ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — It’s no secret that New York loves craft beer, and that’s a big reason why the industry will be on full display at the upcoming Rochester Lilac Festival.

According to a New York State Brewers Association 2021 economic study:

  • The number of New York breweries grew from 95 in 2012 to 495 last year (504 as of Tuesday)
  • The craft beer industry in New York supports approximately 20,000 full-time jobs
  • The annual economic impact of New York craft beer is $3.4 billion
  • New York was the 3rd largest beer-producing state in the country in 2021

These stats are a big reason why Lilac Festival organizers are making the craft beer industry a focus of this year’s event. The Craft Beer Expo is back and bigger than ever, with a new awards show, expanded offerings for drinks and food, a bigger footprint with lawn games, and more.

A staple on the Lilac schedule, this year’s version of the Craft Beer Expo will take place on the final Saturday of the festival, May 21, at the Special Events Tent for two sessions. Session 1 will run from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. for VIP and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. for general admission. Session 2 will run from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. for VIP and 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. for general admission.

The Expo will feature more than 40 breweries, cideries, and distilleries (full list of participants below). It’s designed to showcase craft beverages from across New York and the county to an audience of local, regional, national, and international guests.

This year’s Craft Beer Expo isn’t just bigger for participating breweries and beverage businesses, but for the whole scope. The event will have an expanded area with lawn games, official Lilac CBE awards, and specific food pairing selections.

Advance VIP tickets are available now for $60 and advance general admission tickets cost $45. There is also an advanced designated driver ticket available for $15. Day-of tickets are also available, but for $5 more than each advance ticket price tiers.

Click here for tickets to this year’s Lilac Festival Craft Beer Expo. This event is 21+ only with a valid ID required. Tickets include access to dozens of beverage vendors’ samples, a food voucher, a free tasting glass, access to lawn games, and more.

The ‘Fun’ Awards

Also new this year is the official Rochester Lilac Festival Craft Beer Expo Awards, of which there will be two types of judging

The first will happen live from the Lilac Festival on Radio 95.1’s DiTullio & Moran Show on Friday, May 13 — one week prior to the Expo. Judges for this session will include:

  • Dean Jones, Head Brewmaster at Genesee Brewing
  • Jen Newman, Young Lion Brewing CEO and Owner
  • Geoff Dale, Three Heads Brewing Co-owner and beer aficionado
  • Leslie Zink Ward, Lovin’ Cup Owner
  • Chris Spinelli, ROC Brewing Brewmaster

The awards will not be split up by category, but rather the offerings will be subject to a blind taste test and the judges will determine the winners by how “fun” they are to drink.

The additional judging will award one brewery with a People’s Choice Award during each session of the Craft Beer Expo on May 21.

Genesee Brewing Head Brewmaster Dean Jones (left), and Young Lion Brewing Owner Jen Newman (right). (News 8 WROC photo/Matt Driffill)

Jones, Newman, and Lilac Festival organizer Jeff Springut all agree the goal for the new awards portion of this event was clear: Let’s just have some fun.

Whereas the NYSBA takes its statewide competitions very seriously — more than 1,200 entries were received this past year and were judged in 29 different categories by qualified industry professionals — the Lilac Craft Beer Expo Awards will simply focus on being lighthearted and having a good time.

“This isn’t a serious beer competition,” Jones said. “We want to go out there, drink some good beers with some good people, and have some fun.”

“We all know each other, for the most part, and we like to support each other in this industry,” Newman said. “This is just an opportunity to get like-minded people in the industry together to sample some great beers.”

Participants in this year’s Lilac Craft Beer Expo include:

  • Artisanal Brew Works
  • Big aLICe Brewing
  • Black Button Distilling
  • Blue Barn Cidery
  • Blue Toad Hard Cider
  • Brewery Ardennes
  • Bru-Bag
  • Clarksburg Cider Co.
  • Climbing Bines Craft Al Co.
  • Community Beer Works
  • Copper Leaf Brewing
  • Eli Fish Brewing Company
  • Embark Craft Cider Works
  • Flying Bison
  • Genesee Brewing Company
  • Great Lakes Brewing Company
  • Gist Iron Brewing
  • Grow Brewing Company
  • Hamburg Brewing Company
  • Heroes Brewing Company
  • High Noon
  • Iron Smoke Distillery
  • New York Beer Project
  • Noble Shepherd Craft Brewery
  • Ommegang Brewing
  • ONCO Fermentations
  • OSB Ciderworks
  • Peacemaker Brewing Company
  • Phygit Pretzel Necklaces
  • Pressure Drop Brewing
  • Resurg4ence Brewing Company
  • ROC Brewing Company
  • Saranac
  • Scale House Brewery
  • SingleCut Beersmiths
  • Smoke Shack Snacks
  • Southern Tier Brewing Company
  • Sweetwater Brewing Company
  • The Farm House Brewery
  • The Fort Distillery
  • Tin Barn Brewing
  • Young Lion Brewing Company

Although the awards are “just for fun,” the winners will get bragging rights and a trophy to take back to their respective breweries.

Are you more of a wine person than a beer person? Don’t miss the 2022 Lilac Wine Tasting Expo taking place at the festival’s Special Events Tent on Saturday, May 7.

Due to COVID-19, 2020’s festival was canceled. The 2021 edition, which was one of the first large-scale events to return in Monroe County since the beginning of the pandemic, included ticketed shows in a special events tent to reduce and control crowd capacity.

This year’s festival is back in full swing for the first time since 2019 and follows the pattern of the 2021 iteration, which featured three consecutive weekends instead of the traditional ten consecutive days. This year’s festival schedule is as follows:

  • Week One: May 6-8
  • Week Two: May 12-15
  • Week Three: May 19-22

Looking for other things to do at this year’s Lilac Festival? Check out our in-depth visitor’s guide for maps, events, concerts, vendors, and more.

2019 Lilac Festival Craft Beer Expo slideshow