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Boutique beer with a rebel soul

 

What do an economist, a mathematician, and a neurologist have in common? Andrej Sluga, Uroš Komel, and Aljoša Polenčič have known each other since a young age, when they were brought together by sport, and now they are brought together by beer. Perhaps this doesn’t sound so unusual until you find out that they not only drink beer, but they make it, too.

“A few years ago, the lads and I – there were another five in our core group – were drinking beer brewed by my secretary’s husband. Aljoša and Uroš claimed that they were able to make better beer, and the rest is history,” said Andrej about the first thousand litres of beer that made their friends and acquaintances so excited.

The first experiments took place in a home garage, which soon became too small, and production was moved to a rented brewery in Ajdovščina. It was in this period that a black-and-white photograph of the lads was taken after a busy day in the brewery, which Aljoša entitled Reservoir Dogs. And the name stuck.

craft brewers and friends
Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata Film

A cross-themed taproom

Today, they are based in Nova Gorica, more precisely in Kromberk, with one of their beers being named after the village as homage. The taproom features a pleasant garden where you can sit on warm days and evenings and enjoy not only beer, but also the visiting street food trucks of various restaurants (Stari Pisker from Celje is a regular guest with its burgers and other specialities that go beautifully with beer).

The taproom interior is fully in keeping with the visual identity of the Reservoir Dogs beer brand – it is black and wooden, slightly rock’n’roll, though elegant. One of the first design elements that catches the eye are the sixteen wooden crosses that stick out from behind the tap bar like swords. These are actually beer taps hand-made by Uroš. “My 15-year-old son Matic now makes them too,” the long-haired Maths teacher says, unable to hide his pride.

The cross as a symbol of Reservoir Dogs is ever-present as a leitmotif – on wallpapers, glasses, mats, taps, pictures, kegs, etc. In some places, it is highlighted and elsewhere it appears subtly in the background. Of course, there is a story behind the cross. Andrej, who hails from the marketing field, says that they were looking for something simple that would be easy to remember and quickly recognisable, while being a statement in itself: “We used Malevich’s cross as a point of reference, but we modified it in our own way. We wanted a strong symbol that would touch people.”

beer taps
Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata Film

Beer for rebels

Biblical themes were followed in the first beer series called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It features top fermentation alcoholic beers with styles characteristic of the West Coast of the United States. IPA Grim Reaper is the most versatile choice, which is why it has become a classic that is still a bestseller.

Because they are self-made brewers, they based the styles and flavours on their own preferences and what they wanted to find on the market. Because the production volume began exceeding personal needs, they also started following the trends and demands of the market, while personal preferences and inspiration are still very important in the development of new beers.

brewers
Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata Film

The choice is plentiful. We are talking about sixteen beers in the regular offering, plus special series prepared for holidays or special events. “In addition to the standard offering, we can also offer beer lovers some niche styles and lesser-known flavours, as well as some true novelties. For the Lone Wolf beer, we use only Slovenian aromatic hops, while Styrian Wolf was the first beer in the world made solely from Slovenian hops. Also interesting is the Cum Grano Salis beer, brewed with water to which sea salt or fleur de sel from Piran is added.” If it is (too) difficult to make a choice, you can enjoy a tasting with several types of beer in three sizes.

Grim Reaper Slovenian craft beer
Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata Film

Despite the flavours, it’s not just the beer itself that is key, but the entire story around it. Sol Invictus. Kromberger. Cum Grano Salis. Each beer bears a name that has a deeper meaning, a visual identity that gives it life, and a connection with the local community. Everything is part of a context; nothing is without meaning. Local authors from Goriška, such as Klemen Brun, Etko Tutta, and Tamara Jenček, are hired to design labels, although the definition of “local” is not a limitation for them. What is important is that the people they work with hail from an environment that they are familiar with.

The visual identity of beers, the story of the lads behind the brand, which inadvertently implies resistance to convention, and their determined transformation of their hobby into a serious business, is what somehow also defines the fans of Reservoir Dogs. It is not only the flavour of the beer that is convincing; you also identify with the entire story and become a part of this world yourself – a rebel with a cause.

Slovenian craft beer in cans
Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata Film

Big secrets of a not-so-small microbrewery

Reservoir Dogs is one of those microbreweries where you can have a beer and take a look around the brewery. The production facility, which they call the kitchen, is tidy, clean and well-lit, and the size of the bright stainless steel barrels is impressive. The equipment is “Slovenian”, a product of the company Škrlj from nearby Batuje, and the capacity of the kitchen is two million litres a year, which is a lot even for the European craft beer scene.

“These barrels are where the magic happens. A single brew results in 4,000 litres of beer,” explains Andrej with such enthusiasm that you can’t help but listen to him talk about molecules, enzymes, warming, and cooling. Although you realise that you are out of your depth, you still have the feeling that you are now a part of this story that is all about finding the balance between alcohol content, bitterness, and taste.

A special feature for some, but a given for the lads in the Reservoir Dogs team, an aspect that they have insisted on from the very beginning – that their beer should contain only water, barley malt, yeast, and hops. It is without additives and is not filtered and pasteurised.

brewers at work
Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata Film

They use approximately twenty sorts of hops – Slovenian if possible. No fewer than six of their beers thus contain exclusively Slovenian hops. Especially interesting is the seasonal Wet Dreams beer, which is brewed with fresh hops picked in the Savinja Valley and delivered to their kitchen in Nova Gorica in just two hours.

This is also part of the team’s sustainable policies, although Uroš modestly admits that “We are not where we want to be yet, because we are still too young as a company. We are nevertheless sensitive to this topic and are trying to cause as little environmental burden as possible. We have just started using new aluminium cans that reduce the volume and weight of transported goods and require less energy for cooling, while the metal is fully recycled. Another innovation is polyethylene kegs that do not require CO2 for tapping beer, as they function on the basis of compressed air. As such, they save space and can be recycled. Another important aspect in a brewery is water management – we have developed effective protocols for cleaning the process containers, thereby reducing water use and minimising pollution.”

Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata Film

A small test brewery, in which it is possible to brew 250 litres of beer, has a special place in the production facility. It is rarely used, though, as the lads are so confident in their know-how that they almost don’t need to do any testing anymore.

And what is hiding behind that wall on which can tops are affixed in the shape of a cross? The question puts a smile on Aljoša’s face, because he knows that he is about to reveal something that a curious visitor does not expect. Behind the door is a cellar with wooden barrels designed for spirits such as whiskey and rum, in which certain types of beer are being aged. As they are in contact with barrels that are used to hold aromatic spirits for a whole year, these beers acquire a hint of individual type of spirits.

wooden barrels for craft beer
Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata Film

Beer in the hands of top chefs

The special culinary value of the Reservoir Dogs beer brand is proven by the open doors of haute cuisine establishments, including those that boast Michelin stars and awards. The Nova Gorica-based restaurant Dam, Hiša Denk, the restaurants of the brothers Uroš and Aleks Klinec and L’Argine a Vencò, and the Antonie Klugmann restaurant on the Italian side of the Gorizia Hills are only some of the nearby locations where you can drink Reservoir Dogs beers while tasting top gourmet dishes. As much as a quarter of the production is exported, mostly to Italy and China, and the rest to the UK and other European counties, and as far as Aruba and South Korea.

“My favourite food pairing is sea bass carpaccio and the Cum Grano Salis beer. It is simple, crazy good, and local. The sea bass from Primorska, sea salt from Piran, and juniper berries from the Karst Edge are a perfect match – you feel the gentle saltiness, and the combination is very harmonious,” Andrej explains his choice.

pouring Slovenian craft beer
Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata Film

Flavours of the future

The lads are full of ideas, and they’re not about to let their creativity be limited. To express it differently, it takes them even further from looking for new and interesting flavours – to experimenting and developing completely new types of beers. In a separate cellar, only a few metres away, at the location of the former Slovenian furniture giant Meblo, which was renamed Dogs’ Sour Lab, on one side beer is being created by means of spontaneous fermentation, where in the cold winter months the wort is inoculated from the air, while an innovative blending of the beer and wine worlds takes place on the other.

This beer is re-fermented with native wine yeasts from Slovenian wine growers, which makes it more sour and more similar to wine in flavour and colour. “As far as we know, we are the only brewers in the world who process beer using this method. There are products that are blends of wine and beer, but no one else is implementing certain procedures that we are pioneering. We started by getting in touch with a biodynamic wine grower by the name of Aleks Klinec from the Gorizia Hills. Medana Orange, the beer that we produced with more than a year-long re-fermentation in Aleks Klinec’s mulberry barrels using wine yeasts of his Verduzzo wine, was sent to a Michelin star restaurant in Seoul. Today, we also work with the Movia, Bartol, Štemberger, and Ščurek wine brands, and we take delivery of used red wine barrels from the Edi Simčič winery.”

Photo: Mitja Kobal, Karata Film

With Movia, Aleš and Lan Kristančič, (orange) beer is re-fermented in special wooden barrels by means of native yeasts that live on Ribolla grapes. This forms the basis for their “speciality” wine called Lunar. A similar process is taking place in a wooden barrel with a transparent front and back, where you can observe jade-coloured beer with the juicy grapes of Ščurek’s Kontra floating in it. It is a sight that already promises a unique experience.

Beer brewers in Kromberk craftily take advantage of the fact that beer in each wooden barrel is a story in itself, as the barrels themselves bear a certain native bioculture that is a branded product of individual wine growers, while the barrels or the micro-organisms in them determine the course of fermentation and other biological processes, as happens with wine. Through this approach, Dogs’ Sour Lab has managed to incorporate the terroir – the overall biological footprint of the environment in which they live and work – in its beers, which is a rarity even on a global scale.

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