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Feature 15 Aug 16

Craft Beer Enthusiasts Find Good Business in Bosnia

Despite the small size of the country and a lack of a traditional beer-drinking culture, small craft breweries are flourishing in Bosnia.

Rodolfo Toe
 Illustration: 'Beer Tasting'. Photo : littlekiss on Flickr.

Craft breweries are flourishing throughout Bosnia, despite the relatively small size of the  market and the lack of a traditional brewing culture.

Especially since 2014, several small breweries have been established in Bosnian towns and cities including Sarajevo, Vogosca, Banja Luka, Mostar, Doboj, Livno and Siroki Brijeg.

"Everything started around five years ago with a simple post in a Bosnian forum which was giving instructions on how to produce your own beer," Mirza Nalo, who established a small brewery in Sarajevo called Brko recalls.

"That was the beginning of the whole movement of craft beer in this country," he said, noting that starting this kind of activity was unusual for Bosnia.

"Bosnia is a [fruit brandy ]'rakija' nation, rather than a 'beer' nation," Mirza says. "After the [1992-5] war, when I started travelling abroad, I didn't know you could make so many different kinds of beers ... for me, it was like discovering a brand new world."

Despite the reported stagnation of the local beer industry in recent years, and despite being obliged to import most of the raw materials and equipment, local craft beer producers have quickly formed an active community gathered around a specific forum, and organised the first fairs dedicated to their activity.

What started as a small, amateurish movement is now turning into a flourishing business.

Arman Galicic, owner of the Brew Pub brewery, which was established in Sarajevo in 2014, says demand is so high that his brewery cannot meet it.

"People are asking us to bring our beer to other towns like Banja Luka, Tuzla or Mostar, but we don't have the capacity to supply our products all over Bosnia," Galicic said.

While small beer producers in Bosnia rely mostly on direct connections with pubs and restaurants to sell their products, Brew Pub succeeded in striking a deal with a distribution chain to have one of its products, a pilsner beer called Sefte, sold in supermarkets in Sarajevo.

"We wanted to sell the same kind of beer sold in 99 per cent of the cases in Bosnia, but show that we could do it in a different style," Galicic explained.

Currently, the market seems very promising, producers agree.

"Every day, I get a lot of messages from people asking me where they can buy my beer," Zinaid Derakovic, founder of the Doboj-based brewery Castrum, explains.

After trying to develop his own production, Zinaid quit his old job to dedicate himself entirely to this activity. Today, he produces around 1,500 litres of beer a month, which he sells regularly to pubs in Sarajevo, Mostar and Doboj.

"It looks like people in Bosnia want to try something different, but nobody offers them anything new," he argues.

Although the future looks bright for the business, more needs to be done to fully exploit its potential, Vlado Mandic, who established the Lovac craft brewery in Siroki Brijeg in 2013, says.

"Beer legislation needs to be adjusted to small breweries because small producers currently have to pay the same fees and taxes as large industrial breweries, which is not normal," Mandic points out.

He also claims that a major part of their work in future will be fostering the culture of craft beers and educating potential consumers in Bosnia.

"Bosnia's beer market is full of industrial lagers and all of them taste the same ... as craft beer is generally more expensive than industrial ones, we have to reach potential customers, and explain what lies behind our work," he concludes.

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