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 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!