For everyone in South Florida who's missed craft beer festival life, one of Miami's most popular beer-focused events is breathing some life into the local scene by making its annual comeback later this month.
As life returns to normal post-COVID-19, local craft beer influencers Kris Marino and Boxelder's Adam Darnell want you to meet-and-greet with some of the country's best brewers while sampling dozens of uber-rare beers. How? At Free The Whales, of course.
The annual beer bash is unlike any other, originally thrown to celebrate Marino's birthday, but now a successful beer festival in its own right. The name is homage to the festival's mantra of highlighting each brewery's GOAT picks — typically their rarest, hard-to-find beers those in the industry refer to as "whales."
It all goes down on Saturday, June 26, when his annual Free the Whales event will take over Tripping Animals Brewing Co. in Doral. The festival returns for the sixth year since its inception — although it will be the fifth event Marino has hosted since postponing the 2020 event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the three-hour-long festival will make an impressive return, showcasing more than 40 respected and up-and-coming breweries from both in-state and across the country. During the event, they'll be offering 50-plus options with unlimited pours of their most exclusive beers. And, as in years past, expect plenty more in cans and bottles to add to the lineup. If you're so inclined, the event's BYOB (bring your own beer) mantra means you can even bring your own whales to encourage sharing among the crowd.
A limited number of tickets are currently on sale via Oznr from Brewed Events. General admission tickets are priced at $100 per person and include access to the event at noon, a Free The Whales event tasting glass, and unlimited pours from participating breweries.
Coming off the heels of two massive craft beer festivals hosted in April — J. Wakefield's anniversary Wakefest bash and Tripping Animals' annual Irie Jungle — Marino says he was hard-pressed to create a unique event that was more than just another repeat lineup.
"But I think it worked. We have a great mix of top-tier, old school breweries mixed with some of the hottest new-school brands. It's the perfect paella of what a top-level beer festival should be," says Marino. "I think we're gonna see some crazy shit. It's gonna be a little wild. A lot of people have been waiting to blow some steam off after Covid, but it's gonna be pretty awesome and I'm stoked we are able to do the event."
2021 Free The Whales Florida newcomers include:
Two well-known industry brewers are behind Tampa-area's Recylced Brewing Co.; while Tampa-based Woven Water Brewing is making waves with their spot-on IPAs, barrel-aged stouts, fruited sours, and colorful hard seltzers; Tactical Brewing from Orlando, who recently took home a gold medal at the New York International Beer Competition for their Cosmos Pie, a pie-inspired imperial fruited sour collab with Dssolvr that features strawberry, peach, lemon, graham crackers, lactose, and cinnamon; King State Brewing, a Tampa brewery also beloved for their coffee and breakfast eats who just so happen to also be making some of the cleanest beers in Florida; Miami's Spanish Marie Brewery, getting into the game with a brand new brew house that allows them to get even more creative with everything from a line of Cotton Candy-inspired beers and their Ecto Cooler sour ale to a bunch of new barrel-aged stouts and sours; and the up-and-coming Florida brewers from Point Ybel Brewing in Fort Myers.
2021 out-of-state new talent will showcase:
Hailing from Arvada, Colorado, New Image Brewing is making incredible IPAs, sours, and stouts with tons of really good collaborations under their belt; Viking Artisan Ales out of Indiana, doing their own spin on the fruited sour with their impressively delicious line of Indiana-Weisse candy-themed kettle sours; Country Club Brewing will make their second return, pouring an even wider selection of brews before opening their Bethlahem, Pennsylvania brewery later this year; out of Des Moines, Iowa, former Forager brewer Zach Dunbar will be representing his new project, Lua Brewing; New Hampshire-based Branch and Blade Brewing; and the husband-and-wife team behind Anaheim-based Honey Pot Meadery.
Returning event participants include: 3 Sons Brewing, Angry Chair, Arkane Ale Works, Barn Town, Bhramari, Bone Flower, Bottle Logic, Calusa Brewing, Corporate Ladder, Civil Society, Cerebral Brewing, Vitamin Sea, Resident Culture, Other Half, J. Wakefield, District 96, Invasive Species, Moksa, Magnanimous, and The Answer, who is making a special out-of-state festival appearance at Free The Whales.
And while the food options for most beer fests typically stand as nothing more than a quick way to soak up the suds and keep drinking, not so at Free The Whales. Instead, the food lineup Marino has curated for his sixth annual bash is a healthy selection from some of South Florida's most coveted chefs and pop-up eateries.
That includes South Beach Wine & Food Festival attendees Tacos Lobo and Ted's Burgers (also winner of the Schweid Judges award at this year's SOBEWFF 2021 Burger Bash). They'll be joined by Pan Con Bistec-wielding Panolo's Cuban Eats, the Venezuelan street food-style hot dog aficianados from Asquerocito Street Food, super small-batch gourmet donut maker Luchadough, and some bombass barebcue compliments of Tripping Animal's in-house eatery Gorilla City Meats and Sandwiches.
"For an event with such humble beginnings, it really sucked not being able to celebrate our five-year anniversary on the date," sums up Marino. "But this year is set to be better than ever. There's so much new talent coming to this event. We have a lot of first timer attendees — it's going to be a lot of new blood."
Free the Whales. Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 26, at Tripping Animals Brewery, 2685 NW 105th Ave, Doral. General admission tickets are limited and on sale now for $100 per person via brewedevents.oznr.com and include a festival tasting glass and unlimited draft beer. For updated information and a full list of participants, visit the Instagram and Facebook account for Free The Whales.