Beer festivals are the only place where you can learn about a new style of beer, whether it’s a sour Belgian browns, or bourbon barrel beers or strange IPA’s in an afternoon of tastings. Beer is about experimenting and trying to taste something new and exciting, not about drinking mainstream macro beer. The good festivals keep it to the micros, with some of the larger fests allowing the BIG BOYS to setup Tents and Jumping Castles.
Beer Festivals are meant to be festivals of good beer, jovial men and women enjoying and debating which is the best beer? and the brewers mixing with the regular public and talking about beer. Funnily enough a lot of conversations I have at festivals are not so much about beer, but about everything from Obama to their second cousin who i may know in Melbourne. We have met some very good friends in Portland and Seattle due to these festivals, and often run into them.
Seattle – Belgian Fest – January 23rd
This event is run by the Washington Beer Commission and its in its 1st year. Washington Brewers were asked to brew 1-2 Belgian beers for this event and the response has been huge, you can view the list to see which beers are being released. Some brewers are having their beer on tap prior to the event, such as Boundary Bay with their Triple. Unfortunately I will not be able to make this event, but wished I could.
San Fran Beer Week – February 5-14th
The city that brings us Toronado’s is the city that hosts one of the great beer weeks in the US. The two key events being held are the Double IPA festival at The Bistro in Oakland and the Barley Wine Festival at Toronados. The lists of beers for both events are pretty impressive, with judges and beer people flying in from across the US and Canada to attend. These are the two highlights of the festival with countless dinners, and events at bars across the city. Unfortunately both of these events are help a week apart, which is great for people in SF, but if you were to fly in you would have to decide between huge blockbuster IPAs or massive Barley Wines.
Seattle – Brouwers Hard Liver Barley Wine Festival – March 20th
Those that cannot make it to San Fran, this event is a little closer to home. Brouwers is one of the premier beer bars in North America and when they put on an event it is very well organized. Hard Liver festival has numerous beer serving sizes, that range from $2 for 3 oz, to $6 for 12oz pours. This enables the more serious tasters to endeavor to try them all. Though likely impossible in one sitting. But bare in mind there are usually some that run out on the day of the event, there are sometimes kegs that are still around the following few days. This event is the next big one for me after a tough December Festival season.
Some of their List from 2009.
Alaskan Big Nugget ’07, ’08
Anacortes Old Sebastes ’07
Anchor Old Foghorn ’08
Anderson Valley Horn of the Beer
Anderson Valley Horn of the Beer Bourbon Barrel ’08
Avery Hog Heaven Barlywine ’08
Avery Samaels ’06
Big Sky Barleywine Bourbon Barrel Old Blue Hair ’08
Big Sky Barleywine Old Blue Hair ’08
Boulder Beer Killer Penguin ’08
Boundary Bay Old Bounder ’08
Bridgeport Old Knucklehead ’07
Deschutes Mirror Mirror ’05
Dicks Barleywine ’08
Dicks Barleywine ’05
Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine ’08
Elysian Cyclops ’06
Flying Dog Horn Dog ’08
Full Sail old Boardhead ’08
Glacier Brewing ’08
Great Divide Old Ruffian Barley ’07
Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws ’07
Hales Rudyards Rare ’01
Hales Rudyards Rare ’06 ’07
Lagunitas Gnarleywine ’06 ’08
Left Hand Oak Aged Widdershins ’07
Lost Abbey Angels Share ’06
Mad River John Barleycorn ’07
Seattle – Washington Cask IPA Festival – March 28th
Without doubt this festival is the premier IPA Festival of the year for the Pacific North West. This is another of the well run WABL beer festivals. Washington Brewers have some great IPA’s and these are on show at this festival. There are both single and double IPA’s for tasting. The event is coordinated between two sessions (12-4 & 5-9), and it is held at the Seattle Centre next to the famous space needle. It is my view that although San Diego has great IPA’s there are as many in Washington and Oregon that are in the own rights just as good. In 2009 there were 10 Herberts IPA’s that were very Hop Driven monsters, and hopefully in 2010 there will be the same number of them on show.
Portland – Oregon Spring Brewers Fest – April 2-3rd
This festival was my first introduction to West Coast Festivals and it is a very good one to attend if you are interested in an event that is well spaced with good beers. The event is held in the Convention Centre downtown and there are never any line up for beers. The brewers range from Kona from Hawaii to local brewers as well as some California attendees. This festival is great for those people that are quite new to festivals and want to try a range of beers without feeling rushed or too crowded. Aside from beer at this event there is also Wine from the famous Williamette Valley. This is a great way to get introduced to West Coast Beers, and it was the one that got me onto Stone from San Diego and Ninkasi from Eugene.
Seattle – Washington Brewers Festival – Fathers Day Fest – June 19
This event is held in a park in the north part of Seattle on the same weekend as Fathers Day. So from Friday through to Sunday you can drink beer in the park with your family. Though only adults on the Friday night. This is one of the most relaxed festivals in the North West as you can bring along fold out chairs, a picnic basket and blankets. Have been to this event the last two years, even when it poured rain last year on night one. Some brewers do not tap until the Saturday so Friday is only for the die-hards that cannot wait until the following day. The beer list is quite impressive and ranges from Oregon , Idaho and California. The trick to this event is to work out the Seattle BUS system, and instead of staying near Fremont like we did last year, stay near Bellevue (microsoftville) or where there is an easy access to a park ride (P&R).
Portland – Oregon Brewers Festival – July 22-25
This festival is in Tom McCarroll park right in the heart of Portland and is on the Free Transit grid so there is no excuse to drive. In the last few years the event has been HOT, and as it is outdoors you will likely come home drunk with a sunburn. There are lots of covered areas and seats, but drinking beer in hot weather is not so enjoyable by hour 2. The event is well organised and run and has a huge list of seasonal beers. The festival goes for several days and if it gets too crowded then you can always walk up the road to Deschutes or Rogue. My aim this year is to attend this festival with some friends who are new to festivals.
GABF – Great American Beer Festival – September 24-26
This event is the premier beer event in North America for the amount of beers on tasting, the amount of people that attend and how organized it is. In 2009 they developed a system of 2 lines which helped the speed of entrance to the event which can take over an hour or two to enter. Have attended the previous two events and although a friend from Denver says its not the same as the old days, I respond by saying Neither is the Beer! I’ll take line ups and great beer over no lines and undrinkable crap any day.
The complaints people say to me is ‘ONE OUNCE POURS, ITS NOT ENOUGH’.. this is a common complaint from a) those that have never attended b) expect a half pint of bad beer and will drink it.. the one ounce pour is too little sometimes, but the great thing is you can always go back for more. With 2000 beers there are likely hundreds that 1 ounce is too much for. When beers are hitting the 8-16% at this event not counting the Utopia from Sam Adams at 26%, I ask who needs a half pint of these beers? I’d prefer 20 tastes of 1 ouce pours than 2 x 10 ounce pours. It’s meant to be a tasting exhibition after all.
Aside from the festival there is Great Divide Brewery and Falling Rock Pub up the road. But the key for this event is you really need to attend on the 1st night to taste the beers that may run out, and avoid Saturday Night when most of the interesting stuff has been tapped already. I always come home after 3 days feeling like crap as now I know have to wait another 12 months for the next show.
DECEMBER is WINTER BEER MONTH
This last December I attended the Portland Ale Festival, Seattle Winter Festival, and Brouwers Big Wood Festival in the space of 3-4 days. Without doubt one of my beer highlights as they all presented beers that are very hard to find, were aged in barrels and fitted the cold winter season perfectly.
Portland Ale Festival was in a perfect location under a huge tent in courthouse square and I was lucky enough to get there on a night when the two University Footballs teams played each other, so the event was easy to get around. Some of the special beers were amazing such as the Mirror Mirror, Alaskan Barley and Smoked Porter, along with Hair of the Dog Jim 08 & 09. In terms of special dark beers this event is the premier strong beer festival in the US.
Seattle Winter Festival is held in the brewing facilities of Hales brewery. Before going to the festival you can eat upstairs and try the beers that Hales have on tap, then head to the event downstairs. The beers are all seasonal specialties that suit the season, whether it was Silver City, Boundary Bay Cabin Fever, Pyramid Snow Cap there was ample supply of the strong boys. This is my 2nd year at this event and there is consensus amongst Seattle locals that the beers are getting better each year. This is on my December Calendar.
Brouwers Big Wood is an event where 60 beers in Wood are tapped on the Thursday until they run out. There are big dark seasonals such as Deschutes XXI and the Abyss, Hair of the Dog Matt and many rare Cantillon beers from Belgium. By itself this events warrants two nights of tastings.
Last year was a great year for Beer Festivals and 2010 looks to be another exciting year with even more special events announced closer to the date. Festivals should be fun with meeting new people, trying new and interesting beers, and coming away with more than just a hangover. They do take some planning in working out a cheap hotel near the event and how to use transit to get there. One trick is to always buy up lots of bottled water and have Pink Pepto tablets at the ready. Like a sporting event where you have to hydrate long before the game, it applies to beer festivals too. Plan it out and you’ll have a great time.