Let’s start by agreeing that family-friendly beer festivals are not for everyone.
There are many who view beer as a means to a certain end. Their goal is not so much the quenching of thirst nor the enjoyment of one of life’s finest things, but rather good, old-fashioned schnuckery (AKA intoxication).
That’s fine. I’ve been that guy. You’ve been that gal. But I’d argue that beer has many purposes, and the sweet comfort of oblivion is only one of them.
So I admit it: I’m wary of those who get grumpy when they see a kid at a beer fest. I’m also wary of parents who would never in a million years think to bring their own kids to one. These folks signal their purpose rather clearly.
This is why my colleagues at DRAFT raised my hackles a bit recently with one of their 30 rules for beer festivals. Specifically, No. 28 is as follows: “Leave the kids at home. Leave your dog at home, too, unless it’s a service animal. Debate us all you want on this, but unless it’s explicitly family-friendly, a festival will be full of colorful language and sloshing beer. Toddlers and terriers get underfoot too easily.”
There is a certain pragmatism to this rule, an honest view of what many people at beer festivals are doing. Thing is, I just don’t find any of it especially scary. Sloshing beer is no danger to children and colorful language is the least of my worries as a parent. Meanwhile, drunken clods for whom kids might be “underfoot” can be seen a mile away, and easily avoided. (My kids know Captain Haddock. You think you can out-clod him?)
The bigger problem is not with bringing kids, but rather in the minds of those who would rather not see them.
In case I’m not being clear about my bias: I hate the fact that “family friendly” is an exception rather than the rule. It should be assumed, while those who want no kids at their events—totally fair, by the way—are the ones who ought to be explicit about it.
I like, for example, how the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ in Leesburg, Va., puts it: “KIDS 12 & UNDER ARE FREE. This event is not designed for children. They are welcome but you will find very little of interest to them.” It’s an honest assessment⏤and helpful.
My view on this may be unusual in the U.S., where we tend to work hard, pray hard and play hard, or binge on work, binge on family, then binge on alcohol.
(An aside: I found this reddit page where all commenters basically agree that beer festivals are not for kids because they are for getting drunk. I found this surprising until I saw that it’s the Childfree subreddit, which reads less like a support group and more like the venting of people who simply dislike children and are annoyed that their friends have them. So, I can’t help but wonder if the biggest gap in opinion on kids at bars or fests is between those who have kids, and those who don’t.)
As I’ve written before, my view is that kids and beer are both great—in moderation. Best if we don’t lose ourselves in either. If we can manage that, then the need to separate them begins to look silly.
That’s my long-winded explanation for why I decided to look up as many explicitly family-friendly beer festivals as I could find. I found far more than I expected, and given unlimited time I could find many more. These examples will help parents find fests where they and their kids can relax and enjoy themselves. And maybe they’ll also help those who intend to drink with a purpose know which to skip.
As Boak & Bailey (or one of them, anyway) put it, “brace yourself for 80 replies saying, ‘Then I’ll know which ones to avoid!’” That would be cool with me. I aim to be useful.
This list is far from comprehensive, so there may not be anything here in your neck of the woods. Check with your local organizers. Many festivals are, in fact, family friendly without feeling the need to make a big deal about it. So just ask, or go childless the first time and then decide whether to bring them the next time.
We start with some examples from the U.S., then add a few from abroad. Know one that we missed? Leave a comment, below.
BBQ and Beer Festival, Santa Clarita, in May. Kids get in free and there’s a large zone with kid activities.
Hangar 24 AirFest, Redlands, in May. There is not only a kids’ zone with activities, but also a real airshow and lots of cool aircraft to admire.
Feast of Saint Arnold, Colorado Springs, in June. Touts itself prominently as “Colorado’s Family Friendly Beer Festival.” Takes place at a church, so maybe the kids are especially well-behaved. If not, at least they’ll be distracted: balloon sculptures, bubbles, face painting, ice cream, lawn bowling, performers, races, tumbling and water balloons. Kids aren’t the only ones who get in free; designated drivers do, too.
Music Beach and Brews Fest, Lake Lanier Islands, on September 10 this year. Kids corner, beach games, live music and more.
Mayfest and Oktoberfest, Chicago, in May and September. Both events are in Lakeview and include kid-friendly activities.
Chesapeake Crab and Beer Festival, National Harbor, on August 27 this year. “All you can taste” beers and crab for a four-hour session cost $89 for an adult, with cheaper crab-only options for drivers and kids. The same fest takes place in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in June.
Crabtoberfest, Cambridge, on September 24 this year. German beer, sausages and crabs, and carnival games for the kids.
New Jersey Beer and Food Festival, Hamburg, in June. Kids welcome at this fest at Crystal Springs Resort, where they can ride ponies or hot air balloons, visit a petting zoo and play various games.
Oregon Garden Brewfest, Silverton, in June. Kids welcome until 5 p.m. on Saturday and all day Sunday, to explore the botanical gardens, crafts and other activities.
Organic Beer Fest, Portland, in August (this weekend, in fact). Free sodas for kids and designated drivers, plus art stations, hula hoops, face painting, and lovely Overlook Park in which to run around.
Portland Craft Beer Festival, in July. Sunday is family day, all ages welcome. Activities include pingpong, cornhole, hula hoops and yoga. Hmm, beer and yoga? Yep, it’s Portland.
Southern Brewers Festival, Chattanooga, in August. On a park alongside the Tennessee River, the fest features live music and a picnic-style atmosphere where kids are welcome and get in free.
Sundance Beer Festival, on September 10 this year. Who cares about dumb old films? Kids get in free to check out the bouncy castles and other activities.
And, some examples from outside the U.S.:
I’ve seen occasional kids’ corners, bouncy castles and games at various local Belgian beer festivals, but this has to be the winner for going the extra kilometre. The Festibière in Gembloux, Namur, has a Kids Zone with two sections: one for littler kids, and one for bigger ones. Books, comics, coloring, balloon sculptures and toys are at their disposal. There is also a space for parents and babies, complete with bottle warmer, microwave, high chair and changing station. Somebody thought it through. Lots of great beers from around Wallonia too.
Bières et Saveurs, Chambly, Quebec, on September 2-5 this year. The festival’s Family Zone features cotton candy, face painting, bouncy castles, circus performers and more.
Brewer’s Backyard, Toronto, dates throughout the year. This afternoon event⏤basically a temporary beer garden in an old brickworks—usually occurs on school holidays and is explicitly family-friendly with various activities like a skating party in winter.
Forest City Beer Fest, London, Ontario, in August. Explicitly family-friendly, and free for all ages (you pay for beer and food).
Various folk festivals small and large, including Oktoberfest in Munich and the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart. These events tend to be accompanied by carnival rides, games, and the sort of treats that boost the economy by keeping pediatric dentists in business. Last year, after midday lunch and beer in the Schottenhamel tent, we took our kids on the gigantic Ferris wheel, munched on sugary roasted almonds, and slammed into each other with bumper cars. They’re begging us to go back.
Banchory Beer Festival, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, in August. Lots of booze of all sorts, but Sunday is Family Day.
Dentdale Music and Beer Festival, village of Dent, Yorkshire, England, in June. This cask fest welcomes dogs, parents and kids with games, performers, crafts and diaper-changing stations.
Styal Beer Festival, Cheshire, England, in July. Lots of local cask ales and ciders, plus activities and games for kids. But honestly, they had me at hog roast.
Wandsworth Common Beer Festival, southwest London, in March and October. Claims to be London’s only family-friendly beer festival, besides 100 cask ales and other stuff of the sort they call “craft”—by which they mean interesting, but not cask.
Wilburton Beer Festival, Cambridgeshire, England, in June. Besides the cask ales, ciders and grub, there are live bands, bouncy castles and slides, bungee trampolines, zorbing balls and face-painting. “We take kids entertainment very seriously . . . and expand what we offer year on year.”