Best brew fests
Quaff craft beer to your heart's content at these sampling parties.
© 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 25 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: Capital's Bockfest in late February and Schell's Bock Fest in early March.
So if you want to go to a beer festival, plan ahead.
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.
© Sanderson Photography
Aficionados discuss a brew at Roar on the Shore in Kewaunee, Wis.
For more about touring Twin Cities breweries, see True brew in the Twin Cities.
Here are some of the best beer festivals. In 2021, many are on hold until they can safely happen. Check for updates.
Nearly all offer food and music in addition to beer. Tickets typically are $35-$55, 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.
January, Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild Winterfest in Minneapolis at US Bank Stadium. High-end beers are paired with small plates from favorite restaurants. Tickets go on sale in December and sell quickly.
January, Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest in Madison. Wisconsin's best beer and cheese makers supply the treats for an afternoon at Alliant Energy Center. Sample from more than 120 breweries.
© Beth Gauper
Veterans of beer fests arrive with necklaces made of pretzels and, sometimes, cheese sticks and sausage.
Feb. 6, 2021 Virtual Brewfest in a Box in Fond du Lac, Wis. Try more than 200 Wisconsin microbrews at the County Fairgrounds Expo Center.
February, Shelf Ice Brew Fest in Michigan City, Ind. The outdoor festival in the Uptown Arts District of this Lake Michigan town includes hundreds of beers and professional ice carving.
February, 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.
February, Michigan Winter Brew Festival in Grand Rapids, Mich. This Michigan Brewers Guild event is held outdoors at Comstock Park with nearly 1,000 beers from more than 100 breweries.
February, The Beer Dabbler in St. Paul. This fest in the Coliseum at the State Fairgrounds includes beers from more than 180 breweries and entertainment.
February, Naperville Winter Ale Fest in Naperville, Ill. The festival in this western Chicago suburb, outdoors in Frontier Park, includes more than 150 beers from 60 American breweries. There's also food and live music.
March, Hops & Props in Oshkosh, Wis. This fundraiser at the EAA Airventure Museum includes beer from more than 85 breweries, music and food from local restaurants.
March 6, 2022, Chicago Beer Festival in Chicago. Sample beer from more than 60 breweries at the Field Museum.
March, Roar Off the Shore Brewfest in Luxemburg, Wis. Try regional beers from more than 30 breweries and five wineries in this town near Lake Michigan.
March 27, 2021, Northern Lights Rare Beer Fest in St. Paul. This event at the Minnesota History Center features 60 limited, vintage or custom beers from 30 breweries.
© Milwaukee Brewfest
Milwaukee's Brewhaus Polka Kings play at Brewfest.
April, Gitchee Gumee Brewfest in Superior, Wis. The Jaycees host this fest at Wessman Arena at UW-Superior, with tastings from breweries and brewpubs.
April, Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival in La Crosse, Wis. Sample more than 200 beers and 45 wines. There's also a Taster's Eve on Friday and a Bacon Bloody Brunch Sunday.
May, Chicago Beer Classic in Chicago. This fest in Soldier Field features beer from more than 75 breweries, music and seminars.
May 15, 2021, Cedar Rapids Beer Summit in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sample more than 100 beers from 50 breweries at the Doubletree Convention Center, with music and food.
May, Spring Beer Festival in Traverse City, Mich. This inaugural fest will be in Turtle Creek Stadium.
May 22, 2021, Craft Beer Expo in Mankato, Minn. This festival features seminars, food, live music and tastings from more than 40 craft breweries.
May 23, 2021, Wisconsin Micro-Brewers Beer Fest in Chilton, Wis., on the east side of Lake Winnebago. More than 180 beers from 30 Wisconsin craft brewers, plus Chilton's own Rowland's Brewery beers. It's at the Calumet County Fairgrounds.
© Beth Gauper
In Duluth, All Pints North is held on the harbor front.
June 11-12, 2021, Up North Beerfest in Eagle River, Wis. A tasting of specialty beers is Friday night, with samplings from more than 20 up-north breweries on Saturday.
June 19, 2021, 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, Iowa Craft Brew Festival in Des Moines. The Iowa Brewers Guild festival in downtown's East Village features 300 beers from more than 50 Iowa breweries.
June 26, 2021, 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, Chicago Ale Fest. This festival in Lincoln Park features more than 100 craft beers plus live music and food from Chicago restaurants. It's part of the Sheffield Street Festival.
July 31, 2021, 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.
Aug. 6-7, 2021, BrewHa Craft Beer Festival in Thunder Bay, Ont. This fest on Lake Superior's Prince Arthur's Landing includes music and food.
Aug. 7, 2021, 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. 7, 2021, Border War Beer Fest in Kenosha, Wis. This festival in HarborPark pits Wisconsin and Illinois breweries against each other; attendees vote on the best.
At festivals, hundreds of beers are available for tasting.
Aug. 14, 2021, Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison. Sample beers from more than 190 brewers at the largest festival in Wisconsin and the second-longest running craft beer festival in North America.
Tickets sell out quickly; in early May, you'll need to send in a mail order or show up in person at one of various vendors in Madison. It's in Olin-Turville Park.
Aug. 21, 2021, Micro Brew Review in Oak Park, Ill. This zero-waste festival in downtown Oak Park features 200 beers from more than 80 breweries and food pairings from local restaurants.
It's produced by Seven Generations Ahead and the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild.
August, Summer Beer Dabbler in St. Paul. Try more than 450 beers from 140 breweries at CHS Field in Lowertown. There will also be food trucks and live music.
© Beth Gauper
Millstream Brewing in Amana hosts the Festival of Iowa Beers over Labor Day weekend.
Aug. 28, 2021, World of Beer Festival in Glendale, Wis. This event at the Bavarian Bierhaus includes special tappings, talks and more than 350 U.S. and international beers, meads and ciders. Tickets are limited and go on sale in mid-February.
Aug. 28, 2022, Naperville Ale Fest in Naperville, Ill. The festival at the historic Naper Settlement includes more than 200 craft beers. There's also food and live music.
September, 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.
September, Great Lakes Brewfest in Racine, Wis. Sample from more than 450 craft beers, ciders and meads at the Zoological Gardens.
September, Isthmus Oktobeerfest in Madison, Wis. This festival on Breese Stevens Field features sampling from more than 60 breweries and wineries, a box lunch, music and yard games.
October, BeerHoptacular in Chicago. In the Great Hall of Union Station, try more than 100 beers. There will also be food trucks, helicopter rides and music.
Nov. 13, 2021, Minnesota Craft Beer Festival in Minneapolis. Sample more than 500 beers from more than 100 breweries at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Last updated on June 2, 2021