This summer, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay brought back free beer. Maybe it got them thinking, or maybe itís just because theme parks are all tacking on extra food, beer and wine festivals. From this Saturday and Sunday and weekends through Sept. 16, raise your glass to the new Bier Fest. The draw? More than 100 beers from 60 different breweries around the world will rotate through the four-weekend festival. Bier Fest is included in park admission and also features live entertainment and beer-friendly foods.
Despite Busch Gardensí Big Beer background (it was developed as a marketing vehicle for Anheuser-Busch), it should come as no surprise that the park should turn its sights to more boutique craft beer. Tampa Bay has emerged in recent years as one of the top craft beer metro areas, drawing thousands of beer tourists annually and growing its arsenal of breweries to more than 50.
WHATíS ON THE MENU
According to Jim Messinger, senior leader of culinary operations at Busch Gardens, the planning team started with an authentic old world beer fest culinary approach, adding as they went to accommodate a broad range of tastes and au courant seasonally inspired dishes. Themed culinary cabins will feature savory appetizer-sized options to pair with the beers: two-bite burgers (this includes Cuban-style pork burgers and all-plant Impossible sliders), bite-sized Reuben croquettes, soft pretzel sticks with bacon beer-cheese dip, and mac and cheese fritters. Want to take things in a lighter direction? Head for the crisp watermelon paired with heirloom tomatoes and feta, or autumnal golden beets roasted and tossed with pecans, goat cheese, and balsamic vinegar. And at the Best of the Wurst kiosk, itís all Oktoberfest-appropriate fare, from currywurst to classic brats.
And on tap youíll find 7-ounce pours from local stalwarts 3 Daughters, Green Bench, Cigar City and Coppertail, as well as imports like Hofbrau Munchen and Kostritzer and popular domestic crafts like Founders Brewing and Lagunitas.
The best deal is with the purchase of a Bier Fest sampler lanyard. Available in quantities of five or 10, samplers start at $29.99 for a choice of any food or beverage sample throughout the festival. Pass holders can purchase a 12-item sampler for the same price as a 10-item sampler.
MAKE A RESERVATION
The festival dates are Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 1-3, Sept. 8 and 9, and Sept. 15 and 16. Food and beverage locations are open on event days at noon and close when the park does. 10165 McKinley Drive, Tampa. (813) 884-4386. buschgardens.com.
PAY THE BILL
Admission is required; one-day tickets start at $79.99 online. Food items are $4-$7 and beverages are $8-$9.
Laura Reiley, Times food critic