Real beer discovered in Krakow

Three years I’ve lived here, and not once did anybody mention Pub Katedra to me. Three years. If I didn’t know you better, I’d suspect foul play. I have terrible thoughts of the whole of Poland smirking silently while I raved on about the impossibility of finding good beer in this country. You wouldn’t do that to me. Would you?

Katedra is less than a kilometre from my front door and it has more varieties of Polish beer than any other Polish pub I’ve seen: in other words, more than two. In fact it has a lot more than two, the spiral-bound beer list is half-an-inch thick. They claim to have more than 40 beers, mostly, but not exclusively, brewed in Poland. Forty Polish beers. How can that be? I’ve only ever seen five beers served in pubs. Why don’t they spread them around a bit? Five beers in 64,964 pubs and all the others in just one. Okay, it’s an admirable exercise in surrealism, but at least tell us that’s what’s going on.

If you think you like beer and have only ever tasted the mainstream Polish brands, stop what you are doing right now and go immediately to Katedra—your mouth, as Ford Prefect once remarked, will love you forever. I’m not saying they are all great beers, some just tasted weird, but the point is: they have a taste. Żywiec, Okocim, and Tyskie are not terrible beers, but they are achingly bland. They’re designed to be bland, so anybody can drink them without complaint. This is not what beer is about, in the same way that wine isn’t about adding alcohol to grape juice.

The breweries turning out this riotously non-standard cataract of beers are young and bursting with hoppy enthusiasm. Browar Fortuna is a prefect example: founded in 1995 it offers a dozen versions of madness-in-a-glass including the devastatingly flavoursome Czarny Smok (Black Dragon—the names need work). Others include Browar Jagiełło, Browar Konstancin and Browar Czarnków; names that will soon become more familiar than presidential candidates if there is any justice in this universe.

I guess I should say something about the pub itself. It’s on Poselska, but on the part of Poselska to the east of Grodzka. It’s the only bar, pub or restaurant on the entire street, which also makes it unique in Krakow’s Old Town. As if two points of uniqueness weren’t enough, Katedra goes one further by being the only Krakow pub I know of that is entirely non-smoking. Nicotine addicts need not panic. The place is cosy enough that standing outside on the ashtray-equipped doorstep you barely lose touch with events inside.

The interior is, apparently, based on the look of a short film inspired by a Jacek Dukaj—it’s geek chic. The adolescent Tolkien-inspired elements are understated enough not to get in the way of the beer experience. In other words, it looks almost exactly like every other Krakow pub except, mercifully, it isn’t underground.

Go there at the nearest opportunity. Feign an antisocial disease to get time off work if you must, or simply slide off into the blazing furnace that is July and hitch south to Krakow—nobody will notice.

Pub: Katerda

Address: ul. Poselska 9

Website: http://www.katedra.krakow.pl/

Bonus: Mention ‘Island1’ at the bar for one free look of blank incomprehension.

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21 thoughts on “Real beer discovered in Krakow

  1. sleepy says:

    I’m told that Omerta on ul. Kupa in Kazimierz also has a bigger (i.e. more than 5) selection of Polish beers.

  2. Decoy says:

    I think I can feel justifiably smug that I introduced you to Pub Katedra :-)

    My personal favourite from ones I tried there was Ciechan Pszeniczne, a nice flavoursome ‘white’ beer.

    I mentioned Island1 at the bar, and they said “Sorry we don’t have that brand…” Thus, I got my free look of incomprehension too.

  3. Steve says:

    I’m completely shocked that the pubs you’ve been to have such a small selection. Even the big central city pubs that I remember, though tied into one of the two big company suppliers, still normally managed to have three or four Polish beers on tap, with others in several others in bottles and cans. Little local bars would often have six or more in the fridge plus a couple on tap. The cake shop in my local town has 8 beers in its bar fridge – my closest bar.

    For something very different try Belfast, a Polish recipe ‘Irish Beer’ – now 10 years in production: try Browar Jabłonowo pubs. There used to be ‘Belfast’ labelled bars in Kielce and Warsaw at least, but they may have gone now. Producing a Polish type stout was suggested to the original brewery by a Northern Irish consultant called Simon Johnston and it was named after his home town in his honour. Simon always wore (maybe still wears) a bow tie and legendarily managed to have more working hours contracted as a consultant than he could possibly have worked.

    Jabłonowo also now produces Gingers Beer. This was developed by the Polish Director – I can’t remember his name – of Kielce Brewery, which was owned by the Belgian producers of Palm and then known as Browar Belgia. They had large spare capacity after producing Palm and the Director used this to produce local lagers including Król Artur, named after the owner of the Kielce Jazz Club; to be the first brewery to serve the hypermarket own label brands; and to produce Gingers. They were all originally marketed as being produced by the Director’s Consulting Company before being adopted by the brewery. I met the Director at the Jazz Club, where we discussed the name of English ‘ginger beer’ after he told me that he was using an old English recipe for his new beer. (Its actually sweetened ordinary beer with ginger flavouring, but the marketing pitch sounded good.)

  4. Anna says:

    Jamie, I could have told you that ages ago! As a beer lover, Katedra and Omerta (on Kupa), along with Pierwszy Lokal (for having the smok on tap) are my favourites in the city. You should try Piwo Zywe from the Amber brewery, my absolute favourite Polish beer. Ever.

  5. island1 says:

    You could have, but you didn’t—a black mark from which you will never be free.

    I’ve seen Smocza Głowa in a few places, I was exaggerating slightly about the complete absence of non-standard beers, but I had no idea all these others existed.

  6. island1 says:

    Maybe it’s worse in Krakow—high rents mean pubs can’t afford to experiment.

    Gingers is an abomination, so I will approach the Kielce Brewery with caution. Still, anybody who makes Palm can’t be all bad.

  7. island1 says:

    I’ll be back in half an hour

  8. Pioro says:

    According to this list there are over 1500 beers in Poland! Why have i never seen these only disgusting Zywiec and Tyskie??? http://www.browar.biz/piwa.php

  9. island1 says:

    Sweet Moses. They are just taunting us.

  10. scatts says:

    Ciechan “costam”, is the best beer I’ve tasted in Poland so far and I did write about it at some point……found it, June 2008 –

    http://scatts.wordpress.com/2008/06/25/euro-2008-where-to-focus/

    Coincidence that these beer posts coincide with football tournaments?

  11. Norman says:

    And what about CK Browar? It’s quite popular and has a good “Pszeniczne Jasne”.

  12. guest says:

    Zywiec and Tyskie and other big companies pay money to the pub owners if they sell only their beer. That’s why there is so little diversity…and so much “zywiec”, “tyskie” and co. advertising in the pubs.

  13. slandi1 says:

    CK Browar is interesting. I find the beers a bit ‘unfinished’ tasting, but they are at least different. The only problem with CK Browar is that it’s not a pleasant place.

  14. island1 says:

    CK Browar is interesting. I find the beers a bit ‘unfinished’ tasting, but they are at least different. The only problem with CK Browar is that it’s not a pleasant place.

  15. John says:

    I second that you should visit the bar on ul. Kupa (i can remember this street name for some reason, but always forget the name of the bar…) The bar is a bit bland with pictures from the Godfather etc. and the bar tender doesn’t know his beers (he never heard of Leffe or Chimay), but they do have a huge selection of strange Polish beers. I had some honey beer which was absolutely disgusting, but I also had some great beer of which I forgot the name…

    I love the beer from CK Browar – especially the Jasne and the Dunkel. The food is also quite ok: I am a fan of their honey ribs. They serve the CK beer also on one of the terraces on Rynek (on the corner of slawkowska in front of the Cottonfield shop), and in Basen AGH.

  16. Sylwia says:

    In other words, it looks almost exactly like every other Krakow pub except, mercifully, it isn’t underground.

    Whenever I meet someone from Kraków they ask me why our pubs have windows, so presumably it’s an offensive object.

    Then in the Czech Republic they simply use the word “piwnica” for a pub. It must have something to do with taking the “piwo” in “piwnica” too literally.

    In other words, I’m happy to hear that there’s one windows equipped pub in Kraków!

  17. magdalena says:

    “Then in the Czech Republic they simply use the word “piwnica” for a pub.”

    That’s not from the word “piwnica”. Pivnice means the place you drink pivo (beer).
    To muddle things further, the Polish cellar (piwnica) is “sklep” in Czech.
    Enjoy! ;-)

  18. Sylwia says:

    LOL That’s what I meant!

  19. Steve says:

    Piwnica (cellar) in Polish originally meant a place for storing drinks – derived from pić.

  20. […] [Polandian] Real beer discovered in Krakow […]

  21. Henry says:

    House of Beer on Sw Krzyza is another one. They are a lot bigger then Katedra. Alot of the people from Katedra work there now.

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