If it’s rare beer you’re after, the local watering hole will only get you so far. For the ultimate beer-tasting experience, you’ll need to hit one of the country’s many beer festivals, where attendees have the chance to taste rare beers from heavy hitters and hyped breweries. These one-stop-shops let craft beer nerds and casual drinkers try exclusive brews while chatting with the brewers who made them.
Of course, not all beer festivals are created equal. So what makes a festival worth attending? The rarity of the beers being poured, the quality of the breweries attending (invitationals tend to be more selective) and the ticket price. Still don’t know where to start? We’ve done the hard research and put together the following list of the best beer fests in America.
Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival
Location: Paso Robles, CA
Dates: June 1
Notable Breweries: Garage Project, Jester King Brewery, The Bruery, Side Project Brewing, Burial Beer Co.
Ticket Prices: $90+
Widely regarded as the top beer festival in America, Firestone Walker Invitational brings together more than 50 of the world’s most hyped and in-demand brewers, who all bring their A-games (read: best beers) to this annual fest in California. Beyond the beer, food trucks abound and grub comes with the price of a ticket — assuming you can grab one before they sell out after going on sale every February.
Other Half Pastry Town/Green City
Brooklyn’s Other Half has made a name for itself with New England-style IPAs and imperial stouts, and it has capitalized on its successes by framing two invitational beer fests — one in February and the other in June — around those styles. Oh, there’s amateur wrestling, too. It doesn’t get much more Brooklyn than that.
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Dates: February / June
Notable Breweries: Grimm Artisanal Ales, WeldWerks Brewing, The Alchemist, Hudson Valley Brewery, Tired Hands Brewing Company
Ticket Prices: $100+
Great American Beer Festival
Location: Denver, CO
Dates: October 3-6
Notable Breweries: Revolution Brewing, Allagash Brewing Co, The Veil, Societe Brewing Company, Three Floyds Brewing Co.
Ticket Prices: $85+
For a long time, the Great American Beer Festival (founded in 1982) was the paragon beer fest in the U.S. Part competition, part public tasting event, it is a unique combination of breweries vying for coveted GABF medals in over 100 beer styles — it’s the largest ticketed beer festival in the United States. You have to be smart and selective about the beers you go after, but there are not many other festivals where a ticket gets you the ability to sample over 4,000 beers. If you’re looking for the biggest “scene” event in craft brewing, the Brewer’s Association GABF is still it.
Extreme Beer Fest
Location: Boston, MA
Dates: February 1-2
Notable Breweries: Dogfish Head, Highland Park Brewery, Lamplighter Brewery, Monday Night Brewing, The Rare Barrel
Ticket Prices: $65+
Beer Advocate’s Extreme Beer Fest has been going for 16 years. Pulling in over 130 breweries in 2019, it celebrates brewers who push the boundaries and spur creativity — no wonder Dogfish Head, led by James Beard Award winner Sam Caligione, is the lead sponsor. Brewers are encouraged to bring their best brews, especially those that are sessionable. When tasting lots of beers, less can sometimes be more.
Hop Culture Juicy Brews Craft Beer Festival
Location: All over the U.S.
Dates: Usually once a month
Notable Breweries: Bissell Brothers, Mast Landing Brewing Company, Foam Brewers, Half Acre Beer Company, Bearded Iris Brewing
Ticket Prices: $60+
Hop Culture has turned the craft beer phenomenon of the New England IPA into a (mostly) monthly beer fest. Usually hosted with a brewery in whichever city it takes place, Juicy Brews has invigorated the beer fest scene and helped the craft beer world overcome festival fatigue syndrome. Collaboration is the name of the game for Juicy Brews, and most of the breweries that attend brew a beer specifically for the event that’s only available there or in their taprooms.
Oregon Brewers Festival
Location: Portland, OR
Dates: July 24-27
Notable Breweries: Boneyard Beer, Fort George Brewery, Sunriver Brewing Co., Friem Family Brewers, Gigantic Brewing Company
Ticket Prices: Free to enter, $20 for a mug and 10 beer tokens
This year’s Oregon Brewers Festival will, for the first time since it was founded in 1988, exclusively feature Oregon craft beers and ciders. Good thing Oregon has one of the best beer scenes in the country. There’s also no admission charge, meaning you’re not riddled with the feeling of having to get your money’s worth. While it’s not necessarily a beer fest to seek out those rare white whales, it is one that typically offers nice summertime vibes in the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland.
Hill Farmstead’s Festival of Farmhouse Ales
Location: Greensboro Bend, VT
Dates: August 3
Notable Breweries: Brasserie de Blaugies, The Lost Abbey Brewing Company, Russian River Brewing, Shelton Brothers Imports (Drie Fonteinen)
Ticket Prices: $100+
Leave it to the adored Hill Farmstead to concept a beer festival that’s entirely unique to them. What started as a weekend shared with brewer friends in 2006 has morphed into a bucket-list beer festival for beer fans from the world over. Even more extradonary is that it showcases one style of beer: the farmhouse ale. The ticket package includes a tasting glass, beer samples, designated driver entry and live music — food is on-site for purchase. This year’s FoFA features beer from only five breweries (including Hill Farmstead), and they’re all bangers.
Great Taste of the Midwest
Location: Madison, WI
Dates: August 10
Notable Breweries: Bell’s Brewery, Rhinegeist Brewery, Mikerphone Brewing, Founders Brewing Co., Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Ticket Prices: $60
The Midwest is full of craft beer stalwarts and up-and-coming breweries. The Great Taste of the Midwest brings them all to one place. Over 190 breweries descend upon Olin Park overlooking Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, to give drinkers the chance to sample beers from breweries that are spread out across the Plains. This beer fest will operate its 33rd edition in 2019 and the Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild does a superb job of making sure attendees won’t have to stand in long lines all day by limiting the number of tickets to the event.
Modern Times’s Festival of Dankness
Location: San Diego, CA
Dates: August – TBD
Notable Breweries: Modern Times Beer, Bottle Logic Brewing, Brouwerij West, Trve Brewing, Pizza Port Brewing Co.
Ticket Prices: $50+
San Diego is a craft beer mecca, with Modern Times Beer at the forefront. The brewery’s Festival of Dankness is a one-day tribute to hops, and the list of brewers that attend is on-par with just about any other beer fest in the U.S. There is something to be said for leaning into the most popular beer style and creating an epic festival around it in one of the most beer-centric cities in the United States.
Trillium Field Trip
Location: Canton, MA
Dates: August 10
Notable Breweries: Trillium Brewing Company, Evil Twin Brewing, Great Notion Brewery, Monkish Brewing Co., J. Wakefield Brewing
Ticket Prices: $50+
Some beer fests are all about quantity and variety. Trillium’s Field Trip isn’t one of them. Only 1,200 general admission tickets and 300 VIP tickets are up for grabs this year. This two-session event offers a carefully curated lineup of beers and breweries. Founded in 2018, Field Trip has already made a name for itself thanks to Trillium’s collaborative nature.