Festivals of Life and Beer

The Politics of Beer by | Apr 2010 | Issue #39

One of my goals in life is to get Americans to travel more. For the world to survive climate change and the banking foul-up, regular citizens need to understand a lot more about the 92 percent of the world that is not the US. If I fail, we are all doomed.

The reluctant or inexperienced traveler may need an excuse to enable them to overcome fear of the unfamiliar. As craft beer lovers, the lure of a famous beer festival might do it. Better yet, why not consider an obscure one? Here are a few tips, with their 2010 dates.

Great British Beer Festival, London
August 3–7. gbbf.org.uk
The ultimate homage to flat, weak, warm British ale on draft, with an occasional nod to the rest of the world.
Pros: Incredible subtle variety on one beer theme; it’s London, so they speak American; the pound is weak this year.
Cons: Seriously expensive hotels; few really exciting beers.
Tips: Stay in Bayswater or Earls Court; drink small measures; hit the foreign beers bar; travel on to Edinburgh for unique cultural mayhem.

Great American Beer Festival, Denver
September 16–18. greatamericanbeerfestival.com
If GABF were in England, it would be a gay icon. Dicky-bowed attendants marshaled to dispense thimbles of limitless brews into dinky plastic pots.
Pros: Unrivaled variety; efficient dispense; rarely overcrowded; brewers attend.
Cons: Awful food; insufficient toilets; underplays its educational role; it’s America, so it’s cheating.
Tips: Book months in advance; avoid familiar breweries; do one style an hour; you can get drunk on tiny measures.

Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
September 18–October 4. oktoberfest.de/en
Join 6 million revelers in groups of up to 10,000 in tents, drinking beer by the liter, eating chicken and getting drunk.
Pros: Famously strong-wristed, dirndl-clad waitresses; the Theresienwiese (d’Wiesn) giant fairground; saying you’ve been.
Cons: Same old beers; starts rowdy and heads rapidly downhill; hard-sell food and merchandise; that bloody drinking song.
Tips: Reserve well in advance; stay in Erding and take the S-Bahn; miss it altogether and drink ’round the city instead.

All of these are great if you like cities, crowds and occasion. If the offbeat and unlikely is more your thing, you may prefer to consider some smaller events.

Brassigaume, Marbehan, Belgium
October 16–17. brassigaume.be
Railway stations are important. Marbehan village is on the main Brussels-Luxembourg line and gets dozens of fast trains daily. It’s strictly micro at this excellent local hoolie attended by international birra cogniscenti in their country clothes.

Spontaneous Fermentation Weekend, Opstal, Belgium
May 29–30. bierpallieters.be
In the middle of the Brussels-Antwerp-Ghent triangle but miles away from each, the parish hall in Opstal hosts the ultimate display of Lambics, gathering every known commercial example, by fair means or foul.

Villaggio della Birra, Bibbiano, Italy
September 11–12. villaggiodellabirra.com
Between the Chianti and Brunello wine-growing areas, near the Tuscan hill town of Buonconvento, north of Siena, this tiny village’s only café stocks 100-plus Belgian and Italian microbrews year-round and annually hosts a gathering of craft brewers and their families. Bizarre, endearing and thoroughly enjoyable.

You just missed Finland’s top event, and you will need to move quick to get to Denmark’s Copenhagen festival (BeerFestival.dk).

But for just plain bragging, the place to be seen this summer, to demonstrate dedication to both adventure and the encouragement of a perverse, reverse sense of revolution is the 2nd Independent & Microbreweries Fest in St. Petersburg, Russia, on the last weekend in August.

If not, maybe 2011, fellow traveler.