International Affairs - The Garden
A ll started with watching the sun set over the Adriatic Sea in Zadar – Nick Colgan tells me as we sit in the taproom of his brewery.
In his formal life, he was the studio manager for UB40 the successful reggae-pop band that produced dozens of UK Top Singles. But when Nick first came to Croatia to enjoy the sun and the spoils of coastal Dalmatia, he found a new calling. When a seaside bar came on the market during his holiday he took the chance and signed the lease. This is how The Garden came to be.
Colgan has resided in Zadar for the last 12 years, where he was instrumental in organising the hugely successful Garden Music Festival And everybody knows what festivalgoers do - especially on a mid-summer beach event – they drink a hell of a lot beer.
“I am a fan of all crafts, especially beer”
For years Nick and his partner David Plant was forced to sell one of the major Croatian beer brands at their events as nothing else was available in the country in that volume at the time. The partners often discussing this topic over a beer or two until Dave suggested they should make their own.
Time to brew
Even Mesopotamians could make it with primitive tools more than two millennia ago, how hard can it be really? But even though they both had immense love for the quality brews neither of them had any knowledge about beer production.
“It's just hops, water and yeast!”
Cue Nick Calder-Scholes. In April 2016, the brewery’s business plan was coming along nicely. It was already settled that the location of the brewery will be in a warehouse in Zagreb, however the brewhouse was yet to be seen. Nick Calder-Scholes joined as head brewer and right away he had a great task, to kit out the whole brewery.
The Garden is the only brewery in Croatia where the lead brewer has previous commercial brewing experience. The Kiwi head-brewer was imported from the London based FourPure brewery where he gained the necessary experience to run a brewery that will become the primary supplier to several large-scale festivals in Croatia.
Beer and the local economy
The brewery is massive compared to most start-up beer ventures. The brewhouse has a 650 000 litre yearly theoretical throughput. Theoretical as the site has been only in production since May 2016, but that makes it even more impressive what this team have achieved in such short time.
Nick had the chance to hand pick the equipment that he would work on. He went with Letina to manufacture their tanks. They are a local Croatian company specialized in inox winery equipment. However, since they are only an hour drive away if anything goes pear shaped with their first commercial brewery equipment they are very fast to respond. This is a prime example how independent beer businesses can bring new life into the local economy.
In a country where euro-lagers are the go to beer it’s essential to have a beer on tap that would be easier to the palate. Nick and his team of expat and Croatian brewers solved this task swiftly.
“Croatia already appreciates artisanal olive oil, wine and cheese, it is now time for beer”
Their bridging beer is the Session Ale that is essentially what every festival beer should be – low alcohol but highly drinkable. In a country where national sports revolve around water you want something like this with you on the beach to cool down.
When I visited the taproom the Session Ale was not available on tap but I seized the opportunity to bring a couple of cans back with me. They are beautiful both inside and outside.
The design is an integral part of the products. This just shows how much thought and craft goes into every drop. The graphics on the cans depict different scenes of Croatian scenery from woods to coastal rock formations. This brings home the point that even though the ingredients might come from all over the world this is a truly Croatian product.
The importance of design is also visible in the tap room. It’s industrial shell hides a cosy and friendly interior. No nonsense beer temple where the punters can consume great beer and the brewers can get direct feedback as they work away right behind the bar.
My favourite beer in the range was the Citrus IPA. At 7.2% ABV I was expecting something of a full-bodied alcohol heavy beer. Instead I got a fruity, zesty, citrusy refreshing drink. According to Nick this is one of the top sellers from the core range along with the Stout.
That is quite fascinating and even surprised the brewers that in Croatia a stout that was released in the summer was sold out in a couple of weeks. Again, this is in a country where a couple of years ago you could only by mass produced euro lagers.
It seems like the people are keen on trying tasty artisanal products after all and the bolder the taste the better. The Garden does cater to this demand and other than the core range they also release seasonal beers that would be considered interesting in any other countries as well. In the short year of operation, they have released 17 different limited edition beers.
They were the first brewery to release sours in Croatia that has raised some eyebrows but overall had a great reception. As of today on Untappd one of their limited release sits at #5 on the top beer list of Croatian brews.
The Garden is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. Not only do they serve great beer, but there’s an excellent burger shack and occasionally the place turns into a music venue with DJs and probably the biggest disco ball of Central Europe. Surely the biggest in a brewery.