There are only a few occasions when I would voluntarily choose to drink beer.
My general aversion to the stuff comes less from its flavour than from:
1. A fear of developing the dreaded beer belly
2. A general aversion to carbonated drinks... wine, soft drinks and water included
3. The size of an average pint... although the fact that I can't down a full pint has more to do with point 1 & 2 than anything else
I have noticed that I am generally more likely to drink beer anytime I am in a formerly Communist area - that could be a sheer coincidence but the last few places I actually enjoyed drinking beer include Russia, Vietnam, the streets of former East Berlin and most recently Macedonia (FYROM - officially the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia due to an ongoing dispute with the Greeks over the use of the name "Macedonia").
The last few times I've visited London, I generally couldn't walk more than a few hundred metres before being confronted with a craft beer so I thought hipsterdom had well and truly descended on Skopje as well when I heard about the city's first microbrewery.
But thankfully, craft beer in Skopje has less to do with eccentric marketing than its English counterpart and more to do with quality. Our first taste of Skopje's Old Town Brewery's creations was an unbranded bottle of Red Chachisko Pilsner with a name stuck on its side with Cellotape - the brewery was already starting to grow on me. The Red Pils was definitely the best beer we tasted in all our trips across the Balkans so far.
The Old Town Brewery, so called for it's location within Skopje's charming old Turkish quarter, does a Beer Flight (which we discovered only after we had ordered a couple of full pints.), but it probably worked out for the best as the pint I did order - a dark porter - proved to be one of my favourites from the variety of beers on offer.
We also tried the Smoked Helles - an unfiltered beer made from smoked and caramelised barley - and the Dunkel Weizen - a dark Weiss (white) beer that had a sweet, banana-ey flavour.
The reason for the multiple beer tastings from a general beer non-lover was a visit to Pivoland - Skopje's 5-day beer festival held at the bottom of the city's old Kale Fortress.
The festival was fairly approachable in size - not the mile-long beer stretch we had encountered in Berlin last year - but was well represented by not just the usual European suspects but a number of local Macedonian beers, including more than one Skopje label, which was refreshing for a city the size of the Macedonian capital. After tasting a few, the local Red Pilsner definitely came up tops.
Pivoland was to me even more special for the fact that the beer festival was held in a plot of land directly adjacent to the city's main mosque - a very visible symbol of the city's multi-ethnic tolerance and a quality I used to associate with home (India) although in recent years that's a reality that is sadly fast fading.
Skopje - and Macedonia - on the whole was a pure breath of fresh air, a unique cityscape peppered with thousands of expressive statues; mosques and monasteries - including an exquisitely hand-painted mosque in Tetovo made to resemble colourful tilework; and probably my favourite city in the Balkans - Ohrid, located on the banks of its namesake ancient lake and ringed by stunning deserted beaches.
I almost don't want to tell anyone how much I loved the place so that it remains just as I left it. I am definitely considering another trip, hopefully paired with a visit to neighbouring Albania which I hear is equally gorgeous.
Until then, I will have to make do with these memories of Macedonia. Nazdravye!
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