Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bulgarian Beer: Zagorka Reserva 2012

After nearly two months without a new post I'm back and where am I now? I'm in Bulgaria! Why the long hiatus? Probably because I really haven't had anything amazing to write about. As I've been heading further and further east it seems that the options for delicious beer are becoming lesser and lesser. The further east you go, the more often people are consuming the light bodied mass produced lagers. And frankly for someone like me, that stinks. But there must be something else. There has to be something other than light bodied light and dark lagers out there. So I headed to a supermarket in search of something to satiate my thirst for something darker, heavier, roastier, and far more robust than what I was drinking; enter: Zagorka 2012 Reserva. I thought I'd found just the thing when I read on the bottle: "Full-bodied winter brew with rich fruity flavour." Holding the plastic 1L bottle (yes that's right, plastic bottle) up to the light I couldn't see anything passing through. Satisfied with my discovery I took it with me. And so here we are.

A little background on Zagorka: it's based in Stara Zagora in central Bulgaria and it was founded in 1902. In the mid-1990's Zagorka was purchased by Heineken and has ever since been brewing and distributing Heineken brands inside Bulgaria. Aside from brewing American style pale adjunct lagers, they've released a few other "special" releases. Most namely, this 2012 Reserva, which as I found out later is a blueberry fruit beer. They've also released a German style dunkel and bock and something they call Fusion, which is beer blended with white grapes. Most people just drink the normal Zagorka pale lager. I think that's about it. Shall we taste some beer?

Name: Zagorka Reserva 2012
Category/Style: Fruit Beer
ABV: 6.00%
IBU: Unknown
OG: Unknown
FG: Unknown
Malt Type(s): Unknown
Hop Type(s): Unknown
Yeast Type: Unknown
Special Additives: Blueberries?????
Bottled: Unknown
Bottle Size: 1 Liter
Location Purchased: Penny Market, Stara Zagora, Bulgaria

The Pour: Head is off-white with slight brown, red, and purple hues. Against the light the beer is clear and dark purplish red. Looks kind of like red wine or some kind of soft drink. Head retention is minimal and lacing in non-existent.

The Nose: Overly sweet and fruity. Smells a bit cough syrup-like with a twinge of artificial berry thrown in. Nose is quite candy-like. Wondering if the beer will live up to its promise of being rich and full-bodied.

The Taste: With the first taste something seems a bit off. Not quite as sweet as I would have expected but the body is a bit thin and I'm left with the cough syrup medicinal taste in my mouth afterwards. Carbonation is medium and I do in fact taste blueberry but the balance doesn't seem quite right. This brew is definitely missing something.

The Verdict: Well I will say that this is the first time I've ever reviewed a beer coming out of a 1L plastic bottle (and hopefully the last). Something was definitely missing from this beer. I think it would benefit from a much more complex malt backbone, showcasing some darker roasted malts for balancing out the sweetness. This is the second blueberry beer I've had and this is the second failure. But when I was looking for a dark beer at the Penny Market in Stara Zagora this one caught my eye. The bottle is dark brown and when I attempted to shine light through it, none passed, so I made the assumption it was just a really dark beer. Couple that with: "Full-bodied winter brew with rich fruity flavour..." typed on the label and I was sold. Little did I know that the "fruity flavour" was what they were really focused on. In any case it was a nice attempt to deviate from the boring assortment of fizzy yellow mass-produced light lagers that everyone drinks here. Even the dark lagers are disappointing. So this was a welcome deviation from the norm. Would I buy it again? No way. Did it satiate my desire for a rich winter brew? Hardly. But to hear that this is the second year in a row they've sold this beer is interesting enough. Will people ever desire something other than the standard assortment of mass-produced lagers here in Bulgaria? Probably not. But Zagorka is offering something else. And that's a good sign. Who knows, maybe in 20 years the craft beer tidal wave will wash over all of eastern Europe? It's already in Prague, perhaps it's just a matter of time before it heads further east? I guess only time will tell.

Thanks for reading!



Bulgarian Times said...

Bulgarian Beer is now a massive market and so it should be, the quality is comparable easily to the rest of Europe and is far superior to British light beers or Lagers.
Zagorka also now have a low alcohol fruity summer beer, it's lovely.

Zach Hoyopatubbi said...

I would definitely agree that the quality of the light lagers in Bulgaria is comparable to that of other countries in eastern Europe. But I'm not so sure I agree that it is far superior to British light beers. Light lagers are a difficult style to brew and when done right they can be a wonderful thing. There are a lot of great beers coming out of Britain and heaps of craft breweries are producing styles found worldwide. During my time in Bulgaria I was unable to find any true craft beer. Zagorka hardly falls into that category. I never made it to Sofia but the other places I spent time in (Chirpan and Stara Zagora) I wasn't able to find anything other than light or dark lagers, with the one exception of course coming in the form of this Zagorka Reserve. What is your opinion of the Bulgarian beer market? Is there a significant interest in craft beer? Are there small breweries popping up throughout the country? In any case, thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment on this post. I really appreciate it :D

Anonymous said...

Please how can ihave this beer in lebanon?

Zach Hoyopatubbi said...

Hey thanks for commenting. Unfortunately my expertise in the Lebanese craft beer market is lacking entirely. I do know of a few craft breweries popping up over there in Beirut over the last few years. Perhaps you can check to see if there are any European markets there in Beirut or any of the other cities in Lebanon that would be willing to import some for you. Maybe someone in Bulgaria would be willing to ship you some directly? Apologies for not being able to help more. Cheers!