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It may seem like craft beer festivals are a dime a dozen these days, but that doesn’t mean they’re all created equal. Certain craft celebrations still separate themselves from a crowded field in ways that make them not just a fun diversion if you happen to be in the area, but bucket list-worthy attractions any beer lover should consider planning a whole trip around. When you’re putting your 2020 calendar together,* keep these 9 exceptional beer gatherings in mind.

*Dates and prices are approximated based on 2019 data, so keep tabs on the relevant websites for updates.

RELATED: America’s 7 hottest neighbeerhoods (that’s beer neighborhoods)

Extreme Beer Festival: Boston, MA

(Late January, early February: $75–$100)

Beer Advocate has been hosting this celebration of boundary-pushing brews (each brewery is tasked with creating an “extreme beer”) since 2003, and given how many boundaries have been pushed since that time, it’s no wonder this Boston fest continues to be one of the most interesting annual looks into where the industry is going.

Bonus: Yes, it’s touristy to have a drink at Boston’s Bull & Finch, the bar that inspired Cheers, but if you like beer and you’re in Boston, don’t you also kind of have to pay homage to Norm?

WakeFest Invitational: Miami, FL

(Mid February: $60-$350)

Standout Miami brewer J. Wakefield has evolved its anniversary celebration into quite the event, drawing 120 breweries from around the nation who reliably put their best foams forward at this popular shindig. Expect to taste plenty of rare, sought-after suds, fill up at a sea of food trucks, dance like no one’s watching (if that’s how you roll) and have a generally fantastic time.

Bonus: For most of the country, Miami weather in February doesn’t require much of a sales pitch.

Savor: Washington, DC

(May: $135–$175)

The food quality at beer festivals can vary (which is why you often see attendees subsisting on a pretzel necklace), but there’s nothing to worry about with Savor, which feels more like something out of a Top Chef episode than a typical beer fest. The 90-plus breweries in attendance work up specific food pairings for their beers on offer: think barrel-aged stouts with coconut-chocolate macaroons and fruited sours with curry squash samosas. You won’t leave hungry.

Bonus: DC has plenty of tourism opportunities that other cities simply do not: The Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, the chance to yell at your congressman … The possibilities are endless!

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Firestone Walker Invitational: Paso Robles, CA

(June: $90–$200)

2020 will be the ninth iteration of this Paso Robles event from industry heavy hitters Firestone Walker, which draws in some of the biggest worldwide names in brewing among the event’s 50 entrants, not to mention an always impressive lineup of brews from the hosts themselves. If the opportunity to rub elbows with some of the biggest names in brewing with a little live music providing the soundtrack sounds appealing, this is for you.

Bonus: If your beverage interests aren’t limited to beer, you’re smack in the heart of wine country.

Green City: Brooklyn, NY

(June: $100-$300)

Arguably no brewery in the country has distinguished itself in the recent East Coast IPA boom the way Other Half has, so it’s no surprise the festival they throw in Brooklyn in celebration of all things hoppy has emerged as a must-do. More than 70 breweries participate, and if you have people in your party who aren’t necessarily hopheads, fear not, as they also have other styles on offer. There’s also professional wrestling. And a pig roast. Truly something for everyone!

Bonus: The outer boroughs are home to NYC’s best beer gardens. Read all about them here.

Modern Times Festival of Dankness: San Diego, CA

(August: $50)

While the East Coast has attracted much of the IPA notoriety in recent years, beer drinkers shouldn’t forget their roots, and the industry-sweeping influence the West Coast IPA wrought on contemporary beer palates. So get yourself to San Diego for this celebration of the preeminent beer style in one of America’s preeminent beer cities, with a festival lineup that can hang with absolutely anyone.

Bonus: Need some grub to wash down those suds? The fest location in Waterfront Park is just a stone’s throw from the buzzy Little Italy Food Hall, featuring six food stations and an outdoor patio.

The Great Taste of the Midwest: Madison, WI

(August: $60)

Along with GABF, Great Taste is one of the country’s OG beer festivals (having debuted just one year later in 1983) and it’s aged like a fine wine. Or barrel-aged stout, to be more on-topic. The lakeside location in Madison is gorgeous in late-summer and the 190-plus Midwest breweries in attendance represent some of the industry’s best—no wonder tickets sells out in a hurry. If you struck out, it’s worth noting that local bars run all kinds of exciting tap takeovers and other events the night before on “Great Taste Eve,” so you can still have yourself a fine time.

Bonus: Few American states understand beer drinking with the depth that Wisconsin does. If you don’t make reckless bratwurst and cheese curd consumption a part of your visit, you’re doing it wrong.

Great American Beer FestivalDenver, CO

(Sept 24–26: $85 per session; $70 for Brewers Association members)

The granddaddy of all beer festivals is truly an experience every beer lover should have at least once, and having started in 1982, it predates many of its attendees and competitors at this point. The sheer scope of the Denver event remains unparalleled (nearly 10,000 different beers entered in 2019), and the level of interaction and access you can have with the brewers is also second to none. Make a weekend of it and make use of the GABF app—with so many beers to try it’s likely that your memory of what you tasted will be a little hazy by that third day.

Bonus: Tack a hike onto the end of your trip to mitigate some of the health aftereffects from your weekend of revelry.

Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers: Chicago

(November: $85)

Barrel-aged beer has become one of the singular objects of beer geek obsession in recent years, and FOBAB (as it’s typically abbreviated) has become the preeminent celebration of them since debuting in 2003. The Chicago event has grown to feature hundreds of breweries tapping rare and unique beers that’ve spent time developing additional character in bourbon barrels, wine barrels, rum barrels—you name it, they’re trying it. It’s a coveted ticket, so be sure to keep an eye on the website for the 2020 release date.

Bonus: If things break right you might catch a Bears, Bulls, or Blackhawks game while you’re in town. If they don’t, you might catch a flight cancelled in a fall snowstorm. Live on the edge!

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Tagged: Food & drink

Matt Lynch

Matt Lynch

Matt Lynch

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