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The boner beer story - Ah! Brew Works

March 29, 2017 | 8 Minute Read

M ajor television channels would lead you to believe that Bulgaria is all about cheap package holidays and even cheaper lager on Sunny Beach. Oh, boy are they wrong.

For starters, here’s Ah! Brew Works. A gypsy brewery operation from the Bulgarian capital Sofia. The city’s backdrop is the exact opposite of a beach holiday. It’s a mixture of brutalist concrete blocks and beautiful historical architecture. It’s intense and distracting so if one would like to market a beer it needs to be interesting.

Ah! managed to do just that. They brewed one of the most potent beers I’ve ever tasted. It’s a beer brewed with mint and mursalski tea giving it a unique sweet herb flavor complemented by the bitterness of the hops. Mursalski tea is an herb long used by Rhodopean people, which are famous for their longevity and viability. The herb is also known as “Bulgarian Viagra”, hence the nickname for Ah! no7 - Boner Beer.

The beer is the brainchild of Rory Miller, the Seattle born co-founder and brewer. Since this is such an interesting concept I asked Rory to tell everything about beer, business and boners.

Whose idea was the brewery and how did it all evolve to the current state?

We started this whole thing six years ago with another brand. We have organized the first craft beer fest here in Bulgaria - it was maybe even the first in the Balkans - called “Rhythm and Beer”. It sparked the local beer culture and now we have some sort of craft beer scene although it’s still in it’s infancy. I and my partner worked hard and relentlessly to educate people and build a base which we now see.

Craft beers were taken over by soulless moneymen and wannabe mafia monkeys

Compared to when we first began - no craft, no macro, no nothing – we reached a point where craft production is over -flourishing. Unfortunately, a few of the craft beers were taken over by soulless moneymen and wannabe mafia monkeys who think you are part of the scene because you have grungy long hair and a shabby beard. Their only goal is profit and they run these so-called brands accordingly. This is from personal experience. We were the founders of a couple of these ventures but later left due to creative and personal conflicts. It’s embarrassing. However, all bad things eventually are remedied, they too will soon taste our medicine. There still are those of us dedicated to the evolution of craft beer culture and it’s laws of creativity, loyalty, passion and innovation. And we will prevail!

Do you think Bulgaria is going through a craft beer revolution? What does it look like from the inside?

Bulgaria is definitely a newcomer to the craft beer revolution, which we are proud to have ignited. As in all revolutions those who are true to the cause will shine and those who are just counting their coins and exploiting the public will fall away into the dust from which they came. They have no idea of the strength and passion of those who have dedicated everything.

We are seeing an influx of producers both brick and mortar as well as gypsy brewers - like ourselves. We have had many discussions with colleagues in Serbia, for example, and this influx is not really the best thing in our opinion. It’s like having 10 choices of the same soda. It hurts everybody. The market is still young and very small so there is not much room for massive competition.

Before people dive into brewing just because they like beer, first they should educate those around them, spread the culture of craft beer thus increasing the market. Otherwise it’s just a recipe for failure and most start up breweries will fail after one year without a strong base.

What inspired the beers in your core range?

Our initial idea behind our recipes was simple – Be different. We want to take typical recipes, typical styles and add to them crazy, new stuff. We never want to build our company on typical recipes. Why brew an IPA when there are a 1000 fantastic IPAs out there already? Nothing new, nothing interesting for us there. So, we want to make weird shit and good shit at the same time!

We want to make weird shit and good shit at the same time!

The idea of our Boner Beer or Mursasalski Red or Number 7 was to use local ingredients and to use special ingredients - never before used in this way. Mursalski tea is something the Bulgarians are proud to have and we wanted to channel their pride and show them a new way to enjoy their favourite herb. It took us a while to perfect the recipe because the ingredients have never been used before and the process that I wanted to use them was also a new one… but after a couple failures we finally balanced our, now, best known beer.

Our other core beer was more of an economical choice and basically a base beer that we could always alter if we wanted - Bulgarian Pale Ale or Number 3. A basic pale ale that people could drink easily without pretence. A sort of stepping stone to the strange and provocative world of craft.

Are there any new beers in the pipeline?

This year we plan to release 3 to 4 new recipes as we have been a bit stagnant recently, experimenting and never quite satisfied with what we came up with. We are happy to say we have finally came up with a few very solid recipes and new packaging which we are very excited to release this year.

I had the pleasure to taste Mursasalski Red and I loved the complex flavor profile. Is this the craziest recipe you’ve ever came up with?

I love this recipe. It’s my baby. It’s not the craziest recipe I have come up with but it IS the craziest recipe that against all odds works so well!

Beer brewing is inherently an international affair. The best ingredients frequently travel across half the globe. Do you use any local ingredients?

We are a gypsy, contract, nomadic brewery so we brew in other countries for our local market. It was very important for us to use as much as possible local ingredients to try and keep the beer as Bulgarian as possible. This ensures that we help the local industries at the same time. In all our beers, we have Bulgarian ingredients. So far, we use Mursalski tea, mint, hops, Goji Berries and thyme - all from Bulgaria.

What sets Ah! apart from other local breweries?

Well if we speak about the macro breweries, I feel we are different because we try to be really involved with the public. We conduct a craft beer education program and constantly organise and participate in innovative and intriguing events. We are also very dedicated to helping local artists by giving them a platform with our label, constantly changing the artist we collaborate with and helping them financially.

 It's not just beer, it's attitude and soul that we sell

Another big difference is that for us it’s not just beer, it’s attitude and soul that we sell. For us brand is just as important as the product itself.

Your design is bold, contemporary and fun. Is there a connection between the packaging and the beer?

Ah is an infinite exhibition

Yes. We definitely take brand awareness and recognition very seriously. Ah is an infinite exhibition applied to a product. We use an ever-changing artwork on all our beer labels and every time another local artist has the chance to design it.

How did you find your customers? How do you distribute?

We obviously attract the craft beer crowd but we also try to attract new prospective customers with events, PR campaigns and communication.

Of course, our favourite way is still just to notice a cool place and go in to talk with the managers, employees and their customers about our beer. We distribute ourselves and through a few local distributors.

I would love to drink no7 more often. Any plans to export?

We would love to be able to supply your love! **We hope this year we will start selling outside of Bulgaria especially the number 7 beer. We would like to begin in the neighbouring countries as well as a couple western European spots like **Spain, Italy, Germany and France if all goes well.

Any plans for the future?

We plan to focus on the brand and make it as strong as possible while also releasing a few new interesting recipes for beers. We are also planning to expand our product range by including more than just beer