“It not a drinking contest, it’s a contest of drinks.” That’s one line from a brochure about the Haines Craft Beer and Home Brew Festival. The beer-centric celebration is a quarter century old this year and it’s bigger than ever. Twenty-five breweries will offer samplings to nearly 2,000 attendees.
Haines’ population will pretty much double this weekend.
“It’s like a whole cruise ship disembarking and then staying overnight,” said Jessica Edwards, the director of the Southeast Alaska State Fair, which organizes Beer Fest.
The most popular part of the festival is the beer tasting, a four-hour affair at the Haines Fairgrounds on Saturday afternoon. There’s food, music, and unlimited booze.
“This is certainly the biggest year I’ve seen with vendor participation,” Edwards said. “We’ll have about 25 different Alaskan and Yukon and Pacific Northwest breweries represented there, plus three distributors.”
New vendors to the festival include three Anchorage-based operations: Anchorage Brewing Company, Cynosure Brewing and Double Shovel Cider. There’s also a new one from Juneau, Barnaby Brewing. That company’s backstory is tied to the Haines Beer Fest.
“I tell everybody the Haines Brew Fest is sort of our ‘we made it’ moment,” said Matt Barnaby.
He entered his homemade beer in the Haines festival’s home brew contest, which usually sees between 60 and 100 entries. Barnaby won ‘best of show’ in 2016. In September, he opened his own brewery. Now, he’ll be back at the festival, in one of the official vendor booths.
“I feel like you’re not really a brewery in Southeast Alaska until you’re pouring at that event,” Barnaby said.
Edwards thinks there are two reasons vendor interest in the festival is growing.
“Really the industry is on the rise in the state,” Edwards said. “So there’s more breweries. And the festival has a good reputation amongst the industry people, they like it, they have fun here.”
But Edwards says they’re also facing competition from more events.
“You can find a beer festival in almost every city in the United States,” Edwards said. “There’s more breweries and businesses of that nature in Alaska. So yeah, people will have to make a choice.”
Last year, the festival added a new feature: a ‘Connoisseur’s Tasting’ before the regular event. For some extra money, 400 people are let into the tasting an hour early. It gives beer lovers time to get acquainted with brewers before the floodgates open and 1,300 more people come through.
“We had extremely good feedback from that event,” Edwards said. “It was a good opportunity for people to walk around and talk to brewers about specific beers. They felt like it was that special moment where people were not so busy so they could tell them about what they were sampling.”
Edwards says this year, the festival will survey attendees about their favorite beers for a ‘people’s choice award.’
The other big event happens the night before the beer tasting. The Gourmet Brewer’s Dinner is a five-course meal with beer pairings for each dish. A new chef is catering this year. Lionel Uddipa works at the Salt restaurant in Juneau.
“We’re pretty excited to work with someone in Southeast Alaska again this year, because one of the challenges with this event is the sourcing of the food,” Edwards. “It’s hard for people in bigger areas to understand that you get your food once a week, that salmon isn’t always available this time of year.”
It doesn’t look like Uddipa is letting the food challenges of Southeast stop him. The dishes include sake cured salmon, jidori chicken roulade and Alaskan pork belly.
At Saturday’s beer tasting, food booths will present delicacies like fried cheese curds and chicken samosas.
In addition to the food and drink, there will be live music at the festival and establishments around town later in the day.
For more information and a schedule of events, visit seakfair.org.