Visit The Brewery!

I’ve spent this year’s summer holidays in the vicinity of Żywiec in the Polish mountains. The weather was awful – it was sweltering hot, the scorching sun made it hard to breathe…Luckily a friend of mine suggested that to be near Żywiec and not to see the brewery is like to be in Rome and not to see the pope.  And because I already have seen the pope, although from afar, I decided, with the acquiescence of the rest of the company, that it’s worth seeing the brewery too…

Visit The Brewery!Lager or pilsner?

@maksymowicz / Fotolia

Not the actual brewery itself, because, as a rule, they do not let anyone there, but the Żywiec Brewery Museum. Of course, it is not the kind of  museum with exhibits, security, ladies guarding the rooms and those ridiculous felt slippers…There are no slippers here. There are, however, two things: history and… beer. The compulsory beer tasting after the tour is especially abundant in the golden beverage, which tastes a lot better than the shop variety. I have tasted it, and I am here to tell the tale.

There is one more vital difference. In other museums the exposition is untouchable, while this museum is interactive. You can touch everything, and no one will mind. You can ask, comment, exchange remarks, and – naturally – take photos and put them on facebook, or wherever you usually put them. Let your friends see you and suffer a moment of virtual envy! And envy they will, no doubt about that. I was envious of myself – roughly halfway through the beer tasting… 

I promised myself that I will visit other breweries – similar pleasures await visitors in Poznań, Tychy and Warka. Such a visit is a great holiday attraction – it is nice and cool there, diversions are plenty, and you get the chance to enjoy a jolly gulp of history, “gulp” being the operative word.

Therefore, as soon as I came back from my holidays, I went to the Lech Brewery. The tour centre at this brewery has been operating since 2003, but something always stopped me from going, so I managed to get there ten years after the “premiere” of this form of entertainment in my town. But better late than never.

The tour is preceded with a short introduction by a guide, and then you proceed to the brewhouse. This is where the first stage of production of the golden tipple takes place. The malt is ground, mixed with water, and undergoes mashing. In this process all the valuable ingredients of malt dissolve in water, and the rest settles as spent grains.

Next, proceeding to the fermenting room, the wort is cooled down, mixed with yeast, aerated and directed to massive fermentation tanks, where the process of fermentation takes place. During fermentation the spent yeast settles in the vats. It all sounds very scientific, but the process itself is very interesting and very important for the taste of the beer, because at this stage it is decided  whether the beer will be a lager, a pilsner, or something else.

After an appropriate period, the product goes to the storage cellar, it can now be called “young beer”. It needs to be stored for minimum two weeks in 0ºC temperature to mature into the fullness of its flavour and fragrance. The final stage is the filtration, also performed in a special room, and finally the beer goes to the beer bottling plant, where it is filtered and put into bottles, cans and barrels. Then, it goes to the warehouse, and from there to distribution centres, wholesalers and shops. And to the bellies of the visitors…

I wrote that the tour starts with an introduction by the guide, but it is not entirely true.  The tour starts and ends at the Entertainment Centre. It is true that the guide makes an introduction at the beginning, but the tour ends with a common, mass, enthusiastic and classic consumption, after which the guide may only guide one outside. It might be hard to leave, however, as there is a lot to fun to be had here. You can, for example, play the bottle caps game and this is quite a treat, especially for the slightly older visitors, who can reminisce their carefree childhood.

Grumblers will say that all breweries are alike, and if you’ve seen one, you‘ve seen them all. Far from the truth. Each brewery I mentioned is worth a visit. I have seen two, so I am halfway down my list. Now it should be downhill all the way.

And which beer, from which brewery is the best? The answer is simple. The best beer is the one you are drinking at the moment…

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