James 'Dr. Fermento' Roberts

James 'Dr. Fermento' Roberts





On Saturday, October 16, from 1-4 pm, the 4th Annual Alaska Crafted Beer Festival will take place at the Alaska Aviation Air Museum. This immediately follows the Friday, October 15, 7 pm – first ever – Beer Awards Night at the Broken Blender. 

These are important events for Alaska’s beer community for a number of reasons. Both are a byproduct of, and directly support the Brewer’s Guild of Alaska. The Guild is the nonprofit trade association membership assemblage of Alaska’s craft brewing presence in our state. The Guild’s mission is to “promote the craft beer and brewing industry through consumer education, community events and legislative advocacy.” 

For the average craft beer lover like me, these members are the brewers and their associates that cast their craft and its byproducts, including tasty beers and the hundreds of jobs for Alaskans, in the most positive light. This helps keep the beer we love both approachable, and in some cases, affordable by continuing to ward off the continuance of the most oppressive alcohol tax on beer in the nation. The bottom line is that the Guild fights the good fights, so we can keep drinking the good stuff as unencumbered as possible.

The Alaska Crafted Beer Festival is unique because it’s one of the few festivals up here that’s exclusive to Alaska beer and exclusively Alaska fermented products. Alaska’s ciders, meads and kombuchas are included in this mix and are represented at this too. Our distillers would have been a part of it this year too, if not for a last minute, COVID-driven venue change and resulting permitting inconsistencies precluding their attendance. 

“That’s the difference,” agrees Guild Board President and President of Midnight Sun Brewing Company Lee Ellis. “This festival only features Alaska made products and becomes a unique opportunity that way: everything is made by your neighbors. 

In the state’s biggest beer festival – formerly the Great Alaska Beer and Barley Wine Festival, and now the Alaska Craft Brew and Barley Wine Festival – Alaska beer comprises a section of the festival floor, perhaps a quarter of it at best, and our local suds share space with triple the amount of beers from outside. 

If you’ve ever been to the barley wine festival, you feel this. Alaska breweries remain distinctive, and are segregated more as a feature, but the Alaska section is the most crowded, popular place in the venue. At Alaska Crafted, it’s all about local fermented goods; nothing else. Sure, it’s not nice to compare two great festivals like this, but there’s a lot to be said about the feel of an all Alaska gig. There’s a lot more room for our local brewers to spread out, and I don’t have to elbow-check my way to the respective stations to get my fill. 

This is the first time for Alaska Crafted at the air museum, but it’s not my first beer gig there. Bodegafest happened there seven years or so ago, and it was revealing to me. Up to that point, you wouldn’t have caught my ass in a museum. Stick a beer in my hand, and let me wander around and learn about our state’s rich aviation history, and we’re talking about a whole new thing here. 

Alaska Crafted’s gig is admittedly a little different, because it’s mostly outside and partially inside, using the Odom hanger, but that doesn’t matter. There’s tons to explore and even just look at if beer doesn’t get in the way, like it always does for me. Simply put, Alaska Crafted at the air museum is a potentially educational event – the self-study, sudsy kind – and is a lot of fun with beer in hand. 

An attraction this year is participation by new breweries that we haven’t seen much of in past events in Anchorage. “I’m impressed with our lineup of new breweries,” says Guild Development Coordinator, Alexandra Vrabec. “We have Harbor Mountain out of Sitka, Valdez Brewing Company and Black Spruce from Fairbanks on board, and we’ll have a Pink Boots Society Alaska Chapter booth serving a couple of the beers they brewed in collaboration with participating Alaska breweries for International Woman’s day,” she says.

I don’t want to hear any grumbling, but this event is compliant with all anti-COVID measures, and only vaccinated attendees will be admitted. Look at it this way: we wouldn’t be having this beer festival right now if not for these measures driven by the state and municipality (not so much the Guild), and with the way things are going, as Ellis reminded me, “this is going to be a nice get together, and might be one last chance to hang out and drink beer with humanity for a while.” Good point. 

Some of the Guild member participating breweries – there are over 20 of them this year – strongly support this, and are part of the reason why the gig’s where it’s at, and how it’s set up. Proof if vaccination is required, the gig’s limited to 500 attendees and the beer pour samples will be in disposable cups, instead of the commemorative taster glasses popular pre-COVID. I guess there’s a price to pay to drink with humanity, these days. It doesn’t matter; I’m in, and am participating to have fun and support the Guild. The every half hour door prizes, brewery swag, and giveaways will help make up for the inconvenience. 

Tickets are $50 for a drinking ticket, and $10 for a non-drinking/designated driver ticket. Get your tickets now at MyAlaskaTix if you want to go; this gig will sell out quick if it hasn’t already. 

Now, if you want to get in on something really exclusive – and you’re quick on Friday, October 15 – show up at the Broken Blender (535 W. 3rd Ave) for your chance to get in to the first annual Beer Awards Night that Vrabec is putting on, and that will mimic – only in the way that the Alaska beer industry can do it – the Academy Awards show. 

Here’s the catch. This is really an industry gig, but the Guild is opening up any remaining space and seats for “the real beer enthusiasts out there,” says Vrabec.

Vrabec is even getting a red carpet, and she’s forcing Ellis to wear a Tux. That alone, is worth seeing, if you know Ellis at all. I’ll be there presenting a couple of categories, and alluding to my known goofiness, she said I could wear whatever I wanted to. There’s some danger in that, of course, but I’ll keep myself in check.

“I’m anticipating there is space for 80-ish, and I’m anticipating designating 40-50 seats for the industry folks,” says Vrabec. “It’s first come, first served for the rest. Doors open at 6 pm and it’s a suggested donation of $5 to help cover costs.”

Beer and food is pay as you go. “People can donate more, of course, but we didn’t want to keep people from coming. This will give us an idea for next year and how we might expand the event. Come and drink beer with your favorite brewers” she says. 

Integral to the ceremony is the Academy-like award presentations for beers entered in the categories that were judged an academy of judges Vrabec put together. 

“We had around 20 Alaska breweries submit a total of 155 beers. I’ve encouraged attending breweries to put some of those beers on tap for the night. Come and drink beer with your favorite brewers. I want this to turn into a real Broadway show,” she says.

I can’t wait to receive some envelopes and announce awards.

Will lines extend around the block for the coveted seats? It remains to be seen, but you could look back 20 years from now and tell your grandkids “I was there at the very first one” if you score a seat. Doors open at 6 pm, and the gala starts at 7:00.

COVID’s a bitch for sure, and each upcoming beer event could be the last one for a while. Yeah, the 2022 Alaska Craft Beer and Barley Wine Festival is scheduled for January of next year, and I just got word that the Eagle River Lion’s Club Toast to the Community Brewfest is scheduled for Saturday, November 20 at the Eagle River Alaska Lion’s Club, but who knows? 

Get out and dance the beer dance while you still can. I agree with Ellis that these gigs “might be one last chance to hang out with humanity and rub up against human beings.” 

Someone pour me a beer.

 

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