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Beauty lies in the hands of the beer holder

Beer, the world’s most popular and best selling alcoholic drink is often taken for granted. Yet scientific analysis shows that a glass of beer has within it as many aromas and flavours as fine wine. In Bulgaria beer is a drink relegated to a place somewhere below rakiya and wine; yet the average Bulgarian sups a total of 70 litres of beer a year, which is on a par with the average Spaniard or Dutchman. Bulgarian brews are increasing in popularity and are starting to make their mark on the international beer market. 

Foreign tourists are starting to ask for local brews as opposed to limiting themselves to imports like Heineken. Bulgarian beer is obviously cheaper than imported beer and the amusing thing about it is that most of the international brewers like Heineken now own one of the Bulgarian breweries.

The Best Seller

The Zagorka brewery founded in 1902 in Stara Zagora is fully owned by the Dutch brewer Heineken. The brewery brews four exclusive Bulgarian brands with Zagorka outselling any other Bulgarian beer brand. Zagorka Special and Zagorka Gold are both pale lagers with a 5% alcohol volume. The company’s other Bulgarian brands are Ariana, a 4.5% pale lager and Stolichno, a 6.5% strong lager similar to a German bock beer. Zagorka has a clear, pale golden-orange colour with a frothy white head with very good retention. Zagorka has having a flavour reminiscent of dry corn, the subtle bitterness of hops fading to a malty sweet after taste. It is a refreshing beer best served ice cold to give it a clear and refreshing taste.

The Oldest Brewery

Zagorka's main competitor for sales on the local market is Plovdiv based Kamenitza, owned by Belgian brewer InBev. The Kamenitza brewery was the first commercial brewery established in the 1870’s by three Swiss businessmen. The beer of choice for the local population at the time was lager, but Kamenitza broke new ground by producing the first dark beer. Kamenitza is a great thirst-quencher, with a dark amber hue, slightly bitter, tart taste and an alcohol volume of 4.4%. Its aroma is akin to roasted grains and honey and it has a distinct smooth, oily feel on the tongue. It gains its characteristic flavour from the crystal-clear water used in the brewing process as well as the high quality malted barley hops.

InBev also produces Astika, a blond pilsner with an alcohol content of 5%. This brew originates from the companies plant in Haskovo in southern Bulgaria. Astika is characterized by its pale golden colour, long-lasting white foam, and a taste, which balances a slightly honey like flavour with a soft bitterness. The brand has a leading position in the Bulgarian premium beer segment.

The Competition

Beer was first introduced into Bulgaria by beer swilling foreigners as far back as the 19th century. The first Bulgarian brewery in the North of the country was opened in 1882 in the town of Shoumen by Czech Brewer Franz Milde. Today the Shumensko brewery belongs to the Danish brewing giant Carlsberg, who is the third largest beer company in the country with a 22% market share.  Shumensko is a pilsner beer with an alcohol volume of 4.6%. It is a light yellow colour with a good white head and an aroma of grains and honey.Its taste is of husky grain and doughy bread. It is so popular amongst the domestic market that Carlsberg now distribute it to Bulgarian communities as far away as Portugal and the USA.

Another beer in the Carlsberg stable is Pirinsko Pivo, a beer first produced in 1969 in Blagoevgrad.Pirinsko is a standard lager, which has an 8% share of the national market. It is a classic Bulgarian pilsner with an alcohol content of 4.3%. It uniquye taste comes from the fact that it is made from spring water from the nearby Pirin Mountain.

The Independent Brew

Bulbrew is now the only fully Bulgarian-owned brewer on the domestic market and is responsible for the production of Boliarka, Ledenika, Varnensko Pivo and Rousensko Pivo beers. Brewed in historic Veliko Tarnovo, and using the old capitals former name, the flagship beer, Boliarka is produced from water from the Yovkovtsi Reservoir in Elena Balkan. Ledenika, named after an ice cave near the Bulgarian town of Vratsa comes in various dark and light forms with its light variety having a soft, slightly bitter taste with an aroma of pure hops, a fine white head and an alcohol content of 4.1%. Ledenika Dark is stronger with an alcohol content of 5.7% and a sharp hop aroma with distinct hints of caramel. Its taste is sharp and bitter with caramel undertones.



Small Country Big Choice

For such a small country Bulgaria’s beer portfolio is impressive with 32 beer brands and a total of 65 light and dark varieties. Bulgarian beer is also amongst the worlds cheapest with prices starting at around 35 Euro cents, but cheapness has not come at the expense of quality. Rather than sticking to world renowned international beer brands like Becks, Heineken and Carlsberg, it is worth branching out and sampling some of the local brews – after all most of them are owned by the international beer giants and their beer connoisseurs cannot be wrong on one point – Bulgaria makes good beer!