Timișoara: Romanian craft by the river

What did we know about Romanian beer before arriving? Frankly, nothing at all. Given the reports from friends who live here or have visited, I wasn’t expecting too much either. Nevertheless, we arrived in Timișoara with open minds and a healthy dose of optimism. Apparently the city is one of the world’s leading dental tourism destinations, but we were here determined to find some decent craft beer.

We did the usual online sleuthing and marked a few bars on our free city map that looked interesting. After a spot of sightseeing in the morning, we found ourselves on the south side of the river. In theory we were there to visit the Communism Museum, a fascinating little place full of knick-knacks. It was, of course, a complete coincidence that Timișoara’s best-rated bar was just around the corner. Sadly, we arrived at Viniloteca to find it closed for a vacation, so the search continued.

Timișoara stands on the River Bega

Our hopes undampened, we took a stroll along the river to the Fabric district, the old Jewish part of the city. After WWII, the flats were given to gypsies and other homeless people and today the area looks a little run-down. Nevertheless, we had read about a new bar here called Taproom which opened in April this year. Luck was on our side this time; it turned out the owner had just returned from holiday himself and this was the bar’s first day back open. The bar itself was pretty tiny, a single room with a bar at the far end and room for maybe 15 people. On the taps there were six beers, all but one of them local.

Neither of us knew anything about Romanian beer yet, so we both asked for recommendations. I received Delicate Psycho (6.5%), a hazy New England IPA from Cluj-Napoca’s Blackout Brewing. It was pretty much the perfect NEIPA, with the juicy, tropical introduction, which gave way to a hoppy bitterness; not so hoppy as to numb your taste buds, but bitter enough to make you want another sip to get the juiciness back. Meanwhile, Poppy was handed Cold Bru (6.6%), an intriguing coffee and blackberry milkshake IPA from Bereta Brewing. Again, this was a really well balanced with the tart and bitter notes offset by the sweetness of the lactose. If all Romanian beer is this good, we’re in for a treat!

Taproom is the brewery tap for One Two Brewing

Being the only customers on a quiet Wednesday evening, we got talking to the owner, Alexandru. He told us how he had opened the bar with the intention of it becoming a tap room for his microbrewery, One Two Brewing. When we visited, he was still a week or two away from being able to sell his own beer on draught for the very first time. In the meantime, he showcases beer from Romania’s best craft breweries to the people of Timișoara.

It turned out that Alexandru and I both had a love of sour beers. Apparently sours haven’t caught on yet in Romania, so he was very excited to meet a fellow fan. He disappeared into the back room and returned with a bottle of one of his own creations, an as-yet-unnamed fruit sour, for us to share. I have to say I thought it was excellent, with just the right level of sourness. However, by the look on Poppy’s face when I gave her a try I don’t think she’s a sour fan just yet! We ended up staying for a second (OK, third) before calling it a night.

Berărescu is the city’s first and only brewpub

The following day we headed out again, this time with Alexandru’s recommendations of other bars to visit in town. Our first stop was Berărescu, Timișoara’s first (and currently only) brewpub. Nestled on the banks of the River Bega, they had certainly nailed the location and the decor was pleasant and comfortable too. There were five of their beers on offer: a lager, a cream ale, an IPA and two fruit beers.

I opted for the cream ale, Last Man Standing (5.2%). Cream ales, which are essentially a lager recipe but brewed with ale yeast, aren’t too common around these parts, so I was interested to try the local interpretation. It was a little maltier and more amber-coloured than usual, but overall not a bad effort. Poppy went for the Fruity Crush (4.7%), a wheat beer with added raspberries which was pretty refreshing. The beers weren’t spectacular but were both drinkable, and it’s the kind of place you’d be happy to go to with non-beer drinkers without too many complaints.

Hop Hooligans beers in Bibliotheka

A ten-minute walk into town brought us to our next destination, Bibliotheka. Google Maps initially directed us to the building at the end of the street, which turned out to be a wine shop. However, the shopkeeper told us to look a couple of doors further down. Here we found a surprisingly spacious beer shop, with bottles and cans from all around Romania. We picked a couple of cans from Hop Hooligans, probably the country’s most well-known craft brewery, and found a table on the terrace outside.

We’d heard that Hop Hooligans were well worth looking out for, and after trying them we could see why. Poppy opted for Melon Party (7%), a melon and rhubarb milkshake IPA, while I chose Modern Mosaic, a 9% DIPA crammed with Mosaic hops. Both were really excellent beers, full of flavour and perfectly balanced. They were a little more expensive than some of the other options, but beers with quality ingredients usually are!

Unfazed by a Change of Plans at Meat Busters

By now we’d worked up a bit of an appetite, so we headed to Meat Busters barbecue restaurant. I don’t often include food places on here, but it would be remiss of me not to mention this one. The craft beer list was longer than the menu, with all the usual suspects included, plus a couple of rarer bottles. Poppy was delighted to find the Cold Bru she had enjoyed so much the day before, but I wanted to try something new. Spotted, a NEIPA from Timișoara’s Owl Brewery, had caught my eye but was sadly out of stock. The waiter came back with an alternative offering, another NEIPA from Bereta ironically named Change of Plans (6.7%). Again, it was a very enjoyable beer, hazy and juicy with a generous amount of hops.

We finished up our ribs and made the short walk to the Bereta Taproom & Bottleshop. Having tried a few Bereta beers already, we were both very much looking forward to this one. The bar itself was sleek and modern, with white brick walls and large bar offering 16 taps. Alexandru from Taproom had told us that Bereta were releasing their new sour that day, so to keep an eye out for it. Sure enough, we found What the Fruit? 2 (4.9% gose) sitting pride of place at the top of the chalkboard. Brewed with watermelon, honey, melon and kiwi, it was remarkably refreshing; the fruity tartness and hint of sweetness from the honey blended together perfectly.

Timișoara is home to the Bereta Taproom & Bottleshop

Poppy was equally happy with her choice, the Blackberry Vanilla Quadrupel (10%) from Oriel, a Bucharest brewery specialising in Belgian styles. This one was rich and boozy, with the blackberries giving a slight tartness that worked well. As we were sitting enjoying our beers, we noticed the wall of empty cans opposite us. Alongside the local brews we spotted the likes of Verdant, Cloudwater and Northern Monk. Suitably impressed, we decided to check out the adjoining bottle shop for our next beers. This turned out to be an excellent decision.

We found, as hoped, a huge array of bottles and cans from all the names we’d seen so far, as well as some of the Estonian breweries such as Sori and Põhjala we’d enjoyed back at the start of our trip. Since we were in Romania though, we decided to stay local. I went for one of Bereta’s own brews, the El Dorado/Vic Secret IPA (6%), which was unsurprisingly excellent. However, Poppy’s choice was even better. It’s not often I’ve seen a beer bring a tear to her eye (in a good way), but this one managed it. Hopdrops Northern Raven (10.5% imperial stout) was delightful, plenty of roasted bitterness alongside a sweetness from the alcohol. It even got a rare 5 stars on Untappd!

The Hopdrops imperial stout (right) brought a tear to Poppy’s eye

To be honest, I could have stayed all night but we had a bus to catch the next morning and the evening was growing late. Nevertheless, we still had one place left to visit before leaving Timișoara. Another of Alexandru’s recommendations, Reciproc Café is evidently where the city’s young and trendy come to drink. There weren’t any beers on tap, but the fridge was packed with Romania’s best (Bereta, Hop Hooligans, Blackout and more) so we chose two and found a table. A couple of decent bottles and a quick game of dominoes – the perfect end to a great day of beer.

I’m in Timișoara for the day, where should I visit? Having had no idea what Romanian craft beer would be like, we were genuinely surprised at how good Timișoara’s scene was. The Bereta Taproom & Bottleshop offered the best and most extensive selection of local and international beers and is a must visit. I’d recommend Taproom too, especially once some more of the One Two beers start appearing.

Brewery to look out for? Hop Hooligans and Hopdrops both had some great beers, but for me Bereta just pipped them. Their range of IPAs were particularly enjoyable, and their sour was very tasty too.

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