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Top 10 Summer Beer Festivals 2011

Submitted by on June 17, 2011 – 6:00 am24 Comments

Photo by karlnorling on FlickrSummer has arrived with a vengeance across the South this year, but as summer began some Northern states were still digging out from record snowfalls. However, a sure sign of summer is the beer festival, when breweries pour their summer ales and lagers, and shorts and T-shirts become the fashion du jour.

From the lowlands of Florida to the high countries of North Carolina and Colorado and beyond, these Top 10 Summer Beer Festivals offer enough variety and entertainment to make any of them a worthy destination for a Road Trip for Beer.

As always, drink responsibly; know your limits, and when you think you’ll be exceeding those limits, designate a driver, take public transportation or book a hotel room within walking or taxi distance from the festival.

San Diego International Beer Festival

Image courtesy of San Diego International Beer FestivalFriday, June  24, to Sunday, June 26, San Diego, California.

In just five years, the San Diego International Beer Festival has become one of the largest in the country, with more than 150 breweries and 350 beers from around the world. In 2010, 15 states and 22 countries participated in the festival. Pay extra for  the VIP Experience in the Brewer’s Lounge and you’ll get to mingle with the brewers. www.sdfair.com

Atlanta Summer Beer Fest

Saturday, June 25, Atlanta, Georgia.

This outdoor festival in the Masquerade Music Park celebrates brewers from Atlanta and beyond and promises to be even bigger than last year’s.  Organizers will have a second stage for music, and food from local vendors will be available for purchase. More than 100 beers will be available for sampling. www.atlantabeerfestivals.com

Ohio Brew Week

Image courtesy of Ohio Brew WeekFriday, July  8, to Saturday, July16, Athens, Ohio

Tastings and dinners and beer, oh my! Ohio has a booming craft beer scene, and this will be a great road trip to experience it all.  A slew of events are scheduled including golf tournaments, a brewers forum and plenty of craft beer and food pairing meals. There will even be a Karaoke Night at The Smiling Skull Saloon to show off your singing skills, and if you don’t have any, enjoy many of the concerts scheduled at various venues in the Ohio city. www.ohiobrewweek.com

Empire Beer Festival

photo courtesy of Empire BrewfestFriday, July 15, Syracuse,  New York

A little publication called USA Today named this one of its Top 10 Beer Festivals in the United States, but that didn’t influence our decision at all. There will be nearly 50 of the world’s top breweries pouring samples here, along with live music, separate tents featuring the beers of Germany and Belgium and plenty of American craft brews. www.empirebrewfest.com

Michigan Summer Beer Festival

FriImage courtesy of Michigan Summer Festday July 22 and Saturday, July 23, Ypsilanti, Michigan

Michigan loves its beer, and this festival showcases it. It will take place outside in a lovely riverside setting and will feature more than 300 different beers from more than 50 different Michigan breweries. A variety of tasty food items will be available for purchase from independent food vendors inside the festival, and there will be a diverse selection of live music by local bands. Michigan Brewers Guild.


Saturday, August 6, Tampa, Florida

Beer festivals have become a popular fundraiser for zoos across the country, but even not taking into account the animals, WaZoo has evolved into one of the premier beer tasting events in the country. Attendees can sample from hundreds of brews from Florida and around the world as they experience close encounters with some  of the animals and listen to live music on a balmy summer evening. All proceeds benefit the Lowry Park Zoo, one of the country’s finest. www.lowryparkzoo.com

15th annual Bluegrass and Beer Festival

Friday, August 6, and Saturday August 7, Keystone, Colorado.

Enjoy the sound of Appalachian bluegrass while surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Plenty of brewers from Colorado and elsewhere will pour samples of their beers. The bands will play on three stages during the two days of the festival amidst the breathtaking scenery. And you won’t have to leave the youngsters at home: The free family Kidzone will offer inflatables, kids crafts and kids entertainment. www.keystonefestivals.com

Great Taste of the Midwest

Second Saturday in August (August 13, 2011), Madison, Wisconsin.

More than 100 brewpubs and craft breweries from the Midwest gather each year during this festival at Olin-Turville Park overlooking Lake Monona to share beer and good times with 6,000 or so patrons. Organizers expect more than 500 different beers to be poured at what they say is the second-longest running craft beer festival in the United States. Expect wandering minstrels to provide the background music. www.mhtg.org

High Country Beer Fest

Saturday, September 3, Boone, North Carolina.

Some of the best beer in the nation is being brewed in North Carolina, and this Labor Day Weekend beer festival offers a great opportunity to try some. The picturesque college town, home to Appalachian State University, is tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains at an elevation of more than 3,300 feet, so the weather should be great. Fifty-seven craft breweries represented last year, and organizers expect even more this year. There also will be live music and educational seminars. www.hcbeerfest.com

Munich Oktoberfest

image courtesy of Munich OktoberfestSaturday, September 17 to Monday,  October 3, Munich, Germany.

You might find it odd that Oktoberfest is included in a list of summer festivals, but since it starts before the Fall Solstice, well, here it is. Everybody has some idea of what goes on here, except for recent arrivals from other planets: beer, drindls, beer, lederhosen, beer, polka music, and beer. The yearly celebration has an information-filled website that should answer most questions about the 178th Munich, Oktoberfest. Prost! www.oktoberfest.de


  • […] A web site calledroadtripsforbeer.com has named theEmpire Brewfest in Syracuse one of its Top 10 summer beer festivals for 2011. […]

  • […] A web site called roadtripsforbeer.com has named a Empire Brewfest in Syracuse one of its Top 10 summer drink festivals for 2011. […]

  • […] Beer Fest in Boone, N.C., and Munich Oktoberfest in Germany. To read all the explanations, click here. I’ll have a complete rundown of Ohio Brew Week details later this […]

  • […] a list of summer beer festivals that Gerard Walen from Roadtripsforbeer.com just compiled. The only one I’ve actually been to is the San Diego International Beer […]

  • JMartini says:

    America’s Finest Beer Festival will feature more than 120 craft breweries, three days of great live music from 21 top bands with a portion of the proceeds benefitting the USO San Diego. The event will be held Friday, July 22 to Sunday, July 24, 2011 on the lawn at Qualcomm Stadium’s practice field in San Diego. Top local and national bands include Blues Traveler, Buck-O-Nine, Burnsville Band, Christopher Dale, Joey Harris and the Mentals, Josh Damigo, Kid Tater, little monsters, Locked Out Of Eden, Michele Lundeen & Blue Streak, Mississippi Mudsharks, Pinback, Project: Out of Bounds, Psydecar, Shoreline Rootz, Sprung Monkey, Stepping Feet, Stoney B Blues Band, Sunny Rude, The Farmers and The Greyboy Allstars. General admission tickets are $45 in advance which includes admission, 12 beer tastings (4 oz.) and non-stop music with live bands performing all day for this three day event. A limited number of exclusive VIP passes are on sale now at the Rancho San Diego-Jamul Chamber of Commerce that include unlimited buffet and beer tasting, preferred stage viewing, meet the bands, and many more VIP amenities offered in the exclusive private VIP garden. This is a 21 and over event. To learn more, visit http://www.AmericasFinestBeerFestival.com.

  • […] this year, Ohio Brew Week was named one of the top 10 summer beer festivals by the website Road Trips for Beer. You can find more details and a full schedule for the event by clicking […]

  • […] Come out on Friday July 15th and join us at the Empire Brewfest in Syracuse, NY. It was rated one of the top ten in the nation! […]

  • […] to Syracuse this Friday. The popular beer festival draws thousands of people and has been named one of the top ten beer festivals by “Road Trips for Beer.” Those that want to go this year might be out of luck. Coordinators […]

  • Pete says:

    I cannot believe Keystone made this list and Snowmass didn’t. Keystone tends to be an awful event with larger local breweries pulling out year after year due to the fact the festival is too long and they sell bud by the glass right next to the beer booths. Also, heading back to Denver on I-70 on a Sunday is a huge mistake. The music, the beer and the view at Snowmass are far better than at Keystone. Sorry but there’s no way Keystone is in the top 10

  • Gerard Walen says:

    I appreciate your comment, Pete. Don’t be surprised if Snowmass is on the list next year.

  • Robert Kunz says:


    This use to a Top 10 event, but no loner. What was once a premier Brew Fest has turned into a train wreck.

    From start to finish this was a problem filled event. Starting with getting in. There was a long line (around three sides of acity block) and only two lines where they scanned tickets and put armbands on. The process was slow and finally complaints got them to open more lines. I was in the middle of the first block segment and it took 35 minutes to get in. Other took 45 minutes to an hour.

    When you walked in, it just felt strange. The reduction in booths from past years was easy to see. And many booths had a few cases behind them. Certainly not enough for the crowd that was coming in. And sure enough these things contributed to many booths running empty by 7:30 to 8:00 pm. I am sure there were many beers which ran out before some at the back of the line ever got in the event. Half way through the event, there were certainly over 10 booths out of operation. Past years lines never grew more than 10 deep, this year easily 40 to 50 deep and this was at every booth.

    The booths were also not by a brewer or brewery. Just a random mismatch of beers. At one table, Young’s Double Chocalate, a few English Beers, and a Christmas beer. I go to a brew fest to go to a booth that is representive of a brewing company. Not just a selection with no reasoning.

    The German and Belgian Tents were an extra change and each had about 10 beers to select from. Varities also ran out half way through the hour and half open times. The only saving grace was the lack of lines in those tents.

    I guess there were so many complaints on their facebook page that the operators of the event shut down their page.

    The Top 10 rating is based on prior years, beware of this. It will take years to become a Top 10 event again. I hope at least.

  • Gerard Walen says:

    So sorry to hear about your experience, Robert. Sounds like they may have oversold the festival. I invite the organizers to respond to your criticisms here, and if anyone else had a similar or different experience than Robert, your comments are welcome as well.

  • Chad Houston says:

    Totally agree with Mr Kunz. I have been going to the Empire Brew Fest for approx 7 years and this year it was complete crap. We were in line @4:50 (supposed to start @5:30) and were in the first 50 people in line. The line didn’t move until after 5:45 and we got in after 6.
    I went up to the front a few times to try to get the workers to open the other 2 lines (one for will call and one for cash) for pre-paid tickets…which were 99 percent of the people. They didn’t do anything but shrug their shoulders. I spoke to people who were in line by 5:30 and didn’t get in until after 7:30…ridiculous. This has never been an issue in the past.

    It took about ten seconds to realize that there were at least 30% (at least) less booths than normal and that there were only 4 breweries represented. Based on what we saw at most of the booths my party made bets on when the beer would run out and whether or not there might be a riot. Totally random selection of beers poured by people who weren’t prepared for the number of attendees. LOOONG lines that were never seen at this festival before.

    We snuck into the Belgian/German tent…underwhelming would be an overstatement.

    My g/f and I went to Middle Ages Sat afternoon (best brewery in SYR). The people there told us after they donated beer to the fest they were told not so send their workers to pour (they did anyway). Thank God they did because it was the highlight of an otherwise disappointing night.

    This was not a brew fest….it was a blatant ripoff by somebody who thought he could cash in on the buzz the event had generated in the past, put it the minimum effort and get away with it.

    We don’t go to brew fests to recreate the specialty beer aisle at Wegmans. We want to meet the people who make a living making and selling beer…and we want those same people to benefit when we recommend their products to others.

    Shame on the Results Group for ruining a great thing.

  • BilltheButcher says:

    Robert is right on point. My friends and I have attended this event for the last 7 years and last year it was sold to a group called the Results Group (http://www.showswithresults.com/). You could see the drop in quality last year, but this year it fell off a cliff.

    My group of friends arrived early and were about 50 yards from the entrance that was to be open at 5:30pm. 5:30 hit and no movement, then 5:40 and no movement and around 5:57 the line started moving. We did not walk in till around 6:10 pm.

    You could see that there was a drastic reduction of booths and breweries. By 8 pm I would say that 1/2 of the booths were out of beer. Some were out by 7 pm. In the past you would wait seconds to get a taste, but this year there were long lines and 5 minutes or more wait times. A few times I waited in line and by the time I got to the booth they were out of beer.

    The booths were manned by volunteers who had no clue what they were serving or what they were doing. They knew nothing about the beers.

    In the past there were numerous food vendors, but this year there were 4.

    The music was decent but it seems like they turned the volume down.

    You guys need to take this off the top 10 list. I go to family picnics that have a better variety of beers. They have taken a great event and one of the highlights of the summer and turned it into a cash grab.

    I have not talked to one person who had an enjoyable time or was impressed. It was an absolute and utter disaster.

  • Amy says:

    I agree with Robert’s comments about the Empire Brewfest in Syracuse. What once was a great festival turned into a very disappointing event. The previous years were wonderful and a blast to be out. This year, however I think half the crowd left early because half the tents ran out of beer. How does one only bring 5 cases of beer for a festival that is 5 hours long?? Other’s brought only one keg of beer.

    The lines to get in were horrible and it seemed as if it was the first time they had put on the event. Previously they had two entrances. This year they had one entrance and only ONE person checking bags. This meant that everyone else, including guys had to stand in line and wait for the one person to check everyone’s bag. Eventually after waiting 30 minutes to get in, some other security guys came up and asked the guy to move closer to the entrance because the line was so long. Then they decided to have two people checking bags?

    It was also disappointing not to have brewers or folks from the breweries there pouring. Only the two local breweries had folks there. The rest were volunteers. While the volunteers did a great job, it’s just bad to ask a question about a beer and have a “I don’t know” response.

    I won’t even discuss the Belgium and German tents, because those were sold out ahead of time.

    I thought the point of the brewfest was to sample beers and socialize with your friends and your friends friends. This year, as soon you you received your sample from one table, you’d better go find another line to stand in, otherwise by the time you finished your sample and stood in line, they might be out of beer. You’d also be lucky if you still had some beer in your glass when you got to the front.

    While I support the charity the brewfest was supporting, I also wondered where my $39 went. I know it didn’t go to security with one person checking bags. And it surely didn’t go towards beer because I didn’t even get to try 1/4 of the beers because they were sold out. The new organizers of this event really need to reconsider what their goal is of the event. I’d like to hear a response from organizers as well. As of now, unless they really do some good marketing to say they will make changes to next year’s event, I won’t be attending. This will be the first one in a number of years. I’ll also tell others it’s not worth attending.

    They have a lot of work cut out ahead to get it back to the quality it once was.

  • Tom Tarry says:


    I am Tom and I promote the Empire Brew Festival that took place in Syracuse, NY last Friday. I made a couple of mistakes that were compounded by mistakes of others. Please allow me to explain.
    The gate was not ready for the big walk-up crowd we got. We had a new security firm checking id’s that had not been at the event before. I didn’t insist that they put more bodies out front checking id’s and I should have. My mistake. This caused lines that were slow and long. Next year, gates open early and have 6 guards checking id’s and 6 wrist banders.
    Secondly, I bought more beers at less volume. This backfired with the large walk-up crowd. This problem was compunded when my largest beer provider brought us 8 two tap systems for the 51 kegs we bought. Just before the event opened we were forced to close 6 beer tents because the distributor couldn’t service them. That made for a smaller looking event with long lines at available beers. We had tens of thousands of beer samples go unused while people were struggling to get a beer. I will address that but I take responsibility.
    We have formed the Empire Brewfest Advisory Board in an effort to get input from attendees. Anyone can join us. It entails a couple of meetings and some e-mailing back and forth.
    The buck stops with me and I take full responsibility. In addition I say this: this festival will be better than it ever has next year, bar none.


  • BilltheButcher says:


    Props to you for standing up and explaining the situation. How do you get in touch with the Empire Brewfest Advisory Board? What is the contact info? Thanks.

  • Eva says:

    Tom – I would also like to know how to be involved in the Brewfest Advisory Board. I do wonder though…why the fundamental shift away from brewers to distributors? This above everything else seemed like the biggest surprise to my party attending the event. The rest of the issues are generally logistical and can be fixed.

    Why aren’t the many fantastic breweries in NYS involved as in the past?

    – Eva

  • NeedGuinness says:

    Tom , thanks for responding and facing the music….BUT….

    The problem getting in had NOTHING to do with a large walk-up crowd or with security checking ID’s. We were in that line, within site of the gate, for over half an hour. 95% of attendees already had their tickets….which, when combined with previous brewfest stats, means there is no excuse to not know what attendance would be like. In that over half an hour time, a woman at the gate sat there to sell admission and had only a handful of people approach her. As far as checking ID’s, security wandered down the line and stamped hands, so ID’s were handled way, way before anyone got anywhere close to entrance.

  • Bill says:

    Hey Tom,

    Why did you change the venue? It seemed to work very well in the past, why change a good thing!! I’m thinking GREED.

  • Ken says:


    Not only did you make the mistakes in Syracuse, you made them in Rochester the week before. I paid $59 for entry to the complete event. What a rip off. First of all, half of the beers on your website were not represented. The German tent did not open on time because the beer was just coming into the venue and was not cold. And when it did open you had Sam Adams Hefe and Kolsch. That’s not real German beer. The Belgian tent was just as big of a let down. 4 or 5 different brands? How is that worth $10 extra bucks each??? I actually can’t believe that I spent an EXTRA $20 to get in. Especially since anyone was just walking in. As far as food vendors….One guy selling crappy slices of Papa Johns pizza and a dude grillin hots.

    After my dissapointing time at the Rochester’s Empire BrewFest, I had my hopes up for the one in Syracuse. I spent my $189 for the Hotel and festival package. The room was nice. The festival was a cluster from the beginning. I waited in line for over 45 minutes. When I finally got within sight of the enterance we were being heckled by bible bangers who were telling us that we are ALL going to hell. Get up front and got a 2oz plastic cup. Come on, even the cup in Rochester was bigger than that. We decided to hit the German tent since we were held up in line the whole time and it wasnt open long. Several of the beers were gone within minutes. Ayinger Hefe and Julius Echter….gone. Several of the “volunteers” were drunk already. By the time it switched over to the Belgian tent a couple “volunteers” were passed out on the lawn.

    One more thing that bugged me. You said you promoted this event. Well I live in Rochester. The only way I found out about the event was through this blog and a link to the festival in Syracuse. I posted to your facebook page asking what kind of beers you were planning on having. No response. You sir are a terrible promoter. You took an event from all accounts was a great time and ruined it. You only get one chance to make a first impression.

    I was under the impression that it was the first year this was being held in Rochester maybe you needed to work the bugs out. Nope….I think it was all about money. I hope to God that the majority of the money went to the JDRF. If not, it’s criminal.

  • MattieZero says:

    Tom, when you say “walk-up crowd”, do you mean folks that hadn’t purchased their tickets ahead of time? Because it’s completely inaccurate to say there was a large walk up crowd. Of course folks walked up. To the gate. With the tickets they’d already purchased from the various outlets. I didn’t see a single person buying a ticket at the gate. In fact, folks who’d bought their tickets at Wegmans (like we did) were allowed to get in through an express gate, but we had no way of knowing that because we were 3/4’s of a city block around the Federal building in a line that didn’t move for almost 45 minutes!

    As far logistical problems with the distributor, I find it hard to believe that either of the local distributors would be as clueless as to underestimate what they needed for the fest. I’ve been to almost all of the local brewfests – summer and winter – over the past 10 years. I’ve never seen anyone run completely out of beer. Sure, some breweries, such as Middle Ages, offer a limited amount of something special (like a cask-conditioned ale) and serve it until it runs out, but MA also had 6 other beers to pour. Empire was well stocked as was Cortland Brewing Co. Every other booth was a mix-and-match of beers that made no sense at all. And aside for the folks at the previously mentioned breweries, the reps that were pouring knew absolutely nothing about the beers. That’s what we come for. To learn about beer. To try something new. To talk to folks who actually brew beer. I hope your advisory board does manage to implement changes for next year’s event but to be honest, at $40 a pop, I probably won’t bother attending.

  • Volunteer says:

    I was a volunteer pouring beer this year at the brew fest. Since we were only volunteers, we wanted to know more about the beers that we were serving before the event began. No one cared to fill us in when we asked questions. The only information we received was to make sure all people handed in a ticket and not to over fill the cup. When the kegs were not working and beer was running, Tom was no where to be seen except in front of the news cameras. People were angry at us (the volunteers from a local charity) that we didn’t know anything about beer. We tried to learn, but you and your workers were more concerned about liability and you did not give us the time of day! You had one worker who came to check on us regarding beer, and he was the only one who actually helped us when we needed help with the kegs. However, when we were getting yelled at and threatened to be sued since we ran out of beer, you were no where to be seen!! Not a good way to treat volunteers!

  • […] in Florida will take place Saturday at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. WaZoo was named as one of the “Top 10 Summer Beer Festivals 2011” on my other site, Road Trips for Beer, and in 2004, a little publication called USA Today named […]

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