When we set out five months ago, a visit to Serbia was never really on the cards. We knew were starting in Estonia and ending in Romania, so Serbia seemed a little out of the way. However, when looking at onward travel from Budapest it turned out that getting around Hungary didn’t seem so easy. Another option that caught our eye was a train to Novi Sad. Neither of us had ever heard of the place but for some reason it piqued our interest. Long story short, we booked the ticket and Serbia found its way onto our route.
A rather tedious eight-hour train ride later, we finally pulled into Novi Sad station. Looking around, most things were familiar but the first thing you notice is the alphabet has changed. Serbia still uses the Cyrillic alphabet as its official script – my Russian classes last year had finally come in handy! Other than that, everything seemed distinctly European; the supermarkets were the same, the local buses were just as confusing, and of course, there was McDonalds.
It was a very pretty city though and surprisingly lively too compared to some of the sleepy places we’ve visited. We were looking forward to a bit of sightseeing, but our real goal was to discover what the Serbian craft beer scene was like. Neither of us had any experience of Serbian beer or any clue what to expect. Little did we know that we’d actually arrived in a bit of a craft hotspot. Novi Sad is a university town, and as we’ve found quite a few times on this trip, where there are students there’s usually some decent beer too.
The plan for Friday afternoon was just to have a look around the city. Well, you know what they say about plans. We set out following our map, ticking off the sights, when we came across a real goldmine. Located on a street corner opposite the Catholic church was Mazut Beer Shop. As we walked in, it seemed like a fairly typical craft beer place; the bar with its Thornbridge spill mat, the beer chalkboard on the wall and the vaguely industrial decor. What we hadn’t seen though was the back wall lined with hundreds of bottles. About half came from Serbian craft breweries, with others from around the world: Uiltje from the Netherlands, Poppels from Denmark and even some beers from South Africa.
Our self-guided city tour was immediately put on hold for a couple of hours. The six beers on tap seemed interesting enough, but it was a couple of the bottles that really caught our eye. Both of us went for collaborations between local breweries and big international names. Poppy has recently discovered a love of dark beers and went for the intriguing Perfectly Imperfect (8%), a collab between Kabinet and De Molen brewed with dark chocolate and roasted sesame. Its combination of rich chocolate and savoury sesame was unique but worked really well. Meanwhile, I sampled the Vista Milk Stout (5.8%), brewed with Danish giants Mikkeller. This was a beautiful example of a milk stout, smooth and creamy with plenty of coffee and vanilla notes. Eventually we left to carry on looking around the city but we both knew we’d be back.
We decided to spend Friday evening exploring the beer scene further. Having been in the Mazut Beer Shop earlier, its sister bar Mazut Pub seemed a good place to start. The weather was pleasant so we took a seat outdoors and browsed the beer list. Like the shop, there were 6 beers on tap plus plenty in bottles. Poppy had thoroughly enjoyed her Kabinet beer earlier and went for another of theirs, Porter (6.2%). No prizes for guessing what style of beer that was! Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to try out a new Serbian brewery. Salto Belgrade IPA (6.5%) was a decent West Coast-style IPA with plenty of Amarillo and Cascade hops.
Just a few doors down the street was another bar we’d seen recommended online, Beer Store. Their Facebook page proclaimed to have the biggest range of beers in town, so it would have been rude not to check it out. It turned out the claim was technically true – there were indeed 20 taps – but a good proportion were definitely not what you’d call craft beer! To be fair, alongside the likes of Kronenbourg and Lav (basically Serbian Carlsberg), they did actually have some interesting choices. Small pours (200ml) were very reasonably priced so we got a couple of tasters each; my highlight was Arhipelag (6.5%), a very tasty IPA from Novi Sad’s own 3Bir.
The evening was still young, so we headed around the corner onto street. I’m not exaggerating when I say it felt like we’d left Serbia and somehow ended up on the Magaluf strip. There were open-fronted nightclubs with music blaring and kebab shops just warming up for the evening crowd. However, hidden among the loud and lairy clubs was the notably less rowdy Brick Bar. Despite the lack of customers, there was some good beer on offer, with a small selection of 3Bir beers on tap plus a couple of bottles.
By now it was time for some food. Now, food in Serbia is generally pretty simple – lots of meat and bread. Toster Bar was no exception, offering a Serbian take on the classic meat-bread combo of burgers. We’d heard it was worth going here just to try the pljeskavica (a sort of thin, flat patty served on grilled bread) but as a bonus they also offered a pretty extensive craft beer menu. Unfortunately a couple of the draught beers had run out by the time we got there, so we both got bottles.
My choice was Dogma Hoptopod (6.5% IPA); Dogma are pretty much the BrewDog of Serbian brewing, a sort of introductory craft beer for those just starting out. And if Dogma are BrewDog, then Hoptopod is their Punk IPA – a perfectly good beer, but once you’ve tried it you start to realise it’s everywhere! Nevertheless, it was a great accompaniment to a burger and very reasonably priced. At this point we decided to call it a night and headed back to the apartment, ready to explore some more tomorrow.
Both of us awoke with pleasantly clear heads, raring to find some hidden gems in the other half of town. After a good filling breakfast, first up was Tehnolog’s, just south of the city centre. We were the only customers on this Saturday afternoon; I think they noticed we were British, as the local music disappeared and on came a Kaiser Chiefs playlist! The bar itself had a nice range of Serbian beers, with around 10 on tap. By this point we’d seen most of the breweries already, but there were a couple of beers we’d not tried. Both were pretty good, with Poppy’s choice of Crow Sunshine (5.2% hefeweizen) particularly refreshing on a warm day.
We could have happily stayed longer, but there were still too many places left to see. We stopped for a quick one in Brkina Marina (apparently this name is very funny in Serbian), a pub opened just this year which had a small selection of craft bottles. However, our real destination was Škripa Pub. From afar, Poppy was somewhat skeptical about going in as it looked like there was a man slumped over a table. On closer inspection it turned out he was trying to get closer to the fan – I for one couldn’t blame him as by this stage in the afternoon it was getting very warm – so we decided to call in as planned.
It turned out to be a great decision. The bar itself was really cosy, with comfortable indoor and outdoor seating areas. There was a great range of draught beers, with a couple of rare ones from breweries we hadn’t seen. I went for the Dogma Blueberry Saison (5.3%). The beer hadn’t got much love online, with many people complaining it wasn’t tart or sour enough. However, saisons are (in my humble opinion) supposed to be yeasty rather than sour, and I thought it was quite nicely balanced.
We got talking to the lady behind the bar, telling her how we planned to visit Petrovaradin Fortress that evening. She told us that was an excellent idea as there just happened to be a music and beer festival taking place! It’s been really surprising how many of these random festivals we’ve come across this summer. Of course, we couldn’t resist visiting this one too so we finished our drinks and set off walking.
Petrovaradin Fortress itself is pretty stunning, looming over the River Danube. After a quick climb up to the top to watch the sunset, we set about finding Gradić festival. Our tactic of following our ears worked and soon enough we came across the little cobbled streets lined with street food vans, music stages, and craft beer stalls. All the usual suspects like 3Bir were there, but excitingly there were also a few breweries we’d not seen before. A couple weren’t great but Libeeri and Razbeerbriga both impressed, especially the latter’s Bandiera Rossa (6% red IPA).
We stayed for a while and soaked up the atmosphere, but there was still one place we needed to visit before we left Novi Sad. Actually, I should say revisit – we both wanted to go back to the bottle shop. And so off we went to sample some more bottles, with precious little regard for Sunday’s bus ride to Belgrade. Oh well, we might only be here once – may as well enjoy it!
I’m in Novi Sad for the day, where should I visit? For a relatively small city, there was a surprisingly good selection of craft beer bars. It’s compact enough that you could easily visit two or three; Škripa and Tehnolog’s are both definitely worth a visit. However, if I had to pick one it would of course be Mazut Beer Shop – a great selection of beers from all around the world and all at very affordable prices.
Brewery to look out for? Novi Sad’s own 3Bir had some excellent stuff and I expect to see more of them in the coming months and years. Their IPAs are really well balanced, but their best was Shake (5%), an ice cream stout with the perfect balance of sweet lactose and roasty bitterness.