Get Ready for the Mother of All Beer Festivals

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There are beer festivals, and then there are beer festivals. The annual Washington Brewer's Festival is the one worth waiting for. This festival showcases Washington breweries, large and small, during a three-day event at Saint Edward State Park in Kenmore. In a stroke of genius, the event is held every year on Father's Day weekend. You can almost hear beer-loving dads saying "All I want for Father's Day is to go to the Washington Brewer's Festival . . . "

In addition to good timing, the Washington Brewer's Festival is a great way to taste many Washington beers found only on tap at select bars and restaurants, as well as many brews made exclusively for the event. Last year, several breweries--like Lazy Boy and Big Al's--served beer infused with chiles. In the last few years, many new breweries-- Black Raven, Two Beers, and Skookum among them--have served beer at the festival for the first time and gained a much-deserved instant fan base. Those three breweries will be among the 50+ breweries and cideries at this year's event.

Getting the most out of a beer-tasting event this big takes some advance planning, so you don't pass out before sampling all the beers you showed up to try. Unlike a wine tasting, there's really not a spitting culture at beer-tasting events. Sure, some do it, but you won't find spit buckets at every table. At last year's Washington Brewer's Festival, we arrived in the early afternoon as a woman was being wheeled out on a stretcher. We thought, "What a rookie. It's only beer." But after a couple hours of taking five-ounce shooters of IPAs, I was glad we had a designated driver in our group.

The festival is all-ages on Saturday, June 16 and Sunday, June 17, so if you want to avoid kidlets, head over on Friday night. There'll be fewer breweries pouring, but many of them offer "Friday-only" beers. Saturday and Sunday features more events (can you say "keg toss?") and over 200 beers available to sample.

Here are our veteran tips for getting the most out of this year's Washington Brewer's Festival:

1) Buy tickets in advance. You save $5 versus buying them at the door.

2) Designate a driver (they receive a reduced admission at the door) or take public transportation. Details about transportation options are on the festival's website.

3) Don't arrive on an empty stomach. There are several food vendors at the festival, but it's easy to get sidetracked by all the beer and forget to eat.

4) Work as a team. Grab a friend or two and share tastes. Sure, you can buy extra tokens, but if you are tasting IPAs--and you should be--they pack a punch at around 6-8% ABV. By sharing tastes with friends, you can sample more variety without overimbibing.

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