There’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying a beer by yourself. But the energy and excitement that surrounds a craft beer festival make the drinking experience much more than just beer.
From established national festivals to intimate, local gatherings, we compiled a list of the best beer events from 2017.
Great American Beer Fest
As the largest craft beer festival in the nation — this year’s iteration featured over 3,800 beers — the Great American Beer Fest can seem like beer overload. Still, there were plenty under-the-radar gems at last year’s festival to catch even the most seasoned drinker by happy surprise, and besides, as Andy Sparhawk, the Craft Beer Program Web Manager at the Brewer’s Association told Hop Culture, “Have you ever stopped to look at the joy that people have when they go to GABF? It truly is beer heaven and reminds me of how and why I got into beer in the first place to have fun and celebrate the beverage.”
Can Jam is a corrective to a lot of the more annoying trends in the craft beer culture. Because festival-goers aren’t allowed to leave with beer cans, there’s no hoarding beer to take photos for #thegram. The emphasis is on drinking and enjoying the beer on site — at Three’s Brewing in Brooklyn — mingling with other beer lovers, and enjoying cans from some of the hottest breweries on the scene as well as up-and-comers.
Brewing Up A Cure
Brewing Up A Cure is a truly unique festival. It’s thrown by the homebrewing group Three Rivers Underground Brewers for homebrewers in Pittsburgh. Last year’s iteration of the festival featured over 70 different home brew batches, plus appearances from commercial brewers. Best of all, however, is that the festival managed to raise $23,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Strange Brews 2017
No, this is not a Stranger Things-themed beer fest, despite how perfectly that would capture the 2017 zeitgeist. But don’t worry though — the beer at this Charlotte, North Carolina festival stood on its own merits. The ethos of this festival is daring-do, as local North Carolina breweries whip up bold and inventive concoctions that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Unknown Brewing Co., who threw the event, asked attendees not to rate the beers online, so that brewers would not feel inhibited to get as strange as possible. The resulting festival boasted beers such as a Neopolitan Ale served in an ice cream cone, a bloody mary gose, and an Imperial Strong Ale made with Milky Ways, Moon Pies and Mars Bars.
Bend Beer Chase
As far as beer-themed running events are concerned, the Bend Beer Chase goes the extra mile. Set in scenic Bend, Oregon, this is a 12-leg relay race in which the switch-off points are breweries where runners can enjoy a small sample of beer. And it all leads up to the “Keg Leg” at the end, a three-mile run that goes through eight Bend breweries.
Craft Brew Races, Portland 2017
This isn’t your excruciating high school gym class run, it’s a 5k and beer festival rolled into one. We can’t think of a better motivating tool for digging deep and powering through the home stretch of a run. Craft Beer Races holds a number of events throughout the year, but their Portland, Maine race stood out the most to us. Portland, after all, is a craft beer hotspot, and so naturally this race was host to some fantastic breweries such as Allagash, Barreled Souls, and Samuel Adams. This event took place in the middle of summer, with the race going around the scenic Back Cove estuary basin and the festival being held in Edward Payson Park, creating the perfect setting for running and drinking.
Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines
“In contrast to GABF, Big Beers is much more of a niche, beer geek festival, where the attendees rub elbows with the industry,” Sparhawk says. As the name suggests, this festival exclusively offers Belgian style beers of at least 7% ABV. It also puts a major emphasis on offering attendees beer education. Plus, as Sparhawk says, “The setting (Beaver Run Resort, Breck) makes for unique place to sample amazing beers with your beer heroes whether at the fest or around town. You could even share chair lift with Sam Calagione.”
Star Wars South Street Bar Crawl
The release of a new Star Wars movie is a momentous event in and of itself. And three great breweries, Allagash, Brooklyn, and Founders, teamed up to make it even more momentous with a pub crawl in South Philly held before a midnight showing of the critically acclaimed latest entry into the Star Wars saga. The force, and plenty of great beer, flowed through the revelers.
Where the Wild Beers Are
One of the most well-known bottle shares in the country, Where the Wild Beers Are has made a name for itself by inviting festival goers to bring their own bottles of sour, wild, or farmhouse beers for others to sample, and to try other wild beers themselves. This year, the festival organizers decided the time was right to invite breweries themselves, such as Equilibrium Brewing, Hudson Valley Brewery, and Threes Brewing. The presence of breweries at this year’s festival is a testament to how wild beers have become a new focal point of innovation within the craft beer scene, as well as proof that wherever the wild beers are, good times will follow.
Over 80 breweries were at this year’s Savor, with the brewers themselves on hand to pour beer, which could then be paired with a small plate of food. It’s a favorite of Jess Baker, the Editor in Chief of CraftBeer.com, who says of the festival, “When you step inside the National Building Museum in D.C….you instantly know this isn’t your regular festival. At each table, you’ll find different combinations of beer and small bites meant to wow you. Cheeses galore, oysters, desserts, beers you won’t easily find anywhere else.”
New Belgium Tour de Fat
Beer drinking meets Cirque du Soleil is the best way to describe this one-of-a-kind beer event, which toured the country this past summer and visited over 30 cities. Attendees were encouraged to wear outlandish costumes, and could mingle among festival workers on stilts dressed in clown makeup. There were unique entertainment options during the events, such as bicycle races and Vaudeville performers, plus plenty of live music. Each individual Tour de Fat featured local bands, plus headliners ranging from The Roots, The Naked and Famous, and Third Eye Blind (really, who doesn’t want to get drunk and sing along to “Semi-Charmed Life”).
Honorable Mention: Hop Culture’s Juicy Brews NYC Festival
It’s probably a violation of some sort of journalistic ethics to plug our own festival here. But we can say with confidence that everyone at Hop Culture had a fantastic time with this event, and we loved hanging out with all of the fantastic brewers and attendees. We have big, juicy plans for 2018 so keep an eye out for future events. We’ll see you out there.