We have finally clawed our way back from this winter’s pummelings from Mother Nature—and that means it will soon be time to get outside with fellow beer aficionados.
Beer festivals run the gamut from small casual affairs to huge, internationally known, multi-day gatherings that sell out at Taylor Swift speed. Indoors or out, envision rows of tables or tents, a small tasting glass issued to you upon entry, and a veritable smorgasbord of beers to sample. With more than 9,000 breweries now operating in the U.S., and dozens of different styles of beer made from infinite combinations of ingredients, the limits are endless.
Northern Nevada beer-lovers are looking forward to several fests that are coming soon to kick off the season.
The eighth annual Strange Brew Festival is being held from 3 to 7 p.m., Saturday, May 20, as always in the parking lot behind The Brewer’s Cabinet, 475 S. Arlington Ave., in Reno. This is one of the most fun, unique and heavily local fests I’ve had the pleasure of attending. The twist is that all the attending breweries (and home brewers!) bring beers that are “strange” in some way. In the past, we’ve had the (arguable) pleasure of sampling salsa beer, beer made with kimchi, hot dog water beer, and more. Many are one-off brews made especially for this event, giving attendees exclusive tastes found nowhere else. Part of the proceeds benefit The Reno Rebuild Project, a local small-business loan fund. Tickets are $65; visit thebrewerscabinet.com.
If you want to just completely saturate that weekend in beer, the Nevada Young Alumni Chapter is holding the longest-running fest in town—the obviously-named Beer Fest—the next day, on Sunday, May 21. The new Glow Plaza downtown will host this event benefiting the YAC scholarship fund. The beers here will be obviously more tame than Strange Brew, but expect a varied selection, music and a party for a good cause. Watch facebook.com/NevadaYoungAlumni for updates and a ticket link.
Take a break for a couple weeks, because on Saturday, June 10, you won’t want to miss The Biggest Little Invitational. This fest brings in in some of the most sought-after breweries from throughout the West to serve a selection of coveted (and often otherwise unavailable) beers. This beer-geek paradise, held at Bartley Ranch Park (6000 Bartley Ranch Road, Reno) since 2018, is unique in that the organizers selectively pick the breweries they want represented and purchase the beer. (Most fests receive the beer as a promotional/charitable donation.) Rare barrel-aged brews, high-alcohol pastry stouts, super-hazy IPAs from up-and-coming breweries and more make this fest a big draw for hardcore beer connoisseurs in the region. Fun lawn games and an assortment of delicious food trucks attract casual beer fans as well. Tickets start at $60 (or $20 for designated drivers); learn more at thebiggestlittleinvitational.com.
Continue filling your summer beer fest calendar with other events in the area. Consider the Capital City Brewfest (Saturday, June 24, in Carson City, benefiting the Rotary Club; capitalcitybrewfest.com), the 16th annual Truckee Optimist Club Brew Fest (Saturday, Aug. 5; www.truckeeoptimist.com/brewfest.html) and the Tahoe Brewfest (Saturday, Aug. 26, in South Lake Tahoe; tahoebrewfest.com).
Closing out the outdoor fest season is a relative newcomer, the annual Legends of Beer Festival, at the Legends mall in Sparks. Organized by local brewery IMBĪB Custom Brews (which has an adjacent taproom and opening-soon restaurant at the Legends), this fest features more than just the typical tents pouring a variety of quality craft beer. It also includes a fun “beer mile” relay race to kick off the event, where runners chug a beer before running their quarter-mile segment. The event is slated for Saturday, Sept. 23; watch imbibreno.com for specifics as they become available.
Finally, each January, the Nugget Casino Resort hosts arguably the most popular local fest, Brew HaHa, to benefit the Sierra Arts Foundation. It draws a huge crowd and offers a ridiculous volume of beer from many local, regional and national breweries, as well always a band to fill the dance floor with attendees having a great time. Watch sierraarts.org for details as the date draws nearer.
Some final thoughts before you begin your beer-fest quest: Most fests offer a general-admission ticket and a higher-priced VIP ticket (which may include food, early entry or exclusive beers); some offer a designated-driver ticket at a reduced rate with access to nonalcoholic beverages. Make a budget beforehand, and arrange a safe way to get home. Pace yourself; it’s a lot of beer, and you can’t drink it all. Don’t try. Focus on quality over quantity, and seek out beers with a good reputation in styles you enjoy, rather than just quaffing with abandon.
Most of all, have fun!