I worked in Poland for a while, the city of Wroclaw (pronounced v-ross-wav) which was under German control in the 1930’s and as the city of Breslau actually hosted some of the 1936 Olympic games. While I was working there back in the winter of 1990-91, I took the opportunity with some colleagues, of tasting the local brews. The two Polish beers I can remember were Okocim and Zywiec (pronounced zhiv-i-etz), the rest, during a full afternoon of tasting we found unremittingly awful, to the point where most were poured away after a single sip.
I returned to Poland with friends in the Autumn of 2005, and found a transformed country, modernised, westernised and the beautiful central square in the city of Krakow was ringed by pavement cafés proclaiming Lech and Tyskie beers!
There is an east European folk tale of three brothers, Lech, Czech and Rus who went hunting one day and dispersed, each following a different prey. These brothers went on to found three nations, Lech founded what we now know as Poland, Czech what we know as the Czech Republic and Rus, well you get the drift. Czech was someties known as Bohem, which is the origin of the ancient kingdom of Bohemia.
So, Lech beer has a lot to live up to. It’s brewed by the Kompania Piwowarska (“Brewing Company” in Polish – ‘Piwo’ or ‘Pivo’ is Polish for ‘beer’). The company was formed in 1999, some four years after South African Breweries (now the global SAB Miller corporation) acquired the Lech brewery in Poznan and the Tyskie brewery in Tychy. The story of Polish beers and western investment closely follows the story of the Czech brewing industry I related to in my Staropramen beer review
The Lech brewery in Poznan was founded in 1876, although brewers were recorded in the city as far back as 1440. The brewery was nationalised after the second world war, but investment continued, with a new brewery constructed adjacent to the railway between 1975 and 1980. The new brewery brews a local version of Miller as well and the old brewery building is now a popular shopping mall in Poznan.
The brew itself I’m afraid is disappointing given its heritage, as your pour it there’s a reasonable if uninspiring head. There’s very little hop nose, and while the flavour is well balanced, it veers away from the hops that characterise a classic pilsner to a fairly bland malty brew. As I recall, we enjoyed Lech on Draught while visiting Poland in 2005, but we did prefer Tyskie.
3 stars – I wouldn’t refuse it, but I wouldn’t seek it out.
Tyskie is very much the jewel in SAB Miller’s crown, at least in terms of Polish beers. Brewing has continued at Tychy since the original Ksiazece brewery was founded by the Promnitz family in 1613, although it is almost certain that independent brewers had operated in the town for some time before.
The brewery was considerably enlarged and modernised in 1861 to capitalise on the popularity of pilsner style beers. The enlarged brewery was capable of producing some 2 million gallons of beer a year, one of Europe’s largest at the time.
During the second world war, the brewery was taken over by the occupying German troops and forced to brew beer for them. After the war, the brewery was taken over by its employees on behalf of the state, until its privatisation in 1992. The brewery now produces an impressive 2½ million gallons of beer – a week!
But, as always, is the beer any good?
Well, the first thing you notice is the head, this is a full foaming head that gently subsides, giving a massive burst of hoppy aroma. This one is hops all the way, the closest to Pilsner Urquell I can recall and immensely refreshing. The mouth feel is classic pilsner, the nose and flavour is a splendid blend of rich maltiness and hoppy bite.
Even in Britain on a cold Thursday evening, this transports me back to the pavement cafes in Krakow!
No question, four stars, and yes, this is one beer I would seek out.