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Top 20 US Beer Festivals for Beer Geeks

Beer geeks are a passionate bunch. Longing for the sweet lupulin-laden release of a hyped-up, hopped-up New England IPA or the sweaty leather horse blanket funk of a tequila barrel-aged wild ale, beer geeks are always in search of the rarest, tastiest and most interesting beers they can tick off their craft beer bucket list. One avenue in which beer geeks can imbibe some of the hardest-to-find beers in the world are at beer festivals.

There are a few different variants of beer festivals, such as the mega festivals, the brewery invitationals, the beer release parties and the smaller festivals with a long history of popping high-quality beers. Hangover cures in hand, we sought out the top 20 U.S. beer festivals for beer geeks across the country.


Great American Beer Festival – A rather obvious choice, but this list would be utterly incomplete without it. The preeminent beer festival in the world, the Great American Beer Festival is truly the Mecca of craft beer fans from all walks of life.

Brewers are awarded for their hard work and dedication to the craft, and then thousands of lucky festival goers are able to sample those award-winning brews in one of the biggest celebrations of beer in the world.

Occurring every September at Denver’s Colorado Convention Center, the 2017 rendition was home to a titanic 800 breweries pouring more than 3,800 beers.

Rare beers are a dime a dozen, and word travels fast about what under-the-radar releases are still available and what white whales might’ve found their way onto a brewery’s sample list.

Photo Courtesty Brewers Association


Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer – A fascinating event that showcases the best of beers that have touched wood, the Festival of Wood and Barrel-Aged Beer in Chicago, Illinois highlights a “what’s-what” in beer geekdom.

If there’s one thing that beer geeks love to quibble over, it’s barrel-aged beers, and FOBAB makes sure to stir everyone up by doling out style awards at this event à la the GABF – but on a much smaller scale, as these are all limited to wood-aged beers.

The scale is certainly not miniscule, however, as over 200 breweries were on hand for the 2017 rendition of this event.

Photo Courtesy ABV Chicago


AmeriCAN Canned Craft Beer Festival – While cans used to be discussed in condescending “macro beer” terms in the fledgling days of craft beer, now the aluminum jewels are almost uniformly regarded as the superior choice by beer geeks when it comes to housing craft brews.

Nowhere is that belief more apparent than at Chandler, Arizona’s AmeriCAN Canned Craft Beer Festival, which will house 250 canned beers from 90 craft breweries.

Featuring canned beer pioneers such as Oskar Blues and Sun King, some rarities from Modern Times Beer and Elevation Beer Co. will also be on hand.

Photo Courtesy Everfest


Where the Wild Beers Are – Founded in 2008 in New York City, this celebration of all things wild, funky, sour and spontaneous in the world of craft beer has grown exponentially since its inception 10 years ago.

Though a small selection of stellar breweries will be on hand to pour some highly allocated sour/wild ales, the real star of this event is the white whale-filled bottle share that occurs one hour after the start of the event.

It’s pretty much beer geek heaven, as eventgoers are required to bring a bottle to share (if they want to participate in the bottle share) of commercially produced sour or wild beers. Rarities abound and many one-off rarities are poured by welcoming and generous craft beer fanatics.

Photo Courtesy Where The Wild Beers Are


Festival of Dankness – A rather recent entrant into beer geekdom’s favorite festivals, this Modern Times-helmed festival will be in its 4th iteration this year, and with good reason.

As any hop-head will know, Modern Times Beer in San Diego, California crafts some of the finest lupulin-laced ales and they are usually couched in stunningly designed cans that will make even the most jaded beer snob’s eyes glaze over with wonder.

Another invitational festival, this one focuses on America’s favorite beer style: IPA. Hoppy beers are always a big seller, and this festival features some of the pioneering purveyors of the style, such as Russian River, Stone, Pizza Port, Other Half … and many, many more.

Photo Courtesy Twitter/Modern Times Beer


 

Festival of Dark Arts – This dark “carnival of stout” is a celebration of dark beers hosted by Fort George Brewery in Astoria, Oregon. The entire block that the brewery is located on is closed down in favor of a carnivalesque atmosphere with tattoo artists, belly dancers, tarot card readers, blacksmiths and glass blowers all showcasing their skills for curious festivalgoers.

Of course, there’s a rather stunning selection of beer as well. The only beer style present at this event is stout, mostly focused on thick Imperial Stouts with mammoth ABV bills and extremely powerful aromas and flavors, which will make any beer geek's tongue quiver with anticipation.

While host Fort George takes the day in terms of quantity (handling 16 stout options at the last festival), Imperial Stout rarities from Deschutes, Fremont, Gigantic, Ecliptic, Great Notion and AleSmith will also be available for sampling by lucky dark beer fans.

Photo Courtesy Fort George Brewery


Dark Lord Day – 3 Floyds Brewing Co. in Munster, Indiana hosts this immense celebration of one of its most highly sought-after brews, Dark Lord, every year. This year’s festivities will occur on May 19th, a week after the 2017 rendition of this event.

Featuring a rotating lineup of metal bands and extremely limited-release variants of the eponymous Dark Lord (a 15 percent ABV Imperial Stout brewed with Mexican coffee, Indian sugar and vanilla) on tap, this beer fest is one that has craft beer geeks salivating for months in advance.

Tickets sell out almost instantaneously, often causing the ticket-hosting site to crash due to traffic.


Juicy Brews – Juicy Brews is a relatively recently created event that celebrates flavor-packed hazy beers such as New England-style hazy IPAs and unfiltered sour beers – two favorites of stateside beer geeks.

While some might scoff at this event’s central focus, hazy IPAs are here to stay, and Juicy Brews features the finest hazy offerings around from Hoof HeartedMarz Community, Triple Crossing, Jackie O’s and more.

This event rotates locations and has been hosted in Pittsburgh and New York City with a Columbus, Ohio festival happening February 25th and a Tucson, Arizona Juicy Brews fest occurring in March.


Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival – A slightly more refined atmosphere greets any beer geeks who are able to attend this festival in Breckenridge, Colorado that occurs every January.

As the name entails, this intimate beer event highlights the incredible advancements craft breweries have made in the field of huge Belgian-style beers and hefty Barleywines.

The 2018 rendition of this event showcased 146 breweries from the most storied craft breweries to upstart craft innovators, all housed in the beautiful Beaver Run Resort & Conference Center replete with stunning vistas of neighboring ski slopes.


SAVOR: An American Craft Beer and Food Experience – One of the swankiest beer fests around, this Washington DC-based festival pairs delicious craft brews with transcendent cuisine to create an unforgettable culinary experience.

Housed in the stunning environs of DC’s National Building Museum, SAVOR’s fascinating menu has options “from sweet to savory, oysters to fine cheeses, offering attendees a wide variety of unique pairings,” according to its website.

The beers available aren’t half-bad either, with over 90 breweries – including beer geek favorites such as Lawson’s Finest LiquidsRhinegeist, Perennial Artisan AlesRAR Brewing and more – pouring over 180 beers at the event.

Photo Courtesy SAVOR


What the Funk!? Invitational – Another invitational beer fest, this tremendous event in Denver, Colorado is hosted by Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project and focuses on funky, wild and sour barrel-aged beers.

This stunning fest will be pouring selections from over 30 breweries, many of which are some of the most highly regarded in the world by beer geeks, such as The Rare Barrel, Jester King, Jolly Pumpkin, Side Project and American Solera.

According to this event’s site, the goal of this festival is to “provide a curated interactive setting where beer enthusiasts can mingle and meet the brewers and other alchemists who create sought after barrel-aged liquids.” Mission accomplished.


 

Toronado Barleywine Festival – San Francisco’s storied Toronado Pub has hosted this scintillating Barleywine-themed festival for over 20 years, but news broke in early 2016 that this festival was tragically ending due to the immense growth of San Francisco beer week to an endurance test of 700+ beer events in one of the most craft beer-soaked cities in the world.

However, this festival rose like a phoenix in September of 2016, and now this historical and highly regarded Barleywine-focused fest is back on the craft beer event calendar – hopefully for good.

The 24th annual rendition of this event featured classic Barleywines from Sierra Nevada, The Lost Abbey and Firestone Walker, and fascinating new concoctions from Beachwood BBQ & Brewing and Alesong Brewing and Blending.


The Culmination Festival – Yet another invitational beer fest, this extremely exclusive event is limited to only 300 lucky ticket holders and is hosted by Anchorage Brewing Co. in Alaska.

Only 31 breweries, including Anchorage, were on hand to pour beers at the last event, but many of the brews were supremely limited or one-off iterations of famous beers.

According to the brewery’s website, Culmination is “a celebration of some of the most unique breweries and the beers they have crafted. All of the breweries have been handpicked with the criteria of not only being some of the best in the world but also having never been in the great state of Alaska before.”


The Festival – Hosted by highly regarded importers Shelton Brothers Inc., this top-flight beer fest is simply dubbed “The Festival” and was last held in August 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Featuring selections from breweries, cideries, meaderies and even artisanal coffee roasters, this fest has everything a burgeoning beer geek would need in an event: beers to imbibe, palate-cleansing ciders and meads, and some gorgeous java selections to help perk up sleepy drinkers.

Everything on offer is imported stateside via Shelton Brothers Inc., though many rarities (and a few whales) have been spotted at this fest in years past. 


Hunahpu’s Day – Similar to 3 Floyds’ Dark Lord Day, this Tampa, Florida-based beer fest is focused on the thunderously thick Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout from Cigar City Brewing. Though hosted by Cigar City, this terrific gathering of the finest craft breweries will have 120+ breweries on the premises pouring unlimited 2-oz. samples (though take “unlimited” with a grain of salt, as many of these brewers would surely not last long).

Taking place March 10 this year, the revamped festival will be hosted at Raymond James Stadium – home to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Hopefully, some swashbuckling breweries will also wash away your worries with sudsy goodness at this fest.


Ebenezer’s Belgian Beer Festival – Hosted at Ebenezer’s Pub in Lovell, Maine, this intimate affair has grown in scale and stature since its inception in 2004. Currently in its 14th iteration, this celebration is in honor of all things Belgian in the world of beer.

Lambics, Quads, Tripels and every manner of delightful Belgian rarity will be on hand, and this event has grown from a small gathering of Belgian-style-loving beer geeks to an extended, five-day-long siesta of beer and entertainment. Hell, even hip-hop legend Kool Keith showed up for the festivities in 2017!

Photo Courtesy Ebenezer's Pub


Firestone Walker Invitational – Invitational beer festivals, while rare, offer a unique celebration of craft brews. This top-shelf invitational is hosted by the highly regarded brewers at Firestone Walker in Paso Robles, California.

An “epic yet intimate” event that features only 50 breweries hand-selected by Firestone Walker, this beer fest always showcases unsung breweries that Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson and co. find to be extraordinarily talented at their craft.

Beer geeks would do well to make their way to Cali for this one, as they might fulfill their deepest beer desires by discovering new beers and breweries.


Delilah’s Vintage Beer Fest – This under-the-radar invitational beer fest is hosted by Delilah’s bar in Chicago. Though it doesn’t quite have the marketing and PR behind it that, say, the GABF does, this amazing low-key event showcases strong beers from over 50 breweries.

Many of the offerings are vintage and vertical tastings of famous brews like 3 Floyds' Dark Lord, Goose Island’s Bourbon County and Founders' CBS and KBS have been known to occur at this top-shelf vintage beer fest.

Big beers and barrel-aged rarities are, of course, the most sought-after offerings, but rarities of all shapes and sizes with a few years of age on them can be expected at Delilah’s.

Photo Courtesy Twitter/Delilah's


Belgium Comes to Cooperstown – Hosted by Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York, this celebration of Ommegang’s bread and butter – Belgian beer styles – occurs every summer on the brewery’s beautiful grounds.

According to the brewery’s website, ”since its debut in 1999, BCTC has grown from a modest gathering to a full-fledged festival with weekend camping, staged live music, a 700-person VIP dinner, late night movie screenings, receptions and lectures.”

Over 100 breweries will be pouring exciting Belgian-style ales to over 3,000 geeky festivalgoers. This is a can’t-miss event miles away from the hustle and bustle of New York City.


Classic City Brewfest – This regional favorite in Athens, Georgia has been going strong for over two decades, and its 23rd annual iteration will be held at the Athens Cotton Press on April 15th this year.

Featuring regional favorites such as Creature Comforts, Red Hare and Monday Night, this year’s version of the event will feature fascinating newcomers such as New Realm, Steady Hand and Variant Brewing Co., as well as standard-bearers in the craft beer world like Ballast Point, Highland and Lazy Magnolia.

Though the regular draft booths always have some nice pours, the true beer geeks will make a beeline for the cask ale tent, which features singular, one-off beers brewed with scintillating adjunct additions, as well as the rarities table, which pours a different exceedingly rare beer every hour.

Photo Courtesy Chris Guest


 

Comments

Nealtryan's picture
A festival for your list is the Hoptober freshtival in Boise Idaho. 30+ breweries with fresh hopped beer.
Michael Rhyan's picture
How do you forget the Five Boro Craft Beer Fest? Might be the best of all of these in Brooklyn in May every year.
CajunBeer's picture
Check out the 7th Annual Bayou Beer Festival, November 9, 2019 on the grounds of Southdown Plantation in Houma, Louisiana. The event features a home brewers competition, live music, great food, craft booths, and the proceeds go to help local veterans assistance programs.

Comments

Nealtryan's picture
A festival for your list is the Hoptober freshtival in Boise Idaho. 30+ breweries with fresh hopped beer.
Michael Rhyan's picture
How do you forget the Five Boro Craft Beer Fest? Might be the best of all of these in Brooklyn in May every year.
CajunBeer's picture
Check out the 7th Annual Bayou Beer Festival, November 9, 2019 on the grounds of Southdown Plantation in Houma, Louisiana. The event features a home brewers competition, live music, great food, craft booths, and the proceeds go to help local veterans assistance programs.

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