On a trip to Slovenia, writer Lee Klancher finds his lineage in a can of Lasko.
We were sitting in my second-aunt’s living room in Savna Pec, Slovenia, when I told my bus-driving cousin Bustien that I was going to climb Mount Triglav. A past Slovenian president had declared that all “true Slovenians” should summit Triglav, and thousands climb the 9,396-foot peak each year.
My cousin halted his impromptu performance on a battered accordion, took a long pull on a 20-ounce can of Lasko beer, and looked me straight in the eye.
“Listen carefully,” he said. “I have important information for you.”
Bustien wasn’t concerned that I would slip off and plunge to my death. (At the time, I had no idea “hiking” up Triglav entailed crossing thousand-foot drops while clinging to spikes.) His advice concerned more important things. Namely, beer.
Malt beverages have played a role in Klancher family entertainment since my grandfather set off 12 sticks of dynamite inside a milk can (and was deaf for a week as a result). I followed his lead with libation-fueled shenanigans of my own, most of them involving explosives, dirt bikes or shotguns.
The deviancy of my youth resurfaced about five years ago when I quit a decent book publishing job in order to make a living writing and photographing motorcycle journeys, collectible farm tractors and anything related to beer.
I had always assumed my thirst for madcap adventures was the result of a crossed wire in my brain, or possibly one too many keg stands in college. On a travel assignment to ride ATVs with professional athletes with minimal lower body mobility in Slovenia that morphed into a family trip to visit distant relatives, I discovered the draw to beer was more deeply implanted.
I met a relative, Jurij Potokar, who was the head of maintenance at the Lasko Brewery. He arranged a tour of the facility, and slipped me a few cases of the sweet, dry lager when we left. More ties emerged while visiting another relative’s farm. After sampling the matriach’s infamous potica (a walnut pastry), we headed across the street to a tiny bar owned by the family. Judging from the steady stream of pitchers flowing to the rough-hewn wooden tables that afternoon, owning a bar that my family frequents is money in the bank.
Over a plate of fresh seafood, tall glasses of beer and shots of slivovitz (plum brandy) at a seaside restaurant in Piran, my new friend Jani Trdina shed additional light on Slovenian drinking predilections. Jani delightedly told me that the first two translations in a popular Slovenian phrase book were, “I’m pregnant” and “Can I have another beer?”
In this culture, hiking and beer drinking aren’t mutually exclusive endeavors. When I made a 1,000-foot ascent near Bohinj, a rocky, rugged path led me to a pristine meadow near an alpine lake. There sat a two-story, cedar-covered lodge; I took a seat and handed two Euros to a server who brought back a 20-ounce glass of Lasko. Such lodges, or doms, offer hot food, a rustic bed and cold beer on nearly every mountaintop in the Slovenian hiking system, including Mount Triglav.
Back in my second-aunt’s living room, my cousin gripped my shoulder in his beefy right hand, leaned close, and shared his advice about my upcoming ascent.
“I climbed Triglav,” he said. “Two times. Both for woman I love.”
He pulled me closer.
“The beer on top is very expensive,” he said. “You must carry a case or two with you.” •
Author and photographer Lee Klancher has published more than two dozen books on tractors, motorcycles and beer. He lives in Austin, Texas; follow him at LeeKlancher.com.[Illustration: Ted McGrath]