Beer fests highlight Atlanta beer boom

Beer is big and getting bigger. The number of new brewery start-ups, along with the popularity of craft beer bars, brewpubs and brewery tours around metro Atlanta all point to a beer boom.

But the biggest indicator of the bonanza may be the myriad beer festivals and tasting events that seem to be popping up everywhere from city parks to parking lots — even if that’s led some longtime beer connoisseurs to grouse about quantity over quality.

Two of most well-regarded events, the Decatur Craft Beer Festival and Hotoberfest, take place in the fall. But there are several community and brewery-related spring beer festivals coming up from March through May, leading off with the relatively new Suwanee American Craft Beer Fest on March 16.

Cumming’s Phil Farrell, an award-winning homebrewer, grandmaster beer judge and beer drinker of the year (according to the Wynkoop Brewing Company), is a Suwanee beer fest fan.

“The setting is spectacular,” said Farrell. “You’re right there in the town center, which is a perfect place to have a beer festival. There’s plenty of room, you can walk from parking to shops and restaurants and you can sit down for a meal before or after the festival.”

Farrell also likes the VIP area, with rare beers for connoisseurs, and the homebrew competition, which he’ll be judging again this year.

“The homebrew competition really carries over to the serious beer enthusiasts,” Farrell said. “Homebrewing is such an important link to craft brewing. In fact, last year’s winner, Josh Rachel, is starting Jekyll Brewing in Alpharetta.”

Organizer Angela Veugeler says this year’s festival will feature over 250 beers, with a first glimpse of many spring seasonal and new-to-Georgia offerings from breweries such as Blue Tarp, Sixpoint and Lonerider.

Suwanee American Craft Beer Fest, 1-5 p.m. Saturday, March 16, in Town Center Park. Tickets: $35 advance, $45 gate (if not sold out in advance), $85 VIP, $10 designated driver.

Four more beer fests

Classic City Brew Fest, April 7

One of the Southeast’s longest running beer tasting festivals, the Classic City Beer Fest has been going strong for 18 years, offering a fun, intimate setting in the Foundry Park Inn in Athens, where you can sip and learn about some 300 great craft beers from around the world. Curated by cask ale expert Owen Ogletree, the cask ale pavilion has been a big draw, with 15 one-off beers made just for the event. Tickets: $39.99, available in advance only at 2:30-6 p.m. April 7. 295 East Dougherty Street, Athens. 706-549-7020,

Terrapin 11th Anniversary Carnival, April 13

“This One Goes To Eleven,” as Terrapin Beer Co. toasts 11 years of brewing. In 2002, co-founders Brian “Spike” Buckowski and John Cochran poured their first beer, Rye Pale Ale, at the Classic City Brew Fest. Recently, Terrapin installed a new 100 barrel brewhouse, so there’s much more to see on brewery tours. But the afternoon-to-evening festivities will include casks, a tent dedicated to limited-release beers, carnival food and games, including a dunk tank filled with beer, and live music. Tickets: Guarantee entry and a special anniversary glass by buying a $20 advance voucher on-line or in the Terrapin gift shop during tours. 4:30-8:30 p.m. April 13. 265 Newton Bridge Road, Athens. 706-549-3377.

2013 Sweetwater 420 Fest, April-19-21

This year the eclectic, eco-friendly beer and music fest presented by Sweetwater Brewing Co. has some exciting new additions. For the first time, the weekend-long 420 Fest in Candler Park will offer a VIP pass that includes a premier viewing area at the main stage, access to a furnished VIP lounge, a “hammock hideaway,” climate-controlled restrooms, one meal per day and a premium bar with discounted drinks. The craft beer-centered Sweetwater Experience will include tasting and education sessions with brewers and beer experts. April 19-22. Tickets: Free admission, $5 a day for a 21-and-over wristband. 585 Candler Park Drive NE, Atlanta. 404-691-2537.

East Atlanta Beer Festival, May 18

A fund-raiser for community projects, the East Atlanta Beer Festival at Brownwood Park has a distinctive intown neighborhood vibe. More details to come, but look for some 200 beers, food vendors and local entertainment. And after the festival, enjoy the bars and restaurants in East Atlanta Village. Tickets: $40 general; $75 VIP includes early entrance. 1-6 p.m. May 18. 602 Brownwood Avenue SE, Atlanta.