The reputation of the Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival continues to grow as a summer “Best Time Ever” event throughout Alaska, the lower 48 and Europe. Over 1,300 visitors from all over Alaska, twelve different states and five countries including Germany, France, Japan, Sweden and Canada attended the 5th Annual Festival sponsored for the benefit of local Soldotna Rotary Club projects. “Since its inception the goal of this festival has been to showcase the incredible beer that is produced around our state. We were honored this year with 20 of the finest breweries from across Alaska. It has been the intention of the Soldotna Rotary Club to create a fun outdoor atmosphere to sample craft brews while enjoying live music and delicious food. This festival has become a ‘crowing’ moment for the end of our summer season in Soldotna. It is scheduled for a time when commercial and sport fishing is winding down, the Peninsula is getting a little quieter as the bulk of our summer guests depart for home and has become a farewell to Summer and welcome of Autumn on the Kenai,” said Soldotna Rotary president and Festival creator Dr. Matthew Pyhala.
Supporting the attendees and brewers were 10 different food vendors and over 50 volunteers. Paring with the over 50 different craft beers to taste was live music from 5 different bands offering everything from bluegrass to hard rock and country tunes for dancing, a human foosball court, chalk art, bean bag toss and other activities to refresh between tastes. “Proceeds from the Festival go to fund several community projects including the RAFT Fund at Central Peninsula Hospital that pays for travel to and from local hospitals and clinics for those who would otherwise have no transportation available. This need has grown in our community as more medical specialty services have become available in our community. We are proud to be able to help in this very basic way,” explained Pyhala.
Taking the People’s Choice Award for Best Brewery for the fourth straight year was Kenai River Brewing Co. “This is the Festival that we go all out for and put everything into because this is our home town and we want to promote and feature the best we have so we can say thank you and give back to the community that has been so supportive of us,” said Doug Hague Kenai River Brew master. The Festival promised some surprises and one of those came in the Kenai River Ice Cream Beer Float, “We like introducing new concepts so this year we brought our ice cream beer float which has our breakfast beer with either vanilla or chocolate ice cream as something to introduce a new flavor. We like thinking outside the box or typical guidelines and wanted to bring something different to the Beer Festival,” he said.
When it came to voting for the People’s Choice favorite beer however the competition was much closer with over 20 different brews receiving multiple votes and only one vote in the final tally separating a Kassik’s brew from the winning “Double on Tundra” by 49th State Brewing Co. of Denali Park. “A play on words there. We have a lot of free time up there so we try to get clever once in a while. This is a specialty beer for us because it’s our Belgian double and we purchase a lot of birch sugar from Talkeetna to brew it with and it’s one of hibernation series. We’re a seasonal brewery so when we close down in October we let it sit all winter and the birch syrup adds to the strength and flavor mellowing it out and creating a nice balance. It doesn’t go south for the winter it hangs out with us up here all winter like we do. The difference is that it’s an aged beer that we put a lot of love into making it and take a lot of pride in,” said Russ Hathaway, Beer Ambassador for Denali Visions 3000 Corp. that owns 49th State Brewery.