Drinking on the Last Frontier: Pour favor — Popular Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival brewing up another year

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell. Kenai River Beer Festival-goers last year sample the offerings from St. Elias Brewing. This year’s festival is Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell. Kenai River Beer Festival-goers last year sample the offerings from St. Elias Brewing. This year’s festival is Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter

Early August on the Kenai means just one thing for craft beer lovers — it’s time for the annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival! This will be the fourth year of this wonderful festival, which is sponsored by the Soldotna Rotary.

Unless you’re a true hard-core craft beer lover like me, your only experience with beer festivals may be attending our local one. If that’s so, allow me to try to convey to you just how lucky we are to have such an outstanding festival right in our own backyard.

If you want to know who puts on a good festival, all you have to do is talk to craft brewers. They attend multiple festivals and have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Word travels fast on the brewers’ circuit and everyone quickly learns which festivals are well-organized, professional affairs and which ones are chaotic drunk fests. So it speaks volumes that the Kenai festival has quickly gained a reputation amongst the brewers as being well-organized, professionally managed and fun to attend.

Just to be clear, attending our festival is no bed of roses for the brewers. They have to pay their own way to the area, pay for hotel rooms, donate their beer, show up early to set up, pour beer for hundreds of folks for several hours and then clean up afterward. Not exactly a vacation on the Kenai, is it? Plus, this is typically the busiest time of the year for brewers in Alaska, when they are struggling to brew enough beer to keep up with the heavy demand of tourism season. If, on top of all these hurdles, a particular festival isn’t well run, most brewers will quickly cut their losses. They won’t be back the following year and they’ll let all their friends in the business know not to bother attending either.

Given these facts, the rapid increase in the number of breweries in attendance over the last four years speaks volumes about how well the folks behind the Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival do their job. For example, this year all five of the breweries on the peninsula will be in attendance. In fact, this will be the first time that all five of them (Homer, Kassik’s, Kenai River, Seward and St. Elias) will be on offer at the same festival. In total, there will be 14 breweries attending (including HooDoo from Fairbanks and Alaskan from Juneau), three distributors and Bear Creek Winery. If you want to enjoy a maximum amount of beer choice with the minimum amount of travel and expense, this is your chance.

This year’s Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival will be held at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, just like last year’s. It will be held from 5 to 10 p.m. Aug. 9. Tickets are $30, on sale at Kenai River Brewing, St. Elias Brewing and Kassik’s Brewery. New this year is the option to purchase tickets online at http://www.kenaibeerfest.com. This buys admission, a commemorative glass and tickets for eight 4-ounce beer samples. You can buy additional sample tickets for $3 per ticket.

Besides the beers and wines on offer, there will be several food trucks, so you won’t need to go hungry while enjoying yourself. And what’s the point of having a festival without music? There will be live performances by local groups throughout the entire festival.

Finally, attendees will get to vote on their choice for favorite beer and favorite brewery. Last year, Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop took home the People’s Choice Award for Best Beer with its Blueberry Vanilla Cream Ale, while Kenai River Brewing Co. took home the People’s Choice for Best Brewery.

As good as all this sounds, the best part of the festival is that every penny it generates goes to support worthy local causes. Last year’s festival made over $17,000, which Rotary used to support various charities right here on the peninsula.

Personally, I can’t think of a better way to spend a few hours on a warm and sunny Saturday evening on the Kenai than listening to good music while enjoying delicious food and excellent craft beer, and supporting my community while doing so. If this all sounds like a good time to you, be sure and pick up your tickets soon. Since the very first one back in 2011, this festival has routinely sold out.

Shifting to a different subject, I have some good news to report. Gov. Sean Parnell has finally signed HB 309. As I wrote back in June, this bill allows distilleries to offer free samples of spirits, sell up to 3 ounces for consumption on premises and sell up to a gallon of spirits for off-premises consumption. Parnell signed it July 14, and it will go into effect Oct. 12. This means Alaska distilleries will miss out on the entire 2014 tourism season, but better late than never, I suppose.

Until next month, cheers!

Bill Howell is a homebrewer, 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. He and his wife, Elaine, have authored “Beer on the Last Frontier: The Craft Breweries of Alaska,” available via Amazon.


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