Continuing my exploration of Romanian beers, today we move on to the bigger independents and contract brews.
Zăganu is the nearest thing to a mainstream craft brand, popping up in supermarkets and a couple of non-specialist bars. Zăganu Blondă is simple golden lager of 5.3% ABV. The malt base gives it a pleasant pilsner-style golden syrup flavour, there's a lightly spicy hop element plus a touch of Belgian esters in the mix, but that's as complex as it gets. It's pretty unexciting. Next to it there is Zăganu IPA. This one is copper-coloured, though only slightly darker than the blonde and has a seriously funky hop aroma. On tasting it's spicy and green: part cabbage, part pine floor cleaner. The latter effect is enhanced by the thick unctuous texture. Behind the busy hops there's a huge malt sweetness, with a big hit of caramel and even a saccharine metallic quality. To me it seems like the brewery has tried to balance the big hops with big malt but they've ended up with something that's simultaneously over-bitter and over-sweet instead. This IPA does deliver the requisite hop hit, but does so in an awkward and uncertain package.
Both of these were found in Boulevard Pub, a nice little place in Bucharest Old Town which conveniently opens early in the afternoon, which the other beer specialists don't.
Zăganu Brună I picked up at the supermarket. Roughly a dunkelbock, it's a whopping 7.1% ABV but is another inoffensive one, which is probably a mercy given the potential to oversweeten this kind of beer. There's a smooth and gentle burnt caramel quality and a mild aniseed bitterness which gives it a medicinal tang. The mouthfeel is a bit thin as well. It's not a patch on proper German strong dark lager, but is quite easy-going.
Last of this lot is Zăganu Rosie, which La 100 de Beri was describing as a Belgian red. It's 7% ABV and a hazy dark copper colour. It smells of strawberries and tastes similarly of summer fruit with a pleasantly dry background. The tangy fruit and toastiness make for a tasty combination, though sweetness does start to build on the palate as it goes along. Enjoyable, but not a beer I could drink more than one of.
I kicked off with Blondie, the 4.5% ABV house lager. Like many a brewpub lager it's hazy and quite fruity, with warm-fermentation esters plus a jaffa and pineapple juiciness which comes from the hops. A wonky sour twang shows up on the finish and I'm guessing is not meant to be there. The weissbier, Whitie, is even more amateur. It's a clear gold colour and absolutely piles on the banana and bubblegum flavours without an ounce of subtlety. It's tough going for such a light beer.
There's a Vienna lager in the range called Rosie, described in the menu as somewhere between 5 and 5.5% ABV. The flavour is a fascinating blend of raisins, chocolate and butterscotch. And it's that diacetyl butterscotch element that dominates the flavour. Thankfully it's offset a little by a sweet grape tang so the finished beer, for all its faults, isn't sickly and remains drinkable. Last of the set is a pitch-black 7%-er called Blackie. It smells estery and tastes of bananas and roast. Very weird and not in a good way.
Berestroika is a nice place to spend an hour or two, but it really could do with improving the way it makes beer.
Back to the Old Town next, and we paid a brief visit to Nenea-Iancu, the pub arm of a local beer importer. It has a couple of house beers which the company commissioned a brewery in Germany to make.
Nenea-Iancu Blondă Specială is a 4.9% ABV helles. It's properly smooth and gluggable, though it's sweeter than one would normally expect, tasting to me of cupcakes and candyfloss. This is despite a lovely mineral and grass aroma. The hops are well hidden in the flavour, present as only the merest tang underneath the malt.
Its companion is a weissbier called Nenea-Iancu Albă Nefiltrată. The presentation was a bit poor here, the beer missing the big fluffy white head it should have. There's a true-to-style banana and bubblegum aroma with lots of clove in the foretaste, turning candy-sweet later. As expected the carbonation is low and that does allow the sweetness to grow, getting a bit cloying by the end. It's another beer where one would be plenty.
The company also commissions Oppler Pilsner from a Czech brewery. It's only 4.1% ABV and does all the things you expect from good pils -- golden syrup and grass -- but dialled down very low and set on a thin watery body. Served ice cold it's as refreshing as water and pretty much as tasty.
Finally, from the bottle fridge at La 100 de Beri, I picked Ursa Amar@, brewed for a Cluj-based client brewer by Hungary's Kolumbusz brewery. I wasn't sure what to expect from something badged as a "special bitter ale". It's 6.5% ABV and a chestnut brown colour. The aroma is all raisins and booze, putting me in mind of a hot quadrupel. Its flavour offers a fun spicy mix of mince pies, liquorice, dark roasted grain and fresh green cabbage: a strange combination but it does work surprisingly well. There's all the complexity you'd find in a thick dark Belgian ale, and more, but in a lighter package. I enjoyed it a lot.
That's it for the craft offerings. Stand by for the next post, delving into the dangerous world of Romanian macro lagers.
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