Milan. One city. Four days. Two Beer Festivals .

Milan.  One city.  Four days.  Two Beer Festivals that differ from each other in quite distinct ways.

With a city-centre location, a short stroll from Milan Central Station, the Lombardia Beer Fest offers free entry, whereas the IBF (Italia Beer Festival) is held in the vicinity of Linate Airport, in the outskirts of the city, and charges a small entry fee.  IBF provides more bang for your buck because the nominal admission charge is offset by lower-priced beers: 33% cheaper.

The pricing strategy is essentially the same for both — 1 gettone (token) is €1 — but 10cl at IBF is 1 gettone and 20cl at the Lombardia Beer Fest is 3 gettone, although special beers command a higher premium at both festivals.

Italians are, as we know, voracious eaters; and rightly so where there’s an overabundance of delicious delights.  The central location, free entry and higher prices makes Lombardia Beer Fest a perfect option for two or three beers before or after dinner — the Italian way — and over the weekend it appears much more family-orientated.  IBF, on the other hand, is for the session drinkers, the beer-nerds, and a variety of young, hip and trendy scenesters.  However, both festivals offer more than enough food options to provide sustenance to the thirsty drinker wishing to continue a prolonged meet-and-greet session with some great beers and welcoming brewers.

There is an wealth of “birra artigianale” (craft beer) in Milan, produced by a large number of “birrificio” (breweries) based in the greater Milan area, most of whom are represented across the two festivals, with many breweries attending both.  Brewers in Milan, it seems, like to play it safe style-wise, with each presenting a line-up of solid classics.  A few of the more adventurous choosing to live life dangerously and play, literally, on the wild side.  Belgian styles have a substantial influence as indicated by the large presence of dubbels, tripels and strong golden ales.  All of which, it must be said, are brewed to the highest calibre.  German beers, too, put in an appearance with numerous lager-styles, pils and weissbiers.  And let’s not overlook the pervasive use of bohemian hops in some fascinating pilsners and experimental styles.

With so much choice and quality, it’s no surprise the festivals are held simultaneously across four days – more than enough time to learn a little about what each brewery is doing, and how each places its own spin on the classic recipes.

Then there are the toilets at the Lombardia Beer Fest.  Not for the squeamish.   A laughable dearth of conveniences means the five portable toilets — two for men, two for women and one for visitors with additional mobility needs — remain in a dire state throughout the festival.  The somewhat bizarre shortage of facilities for a high number of visitors leads to the inevitable situation in which men, fuelled by beer, seem unable to decide whether they are men, women or have legitimate mobility needs — each toilet is fair game to soil and spoil, leaving the ladies and those with extra needs to face their aftermath and remains.  It is grim.  Washrooms is a misnomer, too, since there is no water, which together with the prospect of greeting the previous user’s deposit is, frankly, quite gruesome.  On this basis alone, the Lombardia Beer Fest cannot be recommended for anything more than a short visit with crossed-legs, which is a shame because the brewers, breweries and beers are a delight.

I sincerely hope there are better facilities in the private staff areas, considering the large number of caterers in attendance and considerable handling of beer glasses.

IBF, on the other hand, is not shoehorned into a central, public space and is consequently serviced adequately — clean, sufficiently numbered and welcoming.  Therefore, IBF is the recommended choice for all-day, beer-inquisitive drinkers who do not wish their day to be marred by the sights, sounds and smells of fellow-drinkers.

Toilets aside, both festivals will be of great interest to anybody captivated by beer.  It is difficult to separate the two into first- and second-place based on number and quality of brewers and beers.

What is most surprising to drinkers unfamiliar with the process, are the small carrying bags containing the glasses (plastic at the Lombardia Beer Fest) that are conveniently provided at both festivals.  Why this practice is not adopted at other beer festivals in other countries is a mystery?  It is not only convenient, but it also makes perfect sense.  Logical in many ways.

We look forward to Milan again in 2019, if not sooner, but proper thought is needed about our ability to spend extended periods of time at the Lombardia Beer Fest.  For obvious reasons.