Wroclaw - The Festival

Taking advantage of a long weekend provided by the celebration of the International Workers Day, I used the invitation received by the organisation of the Wroclawski Festiwal Dobrego Piwa (WFDP) to assist the sixth edition of this popular Polish beer festival. It would give me the great opportunity to have a first-hand experience with the new beer scene in Poland: so young, so bright.

I had read few things about their brewing industry, but I was forewarned of what I'd find during my trip. So as I was driving early to the airport on April 30th I knew I was about to fly to a city that would amaze me as a beer aficionado. Besides, it was another nice chance for me to learn new things about life from the locals and their culture. Sounded like a plan.

That same Thursday I mostly went to the city centre to visit some interesting pubs and have that first contact. I will write about those places too, but for today let's flash forward to Friday 1st of May to go in depth into the Good Beer Festival of Wroclaw.

The night before had been intense, so all kind of preventive measures were taken to be fresh and ready for the next day. The locals suggested red grape juice to fight the hangover, but I complemented it with the Lufthansa sandwich I took from my last flight to be even more sure. We met for breakfast at the hotel with all the group of international bloggers, so that we would get to the Festival together. Conveniently enough, the venue was 300 yards off where we stayed.

The whole group was more or less interested on football, so as we were reaching the Stadion Miejski we Wrocławiu the feeling of having a great European match ahead was even bigger. We passed the security gate and began walking to get out registrations, with Tomasz Kopyra leading the group. While going across the venue, he pointed for us those stands we should definitely visit later, some of which were still assembling the final details. The offer was quite impressive, with both foreign and local beers on tap or bottled and many different food stalls, plus an additional supply of juices, coffee and curious items like natural hop soap or shampoo.

Analysing my surroundings with the eyes of a beer enthusiast, but also with those of a Festival organiser, I quickly realised that the Stadium decisively marked the character of the event. That vast expanse of space gives lots of possibilities to the organisers, who obviously don't miss the chance to expand the parallel offer of activities. There were concerts all day long on a stage surrounded by grass, homebrewing workshops and breweriana contests and exhibitions. Furthermore, a big TV-like stage was used for all kind of different presentations and lectures. Oh yes, and a there was also a more festive stand with a 2 minutes hanging challenge.

At first it seemed difficult to picture the Stadion crowded with people. On Friday the drizzle didn't help, but on Saturday the venue was packed, even when the Festival took part during the same weekend of the Flag Day celebration. With such a big bunch of people having fun and drinking beer, the capacity and services that a stadium provides are ideal. Just think that in 2014 up to 60.000 people assisted the festival during the whole weekend. I have no present figures, but it must have been impressive once again.

Once registered, accreditation and official cup in hand, our beer route began and I could reinforce the great sensations I had had the day before while visiting different Wroclawski pubs. Apart from beer, the food was delicious. Most of the times it was pork meat, sausage or brochette, but there were also fish & chips stalls, food trucks with a great range of different burgers, and even raw herring plates and sandwiches.

At 5 PM we had our first live-blogging session in the grandstands of the stadium. Polish brewers would talk about their products and let us try them, while there was a live broadcast of the event, displayed on big screens within the premises. The sessions consisted on 10-12 minutes dates during which we could talk and ask questions about the different beers offered. On Friday we met the guys from Nepomucen, Browar Profesja, Browar Lubrow and Piwo z Grodziska. Two other brewers missed the event because they couldn't find the place... it made me feel like home. On Saturday, at 4 PM, we met a different group of brewers: Doctor Brew, Browar Gosciszewo, Browar Artezan, Browar Pinta and Fine Tuned Brewery. I'll post about the beers I tasted in a specific post, but the live-blogging selection really satisfied us.

Stunning stage for the live-blogging sessions

But before the second round of live-blogging, on Saturday, we had had a busy morning. We visited 3 local microbreweries, getting to the festival around noon hungry and on a full schedule. After having lunch we went to a reserved area in which we attended a homebrewing exhibition. Around 40 homebrewers were giving free samples of their creations, and we had some memorable surprises. I liked a Rye Smoke Chili Beer called "Curva Peligrosa" (Dangerous Curve), or a Kriek brewed by Browar Alex, as well as a Double IPA and a creamy smoky Witbier with pear and banana flavours. Then there was a beer with aniseed that engaged us in a funny conversation that made us realise that in a group of 6 people talking up to 12 languages nobody knew how to say fennel in any language but his own. Now it won't happen to me again.

Still, of all those home brews, my favourite ones were a deliciously resinous and fresh Spruce Beer and an astonishing Kriek, both of them brewed by one of the guys from Browar Profesja, Przemyslaw Leszczynski. As a biologist and a true yeast expert, he brewed the closest non-Belgian beer to a Kriek that I've had to date. He told me with resignation that this kind of beers are not at all appreciated by the Polish drinkers, the reason why he can't persuade his colleagues at the brewery to commercially produce this Kriek. If local palates evolve in a similar way than in Barcelona, I'm sure they will launch awesome beers like this one in no time. Big recognition to this young brewery will come shortly afterward, even from the other side of their country's borders.

With such a pleasant surprise at the homebrewers exhibition, after Saturday's live-blogging session, it was time for the international bloggers to go on stage. The workshops, awards and presentations had been a great addition to the global offer of the Festival so far. Now it was our turn to take a seat on the comfortable sofa that rested on the nicely decorated set and get to discuss about beer festivals in our countries, while comparing approaches with the WFDP. The debate lasted a bit more than an hour, with two final questions to be answered by every speaker:

1. What does the Wroclawski Festiwal Dobrego Piwa need to improve to be a better beer festival?
2. How can we encourage beer enthusiasts from abroad to come and visit the festival to know the Polish beer scene?

My answer to the first question was that there was absolutely nothing amiss. At its sixth edition, the WFDP is the model festival, positioning the capital of Silesia as the leader city for this young but intense beer growth in Poland. Talking with brewers and assistants confirmed what I had previously read: the Festiwal is one of the most powerful engines of this new beer scene. It contributes to the attraction of public and the dissemination of beer culture. No matter who I talked to: everybody praised the great task that the people behind the festival have been doing all these years.

Tomasz, Simon, Martyn, (myself), Martin and Gonçalo.
Picture by Barbara; with her the bunch is complete.

Happy people, massive attendance and a very smooth execution: no wonder why this festival is the reference point in its country. Given the facts, it is difficult to ask for more than keeping up with the good work,  while evolving side by side with the local beer scene. My own experience tells me that this kind of events are not successful out of pure luck. In contrast, it involves sweat and effort. Still, I guess that once back home and after a thinking deeply about it from my writing armchair I can add one possible improvement measure, intimately linked to the second question at hand.

To bring bloggers from other parts of Europe to discover the state of brewing in Poland is clearly one way. Similarly, if the organisation wants to unveil the charm of the Polish beer scene to foreigners another possibility would be to bring popular brewers from other more distant countries. It would surely bring business dynamism,  while the brewers get to know the local brewing industry and the festival attendees get to taste and talk with some of the big names of the European craft beer scene.

However, I feel it is important to emphasise the fact that most of the present brewers were locals, with the exception of some Czech and German ones. As far as I'm concerned, the Festival should never lose this essential character, that I regard as one of its main assets. Contrary, they should complete the offer with the presence of foreign brewers capable of exciting the public and willing to discover new beer destinations.

Last glimpse of the stadium, shining with the colours
of the Polish flag, joining the Flag Day celebration.

Just like I said during the colloquium, my impression is that all the people who are part of the Polish beer scene, from aficionados to professionals, can feel genuinely proud of what they've accomplished in barely five years' time. As always, I must add one of those "there's lots of work ahead", but I'm pretty sure that it'll be carried out with eagerness and effort. If it follows the same lead, the outcome can only be victorious.

My personal assessment after my trip to Wroclaw is that I've had the great opportunity to get to know an outstanding beer scene. Not only for its fast growth or the quality of its current offerings, but specially for the enthusiasm and proudness of every single person that feels part of it. I even dare to say that on the years to follow Poland will surely be one of the countries to bring more dynamysm and vitality to the beer enthusiast, both locally and internationally. In any case, time will tell.

Salut i birra!


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