Busch Gardens has brought back its fourth edition of Bier Fest, embracing the Tampa theme park’s beer-soaked roots with food and brews on weekends through Oct. 31.
This year brings a new beer trail, weaving craft beer tastings through the park’s many coasters, local live music and a chance to check out the new Giraffe Bar. It’s a nice watering hole for humans that overlooks the Serengeti Plain, where the zebras and giraffes are having their own happy hour.
And if you check out Bier Fest before Sept. 9, you can also catch the park’s new fireworks show Spark, an impressive mix of fireworks, lighted dancing fountains, lasers and even exploding balls of fire as pop songs like Fall Out Boy’s Light Em Up blast.
The park, which opened more than 60 years ago as a lush, admission-free garden to promote the products of the Anheuser-Busch brewery, embraces the latest craft beer craze. Bier Fest features more than 50 varieties of IPAs, wheat ales and stouts, and there are spotlights on Florida breweries as well as national brands that are paired with shareable culinary creations.
The Giraffe Bar, which opened in March at the Serengeti Overlook restaurant, is a nice spot to chill out in the air-conditioning or on the outdoor patio overlooking the 64-acre animal habitat. There are frozen cocktails and small bites, and for Bier Fest there is a variety of brews from Ybor’s Coppertail and Bradenton’s Motorworks Brewing breweries.
The festival features beer pairings where some of the foods are on the heavy side. The pub grub at the Alcatraz Brewing kiosk includes Pepper Smoked Chopped Brisket Poutine, which tops beer-battered fries with blue cheese, caramelized onions, chipotle barbecue sauce and what the chef calls “crispy jalapeno,” a deliciously spicy smattering of chips that are similar to fried onions.
The Sam Adams booth brings back a fan favorite, Octoberfest Braised Short Ribs, a belly-busting dish served over smoked cheddar and onion mashed potatoes. On the sweet side, the Jack Daniel’s stall serves warm beignets that come with a pipette of Tennessee Fire Whiskey you can inject into your dessert.
Food offerings range from $5.99 to $9.99 and come in hearty shareable portions. Cocktails and beers run $10.99 on average. Sample lanyards are available, starting at $49.99 for eight samples. The lanyard will get you a full serving of food, but only a 7-ounce sample of beers or cocktails. So consider food a better deal, or use the lanyard as a way to sample a wider variety of drinks.
Park reservations are no longer required at Busch Gardens, and while face coverings are not mandatory, the park does recommend that guests wear them while indoors. The festival runs Fridays through Sundays from noon until park closing. Find more information at buschgardens.com.