A Dark Art

Features 26 February 2015 ilabs 0

A Dark Art A Dark Art

Regarded as a niche within a niche, a rising number of Poles are discovering a new thirst for stout…

Let’s try a word association game: I say ‘stout’, you say… Be honest, I bet you’d answer Guinness. Increasingly, however, drinkers are noting that there’s more to stout than Guinness alone. “It’s not bad for a dry stout,” says Marcin Chmielarz, “there’s just not much happening there with the taste.” As one of Warsaw’s top authorities on all things craft, he’s more qualified than most to pass comment.

And the word craft here is key. While stout is believed to have been introduced to Poland at the beginning of the 19th century (while being shipped on its way from Britain to St. Petersburg), it’s only since the brew-olution of 2011 that Poles started seeing the true nature of the black stuff. Marcin, the bar manager of Jedna Trzecia, is well positioned to take-up the story.

“When the craft revolution first happened I knew immediately I simply wouldn’t be able to afford to try everything – so instead, I picked out one drink that I’d pay anything to taste: that was stout.” While that didn’t exactly make him a lone wolf, he found himself in a rather tight circle. “Even now it’s still something of a minority drink,” he says, “we have customers who are really committed to the craft scene but who won’t consider touching a dark beer.” 

Pushed to define a stout Marcin is a little more guarded. “You get so many different sub-categories of porters and stout that it’s hard to give a definitive answer,” he says, “but in general terms a stout is usually darker – pitch black – and will have more burn notes. With porters you’re more likely to find hints of caramel, toffee and nuts.”

The fluctuating nature of the brewing scene has made forming definitions all the more harder. “Of course I like classic stouts,” says Marcin, “but if you want adventure then the modern interpretations are the way to go: it’s a versatile style, and the general rule for brewers is that if it goes with chocolate then it’ll go with stout – that’s why you’re seeing things like chocolate, coffee and chili being added.” 

In fact, a surprise twist has become practically essential. “I always look for an ‘X Factor’ when stocking the bar, after all not many people will pay zł. 20 for an ordinary stout, so it’s important it has that something extra. That’s why this year I think we’re going to see more ‘Imperial Stout’ that’s been brewed in whisky, wine and bourbon barrels.” 

As the brewer behind the acclaimed Czarny Wdowiec, Marcin is no stranger to more ‘perverted’ takes on the brew. “I wanted to create something extremely bitter and hoppy but dark,” he says. “Czarny Wdowiec is definitely an ‘extreme’ beer, but that’s what we wanted. We wanted to have some fun with it, and what we ended up creating has been lab-tested to be Poland’s most bitter beer.” 

Surely though, the brewing scene is reaching critical mass? “It is a bit of a nuthouse right now,” says Marcin, “but I disagree that it’s just a temporary trend – after all, once you have a good craft beer there’s just no way you’re going back to standard Euro Lager. If there is a problem then it’s that the revolution is only limited to big cities – it needs to spread to smaller towns. The trouble there though is money: people are naturally going to pick cheaper brand beers.” And the future of Polish stout? “Who knows,” answers Marcin, “but it’s nice to think that one day we’ll have a brewery that specifically specializes in it.” 

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