6 big beer festivals that make great travel destinations
Beer pairs well with travel.
Just like certain landmarks or historic sites can provide insight to a country’s heritage, beer, too, can be a barometer of culture, and a fun way to learn more about the countrymen (and women) who brew it. In short, beer pairs well with travel.
“Each beer festival throughout the world has its own culture, its own character,” beer sommelier and Jerusalem Beer Festival organizer, Gadi Deviri, told From The Grapevine.
Deviri said some of the more commercial festivals tend to feature broad varieties of both domestic and small-batch beer to go along with major performing acts, local entertainment or all-day concerts. For others, the more obscure the barley pops, the better.
Whatever your flavor, here are a few beer festivals that serve as great travel destinations and wonderful places to whet one’s whistle:
Oktoberfest is arguably the largest and most popular beer festival in the world. (Photo: anandoart/Shutterstock)
Oktoberfest, which traditionally takes place during the 16 days up to and including the first Sunday in October (that’s Sept. 19-Oct. 4, if you’d like to start making travel plans now), is the gold standard of festivals, not only in terms of beer, but also in terms of pure cultural submersion.
Part of that grand Bavarian experience is the opportunity to sample any of the six traditional Oktoberfestbiers that have been served exclusively for nearly 200 years (though the recipes have changed a bit). While the beer selection may be limited, the quality is irrefutable: The Club of Munich Brewers, as the “Big Six” are known, has the protection of the European Union.
Beyond that, 14 beer tents feature entertainment ranging from crossbow competitions to your classic Bavarian yodelers. If you need some time off from the tents, consider the free walking tour of Munich.
But if you plan on getting a stamp on your passport for this one, plan early: accommodations become scarce when millions of people visit all at once.
The Great American Beer Festival
It might not have the European pedigree or Old World culture of Oktoberfest, but in terms of a true celebration of beer, there is none better than the Great American Beer Festival, held annually each fall since 1982 in Denver, Colorado.
Hosted by the Brewers Association, the festival – known as GABF to hundreds and thousands of loyal beer enthusiasts – markets itself as the premier beer festival and competition in the United States. Figures certainly support that claim: Nearly 50,000 thirsty visitors got their Rocky Mountain beer high in 2014, including ticketed attendees, brewers, judges, volunteers and media.
In 2014, GABF judges sipped on more than 5,700 entries, while ticketed attendees had more than 3,500 brews to choose from. Those visitors who do get their fill of small-batch brews can find plenty else to do in Denver, including day trips to the nearby Rockies or a concert at the famous Red Rocks outdoor amphitheater. But be careful not to over-consume, as the altitude does tend to affect its visitors.
Jerusalem Beer Festival
Bartenders pour drinks at the 2014 Jerusalem Beer Festival. (Photo: Igor Faberov)
Having celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2014, the Jerusalem Beer Festival continues to please seasoned beer enthusiasts with what Deviri called Israel's “young beer culture." One way it does so is by introducing Israeli brews to the rest of the world – in fact, the first day of the two-day festival is dedicated to local craft brews and home beers.
In Israel, where the beer culture is modeled largely on American tastes, the Jerusalem Beer Festival is a combination of both.
“The JBF is a true festival in every sense,” he said. “It’s a way for people to really enjoy themselves while learning about a country’s craft and commercial beers."
Guests should be sure to give themselves a couple more days after the two-day festival to explore one of the world’s oldest and most interesting cities, stopping at a pub or two along the way to test their recently acquired knowledge.
Belgian Beer Weekend
The Grand Palace serves as center stage for the Belgian Beer Weekend. (Photo: skyfish/Shutterstock)
A weekend is not enough time to get acquainted with all the beers from a country with a revered brewing heritage. At the Belgian Beer Weekend in Brussels, more than 350 national brews are available for tasting over the three-day event, including the wheat, Lambic and Trappist ales for which the Belgians are so well known. Entry to the event is free, but it'll cost you to have a taste.
And before anybody pays for beer, they must first pay respects. The Belgian Beer Weekend is serious and revered event that starts off on Friday afternoon with a celebration of Saint-Arnould, saint of brewers, followed by a “blessing of the beer.”
Then, feel free to break off and enjoy other truly Belgian experiences, including an ascent up the 1958 World's Fair relic, the Atomium, or visit the European Union, where you can take an audio tour of the European Parliament.
The Great British Beer Festival
Beer enthusiasts will find brews from all the aforementioned countries on this list at the Great British Beer Festival, but could just as easily stick with the local stuff – namely ales. Out of the hundreds of bottled and cask ales served at this annual event, about 450 of them come from British breweries.
Tens of thousands arrive annually to sample the ale selection offered up by festival organizers, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), with Brits and tourists guzzling more than 350,000 pints per year.
Along with all the ale that’s fit to drink – tutored tastings are available for those who don’t know the difference – this August event features traditional pub games and circus entertainment that includes lion taming and trapeze artists.
The combination of entertainment and blue-blood ales makes the GBBF a great way to enjoy merry old England, and the nearby railway station means visitors can be in central London in no time.
Qingdao International Beer Festival
In its 25th year, the Qingdao International Beer Festival started in 1991 as a 100th anniversary celebration of Qingdao and has since become the biggest beer festival in all of Asia, featuring a blend of beer appreciation and celebration of rich Chinese heritage and culture.
Every August, thousands of brewers and enthusiasts from around the globe gather at China’s “sailing city” of the Shandong Province – Qingdao – where guests can guzzle from samples of all the major beer representatives: Beck’s from Germany, Asahi from Japan, Carlsberg from Denmark, Corona from Mexico, good ol’ American Budweiser or, of course, Tsingtao – the product of the country’s second-largest brewery, found right in Qingdao.
Guests seeking a break from the seemingly endless party can check out nearby ShiLaoren Beach – a perfect summer getaway – or catch a ride over to the May Fourth Square, which features the spiral “Wind of May” sculpture.
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