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Craft Beer Pairings for Every Summer Festival Activity

BY: Charles Austin | Jul 25, 2016

Summer Festival Craft Beer Pairings Hero

Every summer festival celebrates something different, but they all tend to have two things in common: abundant sunshine and abundant beer. And an increasing amount of that beer is craft beer sourced from your area’s coolest local breweries.

Pairing beers with food is one thing, but how does one pair beers with the experiences that make a summer fest special? We’ve enlisted Justin Maynard, Executive Director of the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild and overall beer lover, to formulate the perfect pairings for the most popular activities.

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Food Festivals

Summer Festival Craft Beer Pairings Food

Demolishing a Slab of Ribs

“There is nothing better than handling a sloppy rack of ribs and washing them down with a few aromatic, hopped-up American pale ales or an IPA—a hoppy ale really brings out the flavor of smoked meats.”

  • Recommended Festival: Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival and similar festivals
  • Recommended Pairings: Fist City (Revolution Brewing) | Free Bird (Begyle Brewing) | APA (Brickstone Brewing)

Cracking Open Crab Legs

“I love the sweet taste of crab legs, dipped in buttery goodness. For me, I can either go light or heavy. A nice dry Irish stout would work well for me. On the other hand, I can easily go with a pilsner, a helles, or a kolsch.”

  • Recommended Festival: Maryland Seafood Festival and similar festivals
  • Recommended Pairings: Heavenly Helles (The Church Street Brewing Co.) | Crowley’s Irish American Stout (Haymarket Pub & Brewery) | Rise (Revolution Brewpub)

Filling the Hand That's Not Holding Your Margarita

“A margarita fest calls for Mexican lagers! Light-bodied and refreshing, lagers are a perfect match for tacos and margaritas. [They] must be served cold and consumed at a fast pace. Hell, I would even throw a lime in my beer.”

Winning a Chicken-Wing Eating Contest

“Nothing washes away the heat [of spicy chicken wings] like a cold, citrusy kolsch-style beer. Pale ales and lite IPAs would also come in handy in this situation. In the end, a glass of milk would be awesome—have a milk stout on nitro!?”

  • Recommended Festival: National Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival is the biggie
  • Recommended Pairings: Howdy Neighbor! (350 Brewing Company) | Sidekick (Two Brothers Brewing) | HappiDaze (Pig Minds Brewing)

Savoring a Gourmet Buttercream Cupcake

“For buttercream, I would probably want something with the same mouth-feel. Perhaps a creamy ale would complement the buttercream. A lager made with corn or rice would [also] pair nicely with buttercream.”

  • Recommended Festival: West Houston Food Truck Festival and similar festivals
  • Recommended Pairings: Pipa (Blue Nose Brewing) | Hale to the Chief (JT Walkers Brewing) | 1 A.M. Ale (Emmett’s Brewing)

Music Festivals

Summer Festival Craft Beer Pairings Music

Watching a Local Band at 1 p.m.

“Someone give me a Belgian, American-style wheat beer, or hefeweizen. I would prefer a less malty finish, with more emphasis on fruity characteristics and flavor. Nothing beats a wheat beer in the hot, hot sun.”

  • Recommended Festival: Local street festivals
  • Recommended Pairings: Imperial Witbier (Ten Ninety) | Purple Line (Smylie Brothers Brewing) | Three Orange Wit (All Rise Brewing)

Watching a Headliner at 10 p.m.

“Most likely my beer would have been kicked, flipped, or punched out of my hand by this point, [so] I would want something smooth and crushable. Once again, give me a pale ale, an IPA, or anything that can be canned and contained in my hand.”

  • Recommended Festival: Coachella, Lollapalooza, and all the other major music festivals
  • Recommended Pairings: Daisy Cutter (Half Acre Brewing) | Greenwood Beach (Temperance Beer Co.) | Alley Time (Spiteful Brewing)

Festival Shop

Themed Festivals

Summer Festival Craft Beer Pairings Rides

Making Merry with a Whole Turkey Leg

“Turkey legs usually have a gamey taste. I would definitely lean on a malt-forward type of ale like an amber ale, or a dark ale.”

  • Recommended Festival: Ohio Renaissance Festival and similar RenFaires throughout the U.S.
  • Recommended Pairings: Sheppard (One Trick Pony) | Belgian Dubbel (Rockford Brewing) | Blood of the Unicorn (Pipeworks Brewing)

A Giant Alice in Wonderland-Themed Tea Party

“Because Alice in Wonderland is all about mythical, wild-imaginative scenarios… I would want my beers to reflect the overall vibe of the party. I would definitely be interested in creative blends, sours, fruit adjuncts, and insane amounts of hoppy, piney beers. Take me to a crazy place and I will want to drink crazy beers.”

  • Recommended Festival: The 2016 San Diego County Fair is the only place you can do this
  • Recommended Pairings: Blueberry Gose (DESTIHL) | Persephone (Exit Strategy Brewing) | Sublime Ginger (Forbidden Root)

Staring Down a Lion

“Well, if I choose to accept a battle with a lion at a beer fest… I would have to be in a very altered state in a short period of time. Hence, I would find as many barrel-aged beers as possible. Bourbon barrels, whiskey barrels, gin barrels… It wouldn’t matter which vessel was used. My ultimate favorite? Usually a Russian Imperial Stout (RIS) sitting on wood, preferably a Woodford barrel. That does it for me.”

  • Recommended Festival: Lincoln Park Zoo’s “Brew to Be Wild
  • Recommended Pairings: Claire’s Thirsty Ale (Haymarket Pub & Brewery) | Vlad the Impaler (Hailstorm Brewing) | Gin Barrel Aged Pony Pils (Half Acre Beer Co.)

Watching (or Being) a Fire-Eater

“I would suggest a porter, stout, milk stout, oatmeal stout, or Russian imperial stout for that fire-breather. Maybe something that will balance out the heat. Need to coat the throat!”

  • Recommended Festival: Craft Brew Circus and similar festivals
  • Recommended Pairings: MoonRay Porter (Aquanaut Brewing) | The Defender (Haymarket Pub & Brewery) | Fat Pug (Maplewood Brewing)

Festivals with Rides

Summer Festival Craft Beer Pairings Balloons

Riding The Vertigo Swing

“This sounds insane. I will gladly pass on the swing and keep my feet on the ground. [I] probably would enjoy a few IPAs and watch everyone act like a fool.”

  • Recommended Festival: Windy City LakeShake and similar festivals
  • Recommended Pairing: 5 Foot Assassin (Dryhop Brewers) | Hard Luck IPA (Blue Island Brewing) | Ginja Pleaz (Noon Whistle Brewing)

Toasting a Hot-Air Balloon Flight with Champagne

“If they are drinking champagne, I’m drinking riesling. No beer!”

Summer Activities Guide