Slovenia may not be the first country that comes to mind when you think of beer, but this small Central European nation has a burgeoning craft beer scene that is starting to make waves.
Slovenian beer is characterized by its quality ingredients, unique flavors, and traditional brewing techniques.
The factor that makes Slovenian beer stand out is the quality of its ingredients. The country has a long tradition of agriculture, and this extends to the cultivation of those hops and barley as well, two of the essential ingredients in beer.
Slovenian hops are known for their unique floral and spicy notes, and the country’s barley is also of exceptional quality.
Slovenian beer may not be as well-known as some of its European counterparts, but it is certainly worth exploring for beer lovers who are looking for something new and unique – they even have the world’s first public beer fountain.
With a growing number of small, independent breweries producing high-quality and flavorful beers, Slovenia is quickly becoming a destination for beer tourism.
Whether you’re a fan of traditional styles or experimental brews, there is something for everyone in Slovenia’s vibrant craft beer scene.
From “Green Gold” Comes Good Beer
Did you know Slovenia is one of the world’s largest producers of hops, otherwise known locally as green gold?
If Ukraine is known as the grain basket of Europe then Slovenia must rank as the hop garden of Central Europe. They produce 3% of the world’s output of hops, which may not sound too much but is impressive when you consider how small this Central European nation is.
Attempts to grow hops in Slovenia date back to 1844 when Saaz and other Bavarian hops were brought to the country. Unfortunately, they didn’t grow too well.
Instead, a British hop, the Golding, was imported, which flourished well in the fertile soils of Slovenia. The resulting hop, known as Styrian Golding, is more likely a derivative of the Fuggle hop rather than the English Golding.
Still, the Styrian Golding is the hop most associated with the Slovenian hop industry and it is said every 12th pint of beer worldwide is made with Slovenian hops.
Today, Slovenian hop yards cover over 1500 hectares of land, with the majority found within the lower Savinja Valley also known as the Valley of Green Gold.
According to the website of national television station RTV Slovenija, Slovenia is now the fifth biggest hop producer in the world after the US, Germany, China, and the Czech Republic.
Žalec as The Hop Growing Capital
In the heart of the Lower Savinja Valley, you will find the town of Žalec, about 55km from the capital Ljubljana or a 45-minute drive away. If you should find yourself visiting Slovenia as a beer lover Žalec should be top of your places to visit.
With the tradition of hop growing and brewing dating back to the early 19th Century, the symbol for the Savinja Valley is a hop cone. The importance of hops to the region is represented by a museum dedicated to hop growing which opened its doors to the public in 2009, and the unique tourist attraction The Green Gold Beer Fountain.
Located on the premises of a former hop-drying facility, visitors to The Eco-Museum of Hop Growing and Brewing Industry can learn about the traditions of growing and processing hops in Slovenia along with the various foods, garments, and other hop-related products they produce in the Valley.
You can even visit the beer tasting room where you can sample the house beer Kulec (Savinja Valley Beer) or try a customary hop-pickers lunch.
The Green Gold Fountain
It would be rude to visit Žalec and not sample the beer fountain which operates from April 1st to the end of October every year. Known as Green Gold the fountain is a great meeting place for beer lovers and tourists alike.
The bus from Ljubljana main station even takes you directly to the fountain which is located in the town park, in the center of town next to the church and a marketplace.
Built by the company Remont, the fountain is a truly unique attraction in the world which won the Sejalec Award from the Slovenian Tourist Board for its innovation.
With a design of two semicircles that resembles a hop flower, you can get 10cl of each of the six different beers of the fountain for the price of 8,0 Euros. A special glass equipped with an electronic chip activates the tap.
You’ll find a variety of beers on tap including Kukec Savinjsko Pivo, named after the owner of breweries in Žalec and Laško, Simon Kukec, on the first tap.
A second tap features a beer simply known as Ambassador beer with a traditional beer on the third tap made using old brewing methods.
On tap number 4 you will find beers from the Savinja and Šalek regions, with the fifth tap reserved for trend beers and a final sixth tap featuring dark beers.
History of Slovenian Beer – A Tale of Two Breweries
Beer has been brewed in Slovenia for centuries, with beer having a special significance in Slovenia. The first written records about beer brewing in the area of today’s Slovenia reach back to the 12th century.
Throughout its history, Slovenia has been influenced by its neighboring countries, including Austria, Italy, and Germany, all of which have left their mark on Slovenian beer culture.
For many years, beer in Slovenia was dominated by large industrial breweries, with little room for experimentation or innovation.
The Slovenian beer market is still dominated by two major breweries – the Lasko Brewery and Union Brewery, which are now owned by the same parent company, Heineken International. Both breweries produce a variety of beers but the most popular are pale lagers, which dominate the market.
Laško tends to be a more bitter lager than the Union beer but commands a 60% share of the country’s beer market and is the largest brewery in Slovenia.
Union is seen as the beer of the capital city, Ljubljana, with the first record of brewing in the city dating back to 1592.
The Union brewery was founded in 1864 as a small family business by the Kosler brothers but became the Union brewery in 1909 through a joint venture with the Pivovarna Union and an Austro-Hungarian brewery.
When Slovenia was part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the brewery was nationalized, and in 1963 production rose to 220,000 hectolitres a year, today standing at around one million.
In 2005, the competitor Laško Brewery acquired the majority of shares in the Union Brewery and it subsequently became part of Heineken International when Heineken bought a majority stake in the Laško Brewery in 2015.
The two companies were formally merged into Pivovarna Laško Union in 2016.
The majority of beer production was moved to the Laško Brewery in 2022, with the cooling system of the Union Brewery deemed no longer suitable for mass beer production. There is however a smaller brewery and center of innovation on the site of the original Union Brewery.
A guided tour takes you inside the old brewery and through more than 150 years of picturesque history of brewing in Ljubljana and the development of the Union brand. Best of all, you can experience an authentic beer-drinking atmosphere at the tasting in the old inn.
The Laško Brewery is officially recognized as the largest brewery in Slovenia and one of the oldest still operating breweries in Europe.
Located in the town of Laško about 90 km East of Ljubljana, just over an hour’s drive away, the brewery was founded in 1825 by Franz Geyer, a gingerbread baker and mead producer.
It wasn’t until 1889, however, that the brewery made much of an impact. Bought by Simon Kukec, a brewer from Žal, they established a new type of beer, thermal beer, which uses the water of nearby hot springs.
Through many experiments, Kukec found that the thermal water improved the taste of the beer so he started to brew both light and dark thermal beers, many of which live on to this day in some derivative form.
After WWII ended in 1945, Laško was the fifth largest brewer in Yugoslavia, and by 1991 it was the largest of Yuglosavia’s 28 breweries. Although they lost much of their Yugoslavian sales in 1991 after Slovenia declared independence, in the latter 1990s sales rebounded and they currently sit on top of the pale lager market.
Laško International Beer and Flowers Festival and a Beer Escape Room
As one of the World’s longest-running Flower and Garden festivals, Laško Pivovarna is one of the key sponsors who turn this into a Beer and Flowers festival, the oldest tourist event with a continuous history in Slovenia.
As one of the main centers of brewing in Slovenia, beer is engrained in the everyday life of the town in much the same ways as hops are integral to the town of Żalec and the Savinja Valley.
Only the Slovenians could host an International Flower and Garden festival and turn it into one huge outdoor beer garden.
Every year in July, the streets of Laško come alive to the sound of music and you can enjoy the beers and other activities too. If you are planning a visit to Slovenia, July is definitely the time to go for this festival.
While you are in Laško, you could also visit the Laško Brewery and Museum or even try your hand at the world’s first brewing-themed escape room, which is actually in the house where the first barrel of beer was brewed.
At the nearby Thermana Laško you could also enjoy a wellness treatment using beer for its beneficial ingredients.
Craft Beer in Slovenia
Towns like Żalec or Laško are fine if you want to experience the traditional beers of Slovenia, but if you want to try the widest variety of craft beers you need to stay close to the capital of Ljubljana.
In recent years, the craft beer movement has taken hold in Slovenia, with a growing number of small, independent breweries popping up across the country.
These breweries are focused on using high-quality ingredients and traditional brewing techniques to create unique and flavorful beers that stand out from the mass-produced options.
Top Craft Beers in Ljubljana
HumanFish Brewery – Located in the town of Vrhnika, just outside of Ljubljana, HumanFish Brewery is one of Slovenia’s most well-known craft breweries.
They specialize in experimental, small-batch beers that push the boundaries of traditional brewing styles. You can actually visit the brewery where they have a very cozy taproom if you want to make the 20km trip, but an easier option is to hunt for their beers on tap in the capital.
You will find HumanFish beers in many popular drinking spots including Cieleto Lindo, Dakatari, Petkovšek, and the Irish Pub – all popular watering holes in the city center.
Some of their most popular beers include the Treska IPA, a hoppy and fruity IPA, and the Mystic Cherry Sour, a tart and refreshing sour ale.
Tektonik Brewery – The most centrally located brewery in Ljubljana, the Tektonik brewery is on the site where Slovenia’s most important daily newspapers used to be printed.
While current health and hygiene regulations prevent you from entering the brewery, Tektonik does have a newly opened taproom where you can enjoy their beers.
The beers are some of the most accessible in the capital and can be purchased in food shops, grocery stores, and many of the bars across Ljubljana. The most recognizable beers of this popular brewery include Iggy (IPA), Dizzy (an American IPA), Hercule (Witbier), and a Pale Ale called Normal.
Pelicon Brewery – Founded in 2013 in the town of Ajdovščina, Pelicon Brewery has quickly made a name for itself as one of Slovenia’s top craft breweries, and their beers are easy to find throughout Ljubljana.
They use only the finest ingredients, including Slovenian hops and malts, to create a range of unique and flavorful beers.
Some of their most popular beers include a hoppy red ale called Out of China, Yess Boss! ( an American Pale Ale), Quantam DIPA and Harvest Moon Ale, a beer produced only once a year at harvest time.
They also produce an elegant dark ale called Black Aurora which uses Styrian Aurora hops, a newer Slovene hop varietal.
Bevog Brewery – Although technically based in Austria, Bevog Brewery has strong ties to Slovenia and is considered by many to be one of the top craft breweries in the region.
They focus on brewing high-quality, traditional-style beers with a modern twist. Some of their most popular beers include the Deetz Pils, a crisp and refreshing pilsner, and the Rudeen Black IPA, a dark and hoppy IPA.
Reservoir Dogs Brewery – Named after the famous Quentin Tarantino film, Reservoir Dogs was among the first Slovenian craft brewers who quickly gained a huge fan base. A base that remains to this day, with its beers rated among the best in the country.
Again, the brewery is located about an hour’s drive away from Ljubljana, but its extensive tap room certainly makes it worth the journey to Nova Gorica. Failing that, these beers are so popular you will just about find them in any bar or restaurant in the city center of Ljubljana.
Although they make some incredibly inventive seasonal beers like Cum Grano Salis (a Gose), they are better known for their series of beers called The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.
Yes, there are four of them, including Warrior (a Pale ale), Grim Reaper (the IPA), Starvation (a Black Imperial IPA), and Conqueror (a Session Ale).
These beers are now making their way across the Atlantic and can be found in many craft beer bars across the US. They consistently rate at the top of Slovenian beer lists on authoritative websites such as beer advocate.com, ratebeer.com, and untapped.com.
Loo-blah-nah Brewery – No it’s not a typo, the name of this brewery is a phonetic transcription of Ljubljana for English speakers.
This was the second craft brewery founded within the city limits and, just like the city itself, it has a dragon for its symbol. Loo-blah-nah beers are seen all over the city and their t-shirts are popular, displaying that distinctive dragon design.
The flagship beer of Loo-blah-nah brewery is an English pale Ale that’s very light and fresh as an easy-drinkable ale, and that will remind you of classic London pubs. They also brew an IPA, a Golden Ale, an Amber Ale, and the head brewers’ favorite, a Belgian-style ale.
Other popular craft beers in Ljubljana include the Lobik-brewed beer Champion, which was released to celebrate the local football team Maribor’s entrance into the UEFA Champion’s League, and experimental wild yeast beers from the Barut Brewing and Blending Company, such as their Summer Snow Brett Berliner, which is both funky and sour while being low in alcohol.
Slovenian Beers – Final Thoughts
Hopefully, I have inspired you enough to make a trip to Slovenia next time you are on the European continent. It is pretty central and easy to get to from most of Europe.
Or, at least, I’ve tempted you to try and hunt down from your local bar or beer merchants a few of the hoppy Slovenian beers mentioned above.
Although there’s every chance your favorite brew already contains a bit of Slovenia in the hops it uses, it’s no substitute for the rich and varied styles you will find in Slovenia itself.
Slovenia could be a great holiday destination, not just for beer lovers but for your wife or girlfriend too. Who doesn’t enjoy the open outdoor spaces, larger festivals, and soothing spas?
Just a side note, if you do take your girlfriend, then the guys at the Laško Beer Escape Room can even hide an engagement ring in the room for you. How many people can tell the story of how they got engaged in a Slovenian Beer Escape room?