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EATING & DRINKING

Mrowisko rules!

By thirsty hack Ignatius Rake
Poznan, Poland

Posted July 24, 2014
mrowisko 1
Top bar: Top pints. Top owners. © Ignatius Rake

Love beer? Love flippin' ace pubs? Then get yourself over to Mrowisko in the Polish drinking capital of Poznań.


For the past few years the world has been in the grip of revolution.

A beer revolution that has seen drinkers the world over thumbing their noses at industrially-produced brews in favour of high quality real ales and craft beers that promise a whole new dimension in terms of taste, enjoyment and refreshment.

However, most beer enthusiasts in the UK and North America seem oblivious to the fact that this is a truly worldwide phenomenon, with the passport-owning drinker now able to savour the flavour of lovingly produced pints from Australia in the south to Finland in the north.

Given that Poland has the fifth highest consumption of beer per capita in the world, its proud annual figure of 98.5 litres per head far outshining the 77.1 litres of the US and the 68.5 litres of the UK, it should come as no surprise to the jar-draining geographer at least that this halçyon haven of 24-hour boozing is also throwing its weight behind the greatest leap in human evolution since the invention of the leg.


ENTER THE ANTHILL
Where once the choice in most Polish pubs was pretty much limited to Tyskie or Lech produced by SABMiller-controlled Kompania Piwowarska (KP) or Żywiec from Heineken-controlled Grupa Żywiec (GZ) – all fairly decent lagers but which, it has to be said, essentially taste the same – the Polish drinker is now able to pick'n'mix to their heart's content from an ever expanding array of quality pints from such small and regional breweries as Pinta, Bojan and the truly fantastic Ale Browar to name just three.

What's more, while it's still the big boys who control the lion's share of the national beer market (KP commands a 45% slice of the pie followed by GZ with a 35% showing), the number of shops, pubs, clubs and cafés selling delectable local tipples is on the up like King Kong's cock on the bonk.

In Poznań alone, which in this fairly well travelled hack's opinion is by far the greatest drinking city in the world (and yeah, I can back that up if you don't believe me1), such pubs as Setka, Chmeilnik and the flippin' fantastic Ministerstwo Browaru (Ministry of Brewing) all rapidly spring to mind, each of which should be visited at least once in a lifetime if not seven days a week.

Moreover, at the beginning of the year, a new name joined the ranks of the elite: Mrowisko, which, as any piwo-loving polyglot should know, is kinda pronounced 'Mrovisko' and translates into the Queen's as 'Anthill'.

Located right next door to the old Brogan's on ul Szewska near the city's central Stary Rynek, this is a truly cracking little boozer jointly owned and run by Ania and Paulina, without doubt two of the most charming women you are ever likely to meet.

In fact, the Rake & Herald was so impressed by them, their pub and their Aladdin's cave of quality brews that we simply had to hassle them with a load of tedious questions they would probably have much rather not had to sit through.

But sit through them they did.

Big thanks, ladies!



mrowisko 2
Big bottles of joy: Er, I'll have all of them, please. © Ignatius Rake


WELL-STOCKED FRIDGE
"We wanted to make a place where people can come, a lot of people, like ants in an ants' nest," says Ania, bathed in the light of a fridge brimming with 60 different types of bottled Polish beer.

"At first we wanted to open something like a café and pub because we also have very good coffee."

"We imagined that people could come here, sitting, relaxing and reading books, playing games, but we are living in Poland so they just wanted alcohol," she laughs.

"We wanted to sell a lot of kinds of beer, not only one."

"We wanted to make a cultural place with concerts and other things," she continues, revealing that since it opened its doors Mrowisko has staged numerous gigs and even an open mic night for budding Polish and foreign stand-ups.

What's more, if I keep up the pressure, they might even let Naked Trouser, the world's premier alternative music DJ collective, put on a few nights, something that's guaranteed to get the till ringing like the bells of Notre-Dame in overdrive.

Get the hint?


GET THE BEERS IN!
But enough of all that.

What about the beer in Mrowisko, all of which bar none is produced in Poland?

"It was our idea to support our Polish industry and we in Poland have so many breweries now," Ania explains, noting that for the past five years or so something in the region of 20 new breweries have come onstream in the country per annum.

"We don't even have half of them so why should we import from other countries when we have so many good beers here?"

"In my opinion, it's unnecessary."

Furthermore, the selection in that mouth-watering fridge that keeps winking at me as she speaks is far from static, with Ania and Paulina regularly adding new brews to the complement of established regulars.

"When our supplier tells us about something new or interesting we always want it," Ania says.

"We have some kinds of beers that we always have because we know that people like them, for example, Lubusz or Fortuna and a lot of fruit beers from Cornelius."

Consequently, the discerning punter in Mrowisko can choose from lagers, dunkels, wheat beers, ales, stouts and sweet and bitter brews as well as a host of hoppy IPAs that can easily rival anything I've drunk in the US or Canada, such as Crazy Mike from Ale Browar that is only produced in small batches and thus sadly not available all-year round.

And while I'm on the subject of Mrowisko's IPA portfolio, only a fool would pass up the chance to get their lips round a Grand Prix from Ciechan for it is, to quote Shakespeare himself, "truly the f--king dog's bollocks".


EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION
But with such a fine selection of beers comes a responsibility to educate the uninitiated and then be able to recommend something that will suitably satisfy the idiosyncratic desires of their palate.

This, I can gladly report, is something that is definitely not lost on either Ania or Paulina, who have to date demonstrated an uncanny knack of knowing exactly what this particular hack likes to quaff when not mithering them with a load of bloody questions.

"When you want to buy a new TV or computer you always go to the shop and ask the seller about this [model] or that."

"So for me, it's obvious that people who don't know [what a beer tastes like] will ask and we're glad that we can answer."

"But sometimes it's sad because they ask and we start to tell our stories about this beer, this beer and this beer and [then they ask] for Lech and it is at this moment you just want to ask why?"

So have Ania and Paulina always been beerheads, beautifully versed in the ways of the hop and the mash?

"Not always," Ania replies.

"For me, it started when we began buying a lot of beers and every beer I just read about."

"We want to know what we sell and we want to give good advice to our customers."

After all, she reasons, "how can I sell something when I don't know what it is?"

A good point indeed.

Personally, I wish more Polish purveyors mirrored Mrowisko's commitment to customer care.

And I don't just mean publicans, either.

Once while working for a newspaper in Warsaw I went to buy a scarf, accidentally asked for a cupboard and was given a pair of tights.

Still, they kept my throat warm like no one's business, even if I did look a right tit as I trundled up Nowy Świat with a pair of pantyhose round my neck.



mrowisko 3
Have a pint: Have a chat. © Ignatius Rake


CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
One noticeable difference between Polish quality beer pubs and their British real ale counterparts is that while they may offer verbal or written tasting notes, they very rarely include information on alcohol content.

The downside of this if you're an adventurous drinker is that you can find yourself arseholed by accident simply because you had no idea that the nectar you were necking made Special Brew look like water.

This difference can largely be attributed to historical variations that no doubt stem in part at least from Poland's 45 years of post-war command economy planning.

In the UK, which you may recall was never a Comecon signatory, there has long been a great diversity in beer strengths, such that you might find on tap in the same pub a session ale of around 3% squeezed in between a strong ale clocking in at 5% and something truly wondrous, such as Old Tom from Robinson's that stonks in at 8.5%.

In Poland, though, there has traditionally been far less variation, with the standard industrialised lagers all weighing in at around 5.7%, something still echoed by many of the brews in Mrowisko that, with the exception of such head pounders as 10% Komes, on average notch up an ABV of 6%.

"In my opinion [Poles] haven't got used to drinking beer that's, for example, an IPA because usually the shops and pubs didn't have this beer," Ania says.

"Now it's more and more available but when people come they just want to know about the taste."

"Is it bitter or sweet?"

"Something like that."

"I think that most [people] don't even think about the alcohol."

It should also be noted too that in Poland it is illegal to drive after drinking any alcohol so (in theory at least) you won't encounter a designated driver at the bar searching for something weak they can nurse all night before ferrying their drunken mates home at the end of the evening (which in Mrowisko is usually around 04:00 if not later).

However, should you find yourself in this spray-can decorated drinking den and for some reason you're off the beer, fear not for Ania and Paulina are also the proud guardians of various regional vodka brands you're unlikely to see elsewhere in Poz.

And if, Heaven forbid, you can't touch a drop at all, you can always while away the hours munching back hand-baked bacon biscuits or the pub's signature onion pie washed down with an impressive assortment of coffees and tea.

"We wanted to cook or bake something which would be good with beer," Ania explains.

"That's why we have onion pie."

"It's not sweet," she continues, revealing that it's actually based on something knocked up by Nigella Lawson.

"Her recipe is our base and [we] improved [on it]," she states, justifiably proudly for it is indeed darn tasty.

Weird yes, but bloody good.


TOP JOB
As previously observed on the Rake & Herald, beer in Europe was traditionally brewed by women, who in the UK were known as brewsters.

However, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries and the various new gender divisions it ushered in, the production, sale and consumption of the finest liquid on Earth became increasingly seen as the preserve of men.

And while this is rightfully changing, the vast majority of pubs in Poland still tend to be owned by blokes.

So do Ania and Paulina ever encounter any hostility or sexism as a result of their decision to open such a kick-arse establishment?

"Not really," Ania reports, although most suppliers, she says, "assume we are not the owners".

"We didn't think about it that way."

"We just never considered that [the local beer and pub trade] is dominated by males."

"So maybe that's why we don't notice any signals like sexism."

"We just wanted to open a friendly place for people and make jobs for ourselves."

"A job which we like was really important."

"After graduating in Poland there are too many people with the same masters degree from the same faculty and there were no jobs for us so we just wanted to do something for ourselves."

And I for one am well bloody chuffed they did.

Mrowisko, ul Szewska 20A, Poznań, Poland.

Ace bar.

Ace beer.

Even better owners.

Now what about a free pint?


For more boozing abroad, make sure you read Beers by the Mekong, posted 5/12/13; Bog roll, beer and bed bottles, posted 23/6/13; Belgian beer boots butt, posted 29/6/12; and The pissheads of Zurich, posted 4/6/12, among others.


Ignatius Rake
is a freelance journalist and geographer who has visited more than 70 countries on six continents. A published lyricist and founder of the Naked Trouser DJ collective, he has fronted punk bands in both the UK and Poland, including the only band ever to be kicked off BBC Radio Cornwall. In 2013, he represented the UK at the Fourth Annual Smoke's Poutinerie World Poutine Eating Championship in Toronto, getting his arse royally whipped by Rake & Herald reader and Major League Eating speedscarfing supremo Joey 'Jaws' Chestnut. He has been known to like a pint.


Footnote

1) I have drunk on six continents in such booze-tastic countries as Russia, Finland, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Chile, Australia, Japan, Korea, Spain and the surprisingly sloshed Switzerland and nowhere, and I mean nowhere, has been able to hold a match let alone a candle to Poz. Although drinking all night during a hurricane in Tonga was a pretty mad experience. Ditto beering it up during riots in Belfast. Poz, though, is full-on all the time. It bloody rocks, mate.




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