HICKORY, N.C. -- Hickory Hops returns to Union Square in downtown Hickory on Saturday, April 16, 2011.

The 9th annual outdoor beer festival is organized by Hickory Downtown Development Association and hosted by Olde Hickory Brewery. It offers plenty for everyone, from inexperienced beer novices to hardened beer fest veterans anxious for something unusual.

The festival lasts six hours, beginning at 1 p.m., and features hundreds of beers, live music and access to lots of brewerania sold by the breweries. The festival is held in the heart of the downtown Hickory shopping and entertainment district, and many restaurants and stores will be open and ready to serve.

Many of the breweries are from North Carolina, although representatives from South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia have also been invited. The craft beer scene is particularly strong in NC and the NC Brewers Guild ( is working hard to raise awareness among residents and smooth the way for new startup breweries and brew pubs. Craft beer enthusiasm in NC goes beyond the professional and the local home brewers group, CLASS (Catawba lager and Ale Sampling Society will also be represented at the festival.

What would a beer festival be without the beer? Over 45 breweries will be attending this year's Hickory Hops serving between four and eight beers each. Pilsners, pale ales, stouts, bitters, English ales -- name it and you'll find it. Visitors will even find cask conditioned beers.

One of the current trends in the craft beer scene, cask conditioned beers are a return to an earlier method of conditioning, which refines a beer's flavor and prepares it for drinking. These beers are unfiltered, unpasteurized and with no added carbon dioxide or nitrogen. The lower levels of carbonation allow more of beer's complex taste to come through. Other special types of beers found at the festival include Imperials, super-powered versions of the parent style, and barrel-aged brews, where a beer (often a stout or porter) is aged in a previously used barrel (often whiskey) and takes on characteristics of the barrel s original tenant.

Tickets are available online at and at downtown Hickory's Olde Hickory Tap Room on Union Square and Amos Howards Brew Works on Highway 70 SW. Cost is $30 in advance. Any remaining tickets will be sold for $35 at the gate. Designated driver tickets are $10.

Everyone must be 21 years of age with valid ID to enter the gates, including designated drivers. No pets allowed. The event is held under tents and is rain or shine.

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