The origins of the award winning local micro-breweries are said to have begun as home brew kits lovingly given as presents from their spouses. Last week over 1,000 people from 20 different states turned out for the Peninsula’s first Rotary Beer Festival to sample the crafts of the three local micro-breweries along side the best of the best from the other breweries in Alaska. “Alaska is making beers that compete with and top any beers in the world,” said event director Soldotna Rotarian Dr. Matt Pyhala, “And the turn out for our 1st Beer Festival on the Peninsula underscores that fact,” he added.
Event organizers transformed the former Hutchings GMC dealership on the Spur Highway in Ridgeway for the venue with indoor and outdoor booths for the breweries and food vendors with two stages for live music. “It was an extremely well organized event with 30 some Rotarians volunteering for everything from set up to clean up, traffic control, and driver’s license verification. Everyone was orderly and enjoyed meeting new people from out of town and tasting the wide variety of different beers available. It was a new event that again added to our local economy and is an example of what we can do in the future to extend the shoulder of our tourist season. With all the proceeds going to the Soldotna Rotary Club all of us will benefit from that service organizations local programs and projects,” said Soldotna Mayor and Rotarian Peter Micciche.
When the voting closed and the ballots were counted the 1st Annual People’s Choice Award with only a two vote advantage went to St. Elias Brewing Co. for their “Farmer’s Friend” Rye Beer. “It was a great experience to have all these breweries here and we were proud to be part of this event and share our produce with so many folks from out of state. We Alaskans are brewing some of the cutting edge stuff and craft beer has such a small market share that it makes us happy to see it growing,” said Zach Henry receiving the inaugural award with his partners Jessie Kolesar and John Bennett. “We brought six different beers here tonight but it was no surprise that Framer’s Friend took home the trophy, it’s our flagship brew at St. Elias and gets its name from the variety of grains we use in brewing it,” added Henry.
Everyone who purchased a ticket to the festival received an 8oz commemorative tasting glass and tickets to taste three beers. A variety of local food vendors were also on hand with delectable’s such as homemade pretzels by Odie’s Deli, and Brats from Echo Lake Meats and AK Custom Meats/Hot Diggity Dog, “We really appreciate the breweries stepping up and donating the beer for the festival and making the event such a success for our local Rotary Club and above and beyond that without all their participation it wouldn’t have been a festival but merely a beer garden. We hear there were no DUI arrests that night and many folks took advantage of free cab rides provided by Brent Hibbert of Alaska Cab,” said Pyhala.