Story last updated at 7/30/2014 - 11:15 pm
Being an avid local craft beer lover, I chase beer festivals with abandon. No, I haven't been to every annual beer festival in the state, but those that I haven't visited are high on my must-attend list.
The primary deterrents for the festivals I've yet to attend are time and cost since most of them are beyond driving distance and involve air travel and overnight accommodations, at a minimum.
I attend beer festivals for reasons that go beyond sheer enjoyment. Most festivals support a good cause, and the brewers that attend them almost always donate their beer. I'm not a cause junkie by any means, but my attendance is a vote of confidence for the local breweries that I love, and I like to support the causes that are important to them.
The Sept. 13 Capital Brewfest is a good example. This one's on my "yet to attend" list, but maybe this is the year. This is the gig's third year, and it's hosted by the Rotary of Juneau. In years past, it has benefitted SAGA. I don't have a whole bunch of intel on this year's event but suspect it will be the same. Regardless, it's one of the few beer festivals that are "in the 'hood" so to speak, and it's definitely worthy of your attendance.
The fest takes place 1-5 p.m. at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. Tickets will set you back $32.50 but get you admission, a commemorative glass and unlimited 2-ounce samples. Unlimited samples are pretty great for a beer festival; I don't see too many festivals organized this way, but who's complaining? Alaskan Brewing Company will obviously factor in huge at this gig, but the state's other breweries will be equally represented. Check out the information at capbrewfest.com and on Facebook.
Closer to me here in Los Anchorage are a number of other cool fests you might consider if you happen to be up this. The most imminent, and undeniably my favorite, is the 3rd Annual 49th State Brewing Company's Augtoberfest that takes place Friday, Aug. 1 and Saturday, Aug. 2 at the brewery's expansive grounds in Healy.
Though I wouldn't call driving to Healy from Anchorage casual (it's a haul at right around 250 miles), it can be spectacular if the weather cooperates. When the skies are clear, the crowning fireweed backlit by the sun and sweeping vistas of Denali reward the festgoer on the way up. This can come at a cost - driving south into the sun with a hangover on a bleary-eyed Sunday morning.
This year, as part of the gig, you can get a discount ticket and experience the incredible scenery from the big windows of an Alaska Railroad passenger car as it threads its way north through some of Alaska's most rugged backcountry if you don't feel like driving.
When I attend, I stay at the Park's Edge Log Cabins, just off the highway and over a little hill in Healy. No, this isn't a shameless plug. I'll be the first to admit the view from there isn't spectacular and it's off the beaten path on a dusty road (there are bed and breakfasts and accommodations closer to the brewery grounds), but that's the allure.
Returning to the cabin at night at 2 a.m. rewarded me with the most uncanny silence I've ever experienced on Earth. I was really struck by the complete absence of sound, and it was nice after spending the night in a rowdy crowd twisting to music by some of my favorite local bands.
Better yet, a simple phone call fetched a brewery transport van that drove me down the dusty road and up the short distance to the brewery, freeing me of the hassle of worrying about driving intoxicated. This is a double-edged sword for me because having transportation is a license to rage and I always tend to overconsume as a result.
The brewery is encompassed by and accessed through a huge Bavarian-mimicking beer garden with a grand stage, outdoor dining areas, a horseshoe pit, fire pit and plenty of room to roam. An indoor pub is warm and inviting when the weather's cool and dark and cool when it's hot outside.
A central, circular hooded fire pit provides a nice touch to the very homey enclave. The menu's robust and varied and serves some of the finest food in the area during the short months that the establishment is open along the otherwise barren stretch of highway connecting Anchorage to Fairbanks. An authentic Bavarian menu is featured during Augtoberfest along with O'fest-themed specialty beers.
Tickets for this no-miss event are $25 for the first day ($30 at the gate), $15 for the second day ($20 at the gate) or you can get a weekend pass for $35 ($40 at the gate). Surf out to 49statebrewing.com to get your tickets in advance and poke around for lodging at the same time.
Another excellent fest that's coming up is the 4th Annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival at the Soldotna Sports Center from 5-10 p.m. Oct. 9. Tickets are $30, which scores you eight four-ounce samples and a commemorative tasting glass. Yeah, I know, eight samples might seem a little paltry for a five-hour fest, but you can buy additional sampling tickets at two for $3 or $15 for 12.
What really sets this fest apart is it may be the most casual and most disciplined beer event in the state. There never seems to be any bad karma at this laid-back gig that's outside and appointed with all manner of food and craft booths and live music to keep things going. It feels like going to a Saturday market with a beer.
Most of the Kenai Peninsula breweries will be on hand, including Kassik's Brewery, Kenai River Brewing Company, St. Elias Brewing and maybe Homer Brewing Company as well. Of course, other breweries from across the state will be represented, as will national and especially Pacific Northwest beers provided by our local distributors.
You can snag your tickets online at https://events.admitoneproducts.com/tkt_sales.php?test=true&event_id=823214&sales=. You'll want to plan ahead as the fish are running and you might have to get creative for accommodations.
Feeling really adventurous? Check out the Oct. 17-19 Yukon Beer Festival in Whitehorse. I've never been to a Canadian beer festival before, and this might be my first one. It's distant, but probably no worse than driving to the Haines Beer Festival in May every year. Check out Yukon Beer Festival on Facebook for more information.
At the same time, and much closer to home for me is the Eagle River Beer Festival at the Boys and Girls Club on Oct. 17-18. This is one of the rowdiest beer festivals in the Anchorage area, and I love the feel of it when I attend. The time and cost has not been announced, so keep your mug to the wall. Other events to keep an eye out for include Bodegafest in Anchorage and the Mighty Matanuska Beer Fest at the Alaska State Fairgrounds.
The bottom line is that there's no need to let your meat loaf and leave your mug idle. Make plans to get out there and support good local craft beer.