For the 15th time, the Polish capital is gearing up for one of it’s favorite events of the years: the Warsaw Beer Festival…
Welcome To Warsaw
Let’s be honest, you thought Warsaw would be gray and miserable, didn’t you? Twenty-years ago, you’d have had a point, but the changes have been meteoric – a fact affirmed by the city’s latest accolade as Europe’s best weekend break. Blooming and mirroring this fresh burst of energy has been a craft beer segment that’s now arguably among the most dynamic in the world.
“The speed with which everything has changed has been astonishing,” says Paweł Leszczyński, the driving force behind the WBF (Warsaw Beer Festival).
“Young people have come back from abroad inspired, and they’re trying to create something new – and you can apply that to the beer scene as well. With so little heritage to reflect upon, our brewers have proved to be among the most experimental.”
Moreover, they’ve transpired to be quick-learning perfectionists, as well. “It’s in the Polish psyche to like shiny, new things,” adds Leszczyński, “but these things have to be of good quality – that’s also boosted the beer scene.”
First held in 2014, just one year after Warsaw’s first tap bar had opened, the momentum that has propelled sector has not waned, even despite the significant challenges posed by first the pandemic, and then the associated economic impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Taking everything into account, the craft beer scene couldn’t be in any better shape and that’s reflected by the choice of beers you’ll find at the festival. You won’t be choosing between a great beer and a bad beer, rather you’ll be choosing between two great beers.”
Although a handful of select foreign breweries will be present (five French, two German), the WBF exists to showcase the skills of Poland’s own homegrown brewers.
“Some breweries will have been planning what to serve at the WBF for six-months,” says Leszczyński. In this regard, it’s ultra-competitive. Everyone wants to impress, and everyone wants to show that they’re the best. For the consumer, this is just about the best thing ever and I think holds the key to our success. There is no such thing as a bad beer at the WBF.”
When Poland’s first craft beer was tapped just over a decade ago, there could have been few that would have imagined the different roads the scene would travel down. But whilst experimental, shock factor beers will doubtlessly play a role at the WBF, Leszczyński says he also expects a re-focus on the classics.
“West Coast beers are again a thing, and low-to-no alcohol beers continue to enjoy great popularity. Domestically, we’re also seeing a lot of so-called ice beers being produced. With over 1,000 different beers, you are going to find something to fall in love with, though I’d really recommend visitors spend time talking to the brewers.
“Think of them as beer ambassadors – they have the deepest knowledge you can imagine, and they’re going to help you find what you like.”
But what if they’re already submerged under a pile of drinkers? “Then,” continues Leszczyński, “look out for our own team of ‘beer guides’. They’re there to help you locate the best beer you could ever dream of!”
Made In Poland
Although Poland lacks the beer history of Germany, Belgium, Czechia and so forth, that’s not to say the country doesn’t have its own heritage beers. “Our smoked Grodziskie-style beers are amazing,” says Leszczyński, “you don’t have to like them, but they are absolutely unique. It’s also a big declaration to make, but I honestly think our Baltic porters are the best in the world.”
After years in decline, Poland’s own hop industry is also experiencing a recovery. “Not only are our hop farmers learning how to grow hops in a way that will work best with our beers, but brewers are also teaching themselves how to best harness them.”
One In A Million!
As per previous editions, expect much buzz to come from the Newbie Zone. “We really want to spotlight the best of the little guys,” says Leszczyński. “The smallest brewery only produces 200 liters per batch, so if you’re not at the WBF it’s going to be practically impossible to ever try their beer. We’re showcasing the very best of these extraordinary breweries.”
From chaotic early beginnings when it was held in an industrial unit in Mokotów, the WBF has developed confidently. In this respect, its subsequent tenure at Legia Warszawa’s stadium has proved beautifully beneficial. Well-adapted to coping with large and unwieldy crowds, the state-of-the-art football ground has helped lift the WBF to new levels.
“I think a beer festival is defined by where it is held,” says Leszczyński. “Put simply, I don’t think we could have found a better venue – in the shape of Legia, we have a place that’s central and easily accessed by bus or cab. And show me another beer festival where you have clean toilets and no queue to get in!”
Spreading itself around the VIP hospitality levels of the football ground, exploring in itself becomes a joy – with such space, never is claustrophobia an issue, though should you find yourself in need of fresh air, then clear your head by enjoying your beer in the largely empty, open-air stands with the pitch out in front.
More Than Beer…
As central and unifying as the beer aspect is to the festival, it says much for the WBF that it would still succeed even if a prohibition was announced!
“We’ve got 17 of the best food trucks in Poland so that alone is worth visiting for,” says Leszczyński. “It’s not just Poland’s beer scene that has grown, but the scope of the festival itself – it’s a given that we have the country’s best beer, but we wanted the WBF to offer so much more which is why you’ll now find things like a sauna, spicy food competitions, standups, workshops, tastings, discussions, and games zones.”
That children and dogs are also welcome says much for the diverse and democratic nature of the WBF.
What: 15th Warsaw Beer Festival
Where: Legia Stadium (Łazienkowska 3)
When: March 23rd to March 25th
Tickets: available online from PLN 20 (single-day pass) to PLN 39 (three-day). Premium and super premium packages also available from PLN 99 to PLN 199.