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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 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, Feb. 24, and Schell's Bock Fest, March 3. 

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 April and May. That's when Beer Weeks are held in Milwaukee, April 14-21 in 2018; Madison, May 4-13; and Illinois, May 18-25; and Des Moines, June 15-24. Milwaukee also holds Craft Brewery Week July 27-Aug. 5.

Traverse City Craft Beer Week is in Nov. 9-17.

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.

Beer fans at Roar on the Shore Brewfest.

© 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 2018

Nearly all offer food and music in addition to beer. Tickets typically are $30-$50, 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.

Jan. 13, Craft Beer Expo in Mankato, Minn. This festival features seminars, food, live music and tastings from more than 40 craft breweries.

Jan. 20, 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.

Jan. 20, Chicago Ale Fest at Navy Pier. The winter version of this festival features more than 150 beers, food trucks and a DJ.

Feb. 3, Brewfest in Fond du Lac, Wis. Try more than 200 Wisconsin microbrews at the County Fairgrounds Expo Center. 

Pretzel necklaces at a beer fest.

© Beth Gauper

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

Feb. 10, Winter Microbrew & Music Festival at Mount Mancelona, Mich. Samples the wares from more than 40 breweries on this ski hill east of Traverse City. There will be such entertainment as fire dancers, a silent disco and bonfires in addition to music from nearly a dozen bands. 

Feb. 16, Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild Winterfest in Minneapolis at Target Field. Tickets go on sale in December and sell quickly.

Feb. 17, 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.

Feb. 17, 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. 23-24, 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.

Feb. 24, The Beer Dabbler in St. Paul. This fest in the Coliseum at the State Fairgrounds includes beers from more than 150 breweries and entertainment.

Feb. 24, Naperville Winter Ale Fest in Naperville, Ill. The festival in this western Chicago suburb, outdoors in Frontier Park, includes more than 130 beers from 60 American breweries. There's also food and live music.

March 3, Madison on Tap in Madison. Sample more than 150 beers from 70 breweries at Alliant Energy Center. There's also food and live music.

March  3, 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 3, Chicago Beer Festival in Chicago. Sample beer from more than 70 breweries at the Field Museum.

March 3, 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.

March 24, 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. 

Brewhaus Polka Kings at a beer festival.

© Milwaukee Brewfest

Milwaukee's Brewhaus Polka Kings play at Brewfest.

April 7, Gitchee Gumee Brewfest in Superior, Wis. The Jaycees host this fest at Wessman Arena at UW-Superior, with tastings from breweries and brewpubs. 

April 14, Minnesota Craft Beer Festival in Minneapolis. Sample more than 300 beers from more than 90 breweries at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

April 28, Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival in La Crosse. Sample more than 200 beers and 45 wines. There's also a Taster's Eve on Friday and a Bacon Bloody Brunch Sunday.

May 5, Craft Beer Expo in Rochester, Minn. Sample beer from more than 40 breweries at the Mayo Civic Center.

May 5, Chicago Beer Classic in Chicago. This fest in Soldier Field features beer from more than 75 breweries, music and seminars. 

May 20, 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 at the Calumet County Fairgrounds.

June 1-2, Chicago Ale Fest. This festival in Grant Park features more than 200 craft beers from more than 100 breweries plus live music and food from Chicago restaurants. A portion of the proceeds go to the Grant Park Conservancy.

All Pints North beer fest in Duluth.

© Beth Gauper

In Duluth, All Pints North is held on the harbor front.

June 2, 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. 

June 9, 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 16, 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 16, 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 16, 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 23, 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 14, 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.

July 21, Milwaukee Firkin Craft Beer Festival in Milwaukee. This festival in Cathedral Square Park celebrates Milwaukee's beer heritage and includes cask-conditioned ales from more than 40 local brewers. 

There will be music and food, and guests get to vote on the best Milwaukee beer.

July 28, All Pints North Summer Brew Fest in Duluth. This festival in Bayfront Park, hosted by the Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild, will have beers from more than 120 breweries to sample. 

July 28, 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 28, Brewfest in Minocqua, Wis. This benefit in Torpy Park features craft brews from Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota breweries and live music. 

A row of microbrews.


At festivals, hundreds of beers are available for tasting.

Aug. 4, 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. 4, Border War Beer Fest in Kenosha, Wis. This festival in HarborPark pits Wisconsin and Illinois breweries against each other; attendees vote on the best.

Aug. 10-11, BrewHa Craft Beer Festival in Thunder Bay, Ont. This fest on Lake Superior's Prince Arthur's Landing includes music and food.

Aug. 11, Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison. Sample from more than 1,000 beers 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. 18, Micro Brew Review in Oak Park, Ill. This zero-waste festival in downtown Oak Park features 400 beers from more than 90 breweries and food pairings from local restaurants.

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.

A festival at Millstream in Amana.

© Beth Gauper

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

Aug. 25, Summer Beer Dabbler in St. Paul. Try more than 350 beers from 120 breweries at CHS Field in Lowertown. There will also be food trucks and live music.

Sept. 7-8, 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. 8, 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. 8, Thirsty Troll Brew Fest in Mount Horeb, Wis. Try 100 craft beers from 25 breweries in the Upper Midwest. It's held in Grundahl Park.

Sept. 15, Great Lakes Brewfest in Racine, Wis. Sample from more than 450 craft beers, ciders and meads at the Zoological Gardens.

Sept. 15, 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. 15, Autumn Brew Review in Minneapolis. Sample beer from more than 140 breweries at this Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild festival at the old Grain Belt Brewery in northeast Minneapolis.

Sept. 22, BeerHoptacular in Chicago. At Vertiport Chicago near University Village, try more than 150 beers from 75 breweries. There will also be food trucks, a live insult booth and music.

Oct. 6, Northeast Wisconsin Craft Beer Festival in Green Bay, Wis. Try 200 beers from more than 50 breweries at this fest in Shopko Hall, which includes music, games, seminars and hors d'oeuvres.

Oct. 13, Wisconsin Dells on Tap in the Wisconsin Dells. It's part of Autumn Harvest Fest, with beer from more than 50 craft brewers. Tickets go on sale in June. 

Last updated on May 25, 2018