“Why don’t you drink beer?”
It’s a reasonable question for Gent Thaci, my guide to Kosovo’s 2012 Beer Fest, to ask. We’re just about to enter the event, which consists of a series of colorful tents and tables boasting bottles of brew, situated in front of the Palace of Youth and Sports in Prishtina. The whole point is to taste what’s on offer — and by choice, I haven’t had a beer in at least five years.
“I just don’t like it. I prefer vodka,” I respond, feeling self-conscious, as I always do when trying to explain why I never throw back a cold one. “Why do you like beer so much?”
A slightly dreamy look comes over Thaci’s face. Seventeen years old with an infectious grin, budding mustache and the smooth but genial air of an expert politician or event planner, he describes himself as a “beer fan.” (This comes from Twitter, where Thaci also identifies as a “Geek, Free Software Hacktivist, Pirate, People Person, Community Manager, [and] Event Organizer.” He has more than 1,200 followers — impressive for someone not yet in his last year of high school.) “Because it has been around since, like, the first civilization,” Thaci answers me. “‘Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.’ Benjamin Franklin said that.”
And so begin several hours of Thaci schooling me in all things beer. We’ve arrived early, at Thaci’s suggestion, to beat the crowd and entry fee. As we step in front of the Palace, Thaci guides me to the right, to commence a full lap around the event, all the while waving to or shaking hands with acquaintances. “More friends,” he says with a shrug, each time there is someone new to greet.
There are 18 brewers represented at Kosovo’s second-ever Beer Fest, which is organized by a local PR company. Peja and Hugos, the hometown favorites (read: Kosovo’s only beer producers), are here, as are companies from Germany, Slovenia, Holland, Denmark and elsewhere. Thaci, of course, knows them all. I assume he’ll try each one over the course of the event, which last three days. He starts with the German brewer Paulaner, ordering two different beers in quick succession and explaining to me that highly fermented brews are excellent for washing hair. I make a mental note to Google this. (It’s true.)
When I ask him how he fell in love with beer, Thaci doesn’t miss a beat. “Everything started when I traveled to Brussels,” he says, describing how a trip to a technology conference happened to include an event with free beer. “Belgians have a lot of kinds of beer.” Lots of kinds that are either too expensive or impossible to get in Kosovo, where Peja (“a crap Pilsner”) reigns supreme and Miller (“horse piss”) is a sought-after import. “I started drinking and reading (about beer) on the Internet,” Thaci continues, citing RateBeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com as go-to sites. “Many people read about soccer and cars. I read about beer.”
Although beer-as-obsession is not a terribly popular pastime in Prishtina, Thaci has found friends who share his interest. Many of them are circulating around Beer Fest, including a graphic-design student named Visar, who, like Thaci, objects to the beautiful women in tight clothes and heels selling beer inside the various tents. Well, not to the women, exactly, but to the distraction they provide from what should be the real focus of the event. “The reason you should buy beer isn’t because a woman is selling it. It should be good beer,” Visar explains. They are also disappointed in the Guinness table. “I was hoping Guinness would have draft,” Visar says. “Stout is a beer that shouldn’t be drunk in a bottle,” Gent chimes in.
These guys are purists. So it’s no surprise when Thaci, now sitting with a group of friends near the Hugos tent, describes a 500-year-old German law called Reinheitsgebot, or “purity order,” that stated only water, barley, and hops could be used to make beer.
Thaci has several beer-related dreams, including starting a microbrewery with friends. While popular in the United States and other countries, handcrafted beers have yet to become a trend in Kosovo. (Among other reasons, Thaci thinks this is in part due to limited access to hops.) He would also like to try pairing — that is, drinking certain beers with certain foods. Another dream is one that beer-lovers everywhere share: “Oktoberfest is on my bucket list,” Thaci says. “I so want to go there to get really good beer, sausage and pretzels.”
As the Beer Fest crowd grows and Thaci speaks enthusiastically about his favorite beverage, I can’t help but feel inspired. “If I were to have one beer here, what should I get?” I ask. Again, Thaci has the answer: something light, “girlish.” He takes me to the Salitos tent, which is selling tequila-flavored beer I assume comes from Mexico but, in fact, is German. Two blonde women in cowboy hats pop open the bottle of pale, gold liquid and offer it to me with lipsticked smiles. I take a sip—and I don’t hate it.
Thaci taps my bottle with his as we set off for another lap around Beer Fest. “Thanks for sharing this with me,” he says.
The article was originally written in English.
Photo: Seyward Darby
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