10 Beer Festivals to Add to Your Bucket List
Sip your way around the world, from Chicago to China
Oktoberfest, Munich Germany
If you love beer and also like to travel, what better way to plan an itinerary than to organize it around one or two (or three) great beer festivals? Travel and beer are two of my favorite things, so recently I've been daydreaming about trips that would satisfy on both accounts. Note to reader: My research has in no way been exhaustive, but I have identified 10 festivals that would definitely make it onto my Beer Bucket List.
Keep in mind that I'm writing this as a beer-loving San Diegan, which means I've already done the San Diego International Beer Festival and Beer Week's Guild Fest many times. Both of those events are worthy of any national or international dream itinerary; The Guild Fest (November) provides the year's largest single-site collection of San Diego breweries (usually upwards of 80) and features hundreds of beers; and The San Diego International Beer Festival (June), which is now the largest on the West Coast, last year featured 1,564 entries from 291 different breweries, representing 23 U.S. states and 20 countries from across the globe.
So, even though they are certainly worthy company for any of the festivals on my list, I'm not including the San Diego events simply because…well…they're easy!
Here are 10 more beer fests from around the world that I'm thirsting to experience:
Bruges Beer Festival
Bruges Belgium (February)
In my opinion, any serious beer lover has to make at least one pilgrimage to Belgium for a beer experience. At the most recent Bruges Beer Festival, about 80 breweries participated and offered patrons more than 350 beers to taste, many of which were one-offs brewed for the festival and only launched at the festival itself. It's not one of the world's biggest events, but my hunch is that the quality (as opposed to quantity) is what this festival is all about.
Extreme Beer Fest
Boston, MA (February)
For something a little out of the ordinary, this one just sounds cool. Hosted by BeerAdvocate and sponsored by Dogfish Head, the invitational EBF is all about celebrating the brewers who like to push the boundaries of style and flavor. It's been going for 15 years, and the most recent fest featured more than 90 brewers from all over the globe serving more than 385 beers, with offerings that ranged from crazy-sounding wild ales, chile beers, gruits, smoked beers, old ales, trippels, quads, and more.
Blumenau Beer Festival
Bluemenau, Brazil (March)
Having never been to South America, I'd be keen to see how they do beer on that huge and varied continent. Known as the "Latin American Oktoberfest," the Blumenau Festival is Latin America's largest and most popular beer event. Now in its 11th year, this 4-day beer extravaganza takes place in a southeastern Brazilian town that was originally settled by Germans and highlights the talents of brewers from one of the world's largest beer-producing countries. In 2017, the festival hosted more than 330 brewers and served more than 600 beers to an estimated crowd of more than 40,000 attendees. My suggestion: Build in a couple of days after the festival to motor to the coast and chill on a Brazilian beach (Plaia de Cabecudas is less than a 90-minute drive east).
Mondial de La Biere
Montreal, Canada (June)
Want to see how our neighbors to the north do beer festivals? The Mondial de la Bière will mark its 25th year when it opens at Palais des Congrès in Montreal this summer. Dedicated to highlighting beers from around the world, this event features more than 100 producers and offers more than 500 beers of all styles. There's always a focus on plenty of Belgian, French, and European classics, but American IPAs and hoppy beers are also well represented. According to Montreal's mtlblog.com, more than 190,000 people attend the event each June.
Great British Beer Festival
London, U.K. (August)
I'm a big San Diego hophead, but I'm also a fan of British styles, so this beer fest sounds like a great palate expander. As Britain's largest beer fest, the GBBF also constitutes the largest collection of English beers offered to fans anywhere. Organized by the Campaign for Real Ale, this event provides visitors the chance to try more than 900 beers from more than 350 British breweries. The event takes place in the heart of London (at the Olympia Exhibition Centre) so, when you're done with the fest, you can do a little sightseeing (and pub crawling?) in one of Europe's greatest beer-loving cities.
Qingdao Beer Festival
Huangdao District, China (August)
According to the Fox Business web site, China is now the world's largest beer market (the Chinese evidently consume two times more beer than Americans). Given the ascendance of China in the world's beer business, I think it would be fascinating to attend China's largest (and longest) annual beer festival and to see how very different styles and tastes are reflected in the beer that's featured. Known as the "Asian Oktoberfest," the Qingdao Beer Festival is a two-week international event that attracts breweries both large and small from all over the world—many attend hoping to make a name for themselves in the world's fastest-growing beer market.
Great American Beer Festival
Denver, CO (September)
Founded in 1982, the Great American Beer Festival is the premier U.S. beer festival and competition. Each year, GABF represents the largest collection of American beer and brewers in one place, and its competition is without question America's most prestigious. Last year, more than 3,900 beers from more than 800 breweries were served to 60,000 attendees, which was the largest GABF ever. Tons of other beer-related events, seminars, and special tastings augment the festivities each year, making it a truly immersive beer experience. If you want one single festival that can give you a uniquely comprehensive overview of the American craft beer scene, GABF is the ticket for you. This is the one festival I've already done a few times, but I'd never pass up a chance to go back to Denver for another round.
Munich Germany (September–October)
I'm not big on placing myself in the middle of massive crowds, but no wish list is complete without the Mother of All Beer Festivals: Oktoberfest in Munich. It's the world's largest beer event and it's also one of the longest at 18 days. More than 6 million attendees fill the streets of the city and jam the 14+ beer halls that feature specially brewed classic German brews such as Märzen, Festbier, and Oktoberfest bier. Apparently, it takes a lot of that special beer to quench the thirst of all those revelers: At Oktoberfest 2017, more than 7.5 million liters (almost 2 million gallons) of beer were served.
Pilsen Czech Republic (October)
With the recent lager boom in San Diego, I've become a big fan of pilsners, so I'd love to take a trip and see how it's done in the birthplace of the beer itself. Each year, the Czech Republic's popular Pilsner Fest is scheduled to coincide with the day the famous Pilsen lager was first created. (The Pilsner style was first brewed by Bavarian brewer Josef Groll on October 5, 1842.) In addition to vast amounts of pilsner (more than 6,600 gallons are brewed for the occasion) provided by various breweries—the largest of which is Pilsner Urquell—the festival offers attendees music from a symphony orchestra, in addition to beer dough pretzels and specially baked barley malt bread. What else could you possibly need?
Festival of Barrel Aged Beer
Chicago, IL (November)
The country's largest celebration of barrel-aged beers takes place in Chicago, Illinois, every November at the Festival of Barrel Aged Beers. As a big fan of barrel-aging, this festival sounds like a must-do and is at the top of my list. Now in its 16th year, the FOBAB attracts many of the most sought-after breweries in the country, and they are usually there pouring some of the most sought-after beers in world. Last year nearly 200 breweries participated in the FOBAB competition and vied for medals in categories that ranged from sours to barley wines to stouts to pale beers and more.