Eastern European beer has an excellent tradition, but it is overshadowed by the pedigree of Czech Beer and the quality of Eastern European spirits and liquor. However, the beers throughout the Baltics, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia are all of a good standard. They generally combine elements of Czech, German and British brewing traditions to create some excellent brews. Most beers within these countries are light lagers or ales, although there are some strong dark beers as well.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
These three countries make up a large proportion of the Baltic region, and all of them have some quality beers to offer. The most popular brewer in Estonia is Saku, with the malty lager known as Saku Originaal being the main product. There is also an excellent dark porter called Saku Tume, which has wonderfully rich, bitter flavour. The other major brewer in Estonia is Tartu, who produces a number of good lager beers and ales including Tartu Alexander and the A.Le Coq-series of beers.
Latvia is also home to a number of high-quality beers. These include Aldaris Zelta, which is a smooth and clean-tasting lager beer that rivals many of the best lagers around. Cesis beer and Lacplesis are also very good, as are beers from the Tervetes beer brand.
Whilst Lithuania’s beer market is not considered to be as good as that of Estonia or Latvia, it does have some quality beers of its own. The most notable Lithuanian beers are Utenos and Kalnapilis.
Poland and Hungary
Poland and Hungary have good brewing traditions, with Poland in particular being home to some of the best beers in Eastern Europe. Polish beers, or Piwo, are usually Pilseners, lagers, or porters. The top Polish brand is Zywiec, closely followed by Okocim. Zywiec beers tend to be clean-tasting lagers, of which the best is simply called Zywiec beer. It has a dry hoppy finish and is of a similar style to German Pilseners. If you fancy something a bit stronger, then try Okocim Porter. At 8.1%, it is a beautifully strong winter beer with hints of coffee and molasses and a very malty finish. Hungary has a similarly excellent beer tradition, with production dating back nearly a thousand years. Three or four main breweries, all of which produce some decent beers, control the market. The best beers to try are Dreher Bak, which is a double bok German-style beer, and the microbrewery beers from Ilzer.
Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia
Although not blessed with the same traditions as Poland and Hungary, these three countries still have some interesting beers. Beer styles in Romania are very much based on German traditions, and even the word for beer (bere) is based on the German word ‘bier’. The most popular Romanian Beer is Ursus, available in both blond and dark. The blond beer is very much a typical hoppy Pilsener, whereas the dark version is sweet with a flavour of prunes and burnt caramel. Croatian beers are generally darker, although some lagers are made. The best ones include Karlovacko pivo dark and Velebitsko pivo dark. If you prefer something lighter then try the light and refreshing Pan lager.
Bulgaria has fewer beers than its neighbours, although of the beers they produce Shumensko pivo is quite good. It is a light lager, but isn’t bad for this style, and is extremely easy to drink.
Despite being overshadowed by their Czech neighbours, Eastern European beer has a long history and tradition, and some excellent beers are produced in this region.