Poland has an enduring tradition of producing brewed beverages, going back just about as far as Polish history itself. The common citizen and noblemen alike have downed their share of local beers. Even Polish Pope Klemens was said to be a fan—right to the end. As the story goes, while on his deathbed, he made a desperate declaration that went something like “O, Santa Piva di Polonia!” Those at his bedside mistakenly thought he had just created a new saint—Saint Piva—but it was soon realized that he just wanted a beer (Piwo means beer in Polish). And who could blame him? Hops were brought over from Bavaria in the 1200’s, where they have since become quite prized for their unique aromatic qualities. Brewers here have made use of the natural resources of the Polish countryside for over 1000 years now, and with that much experience under their belts, you can bet that they know a thing or two about making world class beers.
The Malopolska province, located in southern Poland, borders the Ukraine to the east and Slovakia to the south. It is home to Poland’s third largest city, Krakow—which escaped much of the tumult of World War II and retains its original charm and beauty. Visitors relish the opportunity to visit its many historical medieval towns and picturesque castles which dot the hillsides that lie at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. To the east lies the portion of the country that is home to the world renown hop-growing regions of Pulawy and Lublin. These southern areas, and in fact, the entire southern half of Poland (south of Warsaw) are of particular importance to the country’s brewing industry, with notable brewing areas in Wroclaw, Katowice, Krakow, Zywiec, and Okocim.
The district of Okocim (pronounced: Oh-KOTCH-eem) is in the town of Brzesko, to the east of Krakow, and is home to two of the region’s very valuable architectural structures: the palace of baron Jan Goetz and the Okocim brewery which he founded in 1845, when this region was still a province in the Austrian Empire. A mere three years earlier, the first Pilsner was born in Pilsen, Bohemia (also an Austrian province at the time, in what is now the Czech Republic), and Okocim followed suit by creating their famous Okocim Pilsner. The brewery itself is well preserved, though recent additions have expanded it and seen the introduction of a few modern pieces of equipment. There are at least three brewhouses, all still in use. The brewery still retains its original 1845 chimney, and as one of relatively few remaining "Austrian" breweries of this period, it represents a classic site in the modern history of beer-making. Today it is one of the biggest and best breweries in the country.
The brewery currently produces at least four different brews—Okocim O.K. Pilsner, which is a great example of the “Polish-Pils” style of beer; Okocim Beer (yes, they do seem to gravitate toward the simpler names), which is an intensely hopped pilsner; Okocim Malt Liquor, not to be confused with the domestic malt liquors in the states, is their strong (7.8% ABV), pale beer; Okocim Karmi, considered a “near beer” with its low alcohol content of 0.5%—it is the only dark, low-alcohol beer available in the States and is often given to nursing mothers (in Poland) as an energy drink—it has an abundance of sweet malt flavors. An interesting assortment to select from—we encourage you to try them all if you are ever in Poland.
For more information about the Okocim Brewery, check out their U.S. distributor’s web site at www.stawskidistributing.com/polishbeers.html.