MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

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 20 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: Schell's Bock Fest, the Saturday before the beginning of Lent; and Capital's Bockfest, the last Saturday in February.

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 spring. That's when Beer Weeks are held in Milwaukee (April 26-May 3), Madison (May 2-11), Minnesota (May 5-11) and Chicago (May 15-25).

American Craft Beer Week is May 12-18.

Traverse City Craft Beer Week is Nov. 7-14.

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.

For more about touring Twin Cities breweries, see True brew in the Twin Cities.

Here are some of the best beer festivals in 2014.

Nearly all offer food and music in addition to beer. Tickets typically are $30-$40, 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. 11, Craft Beer Expo in Mankato, Minn. This festival features seminars, food, live music and tastings from more than 40 craft breweries. 

Jan. 11, Wisconsin Beer Lovers Festival in Minocqua, Wis. This fest features "winter warmer'' style beer from 40 breweries, plus chili samples and music.

Jan. 18, Isthmus Beer and Cheese Fest in Madison. Wisconsin's best beer and cheese makers supply the treats for an afternoon at Alliant Energy Center.

Beer fans at Roar on the Shore Brewfest.

Sanderson Photography

Aficionados discuss a brew at Roar on the Shore in Kewaunee, Wis.

Jan. 25, The Beer Dabbler in St. Paul, part of Winter Carnival. This outdoor fest in Mears Park includes beers from more than 70 breweries, live music, fireworks and a costume contest.

Jan. 31, Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild Winterfest in St. Paul at Union Depot. Tickets go on sale at noon Dec. 16. The 700 tickets sell almost instantaneously.

Feb. 1, Brewfest in Fond du Lac, Wis. Try more than 100 Wisconsin microbrews at the County Fairgrounds Expo Center.

Feb. 8, Winter Microbrew & Music Festival in Traverse City, Mich. Samples the wares from more than 40 breweries in heated tents on the lawn of Grand Traverse Commons. There will be fire dancers, a silent disco and bonfires in addition to music from nearly a dozen bands. 

Feb. 15, 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. 22, Food & Froth Fest in Milwaukee. Try more than 200 beers from the Midwest and beyond at this event at the Milwaukee Public Museum, which includes appetizers from local restaurants and music from local bands.

Feb. 22, Michigan Winter Brew Festival in Grand Rapids, Mich. This Michigan Brewers Guild event is held outdoors at Comstock Park. Tickets go on sale Dec. 1.

Feb. 22, Naperville Winter Ale Fest in Naperville, Ill. The first-time festival in this western Chicago suburb, outdoors in Frontier Park, includes more than 120 beers from 60 American breweries. There's also food and a brass band.

March 8, Hops & Props in Oshkosh, Wis. This fundraiser at the EAA Airventure Museum includes more than 250 brews, music and food from local restaurants. 

March 22, The Art of Beer Festival in Benton Harbor, Mich. Try beers from across the nation at the Lake Michigan College Mendel Center.

March 22, Chicago Beer Festival. This fest in Union Station features spring seasonals from more than 50 breweries.

March 29, Roar on the Shore Brewfest in Luxemburg, Wis. Try regional beers from more than 30 breweries and five wineries in this town near Lake Michigan.

April 5, Gitchee Gumee Brewfest in Superior, Wis. The Jaycees host this fest at Wessman Arena at UW-Superior, with tastings from 28 breweries and brewpubs. 

Pretzel necklaces at a beer fest.

Beth Gauper

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

April 26, Between the Bluffs Beer, Wine and Cheese Festival in La Crosse. Beers from 20 to 25 breweries. Tickets go on sale in March. It's 2-6 p.m. at the Oktoberfest grounds.

May 3, Craft Beer Expo in Rochester, Minn. Sample beer from more than 40 breweries at the Mayo Civic Center.

May 10, American Beer Classic in Chicago. This fest in Soldier Field features beer from more than 80 breweries, music and seminars. 

May 10, Belle City Brewfest in Racine, Wis. This festival at the Civic Centre features brewing and cooking seminars plus music and 100 craft beers.

May 18, 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 1-6 p.m. at the Calumet County Fairgrounds.

June 7, Beer Barons' 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. Tickets go on sale Feb. 1.

June 7, 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 14, Great Northern Beer Festival in Eagle River, Wis. Beer from more than 20 breweries at the Hi-Pines Campground north of town. 

Brewhaus Polka Kings at a beer festival.

Milwaukee Brewfest

Milwaukee's Brewhaus Polka Kings play at Brewfest.

June 14, 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 14, 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 28, Lazy River Beer & Wine Festival in McGregor, 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 12, Hopped Up Caribou Beer Festival in Lutsen, Minn. This festival on a ski hill above Lake Superior features beer from 14 mostly Minnesota breweries.

July 19, Milwaukee Firkin Craft Beer Festival in Milwaukee. This festival in Cathedral Square Park celebrates Milwaukee's beer heritage and includes 14 local breweries and brewpubs. 

There's a cask-tasting tent, music and food, and guests get to vote on the best Milwaukee beer. Tickets go on sale March 1.

July 26, All Pints North Summer Brew Fest in Duluth. This festival in Bayfront Park, hosted by the Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild, will have more than 100 beers to sample. Tickets go on sale April 15.

July 26, 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 26, Brewfest in Minocqua, Wis. This benefit in Torpy Park features craft brews from Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota breweries. 

July 27, Beer Camp Across America in Chicago. Sierra Nevada brings its traveling craft-beer festival to Navy Pier, and every craft brewer in the Midwest is invited.

Aug. 2, Wheaton Ale Fest in Wheaton, Ill. The downtown festival in this west Chicago suburb features more than 100 craft beers plus food and music. Tickets  go on sale May 1.

Aug. 9, Great Taste of the Midwest in Madison. This is 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 for tickets or show up in person at one of various vendors in Madison.

It's 1-6 p.m. in Olin-Turville Park, and brewmasters from more than 100 Midwest breweries serve samples of 500 beers.

Aug. 16, Micro Brew Review in Oak Park, Ill. This zero-waste festival in downtown Oak Park features beer from more than 40 breweries and food pairings from local restaurants.

A festival at Millstream in Amana.

Beth Gauper

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

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.

Aug. 16, Keweenaw Brewfest in Houghton, Mich. This event in Waterfront Park features 100 beers from 40 breweries.

Aug. 22-23, Summer Microbrew & Music Festival in Traverse City, Mich. Sample Midwest craft brews, with an emphasis on Michigan beer, on the lawn of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

Aug. 23, Midwest Brewers Fest in Plainfield, Ill. The festival in this southwest Chicago suburb is in Riverfront Park on the DuPage River and features food, live music and 200 beers from more than 50 breweries.

Aug. 31, Festival of Iowa Beers in Amana, Iowa. Sample craft beers at Millstream Brewing Co., Iowa's oldest microbrewery. Tickets go on sale in July.

Sept. 5-6, 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. 6, 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. 6, Summer Beer Dabbler in St. Paul. Try beer from more than 50 breweries at Midway Stadium. There will also be food trucks and live music.

Sept. 13, Thirsty Troll Brew Fest in Mount Horeb, Wis. Try craft beers from 25 breweries in the Upper Midwest. It's held in Grundahl Park.

Sept. 13, Great Lakes Brewfest in Racine, Wis. More than 250 craft beers from 100 breweries across the nation. In Festival Park on Lake Michigan. Tickets go on sale June 1.

A row of microbrews.

At festivals, hundreds of beers are available for tasting.

Sept. 19-20, Chicago Ale Fest. This first-time festival in Grant Park features craft beer from more than 100 breweries plus live music and food from Chicago restaurants. A portion of the proceeds go to the Grant Park Conservancy.

Sept. 20, 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. 20, Brew Ha Ha in Davenport, Iowa. This fest in LeClaire Park, on the banks of the Mississippi River, benefits the local PBS station and includes cheese-tasting, music and goofy games. Tickets go on sale in July.

Sept. 27, Rails & Ales Brewfest in Green Bay, Wis. The National Railroad Museum hosts this sampling of craft beer, wine and hors d'oeuvres.

Sept. 27, Autumn Brew Review in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild sponsors this festival at the old Grain Belt Brewery in northeast Minneapolis. Tickets go on sale July 15.

Sept. 27, Weko Beach Brewers Festival in Bridgman, Mich. Sample Michigan beer and listen on music on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Oct. 4, Quivey's Grove Beer Fest in Madison. The festival at this restaurant on the southwest edge of town features blues music and more than 100 beers from 45 breweries. 

Oct. 4. Northeast Wisconsin Craft Beer Festival in Green Bay, Wis. Tickets to this fest in Shopko Hall includes music, games, seminars and hors d'oeuvres.

Oct. 18, Wisconsin Dells on Tap in the Wisconsin Dells. It's part of Autumn Harvest Fest, with beer from more than 20 craft brewers served from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets go on sale in June. 


Last updated on September 12, 2014
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