Bryan Cohen's picture

This full story is available to premium subscribers.

Login / Subscribe
Subscription options for $2, $15 and $25.


 

A Bratislava Beer Tour

“Where the hell is Bratislava?”

Mention you plan to visit Bratislava for a beer tour, and this is probably the least vulgar response you will get. As Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich said in 1820: “East of Vienna, the Orient begins,” which put Bratislava into a space as mystical as Mongolia to the population of Western Europe. Even my friend Rudy, a world-traveler with 60+ countries on his passport, could not recall ever hearing of the quaint city on the Slovakian side of the Danube River, across from Austria.

At best, most imagined Bratislava as a hinterland, with boring Communist-era architecture and ambivalent hotel and restaurant staff; at worst, recollections of kitschy scenes from the 2004 movie EuroTrip fill the void. “Welcome to Bratislava!” one character exclaimed, “Miami Vice is number 1 new show!” 

It’s that misunderstood.

In any case, perhaps Bratislava is alien simply because the city is called so many different things: Pressburg (German), Pozsony (Hungarian) and Prešporok (Slovakian) among the many names. Bratislava was even called Wilsonovo mesto in 1918-19, in honor of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who shared a view with some Bratislavans regarding a right to Slovakian self-determination.

Fast forward 100 years from Wilsonovo and Bratislava is now a thriving metropolitan area of more than 600,000 people, including more than 60,000 students, thanks to an enterprising younger generation and economic integration in the EU. Bratislava, Slovakia has emerged from centuries of rule by empires to stand on its own among well-known Danubian neighbors, Vienna (80 km west) and Budapest (200 km southeast).

For a beer tourist, the meandering, cobblestone streets of Bratislava are a delight of discovery. Far less crowded than similar districts in Prague or Budapest, the quiet streets and manageable squares are lined with wrought-iron balconies and painted in soft pastel shades, offering a sublime auditory and visual experience to go along with the quirky, post-socialist quality of the pubs. Only a city comfortable in its skin offers such a balance. As a bonus, the prices of beer, accommodations and meals all average half the cost of Vienna.


For a beer tourist, the meandering, cobblestone streets of Bratislava are a delight of discovery. Far less crowded than similar districts in Prague or Budapest, the quiet streets and manageable squares are lined with wrought-iron balconies and painted in soft pastel shades, offering a sublime auditory and visual experience to go along with the quirky, post-socialist quality of the pubs. 


“We’re a pretty alcoholic country,” remarked my guide and guest for the first evening, Kristina Masaryk, a native Bratislavian. The stats back up the claim: Slovakia is one of the 10 booziest nations in the world according to the WHO, guzzling 14 liters of pure alcohol per year. Yet Slovakians consume much less beer than neighboring Czech Republic and Austria.

Then again, so does everyone else: Czechia and Austria are #1 and #3 in world beer consumption per capita, respectively (knowing #2 is Namibia will win Double Jeopardy).  Slovakians, conversely, tend to spread alcohol consumption between wine, beer and spirits. Nevertheless, the average Slovakian swills 80 liters of suds per year, well above the U.S. average of 75. The difference between neighbors is mainly because wine had such a head start, having a history dating back to a 1st century Roman settlement. The oldest brewery in the country, in Vyhne, doesn’t appear until the middle of the 15th century 1,300 years later.

When the wave of brewery consolidation ended with the Communist era of the mid-90s, Slovakia has erupted into a spasm of new breweries, going from just 10 small craft breweries in 2009 to more than 80 in 2017. “Each year, at least 8-10 new small breweries open in Slovakia, with many in Bratislava,” said Ján Smoleň, assistant professor and beer aficionado at Comenius University in Bratislava. “It’s a real revolution.”

Any tour of Bratislava, including beer, should begin in the city’s main square, Hlavné Námestie. While some cities spent lavishly on museums, Bratislava smartly made the entire Old Town a welcoming artifact, embedded (literally) with history: a keen eye can spot the cannonball fired by Napoleon’s army still lodged in the town hall. In the spring and summer, the area is filled with small kiosks, restaurants and interesting shops. In the winter a Christmas market lights the square in mystical yellow. Bratislava has spent millions refurnishing this district since 1989with cobblestone streets closed to auto traffic, perfect for a meandering beer tour.

Like the architecture and infrastructure, beer quality has also improved. The two main conglomerate brewers, Heineken International (producing Zlaty Bazant, Corgon, and Kelt beer) and Topvar/SABMiller (Saris and Smadny Mnich), make up 73% of the beer sales. Despite the domination, the corporate brewers brought sorely needed investments into Slovakia including hundreds of millions for production equipment, technology and quality controls.


Finish reading this article by becoming a premium subscriber.
Visit the store now. Options start for only $2.00!

Comments

irrover's picture
Off to Bratislava next month so this article come at an opportune time.
Bryan Cohen's picture
Irrover, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] for some more information and a list of some more places to visit.

Comments

irrover's picture
Off to Bratislava next month so this article come at an opportune time.
Bryan Cohen's picture
Irrover, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] for some more information and a list of some more places to visit.

Advertisement

Table of Contents