As the next installment of the Warsaw Beer Festival looms ever closer, join us for a look at the multitude of attractions that make it a must for ALL nationalities…
There is a saying – or at least we think that there is – that beer has no borders. Unifying the world in a way like no other, the positive impact that the beverage can have finds itself amply demonstrated at the bi-annual Warsaw Beer Festival. Amid a Babylon of languages, Central Eastern Europe’s premier craft beer fest promises three hazy days of liquid pleasure. Set to draw 18,000 people, the capital’s biggest party looks set to be the most ambitious to date.
Thirst Things Thirst…
The primary reason for visiting a beer festival is, of course, the beer. Obvious, huh? Perhaps not so obvious, however, is the underlying uniqueness of what lies in store. Featuring 1,200 different beers poured by 65 breweries, the choice is heavily slanted to reflect Poland’s own dynamic craft sector – yet it’s not just the Polish beers you’ll be looking to enjoy, but also those brewed by our very own hops.
“Communism destroyed Polish brewing,” says Paweł Leszczyński, the founder and driving force behind the WBF. “What wasn’t killed by Communism was wiped out by the early years of capitalism.” This had a knock-on impact on the nation’s hop production, which by Leszczyński’s admission fell into tailspin. “Our hops were awful,” he flatly admits.
Now, that’s changed, and that’s largely thanks to the efforts of a firm by the name of Polish Hops. Reviving forgotten varieties whilst simultaneously developing new ones, they’ve worked closely with Poland’s artisanal breweries to produce hops of a truly world class standard.
“The brewing revolution in America showed just how hops can really define a beer,” says Leszczyński, “now we’re doing it as well.” With around 100 Polish hop-brewed beers available at the festival, it’s little wonder beer geeks are getting excited. “They’ve helped make our beer scene really dynamic,” says Leszczyński, “and its fitting that a lot of the times it’s been the really small breweries that have embraced them – they’re brewing old styles with new tastes.”
Better still, these untold riches will also be easier to find than ever before.
“We’ve marked them not just on our maps,” says Leszczyński, “but also on the taps courtesy of green lights that make them easy to ID.”
Beyond The Border
Despite being proudly Poland-focused, as per tradition organizers have reserved trading space for key foreign breweries you’ve probably never heard of. “And I think this time around, we’ve really out-done ourselves,” says Leszczyński.
“Guest-wise,” he adds, “we’ve got Belgium’s St. Bernardus which is, if I’m honest, the best trappist beer I’ve ever tasted – it’ll blow your mind with its drinkability.
“Then we’ve got five breweries from France – we don’t tend to associate the French with craft beer, but they’ve got over 1,000 breweries operating. We don’t know much about them in Poland, and they don’t know much about us in Poland, so for both sides this is going to be an interesting journey of discovery.
“Then, finally, we’ve booked Schneeeule from Germany. Female-led, this brewery specializes in Berliner-weisse. They base their recipes on yeast recovered from barrels dating from the 60s and 70s, so this really is a one-of-a-kind brewery!”
The Best of the Best
It goes without saying that you’ll find the best of Polish craft on tap – but how about taking it home with you. Well, now you can, says Leszczyński. “We’re working with the untappd app to work out what the best-rated beers are at the festival as voted for by the public – then, at the end, we’ll create about 100 to 150 souvenir boxes featuring those that haven’t all been finished!”
Talk The Talk
As a social occasion, the WBF has few peers. A supremely friendly event, English-language speakers should not be afraid to engage in conversation. “All the brewers and staff manning the taps will speak English,” says Leszczyński, “and I encourage visitors to use them as a source of knowledge.”
But these aren’t the only prophets that will point you to heaven. Specialist beer guides have also been hired, and it’s their duty to find the perfect beer for YOU. Beyond this crack squad of saviors, use the opportunity to meet new people…
“We’ve got special festival glasses that anyone can buy that are emblazoned with the slogan, ‘ask me what I’m drinking’,” says Leszczyński. “And yes, you really should take the chance to chat to strangers.”
For Geeks & Novices
Not just appealing to the hardcore beer nerds, English-speaking masterclasses and workshops will open your eyes as to the depth and versatility of Poland’s craft scene. “Some have been created specifically with English-speakers in mind,” says Leszczyński, “and they’ll serve as an introduction to the best Polish beers and the most essential breweries.
“We’ve also got some selected breweries conducting masterclasses which will lay bare the best beers and the stories behind them as presented by the people who know them best – those that make them!”
Help, I’m Lost!
No you’re not. Aside from the beer guides you’ll find grazing around ready to save your life, English-language maps and wayfinding systems have been put into place. “These are small things,” says Leszczyński, “but they’re designed to make the festival experience that little bit more easier for the foreign visitor – it sounds a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many festivals on the continent don’t have this.”
The Fun Stuff
What could be more fun that trying the country’s best beer? Answer: nothing. That said, that hasn’t stopped the WBF from open new doors to engage one and all. Of the attractions, expect a sauna, an auction for a mystery safe the contents of which are worth PLN 2,000, and an American Games Zone brought to you in collaboration with the American Embassy.
“Of the available games we’ll have such things as cheese pong (ping pong played on a table mined with holes), O Pong (played on a circular table) and three-player ping pong,” says Leszczyński. “But there’ll also be much, much more besides!”
The Artisan Zone
Allowing visitors to covet, thumb and admire the best of Polish craftsmanship, the WBF will also have a craft zone that will bring together a selection of hip and trending Polish manufacturers. Vending such items as quirky socks, hot sauces and tote bags, these promise to make for a special memento of the WBF.
Who can forget Friday night’s hot sauce challenge! “It might not be fun to take part in,” teases Leszczyński, “but it sure is fun to watch!”
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 90 to PLN 180.