the Chisinau-based Litra brewery has tried its hands on a number of different beer styles, including Bohemian Pils, Chocolate Porter, Hefeweissbier, Vienna Lager etc.

The Litra Pale Ale is described as having a pleasant flowery aroma. It has a moderately bitter aftertaste and a fruity taste ranging from lemon all the way to pineapple. The biggest factor for the ale’s popularity is the Budapest Hopaholic Bar where users from around the world got their hands on the Moldavian craft beer.

Moldova

Montenegro

Montenegro is the country with the smallest population amongst those included in the report. This fact is reflected in the general lack of breweries and the limited variety of local crafts. Nevertheless, the positive reviews, coming mostly from tourists visiting the country, leave some hope that the Montenegrin market could follow the lead of the likes of Croatia and Slovenia.

The Red Cat Brewery Wheat IPA represents an interesting case of a craft beer made by a so-called contract brewer. It is, in fact, made in Slovenia at Pivovarna Vizir, but sold under the label of the Montenegro based beer firm Red Cat Brewery. Online users mention a Russian influence in the beer’s creation which could explain the fact that the majority of comments come from Russian tourists in Montenegro. It is described as citric and very fruity with a floral (sometimes even too floral) aroma.

The second-placed FIT Svetlo is one of the rare lagers that get into the top 5 craft beers of a given country. Perhaps even more curiously, it is brewed in a Chinese restaurant located in Podgorica.

 

Albania

Albania is another small, under-developed craft beer market. The bulk of breweries are, in fact, local pubs that also make their own beer. Nevertheless, there is some variety in the ales at offer as well as a quality that did not escape the eyes of experts.

It is hardly a surprise that 3 of the top 4 craft beers in Albania are brewed by pubs. The only actual local microbrewery – Shoqeria Picana – is responsible for number two on the list – the Birra King Pils.

The Brauhaus German restaurant at Tirana makes arguably the best craft beer in Albania. The Dark Brau (as its name in German suggests) is a dark brown ale with a bittersweet taste of chocolate or toast. While sharing their Dark Brau-drinking experience did spark jealousy in some users’ friends, most comments described it as simply okay or good for an Albanian ale.

 

Macedonia

Macedonia has a single craft brewer and this is the Temov Old Town Pub. Nevertheless, the pub/brewery does come up with no less than 10 different craft ales which do receive some nods from experts in the field. This is the first craft brewery in the country and has already secured the interest of some locals.

There was not much separating the top three beers offered by the Temov pub. What is interesting is that the brewer has decided to name a beer not only after Gotse Delchev (a revolutionary considered a national hero in Macedonia), but also after the legendary Albanian leader Skanderbeg.

The top beer itself – Temov Kaldrma – is a representative of the Smoked Helles style. It is made from part smoked and part caramelised barley. The Kaldrma is described as light and suitable for the hot summer days.

 

Kosovo

Just as it was with Bosnia and Herzegovina, many people are surprised to find out that Kosovo has any (no matter how small) craft beer scene. It turns out that while the craft beer market is the least developed out of all countries in the region, Kosovo does have one more brewery than its neighbouring Macedonia.

Furthermore, Kosovo boasts with a beer that has a rating higher than the best that the likes of Moldova and Bosnia and Herzegovina have to offer. The Sabaja IPA is the first of its kind for the country and is received warmly by no less than 70% of online users. The fact that it is available in a number of locations in the capital Pristina and the city of Prizren also helped it gain popularity. Experts have also signed their praises for its sparkling appearance and mildly bitter aftertaste. Negative reviews mention the lack of sufficient fruitiness.

The Sabaja brewery is so far ahead of the competition that even its second-best – the Smoked Porter – is far better than the products of its only competitor. As was the case with other breweries in the region, Sabaja was founded by a U.S. entrepreneur and his local friends.