Croatian Beer and Zagreb Breweries
While we did work in Zagreb, we also made sure to get out and explore the city. And, how can you truly get to know a place without a good sampling of its local booze? At Chipp’s urging, we set off for a day of Zagreb breweries and a Croatian beer crawl.
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Starting Our Croatian Beer Crawl… with Mimosas?
We’ve already written about the joys of walking through Zagreb, and we wanted to continue the theme - putting the crawl in beer crawl. Plotting out a few stops on the map, we planned a day strolling from one watering hole to another, with the route conveniently taking us through parts of Zagreb we’d yet to see.
Doing some TripAdvisor deep dives, Jenna found a cool-looking brunch spot to start the day - need that good greasy base. As a general rule, Chipp views brunch as a scam (“Why would I pay double the price for a plate of scrambled eggs just because people call it brunch instead of breakfast?” - and other grumpy-old-man-esque arguments). But, Eggspress (in addition to the pun-iness), was worth the brunch stop.
Tucked into an apartment building’s courtyard, you wouldn’t just stumble on this place. A mile-ish outside the heart of Zagreb’s Lower Town, Eggspress was definitely a local joint - evident by the friendly banter between the ever-present owner and quite-clearly-regular diners.
Despite this clear neighborhood intimacy, the owner couldn’t have been more welcoming to us. Seamlessly jumping from Croatian to English when we asked about the wait for two (as all tables were full), he smiled, gave us a “no wait at all,” and immediately brought a table and chairs out from the back of the restaurant, setting us up on the front patio.
For the next hour, we worked through some delicious food and fresh-squeezed mimosas - an Eggspress staple. Champagne’s a somewhat strange alcohol choice to kick off a long day of drinking beer, but, as no one says, when in Zagreb!
Beers at Cat Caffe Zagreb
Related to beer, well, Jenna doesn’t really like beer. But, she’s also a great sport and was all for a day checking out local breweries. So, as a thank-you-for-putting-up-with-Chipp’s-nonsense surprise, Chipp guided Jenna a few blocks from Eggspress not to a brewery, but to Croatia’s first cat cafe, the aptly named Cat Caffe Zagreb.
As an avowed lover of cats, Jenna was naturally thrilled. In addition to an indoor lounge, the cafe has a big, outdoor deck - covered with cat-escape netting giving it a pterodactyl-cage-esque feel - where dozens of cats lounge and play with the guests. But, the real surprise here was how much Chipp loved the place.
Most cat cafes in the States (and after years of marriage, we’ve been to more than a few), just serve soft drinks and coffee. This place has a full bar - about time someone improved the business model! Chipp’s developed a small soft spot in his heart for cats over the years - almost via osmosis living with Jenna - but having access to a long cocktail and beer list will warm the soul of even the most anti-cat people.
So, while Jenna played with the cats, Chipp sat in the shade of a patio umbrella, enjoyed the cool breeze, and worked through a delightful local IPA. Unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to make it to 5th Element Brewing, the provider of this tasty treat, but that didn’t stop the brewery from indirectly giving Chipp a nice little surprise. Thinking he ordered a regular IPA, Chipp certainly didn’t object when 5th Element’s Imperial IPA was placed in front of him. A little extra ABV never hurts when dealing with a dozen cats - and cat ladies!
Bir Craft Brewery
With Chipp well fortified and Jenna absolutely glowing from such cat cuteness overload, we pulled ourselves away from the back patio and strolled to our next stop - Bir Craft Brewery.
Going back a step, Zagreb has over a dozen craft breweries. Unfortunately, due to a combination of location (they’re all over the city) and physical consumption limits (which do exist, despite Chipp’s best efforts to prove otherwise), we had to limit our crawl to a couple. Bir jumped out as a must-see because of rave reviews about 1) its beer flights, and 2) its savory bar snacks. Both more than exceeded expectations.
Sitting in the shade of another great outdoor patio (a recurring theme in Zagreb), Chipp ordered a flight of Bir’s homebrews. In true Ron Swanson fashion:
Server: “Which beers would you like to try?”
Chipp: “All of them, please.”
Jenna opted for a glass of Croatian white wine (more to follow in future posts, but this country’s an absolute wine mecca). While we may have ordered different drinks, we both immediately gravitated to the same bar snack - truffle cheese fries! As we’d come to discover, Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula is known for its truffles, and these little flavor bombs make their way onto menus throughout the country.
Hard to ask for a better mix of local cuisine and bar snack deliciousness than melting gourmet truffle cheese on top of a heaping pile of fries!
Garden Brewery, Google Map SNAFUs, and Private Parties
Leaving Bir, we had a four-ish kilometer stroll through some residential neighborhoods to get to our next destination - Garden Brewery. In our short time in Zagreb, this had become one of Chipp’s favorite breweries, as he looked for pretty much any excuse possible to pop into little markets to grab a can “for the road.”
We had to check out the actual brewery.
Similar to a lot of brewery hotspots in the States, Garden sprung up in an industrial area that’s slowly been repurposed into more retail-focused venues. But, this industrial vibe also went hand-in-hand with a reality of warehouses the world over - fences…
Navigating via Google Maps, we walked to within 100 meters of Garden Brewery, tantalizingly close after a 45-minute stroll. We could even see the crowds of people milling about and enjoying their beers. Unfortunately, though, the Google routing algorithm didn’t account for a fence right in the middle of its recommended route.
We reached this barrier just as a couple locals did, also clearly not getting the memo on correct walking directions. Despite speaking Croatian, we sensed they were having the same debate we were, that is, to jump or not to jump?
More adventurous than we, they opted for a very unathletic-looking climb/roll/fall over the fence, coming up a little worse for wear on the other side. The little boy in Chipp was screaming to jump, but the if-not-more-mature-at-least-having-a-worse-back-and-knees part of him agreed with Jenna - we’ll walk around.
15 minutes later (it was a long walk around), we made it to Garden. In a potentially derailing discovery, we quickly realized that there was a private party - a 40th birthday judging by the hand-painted signs - taking up a significant portion of the lawns and patio in front of the tasting room.
Worried we may be asked to leave, Chipp rolled the dice. Scanning the crowd, he ID’d the birthday guy. Easy solution: buy a round of beers for him and the people at his table, and next thing you know, we’re part of the 40th birthday celebrations!
A couple hours later - having tried an outstanding selection of Garden’s beers on tap - we called it a day. While we may have crawled out, we certainly weren’t in any condition to crawl home. Good thing Uber’s made its way to Croatia!