Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
Zalec is well-known for its hops. Now it wants to be known for dispensing them like water.
Could fountains of beer be a business proposition? That’s the bet of a Slovenian town called Zalec, population 20,000, which has announced plans to build a pragmatic monument to one of its best known exports: alcohol.
According to the BBC, by way of the Slovenian paper Dnevnik, the proposal was given the go-ahead this week with help from Mayor Janko Kos, who’s argued that beer fountains will be a tourist draw. The plans currently call for a series of standing silver spigots, from which visitors would be invited to try a variety of local beers. Each €6 entrance fee (about $6.70) would be good for three 10-ounce tastings of beer, served in a commemorative cup.
Sounds like a steal. Which is precisely why the proposal has caused some consternation in Zalec. According to the Slovenian paper, the construction will cost about €350,000, or $393,000, though only about half that sum will be paid by the local council. (The rest will come from private donations, Kos has said.) A minority of councilors who ultimately lost a vote has argued the money could be used for other local services.
“It's true the fountain won't be cheap. But it's a development project, a tourism product,” Mayor Kos said, according to the BBC.
Beer is a big draw in Slovenia. HuffPost Travel reports that nearly 30 breweries dot its 7,827 square miles, and there’s a large and important rivalry between the country’s two leading beer brands, Union and Lasko. (This enmity has diminished since Dutch giant Heineken acquired the Slovenian company that owned both in 2015.) Beer is a particularly big deal in the region around Zalec. The area’s main export is hops, of which we know the town is proud because they’re literally on its coat-of-arms.
Also under the “pro” list for the fountain of beer: the number of foreign visitors to the country has steadily climbed since 1985, topping out at a record 11 percent year-over-year growth in 2015. The ongoing migration crisis has not been good for the tourist industry, but travel hasn’t exactly ground to a halt, either. Zalec is betting its favorite kind of green will also prove to be tourist gold.