There are plenty of ways to try new beers. You can go to a bar and sample what’s on tap, or host a beer share with some friends…but nothing will give you the sheer variety and volume of new beer like attending one of the many beer festivals in the U.S. Whether it’s in a convention center, city plaza, or a festival in the great outdoors, the experience of gathering with hundreds of other craft beer lovers, and some of the most decorated breweries and brewers in the country, is what keeps us coming back for more. While the number of festivals grows almost at the same rate as the number of breweries in this country, we’ve managed to narrow the field down to 12 essential festivals that you should have on your radar for 2017.
California – January
In 2002, RateBeer Best was unintentionally created, using solely the reviews that had been compiled on the company’s website. While Ratebeer had attempted to create festivals in the past, it wasn’t until last year that Ratebeer decided to truly go big by combining their awards program with a beer festival in Santa Rosa, California.
While RateBeer has always been a site for beer lovers around the world, the staff at RateBeer began to think, “wouldn’t it be amazing to pull together a few of these best brewers in the world for a week or weekend?” Just like that, this can’t miss festival was born. Don’t believe me? Check out the list of brewers that have already confirmed to attend 2017’s fest; you will not be disappointed.
For those who thought RateBeer couldn’t top last year’s event, they have added what they call the “The Belgian Experience,” which includes pours from breweries like Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen. See you there.
Beer Advocate’s Extreme Beer Fest
Boston and Los Angeles — February and December
While many of you are probably familiar with the site Beer Advocate, some may be surprised to know they have been hosting Extreme Beer Fest in Boston since 2004. While the festival has certainly changed over the last decade, the goal has remained same: To celebrate unique brews that push the envelope as well as our palates. What makes this festival unique is that attendees are able to sip on beers, most of which are being poured for the very first time and have been created specifically for the festival.
To change it up for 2017 and give some love to the west coast, Beer Advocate has added a second event which will be hosted in Los Angeles this December.
Florida – February
Last year we learned that Cigar City wasn’t the only brewery in Florida hosting a killer festival when J. Wakefield Brewing introduced us to their inaugural anniversary event—WakeFest. With a lineup that featured not only several incredible brews from John Wakefield himself, but some of the best beers from around the country, WakeFest got our attention. For the second installment this February, J. Wake is increasing the size by 10-fold, with close to 90 breweries scheduled to attend from both the U.S. and Europe. With breweries like Toppling Goliath, Trillium and Cantillon, WakeFest is poised to become one of the top tier festivals in 2017.
If you’re looking to grab tickets, this year’s general admission will give ticket holders a guaranteed bottle of J. Wake’s Anniversary Imperial Stout, a commemorative glass and unlimited pours from beers in the general admission area. For those that are looking for a cheaper option, J. Wake is currently working on releasing general admission tickets that don’t include the bottle package. If you’re late to purchase tickets, proxies are allowed. Be sure to check out their Facebook for more details.
Florida – March
Named after Cigar City’s renowned spiced stout (Hunahpu), this bucket-list beer festival has continued to grow since it began in 2010. For many of us in the craft beer world, we thought 2014 would be the death of this great event as it was plagued by counterfeit tickets. Videos went viral in the beer community of festival goers chanting “Cigar City sucks” as they watched the brewery run out of the Hunahpu bottles they had been waiting for. Cigar City made sure to make everything right with festival goers that missed out, and eventually declared Huna Day would be back in 2015. Since then Huna Day has been better than ever with a new system that allows attendees to purchase a number of designated bottles with their festival tickets. Last year attendees were able to sample over 400 beers from the 150 breweries that were invited to join the event from around the globe.
Dark Lord Day
Indiana – May
Since 2004, the last Saturday in April has been reserved for Dark Lord Day. This year, the festival has moved to May 13. Still, typical 3 Floyds hijinks will ensue. One of the most unique festivals out there, Dark Lord Day is a hybrid of metal, food and, most importantly, beer, celebrating the beer that the festival is named after.
Last year Three Floyd’s instituted a big change in the festival format going from a la carte to all-inclusive. While tickets are obviously pricier, they include not only four bottles of their Dark Lord Stout and $40 for food and drinks, but a guaranteed Dark Lord variant. No longer did attendees need to hope they had the golden ticket to purchase a variant, now they just need to hope they purchased a ticket early enough to be able to be in one of the first groups to snag that Vanilla Bean before it runs out, or French Vanilla Militia in last year’s case. Let’s hope we see the same for 2017!
Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest
California – June
Now in its sixth year, the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest offers festival goers the opportunity to mingle not only with some of the most important brewers and leaders in the craft beer movement, but also drink some of the finest brew. As always with an invitational, you know you’ll be hard-pressed to find any beer you’re not going to want to try, including a special tapping from the festival’s hosts every hour. In reality, it can make it difficult to even keep up with all the rare beer being tapped—it’s an embarrassment of riches that requires quite a bit of drinking constitution if you’re hoping to try every one of the massive, barrel-aged beers or sours on site.
If you’re interested, make sure to act quickly. Last year, the fest sold out in less than 30 seconds.
Hill Farmstead’s Festival of Farmhouse Ales (FoFA)
Vermont – August
In the summer of 2006, what would become the best day of the year at Hill Farmstead was born through the Backwoods Brewdown: a festival hosted by Shaun Hill and his friends in which brewers would come for a day of live music and barbecue. In 2011, one year after Hill Farmstead officially opened, the Backwoods Brewdown transformed into FoFA, the first festival geared towards celebrating “Farmhouse Breweries.”
While the name changed, the mission did not. FoFA has continued to be an intimate event geared toward hosting friends within the beer industry and celebrating a weekend together. For those who want to be a part of this event, keep an eye out for the ticket lottery in the spring.
Great Taste of the Midwest
Wisconsin – August
About 30 years ago, founding members of the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild returned from the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) with a plan to replicate GABF but on a smaller scale in order to help small breweries get some much needed attention. The following year, the Great Taste of Wisconsin was born (changing the name the following year) with a mission to celebrate brewers.
Today, the Great Taste is one of the harder tickets to find. Half of the tickets go on sale in Madison on the first Sunday of May, and the remaining tickets are sold via lottery through the mail (yes, we said mail, like with a stamp and everything). All mail orders must be postmarked on the first Monday of May. Too early or too late and they’ll be rejected.
Copenhagen Beer Celebration (CBC)
Massachusetts – September
Most of you have probably heard of the notorious Copenhagen Beer Celebration hosted in Copenhagen by Mikkeller. Well, after several years, Mikkeller brought the CBC to the U.S. for the first time in 2016. For one weekend, Boston’s City Plaza became home to brewers from around the world, there to celebrate live music and, more importantly, beer. After a successful event, we look forward to see what Mikkeller has in stock for Boston’s CBC in 2017. While the details have not yet been released, be sure to keep an eye out for this unique event.
Great American Beer Festival
Colorado – October
Since 1982, the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) has served as one of the original and premier craft beer festivals in the country. For those of you wondering what makes this festival so “Great,” try the 800 breweries bringing a whopping 3,500 different beers for attendees to sample within the Colorado Convention Center each fall. If that isn’t enough, Denver transforms into festival-mode throughout the week leading up to the event. Throughout the city, breweries host their own events creating a “craft-beer-town” for beer lovers to be immersed in.
Shelton Brothers (The Festival)
TBD – October
It’s been five years since Shelton Brothers, world-famous beer importers, hosted their annual event in Massachusetts. Despite the growth in popularity, The Festival has continued to keep both their mission and spirit intact as attendees are able to try beers from around the globe in a new location each year.
For 2017, Shelton is looking for ways to improve The Festival while maintaining their mission. The feedback from this past year when they included a local cheese-monger was positive, so look for Shelton to add more pairing options that bridge a connection to local food and other producers.
Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers (FoBAB)
Illinois – November
Starting in 2003, FoBAB has been inviting brewers and beer fanatics to Chicago to take part in the largest celebration of barrel-aged beers this country has to offer. The festival has generated so much demand, it actually has switched to a two-day event, allowing visitors to sip on some of the most unique beers out there, some of which aren’t available commercially. It also serves as a competition with 12 different categories as well as a best in show award.
Jason Stein is a New York-based beer nerd. You can find more of his writing on NYC Beer Society.