The history of the hop industry in the Lower Savinja Valley
In the heart of the mountains, in the beautiful Logarska Valley, the Savinja River, which is connecting the towns of the Upper and Lower Savinja Valleys to the Sava River at Zidani Most begins in the Rinka waterfall. The Vrbovec Museum from Nazarje, situated by the river Savinja, displays the history of forestry and carpentry. Millions of flowers are flourishing in the Mozirski gaj flower park from spring to autumn, while Vransko has a special Motorcycle Museum, and Polzela is known for the Komenda Castle and the Šenek Park. The Roman Necropolis in Šempeter is one of the remains of the Roman road, while the underground beauty of the Savinja Valley is revealed in Pekel Cave. In the center of Žalec you can find the Eco-Museum of Hop-Growing and Brewing Industry and the famous fountain of beer, the Fountain of the Green Gold.
The symbol of the Lower Savinja Valley is hops, since the valley has been known for over a century and a half for hops, friendly and hospitable people, and homemade food and beverages. The valley is surrounded by hills and ridges and has many natural and cultural sites. In the central part near Letuš, the valley spreads into a fertile plain, and shows the real treasure. In the 19th century, this is where the hop-growing flourished. People from all over the world have been drinking beer, the brewery Pivovarna Laško has been operating since 1825, and hops became an important ingredient of this golden drink and thus its price gradually increased.
In the development of hops, however, experts from the Slovenian Institute of Hop Research and Brewery of Slovenia, headquartered in the center of the Savinja Valley, in Žalec, are to take credit for, since for over 60 years they have been taking care of hop growers to produce many varieties of hops, which were carefully developed at the Institute, and expertly assisted those hop growers who have decided to plant new noble varieties of hop.
The Savinja gold, green hops, was and is still unusually prized, due to the special quality of its lupulin – aromatic resin.
The Valley combines stories of hop and brewing industry, old Romans, counts of Žovnek, the Order of Malta, motorcycle stories, landscape parks, Nature 2000, numerous thematic and cycling routes and many other.
The customs associated with this noble plant, hops, are preserved even today.
The Eco-Museum of Hop-Growing and Brewing Industry in Žalec is a unique museum of this kind in Slovenia and is located on the premises of a former hop-drying facility and has four floors, where the visitor can see the history and importance of hop-growing and brewing for the Lower Savinja Valley. Especially when presenting an interesting and funny film from the past century and telling stories, it seems like you are experiencing the singing of thousands of hop pickers and smelling fresh hops. The folk saying says, “When the hops are hung, the summer is over.” This is usually in mid-August and the inhabitants of the Savinja Valley know that the season of harvesting the hops is near. In the heart of this green valley, tractors start to rattle and dozens of hardworking hands begin to pick hops in the valley. Centuries ago, hop pickers from different places came and filled our valley, up to fifteen thousand of hop pickers or even more. At the railway stations in Celje, Petrovče, Žalec, Polzela and Šmartno ob Paki, owners of hop fields were waiting for them and then took them to their homes on their hay carts. Every morning, until the end of harvesting, female hop pickers with baskets in their hands rushed to pick hops on the hop fields, the pole-men (Slovene: štangarji) helping hop pickers by using cat claws to lift the poles so the hop pickers could lean them on the wooden cross support and pick the hop flowers, and the owners of hop fields arrived at a certain time and in a special measuring bushel measured the amount of the picked hops. The hop pickers received a card, called “balete”, which stated the amount of picked hops and was later exchanged for their wages. This kind of hop-growing romanticism no longer exists. Hops stacks have disappeared and have been replaced by cableways, such hop pickers and pole-men are gone, but there is still plenty of work, only in a more modern way. Hop pickers were replaced by hop-picking machines and hop-drying facilities have also been updated. All this is found in the Eco-Museum of Hop-Growing and Brewing Industry, which in addition to souvenirs and a “hop-picker’s lunch” also offers the house beer Kukec, named after the father of brewing Simon Kukec.
The Fountain of the Green Gold is the first fountain of beer in the world and is a tribute to the hop-growing heritage of the Lower Savinja Valley and Žalec, which is the hop-growing center of Slovenia. It flourished due to many visitors from all over the world, who spread good word about the Slovenian hops and beers and our hospitality.
Our country is beautiful – we have the habit of saying this to ourselves, to friends, to strangers, and in doing so, we are proud of it. We know we are telling the truth. Our Slovenia is beautiful, and so it the Savinja Valley, which had been named Canaan, the Promised Land, by the writer Rebula.
- Written by: Pavla Gostečnik
- ZKŠT (Culture, Sport and Tourism Institute) – Žalec v objemu zelenega zlata – a group program
- Janko Pirnat – 45 let dneva hmeljarjev, Braslovče, august 2007, p. 1
- Matjaž Kmecl, Zakladi Slovenije, p. 64