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101 Beer Experiences: Hit the big fests

You could probably fill your calendar with a beer festival every month if you wanted, but these are the can't-miss, must-go, clear-the-schedule best for 2016.
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 Photo of Oktoberfest by Joe Stange


Photo of Oktoberfest by Joe Stange

Ready your pretzel necklaces for this handful of world-class festivals in 2016:

Munich’s Oktoberfest is the world’s biggest beer party, and there is a reason it attracts 6 million people each year: It’s really, really fun. Also, oompah.

Last year’s Firestone Walker Invitational Festival sold out in one minute, so make sure your Internet’s working when tickets go on sale (Feb. 1 at 10 a.m. PST).  Here’s what the fuss is about: Lauded brewmaster Matt Brynildson personally invites thought leaders in beer from around the world to pour something sessionable and something special at the June 4 fest … most brewers bring even more. Whale hunters should spring for early-entry tickets to get an extra hour of tasting.

Many large beer festivals feature appearances by brewers and founders of celebrated American breweries, but The Festival, put on by importers Shelton Brothers, offers the best chance to hobnob with European brewing legends such as Cantillon’s Jean Van Roy and Brouwerij 3 Fonteinen’s Armand De Belder. At The Festival, which changes locations each year, brewmasters pour their beer and share their knowledge with attendees. Tickets for the VIP session usually sell out very fast, but the regular sessions are just as good for festivalgoers to meet and chat with the people who brew their favorite beers. Keep checking the website sheltonbrothers.com/festival for details on this year’s gathering.

Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, Wisconsin, is one of the Heartland’s most anticipated beer events—and for good reason: It’s outside, on Lake Monona, the second Saturday in August, and offers more than 1,000 beers from 150 of the region’s best breweries. If you snag a ticket in early May, the first thing to do is reserve a room at the nearby Sheraton Madison Hotel or Clarion Suites, the two hotels within stumbling distance of the park. Another tip: You can bring chairs, blankets and coolers of food and water to construct your own chill zone away from the crowds near the tasting booths.

Go to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver: Explore the massive mayhem of the floor, but also splurge on tickets to Paired (formerly known as the Farm to Table Pavilion) tucked in the back of the convention center. Passing through the glass doors, you escape the melee into a quiet space where you can eat small bites and sip small pours in a surprisingly refined setting.

 


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