Bielsko-Biała: beers off the beaten track

I don’t think many backpackers or tourists make it to Bielsko-Biała; it wasn’t in any of our guide books, and everyone we met seemed surprised to find us in Poland’s 22nd-largest city. Admittedly, we only really stayed there to visit the nearby Żywiec Brewery. However, what we found was a lively, pretty place with plenty of cafés, bars and excellent doughnuts. Even better, it seemed to be developing its own small craft beer scene.

The city comprises two halves, Bielsko and Biała, separated by the Biała river. It’s Bielsko, with its charming old town and market square, where the good bars are located. Starting in the aforementioned market square, we came across Craftbar. A promising name you might think, but unfortunately there were just a couple of taps serving standard Czech lager.

8 Stolików was a stylish café-bar with plenty of Pinta beers.

Luckily, 8 Stolików (“8 Tables”) next door was much better. A small bar had been set up outside, offering three beers from the nearby Browar Pinta. The fridges indoors overflowed with different bottles too, again mainly Pinta but also a couple of other local names. Like quite a few Polish breweries, Pinta can tend to go a bit overboard with the hops (the hop burn is real!). I went for something a bit tamer, an interesting collaboration with Brasserie du Pays Flamand from France. Król Lata/Roi de l’Été (“Summer King”), was a 4% oatmeal witbier, lightly hopped for a little bitter twist.

Just around the corner, tucked behind the market square, we found Browar Miejski. The city centre’s only working brewery, this is a classic European brewpub offering a small selection of beers brewed onsite. To be honest, I’m not usually a huge fan of these places; the beer can be hit-and-miss, often more of a miss. Nevertheless, the beers here weren’t too bad.

Brewing equipment and beers in Browar Miejski.

We sampled the Marcowy (Oktoberfest-style, 5.5%) and Pszeniczny Ciemny (dark wheat beer, 5%). Both were decent examples of their styles, drinkable if not awe-inspiring. The brewery also offered a distilled beer, which Poppy couldn’t resist trying!

One thing we liked about Bielsko-Biała was the tendency to build bars underneath other important buildings. As a case in point, Piwnica Zamkowa was a trendy little drinkery beneath the city’s castle. The half-a-dozen beers on the taps were mainly local IPAs. Not feeling in a hoppy mood, I went for an American-style wheat beer, Podgórz Polypay (5%). There was a younger crowd when we visited, a strange contrast to Dido’s music playing over the speakers. However, with its terrace overlooking Plac Bolesława Chrobrego, it was a great place to sit and watch the world go by.

Piwnica Zamkowa is located underneath Bielsko-Biała castle.

If underground bars are your thing though, then Środek is the place to be. Located under the Polish Theatre, this was a proper craft bar with 14 taps and plenty more bottles and cans. Poppy was delighted with her choice: AleBrowar Crazy Mike (9%), an extraordinarily bitter Double IPA brewed with five hop varieties. Meanwhile, I opted for something a little more easy-going – Browar Kingpin Simpleasy (4.1%), a juicy, smooth New England pale.

There’s really only one more place for craft lovers in Bielsko-Biała. A split-level café-bar with about 15 beers on tap, Pigal was where I found my best beer of Poland so far. Like 8 Stolików earlier, much of the beer came from Browar Pinta. It was another of their collaborations that caught my eye; Les Cassis Fous/Szalone Porzeczki (“Crazy Currants”, 5.6%), a joint effort with Belgium’s Oud Beersel, was a delicious blackcurrant sour aged in red wine barrels for six months. With only Katowice and Wrocław to go, will we find a better beer? Only time will tell.

Pigal, home of my favourite Polish beer so far.

I’m in Bielsko-Biała for the day, where should I visit? For the sheer choice available, if you’ve only got time to visit one bar then make it Środek. There’s a good mix of local and international craft on offer, with something for all tastes.

Brewery to look out for? This is a tougher one as I’m a bit conflicted. I usually find Browar Pinta’s beers a bit too much, but their collaboration with Oud Beersel was my favourite Polish beer of the trip. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more sours from them.

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