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Beer with a whiff of… Mount Strandzha

Photo: Stamen Iliev

Can there exist any beer with a whiff of… the mountain, and more specifically Mount Strandzha – one of the most beautiful and untouched corners of Bulgaria? An answer to this question is given by Stamen Iliev, a man who has been living his dream of creating a craft beer with an authentic flavour, and with a message.

After graduating from the University of Food Technologies in Plovdiv, Stamen has been manager of one of the biggest distilleries in the country. He made his first craft beer while still at university.

“When we started at the university we had beer brewing practical exercises. And that is how it all began – with a small vat, and I fell in love with it,” Stamen remembers, and adds that it was there and then that he decided to hone his beer-brewing skills to perfection. From a hobby, it ultimately turned into a profitable family business.

“I brewed my first beer in my parents’ restaurant. There is a big kitchen there, with big vats which I used. And, as beginners’ luck would have it, my first beer turned out terrific! At the time my father had planted some spelt. The idea was to put some spelt into the beer, and I added some mountain tea,” Stamen Iliev remembers. After his home experiments, he got in touch with people with a bigger beer-brewing capacity. “We have been working together for two years. And since the installation isn’t very big, the batches are small and the beer is always fresh,” Stamen says, and adds that he prefers to tell customers that he is out of beer than to offer them stale beer.

The inspiration for one of his latest stouts was, once again, the nature of the mystic Mount Strandzha. To make it, he uses the resources the mountain has to offer – in this case extract from the Strandzha oak.

“The oak wood is first dried, then soaked in ethyl alcohol, which is heated up, and which circulates. In the end the ethyl alcohol gets to be really thick, like caramel. The stout has a very potent flavor, of wood and vanilla, of brandy even, it is very intense,” Stamen says. “All of my beers, and the bottle design point to Strandzha – that is where our restaurant is, that is where it all began! I have a beer that is dedicated to a Bulgarian film that was shot in a village in Mount Strandzha, Kondolovo, and the film is “King for a day”.

The labels of Stamen Iliev’s craft beer are also intriguing. They are hand-made by his sister Monica Ilieva, and they too are inspired by Strandzha.

Interview by Kalina Encheva, BNR-Burgas

Editing by Veneta Nikolova

Photos: Stamen Iliev

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