Beer is in the air: A guide to four spring beer festivals

Can you ever really have too many beer festivals? The D.C. area is about to find out.


Attendees at the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Oktoberfest in Shirlington. Capitol City Brewing Company is unveiling a spring version of its popular beer festival in April. (Courtesy of Capitol City Brewing Company)

Last week, Hand Crafted Tastings -- the company behind the New York Craft Beer Festival -- brought the first D.C. Craft Beer Festival to the Convention Center. Tomorrow is the Shamrock Beer Bash in a parking lot by Nationals Park. The second D.C. Beer Festival returns to Nationals Park on April 12. Two weeks after that, Capitol City Brewing Company holds its first SpringFest -- a carbon-copy of the popular Oktoberfest -- on the streets of Shirlington. And then May 9-10 brings Savor, the upscale national beer festival, back to the National Building Museum after a one-year hiatus in New York.

Everyone knows craft beer is bigger than ever: Just look at the number of breweries, brewpubs and beer-focused bars popping up around the area. But the number of beer festivals seems to be overkill.

To help make sense of it all, here's what you need to know about each festival.

Shamrock Beer Bash

Date: Saturday, March 15
Location: Parking lots across from Nationals Park (1300 First St. SE)
Ticket price: $40 in advance, $50 at the gate. (Purchase here)
Number of breweries: 22 listed on the Web site; "More than 75 craft beers" promised.
Breweries to look out for: Fort Collins Brewing, Rogue, Devils Backbone.
Hours of drinking included: Three, either 1-4 p.m. or 6-9 p.m.
Number of samples you get: Unlimited small pours of all craft beers; unlimited 14-ounce pours of green beer and a stout to be named later.
Is there food? A dozen food trucks are promised.
Beer-geek level: Low. This is all the makings of an Anheuser-Busch promo event: Shocktop and Bud Light are among the "featured breweries," despite not actually being breweries; other featured breweries, such as Leffe, Goose Island, Redhook and Kona, are partially owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, Budweiser's parent company. Think of this more as an excuse to be outside on what should be a pleasant day, playing corn hole and bocce with friends.

D.C. Beer Festival

Date: Saturday, April 12
Location: Nationals Park
Ticket price: $40 per session (Purchase here.)
Number of breweries: 87 listed on the website (so far)
Breweries to look out for: Perennial, Elysian, No-Li, Stone.
Hours of drinking included: Three, either 1-4 p.m. or 6-9 p.m.
Number of samples you get: Unlimited. (Last year's samplers were tiny little mugs.)
Is there food? Yes, and it costs extra.
Beer-geek level: Medium. A surprisingly large number of breweries are participating in this year's festival, with a good mix of locals (3 Stars, Atlas), smaller regionals (Wild Wolf, Burley Oak) and West Coast beers you don't see every day (No-Li, Elysian), plus the big names that lure in casual drinkers (Bell's, Dogfish Head, Lagunitas). If you attend with someone who gets excited about a Blue Moon or Newcastle Brown Ale stand, tell them you'll meet them later and head for Mother Earth or Shipyard. You'll get the bros wearing hats shaped like beer mugs who really dig the cover bands, but there's something here for everyone.

SpringFest

Date: Saturday, April 26
Location: The Village of Shirlington
Ticket price: $30, sold at the gate only.
Number of breweries: At least 45 promised on the Web site.
Breweries to look out for: None announced yet, but the Mid-Atlantic Oktoberfest is always strong on local and regional beers rather than West Coast ales or European imports.
Hours of drinking included: Seven, beginning at noon.
Number of samples you get: Ticket includes 10 four-ounce samples; additional tastes are available for $1 with a five-ticket minimum.
Is there food? Yes, with stands from Shirlington restaurants and other vendors.
Beer-geek level: Medium. Capitol City Brewing Company is attempting to capitalize on the ongoing success of its annual Oktoberfest, though this version loses the oompah bands and bratwurst. No breweries have been confirmed, but expect all of the Mid-Atlantic's heavy hitters to show up with a couple of beers each. The biggest complaint about Oktoberfest is long lines at beer stands; let's hope Cap City can help cut those down.

Savor

Date: Friday-Saturday, May 9-10
Location: The National Building Museum
Ticket price: $135 general admission, $155 with a guided tasting salon. Tickets go on sale at noon on March 28 and generally sell out within minutes.
Number of breweries: 76 "small and independent" breweries.
Breweries to look out for: At an event like this, who don't you look out for? Odell, Cigar City and Crux Fermentation Project will be high on many lists.
Hours of drinking included: Three and a half, 7:30-11 p.m.
Number of samples you get: Unlimited four-ounce samples.
Is there food? Cocktail-sized hors d'oeuvres are paired with each of the 152 beers, and are included in the ticket price.
Beer-geek level: Extremely high. People travel from across the U.S. for an event that has become the prom of the beer world. It's a chance to try beers from breweries around the country, including many that don't regularly make it to D.C., but even those found at your favorite D.C. beer bar usually bring something interesting. And if you've ever wanted to meet and chat with Brooklyn Brewing's Garrett Oliver, Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione or Allagash's Rob Tod, this is the place to do it. Savor is a classy event befitting the setting, and worth the high ticket price -- as is the special large bottle of beer that all attendees take home. This year's commemorative ale is a collaboration between Flying Dog and Firestone Walker.

Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.
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