Teaching Beer 101 at my Alma Mater

I much prefer writing about other people than other people writing about me, but when it’s a story about a new beer class I’ll be teaching–and it appears in the student newspaper, the Daily Nexus, of my alma mater because said class will be at UCSB–I’d say that slaps. OK, I shouldn’t say anything slaps because I’m no longer one of the young people. But I’m honored–and as a flashback I’ll add that I’m stoked–to have created the University’s first-ever beer tasting and appreciation class. The pitch was fairly simple: the University has offered its wine tasting class for decades (I took it in the ’90s), it’s time to get with the 21st century and put beer education on equal footing (even though Santa Barbara is, by and large, wine country.)

With Beer 101* I’ve created a curriculum that covers, however sparsely, the entire 10,000 year history of mankind’s foibles in fermenting grain as well as deeper dives into the chief regions and styles of beermaking today. It’s an eight-week course, open to anyone over 21, not just students! Sign up, join us, and if you’re not careful, you just might learn a thing or two.

*Updated 9/10/19: The beer class will henceforth be known as The Beer Class

Firestone Walker Invitational Bassoon Festival


Adam Firestone, 2005. Photo: Yours truly

Today, I’m heading down to Paso Robles, California for the 5th Annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival where more than 50 breweries (and thousands of beer nerds) across California, the country, and indeed the world will gather once again to become engrossed in beer (and beer culture). Yesterday, while listening to my iTunes on random-play as I worked, rather than a song a spoken word track started to play. My own voice. I was dictating notes to myself about afterthoughts from my 2005 interview with Adam Firestone.

I wasn’t a beer writer then. I was an aspiring one. I wasn’t drinking much in the way of bourbon-aged strong ales back then. But that’s OK because Firestone Walker wasn’t making them yet. Part of my notes-to-self was about the impending release of “Firestone Ten.” XX will be released later this year. So bear in mind—Firestone pun intended—that they brewery was working solidly in the pale ale realm still. No wild ales like SLOambic. No Wookey Jack Black Rye IPA. Not even Union Jack. That’s right. They hadn’t even unleashed their now-flagship IPA brand. Today, they’re still all about their Burton Union, er, Firestone Union method of fermentation that’s prime for making British-style pale ales that co-founder and Adam’s brother-in-law David Walker still prefers. (In a phone interview with David this past April he said of Double Barrel Ale, a British Pale, “I drink DBA every opportunity I can. It’s my favorite style.”)

As I sat there listening to the track, it was telling that Adam, when talking about not aging but fermenting beer in wood, told me that any brewer worth his salt would know better than to do that. Or at least challenge that, which is what Matt Brynildson did when he joined the brewery. Tangent: I’d also interviewed Matt in October of 2005. He discussed having brewed for SLO Brewing where he didn’t like having to make their Blueberry Ale not because it was fruity but because it wasn’t made with real fruit, just flavor additive. I attended UC Santa Barbara nearby—graduating months before Firestone Walker launched—and recall drinking and, dare I say, enjoying said Blueberry Ale (as a 21-year-old whose friends only drank beer that came in $35 kegs or 36-can suitcases). Matt also said back then that Oak is a flavor so it’s really beer’s “fifth ingredient.”

Back to the track. Adam likened their method of brewing to “being in the bassoon business.” I’m paraphrasing: “Not everyone plays bassoon, but if that’s what you do, and it’s a wonderful instrument, you really gotta throw yourself into making a good bassoon.” I loved that analogy. (And lemme tell you something. Those double-reeded woodwinds can run up to 30 grand, but you’re not getting out for under five thou because you’re not some podunk oboe player amirite?) What Adam meant—and the sentiment was echoed during my in-person interviews with David and Matt, too—is that Firestone Walker doesn’t make beer for everyone. Anyone can play the kazoo. They make the bassoons of beer. Elegant. Rich. Unique.

According to my dictated notes, Adam went onto say, “You don’t have to be all things to all people.” He divulged that, despite it being the era where Hefeweizens and Witbiers were the big deal in microbrewing (imagine if brewers today were trying to out-wheat each other or tout being the first to use an experimental varietal of grain), he was no fan of wheat. Nor of hemp seeds, which, if you know their history with Humboldt Brewing and Red Nectar Ales, is pretty funny. First met Adam behind the table while pouring at the 2005 GABF.

Beside the bassoon line, I had a compulsory discussion with Adam about his kid brother, Andrew, who’d been the star of an early season of The Bachelor. Yikes! But Adam had a really interesting take. “Just like the 70’s had 8-tracks and the 50’s had hula hoops, we have reality TV shows and those won’t be around in future generations, either. Like TV, previous generations were concerned with who shot J.R.? This generation is concerned with who’s the bachelor going to pick?” He added that the show brought great marketing might to the Firestone Winery. Less to the Firestone Walker Brewery. He also used the word fungible two or three times. Yeah, he dropped it during the course of conversation. I hardly read or hear that word, but when I do, I can’t help but think of Adam.

So that’s it. It’s crazy to think about what has transpired in the decade since, with me, with the beer industry and scene in general, and with this brewery in particular. Firestone Walker has amassed 47 GABF medals since 2002 and hasn’t had a single dry year. David really does all the publicity and public engagements. He’s simply very affable and charming. Of course he is; he’s British. But as Adam copped to me back in 2005, the two of them got along well, which Adam said is a testament to David’s character since he’s aware that he himself is not the easiest person to get along with. “Strong opinions.” So when his brother-in-law began prattling off about starting a “microbrewery,” Adam fortuitously said, “Yep, let’s do this.”

Below is the excerpt from Red, White, & Brew about Firestone Walking Brewing. At the time, they were the one brewery I intended to make a full chapter in the book but did not. The goal was to get the deep, inside story not of every brewery in America, but 1%. That’s why there are 14 chapters in the book. There were 1,400 breweries. I didn’t think there’d be 1,500 by the time the book came out, which, in 2008 had actually climbed to 1,574. If I were to write Red, White, & Brew today using that same approach, I’d have to write 44 chapters! Anyway, it’s not my best writing, but it was my humble start. Check out the part where we learn before Firestone made sessionable pale ales, a Firestone made non-alcoholic beer (from 1986-1990)! And as a bonus, I’ll start with a line not pertaining to Firestone Walker but that leg of my roadtrip around America’s breweries:

…In the Palm Desert it is the Sonny Bono Memorial Highway, in memoriam to the former mayor of Palm Springs who couldn’t ski the forest for the trees…

Months after I graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1996, a new brewery opened up nearby. It belonged to two brothers-in-law, Adam Firestone and David Walker, hence the name Firestone Walker Brewing. The Firestone name, of course, is well known, as tire magnate Harvey S. Firestone was a rubber baron. Harvey’s grandson, Brooks, used his inheritance to start the first estate winery in Central California. In turn, his son, Adam, while already president of the Firestone Vineyard, partnered with David. They have Adam’s sister, and David’s wife, Polly Firestone-Walker, to thank for bringing them together.

I didn’t discover Firestone Walker beer until I went to Denver. At the GABF’s Pacific Region section of the festival, I met Adam, tall and youthful, pouring his beers from behind his table. He told me about his dad’s side venture making, of all things, non-alcoholic beer in the late eighties. While serving as a Marine overseas, Adam pleaded with his dad not to fold the operation. But when brands like Miller Sharps and Coors Cutter were introduced, Brooks pulled the plug.

Soon thereafter, Adam returned, having done a tour in the first Persian Gulf War. After taking over Firestone Estates, he lit out on a scavenger hunt to track down old brewing equipment for his side project. Because it proved to be a success, now he’s got shiny new equipment. If only his kid brother Andrew had revealed as much about the brewery in “The Bachelor” reality series as he did about the winery and his own personal dalliances, the brand might have a broader reputation.

The vineyard, the brewery, and a new brewpub are spread across the Santa Ynez Valley along the Central California coast, 90 miles apart. The latter, the Taproom, is in Buellton, most famous for its split-pea soup—I kid you not. The pub is located near the tree that Thomas Haden Church crashed Paul Giamatti’s Saab into in the movie Sideways. Instead of chasing down wine, my destination was beer. Looping around the off ramp that circles the tree, I made my way off the 101 and into the Taproom.

I met David, a tall British bloke gracious enough to plunk down in a booth with me and discuss their initial, and failed, idea to make beer in the winery’s spent Chardonnay barrels. Instead, the brewery patented a method of fermenting beer in charred oak barrels. Aging beer in barrels isn’t that uncommon, but these guys are the only ones in America who use them in the fermentation process. Every brewery that uses stainless steel thinks these guys are crazy. But after you taste their Double-Barrel Ale, you’ll be a convert, too.

David slipped behind the bar and pulled me a few tastes including an unfiltered version of Double Barrel. I’m not much for discussing noses, legs, or bouquets, but this beer boasted some serious oakiness. My hat’s off to brewmaster Matt Brynildson, who earned Mid-Size Brewer of the Year honors at last year’s GABF.


Field Guide to Drinking in America Book Review

FIELDGUIDE.COVER_hiresThis is a book review about Portland author Niki Ganong‘s new book, The Field Guide to Drinking in America, but this is my blog so I’m starting with a story about me.

So I’m in Pittsburgh with a whole day to explore and drink up the culture. My primary beer stop was Church Brew Works, a righteous brewpub where parishioners, I mean patrons, break bread and hoist pints in a deconsecrated church. The other beer I really wanted to try wasn’t actually brewed in Pennsylvania, but I’d read it was newly available there. If Church Brew Works’ beers are a little slice of heaven, the other one would be a little slice of pizza. Mama Mia’s Pizza Beer. It’s a homebrew recipe using real pizza and ingredients that is contract brewed and bottled and, well, I just had to know. My hunt took me to beer bars and Italian restaurants, none of whom had heard of it. An internet search led me to a place that carried it and I GPS’ed my way to a beer distributor’s warehouse (different than the state-run liquor stores) where they had said pizza beer but they would not sell me a bottle. Instead, if I wanted it, I had to buy the whole case of 24 bottles.

In the end, I had 23 friends back home who were more than happy I went through the effort, but I wish I had a resource like Ganong’s new title, The Field Guide to Drinking in America: a Traveler’s Handbook to State Liquor Laws.

It’s the subtitle that gives this book from local Portland author Ganong its prime practicality. If you’re over 21, you’ve likely learned the ins and outs of your home state’s liquor laws. You know what time the bars close, where you can drink (slash: where you can’t), and if you can find your beer, wine, and spirits under the same roof or not. But when you’re traveling (which means, by default, when you’re drinking someplace farther from home), deciphering the regulations often causes some headaches. For example, how much does it suck being in Colorado, home to even more great breweries than Oregon, but not being able to find most of the beers you’re trying to track down because they’re above 3.2% alcohol by weight (yes, ABW, which is roughly equal to 4% ABV) so what you’re left with is specially-brewed/watered-down for Mountain State markets Colorado and Utah.

I’m not alone in these discoveries. A point made in the book’s intro about the head-scratching, state-by-state laws enacted following Prohibition, “Many a surprised traveler has been caught off guard by an unexpectedly early last call, a sad and liquorless Sunday, or the choice of 3.2% beer or nothing at all. Almost everyone has a story about this.”

Tips and factoids, including a handy-dandy list of “What you can do” and “What you can’t do” in each state that drink-seeking travelers would pick up from the Field Guide:

Vermont: You cannot purchase a second drink if you have not finished your first nor participate in a game or contest that encourages excessive drinking. (Sorry UVA underclassmen.)

Alabama: This Southern state has some of the restrictive liquor laws in the union (they one they’d probably like to secede from again). Of its 67 counties, 25 are dry, though not completely: private clubs are allowed to sell to consumers and each one has at least one wet city.

Louisiana: God bless Louisiana and it’s 24/7 bars and open container laws and drive-thru daiquiri huts.

Tennessee: More than a third of its counties are dry but that only prevents the sale of alcohol, not the bootlegging of it. Interestingly, those dry counties “tend to have higher DUI arrests than wet counties.” The Jack Daniels Distillery, the oldest in the USA, is in dry Lynchburg. Unlike when I visited, now visitors are able to buy a commemorative bottle of JD’s sour mash whiskey but only at the gift shop. Fun bit of trivia: Mountain Dew was invented in Knoxville and originally featured the character “Willy the Hillbilly” firing his shotgun, possibly at another moonshiner, with the tagline, “zero proof hillbilly moonshine.”

Colorado: You can’t buy Santa any beer over three-two to persuade him to add you to his Nice list, nor can you beg for booze.

Incidentally, readers might even pick up some points of interest about their home states. I learned that here in Oregon, I cant bring an unfinished bottle of wine home from a restaurant and that I cannot use a beer bong in a bar (or surf while drunk, not that I’m able to surf stone-cold sober).

Niki Ganong will be at Belmont Station’s Biercafe on Saturday, May 2 from 1-3 p.m. selling and signing copies of her book. She’ll also conduct a tasting of IPAs from across the country. Come sample her selection of some of the country’s best IPAs — including Boulevard’s just released The Calling IPA.

FredFest 2015 tickets on sale tomorrow


Above photo from Brookston Beer Bulletin, 2008

In numerology, 89 is considered an “angle number” and that, “Repeating Angel Number 89 can be a message about your lifestyle and career choices and the angels guide and support you as you focus on your life purpose.” While that’s a bunch of hooey, what’s anything but malarkey is that Fred Eckhardt‘s upcoming 89th birthday party, aka Fred Fest 2015, is possibly the very best beer celebration we have here in Portland, and I’m aware I’m saying this as CBC is only halfway through. Tickets go on sale tomorrow for the party on Sunday, May 3 at, as always, Hair of the Dog Brewing.

More on the fest:

Attendees will be treated not only to a rare assortment of hand-selected beers, but also light fare cooked in and with beer and of course birthday cake and a round of “Happy Birthday”, just for Fred. Cheeses, chocolate, candy and even cereal will be offered in abundance so attendees can experience some of Fred’s famed beer-and-food pairings.

Tickets are in advance. Entry into FredFest includes a souvenir glass, free ticket for a raffle of bottled specialty beers and four hours of sampling, sipping and story-telling with Fred. Tickets are limited and they will go fast (they’ve sold out every year to date), so order yours today before it’s too late! Don’t have a PayPal account? Follow the link to “Order Tickets” and you can still pay directly with a credit card. Tickets are not mailed out, they will be at the door will-call style. Please bring a copy of your PayPal purchase receipt with you. Make sure if you are purchasing the tickets for a friend that you include their name in the notes section so we can get all ticket holders into the event quickly.

As always, all proceeds from FredFest and any related auctions/raffles will go to a charity of Fred’s choice.  The 2014 recipients chosen by Fred are the Guide Dogs for the Blind, International Medical Corps, and the Bob McCracken Scholarship Fund.

This just in: Melvin Brewing

I’m not one to let this kind of call out go unremarked so first, watch this newsy video promoting Melvin Brewing’s upcoming events all CBC week long.

What’s a Melvin Brewing? “You have never heard of Melvin,” comments the commentator in the video, “but they are the makers of the best double India pale ale in the world.” Bold claim, but one that at least has some teeth to back it up. Melvin Brewing, nee Thai Me Up, the Thai restaurant-cum-brewpub from Northwest native Jeremy Tofte, earned three medals at the 2012 GABF including gold for Melvin IPA (in the American-style Strong Pale Ale category and the rebrand’s namesake) and 2×4 Imperial IPA. At least equally importantly, Melvin brewer Kirk McHale was crowned Hopunion’s Alpha King that same year, and again the following year, joining Brendan Moylan (Moylan’s) and Jeff Bagby (then of Pizza Port, now of Bagby Beer) as the only back-to-back winners.

One of the most cherished lines comes in the form of a plea to attend a tap takeover of sorts at Apex on April 16. “Thursday consists of an epic explosion of beers at Beergasm hosted by Boneyard and the Green Lantern (sic). This event is…much better than seeing a washed up and and drinking beer from the ’90s.”

In other news, The Supersuckers are performing at the Wonder Ballroom that night as part of We CAN Jam pouring various canned beers.

OK, so Melvin makes delicious hop bombs. What’s this have to do with some retort or remark? Later in the same video, Portland beer news sources including Brewpublic (dot com), New School Beer (dot com) are called out by the newscaster as well as BrianYaeger.com. You’re soaking in it.

As for what events I’ll be soaking up, oh man, there are too many to even wrap my foamy head around. Let’s just say I’m pre-hungover and pre-exhausted just like everyone else. But looking forward to getting my second first-wind next week.

SF Beer Week: Oregon Takeover

SF-Beer-Week-2015.0.0I love everything about SF Beer Week (namely the parts about San Francisco and it being a week of beer). Back in 2009, when I lived there and the first SFBW took place, I knew it was special but I didn’t know just how special. Everything about it was over the top yet just right. I remember the tap takeovers from locals like Anchor to ones nowhere near SF like Allagash. I remember the beer dinners including one from the always legendary Sean Homebrew Chef Paxton. And I recall going on the Beers 2 Breakers bike ride that inspired Bryan Kollesar, Derrick Peterman, and myself to throw a bona fide Beer Run the next couple of years. I won’t be doing the Beer Run again this year, sadly, but I am going back and this time, it’s a full-on night of Oregon Breweries, Beaver state beers that’ve never basked in the California sun. After visiting every brewery in the state for my brand new guidebook, I’ve put together this list:

  1. Ale Apothecary: Sahalie, Sahati, Spencer. Bend
  2. Barley Brown’s: Turmoil CDA, Pallet Jack IPA, Fork Lift IIPA. Baker City
  3. Boneyard: RPM IPA, Notorious 3IPA. Bend
  4. Breakside: IPA, Salted Caramel Stout. Portland
  5. Cascade: Gingersnap, Foudre Project #1. Portland
  6. The Commons: 3rd Bbl-aged Stout (using bourbon barrels from Bourbon Little Brother). Portland
  7. Crux: Tough Love bbl-aged RIS, Half Hitch Mosaic IIPA. Bend
  8. De Garde: Bu Weisse (Berliner Weisse), Petit Desay tart farmhouse. Tillamook
  9. Double Mountain: Devil’s Kriek, My Little Runaway (Belgian cherry ale). Hood River
  10. Ft George: 1811 Lager & Vortex IPA. Astoria
  11. Hair of the Dog: Fred From the Wood. Portland
  12. Hopworks: Abominable Winter Ale, Kentucky Christmas “aka Bourbon A-bomb”. Portland
  13. Upright: Special Herbs (gin-aged gruit with lemongrass, sweet & bitter orange peels, hyssop, and Sichuan peppercorns. Portland
  14. Viking: Winter Squash Porter Braggot. Eugene

The lineup is a sliver of what I know Oregon beer is all about: variety. Oh it’s also about greatness, depth of flavor and artistry, but look at that incredibly wide-range of beer styles (some traditional, some wholly made up). Let’s have fun with some numbers

1 braggot. Because of course Oregon has a dedicated braggot brewery in Viking. Actually, there are two (the other being Fire Cirkl)

2 X-mas beers. The commercial holiday may be over, but HUB keeps the season going here with Abominable (“A-bomb” is a hoppy winter ale) and Kentucky Christmas, the bourbon-aged version of A-bomb!

3 Bend. I strived for geographic diversity with this lineup since it’s OREGON Breweries Night, not just Portland. But when you have 20 amazing breweries in a town of just 80,000 people, of course I sought out more than one or two. By that measure, fewer than half of these are from PDX. Oregon’s a great place to road trip for beer and you’ll see waterfalls, hop farms, and gorgeous coastline along the way.

6 Darks. with no two alike. Some are barrel-aged while others have flavors like salted caramel (in collaboration with Salt & Straw ice cream) and delacata (winter) squash in the form of a porter braggot.

7 Farmhouse. and again no two alike. Yes Upright and Ale Apothecary both work within this realm but between their 5 beers being poured, they’re all wildly different

8 IPAs. various styles from PNW IPA to CDA to imperial to a triple

9 sour beers. Cherries, ginger, wild black currants, and some sans overt fruit flavors, soured purely through wild yeast.

11 barrel-aged beers. Stouts, sours, strong ales and even a gruit. Barrels include bourbon, wine, and even gin.

21 GABF medals won by Barley Brown’s alone (4 last year, more than any other company). Breakside has won 6 including a gold for the American-style IPA being offered here. Both The Commons and Hopworks have earned 4 apiece, too.

90% RPM. This IPA is 100% delicious, but some 90% of Boneyard’s production is of this beer which I feel safe calling Oregon’s favorite IPA and you’ll see why. But wait til you try Notorious, which is basically a 3xRPM.

200 dollars. That’s how much Eric Cripe spent on the case of Hair of the Dog Fred From the Wood. Drink up and thank him heartily. I really had to call in some favors to make this event happen.

1811 Lager. No, not 1,811 lagers, but a lager named in honor of the year Astoria was founded, which is where Ft. George Brewery was founded many years later. With so many boldly flavored beers, I thought a lighter, pre-Pro lager was necessary to recalibrate our palates!

I hope to see tons of old friends and new ones this Saturday night at:

The Jug Shop (1590 Pacific Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415.885.2922)

Cost: $45 adv/$50 door. (Nearly sold out. Only room for about 20 more)

Starting time: 6:30 p.m.

Books: Get your copy of Oregon Breweries for $20 (happy to sign ’em free)

Of Oregon IPAs

unnamed-1I’m currently at the Hawthorne Hophouse, having just completed my sampler flight of 15 of the “best” Oregon-brewed IPAs (half priced at $6 on Mondays).

“Fifteen? Surely you mean 12, you drunken reprobate!” you might have caught yourself exclaiming.

No, I mean 15 because after I ran through the dozen IPAs (no Imperials, no Sessions, no Grapefruit-infused, no sage-pomegranate aged in tequila barrels for a year while having daily positive affirmations recited to it by the lead brewer), I asked if they’d deliver a run-off of my 3 faves to really seal the deal.

All January long, both Hophouse houses are running this event: a blind flight of 12 IPAs for 12 bucks ($6 on Mondays) and the winner, after voting solely based on taste and not presumptions, goes on the 1-tap for the whole year. Spoiler alert: There are no spoilers in this blog post.

It can easily be argued that if there are 185 brewing companies in Oregon (by MY count and I promise that’s up-to-date as of 1-5-15), then there are in the vicinity of 235 IPAs so how can they have narrowed it down to only a dozen? I hear you and agree, but take it up with their mgmt. For my part, I thought the 12 they selected were good calls based on reputation and taste. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Hophouse…

unnamedOrder the flight and they bring you a tray of twelve 2.5-oz samples. Just enough to give you a good enough idea of which ones you liked, which ones you didn’t, and which ONE you loved. As alluded to, I loved three. What blew me away was that I told my wait person I suspected they were all new to my personal pantheon but, in fact, were actually the two of the three I would’ve picked based purely on assumption and bias. FWIW, my 4th place vote was one I always put in my Top 3. BTW, I have 5 top threes.

The blind tasting runs all month long. I’ll post a follow-up around February 1st with my tasting notes, scores, and the eventual winner. But for now, here are the IPAs as they appear on taps 1-12 on Hawthorne:

1. Boneyard RPM

2. Hop Valley Alphadelic

3. Crux Outcast

4. Breakside IPA

5. Ninkasi Total Domination

6. Ft. George Vortex

7. Laurelwood Workhorse

8. GoodLife Descender

9. Gigantic IPA

10. Migration Luscious Lupulin

11. Barley Brown’s Pallet Jack

12. Double Mtn. Hop Lava.

What do you currently claim as your favorite Oregon IPA? Are there any you feel they blatantly left off the list? Will you come in and “vote”? Hoppy New Year.

Wooos and Brews: Oregon Brewfest 2014

Illustration: Kenneth Huey

Illustration: Kenneth Huey

This year’s Oregon Brewers Festival has something for every kind of beer lover, and there are many kinds of beer lover. The festival has beers for hopheads, sessionistas, fruitheads and those drunks who always grab the highest-ABV brew on the board—this year that’s Dogfish Head Burton Olde English at 11 percent.

There are 88 beers from 85 breweries. Actually, though, there are about 200 beers to sample this year thanks to the Dutch—more on them in a minute.

Here’s what to expect at the 27th annual installment of Oregon’s biggest, drunkest party.

Summer Beer Fests

This story on tips for tackling beerfests during the summer high season was published on the Brewers Association’s CraftBeer.com in June, 2011. In case it’s not just my ‘puter on which the link is dead…:

Whether you’re just thawing out from the long winter and are itching for a change of scenery with a buddy or your kids are almost on a two-month vacation, now is the time when the adventurous road trip meets the jovial beer festival as the high season for each occurs simultaneously.

Take advantage of slightly lower gas prices by topping off the tank, then plugging in some destinations in the ol’ GPS. Whichever direction your summer vacation has you heading, rest assured there’s a beer fest near where you’re going. The phenomenal resource, Beerfestivals.org, started a decade ago by Michiganders Paul Ruschmann and his wife Maryanne Nasiatka, lists roughly 200 fests taking place between now and the end of summer.

Before you even arrive at your beer bash(es) of choice, know that you can never try every beer available. Can’t be done. Which brings us to using, whenever possible, public transportation (or if not, find a designated driver). So, with safety being the most important rule (remember: hydrate! Between alcohol and sun, drink tons of water) let’s talk strategy.

Before the fest

* Buy tickets in advance: Nothing could be worse than driving through the country or through the night just to arrive at a festival that’s sold out.

* Scope out the outlying area: Heading to the 14th Annual Michigan Summer Beer Festival? So long as you’re visiting the Wolverine state, tour some nearby breweries like Dark Horse or Jolly Pumpkin. Beermapping.com is a great resource.

* The early bird gets the beer: Arrive before gates open to beat the crowds. There may be a special beer with limited availability that you don’t want to miss out on trying.

Navigating the festival grounds

* New to you: A new brewery opens almost daily, according to the Brewery Association’s Erin Glass. There WILL be breweries you’ve possibly never heard of, and definitely some you’ve never tried.

* Pick a style and try ‘em all: Whether it’s summery Pilsners or thirst-quenching IPAs, focus on one or only a few styles to get a sense of the nuance each brewer brings to their interpretation.

* Limiting the unlimited: Some fests dole out samples only with drink tickets, while others make pour for the asking. Request a “short pour” so you can try more offerings. If tasting requires tickets and one gets a few ounces but two or more lands a full pint, always take the sample.


* Pre-partying: Don’t drink beforehand. Seems obvious, but I’m stupefied every time I see people “pre-loading.” There’s no shortage of great beer once inside the grounds. Don’t be that guy.

* The overserved: The idea of leaving a smorgasbord of beer before gates close may sound crazy, but the longer the day draws out, the more others get sloppy because it’s just a fact that some folks just don’t get it.

*Shortchanging the festivities: If camping’s an option—take it! Extend the fun and don’t worry about unsafe driving. Besides, once the fest proper ends, the bottle sharing begins.

Some awesome fests coming up

Portland, OR didn’t earn the name Beervana for nothing. The granddaddy of beerfests is the 24th Annual Oregon Brewers Fest (July 28-31). Nearly 80,000 beer lovers from around Oregon, the country, and indeed the world flock to this riverfront festival boasting around 80 breweries across the Pacific Northwest. Do it up by attending the Brewers Brunch and parade beforehand starring a brass band, marching monks, and Portland Mayor Sam Adams!

Of course, it’s beerfest here all summer long starting with the 1st Annual Fruit Beer Fest (June 11-12) at Burnside Brewing featuring a lineup of Belgian-meets-Beervana-inspired fruit beers. The 7th Annual North American Organic Beer Fest (June 24-26) celebrates saving the planet via beer. And the 3rd Annual Nano Fest (August 27-28), hosted at Rogue’s Green Dragon pub, proves that good beers come in small non-packaging breweries.

Woe that you can’t beertrip to two distant places on the same weekend. The second weekend in August will see two of the most unique craft beer celebrations. An hour and a half drive south of Denver, Manitou, CO hosts the 9th Annual Craft Lager Fest (August 13-14) that is not only focused on the beloved bottom-fermenting beers, but takes fun in the sun to a new level by being entirely solar powered.

August 20 will see dueling beerfests each completely deserving of a pilgrimage, but are on opposite sides of California. The 15th Stone Brewing Anniversary Celebration (San Marcos in San Diego County) is so popular and so awesome, there’s an A Session and a B Session. Splurge for All Access ticket and attend both as well as the beer geek magnet Rare Beer Section.

If you’re heading to the San Francisco Bay Area in “NorCal,” hurry up and buy your tickets to the 9th Annual Russian River Beer Revival and BBQ Cook-off. This is one of my favorite fests because admission includes all-you-can beer from 30 local breweries plus all-you-can bbq from 30 pit teams!

Finally, since it’s impossible to drive to Munich for Oktoberfest, pack up your lederhosen or your dirndl and drive to Ohio. The 46th Annual German-American Festival (Oregon, OH near Toledo, August 26-28) is family-friendly and attracts some 25,000 of your new best friends. The 35th Annual Oktoberfest Zinzinati (Cincinatti, OH, September 16-18) will be twice as big, meaning twice as many people doing the chicken dance!

Pack it up

Half the fun is in the getting there. Stash plenty of water bottles or jugs in your car. Fill a bag with your favorite snacks including some to keep in your pocket during the festival(s) you’ll be attending. Grab a notebook if you don’t already keep a beer reviewing journal to keep track of the new beers you tried and the unique breweries who made them. Make sure your camera’s battery is charged before you leave and don’t forget to keep taking pics after the first samples. I always have a kit on my trunk for the unforeseens (a wide-brimmed hat, a dollar bill, a roll of T.P., packet of Advil, change of underwear because I knew someone who did that and once needed it). Also, bring an empty growler for the brewpub you’ll discover along the way and a sixer or some special bottles to share with the new friends you’ll be making.