by Chris Loud
With the Brewer’s Association reporting that there are over 2,300 craft breweries operating in the United States, there’s no denying that craft beer is gaining popularity right now. When it comes to tasting, commenting, and judging, beer is the new wine, and the best way to get to know some of the amazing beers around the country, and around the world, is to attend a beer festival. Beer, music, a great setting, and good people combine for a recipe for a pint (or two) of bliss, especially on a hot summer day.
To help decide which festivals to attend for a dive into beer culture, we selected the finest events worth taking a trip to experience. We’ve created this list of the country's best celebrations of suds to satisfy the beer enthusiast planning a summer sipping vacation.
Asheville Beer Week Asheville, North Carolina
After receiving multiple “Beer City, USA” labels from notable figures like Charlie Papazian, the father of craft brewing in America, Asheville has embraced its heady achievements as a "brewtopia." Still, recognition from beer enthusiasts continues to bring more and more attention to this unlikely city, so there’s no better place to start your summer beer festival run than Asheville.
Asheville Beer Week takes place during the last week of May, culminating with a large festival at the end of the week on June 1. Get to Asheville early to catch the Homebrew Festival on the first day, with tastings from 50 home brewers. Then, hit the party at Asheville Brewing Company, featuring live music and a cornhole tournament—the ultimate outdoor beer-in-hand game.
Throughout the week there will be different breweries hosting beer specials, tastings, tap takeovers, new releases, beer flights, and food pairings for you to enjoy. Hop on the LaZoom bus and enjoy a comedy and beer tour around Asheville. At the end of the week, check out dozens of breweries and hear plenty of live music at the annual Beer City Festival, which serves as a great kickoff to a summer of suds.
Philly Beer Week Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Considered one of the largest events of its kind in America, Philly Beer Week captures the essence of Philadelphia with over a week of good ol’ fashioned pub crawls, tastings, brewery tours, local festivals, and classic, beer-friendly Philly food.
The week begins on Friday, May 31 with the opening tap ceremonies, where Mayor Michael Nutter uses the “Hammer of Glory”, the official Philly Beer Week keg mallet, to release the first pour of Brotherly Suds 4, the 2013 collaborative beer for the event. Collaborative beers are traditionally brews made by a collective group of local breweries for a special occasion, and none are most anticipated than the Philly Beer Week offerings. Brewbound.com reports that, "beer drinkers will be able to enjoy a number of collaborative beers, brewed in cooperation by top local and international brewers, to debut during PBW." In addition to Brotherly Suds, other offerings will include Dock Street Trappiste Pale, Johnny Berliner, Standard Pale, DNA UK, and Brewvolution II.
After the ceremonies, 30 regional breweries will have tastings available, plus a delicious food buffet. Throughout the week you’ll be able to experience the region’s unique beer scene, including top-notch breweries, classic neighborhood taverns, new trend-setting hot spots, and a wealth of beer culture and history.
American Craft Beer Fest Boston, Massachusetts
Different from the previous festivals, the American Craft Beer Fest takes place over two days—May 31 and June 1—at one location: Boston’s Seaport World Trade Center. However, this gathering of brew lovers is still known as one of the largest and most diverse collections of American Craft Beer, celebrating over 600 craft beers from over 135 outstanding breweries.
Over the course of the festival, you can experience an impressive array of some of the country’s most unique and ground-breaking brews, all under one roof. The event is hosted by Beer Advocate, one of the leading craft beer resources, and Harpoon Brewery, a very well-known craft brewery. Pint Drunk Love’s Pandamack, who is both an attendee and annual volunteer for the American Craft Beer fest, says
This beer festival has much to offer for the hardcore beer geek and the relatively new craft beer drinker…David and Daniel Kleban (Of Beer Advocate) were amazing hosts, answering any questions that I or the attendees had about their beer.
In other words, despite the enormous scale of the event, the American Craft Beer Fest is a great place to hone your well-developed beer knowledge, to educate yourself as a newcomer to the craft beer world, or just to enjoy an amazing craft beer party.
Travel Tip: Philly Beer Week and the American Craft Beer Fest take place around the same time, and are just a half day’s drive apart. If you’re ambitious, Asheville is also about a full day’s drive from Philly.
Great Northern Beer Festival Eagle River, Wisconsin
For a completely different beer festival experience, the Great Northern Beer Festival in Eagle River, Wisconsin offers exactly what you would expect from the name of the festival and the town—a classic North Country beer bash.
When one of a state’s major sports teams is named the Brewers, you better believe the locals take beer seriously. Wisconsin loves its beer, and Great Northern is the perfect event to celebrate that love. You’ll be enjoying some of the best beers the Midwest has to offer in the wide-open spaces of the Hi-Pines Campground in Northern Wisconsin.
The Midwest has really developed a strong craft beer scene, and many of the top area breweries will be featured along with the Northwoods LUSH Homebrewers. According to Doug from TheBrewBros.com, the Great Northern Beer Festival will have “large open spaces or nicely wooded sites for tenting, plenty of RV sites and enough things to keep you occupied for an entire weekend.” He also suggested camping there after the beer fest to “stick around for horse shoes, volleyball or take a hike and enjoy the scenery.” The festival takes place on June 8, and it’s an amazing chance to enjoy the northern wilderness and taste some of the premier Upper Midwest beers.
Raley Field Brewfest Sacramento, California
Everyone likes drinking a beer at the ballpark, but how many fans can claim they’ve had a drink on the field? On June 7 in Sacramento, “take me out to the ballgame” takes on a whole new meaning.
Presented by Wing Stop and the Northern California Brewer’s Guild, the Raley Field Brewfest features some of best brews fromCalifornia and surrounding areas, and all the festivities take place in the outfield of Raley Field, home to the minor league Sacramento River Cats.
Tap Tip: In addition to over 60 beer vendors, there will be plenty of live music and food available on site. Nothing says summer like baseball and beer, and Raley Field offers one of the more unique summer beer festival experiences.
Snowmass Mammoth Fest Snowmass, Colorado
Colorado’s craft beer scene is one of the best, and although the state plays host to several festivals and dozens of great breweries for craft beer fans, the Snowmass Mammoth Fest sets itself apart from the others with a great combination of beer and music.
Other beer festivals boast good live music, but the Mammoth Fest takes music just as seriously as it does beer. It’s really half music festival, half beer festival, sprinkled with chili cook-offs and other diversions. Set in Snowmass Village’s Town Park on June 7 and 8, the emphasis will be on great live music and outstanding local microbrews. You have the option to camp, or stay at the ski town’s comfortable nearby accommodations. If you love music and beer, this is your festival.
Vermont Brewer’s Festival Burlington, Vermont
Did you know Vermont is home to more breweries per capita than any other state? On July 19 and 20, you can enjoy one of the longest-running craft beer festivals in the East, and still one of the most picturesque.
Overlooking Lake Champlain amongst the Adirondack Mountain Range at Burlington Waterfront State Park, the Vermont Brewers Festival is an invitation-only beer festival featuring over 35 breweries from around New England and Quebec. Vermont also makes some of the best snack food on the festival circuit, so expect to taste some delicious local treats.
Oregon Brewers Festival Portland, Oregon
The Oregon Brewers Festival is considered one of the premier beer festivals in the world by BarWhiz, and it is also one of the longest-running beer events in the county. Hosted in Portland, Oregon in late July, the Oregon Brewers Festival features incredible variety, and is the true craft beer drinker’s ultimate beer festival.
The Northwest has a unique beer culture, and there’s no better setting to taste and learn all about its diverse styles than along the Willamette River, with the Portland Skyline and Mt Hood providing a beautiful backdrop. With more than 80 craft breweries attending and 20 different styles of handcrafted beer, the Oregon Brewer Festival will be serving top-notch brews to over 80,000 beer fans throughout the event. Corey Razon of BarWhiz said the Oregon Brewers Festival is “the best place to learn everything there is to know about craft beer.”
The beers will be judged up against some of the most highly rated, and bestselling craft beers in the nation. There will be live tunes, an eclectic array of food, fun beer demonstrations and memorabilia, and even a Crater Lake Root Beer Garden with complimentary root beer for minors and those much-appreciated designated drivers.
San Diego Festival of Beer San Diego, California
Considered one of the best beer towns in the country by Men’s Journal, San Diego offers a huge beer festival in late September. The festival will take over the streets at Columbia and B, with lots of live music to enjoy while you sample quality brews from over sixty different breweries.
San Diego is a very welcoming and laid back beach-side city, so if you’re not a beer fanatic but you love the atmosphere of an energetic beer festival, the San Diego Festival of Beer also offers a selection of fine wines for purchase by the glass, and plenty of great food items. The first 3,000 people at the beer festival receive a free souvenir tasting mug featuring the stylish event logo. Proceeds from the event will go to San Diego Professionals Against Cancer (SDPAC). This year, the event takes place on September 20, so when the summer is waning everywhere else, San Diego helps keep the sun shining on your beer festival season.
Fremont Oktoberfest Seattle, Washington
Beer drinkers love a good Oktoberfest, but many just plain hate waiting for fall to come around. The Pacific Northwest likes to do things their own way, so they throw an awesome Oktoberfest during the last few days of summer, September 20–22.
The Fremont Oktoberfest is a true festival, with more than just great handcrafted beer to sample. The folks up in Seattle love their music, so expect hours of quality live music on the outdoor stage. For those coming for beer, the Tasting Garden will offer samples of over 80 microbrews and German Beers, and it’s open for several hours on all three days of the festival.
The Fremont Oktoberfest celebrates over 40 breweries and their favorite featured brews and selections for the coming fall. You’re definitely going to see your obligatory Pacific Northwest and West Coast brews, but you’re also going to taste several from all over the country. To cap off the festival, you can work off all those suds in the 5k and Street Scramble on the last day.
Do you have a favorite beer festival? Tell us about it in the comments.
Chris Loud is a writer and blogger based out of Northport, Michigan and Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter @cfloud