Thursday, 15 February 2018

A brief taste of Romania

A short while ago I wrote about the beers I received as gifts for Christmas, and how some of them were “big-name” brands, purchased by well-meaning friends or family with little or no knowledge about beer.

Well there were a couple of rather unexpected beers I received after Christmas, from a work colleague, which turned out to be  interesting as well as unusual. My colleague originates from Romania, and travelled back to her homeland over the Christmas and New Year period to spend time with her family.

She hails from Cluj, which is in the north-western part of  Romania and is the fourth most populous city in the country. Cluj-Napoca, to give the city its full title, is considered the unofficial capital of the historical province of Transylvania, and unashamedly trades a little off the image of Vlad the Impaler. However, the  city is much more than vampires and bloodthirsty goings on, as it is one of the most important academic, cultural, industrial and business centres in Romania. It also boasts the country's largest university.

On her return, and knowing my fondness for beer, she brought me a couple of cans from her home-country; a gesture which was totally unexpected, but much appreciated. Given the events of the past five weeks, I have only just got round to drinking them.

Romania has never struck me as much of a beer  drinking country, so I was surprised to learn that the country has a long and proud history of brewing beer, going back to the early 18th Century. Even during the lean years of communism there were as many as 120 breweries in the country; a number which began to fall only after the revolution of 1989, dipping to as low as just 20 or so in 2012.

Since then there has been a slow, but steady rise in the number of small breweries, and there is now a burgeoning craft beer scene. The biggest problem these newcomers have had to face is Romanian law makes no differentiation between small-scale, craft breweries and those producing beer on an industrial scale. Costs which are marginal for the multi-nationals, can be crippling for smaller breweries, so their  success is testament to the passion of the brewers concerned.

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The beers my colleague brought back for me are two of Romania’s most popular brews; namely Ursus and Timișoreana. The former is one of the country’s best-selling and most loved beers. The latter is amongst the leaders in the premium beer sector, so before detailing what they actually taste like, it’s worth taking a closer look at the breweries themselves.

Ursus Breweries, is a subsidiary of Asahi Breweries Europe Ltd,  and is the market leader in Romania. The company is based in Bucharest and owns breweries in Timișoara, Buzău and Brașov as well as a craft brewery in Cluj-Napoca. It employs around 1,400 people.

Ursus is Latin for "Bear", and was founded in Cluj in 1878, and uses a bear as its emblem. In July 2011,  a craft-style  brewery opened on the site of the old plant. The  new brewery is named “Fabrica de Bere Ursus”, and drinkers can watch the beer being brewed.

Timișoreana (named after the city of Timişoara) is the capital city of Timiș Province, and the main social, economic and cultural centre in western Romania, and the third most populous city in the country. The Timisoara Brewery was established in 1718, at time when this part of Romania was ruled by Austria, and served an important need. The city’s water supply was often unfit to drink, so constructing a brewery  to supply the citizens with beer to drink instead, was a popular and profitable initiative.

So what about the beers themselves?

Ursus Premium 5.0% is, according to the can, a 100% malt beer, brewed in the lager style. It certainly has plenty of malt character, but it is rather lacking in hops for my liking. Still, I can imagine its appeal on a hot summer’s day, so it's easy to understand why it has become the most popular brand in Romania.

Timișoreana Nepasteurizata 5.0%, is an un-pasteurised beer; even I can understand that much Romanian. (Romanian is a Romance language, and has much in common with languages such as French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese, so it’s relatively easy to recognise quite a bit of vocabulary).

The beer, whilst similar in style to Ursus, has a lot more character, with some earthy-peppery notes coming through from the hops. The fact the beer is un-pasteurised, imparts a freshness, which was missing from the other beer.  

It is packaged in an ornate can, which carries an old print of the brewery, plus some suitably attired 19th Century brewery workers. As with the other beer, the can is incredibly thin-walled; although this is only noticeable after opening.

I trust you have enjoyed this brief insight into the Romanian brewing scene. I certainly enjoyed drinking the beers, as well as discovering a little more about the breweries responsible, and the country in general. I have also abandoned my pre-conception that Romania is predominantly a wine-drinking country; even though my work colleague prefers the juice of the grape to that of the barley!


Russtovich said...

Interesting post Paul, thanks.

I hadn't given much thought to Romania in terms of beer but after looking on a map to refresh myself it makes sense (they border Hungary) but, of course, mainly lagers I would assume (though some small craft stuff might be different). It was very thoughtful of your colleague to bring those back for you.

"Still, I can imagine its appeal on a hot summer’s day, so it's easy to understand why it has become the most popular brand in Romania."

Heh, that can be said of about 90% of the world I think. Thirst quenching rather than thirst tasting seems to be the order of the day. But on a hot day I'd have no problem with that (as I'm sure neither would you, judging from your German posts.) :)

I understood "bear" and "unpasteurized" from the cans as well, and could probably muddle through a little bit more with some luck.

And if the laws are that onerous for small breweries I can understand some of the larger ones becoming part of the big conglomerates. According to the web Asahi owns Pilsner Urquell!

I quite like Asahi dry beer when doing the sushi thing; not the raw fish (that's sashimi), plus a bit of tempura (i.e. battered). :)


PS - "As with the other beer, the can is incredibly thin-walled; although this is only noticeable after opening."

I noticed something similar when I was in East Berlin for a day back before the wall came down. It certainly makes you think when you see how other countries do their cans and cutlery and whatnot.

Curmudgeon said...

There does seem to be a trend in Eastern Europe for producing unpasteurised beers - the same is the case in Poland.

Syd Differential said...

So not every East European has heeded Project Fear's doom-mongering and fled the country.

(Just a little loosener to welcome you back to the fray Paul ! )

Paul Bailey said...

“So not every East European has heeded Project Fear's doom-mongering and fled the country”. Of course not Syd, there is no need for any of our pan-European workforce to return to the lands of their birth, because we value their presence and the contribution they make to the success of our business.

Once the Stasi stooges from the Home Office start coming round and asking questions, things might be different, but with each passing day the chances of a damaging “hard” Brexit, or indeed any Brexit at all, become less and less; despite what Bumbling Boris would have us believe.

Now let’s get back to beer please, because that is the subject of this post, and no mention was made of Brexit until your none too subtle attempt to stir things up!

Paul Bailey said...

I think to be honest Russ, the power of mass-advertising has more to do with the popularity of Ursus beer, rather than the intrinsic properties of the beer itself.

Asahi came on the scene when SAB, the previous owners of Ursus were forced to sell some of their breweries and brands, following their merger with AB InBev. That's how they ended up owning Pilsner Urquell as well.

I enjoyed some excellent dark Asahi beer whilst in Japan, a few years ago; in fact we over-indulged on the beer at a German-style Bierkeller in Kyoto. Drinking the beer in Bavarian-style Maβ Krugs, was not a good idea.

Unfiltered beers are also popular in Eastern Europe, Mudge. We came across quite a few in the Czech Republic a few years ago.

Russtovich said...

"Drinking the beer in Bavarian-style Maβ Krugs, was not a good idea."

Heh, I bet! :)

Curmudgeon said...

"the chances of... indeed any Brexit at all, become less and less"

In your dreams, my friend. But if that did happen, it would be the biggest betrayal of democracy ever seen in this country.

Paul Bailey said...

I did say no more about Brexit, but just to answer your comment, time will prove me right, Mudge.

A referendum, involving major constitutional change, and where no super majority was set, was an inherently bad idea from the word go. A quarrel within the Tory party was allowed to spill over and infect the whole country, leaving it bitterly divided.

In the meantime carry on believing your Daily Mail inspired fantasy about Britain becoming an independent global trading nation. Brexit will decimate the UK economy. This isn't Project Fear, it is fast becoming Project Reality, not that will bother little Englanders like you because the Daily Mail says everything will be alright and we will have blue passports back again.

Syd Differential said...

It's a pity you didn't include swivel-eyed loons in your rant and you would have had the full Remain bingo.
What a shame that the result of a perfectly democratic vote involving the biggest political mandate this country has ever seen has left you so bitter and pessimistic about your country Paul.
The abuse and scorn from some Remainers towards the majority is a sight to behold but I suggest it simply reinforces the belief that the correct decision was made.
As to decimating the UK economy the so-called experts warned of an immediate recession and 500,000-800,000 job losses just as a result of a Leave victory that,it's claimed,would also deter people from coming to Blighty.
In fact 100,000 new jobs have been created since then and Britain remains the most popular destination in Europe for inward foreign investment.
More foreign students have applied to British universities this year than ever before.
People from abroad seem to have a much more positive attitude about this country's future than a few,carping referendum losers.
Get over it.

Paul Bailey said...

"Get over it"; the mantra of those who were lied to by the likes of Boris Johnson, Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch, by being promised things which are proving impossible to deliver.

Syd, you started this nonsensical debate by deliberately trying to provoke a reaction, after making cheap jibes, on a post about beer, at the expense of people who have contributed much to the overall wealth of this country.

It is precisely because I care very much about my country's future, that I don't wish to see us following a course which will only benefit hedge fund managers and tax-avoiding media moguls. These people coudn't care tuppence about the likes of you and Mudge; as you will find out, IF Brexit actually happens!

I now politely suggest Syd, that it is YOU who needs to "Get over it", and also take note that any further comments about Brexit will be deleted straight away.

Luminita said...

Bear is quite popular in Romania, but there aren't many high quality brands on the market, unfortunately. There is however an interesting trend over the last years of making craft beer, but those beers are found only in selective locations, such as certain restaurants. Mostly `old` brands have been revived in cities where beer was made centuries ago, such as in Timisoara, Sibiu or Brasov.

Luminita said...

*Beer not bear - autocorrect mistake.

TameAMorning said...

I just wanted to know if you know anything about these names for Romania historically: Morcala, Ghanala, Mernala, Renela, Laka, Bala, Ghena, Ghenala, Ginser, The Gitsers, Miss Lock, Senser Inter, Ola , Molak, Enela, Onala, Lava, Merlina, Sennela, Inkener, Morkala, Ursala, Sernala, Merka, Versse, Genersen. They're from something called Romania Underground Lockers. I can't find any more information about it. If not thanks anyway.