Great Beer Festivals – What to Look For
Beer festivals are popular around the world. They occur in large metropolitan areas, medium-sized college towns, and small rural areas. What makes a beer festival so attractive is that it is a way for a community to gather to relax, enjoy a beer, try something new, support a charity or a local business, or help generate new business to the area. Regardless of the goal of the beer fest, there is always something for everyone and typically, everyone leaves enjoying the experience and learning something new. One may go to a beer fest in Germany, Japan, Brazil, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, Denver, New York City, St. Louis, or Madison, Wisconsin, and aside from the possibility of language barriers, all experiences have the potential of being the same. Festival-goers can have fun, learn something new about themselves and their tastes, and learn about a beer they have never tried before.
The most commonly known beer festival is Oktoberfest, but there are many other types of festivals that focus on different styles of beer, regions of brewing, or type of brewer. Some beer festivals last for a single day while others are spread out over an entire week known as “beer weeks,” such as the nationally celebrated American Craft Beer Week.
Great beer festivals are not always all about the beer though. Regional cuisine, beer and food pairings, live music, arts on display, games and contests are usually integrated into the festival as well. No matter where the attendees are from or what their backgrounds are, socioeconomic lines are blurred and beer enthusiasts are able to discuss what they taste, connect and share a common bond whether they like the same styles of beer or not. Much like music, theatre, books, movies and athletics, beer transcends many societal boundaries and allows for a common ground to be held by all, and for many, it does not get much more relaxing than that.
Beer fests are unique in their form of enjoyment because there are still rules that must be followed. First and foremost, legal drinking age, responsible consumption and safe travels afterwards are the keys to getting the full enjoyment experience from the festival. Aside from the legal aspects of enjoying a beer fest, there are some good tips to follow to make sure that you enjoy yourself to your fullest while at a beer festival.
Food – Before and during the festival, drinking on an empty stomach is a surefire way of not enjoying the event. Many festivals have food and snacks available. If not, make sure that you eat beforehand and bring food with you. If they aren’t offering it, they won’t complain that you are bringing it with you. This isn’t a movie theater. A very popular way to carry food in hands free is the famous pretzel necklace, which I have seen evolve into a pretzel, beef jerky, string cheese, candy bar, whatever can have a hole punched through it and strung together – necklace.
Water – Hydrate! Since the majority of the beer festivals are held outside and in warmer weather, you want to mix in water with your beer consumption. A good piece of advice is to drink one ounce of water for every ounce of beer.
No rush! – Pace yourself. The point of the festival is to try many beers, not to get inebriated as quickly as possible. If that is your goal, a local bar or tavern is a much cheaper and safer option. Taste the beer, experience what the beer does for your sensory palate, take tasting notes, discuss the beer–whatever you enjoy. There will be plenty of time for you to try everything at least once.
Bring cash – You may end up wanting to buy something. Most festivals have beer related vendors, food trucks or food stations, snacks, and merchandise. Some brewers will even sell the signage at their booth at the end of the festival. I have even seen a shave and a haircut station at a beer festival before. Not everyone is going to be equipped to handle a credit or debit transaction, and there is no guarantee that there will be an ATM, so bringing cash is highly advised.
Plan ahead – Make sure that you know which brewers are going to be there, and if possible, what beers they will be pouring. That way you can have an idea of what you want to try. Also, try to start with the lightest beers in flavor first, then work your way to the heavier beers in flavor. Your taste buds will thank you.
Try the new first! – Try the beers that are new to you first. These are beers that you’ve never had before, and may not be able to easily get again. Especially if a brewer has a limited release, or a onetime brew, you want to taste that and enjoy that experience before they run out. If you miss out on a beer that you can get at your local tap house, not all is lost, but if you miss out on a beer that appears in a 30 barrel batch once a year, you’ll be kicking yourself for getting what is readily available first.
Fashion Sense – Proper attire is key and that means check out the forecast, especially if the festival is held outdoors. A festival in May calls for a different set of clothing and potential weather conditions than a festival in August. A rainy day at 70 degrees might not warrant the sandals, shorts and t-shirt that you had planned for a sunny, 90-degree day, so plan accordingly.
Get home safely – Have a plan for a designated driver, shuttle, or cab. Many festivals are held in areas that you have to drive to get to. Be smart. The whole point of celebrating the beers is the fact that they are enjoyable. Keep the entire experience enjoyable for yourself and others.
Take pictures! – Outside of making sure that you digitize memories of your experience at the festival with your friends, you may see some unique characters at a beer fest. I have personally seen all four of the Ghostbusters, what I believed to have been a hill tribe out of Game of Thrones, Storm Troopers, people with pretzels adhered to their shirts entirely covering them, Vikings, Spongebob, Gandalf (or Dumbledore, I couldn’t tell) and I finally found him, Waldo.
Enough talking about what beer festivals are, what to expect, and how to be ready. Where are they? Well, they are honestly everywhere.
28 of the most popular beer fests around the world are: (not ranked by popularity)
- Okoberfest – Munich, Germany
- Qingdao International Beer Festival – Qingdao, Shandong China
- National Winter Ales Festival – Manchester, England
- Pilsner Fest – Plzen, Czech Republic
- Mondial de la Bière – Montreal, Canada
- World Beer Festival – New York, New York
- The Belgian Beer Weekend – Brussels, Belgium
- Belgium Comes to Cooperstown – Cooperstown, New York
- The New Zealand Beer Festival – Auckland, New Zealand
- The Great American Beer Festival – Denver, Colorado
- Boulevardia – Kansas City, Missouri
- The Great British Beer Festival – London, England
- Hops in the Hills Beer Fest – Okemo, Vermont
- Classic City Brewfest – Athens, Georgia
- Brewgrass Festival – Asheville, North Carolina
- Savor – New York, New York
- Great Taste of the Midwest – Madison, Wisconsin
- American Craft Beer Festival – Boston, Massachusetts
- Firestone Walker Invitational – Paso Robles, California
- All-Ireland Craft Beer Festival – Dublin, Ireland
- Oregon Brewers Festival – Portland, Oregon
- Untapped Fest – Houston & Dallas, Texas
- Copenhagen Beer Festival – Copenhagen, Denmark
- Fresh Hop Ale Festival – Yakima, Washington
- South East Craft Beer Fest – Columbia, Missouri
- The Festival 2015 – St. Petersburg, Florida
- Groovetoberfest – Coconut Grove, Florida
A great resource for finding a beerfest near you is Beerfest.com
I hope that you find a beer festival to experience. Even if beer is not your “thing,” you may surprise yourself with what you find.