So, here we were in Cluj, Romania’s second largest city and the last place on our European adventure. Our five-and-a-half months on the road were coming to an end, but luckily there was time for one last brewery. My friend Robi, a Cluj native, had put together a whole itinerary for our stay in the city, including a tour of one of the local breweries, Hophead. I say tour; I’m not sure whether two rooms counts as a tour per se, but it was a brewery visit at least, and a good one at that.
We’d actually seen Hophead beers a couple of times already on our circuit around Romania. However, we hadn’t yet got around to sampling any of them. What better introduction then than to try them in the brewery itself? We took the bus out to the Mănăștur district, on the lookout for something looking vaguely brewery-like. When we finally arrived at Hophead though, it wasn’t quite what I’d expected. The brewery was located on a residential street in a completely unassuming building with only a small logo on the door.
The first thing you see when you go inside is a little counter; here they sell all the freshly bottled beers at very reasonable prices, but they could wait till later. We were led around the back of this into where the magic happens. It was a brewery alright: there was a whiteboard on the wall with all the recipes and upcoming brews; towering, shiny brewing vessels; and huge bags of malt and hops lying here and there. Our host introduced himself as the head brewer, Darko. He and his wife, Dana, started the brewery in 2015 having previously lived in the US where they got a taste for craft beer. One of the first craft breweries in Cluj, they are now one of the city’s best-known beer producers and can be found in many local bars and restaurants.
First up, we had a look at the storeroom. Darko explained how the brewery tends to use hop pellets due to the difficulty of obtaining fresh hops in Romania. Next up was the mashing room. There were a couple of relatively small mashing kettles, which Darko told us can make up to 200 litres of beer at a time. Apparently, they have pretty much outgrown this capacity and have started fitting out new larger premises on the outskirts of Cluj. Lastly, we had a look at the bottling line. The bottling itself is mostly automatic, but the bottle stickers are all applied manually. When each batch makes several hundred bottles, that’s a lot of sticking to do!
Finally, it was time for the main event – tasting some beers. We began with one of the brewery’s newer offerings, Little D (5.1%). Named in honour of the couple’s young son, this was a delicious East Coast-style IPA with a big burst of hops. Next up was Little C (6.2%). Another IPA, this one showcased the classic American C-hop combo of Citra, Columbus and Chinook. Once again, it was extremely tasty and refreshing.
We decided to change things up a bit and opted for a dark beer next. Dark’Oh (get it!?) is the brewery’s only regular dark ale, an English-style porter at 5.7%, with a lovely roasted malt flavour and coffee aroma. It would have been perfect for a winter’s evening, but was still pretty good in the autumn sun. Darko decided it was time for us to get a little more experimental and came back from the fridges with a couple of bottles of Bujolé. Brewed to celebrate the second anniversary of a local restaurant, this was an intriguing coffee IPA. Initially I was a little sceptical of the combination, but I have to say it actually worked very nicely.
There was still time for a couple more tasters, so Darko brought us one of his personal favourites. Othervice (5.8%) is in many ways a typical IPA, but there’s a twist. Rather than just one type of yeast, this one has three. These include a German wheat beer yeast, giving the beer some of those classic banana and clove flavours of Erdinger and the like. Last up, we got the chance to try something pretty special. Hophead was about to celebrate its fourth anniversary and was releasing a new quartet of beers for the occasion. Although they didn’t have names yet, luckily for us the first one had been freshly bottled that week. A double dry hopped IPA absolutely packed with hops, it was a great way to end the tour. If you were wondering, the beer has since been released with the name Once Upon A Time (7.1%).
The tour at an end, we thanked Darko for his time, and of course Robi too for arranging it all. Suitably impressed with the last brewery tour of our trip, we headed off with a couple of bottles to take away and enjoy in the hostel too. Good luck to Hophead in their new location, and I look forward to sampling their beers again someday!
Beers to look out for? Hophead’s beers are definitely worth looking out for if you’re in Cluj. I especially enjoyed the interesting Othervice, but the regular beers like Little D and Pure C were very enjoyable too.