The Best Local Beer & Wine in Eastern Europe
Mitko Manolev (Melnik, Bulgaria): Mitko, aka "Six Fingers," may not make the best wine, but he sure offers a great tasting experience. Seated in the cool sandstone cave burrowed into the side of a cliff in Melnik, Mitko lets you taste his wines directly from the barrel, then bottles your choice (two types of red, not dissimilar to grape juice); it's worth it if only to watch him fill, cork, and label right in front of you.
Grgic Vina (Trstenik, Croatia): About 32km (20 miles) north of Dubrovnik lies a turnoff for Trstenik, an out-of-the-way town with a couple of small, uncrowded beaches, a few restaurants, and a concrete pier for diving. Along the way, you'll find the Croatian branch of Grgich Hills, one of the world's great wineries. Grgic Vina is modest compared to its California counterpart -- it's basically a concrete bunker -- but it produces some of Croatia's most sought-after wines. Buy a bottle of the latest vintage at about half the cost elsewhere.
Plzenské Pivovary/Pilsner Brewery (Prague, Czech Republic): At U Prazdroje 7, Plzen will interest anyone who wants to learn more about the brewing process. The brewery actually comprises several breweries, pumping out brands like Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus, the most widely consumed beer in the Czech Republic.
House of Hungarian Wines (Budapest, Hungary): Located on castle hill, here you can savor the flavors of more than 60 of the most important Hungarian wines in one spot while being educated about them at the same time. Hungary is famous for its Tokai, the king of wines and the wine of kings, and it is the only country where Tokai is legally produced.
Okocim Beer (Poland): Of the big national beers, Poles seem to favor Zywiec (maybe it's folk dancing on the label that wins them over?). For our money, Okocim is the brew of choice. The slightly sweetish taste is reminiscent of Czech Budvar (Budweiser), and all the other beers more or less taste blandly the same. Drink it straight or add a shot of fruit syrup to the mix (but don't try this if you're male).
Tuica (Romania): Tuica (also referred to as Palinca) is a homemade brandy distilled from plums, pears, apples, or other fruit, and it is a popular after-dinner or welcome drink, particularly in Romania's village communities. You can purchase some of the country's best-known Tuica from Teo Coroian, who runs a small distilling business from his home in the medieval fortress town of Sighisoara.
The Jeruzalem Wine Road (Slovenia): This route in Slovenia's "far" east is perfect for purveyors of fine wine and gentle drives through rambling vineyards. You can stop at many farms, with private tastings conducted by one of the owners, and should things get out of hand, you simply can stay the night and pick up where you left off after a scrumptious farm breakfast.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.