Browar Stu Mostów is probably one of the most prolific breweries in Europe today, with more than 125 beers and 30 collaborations. Not bad if we consider that the brewery was opened in 2014, when Poland was still waking up to what is know as the craft beer revolution. We were lucky enough to share a conversation with Grzegorz Ziemian, founder of the brewery along with Arletta Ziemian, who told us about their past, present and future.
You founded the brewery with Arletta in 2012, after spending some years in the USA. Tell us a bit about the beginning of Browar Stu Mostów
Eventually a colleague slapped me in my face “Greg, what are you drinking? We have so many good beer in the US!”
Grzegorz: I moved to the states when I was 18. I finished high school there, and I did my undergraduate studies in finance—very different than brewing. I have a very funny anecdote: for the longest time, I refused to drink American beer—I always looked for European beers every time we met up with friends—and then eventually a colleague slapped me in my face “Greg, what are you drinking? We have so many good beer in the US!”.
And then, she introduced me to the local craft beer scene—I was then living in Minneapolis (Minnesota). She took me to a tour at Surly Brewing. And it was kind of an strange experience, because we lined out almost an hour before the brewery opened. At 2 o’clock, the owner counted up to 20 people. “You can come in, the rest have to wait until next week”. We were part of the lucky ones, and we went in. Inside, the brewer was talking about their history and the difficulties of the beer scene in Minnesota—he was actually doing a lot of work with legislation, to allow small breweries to grow and flourish. We did also a bunch of beer-tastings. And with that change of heart, I started looking for a different kind of beer.
After that I kind of lost the meaning of working for that industry, I was eager to do something else.
Plus, I also got involved with local homebrewers, brewing judges... This was about 2002-03. Since then, I wasn’t drinking European beers any more. In 2010, I quit my job in the finantial industry—the finantial crisis came and most of my colleagues lost their employment, so after that I kind of lost the meaning of working for that industry, I was eager to do something else.
At that time, I got engaged with Arletta. She was in Poland, so we had to find a way to come a little bit closer. That year, I wanted to bring her to the states, but she wasn’t very excited about that idea. Also, I always wanted to do an MBA, so we put everything together, I quit my job and applied to a couple of Business Schools in Europe. I ended up being enrolled at ESADE in Barcelona—that’s why Spain is very close to me. Also, Arletta and me come from business families, so when I moved to Barcelona and started my Master studies, my main focus was on entrepreneurship.
So I came back home and said to Arletta “Let’s open a brewery!”. She looked at me in a strange way but she also laughed.
After graduation, I did an exchange in China and travelled all around Asia. It was a great experience, I could take a step back, look at the whole picture, Arletta also joined me the second year. And at that point, after the graduation we decided to come back to Poland, but then the question was “What are we going to do?”. And after all the experiences that we had, we quickly decided that we were ready to start our own business. Things started lining up, it was a good time a good oportunity, and also for me it was the first time in fifteen years I would live there in Poland. Then, I quickly started missing craft beer.
That was in 2012, at the beginning of the craft beer revolution in Europe. But at that moment, despite Poland being one of the biggest beer consumers in Europe, you could only find industrial lagers. So I came back home and said to Arletta “Let’s open a brewery!”. She looked at me in a strange way but she also laughed. “Are you crazy? A brewery? Do you know how to brew properly? Do we have enough funds?” It was kind of in a joking way, but also a little bit serious. So we said “Ok, let’s think about it”. The next day, we started talking about it again... and she started liking the idea more and more—the same happened to me. Inmediatly we started reading a lot, talking to people, we went to industry talk shows, we started talking to local brewers... And finally, in a couple of months we had the first draft of a business plan. All of it sounded very optimistic, very ambitious, but not impossible.
So you were kind of a pioneer.
Grzegorz: By that time, the first wave of craft breweries were starting to pop up. But we wanted to do it 100%, we didn’t want to be a contract brewery. We wanted to do it properly from the beginning. The next 12 months, we spent them looking for funds. We had some savings, we could take some loans. But it was still not enough. In the end, we came up with a budget that was more of less a half that the one that we started with.
At the same time, we found this beautiful location—a historical building in Wrocław. So with those two pieces we decided to give it a go. We signed a lease agreement and hired a local architect to plan how the brewery should look like. We went through a lot of fundraising activities. And we started putting all together. It took us another 12 months to refurbish the building, to find proper brewing equipment provider—we chose BrauKon one of the most innovative provider for small and medium breweries. And everything started speeding up. We were hoping to start brewing in the fall of 2014, but we had some delay, and finally our first beers were available in December 2014.
Then you had to pick a name...
We are very happy that we set our brewery in Wrocław, because it is a 100% beer city, loving beer for centuries.
Grzegorz: The name was a big discussion. We were really undecided. We put together all kind of names. We had a list with 100 possibilities, and in the end we had just 5 options. Then we sent a survey to our families and friends, who provided us a good feedback. Long story short, people liked the connection with local—the city we were, the traditions. So we chose the name Browar Stu Mostów. Stu mostów means one hundred bridges. Also our city—Wrocław—has the surname the city of one hundred bridges.
Your brewery building is also next to a bridge, isn’t it?
Grzegorz: Yes. In fact, the knickname of Wrocław comes from the fact that the city is surrounded by the river Oder. Since there is a river, there is a necessity to have plenty of bridges. The bridge is also a nice symbol that connects things. We are very happy that we set our brewery in Wrocław, because it is a 100% beer city, loving beer for centuries.
How did you connect it with your brand with all this brewing tradition?
The idea was to create distinct product lines, to put more emphasis in each category of beer.
Grzegorz: When we settled and started prepared our marketing strategy, our brands. We started doing research. And then we learnt that Wrocław has eight centuries of brewing tradition. There were some historical styles that there were available just right after the foundation of Poland—and we wanted to connect with that.
There are two beer styles that are considered Polish. One of them is Baltic Porter, and the other one is Grodziskie, a light wheat smokey beer. And then, we also found some historical writing about the beer called Schöps.
The idea was to create distinct product lines, to put more emphasis in each category of beer. For example, a Pilsner Hefeweizen we put it under a brand called WRCLW—based on our city name, we removed the vowels to make it more ours. This brand is a tribute to all traditions and beer culture that we observe in our city. Then the second brand is called Salamander, and is focused in more innovative, craft beer revolution styles. And we also make some collaborations with brands all around the world under the ART+ brand. We really enjoy it because they give us the chance to exchange ideas, learn from each others, have fun. Each project is very special to us.
Why did you choose a salamander as a symbol?
Grzegorz: When we researched about brewing traditions in Wrocław, we found an article about a way of toasting. This ritual was called Salamander, and it goes back a couple of centuries. What is cool about that is that it makes people enjoy beer in a group and toast about something or someone really special.
How does the ritual work?
When we researched about brewing traditions in Wrocław, we found an article about a way of toasting. This ritual was called Salamander.
Grzegorz: People sit in a long table. And if it’s someones birthday, or somebody had a child, the way of toasting is to make a lot of noise in the table with the glass. And everybody does at the same time, standing. And at the end, the whole glass must be drank in one go. And even if the ritual was a little bit forgotten, for us it was kind of a key thing. We use the brand to promote meetings with friends and family, having a good beer, a good conversation... For us it was a nice way to use the idea of spending quality time with close people.
Tell us a little bit about your research of historical styles, that ended up rediscovering the Schöps style.
Grzegorz: A couple of years ago, Wrocław was picked to organize an EBC symposium. It’s an event for scientists in the brewing industry—professors, researchers, brewers... They have this events every two years to talk about novelties, hold conferences. This was done in cooperation with the local university, that has a brewing science department. And we were also involved in coorganizing the event. It was a big promotion for us, and we spoke with John Brauer from the EBC, and he came to visit our brewery inviting us to organize something for the event. And then he came with the idea of preparing a special beer for the conference. He had heard of Schöps before, and he was eager to go research a little bit more. He found some articles about the style and he pitched us the idea of bringing the style back to life, and then releasing it for the event.
And then, all of a sudden, it dissapeared. [...] Schöps just got forgotten, everybody stopped brewing it.
But then the next day, when we started to look into it a little bit more, we realized that there was no preserved recipe. But thanks to John and thanks to lots of other people that research about brewing history, we managed to find lots of articles, poems and small mentions about a beer style that started to be available in our region about the 16th century, up until 18th-19th century. And then, all of a sudden, it dissapeared. That was the time when Bavarian Lagers quickly started to be popular, so much that the local beers where pushed away. Schöps just got forgotten, everybody stopped brewing it.
With our research, we managed to get information about the aromatic properties of the beer, flavour descriptions, some notions about how this beer was brewed back in those days. And we did a couple of prototypes, we spoke to beer historians, we involved our friends at a brewery in Germany called Distelhäuser Brauerei where we did a couple of test plans. Finally, we put together a recipe that we think is very close to what was consumed back in the days.
How do you know it is closed to the original recipe?
Grzegorz: We had some ideas about the malt composition—back in the days, malt was not as cleaner as nowadays, and it was also darker. The beer was aged in wooden barrels and it had a bit of sourness—it had some bacterias. We also knew it wasn’t very hoppy, and it had some spices.
We were very proud of bringing a style back to life into the brewing scene, and not only brewing IPA’s.
We released it for the symposium, and it became one of our most popular products. It’s very popular in our city, as Wrocław got very involved in the project and asked us to help us with promotion—so Schöps is available now in most tourist informations stands there. We also published a booklet that was distributed in most informational stands.
So it was a very inspirational experience, that involved very innovative and modern technology. It was a collaboration among many people. We were very proud of bringing a style back to life into the brewing scene, and not only brewing IPA’s.
What is your opinion about the Polish craft beer scene?
Grzegorz: When we released our first beers—at the end of 2014—there were just about 50 breweries functioning. For a country of the size of Poland, that’s a very low number. We were probably one of the latest countries that were interested in new beer styles and the craft beer revolution. But since then, it’s been a huge explosion. The number of breweries quickly grew close to 400 in 5 years. A lot of craft beer bars opened up, beer festivals happened in most medium and big sized cities. Polish craft beer scene started growing really fast. We have experienced as well a big boost in sales. Obviously, the most important market fur us is Wrocław, but we also sell our beers all around Poland and we export to over 20 countries in Europe. We quickly grew from startup to a well established company—Spain is our biggest export market.
Could you tell us a bit about your Nitro beers?
Grzegorz: Appart from traditional styles, we also enjoy innovation. I love dark beers—stouts, baltic porters. Two years ago, we expanded our brewery as we couldn’t keep up with the demand—we added more kegs, a new bottling line, we trippled our output to produce over 1.000.000 l. per year. And within the new tank, we implemented a special technology to help us help us saturate beer with gases—CO2, Nitrogen. We started playing with that, and then we released our first nitrogen beer—Salamander Nitro Oatmeal Chocolate Milk Stout. First it was a small release, but it quickly became one of our signatures—in Poland we are pretty well known for our nitrogen beers. Then we experimented a little bit more, we released one IPA with nitro, and most of our Baltic Porters and Imperial Stouts are with nitrogen.
What does it add to the beer?
Grzegorz: The fact that there is no CO2 makes it much more silky, smoother, and it also creates nice foam—kind of the typical foam from the old English bars.
You have done lots of beers with Polish and foreign fruit. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Our brewer was against that. He kept telling us like “I don’t like fruit in beers. Fruit belongs to jam not to beer.” Salamander.
Grzegorz: That was another thing that was in the map, and a funny thing to do. We wanted to experiment with fruit, but our brewer was against that. He kept telling us like “I don’t like fruit in beers. Fruit belongs to jam not to beer.” He did a lot of jokes about that! But eventually, we did a collaboration with an American brewery called Pizza Boy, the Pizza Boy Imperial Apricot IPA. It was a great beer, but our brewer was not very convinced. Then, the second beer that we did was a Berliner Weisse, brewed in collaboration with BRLO, from Berlin. Our decission was to add Polish fruit to this Berliner, and after a couple of tests, we decided to go with strawberries. We waited to the strawberry harvest, so we got really good fruit. And it was an absolute Summer best-seller. Very fruity, very refreshing. And it was a mind changer for us. We also realized that Poland was a big producer of fruits—in some fruits, we are among the top producers in the world. So instead of importing fruits—to make, for example a Mango IPA—, we decided to use it as our advantage, and trying to find the best sources of Polish fruits—strawberries, raspberries, blackberries...
So we started working with Polish producers. We had farmers coming to the brewery, and we exchange ideas with them and knowledge about the product. We started experimenting how different fruits work and enhance different kind of beers. And it quickly became a big part of our portfolio. Right now, one third of our beers include some kind of fruit.
How do you use the fruit? Do you use it frozen, in purée...?
Grzegorz: We obviously try different thing, but the best way for us is to add purée towards the last part of the fermentation. It gives us the best results.
We have noticed that the names of your beers are one of the longest ones in the craft beer industry. What is the logic behind that?
Grzegorz: It relates to how our branding works. WRCLW for traditional beers, Salamander for innovative beers and ART for collaborations. When we opened up our new brewery, a big part of what we were doing was education. Back them, not many people realized the differences between craft and industrial beer. The way we set up our brewery was that a platform is laid above the brewery, so people can observe the processes, walk around the brewery, learn how beers are produced.
I wanted to make our beer names very transparent. Many people came up with crazy names for beers. You look at the name and you have no idea about what is inside.
I wanted to make our beer names very transparent. Many people came up with crazy names for beers. You look at the name and you have no idea about what is inside. And the way our name structure looks like: brand (f.ex, Salamander) + beer style (f.ex, Pastry Sour) + additions. So the whole name contains all the information to give you an idea of what you’re drinking. As we get more and more creative, it may be trickier to fit all the words in the label, but we’re sticking to it for now. And generally, people appreciate the fact that looking to our label they know what’s inside.
Browar Stu Mostów is one of the most prolific brands when it comes to collabs. Why is it so important to you?
Grzegorz: As I mentioned, Browar Stu Mostów has bridges in its name, and bridges are a symbol for us, but also a way of running the brewery. We are learning everyday, by mistakes, by reading, talking... And collaborations project are an excellent way of bringing top beweries to our brewery, exchanging ideas, talking about past experiences, and hopefully coming up with unique and nice products in the end.
After few projects, we did not only find it very useful, but also very enjoyable. And that was around the time that we started to get invited to many festivals. We don’t do collaborations with everybody, but only with people that we enjoy, that we agree with and that we like to spend the time with. So we try to schedule a few projects per year, because we don’t want to be e-mailing a recipe, we want to make something very special for each project. And all these projects were very special.
After brewing it, Dave told me that he proposed it as a joke “Since you propose us to brew very difficult beers, we will come up with something that you’ll never brew!”.
We had some breweries coming up to Wrocław, and we had some funny stories. For example, we did a collaboration with an English brewery called Wylam in Newcastle. A very difficult beer. So we released it, and it came up really good. When we were back in Poland, for our festival, we told them: “Ok, since we brew it at your place, why don’t we brew it at our place?” And I learnt it afterwards, but Dave from Wyland proposed a very crazy style, we called it Crumble Sour IPA. After brewing it, Dave told me that he proposed it as a joke “Since you propose us to brew very difficult beers, we will come up with something that you’ll never brew!”. Challenge accepted. We brew it, and actually it came up as a very good beer.
Finally, how do you see the future of Browar Stu Mostów?
Grzegorz: A few months ago, we brought our first international employee, a brewer from Spain, Beñat from Naparbier. He quickly started adding value to the team. Also one of his main responsabilities is to expand our barrel-aging programme. We’re experimenting more with Wild fermentation. We have just released our first sour beer with fruits, and we have more in the pipeline. That’s going to be a big focus for us in the coming months, as it takes a long time to produce that kind of beers. We’re also implementing new technologies. We have a very good high quality bottling line, we’re starting with cans. Also our festival Beer Geek Madness is becoming one of the most important festivals in Poland.