Beer Festival Season — A Look Back and Ahead

thumb_IMG_4916_1024Summertime marks the heart of beer festival season. While there are plenty of major festivals and anniversary commemorations throughout the year, the warmer months are brimming with beer events almost every weekend from May into September. In fact, many of the season’s top gatherings have come and gone, but there are still plenty of major beer-drinking opportunities around the corner.

Beer festivals offer unique opportunities to sample a wide variety of craft brews all in one place and all in one day. Naturally, you’ll want to bring along a designated driver or arrange for transportation, because sampling adult beverages in the hot sun can catch up with you in a hurry.

At the same time, the biggest challenge of a good beer festival is sorting through the sometimes hundreds of remarkable choices. Chances are pretty good you’ll miss out on some incredible samples. The best strategy is to check out the participating breweries and plot your course in advance.

Last week my son Sam and I attended the annual Firestone-Walker International Beer Festival in Paso Robles, where every brewery in attendance was among the very best in the world. That’s one of the reasons this event has become one of the most acclaimed beer festivals anywhere, and why tickets to FWIBF typically sell out within a minute of going on sale. We didn’t encounter a bad beer all day, which is pretty extraordinary for any tasting event. Many of the beers are rare and available only on a limited basis.

Our choice for the beer of the day was Callipygian, a huge Imperial Stout from Avery Brewing in Boulder, Colo. Despite its heavy 17.4 percent ABV, this barrel-aged brew with vanilla beans, cacao nibs and coffee was remarkably smooth and not particularly boozy.thumb_IMG_4084_1024

A number of other heavy beers also stood out, including Dark Lord (15% ABV) from 3 Floyds Brewing in Munster, Ind., My Dark Parade (13.5 %) from The Lost Abbey in San Marcos, Calif., Kentucky Breakfast Stout (12.4%) from Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids, Mich., and See The Stars (10.9%) from Creature Comforts Brewing Co. in Athens, Ga.

On the somewhat lighter side, Stone Brewing’s (Escondido, Calif.) Go To IPA with vanilla beans and lemon (9.4%) and Mocha IPA (8.8%) were outstanding, and my favorite sessionable beer of the day was Avery’s delightfully tropical witbier (Belgian style ale) Liliko’I Kepolo.

Many of the breweries that participated at FWIBF will also be at the Stone 20th Anniversary Celebration and Invitational Beer Festival Aug. 19-20 in San Marcos. This “can’t miss” event has proven year in and year out to be one of theFWIBF 1 finest beer festivals in Southern California. All-day passes sold out early, but tickets remain for both individual sessions on Aug. 20.

Closer to home, Claremont Craft Ales will put its own spin on a beer festival when it celebrates its fourth anniversary on July 16. Serving only its own beer at two separate sessions, CCA will offer more than 40 different selections, including nearly a dozen barrel-aged varieties.

The 7th Annual Lake Arrowhead Brewfest brings more craft beer to the mountain communities on Aug. 13.

An evening with craft beer, food and live music awaits at “For What Ales Ya 2016,” featuring local brewers, a rare beer bottle share and more on Sept. 3 at Maniac Mike’s Café at Cable Airport in Upland.

The California Beer Festival returns to Frank G. Bonelli Park in San Dimas on Sept. 10 with more than 85 breweries.

The Battle of the Brews takes place almost every Sunday at the Top of the Notch in Mt. Baldy. The event is a tournament-style head-to-head competition between two different breweries each week, where attendees are the judges. Semi-final rounds are scheduled for Sept. 18 and 25, with the championship set for Oct. 16. Tickets include three tastings from each brewery, judging scorecard, a pint of your favorite brew and a round-trip lift ticket.FWIBF 3

Festival season closes the biggest events of the year. The California Craft Beer Summit will be held in Sacramento Sept. 8-10, featuring the Summit Beer Festival on Sept. 10.

Billed as the biggest and best of all beer events in the United States, the Great American Beer Festival returns to Denver Oct. 6-8.

And the grandest of them all, Oktoberfest, will be held Sept. 17-Oct. 2 in Munich, Germany.