Dave Hoops column: What makes a beer festival great
The best festivals are organized and easy to navigate with great food, musical entertainment and educational components that are interactive.
DULUTH — This is a very exciting weekend for brewers in the Twin Ports as Minnesota brewers — over 100 of them — descend on Bayfront Park for the All Pints North beer festival presented by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild.
The festival takes place Saturday afternoon. Tickets are hard to come by, but if you can attend, it is arguably the most picturesque festival in the Midwest. You can’t beat a sunny day (hopefully), watching a thousand-foot salty coming in while sipping the best Minnesota has to offer.
This got me thinking of beer festivals and some pointers I will share about attending as well as some of my favorite events locally and faraway locations. I have attended hundreds of festivals in my career, from Alaska; west to Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado; to Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, Washington, D.C. and Florida; and internationally to England, Iceland, Germany and the Netherlands, to name a few.
The best festivals are organized and easy to navigate with great food, musical entertainment and educational components that are interactive, including seminars on beer styles; off-flavors; beer line and glass cleaning; hop and malt information; sensory tips; beer tourism; and general industry chatter. There are usually interesting beer-themed games and many booths giving away free stuff, on top of the hundreds or thousands of delicious beers.
Here are some tried and true lessons I live by at beer festivals:
- Look at the program online and make a tasting plan. This could be certain styles you want to focus on; certain beers that jump out at you; new breweries you want to try; or special releases at certain times that you will need to queue up for.
- Begin with lighter beers, lagers, fruit wheat beers, etc. Keep your palate sharp so you do not fatigue it by drinking a 10% alcohol by volume Imperial IPA as your first beer at the fest. The first hour at least.
- Try to match water to beer, as much as you can Just make sure to hydrate. This will offset dehydration and really allow you to watch your intake flow rate. If that seems hard, just remind yourself to drink water and carry some with you.
- Eat, ideally in the first hour of the event, to provide a base.
- Wear a hat and sunscreen depending on time of the year.
- Move away from the pouring table when you get your sample and clear the area for the folks behind you.
- If you have a question or comment for the brewer, ask politely if they have a minute to chat. Most will be happy to engage.
- If you are really looking for new flavors and ideas, bring a small notebook and pencil and jot down notes.
- Have a plan for the end of the event: a designated driver, a pickup or Uber arranged or leave on foot. Smarter and safer.
Here are a few of my favorite festivals:
Locally and greater Minnesota
The anniversary celebrations put on by local breweries are very fun.
- Festiversary by Bent Paddle — late May.
- Castle Danger Anniversary Party — late August.
- Earth Rider Anniversary Bash — early September.
- H opped Up Caribou Beer Festival , Lutsen — mid-June.
- Brewed in Minnesota, Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul — late August (full run of the State Fair). Sponsored by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild.
- Autumn Brew Review , Minneapolis — mid-October. Sponsored by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild.
- N orthern Lights Rare Beer Fest , St. Paul — late March. (The 2022 festival was canceled.)
- St. Paul Summer Beer Fest , St. Paul — early June.
National and international gems
- Great Taste of the Midwest, Madison, Wisconsin — early August, maybe the second-prettiest festival in the Midwest, on the shore of Lake Mendota in beautiful Madison.
- Great American Beer Festival, Denver — late September–early October. The largest beer competition and beer festival in America.
- Alaskan Barleywine festival, Anchorage, Alaska — late January. The largest strong-beer competition in the U.S.
- Festival of Barrel Aged Beers, Chicago — late November. The premiere wood-aged beer competition and festival in the U.S.
- Ocktoberfest, Munich, Germany — late September–early October. The granddaddy of worldwide beer celebrations. A bucket list attend for all beer lovers.
All of these events can be found online for specific dates and details. Happy festing, and have fun!
Dave Hoops lives and works in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org .