The Beer Drinker’s Guide to Summer Music Festivals

Drink Lists Festivals
The Beer Drinker’s Guide to Summer Music Festivals

In 2016, it’s hard to look at both the music festival and craft beer scenes in America and not think we’re experiencing a special time. Each summer more and more festivals pop up, and seemingly every city now has a craft beer scene. Combining the two is often a recipe for some of life’s best memories. So here, we’d like to highlight a few of the festivals who go above and beyond to create both a musical and craft beer scene with very few rivals.

Manchester, TN
June 9-12

bonnaroo by Adam Macchia.jpeg
Photo credit: Adam Macchia

To say there is a lot going on at Bonnaroo is sort of like saying Donald Trump is occasionally offensive—it would be a woeful understatement. Even with all the music, comedy, movies, batting cages and people watching, it’s hard to miss—and not be incredibly impressed by—the Broo’er’s Festival that takes place in Centeroo each year. I have been lucky enough to attend/work nine of the fourteen Bonnaroos, and the only facet of the festival that has grown more impressively than the beer scene is the music.

I can recall in 2003 when everyone was excited that Magic Hat (who still participates) was added to the beer list—which seems hilarious now considering the scene has evolved so much you can take a series of classes from brewing masters during the festival. Evan Sutherland has been the Broo’er’s Festival curator for six years now, and in those six years the beer experience at Bonnaroo has grown into something so cool it’s almost distracting (in the best way possible).

When we spoke, Sutherland told me that Bonnaroo co-founder Rick Farman wanted the Broo’er’s Festival to be an unforgettable experience, not just a place for people to imbibe. Sutherland and company have taken that idea and absolutely run with it, and every year the experience has grown a little more and topped the previous year. Each brewery represented at the festival has a knowledgeable representative on hand from 12pm-8pm to discuss their selections in-depth with consumers. Top-notch guest speakers like renowned beer writer Christian DeBenedetti (who will be at this year’s fest) give talks on a variety of subjects that see beer nerds diligently taking notes while sipping thoughtfully during sessions that have been dubbed Broo’er’s University. They’ve even found a way to bring that most Bonnarooian of traditions—the Superjam—into the fold. On Sunday BrooU plans to celebrate the end of another year of Broo’er’s programming with what Evan dubbed “our end of the school year party,” an interactive gathering of craft beer lovers that’s open to all and features a performance from Austin Plaine. It’s like an amazing party within another larger, amazing party—and one I certainly plan on attending (again).

High Sierra Music Festival
Quincy, CA
June 30-July 3

High Sierra Music Festival has been dishing out smiles to hula-hooping patrons for 26-years, and for just as long they’ve been providing attendees with some of the tastiest beers in the region. HSMF was ahead of the curve on both the music festival and craft beer booms, and that dedication and longevity combined with their gorgeous setting in which the festival takes place earns them a spot on the list.

When we spoke, festival co-producer Dave Margulies reiterated a few ideals the festival shares with its long time beer sponsors, like Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium: a real commitment to the environment, creating a unique and joyous experience and meeting (and surpassing) the discerning tastes of festival attendees who have real passion for craft beer.

A great example of this is the High Sierra Swirl, a two-hour wine and beer tasting where attendees can purchase a $10 commemorative glass and receive five samples of their choosing from a variety of limited edition and library beers brought in by brewers. Another is the special FestivALE beer High Sierra created with Sierra Nevada for the festival’s 20th anniversary. Margulies helped create this intoxicating brew—which is a mixture of Pacific Northwest and German hops—himself at Sierra Nevada’s beer camp, and Sierra Nevada dug the result so much they considered releasing it for mass consumption, before ultimately deciding to keep FestivALE something special and exclusive to the festival.

Vegan Food & Beer Fest
Portland, OR and Los Angeles
June 11 and June 18

vegan beer.jpg
Photo via Vegan Food and Beer

There are so many fantastic beer options at last year’s Vegan Food and Beer Fest’s Portland incarnation that I briefly forgot the food I was eating to keep myself standing was vegan. That’s partly because the food was amazing—and that’s partly because the price of admission includes unlimited samples from the 50+ breweries in attendance. A wonderful showcase for vegan food and craft beer alike, the festival also does a great job booking fun bands like Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, who I waddled over to catch last year, my head happy and my stomach full.

Even in Portland, the craft beer—and craft beer nerd—capital of the world, the layout was enough to blow minds and earn rave reviews across the board. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the fest expand to other cities in the coming years.

Telluride Blues & Brews
Telluride, CO
September 16-18

Another festival at which Sierra Nevada has a large (and very green) presence, Telluride Blues and Brews also reflects Colorado’s spoil of riches in regards to both craft beer and jaw-dropping scenery. On Saturday each year the festival’s beer selection becomes something truly special at their Grand Tasting, where attendees can sample over 170 styles of beer from 56 breweries hailing from all over the country. Between the beyond gorgeous surroundings, hot blues licks and Colorado’s fall weather and absurdly awesome beer options, Telluride Blues & Brews is a heavenly way to end the festival season.

An attendee from last year told me recently with far-away gleam in his eye that the Grand Tasting was “the greatest three hours ever,” and after looking at the brewery list and the positively idyllic settings, I’m inclined to believe him.

Outside Lands
San Francisco, CA
August 5-7

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Photo credit: Andrew Jorgensen

It’s hard to think of a festival that more accurately represents the current culture of its location than Outside Lands and San Francisco. Outside Lands has been called the World’s First Gourmet Music Festival with good reason, as the festival’s absolutely fantastic lineup is perhaps surpassed by the myriad food and drink options available.

The offerings at Outside Land’s Beer Land and Wine Land are second to none, and the beverage selections available to festival-goers pair so well with the many absurdly delicious food options that you’re basically at a high quality food and drink festival that happens to have bands like LCD Soundsystem playing at it. Wine Land has stepped its game up to preposterous levels this year and is featuring 40 regional winemakers pouring over 120 wines, to go along with Beer Land’s 28+ brewery selections—curated by Magnolia Brewing’s Dave McLean—that highlight NorCal’s rich beer scene.

So you could be enjoying a batch of gourmet clams that were caught nearby and pairing them with an absolutely top-notch wine or beer while watching Radiohead and enjoying a cool breeze coming off of the Bay. Ridiculous. An embarrassment of riches. Much like San Francisco, if you have the means, it’s hard to think of a more enjoyable place than Outside Lands.

The Pitchfork Music Festival
Chicago, IL
July 15-17

The arbiters of taste over at Pitchfork do a fantastic job booking the music at their annual festival in Chicago’s Union Park every July, and they proudly sold Goose Island beers during their early years. But for some reason they made the decidedly un-cool move of allowing Heineken—I’m going to guess the reason was large sacks of Euros—to dominate the beer sales in 2011 and 2012. The festival has redeemed themselves in recent years by bringing Goose Island back into the fold (and some of the $38 million the brewery received after being bought out by AB InBev) and collaborating with the brewery and artists playing the festival on a special beer that is exclusive to the festival each year.

The first was 2013 Run The Jewels 5.4% Belgian Wheat Ale, with its 72/72 hop which “evoked one of the duo’s favorite aromas (wink-wink)” and “helped alleviate cotton mouth.” 2014 saw Goose Island collaborate with both Sharon Van Etten on a 5% SVE Kolsch and the Pitchfork staff on Recommended Pilsner that weighed in at 4.7%. Last year the honor went to current King of Chicago Chance The Rapper, who with his 5.3% Helles-style lager No Collar strove to create a beer “for the hardworking people of Chicago … exactly what you want to drink after a long day of work.” Or drinking in the sun while seeing music, presumably.

I tried my best to find out with whom this year’s collaborative beer would be created, but the festival reps wouldn’t relinquish the surprise just yet. Sufjan Stevens Stout? Blood Orange Summer Wit? Beach House Blonde? We shall have to wait and see.

Happy Valley, OR
August 5-7

pickathon leah nash.jpg
Photo credit: Leah Nash

There are music festivals, and then there is the gathering in the wooded slice of artistic heaven that is Pickathon. As Dan Boeckner—whose band Wolf Parade’s only US festival appearance is Pickathon—recently opined, “it’s transposing the best, ecstatic, all ages house party show you’ve ever seen into a beautiful outdoor setting and making it free of the omnipresent marketing/advertising that underwrites most other multi day music festivals.” Boeckner is right on—except I’ve never been to a house party with such exceptional adult beverage options.

Much as Outside Lands can be seen as a representation of San Francisco, Pickathon stands as an embodiment of everything that makes Portland, Oregon such a special place: from the dedication to the environment, to being utterly mad for music and art, to being the craft beer capital of the world. As such, the curators of the beer and cider lists didn’t have to venture far for inspiration. That’s not to say a lot of time and effort doesn’t go into the selections, as associate producer of the festival Shawna Burke told me, “we put a ton of thought into the selections because what’s most important to us is that Pickathon is an overall sensory experience. We want what you taste and see to be as magical as what you’re hearing.” I am here to tell you brothers and sisters: they have succeeded.

With local breweries like Crux, 10 Barrel, Fort George, Worthy, Deschutes, Base Camp, Goodlife, Pelican, Gilgamesh and more in the mix—the beer is always on point (and has been only $5 every year I’ve been). There also are five local, delicious ciders to choose from and the same goes for the wine. The local booze love continues with the exceptional cocktails, which feature local spirits combined amazingly with locally made syrups and juices by Sean Hoard—who curates the cocktail list—from local joint Commissary. One of Hoard’s previous offerings that stood out for me was a concoction made with chai tea dubbed The Dirty Hipster that was absolutely revitalizing and refreshing. So much so in fact, that as I recall I spent much of that evening loudly proclaiming that it was the first and last time my life would be saved by a dirty hipster.

Topping off all this magical imbibing is the fact that your beverage of choice comes in a 16oz. Klean Kanteen stainless steel cup designed especially for the festival. Pickathon is the only outdoor festival in the country to completely do away with single use cups, and it’s impossible not to notice how clean and nice your wooded surroundings remain during the festival as a result of this noble effort.

Put simply: there is nothing like Pickathon, and the amazing beverage program is a large part of the amazing experience. A+. Would recommend.

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