Burning Can definitely wins for best name.
Whether you’re a casual (but enthusiastic!) beer-drinker or a home-brewing, bottle-cellaring connoisseur, beer festivals are among the happiest, hoppiest ways to spend a long summer afternoon. For a modest fee—usually around $50—you’ll secure the chance to sample dozens or even hundreds of offerings, assuming you sip judiciously. Yes, the lines for some of the most sought-after beers can be long. But many of the festivals on this list restrict attendance and ensure everyone gets their samples in a timely manner. Even if they don’t, the experience is a great one if you’re open to new brews and breweries, and you remind yourself to enjoy the first-rate people-watching and sudsy comradery. Why drink alone when you could enjoy your beer with a few thousand friends?
21st Annual Michigan Summer Beer Festival
July 28-27 in Ypsilanti, MI
Michigan-based Bell’s and Founders deservedly garner a lot of national attention. (Their beers just nabbed six of the top-10 slots in the American Homebrewers Association’s 2018 survey of the best beers in America.) But the Great Lakes State is home to many other first-rate breweries. You’ll sample them all at this festival, which showcases more than 150 breweries and 1,000 craft beers.
August 10-12 in Hendersonville, NC
Colorado-based Oskar Blues holds two Burning Can festivals each summer—one in Colorado in June, and the other in August near its North Carolina brewery, located about an hour south of Asheville. The lineup includes more than 250 canned brews. And the activities, geared toward outdoor enthusiasts, include group bike rides and paddle trips. You can also camp on site.
Festival of Dankness
August 25 in San Diego, CA
If you really, really do not want to deal with crowds or long lines—you’re all about the beer—this is the event for you. Small, innovative breweries from coast to coast attend this IPA-focused festival, hosted by Modern Times Beer. The setting—San Diego’s Waterfront Park—can’t be beat, and even the most self-serious craft aficionados will go home happy.
The Great Taste of the Midwest
August 11 in Madison, WI
The Great Taste of the Midwest is the second longest-running beer fest in America, and it features more than 190 breweries and nearly 2,000 beers. The woodsy park setting near the shores of Madison’s Lake Monona is idyllic, and the strict cap on ticket sales means there’s little overcrowding or long lines for pours. Blankets and lawn chairs are allowed, and the whole festival has a pleasant, music-fest (without the drugs) vibe.
Vermont Brewers Festival
July 20-21 in Burlington, VT
Another long-running festival—this year will be its 26th go-round—this crunchy (in a good way) event on the shores of Lake Champlain pretty much distills everything people love about Vermont—crafts, the outdoors, beer, food—into a good-natured two-day event. More than 50 breweries will be in attendance—mostly New England-based outfits—and the event also features live music and local wares.
Great American Beer Festival
September 20-22 in Denver, CO
One of the largest, zaniest, and most-acclaimed beer fests in the country, the Great American Beer Festival will feature more than 800 breweries and 4,000 beers. According to the event’s organizers, more than 7,000 kegs were drained at last year’s event. If you’re looking to sample great beers from all over the country—including many hard-to-source offerings—and your partial to costumes and tomfoolery, this is your event.
August 16-18 in Bend, OR
It’s not the biggest or brashest. But the Bend Brewfest prizes quality above quantity, and there’s no shortage of that to be found among the Pacific Northwest breweries featured here. The fest also employs an affordable token-based system that allows you to pay as you taste, rather than plopping down a big upfront fee for an all-you-can-drink bonanza. If you’re looking to travel this summer and want to explore a new place and new beers, this is a great option.
Maine Brewers’ Guild Summer Session
July 28 in Portland, ME
Roughly 70 Maine breweries will be joined by 30 other invitees from all over the country on the Portland waterfront for this annual summer fest. The vibe here is pleasantly mellow compared to some of the larger, rowdier summer beer bacchanals. Live music, outdoor games, and educational beer talks will help you kill time between pours. If you’re curious to explore the breadth of Maine’s excellent craft scene, this is an ideal opportunity.
Texas Craft Brewers Festival
September 29, 2018 in Austin, TX
Yes, late September can be sweltering in Austin. But this outdoor craft fest is a must-visit if you’re anywhere near the Lone Star State late this summer. More than 50 breweries—all of them from Texas—will be in attendance, and visitors will enjoy a deep-dive into the state’s formidable craft scene.
Music City Brewer’s Festival
July 28 in Nashville, TN
Held in the heart of Nashville, this well-run festival features some great local craft brewers—Jackalope, Yazoo, and Blackstone, to name just a few—while bringing in a nice mix of nationally known names. Tennessee’s craft scene deserves more love than it gets, and this festival is a great showcase for the area’s beers.
Oregon Brewers Festival
July 26-29 in Portland, OR
Yes, another Oregon fest. But this four-day event—now in its 31st year—is the ultimate showcase of Oregon’s craft brewing scene, which ranks right up there among the best in the country. Like other token-based festivals, you can pace yourself here and save some cash—or you can go nuts.
Stone 22nd Anniversary Celebration and Invitational Beer Festival
August 18 in San Marcos, CA
An “all-access” rare beer ticket to this not-for-profit SoCal festival will set you back a C-note. But it will land your pours of some of the most delicious, hard-to-find craft beers in California (and beyond), including samplings from host Stone Brewing and other Sunshine-state standouts like The Bruery, AleSmith Brewing Co., Firestone Walker, and The Lost Abbey.
Seattle International Beerfest
July 6-8 in Seattle, WA
As its name makes clear, this is not a festival the focuses narrowly on American craft brewing. The selection of 200 international beers is carefully curated, and features everything from Italian sours to Japanese wit biers. Live music and a bring-your-own-blanket setup make this Seattle festival a great way to spend a long weekend. (Buying a wristband allows you entry every day of the event.)
Real Wild & Woody Indoor Beer Festival
July 28 in Phoenix, AZ
Phoenix in July? That’s why they put the word “indoor” in the festival title. The AC will be flowing along with the beer at this best-of-the-Southwest summer festival, where roughly 70 breweries from across the U.S. will pour out some of their tastiest offerings—including many one-off and limited-release beers.
Breckenridge Summer Beer Festival
July 7 in Breckenridge, CO
GABF in Denver is bigger (in every way). But if you’re looking for an intimate mountain setting and the best that Colorado’s spectacular craft scene has to offer, Breckenridge is a fine, focused affair. Come for the beer, stay an extra day or two for the awesome hiking and mountain biking.