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Local Soccer, Local Beer – Drinking and Divisions in Bosnia

Asim Ferhatovic Hase Stadium. Want to order a beer here? We've got you covered.

By Kirsten Schlewitz / Senior West Coast Beer Correspondent

If you’re taking the trouble to make a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, chances are you’re not doing it to quench your thirst for delicious, unusual, artisan craft beer. Bosnia is many things –ridiculously beautiful, insanely complicated, mysteriously captivating – but it is not an untapped outpost for those seeking the next great thing in beer. If you’re drinking beer in Bosnia, you’re almost certainly going to be presented with a choice of lager or lager. At a few bars, you’ll find dark beer on offer, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a porter or a stout. It’ll be more like a dark lager, but give it a try, as it’s usually better than the pale stuff.

If you’re in Sarajevo, the majority of beer you’ll find will be Sarajevsko, from the brewery on one of the hills just above the old town. This Pivara has been in existence since 1864 but, although you may find its dark beer in a few places around town, it’s most likely you’ll be drinking the lager. It’s actually not bad, especially considering the price – usually around $1.20.

But if you travel around the country and keep your eyes reasonably open, you’ll notice something interesting. Along the way, you’ll cross an invisible line, and the green Sarajevsko umbrellas will vanish. In their place will be the white and red of Karlovačko or the golden yellow of Lav. If it’s Karlovačko, you’re in one of the Croatian areas of Bosnia. But if the beer on offer is Lav, you’ve come into the Republika Srpska, where the majority of the Serbian population lives.

The beer umbrellas are the best indicators of the ethnic divides that still permeate Bosnia today, nearly twenty years after the end of the destructive wars of the 1990s. And while it may seem strange to talk about ethnicity and politics in a post devoted to beer and soccer, they all tie together. You see, if you leave behind the land of Sarajevsko, you’re unlikely to find anyone supporting the Bosnia National Team – they’ll all be sporting Croatia kits or cheering on Serbia as they lose horribly to Colombia. When you consider the purpose of this website, bringing people together through soccer and beer, it’s sobering to realize that in BiH, these are two of most visible indicators of social divisions.

In Sarajevo, though, the population is almost entirely Bosniak, meaning that the majority of its people will be supporting the national team when they face the USMNT on Wednesday. Anyone lucky enough to be in the city will have their fill of places to drink before, during, and after the match. When I was there for Bosnia’s last World Cup qualifying match, people wearing blue and yellow – often the flag itself—filled the streets of Sarajevo, and the match was shown in every café and pub. The Bosniaks are justifiably proud of their national team, which is on the verge of qualifying for its first-ever World Cup, and aren’t shy about showing it.

The city and country may not be known for its beer specifically, but its café culture is hard to beat. Throw in a match and it’s pretty much heaven.

In the summertime, almost everyone sits outside, shaded under the aforementioned giant umbrellas. The cafes run together, sometimes making it difficult to decipher which tables belong to which menu, but it matters little as most offer the same ambience and service. The crisp lagers are actually pretty perfect for a hot summer day, but at some point, you’re going to need a pick-me-up. And what Bosnia lacks in beer skills it more than makes up for in coffee skills. The coffee is strong and dark, often being served Turkish-style in a copper pot with a tiny cup to pour into. For an authentically Bosnian experience, sip slowly, making your tiny cup last an hour or so, and keep a cigarette in one hand as you’re doing so.

I’m not sure how many Americans made the trip to see the USMNT in Sarajevo. But whoever did made a fantastic decision. The beer is cheap, the football is great, and they’ll almost all make at least one lifelong friend. But a little tip for those actually in Bosnia: if you bypass the beer and try the rakija, sip it and go slowly. Don’t be overconfident! These people will beat you at drinking their liquor (I think it’s something in the Balkan blood). And if it’s homemade rakjia, take care that you don’t find yourself sleeping in the middle of a cobblestone street, missing a shoe and wrapped in a Bosnian flag. You’ve been warned.

Some handy Bosnian football watching phrases:

Hello/goodbye: Cao

Thank you: Hvala

Gdje je WC?: Where is the bathroom (pronounced vey-say, more or less)

Izvolite?: This is your cue to respond with your drink order…

Two beers, please: Dvije pive, molim Vas

One dark beer: Jedno tamno pivo

Go on!: Hajde!

Learn to shoot!: Nauči da šutiraš!

He was born offside: Rodjen je u ofsajdu

Look at that blind man!: Vidi ovog slijepca!

About Kirsten

I may be a law student at Lewis and Clark, but soccer is my true love, with beer coming in a distant second. That's not to say I don't love beer–I've tasted over a thousand different brews, am a bit obsessed with my “33 Beers” notebooks, and love my Untappd app. Living in Portland, Oregon, I attend quite a few festivals and tastings, and am able to argue passionately about the merits of Cascade hops vs. Chinook.

As for the soccer, I'm the cofounder of SB Nation's Aston Villa site, 7500 to Holte, as well as the editor of SB Nation Italy. Want more? Follow me on Twitter!

Tags: Beer, Local Soccer Local Beer, USMNT

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