The yeast whisperer
While the mass-produced domestic brands Laško and Union still dominate the Slovenian beer market, over the past few years there has a been a noticeable increase in variety at both pubs and retail shops around Ljubljana. At the forefront of this slow but steady beer revolution is the cheekily named Human Fish Brewery, which is not only the most prevalent brewer of craft beer in the country, but is also in our humble (and borderline alcoholic) opinion the best. Founded back in 2008 by an Australian expat and graduate of the American Brewers Guild, Matthew Charlesworth, the brewery was originally located in the distant town of Slovenj Gradec, but has since been relocated to the former premises of a 120 year-old dairy farm in Vrhnika, just a short drive or bicycle ride to the southwest of Ljubljana – making it much more easily accessible to tourists and residents of Ljubljana such as ourselves. If you’d like to drop by on to sample a pint or nine and chat with the ruggedly handsome brewer, the brewery is open for walk-in visitors from Wednesday to Sunday 15:00-22:00, while there are guided brewery tours on Fridays at 18:30. Group bookings are also available at other times with prior arrangement. Varieties on hand always include pale ale, stout and SIPA, as well as several seasonal beers, which change every six weeks or so. If you can’t make it the roughly 16km to Vrhnika, or just prefer to spend your time in a Ljubljana-based pub, luckily you can now nd Human Fish taps at tons of locations in the city, including some our favourites such as Patrick’s Irish Pub, Zlata Ladjica, Sir William’s Pub, STA Travel Café and Tozd.
HOW DID YOU FIRST DECIDE YOU WANTED TO BECOME A BREWMASTER?
“Brewmaster” is a pretentious term used by brewers to increase their sex appeal. Therefore, this has been a constant quest in my life since puberty. I decided to start a brewery in about 2006 as part of my life’s journey to meet this end.
WHY SLOVENIA? We felt that the macro-economic climate, logistics infrastructure, human capital and access to international liquidity markets were vital factors in choosing a location for our multinational enterprise. Oh, and a fairly barren craft scene and my wife’s family connection may have had something to do with it.
HOW HAS SLOVENIA’S BEER SCENE CHANGED SINCE YOU FIRST ARRIVED?
When I arrived the competition authority had just approved the purchase of Union by Laško creating one brewery with more than 90% of the market. Imports were dominated (ironically) by Heineken, with the occasional Guinness. We now have (IMHO) the best craft beer scene in central Europe, some wonderful imports, but most importantly a culture where a lot of consumers now make a conscious deci- sion about which beer to drink rather than just beer.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME FOR THE BREWERY?
We think that the “Human Fish” (see page 268 of this ne publication) is the world’s 2nd most ridiculous national animal after Scotland’s uni- corn. But hey, at least the Human Fish exists! I like the name because it conveys a sense of the absurd which we like at Human Fish.
HUMAN FISH’S SEASONAL VARIETIES ARE ALWAYS QUITE POPULAR. HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT COMING UP WITH NEW BEERS?
We take whatever ingredients we have and toss them in the air, and see what falls into the “seasonal” bucket which we have on the floor. Really, seasonal beers are all about research. We drink a lot of different beers, new styles especially or a style that one of us tried at some random pub somewhere, and no those that we like. We then work up a test batch or six, before releasing them first in our taproom and later to the unsuspecting public at large.
WHAT’S BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF BOTH BUILDING A BRAND AND ALSO HELPING TO DEVELOPMENT THE ENTIRE CRAFT BEER MARKET SEGMENT IN SLOVENIA? Answering the same questions about why I started a brewery in Slovenia six times a day is the most di cult part about starting a brewery in Slovenia – looking at you Editor-in-Chief! [Editor’s note: sorry about that]. Overall it has been fun and really not difficult because through- out the industry (within Human Fish, our pubs, craft beer drinkers, home brewers) are just really genuine people who want it to succeed. So apart from a usually barren bank account it is not hard.
WHAT BEERS DO YOU DRINK WHEN YOU’RE NOT DRINK– ING HUMAN FISH?
I will drink any Slovenian craft beer. I would encourage the millions of readers of this book to do the same. You have a wonderful small industry, run by hard-working genuine people, who you can meet on the street and pay generous tips to. If you are in a bar, ask for Slovenian craft beer, if they don’t have it, get up and walk away. Oh….and on a really hot day after a bad day of cricket you can sometimes see me with a Radler.
DO YOU THINK CRAFT BEER WILL PROVE TO BE SOMETHING OF A FAD HERE IN SLOVENIA? OR JUST CONTINUE TO INCREASE IN POPULARITY FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE? Craft beer has been part of the scene in America now for more than 30 years. There has been constant speculation that it has peaked every year for 30 years. Craft breweries make great products that people are prepared to pay for and although breweries may come and go, and styles will come into and go out of fashion, creative, passionate people will still be there and they are what drives this industry.
YOU’RE PERHAPS KNOWN AS MUCH FOR YOUR BAD POETRY AS YOUR BREWMASTER SKILLS. SINCE IT’S DIFFICULT TO INCLUDE A FREE SAMPLE OF BEER IN A BOOK, FOR BOTH LOGISTICAL AND LEGAL REASONS, WOULD YOU CARE TO SHARE ANY OF THE FORMER WITH US?
You think my poetry may stink
Well here is something new to think.
My verses get a second look
Which is two more readers than your book.