The Story on a Croatian Collab That Won Over Judges for Marketing Award

International Insights is a continuing series of Q&As with brewing members, but this time branching outside of the US and into the rest of the world.In this series, Brewer will share personal insights from international breweries periodically about the craft beer market in other countries, where those brewers get their inspiration, and how the market compares to craft beer in the US.

Davor Simičić, co-founder/CEO, Varionica Craft Brewery — Pisarovina, Croatia 

BREWER: What can you tell me about the history of your brewery? How has your business strategy evolved to help grow and stay competitive?
SIMIČIĆ: We started as one of the first craft breweries in Croatia, part of the first wave of craft beer revolution in Croatia. We sold our first beer, Pale Ale, in the beginning of 2015, we are still a very young brewery. Business strategy is quite simple — produce the best possible beer, be available to your customers, huge flexibility and fast adaptation to the market. Six years ago we started as gypsy brewers, now we have our own very modern brewery. Most important is that we survived all possible lockdowns and started to export our beers.

BREWER: Why is your winning entry (Chef’s Beer) in this year’s 2021 CBMAs (Best Bottle Design) a great example of marketing for your brewery? Can you give us the backstory on your winning entry?
SIMIČIĆ: First it was a huge honor to be invited to the judge panel and we really appreciate the opportunity. What better way to show your gratitude than to support the competition. We did not inform our design studio or any other partners about the entry, we just believed that all of us did a good job. Luckily we were right! Our design studio ANII – Mana Mrazek Lugarov – is the first studio to be internationally awarded for craft beer packaging in Croatia. With the same beer label she also won A’Design award in Italy. The story behind the beer was much more important for the design. The idea from one the best chefs in Croatia — Mate Janković — was to connect winemakers and breweries in one project to produce unique premium restaurant beer. We got together: Chef Mate Jankovic, winemaker Alen Bibic, Barut Brewing and blending, Zmajska Craft Brewery and Varionica and decided that we will go with combination of Old Ale and Flanders Brown. Labels are supposed to connect chef, wine and beer in one concept — naturally that is premium restaurant table. The task was not so simple, but the label made by ANII seem like it was. She delivered such simplicity, class and finesse and in the same time delivered requested connection between different worlds. Instead of the clash on the table, the label represents unity in excellence.

BREWER: What are the popular beers at your brewery, and how do they compare to the popular styles in your country?
SIMIČIĆ: Most popular beer is our American Pale Ale and Siesta Session IPA followed by Neon Stout and Pop!Lager – helles. I presume the same as everywhere: APA and IPA are the most popular craft beer styles and Croatian market is not much different. Seems like craft Lagers are coming back big time and we are ready for it.

BREWER: Who is your mentor in the industry and why? What have you learned from them?
SIMIČIĆ: We can’t choose just one mentor from the industry – the USA market is an endless source of inspiration and we are closely monitoring what is going on in the USA. We learned a lot about new beer styles, new ways of marketing, packaging, new ways in production and so on. The USA market is a huge source of knowledge in the craft beer business.

BREWER: What idea did you or your team come up with lately that has been a big benefit to how your brewery functions?
SIMIČIĆ: We would say it is our webshop. Considering COVID lockdown in 2020, we did not expect that COVID would be gone in a few weeks. We anticipated a long struggle. Our response was to make a webshop. From zero to fully operational webshop in less than a week is something that we are proud of.

BREWER: If you had one business strategy that you could implement to better the brewing industry in your country, what would it be?
SIMIČIĆ: Locally we do not have any regulation on what is craft and what is not. If we can influence to make this regulation we would and it would be a huge benefit to our market and to the customers. Also good local certificates that would guarantee quality of local craft beer would be a huge benefit. We would like to thank the Brewers Association in the USA. That was very helpful with all this. They supported us in many ways and with that kind of support we hope to achieve craft beer goals on the local market.

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