A Midsummer Night's Beer Garden

It's summer, and like most of us, I'm off to vacationland. After visiting some relatives and seeing historic sites, I'm going to be in Berlin on the first full weekend of August for my second visit to one of the most impressive beer festivals on Earth. Besides having many a good drop at brew fests in Seattle and elsewhere in the U.S., I've been to the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) in London and the 24 Hours of Beer in Belgium, two festivals that are drenched in superlatives. The GBBF features more cask ale in one place than you can imagine, rack after rack of cask-conditioned real ale, most of them in top condition. Belgium's 24 Hours has morphed into the Zythos Beer Festival, offering the opportunity to sample the most stunning range of Belgian beers available under one roof. But you know what? I love British ales and adore Belgian beer, but German beers remain my passion in spite of all. The International Berliner Beerfestival offers superlatives that push the U.K.'s and Belgium's biggest brew fests aside. A little background: Typical German beer festivals are regional and often don't feature more than a few beers. The biggest beer-drinkin' party of them all, Munich's Oktoberfest, isn't really about the beer; only six brands are sold, and all the beers are pale, malty "fest lagers" brewed for the occasion. This hardly represents variety in a country with 1,200 breweries. This changed big time back in 1997, when the first "Berliner Beer Mile" was staged, with 115 breweries from 44 countries offering 500 beers. This year, the ninth edition of the fest features 240 breweries from 80 countries, Germany prominent among them, pouring more than 1,750 beers. Hurry up and book: The fest runs Aug. 5–7. Short notice? There's always August 2006. If you're really a crazed, dedicated beer fan, you could fit both the Berlin fest and the GBBF into a two-week holiday. Tell your travel agent to get busy!

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