There’s a concept amongst beer lovers such as myself that I want to talk about this month: beer culture. If you spend any amount of time reading about beer or brewing, you’ll almost certainly come across the phrase. People talk about British beer culture or West Coast beer culture, but what do they mean by it?
For me, when you talk or write about the beer culture of a country or a region, you’re talking about the prevailing attitude or relationship that the majority of people in that area have with beer. Sure, it’s a bit of a nebulous term, but at the very least it encompasses how folks choose to drink (in British pubs or German biergartens, for example), what is their drink of choice (craft beers or macrobrews, local brands versus national brands, imported versus domestic), and why they drink (enjoyment versus inebriation).
Some beer cultures are very old, like that of the British public house. The core concept dates back many centuries, to the Middle Ages or even before. Others are much younger; the entire American craft beer scene has only existed for four decades, give or take. Some are younger still; we’ve only had craft brewing anywhere on the Kenai Peninsula since 1996 and in the Kenai-Soldotna area only since 2006.
It takes time for a region’s beer culture to grow and develop. An appreciation of and an appetite for craft beer don’t spring into being in an instant, like Athena from Zeus’ forehead. As people have the opportunity to drink and enjoy good beer, they become increasingly sophisticated and discriminating in their tastes. People begin to talk about beers amongst each other, comparing different styles and breweries, the same way folks talk about local restaurants. This leads to more demand and more breweries or brewpubs opening, as the tastes of the public develop and mature.
Eventually, there’s even enough interest to support a regular beer column, just like this one. That’s the standard trajectory, and one we here on the Kenai have pretty much followed. Local, craft-brewed beer has become an integral part of our community and our own self-image. So much so that it’s hard to imagine our life in our community without it.
So where do we go from here? What’s the next milestone on the path of beer cultural growth? When a region has such a vibrant, rapidly growing beer scene as ours, the next step is obvious: It’s time we had our own local beer festival.
I’ve written columns in the past talking about the Great American Beer Festival (held in Denver in late September) and the Great Alaskan Beer and Barley Wine Festival (held in Anchorage in January), but these represent just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to beer festivals. There are several more that take place around Alaska during the course of the year, with hundreds happening around the United States and around the world. In 10 days, the Kenai Peninsula will join that list.
The Soldotna Rotary Club, in conjunction with our local brewers, is organizing the first annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival, to take place from 4 to 10 p.m. Aug. 13 at 37661 Kenai Spur Highway (the former Glacier Pontiac-GMC dealership just outside Soldotna). Scheduled to attend at the time of this writing are Kassik’s Brewery, Kenai River Brewing, St. Elias Brewing, Midnight Sun Brewing, Alaskan Brewing, Denali Brewing, Glacier Brewhouse, Moose’s Tooth Brewery, Bear Creek Winery, Celestial Meads and Specialty Imports.
There will be live music from two stages, featured bands will include Ever Ready, Bull Don and the Moose Nuggets, Robert Pepper, Robb Justice and Diggin’ Roots, among others. There will be food vendors, as well, and plenty of free parking.
Admission will be $20, which includes a commemorative glass and three 8-ounce samples, with tickets for additional samples available separately. Tickets can be purchased at any of our local breweries or at the door.
If you are the sort of person who enjoys good craft beer (and since you’re bothering to read this column, we’ll assume you are), you really need to make it to this festival for several reasons. First and foremost, it will give you the chance to try many different beers, from Alaska and beyond, with minimal effort and expense.
Second, while this festival is being called the first annual, that’s a hope rather than a firm promise. A large turnout and a successful event will go a long way to ensuring that there’s an even bigger festival next year.
Third, the proceeds from this event will go to support a worthy cause. Last, but by no means least, this festival promises to be a great time. I’ll see you there!
Until next month, cheers!
Bill Howell is a home brewer, teaches a beer appreciation class at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus and was named the 2010 Beerdrinker of the Year by Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver. Drinking on the Kenai appears the first Wednesday of the month in the Redoubt Reporter.