Bratislava is a simple beast. Skulking quietly in the shadow of Vienna and Budapest, the capital of Slovakia is often rushed through as tourists make a beeline for those more grandiose cities. A quick look round the castle, a plate of meat hastily wolfed down, and they’re off, mumbling something about how small they found it all. Yet unlike its Danube counterparts, it boasts something far more appealing than any Baroque facade or thermal bath: decent beer.
Much like its beefier half-brother Prague, it takes the art of beer-making very seriously. And, in recent years, an exciting new trend has developed: microbreweries. Popping up in unexplored crevices of the city, these tucked-away drinking caves specialise in home-produced lagers, and are packed full of discerning but guzzling locals, who’ve grown tired of the mass-produced fare.
As a self-confessed beer enthusiast living in Prague, I couldn’t resist a weekend sojourn to seek out these much talked-about beer dens. Could they match up to the already excellent and more well-known Czech and Slovak beers? Here is a rundown of my best finds. If we’ve missed one of your favourites, tell us about it in the comments below.
Almost the city’s entire quota of visitors seems to huddle in and around the gothic and Renaissance-built castle. But located just 200m down the slope, adjacent to the city walls, and overlooked by most visitors, is the microbrewery Zámocký Pivovar (Zámocká 13, zamockypivovar.sk). Offering a modern take on an old, dark-wood pub, its simple tables line the main bar, and in the adjoining smoking salon, a huge brass beer tank forms the centrepiece for smokers to cluster around.
Combining the tastes of typical Czech beer (“the teacher”) and Slovak beer (“the apprentice”), Castle Beer, the menu says, is a compromise. I opted for the 12° version (the degree denotes colour, 12° being a pale ale) – a malty but refreshing beer, which reminded me of a Christmas ale.
Just beyond the main shopping street, Obchodna, and down a side road is the surprisingly busy Meštiansky Pivovar (Drevená 8, mestianskypivovar.sk). Founded in 2010, this gargantuan, three-floored pub has tried to resurrect the magic of the long-since demolished original Bratislava brewery, which dated back to 1477. Combining modern brewing methods with old recipes, its Pilsner-esque lager comes in light and dark forms.
Sitting on the second floor, under an old map of Bratislava, I plumped for the dark option, Bratislavský Bubák, and ordered two warm beef dishes (a soup and smoked tongue), which are served with bread, horseradish and mustard. The beer had a pleasant, blackcurranty aftertaste, and perfectly complimented the piquant meal. The place was bustling with couples and after-work drinkers.
Starosloviensky Pivovar (Vysoká 15, staroslovienskypivovar.sk) is a much cosier affair than the previous two stops. Decked out like a Tatra mountain wood cabin, it is a celebration, not just of beer, but also of traditional Slovakian goat’s cheese (bryndza). Sheepskin rugs cover the wooden benches, farmers’ tools scatter the walls and waiters in traditional folk outfits shuttle beer from bar to punter. Their own brew is Pressburg (taking Bratislava’s original name), a yeasty ale, full of flavour and a tad heavier than your average pint. And very proud of it they are too. When my girlfriend snubbed the local brew in favour of Czech lager, Svijany, the barman visibly sneered and walked off to fetch it like a sulky teen.
Omama Shop Cafe
The city’s university area is off the beaten track and though not as architecturally alluring as the centre, it does boast some excellent pubs. Omama Shop Cafe (Sasinkova 19), though not a microbrewery per se, does stock several local malt and wheat beers, and was recommended to me by the barman at the castle pub. It’s easy to see why he was so enthusiastic. Tucked inconspicuously below street level, every inch of wall is plastered with old Soviet advertising plates, a grand piano sits invitingly in one of the rooms, and the tables are embedded with old beer receipts. It radiates warmth, and my Klášter – an imported wheat beer from a northern Czech village– is a full and satisfying companion.
Pivovarský Hostinec Richtár Jakub
Also close to the university and behind a squat-like door is Pivovarský Hostinec Richtár Jakub (Moskovska 16, richtarjakub.sk), a welcoming pub, teeming with glass-chinking life. Resembling a scout hall, it is reassuringly basic: a row of temporary beer pumps, old Guinness cartoons lining the walls, drinks cans piled chaotically on the shelves. It is perfect.
The chalk-scrawled beer board lists the options, all of which are available in 100ml taster glasses. I sampled the house lager, Jakub; a coffee-flavoured ale from Vienna; and, finally, a deliciously dark Czech beer, Podkrkonošské. For the best way to soak up some of the alcohol, order the nakládený hermalín (camembert-style cheese filled with chilli pepper) as a gooey side order.
• This article was amended on 17 April. Under Zámocký Pivovar we referred to a 12% beer. This was incorrect. It should have read 12° (the degrees lovibond scale is used to measure of the colour of beer).
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