Top 10 fall beer festivals
The weather’s cooler and the road’s less traveled in the fall, which means it’s a perfect time to plan a Road Trip for Beer. Most breweries have released their fall seasonals by now, and the winter ales soon will appear. But because many of the 1,600 small breweries and brewpubs in the United States distribute their products in very limited local regions, a beer lover often must travel to find the next great beer experience.
But why limit yourself to one brewery? Your best bet is to plan your vacation around one these great festivals, where you’ll be able to taste a variety of releases from a region’s beer makers.
And, yes, there are actually 11 festivals listed here; it was too hard to narrow it down to just 10, so you have a bonus. The list is in chronological order. Click on the links for more information.
As always, drive carefully and drink responsibly.
Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010: 12th annual Charlotte Oktoberfest, Charlotte, North Carolina. This outdoor festival promises more than 350 samples from dozens of national, international and local brewers, including more than 20 North Carolina breweries. There are three levels of tickets: Premium ($50), General ($35) and Designated Driver ($20). The first two will include a souvenir sampling glass and a souvenir event guide. All ticketholders will be able to enjoy the live entertainment, games and food vendors.
Sept. 25-26, 2010: Get Real NY, New York City. New York’s largest cask ale fest will have 80 casks, 35 food vendors, beer and food pairings, a homebrew section and lessons on how to homebrew. Brewers and chefs will be on hand for question-and-answer sessions. If you’re wondering, cask ale (also known as “real ale”) is beer matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide. In other words, it’s a bit warmer and less fizzy than traditionally served beer, but its fans swear the taste is much better. Six sessions are scheduled; tickets are $65 or $80, depending on the session.
Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010: Great Alaska Beer Train, Anchorage, Alaska. Tickets are not cheap, the beer selection is limited to mostly local microbrews, but this rolling festival takes place on an 80-mile roundtrip train journey through gorgeous Alaskan scenery. The trip from Anchorage to Portage and back also offers hors d’ouevres to nosh on during the 4 ½ hour ride. Tickets are $159 each.
Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010: Fresh Hop Ale Festival, Yakima, Washington. Hops are the female flower clusters of a hop plant. They give beer flavor and stability, and the Yakima Valley produces 77 percent of the U.S. hop crop. Generally, more bitter beers have more hops in them. But you won’t find much fresher beer than at this festival. For a brew to be considered a “fresh hop ale” for the festival competition, it must be produced with hops picked no more than 24 hours prior before brewing . Brewers then bring their freshly brewed kegs of beer to the fest, where a panel of judges selects first, second and third place Fresh Hop Ales. In addition, festival attendees vote with their taste buds, bestowing upon the crowd favorite “The Most Pours Award.” Attendees can also expect local food and wine, an on-site homebrewing demonstration, live local music and a cigar tent. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the gate, which includes glassware and $6 in “scrip.” Other ticket packages are available.
Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010: Second annual Reno International Canned Beer Festival, Reno, Nevada. One of the newest trends in craft brewing is shipping beer in cans. With new linings and techniques, you no longer have to expect a “tinny” taste spoiling the taste of a canned brew. Dozens of breweries from around the world that can their beers, including 21st Amendment, Anderson Valley Brewing Co, and Caldera Brewing Co., will come together in one room to drench the mouths of drinkers. Tickets are $30 each and include unlimited tastings and food samples.
Oct. 15-23, 2010: Cleveland Beer Week, Cleveland, Ohio. This second annual nine-day beerstravaganza will highlight the thriving craft beer scene in this Midwest metropolis. It will feature a collaboration of local brewers who have banded together to produce six custom beers for the event. The beers will be available in mixed 12-packs at retailers and on tap at the collaborating locations. Festivities will culminate at BREWzilla on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2010, a monster of a beer festival in downtown Cleveland that will feature more than 100 breweries. The collaborative beers will also be available there.
Oct. 15-16, 2010: Golden Nugget Fall Beer Festival, Las Vegas, Nevada. It may be a bit risky to put an inaugural festival in this list, but it’s in Vegas, baby! Organizers promise more than 300 craft beer selections from 25 breweries, food and live music. Tickets are $50 for the Friday night fest. But on Saturday, the Golden Nugget will hold an Oktoberfest Pool Party. Admission to that is free. You’ll have to spring for the beers, but a “sexy Miss Oktoberfest Costume Contest” is planned.
Nov. 5-14, 2010: San Diego Beer Week, San Diego, California. The San Diego region has made a name for itself as a growing hot spot for craft beer. SDBW 2010 will feature beer dinners, festivals, rare bottle tastings, cheese pairings, brewery tours, classes and more during the 10-day celebration. Last year, more than 300 different events took place during the week, and organizers expect even more this year.
Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010: Cajun Café on the Bayou Fall Craft Beer Fest, Pinellas Park, Florida. If you’ve ever spent time in the bayous of Louisiana, you know there’s no other place like it. But this restaurant on the water in Pinellas Park, Florida, comes pretty damn close. This is the Cajun Cafe’s second beer festival this year. The festival in May featured a slew of local and national craft brewers in an intimate setting with a live jazz band providing the soundtrack. Several of the booths had owners and brewers pouring and talking about their brews. And the mouthwatering Cajun cuisine makes it even better – be sure to try the crawfish cornbread. Tickets are $35 at the door.
Nov. 20, 2010. Third annual Chesapeake Oyster & Beer Festival, Timonium, Maryland. There’s a nice selection of craft beer here – bottomless samples of it – but face it, you’ll be road tripping to his festival for the oysters. It’s an all-you-care-to-taste extravaganza complete with thousands of oysters – raw, steamed, roasted and Rockerfellered along with other seafood, live music, exhibits and more. Tickets, available only at the door, are $55 each and include a souvenir tasting glass.
Dec. 1-5, 2010: Holiday Ale Festival, Portland, Oregon. Get an early start on the holiday season at this quintessential Portland festival. More than 50 potent winter ales will be featured at this year’s event. And these aren’t beers you’ll find in the supermarket – the brewers put together special recipes just for the Holiday Ale Festival. Don’t worry about the weather: Attendees will stay warm and dry under a large clear-top tent that covers Pioneer Courthouse Square while allowing for views of the city lights. Admission is free, but if you want to sample the brews, you’ll need a ticket. Advance tickets cost $20, or $25 at the door, and include a souvenir mug and 10 beer tickets.