November the 12th, 2020 – The Varionica craft brewery has been operating successfully since 2014, when only the founders Matija Mrazek and Davor Simicic worked there, and today it boasts seven employees. The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t been kind to any business, with lockdowns and strict measures hindering normality, but this Croatian brewery has fought on.
As Marta Duic/Poslovni Dnevnik writes, over the last year, the Varionica craft brewery has opened their own production plant in Pisarovina with the help of European Union (EU) funds, thanks to which they plan to expand production and create even more products. In addition, this year, they launched six new beers and collaborated with chef Mato Jankovic on their Papak beer, as well as with the only Zagreb restaurant with a Michelin star – the much loved Noel.
Like many entrepreneurs, they didn’t sit back and admit defeat during the unprecedented spring lockdown, but instead they launched their own webshop and expanded the network of caterers and hospitality facilities they work with.
”We started brewing beer as a hobby during college on a small home plant that we designed ourselves. After several years of experimenting, we decided to open one of the first craft breweries in Croatia and we rented a small plant in Medjimurje in order to do so. The idea arose out of love for a good beer that couldn’t be bought here in Croatia at the time. Travelling around the world, we’d discovered that there are numerous styles of beer out there and that the story of beer is much more complex than the industrial lagers in our market. Since only some Belgian and German beers worth mentioning were available in our country, we decided to produce beer ourselves,” Matija Mrazek of the Varionica craft brewery explained, warmly recalling their beginnings.
He and Davor Simicic then did everything themselves – from creating, bottling, selling and marketing on their own, and to this day they’ve designed 25 different beers. Most of the raw materials are imported because Croatia does not have what their production requires.
”We import our hops, malts and yeasts from the USA, Germany, Belgium and the Czech Republic. From Croatia we use Badass Barley malt from Nova Gradiska, peppers from Volim Ljuto and coffee from the Lively Roasters company. We’d like to cooperate with many more Croatian producers, but unfortunately they don’t exist,” explained Mrazek. For five years, they produced the Varionica craft brewery beer in a rented plant in Donji Vidovac, and at the end of last year they opened their own plant thanks to an EU grant worth an impressive 1.5 million euros. With that relocation, they quadrupled their production capacities and it currently stands at 40,000 litres per month.
”We started out with only one product on the market, pale ale, which is still our most popular beer today. Of the 25 styles made so far, 11 are currently on offer. Each beer is specific to its ingredients and the aromas they provide. We often use various additives like fruits and spices to show that beer can be a very exciting drink. We’re constantly planning new beers and by the end of the year we’ll definitely be rolling out at least one more. Since we’re big lovers of food and drink, we’re constantly thinking about new products, so we recently started a whiskey production project with our first craft distillery – Brigljevic,” revealed Mrazek.
The last two of their presented products are closely related to gastronomy. In collaboration with the Zagreb restaurant Noel, they created a special sour beer with passion fruit, coriander and sea salt that goes well with oily fish and poultry, and after the lockdown, they decided to make Papak beer with Mato Jankovic, a very drinkable Czech pilsner. With each bottle sold, they donate 50 lipa for the education of young caterers at the Buda Foodie Foundation of chef Rudolf Stefan.
”Currently, our beers are available in Konzum, Kaufland, Spar, Vrutko, Prehrana, Trgocentar, ROTO and in special gastro and beer shops. We cooperate with many restaurants throughout Croatia, mostly in Zagreb. Since HoReCa is our biggest sales channel, we had huge losses during the lockdown, but we introduced home delivery and opened a webshop in record time, so that kept us alive,” noted Mrazek. He claims that due to the pandemic, the Varionica craft brewery completely and quickly changed their business in order to adapt.
”In a short time, we launched our online sales and arranged listings in more than 150 retail locations across Croatia. We managed to launch some new products and recorded a significant increase in sales compared to last year. We’re not exporting yet, but we’re in negotiations with some European and distant countries, we’re waiting for the situation with the coronavirus to stabilise a bit so that we can start working. In the future, we’ll definitely focus on exporting and producing new styles. Our curiosity never gives us a break, you can expect a lot of styles of beer from us,” concluded Matija Mrazek.