Wherever you go, beer is a constant. A mug of amber suds transcends borders, time, and our ever-evolving palates. We’ve been drinking some variation of the stuff for well over 5,000 years now. Some evidence suggests it’s been at least 10,000 years. Either way, it’s been long enough for beer to have become an intrinsic part of the human experience. From the days of Gilgamesh to the Lil Xan era, gathering together and drinking beer to celebrate, commiserate, and contemplate the meaning of life has been a bedrock upon which humans build communities.
With all this history, hitting a modern-day beer festival should be high on all of our bucket lists. A great beer festival is an experiential gathering of people worshipping at the hops-malt altar while eating some seriously good food and partying with whoever happens to be standing next to them at any given moment. To put it more simply: Beer festivals are a f*cking blast.
It should be roughly 0.00% surprising that there are a lot of beer festivals in the world. And, you know, ranking them just doesn’t feel right. Is Oktoberfest better than The Great Taste Of The Midwest? Who’s to say? Let’s just go with a diplomatic, “they’re both great; enjoy them for what they are!” Instead of pitting the fests against one another, we’re simply sharing the ten best beer festivals that we deem “the best right now.” These are the picks worth buying a ticket and traveling for, even if you’re only a casual fan.
Tour de Gueuze — Belgium
This is one of the coolest beer festivals there is, full stop. First, it’s not in a single spot. Instead, each beer lover buys a bus ticket that follows a route around Belgium — hitting four to six breweries and Gueuzeries (lambic blenders) in a single day. It’s a crash course in the best Lambic and Gueuze Belgium has to offer, straight from the source of the sour beer gods. Be warned, you will be singing drinking songs between the last few stops as everyone gets, ahem, tipsy-er and tipsy-er.
The Tour de Geuze only happens once every two years. And, sadly, this year is a bye-year. Don’t worry though, the Tour is coming back next spring on the 4th and 5h of May 2019.
BeerFes Tokyo — Tokyo, Japan
On the opposite side of the spectrum from a free-wheeling bus tour of Belgium, BeerFes in Tokyo (and other cities across Japan) is more a tradeshow that allows civilians to partake in the fun.
BeerFes Tokyo runs between the 2nd and 3rd of June this year. We know it’s a cliche to say that it’s East meets West scenario. But, look, if you’ve ever wanted to compare the best the west has to offer with the beautiful beers being produced in the Far East, this is where you can do it. The selection is just wildly varied. Added bonus, you’ll be in Tokyo amongst one of the best food scenes the world has on offer. So, finding a rad izakaya to soak up all that craft beer will be half the fun.
Great Australian Beer Spectacular — Sydney and Melbourne, Australia & Auckland, NZ
This is the biggest beer festival in the Southern Hemisphere. You also have some choice here. The Melbourne iteration is happening next month over the weekend of May 18th. The Sydney bacchanalia takes place on June 2nd. And the Auckland version happens on June 30th.
The Great Australian Beer Spectacular is a mecca for all things beer from local brewers to international juggernauts. The fests take place in huge exhibition halls which give the whole affair a sense of whimsy and wonder — there’s a damn Ferris Wheel inside the hall in Melbourne. It’s a spectacular beer and food-fueled experience, well worth the trip Down Under.
Mondial De La Bière — Montreal, Canada
A little closer to the US, in Montreal, Mondial De La Bière packs beer lovers into Canada’s foremost French city.
This year, the fest is running over the weekend of June 6th in the Palais des congrès de Montréal exhibition hall. This fest also has a definite street fair vibe to it — with sidewalk vendors, bars, and restaurants taking part along Palais des congrès Esplanade. It’s sort of the best of both worlds; an indoor exhibition hall and an outdoor fair. This fest will give you chance to brush up on all the great local beers being brewed up north while eating plenty of poutine in between.
International Berlin Beer Festival — Berlin, Germany
The Internation Berlin Beer Festival is a uniquely Berlin experience. The city blocks off a couple miles of a central city street to put on a massive street fair for all things beer, food, and music. Hundreds of breweries set up kiosks on the sidewalks, with benches and tables filling the actual street.
This year they’ll be slinging suds between the 3rd and 5th of August. The vibe is chilled out, sun-soaked, and beer-centric. Plus, where else are you going to find two miles of a city shut down just to celebrate beer for a weekend?
The Great British Beer Festival — London, UK
The Great British Beer Festival is so good that it doesn’t even have to take place over a weekend. This year the iconic beer fest runs from the 7th to 11th of August in London’s Olympic halls. There are 30 bars with hundreds of taps, games, and eats — all under one massive roof. You’ll make new friends, learn about the beauty that is English Ale, and eat plenty of savory meat pies. It’s a can’t miss for beer (and pie) lovers.
The Great Taste Of The Midwest — Madison, Wisconsin
The Midwest and locally brewed beer are inseparable. It’s like Italy and wine or Germany and, well, also beer. The Great Taste of the Midwest is a massive street fair that exalts the world of Midwest beers and food to the masses.
If leaving the US for a beer trip is a little too much to take on right now, then this may be your play to get some great beer-cation time this summer. The fest only lasts for one day, landing on Saturday the 11th of August this year. So, maybe stay an extra day to sleep off all that beer and check out more of what Madison has to offer.
Oktoberfest — Munich, Germany
Oktoberfest kicks off during the back half of September every year as a harvest festival/celebration/welcoming of October type party (it runs from September 22nd to October 7th this year). Each tent — run by local brewers — are packed with literally thousands of beer revelers, partying every single day of the three-week festival. The fairgrounds surrounding the tents are brimming with fair rides, food stalls, and all the silly, shiny fair games you’d see at any state fair in the US.
But, really, everyone is there for the raving beer hall parties. And, yes, they really are that epic. This is a beer bucket list must.
Pilsner Fest — Plzeň, Czech Republic
A short jaunt from Munich, you’ll find the birthplace of pilsner. Pilsner Fest takes place in the small industrial city of Plzeň during the first Saturday of October (you can pair this with Oktoberfest for a mega-beer week!). The festival is centered around the Pilsner Urquell Brewery in the center of the city, with the party spilling out into the streets and squares.
The whole town comes out to party and Czechs and Germans flood into the city to celebrate the brilliance that is Pilsner Urquell. Added bonus, you can hop a short and very cheap to train to Prague the next morning and check out one of Europe’s coolest cities.
The Great Pumpkin Beer Festival — Seattle, WA
Picking another great beer festival stateside was a challenge. There are just so many — from Texas to Chicago to California to the Northeast. We went with the fest that celebrates great beer with a nice dose of Portlandia-esque Pacific Northwest whimsy.
Elysian’s The Great Pumpkin Beer Festival is really one of the most rad beer fests around. This year’s fest runs from October 5th and 6th. There are tons of pumpkin-related events, sure. Those are fun if you give into the kitsch of it all. There’s also great music, killer food, and a crazy amount of really fine local beer.
The highlight of this fest is the Elysian brewers mingling in the crowds with pitchers of beer, filling up revelers glasses the whole time. Even when it starts dumping rain (we’re talking Seattle in the fall here), the party doesn’t stop.