A year of big dates for beer-lovers to observe

BEER DRINKERS are notoriously slothful when it comes to planning for the future. That’s why we’ve developed so many ways to crack open a cold one without a bottle opener.

But now that you’ve found a place to hang the 2011 furry kitten calendar you got for Christmas, take a minute to mark some important dates to remember.

Jan. 14-15: Great Alaska Beer and Barleywine Festival. Yes, it’s cold, but the high-proof ales (not to mention outstanding mead) will warm you right up.

Jan. 29: Release of Sexual Chocolate. Not as obscene as it sounds, it’s the much-anticipated annual debut of a cocoa-infused imperial stout by North Carolina’s Foothills Brewing.

Feb. 4: Release of Russian River Pliny the Younger. Rated the world’s top beer, it’ll debut at Russian River’s pub in Santa Rosa, Calif., then show up in a few towns in California and Colorado and in Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Philadelphia.

Feb. 6: Super Bowl Sunday. It’s being held in Dallas this year, but you’ve got to watch at home to catch all the Bud commercials.

Feb. 11-20: San Francisco Beer Week. Worth the trip just for the Barleywine Festival (Feb. 19) at the city’s top beer bar, the Toronado.

March 1: Iceland Beer Day. Reykjavik’s bars are packed for the annual celebration marking the end of the nation’s 75-year beer prohibition.

March 5: Cantillon Public Brewing Session. Once a year, the Brussels lambic brewer Cantillon barrelsopens its doors during brewing hours for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of one the world’s most unusual beer styles.

March 5-6: Zythos. Belgium’s largest beer festival, held just outside of Antwerp. Unlike those tiny samples served at American festivals, Belgo brewers pour big and they pour strong.

March 7: Kate the Great Day. First, you’ll need to buy a scratch ticket for a chance to buy one of 900 bottles of Portsmouth Brewing’s special stout, to be released on the first Monday in March.

March 11-12: Extreme Beer Fest (Boston). Sorry, you’re too late. With so many boundary-expanding beers on tap, the festival is already sold out.

March 17: St. Patrick’s Day. Enjoy a perfect pour of Guinness.

April 23: Dark Lord Day. You’ll need a “Golden Ticket” (and transportation to Munster, Ind.) to attend the release of Three Floyds’ super-strong imperial stout.

May 13: Friday the Firkinteenth. Held only on Friday the 13th (there’s just one in ’11), this cask ale festival features dozens of firkins lining the bar at the Grey Lodge Pub in the Mayfair section of the city.

June 3-12: Philly Beer Week. The world’s largest beer festival of its kind, with PBW 2011hundreds of festivals, tastings and tours in America’s best beer-drinking city. (Of course, I’m kind of biased, since I help run the show.)

July 29-30: Belgium Comes to Cooperstown. New York’s Brewery Ommegang’s summer festival is the Woodstock of Beer. (Date not officially announced, but it’s normally the last weekend of July.)

Aug. 2-6: Great British Beer Festival. A taste for real cask ale in the heart of London.

Aug. 13: Beers from more than 100 Midwestern breweries served in a park overlooking Lake Monona in Madison, Wis.

Sept. 17-Oct. 3: Munich Oktoberfest. Mecca for the beer drinker. Prost!

Sept. 29-Oct. 1: Great American Beer Festival. More than 2,000 different beers served in one giant hall. Beer geek heaven.

Oct. 8: World Beer Festival. For one weekend, Durham, N.C., is the center of the beer universe.

Nov. 4: J-Day. The launch of Christmas beer (Juleøl) season in Denmark.

Nov. 30-Dec. 4: Portland (Oregon) Holiday Festival. This year’s festival was preceded by a terrorist bomb scare, but the Christmas beers and winter warmers helped shake off the chills.

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