Beer is the world’s favourite alcoholic drink, a lingua franca that connects people across the globe who may have nothing else in common but their love of the fermented cereal gift from nature called beer.
I experienced the soft power of beer recently in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia. I was invited by the British Embassy to participate in a beer festival they organised to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Britain’s recognition of Slovenia’s independence from former Yugoslavia. The UK Department of Trade & Industry had encouraged breweries to send beer and representatives to Ljubljana to meet importers and to introduce locals to British beer. My role was to host a beer tasting tutorial and deliver a seminar about British beer history and contemporary brewing.
Slovenia has a burgeoning independent brewing scene and, like so many other countries where the dominant beer is pilsner brewed by multi-nationals, these start-ups are producing styles such as vibrant IPAs and powerful imperial stouts – flavour and ABV are emblematic.
The beer festival was well attended by women and men, including importers, intrigued to discover new brands and styles of beer. I spoke to dozens of locals and the overwhelming impression I had was how enthusiastic they were about the festival, the beer they had tasted and the variety of styles. They also told me how much they wanted to visit Britain, go to pubs and drink more British beer. I chatted with several of the British brewers and sales reps who attended the festival and they said they had met importers keen to distribute their beers. Tiny Rebel export manager, Moussa Clark, commented ‘Nothing beats coming to visit, getting to know the market, making connections. Having a laugh and a drink is a great pre-cursor to doing business.’
Congratulations and na zdravje to Dunja Cvek at the British Embassy in Slovenia and to Milan Dragutinovic, owner of production company Magna Carta, for co-producing an excellent event that delivered a weekend of beery fun and happiness, and also enabled a number of British brewers to increase exports to Slovenia.
I left the country thinking how powerful beer is in building relationships both business and personal, and what potential it has in encouraging tourism into the UK. It was a terrific experience to be Madame Am-beer-ssador for a weekend and to eulogise about Britain’s beer and pubs. Hura za pivo!