Bulgaria competition and travels

Part Two

We arrived on time at 9AM for judging at a little craft beer pub called Vitamin B, at the same time as the organizer Temelko, as it turns out. We were ready. We had burek and sausage rolls in our stomachs. Time to start drinking some beer.

“There is an ancient Celtic axiom that says ‘Good people drink good beer.’ Which is true, then as now. Just look around you in any public barroom and you will quickly see: Bad people drink bad beer.
Think about it.”Hunter S. Thompson

I judged lagers, Andrej Čapka and Matija Mrazek were on strong ales and Damir Ban was on IPAs. Lagers started in the first set and we got going at 10AM. I judged alongside my good friend Petar Bognar from Slovakia and his friend Ladislav Kovács, who I have judged with before in Slovakia at their competition, Biela Vrana.

Judging at the Bulgarian homebrew competition.
Judging at the Bulgarian homebrew competition.

The three of us get along great and it was a good judging session. Scores were generally clustered pretty close with Ladislav and I having our scores within a point of each other on most beers. I had to bow out of judging two of the beers at the lager table because I thought I knew who brewed them, two of our guys. I was wrong on one of them as I later found out, but it’s better to err on the side of being an honest and objective judge and not judge beers if you know who brewed them, especially if it’s one of the people who you are there representing at the competition. So, I skipped those two.

Stoycho Pampov and Gabriela Staykova judging at the Bulgarian homebrew competition.
Damir Ban judging at the Bulgarian homebrew competition.

I later also judged a few spiced beers which were pretty great and had the chance to judge with the legendary Kuaska, Lorenzo Dabove, who is co-creator of the Teku beer glasses which we love in Europe. He seems to be connected to and know every great brewer around. For the first beer we judged together, our scoresheets matched exactly in every section and overall. I don’t remember that happening before. And that beer won the gold medal.

A few cans of beer to drink back at the AirBNB apartment.

Damir Ban, Matt Hollingsworth and Lorenzo “Kuaska” Dabove.

When Damir finished with his judging, he and I hung out with Kuaska a bit which was a real pleasure. He’s full of stories and very friendly. A good pub mate and we hope to run into him again. We invited him to come judge at our competition but a conflict in schedule prevented that. We hope we can get him for next year.

Judging at the Bulgarian homebrew competition.

As it turns out, Andrej had the roughest judging day. Matija had to bow out for some beers because he had a Dubbel in the strong ale category, so he was out for the Dubbels. Andrej was there for the full run of 16 strong ales, this after his three days of driving back and forth across large distances from Serbia to Slovenia and back to Bulgaria. That man has stamina!

The party for the competition took place across the street from Vitamin B at a night club called Terminal 1. Inside was a very large cavernous space with lots of homebrewers and a few craft brewers pouring their beers. The place had a small crowd of fun people hanging out. Andrej and Matija were still busy judging. They started later than we did and had more beers to judge so Damir and I stuck around and had some great local beers and ate some tasty little Bulgarian meatballs.

Eventually, all of the first round judging was finished and medal winners were selected. The gold medal beers went onto the Best of Show judging and Temelko came over and grabbed me to join them for that judging. There was a little group of us judging this part of the competition, 6-8 of us, though I forget exactly. It is a courtesy at these competitions to invite the main representatives from each country in attendance to help judge BOS, so Petar Bognar from Slovakia was judging, I was representing Croatia and Laurentia Iancu represented Romania. Kuaska also joined us for the judging and a few other folks jumped in to help select the big winner. There were some really great beers in this judge off but most of us agreed on the winner, which was a spice beer brewed by Yordan Chenkov from Bulgaria.

Judging at the Bulgarian homebrew competition.

Judging at the Bulgarian homebrew competition.

Once we wrapped up judging for BOS, everyone headed over to Terminal 1 to watch the awards ceremony. There were 10 categories and 3 medals per category, so 30 medals total plus Best of Show. As they read off the medals, we listened for Croatian names and I would go up and accept the medal on the competitor’s behalf if it wasn’t for one of us already in attendance. Damir went up to claim his two medals. I took a bronze in the strong ale category for a 5 and a half year old Barleywine. That beer started life as an American Barleywine but after so much aging was entered as an English Barleywine.

For the American Pale Ale category, when they called out the bronze medal, I went up and grabbed it for Adriana Milina. Of course, naturally, everyone was calling me Adriana after that. A bit of good humored needling. I went to walk away and Temelko told me to just stay as they read off Martin Bedeković for the silver medal and Goran Šostarec for the gold medal. A clean sweep of the category for the Croatian team! In addition to this, a Croat, Ivan Jenkač also took 4th place, so our team swept the first 4 spots with only 5 Croatian entries in that category. All told, the Croatian team took 10 medals out of the 30 medals awarded. We delivered around 31 entries from Croatia out of 137 entries total for the competition.

This was the best result so far for the Croatian team. Good job, guys!

After the awards ceremony, the party at Terminal 1 was over, a little before 18.00. We collected our kegs and carried them over to Vitamin B and stashed them in the corner then sat at the bar there and took a few pictures of the medals and posted information about the winners so that our brewers in Croatia would be able to see the results as soon as possible.

When we finished sharing the good news, we walked one street over and ordered a large meat platter and feasted on animal flesh and drank a couple of beers to wash it down. We went back to Vitamin B and hung out there the rest of the night, sampling a variety of beers. I hung out with the American bartender a lot during the evening and he allowed us to put Varionica on tap. The keg still had some beer in it after the party, so we got that pouring and drank some of Matija’s tasty Pale Ale. Later in the evening, we put my Saison on tap. My beer had not even been tapped at the party and I didn’t want to carry a full keg back to the apartment. And it had been intended to share with people, so we did just that, but at Vitamin B instead of at the party. It’s the same thing we did in Slovakia last year after the party. We tapped the remaining beer at a pub in Slovakia as well. This is the kind of thing that would not happen in America.

So, we handed out our beer for free and the kegs slowly emptied. Towards the end of the night there was still some beer in my keg so I went around the bar announcing to the bar patrons that we had a keg that we needed help emptying. Free beer! At that point, it quickly emptied.

Matija Mrazek, Matt Hollingsworth, Damir Ban and Andrej Čapka with the medal haul.

We had a good night’s drunken sleep and arose in the morning ready to continue our adventure. We had a nice breakfast at a little spot called Daro.

We did a quick visit to a cozy beer shop called Beera. They had a pretty great selection for such a small shop. We stocked up on some bottles of beer that we cannot find locally in Croatia.

After that, we piled into the car to drive to the next part of our adventure in Pazardzhik.

Most of the photos on this page were taken by Gabriela Staykova and Ani Petrova. Thanks so much!

For full results from the competition, click here.

A big thanks to Temelko Pampov and crew for organizing the competition! We know how much work goes into it and respect the job they are doing. Cheers guys! See you next year!

End of part two. The story of the after party at Rhombus Craft Brewery will be published soon.



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