The story of the Green Gold Fountain
The Green Gold Fountain is a tribute to the hop growing heritage of the Lower Savinja Valley and Žalec, which is the hop-growing centre of Slovenia. Slovenia is also the fifth largest producer of hops in the world and hop is the “spice” that gives beer its distinctive flavour.
In Žalec we wanted to connect the history with today and set the foundations for an appealing tourist story for the future. The Green Gold Fountain is the result of these efforts.
The story of the fountain began in 2014 at the initiative of the then president of the Association of Tourist Societies of the Municipality of Žalec, Mr. Matjaž Omladič. The original idea encouraged the Municipality of Žalec to start looking for an architectural solution in the very same year at a design competition. From among six proposals, the Municipality selected the architectural concept designed by the company RC Planiranje. In the next year the preparations began. The project group was appointed which dealt with many challenges and solved them successfully. The construction of the Green Gold Fountain started in April 2016 and the opening ceremony will take place on 6th September 2016, on the anniversary of the second all-Slovenian national meeting from 1868, which is a holiday of the Municipality of Žalec.
The beer fountain is positioned in the town park, in the town centre, next to the marketplace. The architectural design is a symbolic hop flower, which is expressed as two semi-circles; one a beer fountain and the other a water fountain. The semi-circles are clad in copper lace, symbolizing beer foam.
The fountain was built by the company Remont, and the technology was supplied by the company Etra.
Offer of beers, method of dispensing
There are six beer taps on the fountain: the first pours Kukec, a beer dedicated to the legendary hop-grower and brewer from Žalec, Simon Kukec. The second tap pours ambassador beers, the Slovenian lagers are represented on the third tap, the fourth tap offers beers from the Saxony region, the fifth offers trend beers and the sixth pours experimental beers of the Slovenian Institute for Hop Research and Brewing in Žalec.
Purchasing and tasting of beer at the fountain
The visitor can buy a glass beer mug at various locations in the town and for the price of EUR 8.00 they can taste 6 x 1 dcl of beer.
The glass, equipped with a microchip, is put under the tap which detects it and pours the beer automatically. At the beginning and end of tasting, the taps are lifted and dropped automatically with an authorisation card from an authorised person.
The beer mug for the Green Gold Fountain was designed by the renowned industrial designer and an honorary citizen of the Municipality of Žalec, Oskar Kogoj, and produced by the company “Hrastnik 1860”.
- April: Monday: from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m, Tuesday - Thursday, Sunday: from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday - Saturday: from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- May: Monday: from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m, Tuesday - Thursday, Sunday: from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday - Saturday: from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m
- June, July, August: Monday: from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday: from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday - Saturday: from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
- September: Monday: from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m, Tuesday- Thursday, Sunday - from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday - Saturday - from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
- October: Monday: from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m, Tuesday- Thursday, Sunday - from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday - Saturday - from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Purchase of beer mugs:
- Green Gold Shop at the country market, Savinjska cesta 11, Žalec - only when beer fountain is opened,
- TIC Žalec, Šlandrov trg 25, Žalec
- Eco-Museum of Hop-Growing and Brewing Industry in Slovenia, Cesta žalskega tabora 2, Žalec
History of hop-growing and brewing industry
Hops originate from Asia. Already in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, people made beverages from grains and other plants. Dry hops were used in beer brewing also by old Slavic nations who brought it to our territory during their migrations.
As a culture, hops were already cultivated in the eighth and ninth century in France and Bavaria. At that time beer was brewed in monasteries, and hops were grown everywhere where there were breweries. Only later on did they start growing it in places that were optimal in terms of location, soil and climate. Hop-growing bloomed in the 16th century. In Europe, the centre of hop growing was in the Czech Republic and Bavaria.
The first mention of using hops for beer brewing on the Slovenian territory dates back around 1160 in a urbarium of a landowner from Škofja Loka. A turning point in the development of hop-growing on the Slovenian territory occurred during the reign of Maria Theresa, when between 1764 and 1767 farmers’ associations were established, which encouraged and promoted the introduction of various industrial plants, including hops. A more intensive cultivation of hops began after 1870 on the territory of the Lower Savinja Valley.
The first hop plantation in the Lower Savinja Valley was planted in 1876 at the Novo Celje Mansion by Josip Bilger, who was the mansion’s caretaker at the time. The official beginning of cultivation of the Savinja Golding variety of hops was in 1886 when Janez Hausenbichler and Karl Haupt performed their first tests.
Beer brewing industry also has a rich history in Slovenia. The first documents testifying to the brewing of beer on our territory date back to the 13th century. At the end of the 19th century, small breweries were quickly expanding across the land and the largest ones were capable of brewing up to 3,000 hl of beer. After WW1 all the Slovene breweries merged into a joint-stock company. Vrhnika and Mengeš stopped brewing beer in 1922, and the year 1925 was fatal for Kočevje, Kranj and Žalec. After WW2 three large breweries were established: Union, Laško and Talis. New smaller breweries started to appear, such as the Adam Ravbar brewery from Domžale, the Kratochwill brewery and others.
(Source: Priročnik za hmeljarje (Hop growers’ manual), IHPS Žalec and http://www.ekomuzej.si )
About hops and beer
Hops (Humulus lupulus L.) is a perennial industrial plant belonging to the Cannabaceae family, originating in Asia. It is cultivated for its bitter, sticky content – lupulin. Lupulin is a yellow pollen-like substance on the hop cone petals, containing the bitter aroma.
On the hop fields only female plants are grown; the part under the soil is the root, which is perennial, and the parts above the soil are the stem, main and lateral leaves and the flowers and cones – the fruit. All the parts above the soil are annual; in the autumn they die off and are cleaned from the field. In the spring, new sprouts start from the root. The male plants are repressed, as pollinated cones reduce the quality of produce.
Hops are picked in late summer (mid-August to beginning of September) when the content of the industrially interesting substances in the cones is optimal.
The majority of the produce is used in brewing industry as an addition in the production of beer, and a small portion of the hops produce is used in the production of medical and cosmetic products. In the production of beer, hops are an indispensable raw material, giving the beer its pleasant bitterness, fullness and aroma.
The most well-known Slovenian hop varieties are the Savinja Golding, Aurora, Bobek and Celeia.
Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world with a several thousand-year long tradition. The production processes have changed throughout history but the ingredients remain the same.
Ingredients of beer
- Hops are used in the brewing industry for a variety of reasons: It gives beer its distinctive flavour, especially bitterness and smell, and prevents its spoilage because it is a natural preservative. It also helps it retain its flavour and stabilises the foam.
- Malt is sprouted barley, which is used most often. Brewers also use wheat, rye and buckwheat. Malt is very important in beer brewing, as it releases sugar, which is crucial in the further processes of beer production.
- Yeast is another important ingredient. The yeasts ferment the beer and transform sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Yeast also impacts the aroma and flavour of the beer. We distinguish between top fermenting and bottom fermenting yeasts.
- Water is the final important ingredient of beer which affects all the production processes. However, even the best water cannot provide good beer without other quality ingredients and proper preparation. Only the right combination of all four ingredients makes an excellent beer.
The story of hops
The Green Gold Fountain tells the story of the hop-growing tradition which developed through a century and a half. In some places it lives on, in others it has become nothing but a memory. Several tools, habits and traditions still remind us of this heritage.
Before the use of wires, hops climbed tall wooden poles, called “hmeljevke”. After the picking they pulled out the poles and stacked them into stacks/pyramids, which became a discernible symbol of the Lower Savinja Valley. Today, the hops stacks only remain on old photographs and in works of arts and remind us of the valley’s most typical activity.
Each year after 15th August, the Lower Savinja Valley was flooded by hop pickers who brought simple joy, laughter and songs to the solemn farmers of the Savinja Valley. The majority of them came from the Croatian Zagorje, the Slovenian regions of Ptuj, Kozjansko, Dolenjska, Posavje and the Upper Savinja Valley. There were more women than men among the pickers. They woke up at dawn and filled the entire hop field with joy and laughter. Hops were picked by hand, in pairs, each picker from his or her own side of the cross-supported hop poles.
- Pole-man – “Štangar” and Cat claw – “Maček”
Each group of pickers had their own pole-man. These were strong lads who set up the hop poles in the spring for the hop vine to climb on. During the picking season, the pole-men used the cat claw to lift the poles so the pickers could lean them on the wooden cross support and pick the hop flowers.
Cat claw is a tool that was used to lift the pole from the ground. The name “cat claw” (“maček”) derives from its form, as its iron part is reminiscent of cat claws.
Manually picked hops were measured in special bushels/pails. The first bushels were wooden, and later they were made of aluminium. All of them measured 30 litres. In measuring it was very important that the flowers were accurately picked, without leaves. Otherwise the master spilled the picked hay on bags spread on the ground (the pickers said the master “threw the hops on the sheet”), and the pickers had to separate the leaves from the flowers and waste valuable time and profit. Pickers respected a farmer who measured in a fair way, which meant measuring up to the top of the bushel and without a cone on the top.
When the master was measuring the amount of picked hops, special cards were given to the pickers, called “balete”. These were cardboard cards or aluminium tags with the number of bushels of picked hay. The truly industrious pickers could pick as many as 30 bushels of hops per day. At the end of the picking season, the workers exchanged the cards for their wages.
- Pickers’ lunch – “Obirovska južina”
“Pickers’ lunch” consists of a warm cucumber sauce and green beans. This food still reminds the people from the Savinja Valley of the years when hop-picking marked the entire valley. Upon arrival, each picker received his or her bowl and spoon. During lunch they sat on the already-picked furrows, in the shade, chatted and quickly ate their lunch. Time was very valuable, since the August days are significantly shorter.
The stack of cards was growing significantly, hop fields were becoming empty and the hop-picking season was officially finished with the hop-picking feast. The pickers did their very best to make the feast as pleasant as possible – they picked flowers and used them to decorate hop picking baskets, carts, horses and later tractors. The housewives prepared a real feast, offering vast amounts of meat and sweet pastry, as well as drinks. People sang and danced all night long. All the pain and quarrels that marked the season were forgotten.
- Hop princess and hop elder
Each year the Rural Youth Association of the Lower Savinja Valley selects the Hop Princess. She comes from a hop-growing family, is young, unmarried, and must know everything there is to know about hops and hop-growing. At a symbolic level, the princess represents the hop flower, holding a miniature version of a hop bushel in her hands. The Hop Elders and Princesses Association of Slovenia awards the honorary title Hop Elder, which can be given to a hop-grower over 48 years old or an expert in the hop-growing industry with more than 10 years of experience in the field. The elder represents the hop plant, and the symbol he is holding in his hands is a miniature version of the “cat claw”.
About Simon Kukec
It is a well-known fact that Simon Kukec is the most important brewer, known by the inhabitants of Laško as the father of the Laško beer. A less known fact is that he also owned a brewery in Žalec, which stopped operating after World War I. This ended a several decades-long tradition of brewing industry established and managed by Simon Kukec.
He was born on a small property in Povirje pri Sežani (1838). He married Ana Smolka and lived in Martinščica near Rijeka, Croatia, at the time, where he worked as a railroad guard. He and his wife managed a restaurant and he also worked as a transport entrepreneur during the construction of the harbour.
Eleven years later they moved to Trbovlje, Slovenia, rented the mine restaurant and made a lot of money on it. Later they moved to Žalec where they bought enough hop plantations to be declared landowners.
Simon Kukec had another great passion – gambling. They say this contributed significantly to his wealth, as he is said to have had a “lucky hand”.
He bought an old brewery from the widow of Franc Žuža, a landowner from Žalec who had established the brewery in 1842. Kukec expanded the brewery, modernised it completely and added his own malt-house to it. At an auction he bought the Laško brewery – Laški trg. He combined both breweries and named them Združene pivovarne Žalec in Laški trg (Associated breweries of Žalec and Laški trg). The Laško brewery was managed by his son Edvard and he managed the Žalec brewery himself until he died in 1910.
It is known that Kukec employed predominantly Slovenians. As there were no brewing experts from the region, he employed some Czechs as well.
Kukec was full of ideas and soon he started using thermal water in the beer production process, which improved the beer’s flavour. He introduced a thermal beer, which still exists to this day, although in a slightly altered form. The business bloomed and they were producing increasing amounts of beer which they successfully sold throughout the Slovenian territory and abroad. The beer was consumed in Budapest, Egypt and even as far as India.
There is an anecdote, related to the thermal beer. Due to the vernacular translation of the term “thermal beer” (Kurbier – Kurort/spa and Bier/beer [in Slovenian the homonym “kurbir” is a vulgar word meaning “adulterer”]), men who liked to bed-hop were called “thermal beer” in order to avoid an inappropriate expression.
Simon Kukec left an important impact on Žalec and Laško, so we decided in the Institute of Culture, Sport and Tourism of Žalec to revive the memory of this man.
The Kukec beer can be tasted at the Green Gold Fountain and at the Eco-Museum of Hop-Growing and Brewing Industry in Žalec. Other reminders of Simon Kukec are the souvenirs; the “triplets” with various combinations of beer, beer mugs, t-shirts, aprons that can be bought at the Eco-Museum, TIC Žalec and the Green Gold Shop.
Let's have a beer … and then what?
After beer tasting at the Green Gold Fountain, visiting the Eco-Museum of Hop-Growing and Brewing Industry in Slovenia, which is located in the direct vicinity, will give you a more detailed insight into the tradition of hop growing and brewing industry in our valley.
Walking through the renovated town centre with its numerous sights and interesting market houses will add a special note to your visit to the Lower Savinja Valley. The traces of its rich past can be found in the well-preserved buildings in the old market centre, among which we should mention the Zotl homestead from the 16th century and Savin’s house from 1669, the birth house of the composer Risto Savin. Next to the Church of St. Nicholas that was first mentioned in 1173, there is a well-preserved defence tower from the time of Turkish invasions, the wine cellar (Vinski keuder) and the Park of medicinal and aromatic herbs. Near the town there is the baroque-style Novo Celje Mansion where the first hop plantation was located, and not far away you can visit the Basilica of the Holy Mother of God in Petrovče.
Next to the fountain there is the Green Gold Shop, where you can buy various products from the farms of the Lower Savinja Valley. On Saturday mornings you can also visit the country market.
Not far from Žalec, in Šempeter, there are two tourist gems to be visited – the Pekel Cave and the Roman Necropolis. The former takes you on a one-hour walk through the underground and the latter on a historical journey through the era of the Ancient Romans.
If the town park where the fountain is located makes you want to be active in nature, there are numerous opportunities around Žalec to do just that. You can find them by clicking here.
After all these activities you are bound to get hungry. You can satisfy your hunger by visiting here.
You can discover the sights on your own or with the help of a local tourist guide. Here you can find suggestions for numerous trips to Žalec’s surroundings. For further information please contact TIC Žalec.