Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Serbia's Belgrade Beer Festival

The Belgrade Beer Festival is not a beer festival.

That's what every beer geek back in the USA would say.  Out of the 20 or so beers available at the festival, there's nothing that would excite any major beer tourist.  Unfortunately, once you go east of Germany and the Czech Republic all the European beers start tasting the same.  If you want to be the first to say you've drank Jelen, Laskov, Niksicko, and some Irish-Style Serbian Craft Beer, then go for bragging rights.  They're still better than your average Central American beer, but nothing that will make beer geeks have beergasms.

Maps Are Irrelevant When You're This Drunk
You don't go to Belgrade for beer tasting...you go there to party.  The Belgrade Beer Festival is certainly a great place to party.  There's one massive stage that has live bands playing until the early hours of the morning.  Beer, alcohol and Serbian barbeque flow freely.  Beautiful Balkan girls will dance with you and crazy Balkans guys will challenge your foreign ass to out-drink them (good luck.)

Unlike Serbia's far more popular Exit Festival, the Belgrade Beer Festival still feels authentically Serbian. Most of the bands are national or former Yugoslavian rock acts that don't play outside of the Balkans. Meanwhile the Exit Festival attracts Europeans from all over to see international bands and DJs such as Guns N' Roses, Snoop Dogg, Eric Prydz, Artic Monkeys and David Guetta.

During 2 days at the Beer Festival, I didn't run into a single 'foreigner.'  Note the contrast.

Good Balkan Company
The big headliners for the 2011 Belgrade Beer Festivals were Riblja Čorba, Atomsko SkloništeKiki Lesendrić i Piloti and Marky Ramone's Blitzkrieg (yes, from The Ramones.)  And if anyone remembers the 1980s, Simple Minds also headlined.  One group which has never headlined, but which has played every festival dating back to the first in 2003 is the Orthodox Celts.  They are actually a national group, but true to their name they play traditional Irish folk music.  They fucking rock.

Are any of these groups ringing a bell??

From a local perspective, Riblja Čorba is probably the most famous of all the groups.  These old guys have managed to stay rocking since 1978 with most of the original band still intact.  I'm told their lyrics are quite funny and often political....if only I understood Serbian.

In addition to solid rock 'n' roll groups, the festival offers more typical traditional Serbian groups for people who are into the Gypsy Balkan sound made popular by Goran Bregovic, Emir Kusterica and the like.  As cool as that music is, some Serbians will tell you that Goran and Imir 'sold out.'  Go to this festival if you want to hear some undiscovered sounds...

My personal recommendation: buy a few liters of Jelen Pivo outside the festival where it's a lot cheaper and get drunk before you go in.  Most of the Serbians will be doing the same and -as with me- they might ask you, "Why the fuck you here, and not Exit Fest?!"  Then they will hand you a beer and say, "Ziveli!" You'll be in good company.  I certainly was.

I ♥ Balkan Girls 

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