Another round of #snOMG notwithstanding, the weather is definitely warming here in the Queen City, and people are longing to get outside again. For many, this means baseball games, sunbathing or long walks, but for the beer world, it means that festival season is back. Along with the annual favorites, there seem to be countless new events popping up every year. So how do you decide which ones to attend? It's a tough question, and frankly one that very much depends on exactly what you're looking for.
Some festivals are focused heavily on local and regional offerings, while others feature more nationally distributed brands. Some are themed and involve music, art or activities, and others emphasize the nuances of rare or unique beer styles.
For a great experience at a beer festival, there are a few essential characteristics: support for the breweries themselves so they are excited to be there; emphasis on local products; and a focus on providing great beer as opposed to promoting overconsumption of whatever happens to be available.
Here are some festivals that knock these items out of the park every year — I'd recommend any of them to a beer lover looking for a cool event to attend.
Queen City Brewers Festival
The third annual Queen City Brewers Festival took place the first weekend of February and once again provided a great experience for festival-goers. QCBF is a charity-focused festival that raises funds for ACEing Autism and features local Charlotte breweries almost exclusively.
The one exception to this rule is actually one of the coolest features of the festival: Local bottle shops, including Good Bottle Co. and Salud, are able to pick a brewery that has some significance to them and feature it at their tables. Chris, owner of Good Bottle, chose to feature Wicked Weed from his hometown of Asheville.
QCBF has two separate sessions lasting a couple hours each, which keeps it from devolving into a total drunkfest, and also has local food and art vendors on hand. Overall, a great survey of Charlotte beer and local businesses. Next year's date has already been set for Jan. 31, 2015.
Brawley's Black and Blue
Mike Brawley has been a staple in Charlotte's local beer scene for many years now. His bottle shop, Brawley's Beverage on Park Road, set the stage for many local craft beer vendors, and his festival is still my personal favorite of the year.
Black and Blue got its name because originally it featured dark beers like stouts and porters, and people got to enjoy them while being serenaded by live bluegrass bands at the Visulite Theatre.
The beer selection has become more diverse over the five years Black and Blue has been around, but the atmosphere has remained as fun and beer-centric as ever. Because Mike is such a respected guy in the Charlotte scene, breweries often save some of their best and most highly sought-after beers for this event, and local/regional breweries are always the main focus, though Mike also saves a few kegs of hard-to-find nationally distributed beers for the event as well.
This year's Black and Blue takes place March 1 and is officially sold out, but if you can scalp a ticket or convince a friend to take you with them, you damn well should.
Charlotte Brewers Festival
Charlotte Brewers Festival is one of the youngest festivals in town, having held its inaugural event last June. It is the only festival put on exclusively by the local breweries here in Charlotte. The event was at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery last year, and nearly every brewery and brewpub in the Charlotte area was there. With so many new breweries opening up in the past year, this will likely be your best opportunity to sample as many locals as possible in a setting that they themselves control, meaning they will bring their A-games (and A-beers). May 17 is this year's date, so look for tickets to go on sale soon.
Cam Heiliger is a freelance writer, homebrewer, educator and overall craft beer geek. He works in marketing and distribution at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, where he runs social media, gives tours of the brewery and ensures that Charlotte has the cleanest OMB beer lines around.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated from the print edition. The date of the Queen City Brewers Festival was incorrect; we apologize for the misinformation.