To many, summer means "big". Big summer movies. Big summer concerts. And, of course, big summer beer festivals. Not surprisingly, the recent craft beer explosion has spawned a corresponding boomlet in beer festivals, and this summer is no different. In fact, spring already brought the Virginia Beer Festival in Norfolk, the Maryland Craft Beer Festival in Frederick, the Virginia Hops and Barley Fest in Midlothian, and the Beer, Bacon Music in Frederick (those Frederickians sure do like their beer, don't they?) — and that was just in May. By the way, the last of these is not to be confused with National Harbor's Beer, Bourbon and Barbecue Festival, which just happened last weekend.
No worries, however, as the coming months offer plenty of chances drink beers in a sunny setting. So, as everyone stares down the barrel of yet another hot, humid DC summer, keep the eyes open and the palate thirsty for the following events in and around the region.
· 2nd Annual Kolsch Cup (Saturday, June 14)
Although it stretches the definition of "festival" since its contained within the walls of Gordon Biersch's Navy Yard location, the 2nd Annual Koslch Cup will crown the region's best Kolsch beers from among 20 local contenders. For those unfamiliar with the style, Kolsch is a light, golden-colored ale that's slightly hopped and is a terrific hot-weather alternative to the growing number of fruit and wheat beers on the shelves this time of year. Just $20 gets attendees a tasting glass and the chance to sample all 20 entrants, which include offerings from newer, hard-to-find breweries like Lorton's Forge Brew Works and the excellent Champion Brewing from Charlottesville.
· Chesapeake Crab and Beer Fest (June 21st and August 16
Nothing says summer in the Mid-Atlantic quite like hammering a bushel of crabs alongside a cold beer, and this year there are not one but two different chances to wash an Old Bay down with a variety of craft brews. The first of two Chesapeake Crab and Beer Fests will be held on Baltimore's Inner Harbor on June 21st, with the second docking at DC's National Harbor on August 16th. Both will have a similar format – all-you-can eat crabs and corn, and all-you-can-drink beer and wine.
While the beer lists for this year's fests have yet to be finalized, last year's lineup skewed more toward established regional microbrews (think Starr Hill, Evolution and Troegs) than some of the up-and-comers found at the other festivals in this list. Whatever it may lack in hard-to-find brews, however, it more than makes up for in crabs — more than 20,000 of them, to be exact — and waterfront views.
· Northern Virginia Summer BrewFest (June 21-22):
Next weekend marks the 7th edition of this festival, which over the last several years has (along with its Fall counterpart each September) become one of the always-circled dates on local beer lovers' calendars. Set in a large, open field just outside of historic Leesburg, this year's event boasts 55 breweries, 8 cider makers and even one meadery.
While several of the participating breweries fall outside the "craft" definition (Shocktop, anyone?), the region's brewpubs, microbreweries and start-ups will be well-represented. In addition, the festival features a number of local food purveyors, vendors and bands, as well as a "family fun area" with moonbounces, facepainting and assorted distractions to entertain the kids while you polish off another IPA.
· Brew at the Zoo (July 17):
Lions and Tigers and Beers — oh my. See the National Zoo in a whole new light at this year's Brew at the Zoo, one of the few weekday festivals in the area. Sip beer and sample food from one of the event's 65 participating breweries and 8 food trucks —the former of will include all of the usual suspects as well as several of the region's smaller, newer micro-and nanobreweries. Although a little pricier than many of the festivals on this list, Brew at the Zoo will most definitely be the only place to sip a pale ale under the watchful eye of an elephant, and all proceeds go toward continued animal care and conservation.
· Sierra Nevada Beer Camp, Philadelphia (Aug. 2)
Although much farther afield than many, this festival merits inclusion on sheer scope, scale and audacity alone. To celebrate the opening of its East Coast brewing facility in North Carolina, Sierra Nevada has organized an unprecedented, three-week long celebration of all things craft beer. Starting at its home base in Chico, California on July 19th, Sierra Nevada has organized beer festivals in seven different cities — craft beer hotbeds San Diego, Denver and Chicago among them — inviting virtually every single U.S. craft brewer to participate along the way. A staggering 700 (pouring over 1300 different beers in total) took them up on the invitation, 75 of whom will be represented when the beer circus comes to Philadelphia on August 2nd.
Many of the nation's premiere Destination Breweries will be at this event, including Three Floyds of Indiana and Russian River of Northern California, both of which are among twelve that collaborated with Sierra Nevada to create a 12-pack of unique, celebratory beers that will be released in bottles in mid-July. A host of large and small brewers from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, DC and Virginia round out the list, ensuring that the 2.5 hour drive from DC won't be made in vain (just don't try to make the drive back right afterwards!).
· Gettysburg BrewFest (August 23):
This one's for those who like beer with a dash of history. A newcomer this year, the inaugural Gettysburg BrewFest combines a strong lineup of 35 small and mid-size breweries with what promises to be a unique setting on Seminary Ridge, the site of several key moments during the Battle of Gettysburg. Even more unique may the festival's host — the Lutheran Theological Seminary — offering potentially definitive evidence of Ben Franklin's supposed claim that "beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
History and religion aside, festival highlights include appearances by many little-known southern Pennsylvania breweries such as South County, Spring House, Gunpowder Falls and the tremendously-named Something Wicked Brewing Company. If that weren't enough, festival organizers are trumpeting (get it?) the appearance of world-renowned bugler Jari Villanueva as something sure to complete the "Gettysburg experience" for festivalgoers. He'll play Taps while you're drinking from them —doesn't get much better than that.