Miami-Dade County Fair Features Beer Haven, Traveling Beer Festival

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The 64th-annual Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition -- AKA the Youth Fair -- returns to Tamiami Park for three weeks of corn dogs, rides, and carnival games.

But when the gates open this Thursday, March 12, beer lovers will be offered much more than domestic brewski. The fair will up its beverage game with the introduction of several exciting additions, including a mobile brewery, carnival-themed beers, and a weekly beer festival.

The fair's Beer Haven is basically a beer fair inside a fair that features interactive displays, a portable brewpub, and a beer-centric marketplace that offers everything from homebrewing supplies to soap made with beer (for suds with your suds).

See also: Sprung Highlights Florida's Craft Beer Scene

Brett Enright, creator of Beer Haven, says Miami will be the first city to experience the multimillion-dollar traveling beer fest. "The Youth Fair is the first stop of a 20-city tour that includes the Texas State Fair and various speedways."

Enright, who introduced the world's largest hot dog at last year's fair (in case you missed it, the 125-pound killer wiener is available again this year at a cost of $1,000), got the idea for a traveling brewery after seeing the craft beer scene explode. "I grew up in the fair business, and for years the fair was about neighbors showcasing their prize corn and their best show pony. I just thought, Wouldn't it be cool for local brewers to showcase their best beers at the fair?"

Enright set out to do just that, contacting local beer makers and retrofitting several large tractor-trailers to make them a traveling brew show.

The Bucking Mule Brewery is a five-barrel beer brewing and canning system that's self-contained in a 53-foot tractor-trailer. Guests can tour this mobile brewery, dubbed the largest of its kind in the world, to see how beer is made, watch videos, and hear guest brewmasters give tips on everything from beer and food pairings to making your own beer.

Also part of Beer Haven is the Great American Beer Station, a 70-foot rig turned into the world's largest mobile bar, featuring more than 60 craft beers from local breweries such as J. Wakefield, Holy Mackerel, Biscayne Bay, and Wynwood Brewing. In addition, look out for rare beers from small regional breweries like Asheville's Highland Brewing Company and New Orleans' NOLA Brewing Company.

In addition, local breweries have created carnival-themed beers for Beer Haven. Miami Brewing has concocted cotton candy and kettle corn beers, Salt Water Brewing has made a chocolate banana beer, and 3 Daughters out of St. Petersburg has brewed a caramel apple ale.

In case you want to sample all of these fair-food-inspired brews but don't want to commit to an entire pint, the Great American Beer Station is equipped with an advanced iPourit system. Enright explains that you purchase a wristband that's loaded with credit in multiples of $20. Then you can pour whatever beer you like -- from as little as a one-ounce taste to as much as a 12-ounce serving. When you're done, you'll get a printout of every beer you drank, perfect to save as a tasting-notes cheat sheet.

If you're hungry, the Beer Haven section will feature food designed to pair well with a few brews. Juicy's Outlaw Grill (which happens to be the world's largest mobile barbecue grill) will sell ribs, chicken, turkey legs, pretzels, and funnel-cake hamburgers. The area will also offer lawn chairs, live entertainment, and giant Jenga, so you can spend an entire day at the Beer Haven section.

Plus, there's a beer festival every Saturday at the fair. March 14, 21, and 28 and April 4 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Beer Haven Festival, enjoy unlimited four-ounce samplings of 60 local and national craft beers, along with bites from Juicy's Outlaw Grill. Admission to the beer festival is $35 per person (advance purchase only, including fair admission). The online advance Beer Haven Festival VIP admission price, which includes one-day fair admission and access to the beer festival at 12:30 p.m., is $70 in advance. VIP tickets also include entry to the special shaded VIP area that offers nitro beers. VIPs will also receive a pretzel necklace, a cigar, and a souvenir cup. For more information or to purchase tickets online, visit beerhaven.com. Admission to Beer Haven the rest of the week is free (and pay as you go for beer and food).

In addition to all the beer-related events, the Miami-Dade County Fair will also offer the usual mix of weird and wonderful food. Look out for new items like the Miami Sundae, a savory parfait of mojo-roasted pork, white rice, black beans, onions, and plantains topped with fresh cilantro and paprika; pumpkin spice funnel cake; sticky pig on a stick (two Krispy Kreme doughnuts stuffed with strawberry custard, dipped in chocolate fudge, and rolled in applewood-smoked candied bacon); a funnel-cake weenie -- a sausage dipped in funnel-cake batter and drizzled with powdered sugar; and deep-fried avocado (because everything is better fried).

The Miami-Dade County Fair & Expo runs March 12 through April 5. Gates open at noon most days (3 p.m. March 12, 13, 18, and 19 and April 1 and 2). Admission costs $12; ages 5 and younger and 65 and older get in free. Admission is also free for active-duty and retired military personnel with valid military ID certain days. There are also many packages and discounts. For details on pricing or to purchase tickets in advance, visit fairexpo.com.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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