The best thing about the Balkans is the people. I have yet to meet someone who isn’t incredibly welcoming with a genuine desire to show me the best of their country. In the Balkans, a lot that welcome revolves around sampling “the best beer in the world.” Every country has its own “best beer in the world.” The States beer market is quite large so there may be more debate on what exactly is “the best beer in the world,” (it’s Free State Brewing Yakamaniac IPA). Balkan countries have a smaller beer market, therefore there is usually a pretty strong consensus on the “best beer in the world.” I didn’t expect every Balkan country to have its own beer as the countries histories are all so intertwined. It surprised me that each country has its unique beer, but it didn’t surprise me that every light lager tasted approximately the same.
Here are the Balkans “best beers in the world” ranked:
I don’t claim to be a beer expert. I also don’t claim to be an unbiased judge. Beer always tastes better after the second, third, or fourth and some nights leave a better taste in my mouth than others.
1. Bosnia: Sarajevsko
Untapped describes Sarajevsko is a pale beer with distinct crystal clarity and pleasant noble bitterness.” Like most of the beers on this list, it sits at 4.9%. Unlike most of the beers on this list, it leans more medium bodied. It is malty and has a slightly bitter after-taste, which is nicer than no taste. I tried this beer in the Sarajevska brewery itself. There is a large tap room with food, live music, and dancing. It’s a great place to discover Bosnian food and culture.
2. Macedonia: Skopsko
Skopsko uses a lot of buzzwords like “cold filtration”, “100% hops aroma”, “tradition of innovation.” Like the rest of the beers on this list, it’s a light lager, but as far as light lagers go this is a good flavor. It doesn’t have that metaly aftertaste that some light beers can have. Macedonia was one of my favorite Balkan countries. It’s super cheap, a good meal with an appetizer and a coffee costs around six dollars. A Skopsko is anywhere from one to two dollars depending on where you are. I had most of my Skopsko’s along with a hearty Macedonian meal, which makes the beer taste a lot better. Skopsko is unpasteurized for a fresh taste, the perfect pairing to a fresh shopska salad.
3. Croatia: Ozujsko
Ozujsko Pivo is boozier than the other beers on this list at a full 5.2%. Rate beer says that the selection of hops and barley give it a refreshing taste and a fine bitter aroma. While I didn’t get the bitter, I did get the refreshing. My first encounter with Ozujsko was on a small bar built into the cliffs of Dubrovnik, overlooking the ocean, with 6 of my best friends. This is the perfect scenario for Ozujsko. It would also go well in drinking games. Like most light beer in the States, it is perfect with anything that involves a distraction from the taste of the beer.
4. Serbia: Jelen
The best thing about Jelen is that it comes in 2 liter bottles for around five dollars. It has less flavor than the beers ranked higher than it, but it’s a great, cheap beer for a party. It’s also a great go to if you don’t want to drink anymore rakia. Because in Serbia if you’re out and you don’t have a drink in your hand, someone will inevitably hand you a shot of rakia.
5. Montenegro: Niksicko Pivo
This beer was a little more malty than some of the other beers on this list, which was nice, but other than a little extra malt it didn’t stand out much. I drank it during Carnival after a couple pours of Amaro Montenegro and before a giant dance circle in the street, so between those two things it was quite forgettable.
6. Romania: Timisoreana
Timisoreana holds the highest market share of the beer in Romania. It’s a smooth, easy to drink beer. It’s incredibly cheap, but not actively bad like some cheap light beer. There was nothing bad about this beer, but there was nothing good about it either.
7. Kosovo: Peja
This beer was pretty similar to the rest on this list, but I found it a little more metallic. Perhaps the one I tried was improperly stored, perhaps it just paled in comparison to the incredible (and inexpensive) steak kebab I was eating with it.
We skipped out on Albania’s Birra Tirana and Bulgaria’s Kamenitza in favor of stronger brews. Overall, I found that I liked all the beers on this list better than I like American domestics. All these beers were heavier and more flavorful than a pint of Budlight. However like I said, I’m not unbiased and the grass (or hops) are always greener on the other side.
Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, and Romania all have growing craft beer scenes, however with the rest of these countries it’s all lager all the time. Fortunately, no matter where you go, there is no shortage of beer.