So what did we find? Here are our top 6 picks for breweries in Zagreb, where true beer lovers can visit, sample, and enjoy some varieties with the brewers themselves: Garden Brewery, Medvedgrad, Pulfer, Zmajska, Varionica, and Zlatni Medo.
Read on to find out about each of their unique stories, history, and the different types of beer they offer, along with some pretty outrageously innovative beers they are experimenting with.
We also met Darko (another of the four owners), who is the official master brewer. He who showed us a few different beer styles in production. The friends are passionate about their beer and have big dreams and plans for the brewery.
How did they begin?
Matej told us that the Pulfer beer story started no differently than many other craft breweries - in one of their garages.
At the beginning of 2013, four good friends and beer lovers Matej, Darko, Hrvoje and Ozren brewed beer every Sunday in Matej’s mother’s garage. Matej laughed and told us that the friends actually brewed their first batches using the same pots that his mother used to cook her traditional ajvar sauce!
Pale ale was the very first style of beer they attempted. Little by little, their friends started coming over to try their home brew, and gave them tips, critiques, suggestions, and ideas for secret ingredients and techniques.
Once they perfected their Pale Ale, they started experimenting with other styles of beer like IPA and Stout.
After two years of brewing as a hobby, they competed in the Home Brewing Competition (which takes place yearly, in Zagreb), where they won their first medals. This definitely gave them the confidence and confirmation they needed, that their hobby could actually be something more.
In 2015, the four friends & owners decided to take the leap, quit their previous jobs and establish Pulfer as an independent brewing company.
How they came up with the name “Pulfer”
The owners wanted a unique name for the brewery, that carried some meaning. A pulfer is literally the black bumper on a tram where people used to hop on and ride illegally at their own risk.
They wanted to symbolize this act of “risk” in creating their beer, as not to stick with the norm, “rebel” out of the ordinary, and brew the best product.
After a year, they moved to Cakovec to a new location that they shared with another company. There they brewed Stout, Hoppy Saison, & Black IPA. Hoppy Saison was the most popular beer during that time and they sold it very quickly.
They now have their own facility, no more sharing, and they’re loving the space and freedom.
Today Pulfer brewery produces three permanent styles: Session Ipa, Wheat and Pale Ale, but now with their own space, they’re taking more time to experiment with some innovative styles.
From our personal experience, it has a slightly strange taste in the beginning, but after a couple of sips, it’s like it almost asks you to keep drinking it. Sarah and I both ended up really liking it and think it would be a great, refreshing summer beer.
Another special beer at Pulfer is their Quadrupel Belgian, which they brew in collaboration with one English and Slovenian brewery.
They are currently in the midst of completing an official tasting room at their new facility, but they do have a small space they use for the time being, and it does the trick.
They are excited for their official tasting room to be completed, though, so people can come and try their delicious beer anytime in a more suitable setting.
Matej told us that at least one of the owners is always at the brewery in order to guide you through the experience, and speak to you first-hand, so if you’re in Zagreb and interested in craft beer, this is definitely a great place to check out.
Matej and Darko were super nice, friendly and knowledgeable and we really had a wonderful time at Pulfer.
Andrej is a former programmer, but entered the beer world when he started as a home brewer in 2002. After collecting much knowledge and experience through the years, he and his wife decided to start their own brewery in 2013, as a family business.
Andrej also organizes international beer competitions with a couple of other members from the forum for 8 years. It has grown, and competitors come from 14 different countries now!
What does craft beer mean to Andrej?
As Andrej explained to us, a concrete definition of craft beer does not exist, particularly in Croatia, however, one of the unwritten rules is innovation in brewing. Craft breweries should always be crafting new beer and experimenting.
He explained craft as a lifestyle, which signifies independence, freedom of brewing, and innovation. A craft brewery is typically small, but of course small is a very relative term.
Andrej's thought is to enrich the Croatian scene with quality craft beer that is easily accessible. Today, the brewery produces 5000 hectoliters, and is one of the three largest craft breweries in Croatia, along with Medvedgrad and Garden Brewery.
What beer styles does Zmajska offer?
Zmajska started with two steady beers, and today, there are five year round styles being offered: Pale Ale, Porter, IPA, Hoppy Wheat, and Pils. On top of that, they always have seasonal styles, collaboration styles (with other breweries), and a few “Brewer’s Concoctions” in the mix.
As a craft brewer, Andrej loves being innovative, and Zmajska will release 14 new beers this year, alone.
Zmajska’s core beer and most popular style is the Pale Ale, which is one of the original two beers that they produced (along with Porter).
Andrej also stated that they are particularly proud of being ranked in the top 10 newly opened breweries in the world in 2014 by the Ratebeer portal. Porter was actually ranked among the top 15 Porters in the world.
The brewery holds the 2017 and 2018 Award for the best Croatian brewery, and RIS BA in particular was awarded the title of “Best Croatian Beer.”
Most innovative beer?
Zmajska’s most innovative style is the wild fermentation beer. It’s made on the principle of mixed-culture fermentation, which is when the beer is re-fermented using different yeasts, and then aged in wooden barrels.
Andrej told us the taste of this beer is difficult to describe. You really have to experience it for yourself. He also says that is has the most wine character of all the different beer styles.
What is Andrej’s favorite beer?
When we asked Andrej what was his favorite beer was, he said that was a really tough question - it would be like us asking which of his children he loves the most!
Zmajska has a beautiful tap room and organizes tastings, so anyone is welcome to come and try some of their unique (as well as classic) styles.
The brewery got its name through a Bavarian tradition: the tradition is to call the breweries after nearby medieval fortresses, and the one that’s close to Zagreb is Medvedgrad (on Medvednica Mountain).
Igor, head of marketing and sales, was the most welcoming host, and well prepared to give us the grand tour. He was so informative, and we even got to sample some beer right from the industrial kegs inside the brewery.
Igor showed us around the entire brand new and impressive facility (located in Jankomir, the west end of Zagreb). Medvedgrad produces the most beer of all other craft breweries and also supplies its own 4 pubs located in Zagreb.
The most well known of these pubs is Mali Medo (on Tkalciceva street in the center of Zagreb).
One quite interesting fact about the brewing process, is that they use a machine for reverse osmosis which is a system for water purification. Igor explained that because Zagreb has quite hard water, this machine is very important in keeping water quality at its best.
Medvedgrad Brewery has 6 different beer styles that are always available: Zlatni Medo - Lager, Gricka Vjestica - Doppelbock, Baltazar - hoppy Lager, Fakin - IPA, Dva Klasa - Wheat, Mrki Medvjed - Dark lager. On top of that, they have various seasonal beers.
Igor's favorite beer is Baltazar - Hoppy Lager, as he likes a bit of bitterness as well as the fruity aroma, and describes the beer, as very drinkable.
Since Medvedgrad Brewery celebrated 25 years this year, they brewed 25 seasonal beers. One was called “25” which was a birthday beer, and was quite interesting and innovative, as it contains 25 different types of hops. The beer was very well received by consumers.
The brewery also made a barley wine that they age in barrels of rum and whiskey, and it comes out on St. Martin's Day (when wine traditionally gets blessed in Croatia).
They often attend festivals and get to use their beautiful Ford T-Model replica to serve as a fridge + an attention grabber!
Medvedgrad Brewery was definitely one of the top breweries we visited. Although it’s a bigger craft brewery, you still get the small scale feel and personal touch with people like Igor, who show their genuine love and passion for producing great quality beer.
Davor is one of two owners, and he told us all about the brewery’s story. Varionica was founded in 2014, and in 2015 it launched its first sale of craft beer.
Davor told us that their startup story is really no different than other small craft breweries: after home brewing beer as a hobby with friends, the beer got better, people started noticing, and they entered the commercial market.
They first entered the market with the help of a few famous restaurants in Zagreb, whose owners were very encouraging and supportive: Ruzmarin, as well as pizzerias Kariola and Sedmica.
Upon entering the commercial market, they rented space in a small family brewery, where they stayed until this past summer (when they moved to their brand new facility).
Davor says the family space will always be near and dear to their hearts, because the family helped them in so many ways as they grew their business.
He tells us they weren’t just typical landlords, collecting a cheque at the beginning of every month. Davor & co. are forever grateful for the support they received as they grew from home-brewers, into a successful craft brewery.
Davor doesn’t have a particular favorite, he really likes them all and says he doesn’t sell any beer that he wouldn’t drink himself. He says each beer is right for a certain occasion, so it’s too hard to choose just one.
Pale Ale is definitely the brewery's best-selling beer, followed by Session IPA.
They also have one special & innovative style which is a very interesting blend of stout and chili bell pepper, which makes for a spicy beer! Additionally, they make a special beer for each birthday to add to their repertoire.
Garden Brewery actually started out as the Garden Project, 15 years ago in Zadar. They opened a lounge bar that was used to organize garden festivals each year, hence the name.
The brewery is a joint venture of David Plant, who was editor of Timeout Croatia, and Nick Colgan. The original plan was to have a seasonal brewery in Zadar and serve beer for local & festival needs.
It seems the consumers had something else in mind, as they liked it so much that the commercial demand went way above the festival needs. Today it’s one of the most recognised craft breweries in Croatia, and now exports beer to 12 different countries.
One of the trademarks of Garden brewery is innovation. Over the last 3 years the brewery has made an astounding 85 different styles of beer. They’re always working on developing something new, and that’s what they love doing.
Tom says they made the first sour beer in Croatia and the brewery organises sour beer week in March every year, where they offer 10-12 different sour beers on tap!
The core beers that are always available at Garden Brewery are Pale Ale, Pilsner, IPA, Citrus IPA and Stout.
For every craft brewery, it’s important to experiment, but also to follow and keep up with new trends in the beer world, so Tom travels a lot to try new styles of beer, exchange knowledge and experience with other brewmasters, and bring some new ideas back to Croatia.
Tom’s favourite style is Pale Ale, as is mine. I personally tried the Pale Ale during our brewery visit, and I can say that was my favorite beer on our whole craft brewery tour.
Sarah tried the Garden’s IPA, and says the same: it was the best beer she tried while discovering all of the breweries.
Marina is originally from Moscow, Russia, where she graduated from the Faculty of Food Technology in the field of beer brewing. She moved to Zagreb in 1990 to marry her Croatian love.
She and Sarah had a laugh because they were two foreigners from opposite sides of the world (Canada & Russia), sitting in Zagreb, speaking Croatian to each other, all because of a couple of Croatian men.
Today, Zlatni Medo has 5 permanent beers on tap: Lager, Dark, Amber, Wheat and Cherry. Marina's favorite are the Amber and Cherry, while the most popular in the brewery is definitely the Lager.
There’s simply no need for preservatives, Marina says, as the beer is ready to be served immediately from the kegs, which are connected directly to the taps at the pub’s bar!
I tried the food at the pub/restaurant, too, and it’s quite delicious. They serve traditional Croatian meals, and have a nice daily menu based on the season.
That pretty much sums up each of the breweries we visited in Zagreb. There is one more craft brewery we should mention, called “Nova Runda,” but unfortunately they weren’t able to meet with us this time around.
Each spot on our quest had something unique to offer, and all of them create excellent craft beer. We really enjoyed getting to know the brewing process from the creators & brewmasters themselves.
The craft beer movement has really grown in the past 5 years in Croatia, and it isn’t losing momentum. If you’re a beer lover and find yourself in Zagreb, you won’t go wrong visiting any of these breweries.
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