August – September 2018
Pulapka, LaBeerYnt, AlkoSpot, Cathead, Degustatornia, Lawedowa 8, Notocyk, PG4 Brewery, Browar Lubrow, Cafe Lamus
With its very own Untappd badge, Pulapka seemed like a logical place to begin our Gdansk craft beer journey. It’s a cute little place with about 12 rotating taps and a reasonable bottle selection, simply decked out with roadside outdoor seating and very close to the Central Market. It’s just across the road from both Lawendowa 8 and Café Lamus, forming a regular little craft beer enclave in the heart of the city. Staff speak good English and are knowledgeable about the beers they sell. We were initially a bit taken aback by the pricing, but soon realised that Gdansk is not a cheap city and that craft beer is treated very much as a premium product. Expect to pay 10-15 zloty for a small pour (0.3l), ie not too dissimilar to London prices, here and at every other craft beer bar – ouch.
Pulapka’s selection covered a good range of bases – we started with Browar Absztyfikant Bager Jomba Coffee IPA and a Gzub Bombadil blackcurrant sour, both of which were pleasant afternoon beverages. Their beer board isn’t the most clearly organised (see LaBeerYnt) but they are happy to answer questions and offer advice. They do ramp up the prices for the higher ABV beers, more so than some of the other bars, so I would recommend visiting Pulapka when you’re in the mood for the lighter stuff, maybe chilling out after a bit of sightseeing. That said, on our second visit we had a deliciously roasty Coffee Kamaz Bourbon Barrel-aged Stout from Browar Artezan that totally rocked the house without breaking the bank. We also tried the 400% Normy Imperial Wit IPA from Browar Zakladowy which was very grapefruity and acidic, a trait I picked up in a lot of the Polish IPAs we tried. Like most of its contemporaries, Pulapka is open into the wee hours, although for me it was more of an afternoon spot. Certainly worth stopping by once or twice.
One of my Gdansk craft beer highlights, LaBeerYnt not only has the best name in town but an outstanding beer selection, clear and informative beer board, fab beer and music themed décor and the most knowledgeable and friendly staff in the city. With a nice shaded and enclosed outdoor space and its cool interior, LaBeerYnt is great to visit by day or night, and occupies a good central location above the (also very cool) Film Bar. We relaxed outside on our first visit with a Browar Kraftwerk Jolly Roger Baltic Porter that was initially a little dull but grew in flavour with each sip until we were fighting over the last of it, and a Browar Widawa Chill Kanapa 2.0 ‘NEIPA’ that was fine, but more citrusy IPA than New England style. On our second, night time, visit, we also tag-teamed dark and light beers, and both the Trzech Kumpli Blackcyl BlackIPA and Kraftwerk High Hops went down very nicely indeed. We were surprised that it wasn’t busier on a Friday night, but the younger folks may have already been nightclub bound by the time we rolled up!
Our final visit was a pre-airport pit stop with outstanding results. The fantastic chap behind the bar listened carefully to my taste preferences, brought out a range of five potentially suitable bottles and talked me through each one to ensure I made the best possible choice. That kind of customer service, range of knowledge and interest in beer makes me feel so warm and fuzzy inside, epitomising all the good things about the craft beer world, and was especially poignant after my terrible experiences at Cathead and Degustatornia. I left both LaBeerYnt and Gdansk in an excellent mood, and the beer in question, Birbant’s Imperial Citra IPA, was also great.
Absolute craft beer heaven!! As well as an excellent range of wines and spirits, AlkoSpot has a mouth-wateringly impressive selection of Polish bottled beers that I had to be practically torn away from. Not only will a visit make you extremely thirsty, it will give you a really strong sense of the scale of the craft beer industry in Poland and the exciting things they’re up to. The way that styles and flavours are being mixed and blended with shameless confidence to produce the likes of Tropical and Milkshake Black IPAs and Double and Imperial Wits may not be to everyone’s liking, but I wanted one of everything! I hope your accommodation has a fridge!
I had very high expectations of Cathead, not least of all because of its rather exceptional name. We arrived at about 9.30pm on a Friday night and were surprised to find it relatively empty, despite its sleek, modern décor of booths and high tables. We were meeting friends who had already arrived, but when we went to the bar our reception was hardly warm, despite the lack of clientele. The staff (two young men in their early 20s) weren’t keen to serve us at all, refused to give us any tasters and provided short, inaccurate and misleading descriptions of the beers on request despite clearly speaking excellent English. When our (Caucasian) companions were treated rather differently, being offered samples as well as smiles and politeness, the penny dropped that perhaps these guys didn’t really want a South Asian lady in their establishment. The highlight of our visit was the Browar Kingpin Amadeo Milkshake IPA, but we had a rather terrible Piwojad Double Citrus Smoothie IPA that was unpleasantly sweet, and nothing else that I was blown away by. At this point, I was also becoming resentful of handing over my money (and not in small amounts) to this establishment, so we decided to move on. I would think twice about visiting Cathead whether you are white or not, as I don’t believe that it’s a good idea to support business who discriminate towards their clientele.
Sadly the most distressing experience I can recall having in a craft beer bar. The bar staff initially refused to serve me, taking orders all around me as if I didn’t exist. My (Caucasian)husband eventually moved in front of me and was able to attract the attention of one of the bartenders, but when he pushed me forward to order, the bartender’s demeanour completely changed and it would not be an exaggeration to say that he physically recoiled. When I asked him what was good, I was told ‘We only sell good beer’. Friendly, then. When I asked a question about two of the beers they were serving, I was told ‘Well, you can’t compare a 5% beer and a 10% beer, are you stupid?’. Nice. I politely explained that I wasn’t asking for a direct comparison, but which was the superior in relation to its own style, to which he responded with ‘I only drink Pilsner’. Yeah, right – he works in a craft beer bar. Again, when I asked for tasters I was told they weren’t available despite other people at the bar being offered them in front of me, and when I asked a question about a different beer was again met with rudeness and eye-rolling condescension.
Eventually I was able to get a flight of beer out of him but which was in some ways a hard-won triumph but in others just hard-won. Clearly the idea that a South Asian lady might have an actual interest in beer was completely anathema to the bartender, and the concept of a South Asian lady drinking beer in his bar was more than he was able to cope with. He might not have been shouting expletives in my face, but to me that kind of demeaning, belittling downgrading of me as a human being is actually worse because it’s harder to pinpoint or argue with directly, falling more into the category of bullying than abuse. In a foreign country, you’re very limited in terms of means to recourse in this type of situation, and perpetually mindful that either management or law enforcement could well be of the same persuasion as the perpetrators. You’ve basically got to suck it up in a way you never would at home. I would advise anyone visiting Gdansk to steer clear of this establishment, despite the fact that they had some really good beers on offer, including delectable Hopium Shakin Pivens Black Milkshake IPA, PiwoWarownia Blada Marija Tomato Gose, literally Bloody Maty beer, and Brokreacja Big Boy Pineapple Milkshake IPA. No amount of good beer can compensate for that degree of blatant racism.
After our experiences at Cathead and Degustatornia, I was very nervous about going to a new craft beer bar in Gdansk. However, my initial trepidation was quickly dispelled by the very friendly, chatty chap in Lawendowa 8 who poured me a taste of Kriek before I even opened my mouth – something that may have irked me in normal circumstances, but in this instance his desire to please felt like a breath of fresh air. He quickly sorted us out with some tasty local brews, a Browar Pinta Kwas Gamma sherberty Raspberry Sour and Alebrowar Hula Hop White IPA (that was more regular IPA), which we enjoyed in their fun, eclectically decorated bar which filled up very quickly at work-kicking-out time. They also have a substantial range of local bottles and we were assured that the taps rotate regularly, although unfortunately we weren’t able to squeeze in a return visit. If you make it Craft Beer Corner, it’s worth hanging around until Lawendowa 8 opens (at 6pm, unlike most of Gdansk’s craft beer bars which open at 3pm) and checking it out.
When we looked up craft beer destinations in Gdansk we were led to Notocyk, whose unassuming exterior with a few tables and chairs outside a simple-looking building belies a treasure trove of Soviet-era memorabilia – what a find! From 80s diner seats to gas masks to old Nintendo consoles that still work, if you’re into 80s schtick this it totally the place to be. Even the entrance way, hidden from the street, is a huge metal door resemblant to the entrance to a nuclear bunker. Absolutely amazing! On the craft beer front, however, we were a little disappointed. It transpires that rather than either brewing their own beer or serving local craft beer Notocyk has a beer brewed just for them by Polish macro Okocim (Cykowe Luksusowe amber lager) which is only available on site. This also means that Okocim is the only brand of beer that Notocyk serves, not in itself a tragedy for anyone who likes a decent lager, but certainly not a craft-beer-forward destination. Nevertheless, you just have to stop by and check out the décor!
PG4 Brewery (Craft Beer Hotel)
It’s a funny animal, the Craft Beer Hotel. Someone has clearly invested a lot of money into a plush, shiny venue, all chrome and glass, that exudes newness and a desire to impress. Walking through the door, you’re confronted with a pair of gleaming brass stills that must be operational considering how many pipes are coming in and going out of them! The bar and restaurant, staffed by smartly uniformed young folks, are to the side and underneath of the actual hotel, and there is a spacious terrace behind the building in anticipation of a large quantity of guests. While no one could deny that PG4 is a craft brewery with some very nice beers, the focus of the menu is undoubtedly on the (very pricey) food, to the extent that the only flights they offer are (also expensive) beer and food pairing ones. We were also surprised to find several of their beers were off when we visited, which was disappointing as they don’t have a huge oeuvre to start with. That said, the beers that we did have, a smooth creamy Starogdanskie Pale and lovely intensely smoked Rauchbier, were both really very good. They offer glossy branded growlers and sell their beers in cute flip-top bottles to go, but the real selling point for us (aside from the beer) was the absolutely bangin’ 90s tunes they were pumping out during our visit – there’s nothing like quaffing craft beer to the sounds of Chesney Hawkes, Shampoo and Eternal. Check it out (but maybe don’t go hungry!).
Situated across the road from Gdansk’s train station, you’d be forgiven for mistaking Brouwar Lubrow for just another tourist bar soaking up folks in transit. On the plus side, this makes the location a good people-watching spot, although we were disappointed to discover that of the ten beers on their list, all brewed on site, only the four standards were available when we visited. This was especially irksome as I had been quite excited for some of their more exotic output, including a beetroot IPA. Of the four that we were able to try (our flight of five looking depressingly incomplete), only the Milk Stout stood out – the rest were all rather bitter, even the IPA. If you’re in the area or are after a microbrewery experience in Gdansk, of which there aren’t many, then do pop into Brouwar Lubrow, but if you’re just after good craft beer I wouldn’t make it a priority.
In Gdansk’s Craft Beer Corner, Café Lamus may not have as extensive a beer menu as Pulakpka or Lawendowa 8, but we had a very jolly visit on a nice sunny afternoon. The interior is cosy and full of cute teddy bear lamps, and outside there are tables and chairs as well as a few conveniently placed deck chairs which we were very pleased to avail ourselves of! Although their selection of craft beers isn’t huge, there’s something for everyone. We had a very tasty and rather potent AleBrowar Crazy Mike DIPA as we sat back in the sun, and unlike most of Gdansk’s craft beer establishments they also serve hot drinks, should you require a pick-me-up of a different kind. Nestled nicely between Pulapka and Lawendowa 8 in Craft Beer Corner, Café Lamus is certainly worth a visit.
Extracts from Cathead and Degustatornia first published on Boak & Bailey, ‘It’s Easy to be Intrepid When You’re a White Bloke’ September 20th 2018