Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bulgarian Brews

Looking at my pageview stats the other day, I noticed one access from Bulgaria.  I decided to see what the brewing situation was in Bulgaria, as you don't generally hear anything about it in our press or online media.  I did some basic Google searching and of course ran across which provides a listing of the eleven of the thirteen breweries in the country.  Most are owned by large brewing conglomerates like InBev, Heineken and Carlsberg.  I checked each name, (Almus, Ariana, Abtika, Boliarka, Burgasko, Kamenitza, Ledenika, Pirinsko, Shumensko, MM Varna, and Zagorka), in to see others' comments.  Beer only came to Bulgaria in the mid 1800s, brought by immigrants from France, Switzerland and Austria.

The highest rating was a 58 out of 100 (within the style) and 3.06 weighted score (where the mean is 2.75) for Stolichno T’mno (Bock) from Zagorka.

Some nice comments about it, but one thing that I noticed about many of the reviews of the brews from Bulgaria, was that there was often a comment about a metallic taste.  I looked for some pattern, as for Stolichno, the comment came from an Israeli drinker, so perhaps it was due to the canning and time in transit or on the shelf.  Although, other reviewers in Norway and Denmark didn't report it.  I then went down the list and looked up Kamenitza T’mno, a dunkel, from the oldest commercial brewery in Bulgaria.  Again an Israeli finding a metallic taste, but at least this brew had a lot of reviews, many very positive.  Finally scrolling through the reviews, someone from New Zealand, then some from Sweden, Ontario, CA, Finland and Wisconsin, US reporting a metallic taste.  Overall the comments were very complementary, the weighted rating fairly average and one reviewer brought up the point that dark beer had only been introduced in the mid 1990s to the Bulgarian brewing scene.  Having just lagered a dunkel over the summer, I can sympathize with the brewers' difficulties with it.

Next I checked Pirinsko Svetlo Pivo, a pilsner from the Pirinsko brewery owned by Carlsberg.  Again, Israeli and Finnish reviewers reported metallic tastes.  I checked back to see if they were the same reviewers as before.  Neither the Israeli or Finnish reviewers were the same as reported the metal in the Kamenitza.

If Kamentiza was delivered in a bottle as shown on Ratebeer, then the metallic taste isn't from the canning.  However on the Bulgarian Beer site, it shows both bottles and cans, so who knows how the reviewers received the product.  Back to the reviews.  Aha - the reviewer from Wisconsin got the brew in the bottle, as did the reviewer in Finland.

Next I Googled "water quality in bulgaria" and reached the site which has a very detailed analysis of the water in Bulgaria from 2007.  Phew, the analysis certainly seemed like the water itself could be at fault - some parts of the country have natural lead, chromium, manganese, nitrates (which have a twangy taste), and iron.  The water treatment systems in the country don't remove these metals, so I imagine in many cases they end up in the beer, unless the brewery specifically treats the water.

It would be interesting to see if the water is treated at the breweries, given the sizable backing most of the breweries have.  I don't think this would be enough for me to not sample Bulgarian brews, given the chance and the many positive reviews I've seen.  Perhaps the viewer from Bulgaria will fill us in on the breweries' filtration systems.

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