Dropping like a bombshell among aficionados the world over was August’s news that CNN had picked Warsaw in its Top 15 shortlist of craft beer cities …
Photographs by Ed Wight
Of all the accolades that have poured Warsaw’s way in recent times, there can’t be many that have raised as many collective eyebrows as the capital’s inclusion in CNN’s rundown of the planet’s most “brew-centric cities”.
Named as a “bucket list city”, the town found itself rubbing shoulders with traditional greats such as Berlin, Brussels, Portland and Asheville. Critics, however, were soon quick to surface, many railing against the insertion of curious outsiders such as Tokyo, Tallinn, Shanghai and Rome. “Really,” wrote one disgruntled commentator, “it sounds more like a list of where CNN’s journalists liked the most on their latest holidays.”
Yet despite the wave of negativity, Warsaw evaded most of the scoffs, a fact firmly bolstered by its growing reputation among global experts. Draft Magazine , for instance, noted back in 2017 that the country’s craft beer revolution had “matured into something distinctive.” And in the two years since, it’s grown even more.
First sparked by the Pinta brewery in 2011 (themselves namechecked in CNN’s article alongside local brewing legends Artezan), the resulting tidal wave of craft beer has seen Warsaw deluged with a wealth of quality pubs overlooking the traditional mainstream forces. But how far have we come and are the plaudits deserved? Paweł Leszczyński, the co-founder of the Warsaw Beer Festival and the Insider’s go-to beer guy, ponders these questions over a pint of something lovely …
WI: In your eyes, what makes Warsaw an exciting city for craft beer?
PL: Five things off the top of my head. First, it’s got diversity. We’ve around 1,000 craft beer taps dispensing the best beers found in Poland and around the world – and they’re always changing what they’re serving! Second, every weekend you’re seeing approximately ten beer premiers or tap takeovers. The event side of things is genuinely exciting. Next, Warsaw gets the best breweries – every domestic producer wants to sell their beer in the capital, so the pubs can easily take their pick from the most interesting beers. Then, there’s the Warsaw Beer Festival. It’s an intense three-day event held twice a year and it’s no surprise that it’s grown to become the most important craft beer festival in Poland. Finally, there’s the prices. You can get a fabulous craft beer for as little as zł. 12 – actually, even less when you consider the various promotions. If you know the right places, you’ll find brilliant beer for just EUR 2.5 served every Monday!
Honestly speaking, were you a little surprised about the news that CNN had selected Warsaw?
Yes! Of course we’re aware ourselves that the Polish beer market is booming (and I think there’s even more to come!), but it’s a fact that’s often doubted outside of our borders. That said, as Steve Dresler (editorial note: the beer prophet that helped establish the Sierra Nevada brewery as a global legend) noted at one recent beer festival, although Poles are currently taking their inspiration from the brewers over in the States, it won’t be long until that situation flips.
How fast has the craft scene evolved here?
The first craft pubs only emerged six to seven years ago, so the fact that we now have around fifty in Warsaw is something to be proud of. There’s also a few festivals, thousands of homebrewers, a few great breweries and multiple events. We’ve come a long way!
You deal with plenty of foreigners in the course of your work – what’s their reaction to the local craft scene in Warsaw?
Well, to use one example, I know one Vice President of an important corporation that takes all of his foreign guests out to the city’s craft beer pubs – that says a lot, don’t you think? On another front, I’ve noticed the increase in ‘beer tourists’ specifically coming over to try the beers at our festival. There’s two quotes I’ll always remember a couple of these making. “Polish beer isn’t a joke,” followed by someone else simply saying: “The Warsaw Beer Festival? It’s a benchmark of success. “