As a beer drinker I have always been impressed by the friendliness of everyone associated with the craft brewing industry. I have interviewed, formally and informally, a number of brewers over the years and have found them to be always willing to share their views on the industry in general and their brewery in particular. My own theory on this, is that the industry has a history of collaboration and sharing, that has its genesis in home brewing clubs. Even before home brewing was legal in the United States, home brewers were gathering to discuss their hobby, share ideas, and taste each other’s latest creation. The sharing milieux of home brewing clubs laid, and continues to lay, the foundation for the ethos of openness, collaboration, and sharing that characterizes much of the industry today. A camaraderie exists in the world of craft brewing that, while not unique, is not found in many industries. Indeed, this is a topic that I touched on, in a previous blog entry.
I experienced this camaraderie during a recent trip to Poland. I was in Poland to give a couple of talks. The first of those talks was about craft breweries and the post-industrial city and looked at the part played by craft breweries in the revitalization of distressed neighborhoods in American cities. The presentation was made at a small conference organized by the Institute of Spatial Management and Housing in Warsaw. After two days in Warsaw, I headed off to Czestochowa. I had been invited to Czestochowa by the Faculty of Management at the Czestochowa University of Technology (CUT). I had taught a CUT as a Visiting Professor during the summers of 2010 and 2011. The Faculty of Management were celebrating their twentieth anniversary and invited me back to participate in the festivities. The city of Czestochowa is famous because it is home to Jasna Gora Monastery. The monastery contains an icon of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child known as the Black Madonna (also known as Our Lady of Czestochowa). The monastery attracts over five million pilgrims per year. I wrote about Czestochowa’s Black Madonna in a previous blog entry. Before talking more about my most recent visit to Poland, however, let me give a little background on the status of the Polish beer industry.
Behind Germany and the United Kingdom, Poland is the third largest producer of beer in Europe. The Poles are also significant consumers of beer, with 2015 per capita consumption standing at 24.3 gallons (92 liters). Among European countries, only the Czechs, Germans, and Austrian consume more beer per capita. Indeed, despite its reputation as a vodka producing and drinking country, beer is the most popular alcoholic drink in Poland. Seventy-three percent of Poles say they drink beer more than once or regularly throughout the year, compared with only forty-three percent for vodka. As in other countries, most of the beer that Poles drink is produced by multinational corporations. Three of those – Kompania Piwowarska SA, Heineken-controlled Grupa Zywiec SA, and Carlsberg – control eighty-eight percent of the Polish market. Craft beer is growing in popularity in Poland and there are approximately 160 craft breweries in the country. The growing popularity of craft beer in Poland is driven, as it is in the United States, by the younger demographic. According to Tomasz Blawat, President of the Management Board of Carlsberg Polska:
“Among consumer trends currently observed, the innovation trend is absolutely crucial for the beer market. Loyal, older consumers are loyal to standard lager and are probably going to stay there since this is a safe choice. However, new consumers from younger generations have completely different expectations. They seek new beer styles and new flavors. It is very important for them to have an innovative product that corresponds with their individuality and allows self-expression.”
I met some of the younger generation of Polish beer drinkers during my visit to Czestochowa. My friend and colleague Piotr Pachura, when he knew I was coming to Czestochowa, contacted the Czestochowa Local Circle of the Beer Brotherhood (CLCBB) and arranged for me to meet some of its members. CLCBB is an organization whose members are craft beer aficionados. Some are home brewers, but others are simply craft beer drinkers. Including Czestochowa, there are a total of four local circles in Poland – the others are in Krakow, Łódź, and Zgierz. All four local circles belong to the national organization, Bractwo Piwne (Beer Brotherhood). Bractwo Piwne are affiliated with the European Beer Consumers Union (EBCU), which has representation in seventeen European countries. Established in 1990, the EBCU has a number of objectives, one of which is “to preserve and maintain the diversity of the traditional European beer cultures, with particular regard to local, regional and national brewing and beer styles.”
The Czestochowa group meet every second Wednesday at Piwiarnia, a local craft beer bar. Piotr and I arrived a little after 6pm. A few members of the brotherhood were already there and others arrived shortly afterwards. We migrated out of the main bar and into a separate room that the brotherhood use for their bimonthly meetings. The evening that we got together was not one of their regularly scheduled meetings. However, about a dozen members showed up to spend the evening with me. And what a great evening it was; great company, great beer, and great conversation. The conversation was very much a back-and-forth one, with me asking questions about the craft beer scene in Poland and my hosts doing likewise with respect to the United States. There are a lot of similarities between the craft beer movements in the respective countries. In both cases, for example , growth of the craft segment of the brewing industry is being driven by young people, demanding more variety in terms of the beers that they drink. At various points during the evening, bottles of homebrew appeated and the contents shared with everyone. It was a wonderful evening, the memories of which I will cherish for a long time to come. At the end of it, my new friends presented me with a very generous gift, comprising one of the Czestochowa Circle’s beer glasses, a beer stein, and a Czestochowa coffee mug.
I like Poland. I have a deep affection for the country and its people. This was my fifth visit there since 2010. I suspect that it will not be my last. Just a few days ago, I received an invitation to spend six weeks next summer as a Visiting Professor at the Kielce University of Technology in Kielce, Poland. There are still a lot of details to work out before this opportunity becomes reality. Those, hopefully, will be ironed out over the next few weeks. In the meantime, to my Polish beer drinking friends I say na zdrowie.