There are three things that Csikszereda is known for by the rest of Romania. However, it is not known as Csikszereda by most of the rest of Romania, and I’d wager that most Romanians would look blankly at you if you asked them about Csikszereda. (On the other hand, if you asked about Kolozsvar they probably would recognise that as the Hungarian name for Cluj even though the population of that city is mostly Romanian.) So, I’ll begin again…
There are three things that Miercurea Ciuc is known for by the rest of Romania. One is the fact that it is more or less the coldest place in the country. Regularly temperatures here are lower than everywhere else during winter. The second thing is this bloke Csibi who was arrested a few months ago. He was the local mafia boss and his arrest made national news in Romania for days. I didn’t realise that it was still part of the popular image of the rest of the country a couple of weeks ago, when someone told me “Yes, I know Miercurea Ciuc, it’s where that bloke Csibi was from”. Even the first time I came here, a year before his arrest, his mansion on the edge of town was pointed out to me “That’s the mafia boss’s house”, so it wasn’t much of a secret. I think when he was finally nicked, the majority of the local police force were implicated as well, which may explain why he was able to continue godfathering in full view for so long.
The third thing that Miercurea Ciuc is famous for is the beer. “Ciuc” beer is possibly the most famous Romanian beer, and while most people possibly don’t realise it they are quite familiar with Csikszereda’s castle, our most famous landmark, because it’s pictured on the label of the beer. I heard an interesting rumour about that picture because it depicts the castle in red, white, and green (see below). Red, white, and green, for those who don’t know, are the colours of the Hungarian flag. The rumour was that only Ciuc bottled here had those colours and that on the beer bottled elsewhere the castle was all white. I have since discovered that this isn’t true.
[The label. A tad out of focus, sadly, but represents the way it is often perceived, I suppose. ]
This leads me on nicely to my long awaited first post about Romanian beer. I know many of you have been patiently waiting for this moment. So, here goes. The first thing to be aware of when discussing Romanian beer is that there really isn’t any Romanian beer any more. There are a number of well known brands, none of which is still owned by Romanians. The brewery here, for example, is owned by Brau Union Romania which in turn is owned by Heineken. As such they not only make Ciuc, but also Golden Brau, Silva, Silva Dark, Harghita, Gambrinus, Gosser, Schlossgold (alcohol free) and Heineken. I’ve quite possibly left one or two off that list. The other big player in the market is Miller SAB, which is some combination of Miller (US) and South African Breweries. They make, among others, Ursus, Ciucas (cunning name, huh? Like a Dutch beer called Heinekenish), and Timisoreana. Interbrew (Stella Artois) make Hopfen Konig and Bergen Beer (all in a brewery owned by Efes Pilsen of Turkey), and there’s a brewery near Bucharest which is used to make Carlsberg, Tuborg and Skol. How do I know all this intensely fascinating information? Well, I spend two afternoons a week teaching at the brewery and I learn things. It’s all very fascinating (to me at least). Like the other day I learned that while all Ciuc beer is made in Csikszereda it’s not all bottled here. Some of it is transported away by tanker and bottled elsewhere (partly because there isn’t enough bottling capacity here, and partly because it’s cheaper to transport beer than bottles of beer). I mean how exciting is that? OK, you’re right, it’s not exciting at all, but it keeps me happy.
So, in order not to bore you any further, a brief ranking of Romanian beer
1. Ciuc. Yes it’s my home town beer and yes I work there, but this is a genuine ranking. I suspect it’s all the spring water here that makes it such a delicious crisp clean pint.
2. Ursus. Just behind, but still very drinkable. For some reason when I was in Bucharest recently it was much easier to get a glass of Ursus than Ciuc, which has serious market penetration issues in the capital. Ursus is from Cluj.
These are by far the best two. Lagging far behind are Ciucas, Bergenbeer, Harghita, Silva etc. But those beers are at least drinkable and satisfying on a warm (or other) day. The only beer that I would completely warn anyone off is Timisoreana, which is absolute piss. Sorry to be so brutally frank, but there’s no other way to describe it. Given a choice between a glass of Budweiser (the American one, not the delicious real Czech one) and a glass of Timisoreana, I’m really not sure which one I’d choose. It’s that bad. I have no idea why it’s so insipid and watery, but it is. I detect the hand of Miller rather than SAB in that one.
So there you go. I hope you enjoyed this insight into the world of bere. If you want to know more about the ins and outs of the trade, just let me know and I’ll tell you things like which brewery in the Brau Union stable has a canning line, and the ins and outs of dark beer. If you choose not to avail yourself of that opportunity, your lives will almost certainly be no poorer.