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Leave the Car at Home, Take Your Brownie with Beer

The exit for the city of Pazardzhik on Bulgaria’s A1 motorway is at kilometer 89, a number some consider lucky. You will hardly believe your luck though if you do take the exit, pass the local stadium, and continue until the first traffic light in the city. To the left, you will see a building that looks unfinished, but that's exactly where you'll have a memorable experience that will engage all of your senses.

From the doorway you will be greeted by the angelic voices of blues legends like Fats Domino, Bessie Smith, Etta James, and Muddy Waters and by fragrances that will trigger salivation in ten seconds tops. (Slowly roasted and smoked beef ribs, salad with vine-ripened tomatoes and homemade cheese topped with an eggplant dip, and tender bites of poached catfish are recent offerings.)

Originally planned as a construction workshop, the building is spacious and features industrial elements like concrete walls, exposed-brick surfaces, and ventilation pipes. The wooden tables, benches, and chairs provide a contrast and give the interior warmth. The space looks edgy and contemporary, which is why it is so popular with young people. The air is scented with hops and malt because owners Gabriela and Stoycho have the right craft beer to accompany each dish—both of which they make themselves.

Rhombus Craft Beer & Food offers brews by Rhombus Brewery, a small family-owned business that is just two and a half years old but already has numerous followers, an assortment of more than 70 beer varieties, and even greater ambitions. Stoycho recalls that he once joked with a potential investor that his ambition was to buy Heineken.

In fact, mass-produced beer is the opposite of what Gabriela and Stoycho have in mind for Rhombus. Their beer is made using only very high-quality, natural ingredients and no synthetic enzymes and stabilizers. Rhombus beer is not pasteurized to preserve its natural freshness. The restaurant, which opened because clients kept asking for food to go with the beer, offers only seasonal food from local producers.

Although Stoycho's whole family is involved in the production of Rhombus beer, he and Gabriela are the business’s main engine and most dedicated employees. (They are also a couple in life.) Both have loved craft beer for years, but before becoming professional brewers, they did completely different things. Stoycho has an economics degree from the University of London and later worked in the family construction business, and Gabriela studied interior design at New Bulgarian University. She is responsible for the signature Rhombus brand look and for the design of the restaurant interior.

They started making beer back in 2012, when craft brewing in Bulgaria was still in its infancy. Their first attempts were limited to homebrewing, but their "clients"—an exponentially increasing number of friends and acquaintances—were very happy with the results and demanded more. (“Brewers have the most friends,” Stoycho jokes.)

They lacked knowledge and support for the next logical step, commercial production of craft beer. Although Stoycho became certified by the Siebel Institute of Technology, a Chicago-based vocational school that offers brewing education, it was the help of Gergana Kabaivanova from LocalFood.bg that provided the decisive push for Rhombus's development.

Gergana is the founder of LocalFood.bg and initiator of Bulgaria’s farmer's markets, and for the past three years, she has helped individuals from all over Bulgaria launch and develop their food businesses. Through LocalFood.bg, she offers seminars and training programs such as Pendara Academy, which is supported by the America for Bulgaria Foundation. Among the businesses that LocalFood.bg helped start are chocolate makers Casa Kakau in Plovdiv; VeggieBox, a maker of healthy desserts in Montana; Tomato House, a Varna-based lyutenitsa producer; and the Bagri Restaurant in Sofia.

"LocalFood.bg created a network of like-minded people who support each other," Gabriela says, adding that the restaurant offers food from local producers who are members of the LocalFood network.

Many in the network are familiar with life in the big city or abroad and have decided that it is not for them. A number of them returned to their hometowns with the intention of settling down. This was the case with Gabriela and Stoycho. “At a time when there's very little security, people are looking for their roots. They need to return to a more relaxed way of life—to the earth, to a living space, to doing things with their hands. So that their hands are not just extensions of their phones,” Gabriela says.

Stoycho and Gabriela did return to their roots. Rhombus Brewery is in their hometown of Pazardzhik, and even the name of their business is steeped in home: “Rhombus” was the old name of the local river, Maritsa, and for medieval Bulgarians, the rhombus was a symbol of the family and the home.

Today Stoycho, Gabriela and the rest of the Rhombus family offer a variety of thematic beers and events to their growing number of customers. On May 11, Beer under the Sky welcomed summer with live music and violet-flavored beer, Rhombus’s latest offer. BiriManjaro, a three-day festival dedicated to craft beer and food, will take place on June 7–9. “The festival was organized in cooperation with the City of Pazardzhik and aims to show there can be quality events outside Sofia,” Stoycho says. The two are working on a wine-inspired brew, which they will release come grape-picking season this fall.

We’re going, right? The address is Rhombus Brewery, 41 Ivaylovsko Shosse Street, Pazardzhik.

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