When it comes to beer festivals, our experts agreed: there is an essential triumvirate that everyone’s heard about—and all beer lovers should attend at least once. So, let’s get the big three out of the way.
Great British Beer Festival, London, www.camra.org.uk
Great American Beer Festival, Denver, www.beertown.org
Oktoberfest, Munich, www.oktoberfest.de
Other Festivals Worth Noting
We asked our best-traveled, most-beer-savvy writers, brewers and beer enthusiasts for events around the world that are not as well known as the three above, but are worth attending. They sent enough recommendations to fill your travel calendar for next year and beyond. Have you heard about these great beer celebrations?
International Beer Festival, Berlin-Friedrichshain, Germany, www.bierfestival-berlin.de
Berlin holds a beer festival in early August each year along the Karl Marx Allee. This year it will focus on kölsch and alt beers.
Annual Great Taste of the Midwest, Madison, WI, www.mhtg.org
A great beer festival should have three things—a scenic or historic venue; distinctive, high-quality beers; and appreciative attendees. The Great Taste of the Midwest has all of them. It is held at the sprawling Olin-Turville park on Lake Mendota. The cool, soothing backdrop of the lake provides a perfect setting. The city of Madison does an excellent job of promoting and supporting the festival, with shuttle buses running throughout the day. More than 100 breweries, all from the Great Lakes and upper Midwest region, take part in this annual festival. Some brew special beers for festival goers. Tickets are limited and sell out well in advance.
Peterborough Beer Festival, www.beer-fest.org.uk
Held in three marquees near the river and cathedral, only minutes from the center of town—lovely setting. You’ll find 300 draft real ales, plus traditional ciders and perries, and live bands every evening.
BierIG Beer Festival, Salzburg, Austria, www.bierig.org
The venue is the “Alte Saline” (Old Salt Factory), a building complex on the Pernerinsel (Perner Island) between two arms of the River Salzach in the center of Hallein, a town of 20,000 inhabitants 12 kilometers south of Salzburg. The old town is of special architectural interest. With the goal of representing all facets of Austrian and international brewing, the festival will present 150 different beers of 40 different breweries.
Belgian Beer Festival, Brussels, www.beerparadise.be
Organized by the Belgian brewers association and staged outside their imposing guild house on the Grand Place, this festival starts with a brewers’ mass at the nearby Church of the Madeleine, after which the Knights of the Mashing Fork proceed to the festival.
Unionbirrai Beer Festival, Milan, Italy, www.unionbirrai.com
Stockholm Beer & Whiskey Festival, www.stockholmbeer.se/2003
This festival had the most upscale display areas for each vendor that we’ve ever seen—like a high-dollar trade show. They were like individual bars with plenty of room to stroll around between them. A wonderful slick, magazine-like program (unfortunately for us, in Swedish) was also provided.
Fremont Oktoberfest, Seattle, WA, 206-706-9869, www.freemontoktoberfest.org
Worth attending because of the funk factor.
14th Kempisch Bierfestival, Geel, Belgium, www.ondertschuim.tk
This Belgian festival, along with the fest at Buggenhout (see June), features what amounts to wait service. Seated fest goers request another beer by raising a paddle on which the word “dorst” (thirst) is written. Visit this friendly festival organized by Onder de Schuim (Zythos) for 150 beers, cheeses and smoked fish.
World Beer Festival, Durham, NC, 800-977-2337, www.allaboutbeer.com/wbf2003
The largest outdoor festival in the Southeast, under a 30,000 sq. ft. tent, in the historic ballpark where “Bull Durham” was filmed.Excellent tasting selection with over 300 domestic and imported beers from 100 different breweries, live bands, great food.
Bierhappening BLES, Zottegem, email@example.com
Friendly event, good atmosphere: 20 small/interesting breweries, e.g., Slapmutske, De Musketiers, Ecaussines, Bosteels, Dupont. Lekker Ding is brewed by Meesters for the festival.
Norwegian Beer Festival, Oslo
Organized by NORØL (Norske Ølvenners Landsforbund—Federation of Norwegian Beer Consumers).
26th PINT-Bokbierfestival, Amsterdam, Holland, www.pint.nl
Beurs Van Beerlage, Damrak, firstname.lastname@example.org
Norwich Beer Festival, www.norwichcamra.freeserve.co.uk/festival/
Held in a beautiful cathedral city.
Oktoberfest at Toronado, San Francisco, CA
Karakterbierfest, Poperinge, Belgium
NORØL Juleøfestival, Oslo, email@example.com
Organized by Norske Ølvenners Landsforbund, Federation of Norwegian Beer Consumers. A festival of Christmas and winter beers.
Barley Wine Festival at d.b.a., New York, NY
d.b.a. is located at 41 1st Ave. (between 2nd and 3rd streets), phone 212-475-5097. A favorite of beer lovers, it has 12 taps, over 60 bottled beers (strong on Belgian and British), and authentic hand pumps! Very highly recommended.
Antwerpen 24 hours of Specialty Beer, Antwerp, Belgium
This renowned event is not being held this year, as the organizing group, Objectieve Bierproevers (Objective Beertasters) disbanded. Watch for the activities of a new organization, Zythos (from the Greek word for beer), at www.zythos.be.
Essen Kerstbierfest (Christmas beer festival), Essen, Belgium, www.ober.be
For two days, visitors can taste lots of Belgian Christmas and winter beers in a friendly, local setting.
Old Ale Festival, The White Horse on Parsons Green, London, UK, www.WhiteHorseSW6.com
Only a handful of pubs and publicans are known internationally. The White Horse, under the guidance of Mark Dorber, deserves its worldwide reputation for beautifully kept cask ale, as well as imported beers, outstanding food, and great special events like this one.
Toronado Barley Wine Festival, San Francisco, CA
San Diego Strong Ale Festival, Pizza Port, Carlsbad, CA
And in 2004…
Tummien Oluiden Tori (Marketplace for Dark Beers), Tampere, Finland
Finland is the best place to try winter beers in their most challenging setting!
Great British Winter Ales Festival, Manchester, UK
Great festival with a fine array of heartier English ales. Less crowded and hectic than the Great British Beer Festival and at a time of year when travel is cheaper.
The Great Alaskan Beer and Barleywine Festival, Anchorage, AK
Alaska is one of America’s under-appreciated brewing states, and Anchorage in the dead of winter is a perfect time to enjoy barley wine-style ales, doppelbocks and winter warmers from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The festival is small and not widely publicized, but is well known to beer writers and other cognoscenti. Anchorage’s compact downtown offers several brewpubs and an excellent beer bar called Humpy’s.
Friday the Firkinteenth, Grey Lodge Public House, Philadelphia, PA, www.greylodge.com
A cask-conditioned beer festival held every Friday the 13th in this tiny neighborhood bar in northeast Philadelphia. The timing is entirely at the mercy of the calendar. Really fun, with nine to 11 casks from different regional craft breweries. Another Friday the 13th occurs in August 2004.
Chicago Real Ale Festival, Chicago, IL, www.realalefestival.com
America’s premier cask ale event, bigger and better every year.
Helsinki Beer Festival, Helsinki, Finland
Held in a former cable factory, where Nokia manufactured huge spools of underwater cable before the company turned to cell phones. Great range of beers, especially from Scandinavia and the Baltic region, and always a chance to taste the indigenous sahti.
Starkbierzeit, Munich, Germany
A Lenten tradition in this strongly Catholic city, Starkbierzeit is a two-week period when several of Munich’s breweries serve potent doppelbocks. The original festival venue is Paulaner Keller. Centuries ago, the Paulaner monks brewed the first Lenten strong beer, known today as Paulaner Salvator. Lowenbrau offers its own extra-strength beer, Triumphator, and serves it up in the enormous Lowenbraukeller along with an evening of traditional Bavarian entertainment.
8th Annual Boonville Beer Festival, Boonville, CA, www.avbc.com
“The bahlest steinber hornin’, chiggrul gormin’, frattey seepin’ tidrick in the heelch of the Boont Region n’ further on.” That’s Boontling (the local Boonville dialect) for “a great party with a whole lot of really good stuff to eat and drink.” Boonville is a small hamlet nestled in the middle of the picturesque Anderson Valley, described as one of the West Coast’s most beautiful places. Anderson Valley Brewing Co. sponsors this outdoor celebration of beers among the redwoods, inviting over 50 brewers from all over the West Coast (and around the USA) to come to Boonville and pour their wares. Quintuples the population of Boonville.
Tour de Geuze, various sites in Pajottenlandl, Belgium, www.come.to/horal
Organized by HORAL (High Council for Authentic Lambic-beers). During this event, several authentic lambic brewers and coupeurs/blenders open their breweries to the public. A shuttle bus travels from one brewery to another, situated all over the area southwest of Brussels.
31st Cambridge Beer Festival, England, www.camra.org.uk
Cambridge, beautiful city, Jesus Green.
San Diego Real Ale Festival, Carlsbad, CA, www.pizzaport.com
13th Spontaneously-fermenting Beer Festival, Buggenhout-Opstal, Belgium, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lambic, kriek-lambic, faro, gueuze, kriek, frambozen, with many rare examples; also homebrewed Opstalse Tripel. Venue: Tapperij Beukenhof, Broekstraat 18, Buggenhout-Opstal, a 20-minute walk from Heizijde station.
Danish Beer Festival, Copenhagen
Certainly a winner, especially because they have the good sense to bring All About Beer news editor Gregg Glaser on board each year. Puts that fest right over the top.
Caledonian Beer Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland, www.caledonian-brewery.co.uk
Annual beer festival at Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh. The brewery is highly traditional with direct-flame boiling coppers.
12th Fête de la Bière et de la Musique Festives, Lausanne, Switzerland, www.fetedelabiere.ch, www.abo-ch.org, email@example.com
Every June, the beer consumer group, l’Association des Buveurs d’Orges (ABO), organizes the biggest beer-related event in Switzerland. It takes place under tents on the splendid lakeshore near Lausanne, complete with a panorama of the French Alps opposite. The fest itself is pretty much a free rock festival with over 200 different beers, including no global brands and quite a few rare beers from Europe and Canada. The afternoon sessions are family oriented.
Beerpassion Weekend in Antwerp, Belgium, www.beerpassion.com
Brouwer-beerfestival, Oudenaarde (between Ghent and Courtrai), Belgium
Featuring brown ales from the renowned local breweries of Oudenaarde.
La Fira de la Cervesa, Barcelona, Spain, www.firagirona.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Vermont Brewers Festival, Burlington, VT, 802-244-6828, www.vermontbrewers.com
At the Waterfront Park in Burlington, a wonderful site, with views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. Very family friendly.
Oregon Brewers Festival, Portland, OR, 503-778-5917, www.oregonbrewfest.com
The Royal Stumble, Nodding Head Brewpub, Philadelphia, PA
A fun and entertaining beer fest. Beers are from regional breweries. The event is based on wrestling, with brewer’s encouraged to come costumed. The first brewery to run out of beer wins the “belt” for the year.
Through the summer, watch for the Bierborse, a traveling festival that sets up in a different German city every weekend (www.bierborse.com).
Beer lovers planning to visit Great Britain should consult the CAMRA website, as there are dozens of festivals listed every month (www.camra.org.uk).
September 16-18 2005—Poperinge Hop Festival, Poperinge, Belgium This village hop festival is held once every three years.