By Ogi Dzabirski  |  29 April 2018   

The culture of drinking beer is one that is very common in Europe. So it comes as no surprise that during the last decade, we’ve seen a number of martial artists turn to beer brewing themselves, making what's known as craft beers. Craft beers are individually made beers, often in very small quantities which are becoming increasingly popular in the world.

The trait of bringing individuality into a form of art is not reserved only for craft beer brewers. You might notice many of the same characteristics in martial artists. In fact, one of the quintessential martial arts figures of all times, Bruce Lee, said it himself: Absorb what is useful. Reject what is useless. Add what is essentially your own. 

While this has become the mantra of many martial arts practitioners, it is also a perfect recipe for craft beer brewers. Now imagine putting these two together. A lifelong martial artist who is also an ale-brewing wizard is a dream combination that is not often seen.

A Beer Brewing Grappler With A Point To Prove

We introduce Marko Ilievski, a renowned martial artist for more than a decade and, as of late, a beer brewing genius. Marko is based in the small Balkan country of Macedonia, where he currently trains and teaches Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

In fact, Marko is the first ever Macedonian to bring an international BJJ medal back from high-level competition. He scored a very hard-fought bronze medal at the London Open tournament in 2012, kick-starting Macedonia's international competitive endeavors.

Like many of his peers, he likes to grab a cold one after getting out of the Gi. especially when temperatures hit an upwards of 100℉, a common occurrence in Southeastern Europe. Where he stands out from the beer-drinking crowd of grapplers is that he fancies making his own brew. And it is a special one at that. It's the "Grapplers" Ale.

Marko llievski | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Third Fight English Open 2012

Macedonia is a country that is not up to speed with the craft-beer culture. It is catching up, though, however slowly. Despite the apparent lack of quality brews of the ale variety, any innovation is very welcome. 

Marko is very close to bringing one such high-quality product to the market. His blond ale recipe received top marks at a recent craft-beer brewers gathering, full of connoisseurs of the art. His blond "Grapplers" Ale is not currently found in any bar, although negotiations are underway to soon remedy this.

Anyone looking for a taste can visit the Gracie Barra Macedonia gym and choke someone out in training or get tapped. Whatever the outcome, you'll earn your share of top-quality ale!

Q: So, Marko, how did you start your martial arts journey?

Martial arts and I met in 2005. It is a simple story really. I went to a Jeet Kune Do class, just to see what it is and if it is something I can train and do. I honestly did not think that martial arts would become my lifestyle, but it did. I just did the training sessions, went to each and every one and apparently, years had passed, and I was hooked. 

I did not think how long I was doing it, or if I would stop, it simply became a part of my daily routine and a part of me, I guess. Then, one day, a guy came in our gym, a grappling guy, and he smashed all of us. It then became obvious to me that I really didn't know much about grappling, despite investing 5 years in martial arts.

But it was a great teaser. I became really interested in it, watched a lot of videos, did impromptu workouts with some of the guys in our gym and we formed a community. Later on, we met Carlos Maia (a Carlos Gracie Jr. BJJ black belt, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia) and things started growing from there. We have our own Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym now, we celebrated our 7th birthday this year. It has definitely shaped me and who I am… in a good way. 

Q: How did craft beer brewing come about?

I am a genuine beer lover, and wherever I travel one of the things I always do is try some cool craft beers. I live in Macedonia, so not many beer options over here, we mostly just have lagers.

Since I am a geek by heart, I searched the internet and I found a Belgian company that was shipping ingredients and equipment to Macedonia. 

So, I just decided I wanted to try and do make my own beer.

The first batch was a failed project, a friend accidentally pushed the brewing kettle, so it all went to waste. The second batch was also a failed project, it went sour, like vinegar. However, the third attempt was a success, not quite what I wanted but almost there. On my fourth try, I was finally there. It turned out to be a decent beer. From there on, it was just about details. Actually, I am cooking a batch at the moment, eagerly waiting to try it out.

Q: So far you’ve mastered the blond ale variation. Why this particular style of craft beer?

That one is easy. It was the simplest to make, and the hardest to mess up.

Q: Are you still an active martial arts competitor?

I used to be, in BJJ, but I have had several injuries the last two years, so I am on a break from competing. I train, but cannot really go all in and compete. However, I do intend to, at least one more time. It is a special thrill, being on the mats against an opponent, knowing you both go all in.

Q: Beer And BJJ. How does that pairing work for you?

After a good training, what’s better than a cold beer? Especially a great tasting ale.

Q: For those looking for a pint or two, where can people sample your grappling ale?

As a guest in my house, so yes, please you are welcome. Also, for everyone visiting our Gracie Barra BJJ gym in Skopje, Macedonia, beer after training is on me.

Q: What’s next for you, beer-wise?

So far, I have just done blond ale, but currently, I am doing an experiment in the form of chocolate ale. Let’s see how that turns out. The first tasting will be in two weeks. After that, I plan on making a wheat beer variation.

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About the author

Ognen Dzabirski is from the city of Skopje, the capitol of the Republic of Macedonia, situated in the Balkan Peninsula in Europe. Currently he trains in BJJ, both as a student and a coach of the art. He trains at a Gracie Barra affiliated gym in Skopje, under Master Carlos Maia, who is a Carlos Gracie Jr. black belt. He currently hold a a purple belt BJJ and a black belt in Shotokan Karate. He's been a martial artist since the young age of 5. He takes pride in teaching the kids BJJ class and the beginner’s class at Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Injures has sidelined him as a competitor (at least temporarily) so his focus is on learning how to become a better teacher. He also enjoy writing about any and all martial arts from any aspect. His wife is also a Karate black belt and a high level competitor. Osss!

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