Forget the tuba and accordion. Put away the lederhosen, and keep the beer steins on the shelf. The vast majority of today's beer festivals have little in common with the traditional Oktoberfest celebration.
As craft beer continues to rise in popularity, the trickle-down effect of that growth means more beer festivals popping up all over the United States. And the beer festivals of today offer a lot more than just drinking ales and lagers. Many offer live entertainment, educational workshops and even food pairings. Below are seven upcoming beer festivals that are setting the standard by which to measure all others.
Savor stands out from the pack with its thoughtful pairing of great food with exceptional (and often rare) beer. The festival takes place in New York this year, and apart from the chance to try great beer and food combinations, it gives attendees an opportunity to hang out and chat with the "rock stars" of the beer world. Chef Adam Dulye leads a team of culinary professionals who create the food pairings based on the flavor profiles of each beer being served. But perhaps the coolest thing about this event are the tasting salons, intimate educational (and drinking!) sessions where brewers speak on topics like "blending a barrel-aged sour beer" and "a taste of Virginia from the Brew Ridge Trail." The event takes place June 14 and 15, and tickets are on sale now.
American Craft Beer Festival
The American Craft Beer Festival is put on by the folks behind BeerAdvocate magazine. It's considered one of the best beer festivals in the country, and beer lovers flock from all over the world to attend this two-day festival in Boston. The festival serves more than 600 beers from 135 breweries and includes several beers that are brewed exclusively for the event: Once the beer is gone, so is the chance to ever have it again. It takes place on May 31 and June 1, and tickets are available online.
Firestone Walker Invitational
Paso Robles, California
When people ask me "what's your favorite brewery?" my answer is inevitably either "the one I'm drinking right now" or "Firestone Walker." The California brewery has won several medals at beer competitions and has raked in numerous "brewery of the year" awards. But instead of resting on its laurels, it continues to champion craft beer with the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival. The festival is described as "a day where we can all put down our sales and marketing pitches and simply commune and share our beers and stories with people who are truly interested in craft beer." The festival takes place June 1. Sadly for many, tickets sold out in a matter of hours. Mark your calendars for next year, beer lovers.
Oregon Brewers Festival
The 26th annual Oregon Brewers Festival is one of the longest-running and largest beer festivals in the country. It takes place in Portland over five days in July and draws more than 80,000 beer drinkers every year. The festival also includes live music, home brewing demonstrations and beer-related vendors. The all-ages festival is free to attend and even includes the Crater Lake Root Beer Garden, so the kiddos can get their drink on, too. For those consuming beer, this is a "pay as you drink" festival, and beer pours range from $1 to $4. I like this option because I rarely drink enough beer at a festival to justify the price of admission (that can hit upwards of $75).
Burning CAN Beer Fest
For all the canned beer lovers out there, there's the Burning CAN Beer Fest in Lyons, Colorado. This can-only beer fest is put on by the pioneers of the craft beer can movement, Oskar Blues. The festival features more than 30 breweries, a BMX dirt bike competition and live music. Oh, and it's all set against the backdrop of Rocky Mountain National Park. Go for the scenery and stay for the beer and entertainment. Tickets for the June 1 Burning CAN fest are available online.
Paste magazine has taken its love for indie music and craft beer and turned it into a series of festivals taking place throughout the country. Other beer festivals have live music, but let's be honest, it's usually local bands that provide background noise. Paste Untapped brings musicians and bands that are worth the price of admission alone. Add an awesome selection of craft suds, and it's easy to see why this is one of the most talked-about festivals of 2013. According to Paste, the next Paste Untapped is set for Dallas in September. Road trip, anyone? Nashville and Atlanta are slated to follow in October and November.
No fancy or clever name is needed for this Portland, Maine, beer fest that's simply called The Festival. Most of the aforementioned beer festivals highlight American craft beer, and this one slightly deviates from the norm and offers mostly international beers. Presented by Shelton Brothers and 12 Percent Imports, this two-day beer festival includes limited releases like Cantillon Zwanze, an extremely rare beer out of Belgium. The Festival takes place on June 21 and 22, and tickets are still available for purchase online.
Lastly, here's some tips to make sure you get the most out of your beer festival experience:
• Eat before (and during) the festival. Drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea.
• Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. A good rule of thumb is an ounce of water per ounce of beer.
• Have a game plan before you attend. Or else you risk spending too much time wandering around looking for the Founders booth.
• Try beers you've never had/cannot easily get. And make sure to hit those booths first before the beer runs out.
• Get home safely. Many festivals offer free or discounted admission for designated drivers, and car services like Uber will sometimes offer discounts to festival attendees.
What beer festivals are you most excited about this year? Let me know in the comments below. Cheers and happy drinking!