Christmas beers are more often than not, dark and hearty with a touch of spice. They match up well with the roasts and other hearty foods that grace the holiday table. This is also the time of year for Strong Ales and Barleywines to help one cope with the hustle and stress of the holiday season.

Christmas time is an excellent time to start on the beer festival circuit. There are many festivals both here and abroad that celebrate the beers of the holiday season. As a professional chef you normally don’t get to do much traveling during December, but should the occasion arise there are plenty of events to attend. However in January and February when most of us are slow there are three times as many that take place all over the country as well as Belgium and England. Simply visit “Google” and enter beer festivals and start packing. The fact is there are beer festivals all year long but one has to start somewhere.

Let us talk about beer festivals for a moment. Beer festivals are all similar in that there is usually an insurmountable array of beers available, there is usually food available and sometimes some form of entertainment. Where the difference lies is the cost, procedures and quality of food. Having attended many festivals over the years I have encountered several scenarios. Some festivals charge an entrance fee and provide a glass and a number of tickets for tastes while others let you taste until you drop. Many festivals are fundraisers for charitable causes, which changes the scenario again. Some festivals feature the brewers serving their wares while others use volunteers.

The general rule is unless you or someone you know has attended a particular event you should eat before you go. Once you get there pace yourself at the beginning because the whole point is to experience new taste sensations and the small tastes can be deceptive. Some festivals do have terrific food and good entertainment so once again do your research before you go.

The “Super Bowl” of beer festivals takes place in September in Denver, Colorado. The Great American Beer Festival features a competition that awards Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals to the winning brewers and a huge tasting extravaganza to the attendees. There were nearly four hundred breweries competing this year in sixty-five categories and over fourteen hundred beers available for tastes. I have not yet attended this event but I will definitely be there next year.

Here in San Francisco be on the lookout for the Annual Toronado Barleywine Festival in February. This is also a competition style event and the venue is rather small so you need to get there early and go slow. Last year there were over fifty entries, all of them high octane. Food is available at several nearby restaurants, but I highly recommend putting a base in your stomach prior to a marathon Barleywine tasting. The event lasts for a week so it is not necessary to try them all the same day.

Once again there are dozens of festivals all over the country and internationally all yearlong. So get out there and try some new beer and enjoy life.


Chef Bruce