A beer which encapsulates more than one brewing influence...

With many of the brewing companies of Eastern Europe now in the hands of a small clutch of global players, it is always interesting to find something which survives the rationalisation and culls so beloved by the mayor brewers.

Bulgaria, like so many other of its Eastern European neighbours is no exception, and amidst a fairly mainstream range of domestically produced lagers one stands out - Stolichno Bock.

What makes Stolichno interesting is that it is the only 'Bock' style beer made in Bulgaria, and is at odds with the national taste for paler beers, being in the traditional darker bock style. 

Although produced today by Zagorka Brewery in Stara Zagora, like so many other beers its lineage lie elsewhere, and contrary to what might be expected is not the product of German migrants to Bulgaria, but Czech.

Georgi and Bogdan Proshek started their brewery in 1884 in the small town of Knyazhevo, near Haskovo, in Southern Bulgaria where they rented a modestly sized brewery before relocating to the capital Sofia. With knowledge and expertise gained from their native Czech industry they put it to good use in establishing their fortunes in the newly adopted country. With expansion a second brewery was later built in the town of Gorublyane during the Communist era after 1947.

In 1978 the brewery in Sofia closed its doors, and the company was renamed 'Ariana' in 1996. Heineken purchased the brewery the following year, and production was moved to the Zagorka site ( also Heineken owned since1994 ) in 2004.

Stolichno Bock continues to be brewed to the original Ariana recipe and specifications, as I discovered on a trip to Zagorka last September, and benefits from a traditional period of lagering before release.

Produced only in the Autumn months in preparation for the cold Bulgarian winters to follow the 'darker' bock style makes good sense, and is seen very much as the premium product within the Zagorka range, weighing in at a credible bock strength of 6.5%alc/vol.

The beer uses caramel, coffee and lager malts in its production and has a warming rounded toffeeish caramel character with a touch of mocha sweetness, and good length on the finish.

Once released it needs time for its flavours to meld, and in bottle keeps particularly well. I have drunk bottles well over a year old which have gained in complexity, taking on far greater depth of flavour.

Stolichno Bock then remains fairly unique in Bulgarian brewing history, a lone survivor of changing times and fortunes.

As a niche product, born out of German influence and Czech brewing expertise, lets hope it remains part of Bulgarian brewing heritage for many more years to come.                          


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