In 2005, London-based newspaper, The Independent, touted the Belgrade Beer Festival in Belgrade, Serbia as “one of the worldwide events to visit.” Established in 2003, the Belgrade fest has quickly won the hearts of beer lovers throughout Eastern Europe and is the second most visited festival in Serbia. In 2006, over 550,000 visitors gathered for the five-day festival at the foot of Belgrade’s Kalemegdan Fortress where the Sava and Danube Rivers converge.
As word of the festival spreads, attendance seems to grow at an exponential rate. Over 500,000 liters (1,056,700 pints), comprising more than 30 domestic and foreign beers, are consumed by enthusiastic festival-goers. Admission is free, but there is a charge for beer consumed – from 50 Euro cents to 2 Euros per glass (about 65 cents to $2.70 American dollars at the current exchange rate).
The revelry is peppered with over 45 performances of loud music and competitions that do well to keep the action alive throughout the fest. Bands – mostly from former Yugoslav countries – strut regional dance music, rock and pop, but intersperse the action with tributes to world-known musicians such as Guns ‘n’ Roses, Queen, and Iron Maiden. “Fastest Drinker” competitions raise the level of rowdiness, as do the uninhibited performances of well-endowed dancers in the podium spotlight.
Despite the raucous nature of the event, it is still about the beer. Throughout the year, domestic brands dominate the Serbian beer scene. With the growing success of the Belgrade Beer Festival, world brands are creeping into the landscape, igniting greater appreciation for beer beyond the boundaries of the country’s natural borders. The festival’s website introduces beer-lovers to such educational topics as “How to Taste Beer,” the structure and origins of beer, health benefits, beer temperature, “How to Assess Beer Quality,” beer glasses, misconceptions, and famous quotes.
It also cites examples of classic styles of beer, including domestic brands – Tuborg, Staropramen, Topvar, and Laško – and international ones such as Velikoj Britaniji, Ceškoj, Baltika, Haineken, Anchor Steam, Synebrchoff, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, New Belgium La Folie, Victory Brewing St. Victorious, Kalamazoo Expedition Stout, Tuppers Hop Pocket Pils, BridgePort India Pale Ale, Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold, Rodenbach Grand Cru, New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
In addition to plaudits from The Independent, the Festival has earned media blitz from Maxim, Blic, Kurir, Biz and Cosmopolitan magazines.
Bear Facts - Tragedy at the 2007 Festival
Even with such praise, events occur that are beyond rational comprehension. The 2007 Belgrade Beer Festival ended in tragedy when the body of a 22-year old man was found dead and partially consumed in the bear cage at the Belgrade Zoo on the last day of the festival, Sunday, August 19, 2007. According to the Associated Press, the bear cage is an open-air structure, with no roof. It is believed that the man, possibly drunk or drugged, may have fallen from a restaurant overlooking the bear cage, and sustained injuries to the head, abdomen and legs. Reuters reported that two adult bears, Masha and Misha, had dragged the man's body to the feeding corner of the cage. Zoo personnel discovered the tragedy during a routine inspection. The bears reacted with instinctive aggression to any attempts by zoo-keepers to recover the body. Local police are investigating the incident.
The “bear facts” stand as a strong reminder to festival enthusiasts that fun is fun, but always keep a clear head.