Małopolska: regional beers and liqueurs
The origins of beer brewing in Poland are lost in the mists of history, but we do know that monastery breweries contributed to the spread of the golden beverage. One of them, operating at the 13th-century Cistercian Abbey in Szczyrzyc in the Island Beskids, has recently resumed production after years of decline. The Szczyrzyc Cistercian Brewery offers 13 different types of beer, with the Abbots lager at the forefront. Thanks to the cooperation with the local brewery, the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec have recently created the Tinecia beer, inspired by the Belgian monastery culture. Beers from both breweries can be tasted in the monastery shops.
The Brewery in Grybów is a fine example of continuing the brewing tradition. Its first period of splendour was during Galician times when the beer from Grybów became famous throughout Austria-Hungary and was served on tables in Košice, Budapest and Vienna. In decline after World War II, the brewery changed hands in 2005 and modernised its production. Currently, the brewery produces more than a dozen types of beer, including its flagship lager Pilsvar, a slightly stronger Lach beer based on an old Polish recipe or the trademark of the Grybów brewers – naturally cloudy Švejkowe beer with a good-natured Czech warrior on the label. Beer from Grybów can be purchased throughout Małopolska and directly at the Brewery on the way to the desolate valleys of the Low Beskids.
In pre-war Poland, countless breweries operated at landed estates. Even though times have changed a lot, the idea of family brewing has experienced a real renaissance in recent years. Noteworthy examples include IPA and APA beers from Brewery Limanowa. Others well worth a try are, for starters, the beer served in elegant small bottles from the Trzy Korony Brewery in Nowy Sącz (the article: Nowy Sącz, a city for many tourist occasions), the dynamically developing Trzech Kumpli Brewery – the fruit of cooperation between three classmates from a primary school in Tarnów and its flagship barley-wheat IPA beer, Pan IPAni, or the offer of Such a Beer Brewery from Sucha Beskidzka and the Podgórze Brewery from Podhale. After the production was discontinued during the communist period, the old Tenczynek Brewery has also developed its activity in recent years. Some of the facilities mentioned above hold a special Made in Małopolska certificate awarded to local initiatives drawing on regional traditions.
When dining in some restaurants in Kraków, you can try beer brewed on-site. Back in the 1990s, the pioneer of such a brewing model was the Kraków restaurant CK Browar at the Bagatela Theatre, where naturally cloudy beer is poured at tables from characteristic pipes. They also brew their beer in the building of the former tram depot at Świętego Wawrzyńca Street (Stara Zajezdnia), in the Pukal Brewery in a tenement house at Krakowska Street, in the old brewery building, which has been turned into luxury lofts at Lubicz Street, or in the Studio Club in the student town of the AGH University of Science and Technology, which houses the AGH Student Brewery.
Małopolska liqueurs are closely linked to the fruit culture of the Pogórze Region, the Island Beskids and the Beskid Sądecki. Undoubtedly, the best known is the dry śliwowica łącka (plum brandy) from Łącko, made from plums grown in the orchards of Nowy Sącz. This nalewka, popular in Central and Eastern Europe and particularly strong (70%!), is back in favour and officially recognised after years of clandestine production, as evidenced by its entry on the list of regional products. Another regional speciality from the Łącko area is the slightly weaker (around 55%) nalewka łazowska, made from ripe juniper berries.
Those who prefer flavoured liqueurs with a lower alcohol content will be interested in the jarzębiak izdebnicki. The slightly tart-tasting, amber-coloured drink is made from rowan berries and produced in Lanckorona and Izdebnik based on the 16th-century recipe. Those who prefer more sweet flavours will appreciate Małopolska mead, including, above all, Miodówka pogórska. It is produced in Ciężkowice from local honeydew honey with the addition of spices, as well as a mead from Rytro near Nowy Sącz, which is distinguished by a slightly different method of preparation.
A curiosity from the northern tip of Małopolska is the Czar pustyni – a liqueur made from sugar peas in the region of the Błędowska Desert. When in Kraków, it is also worth visiting the shop at the Monastery of Friars Minor Capuchin at Loretańska Street and buying some Balsam kapucyński, or Capuchin balsam, if you will. It is a herbal concoction based on a 19th-century recipe from the Czech Republic, small amounts of which support bowel function and alleviate chronic headaches. As you can see, the most crucial thing in everything is moderation and common sense!
Małopolska craft beers and nalewkas are a taste of the work of generations of experts and enthusiasts – both the old masters and the contemporary followers of tradition. It is best to savour them unhurriedly and in small quantities, paying attention to their unique properties and creation methods.