Ivan Kovacevic

Nova Runda Craft Brewery – The Past, The Present and The Future

I’m the co-founder and brand ambassador of Nova Runda brewery. My colleague, Marko, and I established one of the first craft breweries in Croatia in 2013 with a goal of educating people about good craft beer, ales particularly. Statistics says 50% of businesses close in their first five years. I’m happy to say that we’ve passed those five years, and we’re now heading towards our tenth year! That means we’re brewing good beers, I suppose 🙂 This is our story. 

Nova Runda’s signature beers are featured as rafters in the brewery

Years passed since I wrote my last guest blog post. When I look back at our beginnings, writing was a significant portion of my weekly tasks. Still, when you’re continually expanding, you have to turn to different aspects of your business and adapt them to your routine. Somehow writing took a big hit in that growth, and I have swapped writing for business-related tasks. Using Excel more than Word now 😉

The Croatian beer market changed a lot during those seven years. Since Croatia doesn’t have any beer-brewing tradition, in contrast to its widely known wine-making tradition, the whole beer scene was dominated by industrial macro lagers. Just like in the U.S.A, the first step towards developing a better beer landscape was homebrewing – a hobby where you’re producing the best liquid in the world – at home. 

The homebrewing movement started to grow. First competitors emerged, and the expectations of the Croatian beer scene had risen. Will one of those active homebrewers open a brewery and face the stale lager dominance?

Marko and Miroslav surfing the Croatian craft wave

2013 was a year of changes, a sparkle that ignited a whole new beer approach to brewing. Finally, we witnessed an opening of a new wave of breweries that had a “quality over quantity” brewing approach. I like to say we managed to change the beer landscape. We managed to do that because we introduced a type of beer which was unknown back then – THE ALE!!!

I’m glad Nova Runda is one of the forerunners of the Croatian craft beer revolution, and that we’re still faithful to our Feel The Hops” brewing philosophy – brewing those hoppy refreshments from day one!!

There are numerous styles of beer now available throughout Croatia, but I think hoppy ales are still the most sought after product on the market in the craft beer segment, not the overall beer market. One of our beers stands out in that field and left a significant mark in the Croatian craft beer scene – I’m talking about the C4.

Last Tuesday, the C4 IPA celebrated its fourth birthday! It was released on the 7th of April 2016 for the first time on the market, and since then, it’s our most popular beer. Last weekend we planned an annual #C4Day, but Mr. COVID-19 changed our plans, so we rescheduled all our plans for when this virus situation will be put to rest.

As stated above, the #FeelTheHops approach really shaped our brewing methodology, almost as the Gypsy brewing approach shaped our business methodology. You may not be familiar with the brewing process and brewing equipment, but those gadgets are costly, and you need a shitload of start-up capital to start a brewery operation.

In a country such as Croatia, it isn’t an easy task to apply for a loan, and especially to get one. You have to take into account that the craft beer market didn’t exist at the time we were launching our business. Financial institutions were not at all eager to invest in us and the only solution for us was to find some existing brewery and start brewing there. Before opening our brewery, we relocated between 2 rented breweries. That’s how our brewing path began!

Our last ranted brewery was located in a small town near Zagreb, Jastrebarsko. That was an old lager-type brewery, and it wasn’t fully adjusted to our brewing process. In 2018 we have been visited by Jeff Bradford, our American brother and the host of Beer, Wine and Spirits channel. He filmed us in that old brewery where we announced the plans for opening our own brewery!

Our own brewery, how I like hearing that sentence over and over again. OUR OWN FREAKIN’ BREWERY!!! In 2019, after six freakin’ years, we finally managed to accumulate enough capital to start our own brewery project. By using the profit from previous years, and a bank loan (tnx Addiko bank), we launched the project in April, 2019. It was finished in January 2020 when the last piece of equipment was installed in the facility. It was the labeling machine which was an add-on of a freshly installed canning line!

Recently we filed all mandatory statements for 2019 and closed that brewery project. We’ve exceeded our planned project amount by 13,25%. The net investment amount was 5.436.000,00Kn (around 715.000€). It’s a significant financial burden, but it’s all worth it when you know no one can kick you out of the facility. But the project’s budget wasn’t our only problem.

We moved to a new facility in September of 2019. We were mentally prepared for the slow start – new equipment, new processes, and the new facility. We didn’t count that the transition would be so painful. We had colossal adaptation problems, the technology was different, water was different, and we had a new previously unknown process to adapt to – filling cans.

Before moving to the new facility, we filled our beers only in kegs, so we had to master new skills such as can filling. That adaptation period gave us a big headache, but finally, after six months, from September 2019 to March 2020, we managed to overcome most of those problems. Guess what happened next?

Exactly, Mr. COVID-19 came to the scene and locked us down. We rescheduled production and all beers were being filled in cans from then on. Since our brewery model is orientated mostly on a draft beer, we took a severe hit from the lockdown. But it was not all doom and gloom. I must admit we didn’t expect such massive support from our fans, and cans are going like crazy. I think that’s the real power of the craft beer movement – even in these desperate times, you can count on a community of beer lovers who enjoy drinking your beers.

Thank you, everyone, for your support during this transition period of adjusting to the new brewery (we’re aware we had some shitty batches), and thank you once again now. Our primary sales funnel closed down, but you’re buying our cans and by doing that helping us to overcome this period of uncertainty.

What will happen next? Everything depends on this short-term pandemic period, and consequences will hurt the economy. We’ll have to embrace some new strategies, and update our mission statement, for sure.

You don’t have to worry about our hoppy portfolio, it’ll still be here, just like we will. We’re negotiating with a lot of potential partners abroad, and I can tell you, the future will be hoppy!! 😉

In the meantime, #StayHome, order some excellent craft beer while at it (did we mention C4 is available again), and try to learn a new skill or recollect an old one just like I did with this guest blog post.

Cheers, boys and girls!!!

Miro / Nova Runda

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