MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

Best brew fests

Quaff craft beer to your heart's content at these tasting parties.

Revelers at a beer festival.

© Milwaukee Brewfest

Revelers toast the Milwaukee Brewfest in July.

At last, Americans are realizing that life is too short to drink cheap beer.

The tasteless factory lagers of our youth look awfully pathetic next to the beers now being turned out by craft brewers: sweet cream stouts, lip-smacking India pale ales, chocolatey porters, Belgian wheats flavored by coriander and orange.

In fact, it's getting hard to keep up with all the new brews, some of them wildly creative. That's where brew festivals come in.

"You'd be amazed at how many people have been introduced to good-tasting beer at these festivals,'' said Bonita Rowland of Rowland's Brewing Co. in Chilton, Wis., which has been hosting the Wisconsin Micro-Brewers Fest for more than 20 years.

Most festivals sell out, sometimes almost immediately. VIP tickets, which offer perks, are limited and usually sell out first.

The largest festival, Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison, is in August, and tickets sell out as soon as they go on sale, the first Sunday of May.

Two brewery festivals also sell out: Schell's Bock Fest, the Saturday before the beginning of Lent; and Capital's Bockfest, the last Saturday in February.

So if you want to go to a beer festival, plan ahead. 

If you want to really wallow in beer, keep your calendar open for spring. That's when Beer Weeks are held in Milwaukee (April 18-25), Madison (May 1-10), Minnesota (May 4-10) and Chicago (May 14-24).

American Craft Beer Week is May 13-19 in 2015.

Traverse City Craft Beer Week is in Nov 13-20.

For tips about going to a beer festival, see Quaffing with a crowd.

For a beer-lover's tour of Milwaukee, see Mad about brew.

For a beer-lover's tour of southern Wisconsin, see Road trip: Breweries of southern Wisconsin.

For more about touring Twin Cities breweries, see True brew in the Twin Cities.

Here are some of the best beer festivals in 2015.

Nearly all offer food and music in addition to beer. Tickets typically are $30-$45, more if bought at the door.

Designated drivers get in at a reduced rate, sometimes as little as $5 or even free. Be sure to bring a photo I.D.

Beer fans at Roar on the Shore Brewfest.

© Sanderson Photography

Aficionados discuss a brew at Roar on the Shore in Kewaunee, Wis.

Jan. 10, Ice Cold Beer Fest in Minocqua, Wis. This fest features "winter warmer'' style beer from 40 breweries, plus chili samples and music.

Jan. 17, Craft Beer Expo in Mankato, Minn. This festival features seminars, food, live music and tastings from more than 40 craft breweries. 

Jan. 17, Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest in Madison. Wisconsin's best beer and cheese makers supply the treats for an afternoon at Alliant Energy Center.

Jan. 24, The Beer Dabbler in St. Paul, part of Winter Carnival. This outdoor fest in Mears Park includes beers from more than 70 breweries, live music, fireworks and a costume contest.

Feb. 7, Brewfest in Fond du Lac, Wis. Try more than 100 Wisconsin microbrews at the County Fairgrounds Expo Center.

Feb. 7, Winter Microbrew & Music Festival in Traverse City, Mich. Samples the wares from more than 40 breweries in heated tents on the lawn of Grand Traverse Commons. There will be fire dancers, a silent disco and bonfires in addition to music from nearly a dozen bands.

Feb. 7, Shelf Ice Brew Fest in Michigan City, Ind. The first-time outdoor festival in this Lake Michigan town includes hundreds of beers and professional ice carving.

Feb. 21, Dubuque on Ice Brewfest in Dubuque, Iowa. This riverfront festival is at Mystique Ice Center and features 30 breweries, 10 wineries, food sampling and music. 

Feb. 21, Food & Froth Fest in Milwaukee. Try more than 200 beers from the Midwest and beyond at this event at the Milwaukee Public Museum, which includes appetizers from local restaurants and music from local bands.

Feb. 27-28, Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild Winterfest in St. Paul at Union Depot. Tickets go on sale in January. The 700 tickets sell almost instantaneously.

Feb. 27-28, Michigan Winter Brew Festival in Grand Rapids, Mich. This Michigan Brewers Guild event is held outdoors at Comstock Park with nearly 800 beers from 88 breweries. Tickets go on sale Dec. 4.

Feb. 28, Naperville Winter Ale Fest in Naperville, Ill. The first-time festival in this western Chicago suburb, outdoors in Frontier Park, includes more than 120 beers from 60 American breweries. There's also food and a brass band.

March 7, Madison on Tap in Madison. More than 100 beers from 50 breweries at Alliant Energy Center.

March 7, Hops & Props in Oshkosh, Wis. This fundraiser at the EAA Airventure Museum includes more than 250 brews, music and food from local restaurants. 

March 21, The Art of Beer Festival in Benton Harbor, Mich. Try beers from across the nation at the Lake Michigan College Mendel Center.

March 28, Roar on the Shore Brewfest in Luxemburg, Wis. Try regional beers from more than 30 breweries and five wineries in this town near Lake Michigan.

April 11, Gitchee Gumee Brewfest in Superior, Wis. The Jaycees host this fest at Wessman Arena at UW-Superior, with tastings from 28 breweries and brewpubs. 

Pretzel necklaces at a beer fest.

© Beth Gauper

Veterans of beer fests arrive with necklaces made of pretzels and, sometimes, cheese sticks and sausage.

April 17-18, International Beer Festival in Peoria, Ill. Sample beer from more than 300 breweries and listen to music.

April 18, Twin Cities Craft Beer Festival in Minneapolis. Taste 150 beers from 75 breweries at the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel downtown.

April 25, Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival in La Crosse. Beers from 20 to 25 breweries. It's 2-6 p.m. at the Oktoberfest grounds.

May 2, Craft Beer Expo in Rochester, Minn. Sample beer from more than 40 breweries at the Mayo Civic Center.

May 9, American Beer Classic in Chicago. This fest in Soldier Field features beer from more than 80 breweries, music and seminars. 

May 9, Belle City Brewfest in Racine, Wis. This festival at the Civic Centre features brewing and cooking seminars plus music and 100 craft beers.

May 17, Wisconsin Micro-Brewers Beer Fest in Chilton, Wis., on the east side of Lake Winnebago. More than 120 beers from 30 Wisconsin craft brewers, plus Chilton's own Rowland's Brewery beers.

Tickets go on sale in March. It's 1-6 p.m. at the Calumet County Fairgrounds.

June 6, Beer Barons' World of Beer Festival in Menomonee Falls, Wis. Only 600 tickets are sold to this event at Schwabenhof Pavilion, which includes special tappings, talks, a pig roast and more than 200 U.S. and international beers, meads and ciders. Tickets go on sale Feb. 1.

June 6, Summer Beer Fest in St. Paul. Beer from more than 100 breweries will be available at this festival in the International Bazaar area of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

June 13, Great Northern Beer Festival in Eagle River, Wis. Beer from more than 20 breweries at the Hi-Pines Campground north of town. 

Brewhaus Polka Kings at a beer festival.

© Milwaukee Brewfest

Milwaukee's Brewhaus Polka Kings play at Brewfest.

June 19-20, Chicago Ale Fest. This festival in Grant Park features craft beer from more than 100 breweries plus live music and food from Chicago restaurants. A portion of the proceeds go to the Grant Park Conservancy.

June 20, Door County Beer Festival in Baileys Harbor, Wis. This festival includes more than 120 beers, music, a home-brewing contest and seminars on beer, cheese and food.

June 20, Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival in Glendale, Wis. The event in this Milwaukee suburb, home of Sprecher Brewery, features more than 100 craft beers and food pairings from local chefs.

June 27, Lazy River Beer & Wine Festival in Marquette, Iowa. This hybrid festival is as much about wine and music as beer, but you can't beat its location on the shores of the Mississippi River.

July 11, Hopped Up Caribou Beer Festival in Lutsen, Minn. This festival on a ski hill above Lake Superior features beer from 14 mostly Minnesota breweries.

July 18, Milwaukee Firkin Craft Beer Festival in Milwaukee. This festival in Cathedral Square Park celebrates Milwaukee's beer heritage and includes 14 local breweries and brewpubs. 

There's a cask-tasting tent, music and food, and guests get to vote on the best Milwaukee beer. Tickets go on sale March 1.

July 25, All Pints North Summer Brew Fest in Duluth. This festival in Bayfront Park, hosted by the Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild, will have more than 100 beers to sample.

July 25, Milwaukee Brewfest in Milwaukee. This fest at Old Coast Guard Pavilion at McKinley Park on the lakefront features more than 250 craft beers, with a German Row and a Cider Row. There will also be music, food and arts.

July 25, Brewfest in Minocqua, Wis. This benefit in Torpy Park features craft brews from Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota breweries. 

Aug. 1, Wheaton Brew Fest in Wheaton, Ill. The downtown festival in this west Chicago suburb features more than 100 craft beers plus food and music.

Aug. 8, Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison. This is the largest festival in Wisconsin and the second-longest running craft beer festival in North America.

Tickets sell out quickly; you'll need to send in a mail order postmarked May 4 or show up in person at one of various vendors in Madison at noon May 3.

It's 1-6 p.m. in Olin-Turville Park, and brewmasters from more than 100 Midwest breweries serve samples of 500 beers.

Aug. 15, Micro Brew Review in Oak Park, Ill. This zero-waste festival in downtown Oak Park features beer from more than 40 breweries and food pairings from local restaurants.

A festival at Millstream in Amana.

© Beth Gauper

Millstream Brewing in Amana hosts the Festival of Iowa Beers over Labor Day weekend.

It's produced by Seven Generations Ahead and the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild and features the Replicale project, in which more than a dozen brewers use nearly identical ingredients to brew the same style of beer.

Aug. 15, Summer Beer Dabbler in St. Paul. Try beer from more than 50 breweries at the festival's new location at CHS Field in Lowertown. There will also be food trucks and live music.

Aug. 21-22, Summer Microbrew & Music Festival in Traverse City, Mich. Sample Midwest craft brews, with an emphasis on Michigan beer, on the lawn of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

Sept. 6, Festival of Iowa Beers in Amana, Iowa. Sample craft beers at Millstream Brewing Co., Iowa's oldest microbrewery. Tickets go on sale in July.

Sept. 11-12, Hopps of Fun Beer & Wine Festival in Mackinaw City, Mich. There's more than 50 Michigan microbrews and more than 40 Michigan wines, plus food and entertainment, at Mackinaw Crossings downtown.

Sept. 12, U.P. Fall Beer Festival in Marquette, Mich. The Michigan Brewers Guild hosts this fest in Mattson Lower Harbor Park on Lake Superior, featuring 250 beers from 35 Michigan craft breweries. Tickets go on sale July 1.

Sept. 12, Thirsty Troll Brew Fest in Mount Horeb, Wis. Try craft beers from 25 breweries in the Upper Midwest. It's held in Grundahl Park.

Sept. 19, Great Lakes Brewfest in Racine, Wis. More than 250 craft beers from 100 breweries across the nation. At the Zoological Gardens. Tickets go on sale June 1.

A row of microbrews.


At festivals, hundreds of beers are available for tasting.

Sept. 19, Egg Harbor AleFest in Egg Harbor, Wis. The festival in this Door County town features more than 100 craft beers, home-brewing demonstrations, food and live music. 

Sept. 19, Rails & Ales Brewfest in Green Bay, Wis. The National Railroad Museum hosts this sampling of craft beer, wine and hors d'oeuvres.

Sept. 19, Autumn Brew Review in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild sponsors this festival at the old Grain Belt Brewery in northeast Minneapolis.

Oct. 3, Northeast Wisconsin Craft Beer Festival in Green Bay, Wis. Tickets to this fest in Shopko Hall includes music, games, seminars and hors d'oeuvres.

Oct. 10, Quivey's Grove Beer Fest in Madison. The festival at this restaurant on the southwest edge of town features blues music and more than 100 beers from 45 breweries.

Oct. 17, Wisconsin Dells on Tap in the Wisconsin Dells. It's part of Autumn Harvest Fest, with beer from more than 20 craft brewers served from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets go on sale in June.

Oct. 24, Chicago Beer Festival in Chicago. Sample fall seasonal beers from 60 breweries at two sessions at Union Station.

Last updated on October 2, 2015

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