There’s still time to get your tickets to the 2020 Alaska Craft Brew and Barleywine Festival that takes place this Friday and Saturday. If you fancy yourself an Alaskan beer aficionado, you should attend one of the three sessions during the two-day event. This year’s gig is an upgraded version of the festival we’ve enjoyed for the past 26 years in Anchorage and stands out as Alaska’s biggest beer fest. It’s also the one that brings most of our state’s remote breweries together all under one roof at the same time.
Facing certain demise, the decade-old festival almost went down the tubes when the event organizer — Aurora Productions — announced in a letter to “Vendors, Volunteers and Partners” that the economics of the fest “didn’t pencil out” and jerked the plug on the event that was originally slated for Jan. 17-18.
With little time to recover and in a mad scramble, superhero of suds Billy Opinsky of Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse – the original event organizer – rallied his forces and engaged the services of Peak 2 Peak Productions, a division of the Anchorage Daily news and cobbled together a festival for this year.
‘Cobble’ isn’t the right word. Essentially, Billy and his gang seriously upgraded the fest and renamed it the Alaska Craft Brew and Barleywine Festival (previously the Great Alaska Beer and Barleywine Festival).
When I talked to Opinsky, he admitted that it was late in the game to do a major retrofit.
“Basically, in a nutshell, we aren’t changing too much this year. We are going to tweak some things that need to have been for a long time, the biggest of which is moving the event to the Dena’ina Center where there’s plenty more room for all of the debauchery that goes with a world class beer gig,” says Opinsky. “The move to the Dena’ina Center is a home run… Effectively, we’ve expanded our floor space from 19,000 square feet at the Egan to 24,000 square feet at the Dena’ina.
This is in line with the goal to enlarge this festival and make it even more inviting and world class in the future.
With Aurora Productions ditching the event, Peak 2 Peak quickly rose to the challenge and has been doing Herculean work to not only keep the fest alive, put pave the way for the future.
“We would love to see it expand to the point where we fill the whole bottom floor of the Dena’ina with all of Alaska’s 45 breweries,” says Peak 2 Peak’s Director of Events, Sarah Boice. Opinsky has there same goal in mind.
If you’re a returning attendee, expect our local breweries to be the primary feature when it comes to the beer available for sampling. “So far we have 25 local Alaska breweries participating this year,” says Boice.
The breweries, vendors links to ticket purchases and opportunities to volunteer to support the vent can all be found at akbrewfest.com. That’s where I looked at the attending breweries and discovered that Cooper Landing Brewing Company, Matanuska Brewing Company and Black Spruce Brewing Companies are new breweries in the mix this year. As in years past, our local breweries will be featured in their own section, which is always the most popular through all three sessions and undeniably the most crowded. You’ll find me there most of the time I’m on the festival floor.
Back this year is the printed version of the festival program. Last year, the program was available online for printing or for use on a mobile device. That idea was a flop. You screamed about it and this year’s organizers took that into account. Expect plastic sampling glasses; that’s a Dena’ina Center rule given the concrete floors. This is a small tradeoff for the expanded festival floor space.
In addition to more room on the festival floor for brewers and attendees alike, the food’s been seriously upgraded.
Instead of standard convention center grub, expect offerings from Serrano’s, Flattop Pizza, 49th State Brewing Company and Humpy’s this year, with more local vendors planned for the years ahead.
Music this year includes the Braided River Band and HE for the Friday night 6 to 10 p.m. session, The Eternal Cowboys and the Dangle Bees during the Saturday 2 to 5 pm Connoisseur’s Session and Danger Money and Edge of the West for the Saturday evening, 6 to 10 p.m. session.
Naturally, attending a festival of this magnitude requires some planning. First, get your tickets. Historically, the event sells out most years, so don’t get left out in the cold. Again, akbrewfest.com will link you to pricing and tickets. The two general sessions are $45 per person and the Connoisseur’s Session – the 2-5 pm Saturday session – is $55 per person. Proceeds from the Connoisseur’s session directly benefit the Brewers Guild of Alaska, another primary sponsor of the gig.
Arrange for a designated driver. Clearly, many of the beers at the Alaska Craft Brew and Barleywine Festival are big beers. Some of the barleywine style beers and exceed 10 percent alcohol by volume. Your admission scores you a wrist band with 20 detachable tokens for two ounce samples. You can purchase additional wrist bands, but understand this isn’t a beer drinking event you can enjoy and expect to drive away from. If you don’t think the cops aren’t aware of this festival and when it lets out, you’re sadly mistaken.
Eat before and during the festival. Food and a full stomach help to mitigate the effects of alcohol consumption, and trust me, if you eat, you’ll feel better the next day. The participation of local food vendors make this a lot easier to do. Water’s your friend too. I try to drink as much water as I drink beer during the event. Carrying along a refillable water bottle is prudent.
Be mindful that we’re all beer ambassadors when we attend this event and what we do and how we act during it and when visiting nearby establishments, both before and after, say a lot about the responsible consumption of alcohol by craft beer drinkers. Problematic with previous years’ events is the massive bar break at the end of each session where upwards of 2,200 people disgorged from the event en masse to head home, wander the streets, or find something local to eat, all in various states of sobriety or inebriation. Don’t get caught up in the mass mentality of the debauchery that can ensue after the fest.
In all, the Alaska Craft Brew and Barleywine Festival is designed to expose craft beer lovers to the biggest selection of new and returning suds every year, and if nothing else is a great way to break up those winter blues and ward off some cabin fever that naturally comes during this time of the year. Have fun and do it right.
The Super Bowl airs on Sunday February 2, the day after the Alaska Craft Brew and Barleywine Festival. I can’t think of a better way to recover after the huge beer party than to grab some foamy load levelers, eat some comfort food and kick back in front of the game after celebrating the best beer Alaska has to offer.