Picturesque alpine Lake Bled with an island at the center.

Slovenia has become a destination travel darling of late with splashy magazine articles and Pinterest pin-able photographs galore. Ljubljana is often lauded as one of the prettiest capital cities in Europe and might be the hardest to pronounce (Lube-LAH-na). It was the European Green Capital in 2016, noted for its clean mountain-sourced drinking water and one of the highest recycling and separated waste programs in Europe. The city center is pedestrian only and Ljubljana boasts 542 square meters (a bit under a quarter of an acre) for every resident in the city making it both green and green.

The whole country is about the size of Massachusetts and is home to around two million people. It is part of the Schengen Region and the European Union, uses the euro, and most people under 45 speak some English, making it an easy destination for American travelers. The capital city offers art and cultural museums, beautiful parks, a lively café scene along the river, innovative theater, and quirky music venues. There is also a semi-autonomous area similar to Christiania in Copenhagen, called Metelkova, with restaurants, music venues, a former prison turned hostel, galleries, and street art.

It would be a shame however to go all the way there and only stay in the capital. Nearby Lake Bled (technically everything is nearby to the capital) is the country’s picture postcard tourist magnet. If you’ve seen a photo of Slovenia and it wasn’t of Ljubljana, it was probably of Bled. It’s an impossibly beautiful alpine lake with an island at the center. Boats are available for hire to row to the island and climb the 99 steps to the church perched there. Be sure to ring the bell for good luck. The lake is surrounded by the Julian Alps and a castle atop a sheer cliff face looks down over the scene.

Resevoir Dogs Brewery

Beyond Ljubljana and Bled, Slovenia is an outdoor sports paradise. There is hiking, mountain climbing, white water rafting, canoeing, skiing and so much more. Depending on what time of year it is, you could ski and take a dip in the Adriatic Sea in the same day. When you settle into your hotel or glamping site for the evening, you can enjoy one of the many excellent Slovenian wines or, of course, throw back a locally-brewed beer. Locals won’t expect you to speak any Slovenian, but “Pivo, prosim,” will get you pretty far if you’d like to order a beer and make a bartender smile.

Before the craft beer revolution, there were only two breweries in the country: Laško in the town of the same name and Union (pronounced oo-NE-own) in the capital. Both brew pale lagers that still have the lion’s share of the domestic market. People generally drink one or the other, kind of like supporting your home team. Laško eventually bought Union, and then Heineken acquired the combined business. The Union Brewery in Ljubljana has a small beer garden and offers a museum tour (http://www.pivo-union.si/en/museum).

Much like Tennessee, the craft beer scene in Slovenia took off in the last decade. The country has around 28 breweries that range from small-batch nanobreweries to larger operations right at the limit of what would be considered a craft brewery. The new breweries also ran up against some of the same problems craft breweries in Tennessee experienced. Regulations and red tape drove one brewery just over the border into Austria and spurred another to knuckle down and work with the government to change regulations and protect the investments of beer- making entrepreneurs. And just like in Tennessee, all the brewers love to talk about beer as much as they love to drink it.

If you find yourself headed to Slovenia and want a good overview of the country’s craft breweries, you can check out Piva Slovenije (http://piva-slovenije.si), a website run by Janez Polc. The site is in Slovenian but the map is easily navigated and you can contact Janez, at info@piva-sloveniie.si, with questions about where to visit. I had the opportunity to tour five breweries on my last trip, and can’t wait to go back and check out the ones I missed.

Modern Bevog Brewery cans.

Bevog Brewery
Brewery and Taproom
Gewerbepark B 9
A-8490 Bad Radkersburg, Austria
Tel.: +43 (0) 3476 41543
https://bevog.at

Bevog is a Slovenian-owned, Austrian brewery within a stone’s throw of the Slovenian border. Vasja Golar’s brewery has won awards both for its beer (multiple bests in Austria) and for its packaging design. All the beers are named for folkloric monsters that have been turned into mascots of sorts on the labels. The clean-lined tasting room at the brewery offers the standards and some seasonal brews on tap. If you’d like to tour the brewery, you’ll need to call ahead to schedule. When you’ve finished the tour and enjoyed a few samples on the taproom patio, you can cross back to the Slovenian side of town and eat at the brewery-owned pub, Golar (Jurkovi eva 29, 9250 Upper Radgona, Slovenia).

Beer to try: Ond – a smoked porter with notes of oak and bacon that would be perfectly paired with barbecued brisket

Human Fish Brewery
Tržaška 27 1360 Vrhnika

Human Fish has been part of the vanguard of craft brewing in Slovenia. Started by Australian Matthew Charlesworth with Slovenian partners in 2008 to brew beer something akin to what he was used to drinking back home, the brewery’s output won quick devotion from Slovenians looking for something beyond the pale, industrial lagers available. The name comes from the affectionate nickname for the olm, a blind salamander that lives only in the karst caves of Slovenia and is a national point of pride. The brewery moved from its original location to the site of an old dairy in Vrhnika, a quick car trip from central Ljubljana. The taproom, which feels a little like a subterranean alpine hikers’ hut, is open from Wednesday to Saturday with brewery tours offered on Fridays (check Facebook or the website for times).

Beer to try: SIPA – a Slovenian IPA (sipa is also “squid” in Slovenian), an award-winning, easy drinking IPA made with Slovenian hops

Human Fish Brewery

Lobik Brewery
Ulica pohorskega bataljona 25
Maribor, Slovenia
facebook.com/LobikBrewery

Lobik, “fat fish” in Slovenian, is an award-wining, small brewery in Slovenia’s second city, Maribor. Brewers Gregor Mumel, Allen Zari , Gregor Bolti , and Vid Kolmani Bu an started čččč brewing in one of their mom’s basements. In March 2017 they moved from the basement into new digs where they can make more beer and continue their barrel aging program. A new batch of brett saison aged in pinot noir barrels with blueberries was underway when I visited in March. The brewers were waiting on a shipment of Kentucky bourbon barrels for the next experimentation. There’s a great video on their Facebook page that offers a look at the original brewery and the brewers, though it’s in Slovenian without subtitles. If you’d like a tour, contact them through Facebook or at lobik.brewery@gmail.com.

Beer to try: Slovenian Pale Ale – an easy to drink, fruity American-style pale ale with a nice hop finish

Pelicon Taproom

Pelicon Brewery
Prekomorske 61b
5270 Ajdovšcina
info@pivovarnapelicon.com
facebook.com/Pivovarna.Pelicon
https://www.pelicon.beer

Located in the Vipava Valley wine region, Pelicon is named for brewer Matej Pelicon who opened the brewery with girlfriend and business partner Anita Lozar in 2013. The beer is made with Hubelj River water on the site of a 19 th -century brewery complete with the ruins of lagering tunnels running under the property. Both Anita and Matej believe in keeping it fun and local while brewing world class beer. Many beers incorporate Slovenian hops, including experimental test varieties like the “Styrian Wolf” strain, and the brewery equipment is made by a local, Slovenian-owned company. Their new taproom opened just in time for the summer months and is located near great hiking and dirt bike trails. They are best known for 3rd Pill, their India pale ale, which takes its name from a quote by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, who said he prefers neither the red or blue pill offered to Neo in the Matrix, but instead wants a third pill for imagination in reality.

Beer to try: Imperial Coffee Stout – unpretentious coffee flavor with a hint of vanilla and a medium bitter finish

Reservoir Dogs Beer

Reservoir Dogs
Industrijska cesta 1H
Nova Gorica

facebook.com/Reservoir.Dogs.brewery/
www.reservoir-dogs.beer

A mathematician, a neurologist, an economist, and an electrical engineer walk into a brewery… and that’s not the start of a joke; it’s the brain trust behind Reservoir Dogs: Matej Brezigar, Uroš Komel, Aljoša Polenčči , and Andrej Sluga. The quartet recently opened an expanded brewing facility which will include a taproom and plans for other onsite amenities once they are settled in. Brewing beer doesn’t require four geniuses but the combined brain power did help them navigate Slovenian excise taxes that hadn’t quite caught up with the burgeoning craft beer industry. The brewery’s flagship beers are named for the four horsemen of the apocalypse: Grim Reaper, Starvation, Warrior, and Conqueror. During my visit, a salted, juniper-flavored brett was in the works to include in their barrel-aging program. Check Facebook and the website for taproom opening date.

Beer to try: Starvation – a Black IPA with caramel and citrus notes and a clean, bitter finish

Pelicon Brewers

What to See

Soca Valley
Easy to expert hiking in the Tolmin Gorge is a must-do for outdoor enthusiasts.
http://travelslovenia.org/tolmin-gorge/

Postojna Caves and Predjama Castle
Beautiful underground caverns and a castle built into a cliff face offer two fairytale settings.

http://www.postojnska-jama.eu/en/home/

Lake Bohinj

If you are looking for something less touristy than Bled, this unspoiled alpine lake is for you. https://www.bohinj.si/en/

Vintgar Gorge
A quick drive from Bled, the Vintgar Gorge is an easy walk through natural wonder. Boardwalks and bridges take visitors along the gorge and cross over the milky green, glacial river.
http://www.bled.si/en/what-to-see/natural-sights/the-vintgar-gorge

 

Where to Eat and Drink

Green Gold Beer Fountain, Žalec
Europe’s first open-air beer fountain, open April to November, in the heart of Slovenia hops country. http://www.turizem-zalec.si/en/directory/1227/the-green-gold-fountain

Sir William’s Pub, Ljubljana
An English-style pub with great beers on tap. They frequently host tasting nights focused on various breweries or regions.
http://sirwilliamspub-eng.webs.com

Pivoljub, Ljubljana
One stop shop for Slovenian and regional craft brews. (Pivoljub is beer lover in Slovenian.) http://www.pivoljub.si/page/ljubljanabeershop

Faladur, Ajdovšcina
A wine shop in a preserved Roman tower that offers a daily set menu and local beers.
http://www.faladur.si/?lang=en

Odprta Kuhina,Ljubljana

Ljubljana’s open-air food market, every Friday, March to November https://www.facebook.com/pg/OdprtaKuhna/
http://www.odprtakuhna.si/en/

Ljubljananjam, Ljubljana

Local-led food and beer walks.

https://www.facebook.com/Ljubljananjam/

http://www.ljubljananjam.si

Slocally
http://www.slocally.com
info@slocally.com

Slocally is Slovenia done by locals. Vesna Velišček and her team offer food, wine, and beer tasting walks in the Vipava and Soca Vallies and other locations. If the scheduled tours don’t appeal, you can “rent a local” for a personalized tour or hiking experience. They also offer homestay rooms featuring handmade linens and pillows stuffed with locally grown herbs, including hops.

Check out I Feel SLovenia (https://www.slovenia.info/en) and Visit Ljubljana (https://www.visitljubljana.com) for more places to visit, drink, dine, and stay.