This post has been updated with information about additional festivals.
Summer festival season is about to begin, and I'm not talking about music – I'm talking about beer. Five big events featuring dozens of craft breweries are coming to the Washington area over the next two months, and that's before we get to the bacchanalia that is D.C. Beer Week in August. Which one(s) should you spend your hard-earned money on? To help wade through the relative merits of five upcoming events, I've put together this planning calendar.
Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival
Date: Friday-Saturday, June 6-7
Location: National Harbor.
Ticket price: $65 Friday. $37 (regular) or $59 (VIP) Saturday. Two-day pass $89. (Purchase tickets here.)
Number of breweries: 60.
Breweries to look out for: Dogfish Head, Troeg's, Heavy Seas. A full list of beers is available on the organizer's site.
Hours of drinking included: Four (6-10 p.m. Friday, or 2-6 p.m. Saturday). Six with Saturday VIP ticket (noon-6 p.m.).
Number of samples you get: Unlimited tastes.
Is there food? There's obviously bacon and barbecue, purchased a la carte on Saturday. Friday tickets include a barbecue dinner.
Beer-geek level: Low. There's probably nothing here that most beer drinkers haven't had. Do you really need to "taste" Natty Boh, PBR, Brooklyn Lager or New Belgium Fat Tire? There are some interesting tasting sessions scheduled on Saturday with Heavy Seas founder Hugh Sisson and Maker's Mark rep John Vickers Smith, and a demonstration of how to butcher a whole hog. Outside of beer, 40 different bourbons are available to sample, though this number includes multiple flavors of Evan Williams, Red Stag and Firefly.
On the other hand, this is a festival where DC 101 is sponsoring a bean-eating contest, and there's a "Daisy Dukes and Boots" contest on the main stage. Let's not expect anything too highbrow.
Northern Virginia Brewfest
Date: Saturday-Sunday, June 21-22
Location: Morven Park (41793 Tutt Lane, Leesburg.)
Ticket price: $20 in advance, $30 on the day of the event. $40 for admission and round-trip bus transportation from the Vienna Metro station before June 9, $45 after. $15 designated drivers. Tickets are not yet on sale, but will be sold through www.novabrewfest.com.
Number of breweries: "Over 60 breweries" are promised; 62 participated last year, including one cider maker.
Breweries to look out for: No names have been released yet. Last year's list included 21 from Maryland, Virginia and D.C., plus such big names as Bell's, Terrapin, Lagunitas and Firestone Walker.
Hours of drinking included: Eight on Saturday (noon-8 p.m.) and six on Sunday (noon-6 p.m.).
Number of samples you get: Admission includes four tickets for 4½-ounce samples. Most beers cost one ticket, though some strong or rare beers may cost two. Additional tickets cost $1 each.
Is there food? Yes. Expect everything from barbecue to paella to kettle corn.
Beer-geek level: Medium-low, until we see the beer list. It probably won't blow the doors off, but a strong contingent of regional breweries should up the interest, as should two stages of live music an option that includes transportation to and from the Metro.
American Beer Classic
Date: Saturday, July 12.
Location: RFK Stadium.
Ticket price: $50 if purchased before June 10. Ticket price will eventually rise to $70. VIP tickets are $90 before June 24, eventually rising to $100. (Purchase tickets here)
Number of breweries: The official list of breweries hasn't been released yet. 93 participated in the Chicago Beer Classic in May, and organizers say they poured more than 500 different beers and ciders. You can see the participants of the 2013 edition here.
Breweries to look out for: Again, the list of participants hasn't been released yet.
Hours of drinking included: Four (6-10 p.m.); VIP tickets allow entry at 5 p.m., as well as priority access to seminars.
Number of samples you get: Unlimited two-ounce pours.
Is there food? Organizers promise "ballpark classics" – think hot dogs, burgers and pretzels.
Beer-geek level: Medium. An offshoot of Chicago's American Beer Classic, held at Soldier Field, the American Beer Classic combines an evening of sampling beers on RFK's hallowed turf with educational seminars and live music. We're still waiting for a final list of participants, but Chicago events have featured some notable breweries from the Midwest and West Coast, including Lost Abbey, Big Sky, Ska and Surly, and decent number of Chicagoland participants. While we probably won't see those folks in D.C., it shows that they have the potential to create one of D.C.'s better beer festivals. With a month to go, though, some details would be appreciated.
Brew at the Zoo
Date: Thursday, July 17
Location: The National Zoo, near Lion/Tiger Hill.
Ticket price: $65; $50 for FONZ members. Early admission $85; $70 for FONZ members. VIP tickets $100; $85 FONZ members. Tickets go on sale to FONZ members on May 29, and then to the general public on June 5. (Purchase tickets here.)
Number of breweries: 46 and growing
Breweries to look out for: Adroit Theory, Hellbender, and other small locals.
Hours of drinking included: Three (6-9 p.m.); Four (5-9 p.m.) for Early Admission ticket holders.
Number of samples you get: Unlimited.
Is there food? General admission tickets include access to food trucks. VIP tickets offer tastings from local restaurants.
Beer-geek level: Medium-high. This event features a number of smaller Virginia breweries that don't make it into D.C. regularly, including Adroit Theory (Purcellville), Old Bust Head (Warrenton), Old Ox (Manassas) and Forge (Lorton). It's also a chance to try Hellbender, a yet-to-open D.C. brewery that made its public debut at Brew at the Zoo back in 2012. Additionally, there are a number of usual suspects: Devils Backbone, Brewer's Art, Dogfish Head and Stone, and local cider options, too.
Since it's a fundraiser for the Zoo, you can feel good while you sip. While indoor exhibits will be closed, animal demonstrations will take place at Brew at the Zoo, and the lions and tigers will be out on Lion/Tiger Hill, near where the event takes place.
Date: Saturday, Sept. 13.
Location: Yards Park.
Ticket price: $30; $50 VIP. (Purchase tickets here.)
Number of breweries: Snallygaster differs from other local beer festivals in that it doesn't feature tables staffed by one brewery. Instead, Greg Engert, the brains behind the beer lists at ChurchKey, Rustico and other great local beer bars, picks 250 different ales, lagers and ciders that he enjoys. Last year, you could find "the usual" Flying Dog beers in one area and rare and barrel-aged versions in a different section of the festival.
Breweries to look out for: Past Snallygasters have featured barrel-aged German lagers, English cask ales and Bluejacket ales made just for the festival. New this year: An "artisanal cider garden."
Hours of drinking included: Five (1-6 p.m.) with regular ticket; six-and-a-half (11:30 a.m.-6 p.m.) with VIP.
Number of samples you get: Up to you. Each beer costs a certain number of tickets (usually 3 to 6 for a half-pour or 5-9 for a full-sized beer). 25 tickets are included admission. Extra tickets are $1 each.
Is there food? Yes, from food trucks and restaurants. Last year, held at Union Market, included Red Hook Lobster Pound and Red Apron Butcher.
Beer-geek level: Very high. Previous Snallygasters have included some of the best beer lists I've ever seen in Washington. (You can see 2013's here.) Moving back to Yards Park, the site of the 2012 Snallygaster, is a great move for visitors – much preferable to last year's parking lot. Snallygaster can be more expensive than comparable festivals, especially once you pay for beer, but the selection is unparalleled for an outdoor event.
Note: The following festivals have taken place since this post was first published on May 22.
Date: Saturday, May 24
Location: Half Street Fairgrounds (1199 Half St. SE)
Ticket price: $50 regular, $65 VIP.
Number of breweries: 51 listed on the website, with most bringing a summer or seasonal ale.
Breweries to look out for: Allagash, Boulevard, Founders, Epic and Rogue will have some seriously good choices – look on the Summerfest beer page for the selections from each brewer.
Hours of drinking included: Three hours per session: Choose from 12:30-3:30 p.m. or 4-7 p.m. VIP tickets include an extra half-hour per session.
Number of samples you get: Unlimited.
Is there food? Food trucks, including BBQ Bus, Borinquen Lunch Box and Capital Chicken and Waffles, will provide the grub.
Beer-geek level: Medium. An all-you-can-drink festival taking place Memorial Day weekend at the Fairgrounds is going to bring out plenty of people whose primary objective is to drink and catch a buzz in the sun. Singha and Leinenkugel's as featured breweries usually doesn't bode well for the serious drinker. On the other hand, organizers have made a good effort to stock the bill with local and regional breweries, including Hardywood, Legend and Wild Wolf. The list of available beers contains some pretty impressive names, including Allagash Saison, Great Divide Lasso, Rogue Brutal and Founders Dirty Bastard.
Maryland Craft Beer Festival
Date: Saturday, May 31
Location: Carroll Creek Park in downtown Frederick. (Directions are on the event's website.)
Ticket price: $25; $35 VIP. (This event sold out as of yesterday. Start looking on Craigslist.)
Number of breweries: 24 breweries and brewpubs from across Maryland.
Breweries to look out for: Flying Dog, Evolution, Oliver, Brewer's Art, Union. VIP tickets include access to fancy aged and experimental beers Average Joes won't get to try.
Hours of drinking included: Five (1-6 p.m). VIP tickets allow admission at noon.
Number of samples you get: Regular tickets include tokens for six four-ounce pours. Additional samples can be purchased for $1 each. VIP tickets include 10 tokens.
Is there food? Look for food trucks selling ribs, burgers and tacos, as well as tents sponsored by Family Meal and other Frederick restaurants.
Beer-geek level: High (for Marylanders). If you don't want to travel around the state to visit random brewpubs and breweries, this is a chance to try pale ales from the Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm in Mount Airy, barrel-aged sour beers from Baltimore's Union Craft Brewery and a blonde ale from the Eastern Shore Brewing Company in St. Michaels, all without national beers you can find anywhere. Throw in music on two stages and you've got the makings of a great day out.